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Old November 22nd, 2007, 11:15 PM
Sike_Saner's Avatar
Sike_Saner
Irsuicca
 
Join Date: Oct 2006
Location: Earth
Age: 30
Gender: Female
Nature: Lax
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Hello again, everyone. What follows is my second Pokémon fanfic. This is sort of the life story of the glalie Solonn Zgil-Al, a character from my previous fic, The Origin of Storms. While reading that story isn’t crucial to understanding this one, I’ll go ahead and suggest that you read it, as well, because why wouldn’t I? Heh heh heh…

I began writing Communication in late November of ’04. Presently, I have 14 chapters of the current version completed, with a 15th chapter in the works. The projected length of this story is around the neighborhood of 21-25 chapters.

This story is rated PG-13 for violence, adult situations, mild language, and other things that are just not very cheerful. Be warned also that this is one of those stories that humanizes pokémon—I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to the portrayal of pokémon in fanfiction.

DISCLAIMER: I do not own Pokémon. Any resemblance or reference to any real persons, places, things, or ideas is purely coincidental and unintentional unless explicity stated otherwise by the author. Opinions and statements expressed in this story do not necessarily reflect those of the author. Views expressed by one or more members of any given species within the context of this story are not intended to represent the views of all members of that species within the context of this story or any other context. This story does not strictly or entirely adhere to any form of the established Pokémon canon.


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Chapter 1 – Foreign Relations


In the depths of Shoal Cave, unknown to humanity at large and almost completely untouched by other species of pokémon, there was a place known by the snorunt and glalie who called it home as Virc-Dho. Here, in a cavern whose ice-covered surfaces glittered eerily in the glow given off by her eyes, a glalie by the name of Azvida Zgil-Al sat waiting.

Azvida was waiting for two different things in two separate ways and to two varying degrees. She was watching, staring intently at a round, black, featureless egg that was now beginning to shake slightly a couple of times each minute. It was bound to hatch at any moment now. She was also listening, just as she&#146d been doing for months now, waiting for the first sign of an approach that might or might not even come.

Invoking the power of her element, the glalie spontaneously generated a small heap of snow, which she arranged in a ring around the increasingly animated egg. She knew that the baby would be ravenous upon hatching.

A grinding sound in the distance caught Azvida’s attention then. Its volume made her wince, not only out of physical discomfort but also concern over others hearing it. She had told him emphatically that he needed to make as inconspicuous an entrance as possible… but, as she reminded herself, the very nature of just what the approaching creature was surely made that especially difficult for him.

Keeping the egg at the edge of her vision, Azvida only partly turned toward him as he came to a stop in the shadows nearby. “Hello, Grosh.”

Grosh only grunted in response, his face looking almost ghostly in what little of Azvida’s cyan light touched it.

Azvida’s attention was quickly monopolized by the egg again as it gave an almighty lurch, rolling straight into the snow that had been piled in front of it. The glalie inhaled with a long, rattling hiss and held her breath, anxiously watching the event that was unfolding before her eyes. The egg gave one last rustle, and then, with a tiny crack, something small and very pointed broke through the shell. With something of a drilling motion, the tip of a cone-shaped head continued to emerge from the hole it had made, cracking it open wider and wider until finally the egg simply fell apart.

Amidst the broken eggshells, there now sat a tiny male snorunt. He tried to stand up, only to immediately fall right over. His conical body rolled pitifully as he attempted in vain to right himself.

Azvida could not suppress the gale of hissing, elated laughter that came forth then. She rose from the ground and descended upon the snorunt, picking him up very gently and carefully and then setting him upright once more.

Her son blinked up at her in curiosity for a moment. Then he noticed the fresh, powdery snow that surrounded him, and he became oblivious to all else.

Azvida grinned brightly at her new baby. She then looked into the shadows at her side. “Look, Grosh,” she said, her voice alight with pure wonder. “Look at your son. Isn’t he beautiful? Why don’t you come closer? Don’t you want to see him?”

The shadowed form of Grosh stirred in the darkness. His eyes turned their sight upon the newborn—then turned away. The rest of Grosh immediately followed.

“Grosh, wait!” Azvida called to him. But Grosh kept moving on, scattering many rocks and chunks of ice in his wake. Within seconds, he was gone, back into the shadows from whence he’d come—never to return, Azvida was certain.

The new mother sighed. “It’ll just be us, then,” she said as she set herself back down before her son. No surprise, she thought, yet nonetheless she could not deny the pang of disappointment that she felt at Grosh’s departure. “We’ll have to be everything for each other. But I know we can,” she said, hoping to sound reassuring.

Not that it mattered to the snorunt. He was too focused on the snow, which he was devouring voraciously. Once he’d eaten his fill, he discovered that he could also play in the snow, and he quickly became as engrossed in that activity as he’d been in the one before it.

Azvida smiled again. “Now, what to call you?” she wondered aloud. She thought about it for a little while, rejecting several potential candidates for her son’s name until one that felt right to her finally came to her mind.

“I know exactly the right name for you,” Azvida said triumphantly. “You shall be called Solonn.”

* * *

A little over seven years into his life, Solonn was deemed old enough to go up to the snowgrounds where he could meet and play with other children. But to get to the snowgrounds, one first had to make one’s way through a rather long series of tunnels, much to his displeasure. This was the farthest that he’d ever had to walk; it was proving to be rather tiring, not to mention quite slow compared to being carried in his mother’s jaws. But since he was getting too big for that, moving himself by the power of his own two feet was the mode of transportation with which he was now stuck.

That, combined with the fact that the tunnel through which he and his mother traveled looked practically the same through yard after yard, caused his patience to run out fairly quickly. “Are we there yet?” he finally asked, unable to keep himself from whining a bit as he did so.

“Almost,” Azvida answered, gliding along a few inches off the ground at less than half of her usual pace so as to let the snorunt’s tiny feet keep up with her. “I told you, you’ll know right away when we get there. It’s very different from this place and from every other place you’ve seen.”

Better be, Solonn thought rather grumpily.

Shortly thereafter, they arrived at last at the snowgrounds. Solonn saw at once that his mother had been right about this place—it was different. It was a huge, open space, nothing at all like the close confines of the winding tunnels and small caverns that made up the warren in which he lived.

What he found most remarkable about this place was not its size, however. Rather, it was the fact that the floor of this vast cavern was entirely blanketed in sparkling, white snow, just begging a snorunt to dive right in—which is precisely what Solonn did.

Azvida laughed. “Have fun with the other kids,” she said, her son poking his head out of the snow at her words. “I’ll be back soon.” With that, she turned and exited, leaving Solonn behind in the field of snow.

Solonn watched her leave, wishing that she would stay and wondering why she didn’t. He also wondered where those “other kids” of which his mother had spoken were. He didn’t see anyone else there…

POP! With absolutely no warning, something burst out of the snow, launching out right in front of his face.

“Aaah!” Solonn was scared right off of his feet. He tumbled over backwards and landed upside-down, his pointed head sticking in the snow, his short legs kicking uselessly.

He then heard a sound—laughter. Someone was laughing at him—and grabbing his feet. He screamed again as whoever it was started pulling on his legs, which was rather painful. His ambusher didn’t relent until Solonn was quite suddenly extracted from the snow and sent flying from his grasp, landing in the snow several feet away with a whumpf (and fortunately not landing on his head this time).

Solonn managed to right himself fairly quickly, and as he was doing so, he heard footsteps approaching him. He turned to face the sound and found another snorunt, one who came to a stop a short distance before him. It seemed that he was the one who’d given Solonn that scare.

Solonn’s eyes flashed in anger. He lunged at the other snorunt, snapping his teeth and missing him by only a fraction of an inch.

The other snorunt jumped backward away from Solonn, staring back in surprise for a moment. Then he burst out into laughter once more. The moment he did, though, Solonn looked as though he might try to bite him again, making him fall silent in a hurry. He backed up a bit farther and held out his hands as if to keep Solonn at bay.

“Hey! It’s okay!” the other snorunt said. “I didn’t mean to scare you… well, not that badly, anyway…”

Solonn hesitated, giving a frown of uncertainty.

“I’m sorry,” the other snorunt said earnestly. “It was just a joke.” He approached Solonn again, albeit a bit gingerly. “I’m Zilag. Who are you?”

Solonn hesitated a moment before answering. “…Solonn,” he said finally. “Are there any other kids here?” he then asked warily.

“Yeah. They’re hiding,” Zilag answered. “Come on out,” he called out, then added, “and don’t scare him!”

At Zilag’s call, twelve other snorunt popped up out of their hiding places beneath the snow. Solonn remained quite wary of them at first, but through the minutes that passed, they seemed to heed Zilag’s advice; no one attempted to frighten him or to otherwise make a joke at his expense. By the time his mother returned to take him home, Solonn had managed to shed his distrust and reluctance almost completely. As he departed the snowgrounds, he found himself looking forward to returning there.

* * *

Solonn was brought to the snowgrounds almost daily from that point onward. As the weeks went by, he and Zilag became very good friends. Every time Solonn returned to the snowgrounds, Zilag was there waiting for him.

On one day, Zilag gathered eight of his closest friends, including Solonn, to hear his announcement of how they were about to have the “best day ever”.

“I’ve found something so awesome that you’ll go crazy when you see it,” he said.

“And what’s that?” Solonn asked.

Zilag smirked. He rolled up a snowball, turned around, and chucked it with full force into the ground. The snow it struck crumbled away on impact, falling into the rather steep-looking, downward-slanting passageway that was now revealed. The other eight snorunt all drew closer to the hole in order to try and peer down into it, but they were all wary of getting too close to it.

“Right down there is a portal to another world,” Zilag said in a exaggeratedly grand tone.

“Yeah, right,” Reizirr said.

“It’s true!” Zilag insisted. He grabbed her and pushed her face toward the hole, eliciting a very sharp little shriek out of her. “All you have to do to see it is to just go through there.”

“No, thanks!” Reizirr said as she managed to wriggle away from Zilag.

“You’re gonna miss out…” Zilag told her. He cast a glance about at each of the others, seeing a lot of uncertain faces looking back at him. Their clear trepidation did nothing to deter him from putting on a huge grin and going on to say, “Okay. Who wants to go first?”

The others all exchanged nervous glances. Then, in unison, they took a sizable step farther back from the hole.

“Oh, come on. It’s so cool, I promise… Sical, how about you?” Zilag suggested.

“No way,” she said firmly.

“Davron?”

Davron responded by shaking his head, insofar as a snorunt can.

“Faroski?”

Faroski just turned and left the small crowd, having decided that he’d be better off just watching the others from the opposite side of the cavern.

Zilag made a noise of frustration. Then he turned to Solonn, who was standing at his immediate left, and said, “I know you’d love it. So come on, go for it.”

“Uh…” Solonn began doubtfully.

“It’s just a little slide and then a little climb,” Zilag said with a slight air of impatience. “You’re not a wuss, are you?” he then added.

“What? No!” Solonn said. He peered down into the hole, wondering just how deep it really was. “I guess I could…”

“That’s the spirit!” Zilag said cheerfully, and then he shoved Solonn into the hole.

“Aaaaaah!” Solonn screamed as he found himself rushing down the slide. The tightly-packed snow coating its walls made the ride smoother than it might have been otherwise; by contrast, he was met with a rather rough landing at the bottom, smacking right into a stone wall.

Solonn pitched backward and fell to the floor, little lights exploding in his vision, his face smarting more than a little. After a few moments, he came back to his senses and became fully aware of his surroundings. He was in a very small chamber made of stone. Before and slightly above him, he saw a hole in the wall, one that was more than wide enough for him to enter.

Solonn stood and stared with uncertainty into the hole for several seconds, reluctant to enter it. He turned back around and looked back up the length of the snow chute… how in the world was someone supposed to get back up there? Zilag had neglected to explain that detail…

Sighing, Solonn turned back toward the hole in the wall—there seemed to be no other way to go. Resigned to the only course of action that was presenting itself to him, he hopped up, pulled himself into the hole, and started crawling upward.

The climb through the secret tunnel was not an experience that he particularly enjoyed. At a couple of points, it was quite steep; Solonn feared that he could easily slip and go tumbling back down the tunnel. Furthermore, the rocky surfaces of the tunnel’s floor and walls were not very comfortable for him to crawl over—one wrong move, and those jagged edges could slice right into a hand or foot, he knew.

Why, he wondered, had Zilag thought that anyone would like this?

Quite a while later, Solonn finally reached the end of the tunnel and gratefully hoisted himself out of there. Exhausted, he just lay still for a short time, glad to be on smooth, level ground again.

Once he’d caught his breath, he got back on his feet and took a look around. He was in a very large cavern which, just as Zilag had promised, was indeed like another world. For one thing, it was much brighter up here than it had been below. Solonn found the source of the illumination overhead: strange, pale light was seeping into the cavern from above, light that was quite strong despite how few of its pale rays managed to penetrate the cracks in the ceiling.

As Solonn explored with growing curiosity, he found snow, ice and rocks—all of which he could find at home, of course. Here, however, they were just scattered about; rocky, uneven surfaces abruptly gave way to vast, shimmering expanses of smooth, ice-coated floors, and mounds of snow rose randomly over both types of surfaces. This contrasted considerably with the way things looked back in the warren from whence Solonn had come; there, every aspect of the environment had been adapted and conformed by glalie to suit their tastes and purposes. Solonn wondered to what sort of people and purpose, if any, a place like this could possibly belong.

Right around the next hill of snow, he got his answer.

He didn’t move. He barely even breathed. The same was true of the creature that stared back at him through her dark-colored eyes.

Her appearance was stranger than anything Solonn could have ever imagined, especially with regards to the fact that there was a peculiar glow emanating from her entire body. Solonn found himself curiously mesmerized by it. He’d never seen anything like it; he didn’t have that glow, and neither did any of his friends. For that matter, neither did glalie.

“What… what are you?” Solonn finally worked up the courage to ask.

“What are you?” the creature countered.

Solonn was almost too bewildered to answer. This creature even sounded so different… “I’m a snorunt,” he said finally.

“Oh. Never heard of that… Anyway, I’m a spheal.”

“I’ve never heard of what you are, either,” Solonn said. As he stared at this creature—this spheal—his curiosity gave rise to a compulsion. “Can… can I touch you?” he asked.

“Uh… sure, I guess,” the spheal responded.

Solonn stepped forward after a moment’s delay, feeling quite nervous. His hand shook as it reached out to the spheal. When he touched her, he gasped and pulled his hand back at once, his eyes wide. She felt strange to him, and in a way that was rather startling.

“What? Is something wrong?” the spheal asked.

“No… it’s just that you’re so… ” Solonn trailed off and stared with both fear and wonder shining through his eyes as he realized that he knew no word for the way that the spheal felt. He had no way of knowing it, but he had just felt heat for the very first time. Though it hadn’t hurt him, it had definitely made him uneasy.

In spite of this, however, his curiosity led him to touch the spheal again, and he was not so startled by her warmth this time. Rather, something else caught his fascination.

“It’s… soft…” Solonn remarked, “and fluffy… What is this stuff you’re covered in?” he asked.

“Er… that’s fur,” the spheal answered, giving him a funny look.

“It’s neat,” Solonn said.

“Uh, sure it is… Hey, could you stop petting me already?” the spheal finally demanded.

“Oh… sorry,” Solonn said, quite embarrassed, and he took his hands off of the spheal in a hurry.

Just then, a voice sounded from not too far away—another strange, foreign voice. “Sophine? Where are you?”

Before Solonn could wonder about the voice’s owner, she came into view. Solonn didn’t know that it was a sealeo who had just arrived on the scene, but judging from the newcomer’s appearance, he was able to guess that she was an evolved spheal.

“There you are! You can’t keep wandering away from me like that!” she scolded the spheal lightly. Then her gaze fell upon Solonn, and it froze there. “Sophine, get away from that,” she said tensely. “Now. Those things are dangerous.”

“What? I’m not dangerous!” Solonn protested, stepping forward with his arms outstretched. “Honest!”

“You stay away from my daughter, you little monster!” the sealeo cried, and then she lunged at Solonn.

But just then, Sophine screamed, and the sound jarred her mother out of her charge. Her mother looked to see what had frightened Sophine, and then she cried out in fear, as well.

Confused, Solonn followed the others’ gazes. Now it was his turn to scream—hovering there with an absolutely livid expression was none other than his own mother.

“Leave him alone!” Azvida spat. With a furious hiss, she darted forward. Her massive teeth snapped together with bone-shattering force bare inches away from the face of Sophine’s mother.

The sealeo gave a yelping bark as she frantically backed away from the striking glalie. She then gathered up her daughter in a single flipper and waddled off with her as fast as she could go.

Solonn watched them leave. Then, very nervously, he turned and approached his mother. She turned to face him in an instant, badly scaring him. Azvida then opened her jaws and grabbed Solonn up in her teeth by the top of his head. It caused him pain, making him cry out, but she did not put him down, carrying him in this fashion for the entire duration of the trip back home.

* * *

“For the love of all gods, what were you thinking?” Azvida demanded.

It wasn’t my idea! Solonn thought but didn’t dare say, feeling as though doing such amounted to betraying Zilag, which he most certainly did not want to do. “…I don’t know!” he blurted finally.

“Well, you’re not going up there again, that’s for sure,” Azvida said, her tone one of strong displeasure. “In fact, you’re not going to be going anywhere for a long time, not even to the snowgrounds.”

“But… Mom, no! You can’t!” Solonn protested. Surely she had to be bluffing, he figured, or at least hoped.

“Oh, yes I can, and yes I will! It’s for your own good, Solonn. You have to learn that there are places where you don’t belong, places that are not safe!”

“Not safe?” Apart from the behavior of the sealeo he’d met there, the cavern above into which he had ventured hadn’t seemed terribly dangerous, just rather strange…

Azvida lowered her face, her eyes seeming to burn right through Solonn’s. “You think you’re the first who’s ever gone sneaking around up there? There have been plenty of kids before you who have had that bright idea. And you know what? Many of them never came back.”

“…What happened to them?” Solonn asked in a very small voice, though he wasn’t altogether certain that he really wanted to know.

“They vanished,” Azvida replied simply. “Taken away by the creatures from above, we suspect,” she elaborated.

“You mean the spheal? Spheal took them?” Solonn asked incredulously.

Azvida shook her head. “Other beings. Stranger beings.”

What could be stranger than a spheal? Solonn wondered, finding himself rather amazed by the notion. He wondered about something else as well. “Mom?”

“Yes?”

“That spheal’s mom… she called me a monster,” Solonn said quietly. “She said I’m dangerous, but I’m not dangerous at all… am I?”

“What? No, of course you’re not,” Azvida said. “And you’re not a monster, either.”

“But… then why would she say that?” Solonn asked.

Azvida sighed. “It’s all right, Solonn. She meant nothing against you personally. It’s just that… well, her kind fear ours. They always have.” She sighed again. “To be fair, they do have a perfectly good reason to.”

“Well… what is it?” Solonn asked, a little afraid of the sort of answer he might receive.

Azvida broke eye contact with Solonn. This was not a discussion she’d been in any hurry to have with him—she’d dreaded it as much as the eventual discussion of how eggs are made.

Reluctantly, she sat down beside him. “There are certain things that every living creature must do to stay alive,” she began uneasily. “We have to breathe. We have to sleep. We have to eat. When living creatures are different, the ways that they keep themselves alive are different, as well. The spheal and their evolved forms, the sealeo and walrein, are different from us, and so they have their own ways that are right for them. Likewise, glalie are different from snorunt. And we have our own ways.

“Now, one of the ways that living creatures can have different needs is that for some creatures, like snorunt, the things they need to eat in order to live are not alive themselves. But for others… like glalie… well, the things that creatures like us need to eat in order to live are alive.”

Solonn absorbed that. Then his heart froze. “You… you eat the spheal?” he ventured in disbelief, his voice cracking.

“Yes,” Azvida answered honestly, “sometimes. But not usually. Usually, we take the winged creatures instead; zubat, they’re called.”

“It doesn’t matter what they are. You still kill them!” Solonn shouted.

“Yes,” Azvida said, feeling and sounding very flustered. “Yes, we do, but we do it quickly. We do it gently. It doesn’t hurt them. They just… they just stop. It’s just like going to sleep, only permanently.”

How can you know that?” Solonn countered. Azvida did not answer. Solonn said nothing more for several minutes, just sitting and shaking silently. Then, with barely any voice at all, he asked, “Why can’t you just eat the snow? Why?”

“It’s just not enough for us, Solonn,” Azvida said quietly. “Someday, once you’ve evolved, you’ll understand.”

“No, I don’t want to! I don’t want to grow up and eat people!”

“Listen, I know how it sounds, but there really isn’t anything wrong with it!” Azvida tried to assure him. “It’s just part of how nature works. And a lot of creatures live this way, too, not just glalie. Even the spheal you met and her people; they feed on creatures called magikarp…”

But Solonn was not listening anymore, and Azvida knew it. She sighed and spoke no more, and neither of them said anything to one another for the remainder of that day.

* * *

After the long weeks separating Solonn from the snowgrounds were finally behind him, he returned there to find Zilag just sitting there alone.

Solonn was immediately wary. “Where is everyone hiding?”

“There’s no one else here,” Zilag said gloomily.

Solonn walked over to him, frowning. “You got me into huge trouble, you know,” he said.

“Hey, I didn’t get away with it, either!” Zilag shot back.

“Well, I didn’t tell on you!” Solonn insisted. “I swear!”

“You didn’t have to,” Zilag said grimly. “My big sister came in and saw me trying to get Dileras to go down that hole. She went straight home and told Mom everything.” He sighed. “And then everyone else’s parents found out, too. Now no one wants to hang out with me cause they’re all scared of getting into trouble again.”

“Oh…” Solonn sat down beside Zilag. “Well, I’m not worried about that,” he said, although a small part of him really was. “I’ll still hang out with you.”

Zilag’s eyes widened, and he broke out into a huge grin. “Really? Thanks!”

It was then that a strange sound caught the attention of both snorunt: a sort of fluttering noise coming from above. Zilag and Solonn looked up and saw its source flying about overhead. It was yet another creature that shone with that strange glow—the glow of heat, Solonn now knew.

“A zubat,” Solonn guessed aloud in a hushed voice as he gazed up at the newcomer. “What’s that doing here?”

“I don’t know… I’ve never even seen one of those before,” Zilag said.

“I bet your parents have,” Solonn said darkly. “My mom told me that the glalie eat those things.”

Zilag turned to face Solonn at those words and stared incredulously at him for a moment. Then he broke into laughter. “That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve ever heard! They do not!”

“Oh, yes they do,” Solonn said as he continued to watch the zubat flit around, seemingly without direction, near the ceiling of the cavern.

“No way!” Zilag said, still laughing. “I know! Let’s ask the zubat if it’s true! HEY, ZUBAT!” he shouted.

The zubat steadfastly ignored the snorunt below, just wanting to focus on getting out of that place. It was bad enough that she’d gotten herself lost there—she didn’t want to add to her troubles by getting herself mixed up with the locals.

“The zubat’s not listening, Zilag,” Solonn pointed out.

“Well, maybe this’ll get that thing to listen.” Zilag made a snowball and chucked it into the air, but missed the zubat entirely. His second shot missed, too. “Come on, hold still!” he urged his target, throwing a third snowball. That one very nearly didn’t miss, whizzing past the zubat’s face just a hair’s breadth away.

The zubat shrieked, then turned on Zilag. Chittering angrily, she fired a spiraling, sparkling confuse ray at him. It struck him before he could do anything to avoid it and instantly and severely disoriented him, leaving him staggering around and screaming intermittently in a spontaneous panic.

“What did you do to him?” Solonn demanded of the zubat, both scared and angry. The bat’s response was a wing attack, forcing Solonn to duck in a hurry to avoid her as she dove at him, her wings glowing.

As the zubat arced back up toward the ceiling, Solonn got back up onto his feet, gathered a number of snowballs as fast as he could, and began throwing them at the zubat, but to no avail. He soon had to abandon his assault as the zubat wheeled around for another wing attack; he only barely ducked out of the way in time.

At this point, Solonn decided to give up on the snowballs. He began to gather ice-type energy… then lost hold of it as Zilag, who was still confused, came stumbling right into him and nearly knocked him over.

“Hey!” Solonn shouted as he got himself out of the way of his brain-addled friend. He tapped into the power of his element once again, and this time he managed to summon a powder snow attack. It scattered snowflakes all about as it whistled toward the zubat on a small gust—but before it could connect, a similar but much stronger attack, a blizzard, came howling in and blew the powder snow completely off course.

The blizzard was the work of Azvida, who had apparently just arrived and was clearly quite displeased. “Solonn Ahshi Zgil-Al!” she shouted thunderously. “You stop picking on that poor zubat right this instant; she’s obviously lost here and needs help, not harassment!”

Azvida’s shouting brought Zilag back to his senses. “Ahshi?” He exploded into giggles. Both Azvida and Solonn glared potently at him—he shut up at once.

“But Mom, she did something to Zilag! She made him freak out—I couldn’t just let her get away with it!” Solonn said. “And what do you care what anybody does to her, anyway? She’s just meat to you!”

Azvida’s eyes widened greatly, and their light intensified considerably. “How dare you say such a thing,” she hissed, appalled. “I would never think of such a creature as ‘just meat’. They give us life, and so they’re to be honored and respected.”

To the zubat, Azvida then said, “You’ll certainly die from the cold if you stay here much longer. If you’ll follow me, I’ll lead you back to where you belong.”

The zubat made no response, no sound at all other than the faint flapping of her wings as she hovered warily in place.

“It’s all right,” Azvida said, trying to sound as pleasant and soothing as possible. “I won’t even touch you.”

The zubat hesitated at first, then flapped a short distance forward. She hesitated again, for longer this time. Finally, though still obviously very uncertain about the whole thing, she descended and began to follow Azvida out of the cavern, though not too closely.

“Please stay put until I return,” Azvida instructed her son as she left. “Please.” She and the zubat then vanished into the tunnels of the warren.

As Solonn watched them leave, he found that he was no longer sure whether it was other species or his own that he found more peculiar.

_________________________

Next time: Solonn discovers something peculiar. Someone else learns of it, too—the wrong someone. See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 09:54 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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  #2    
Old November 23rd, 2007, 12:35 PM
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I really liked the description in sights and sounds.

Quote:
luminous, blue eyes, sat the Glalie Azvida Esian Zgil-Al, waiting.
Grammar's not my forte but I THINK there should be a comma after "Glalie"

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She rose from the ground and descended upon the Snorunt, picking him up very gently and carefully and then setting him upright once more.
If she's a Glalie, how exactly did she pick him up? Teeth, perhaps?

(I'm not sure if he is)But, if Grosh left for good, you'd think Azvida would feel a little bit worse about it.

All in all, it was a very nice and descriptive prologue and I like that I can finally read this fic from the start.
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Old November 23rd, 2007, 12:56 PM
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All right! Communication is here! I've been wanting to read this because your banner on SPPf keeps calling out to me. I think it's the Glalie. o.o And I will eschew the report I have to write to review this!

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Be warned also that this is one of those stories that humanizes Pokémon—I know that’s not everyone’s cup of tea when it comes to the portrayal of Pokémon in fanfiction. ^^;
:D You know how I am about those type of stories.

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The baby Snorunt blinked up at her in curiosity, his very tiny blue eyes shining like distant stars in the field of his dark grey face. Then he noticed the fresh, powdery snow that surrounded him, and he became oblivious to all else.
Aw...that's adorable! And I like the description of his eyes.

Speaking of description, I also enjoyed what you said about Vrc-Dho. Since you didn't describe the place down to the very last snowflake, you allowed the reader the chance to picture the place the way that they want to. I like seeing that, and I hope it continues.

I can't wait to see more of this on a forum that doesn't, you know, lag. xD And I've still been meaning to read the Origin of Storms. I'll read that while waiting for the next chapter.
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Old January 2nd, 2008, 06:34 PM
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Grovyle42(Griff4815):
Quote:
I really liked the description in sights and sounds.
Thanks.

Quote:
Quote:
luminous, blue eyes, sat the Glalie Azvida Esian Zgil-Al, waiting.
Grammar's not my forte but I THINK there should be a comma after "Glalie"
I'd been unsure if that passage was quite right the way I'd had it, too. Well, I gave it some thought, and what I decided to do was to revise that part into this:

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Originally Posted by New version
luminous, blue eyes, a glalie by the name of Azvida Esian Zgil-Al sat waiting.
How does that version sound?

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If she's a Glalie, how exactly did she pick him up? Teeth, perhaps?
Yep, that's exactly how.

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(I'm not sure if he is)But, if Grosh left for good, you'd think Azvida would feel a little bit worse about it.
Spoiler:
Azvida's reaction reflects the nature of her relationship with Grosh and certain things that happened between them in the past--there'll be more on that subject later in the story.

As for whether Grosh is gone for good, I'll neither confirm nor deny that. ;)


Hanako Tabris: Fans of humanized pokémon unite!

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Quote:
The baby Snorunt blinked up at her in curiosity, his very tiny blue eyes shining like distant stars in the field of his dark grey face. Then he noticed the fresh, powdery snow that surrounded him, and he became oblivious to all else.
Aw...that's adorable! And I like the description of his eyes.
Thanks. That description of a snorunt's eyes... well, that's just what their eyes have always made me think of, so I thought I'd put that in there.

And I agree about the cuteness.

Quote:
Speaking of description, I also enjoyed what you said about Vrc-Dho. Since you didn't describe the place down to the very last snowflake, you allowed the reader the chance to picture the place the way that they want to. I like seeing that, and I hope it continues.
Thanks again. Admittingly, though, I think that my managing to avoid overdescribing the place really just had a lot to do with the fact that there really wasn't much to describe--for the most part, Virc-Dho really is just a bunch of ice-glazed tunnels and chambers. There's not really much to that place beyond that. So yeah, I think the main reason I managed to avoid going into excruciating detail about that place was that there simply wasn't much detail on which to dwell.

To everyone who's read what I've posted here so far: Thanks.

And now, for the next chapter...

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Chapter 2 – Carried Away


The sound of footsteps echoed through the tunnel as Solonn walked along the route that led to the snowgrounds, and he walked alone. At the age of nineteen, he was old enough to go there unaccompanied and had been for several years.

Solonn usually didn’t run into anyone when traveling to the snowgrounds, and this trip was shaping up to be yet another of the majority. He heard no steps other than his own, and the level of the blue eye-light shining on the ice-covered surfaces that surrounded him stayed constant and low. There was nothing to indicate anyone of any other kind around, either.

With not terribly much farther to go to reach his destination, Solonn took to wondering who might already be there. He also wondered if today’s activities would include sparring and found himself hoping rather quickly that they wouldn’t. He had battled on not only the previous day but on the day before that, as well; he wanted something different for today’s trip to the snowgrounds.

Then, abruptly, he ceased to care about the other snorunt’s plans—or anything else, for that matter. The light in the tunnel cut out altogether, and the footsteps stopped and gave way to the sound of their now insensible maker falling to the floor.

* * *

The next sight to greet Solonn’s eyes left him fairly confused in short order. The space surrounding him was significantly wider but also much less empty—a crowd of glalie now surrounded him. No sooner had his eyes opened than a great rush of murmurs rose up around him.

“Oh, thank the gods, he’s awake!” said a voice that he recognized as Azvida’s, which just managed to rise above the din. “It’s all right now, Solonn,” she then told her son, responding to the growing bewilderment in his eyes. “You’re home again.”

“Huh?” Solonn sat up, trying to finish awakening his senses quickly. “What’s going on?” he asked.

“We found you here this morning. You were unconscious for a while; you’ve only just awakened,” answered an elderly male glalie whom Solonn didn’t know. At the sound of his voice, the crowd ceased its murmuring.

“Solonn, this is Sile Van-Kil,” Azvida said, introducing the glalie who had just spoken. “He’s with the Security Guild. Don’t worry, you’re not in any trouble with them,” she added quickly, seeing the troubled look that flitted across her son’s face. “He just wants to ask you some questions.”

“That’s right,” Sile said. “First, we’d like to know if you left the warren of your own accord, or if you were taken involuntarily.”

Solonn’s eyes widened. “…What? I didn’t leave the warren,” he said, growing even more confused. He hadn’t set foot outside of Virc-Dho’s borders even once since that day roughly twelve years prior when he’d encountered Sophine and her mother—or, at least, he couldn’t recall having gone out there since then… What in the world is going on here? he wondered.

“You did leave, Mr. Zgil-Al,” Sile said, his tone considerably sterner than before. “You were gone for nearly fifteen days.”

Solonn was now becoming less confused and more afraid. Part of his life was missing from his mind, and it wasn’t exactly a small part… “I… I don’t remember going out there, though, sir,” he insisted. “Last thing I remember, I was on my way to the snowgrounds…”

“You’re certain that you have no memory of where you went or whom or what you might have encountered?” Sile asked.

“Yes, sir, I’m certain,” Solonn answered, his worry ringing clearly through his voice. “It’s… it’s like nothing happened at all.”

“Well, I’m afraid something did happen,” Sile said, his tone softening with what sounded like pity. “As for what… well, we can’t be certain, but one possibility is that your missing time is the result of a deliberate act of memory erasure. That, in turn, could be evidence of abduction by unknown psychic pokémon.” At these words, murmurs rose in a fresh wave throughout the attendants.

“But why? What would any such creatures want with him?” Azvida asked.

“Your guess is as good as mine,” Sile replied. “Needless to say, this means that we shall all have to live with increased vigilance. We must keep our eyes open for anything strange. Mr. Zgil-Al is safely among us again, but the next victim may not be so fortunate…”

“Well, whoever and whatever it was that took him, they’d better not show themselves around me. Not if they want to avoid pain, anyway,” Azvida said with a flash of her eyes. She smiled weakly at Solonn. “I’m just so glad you got back safely. You had me worried half to death!”

Solonn might have been glad to be back, too. The only problem was that the hole in his mind that served as his only souvenir of the reason why he should be glad to be back was troubling him too much to allow him that kind of relief. Guess it’s my turn to be worried half to death, he thought dismally as the crowd dissipated and he and his mother headed for home.

* * *

Weeks passed before Azvida seemed to feel certain enough of her son’s safety to let him set foot outside of their residence again. Once she had, however, Solonn quickly came to wish that she hadn’t. It seemed that there was not a single person whom Solonn could run into who didn’t try to ask him a battery of questions about his disappearance. He had no answers for them regarding that topic, and at first he was able to explain that to them in a calm and patient manner. However, it quickly became clear that they wouldn’t accept that answer. They continued to hound him about the matter, and it wasn’t long before he lost patience for their persistent interrogations.

As a result, he took to spending as much time alone as he could. He visited the snowgrounds only when he was absolutely sure that no one else was there (he had long ago learned how to detect snorunt trying to hide in the snow) and hence not very often. Thus, for a time at least, he was able to successfully avoid others and their questions both in the snowgrounds and everywhere else.

It was not a snorunt or a glalie who ultimately broke his solitude. Rather, it was a zubat, one who came fluttering unexpectedly into the snowgrounds one day. It wasn’t the same one whom Solonn had seen all those years ago, however; this one was noticeably smaller. This zubat did seem to have something in common with the previous one, though: he looked lost—very lost, in fact, and very anxious about it.

Solonn watched as the zubat flapped about in frantic figure-eights overhead. The flying creature appeared not to notice the snorunt below at all and talked continuously to himself about how scared he was, how he didn’t know where he was, and how he didn’t know what to do—Solonn half expected the poor thing to pass out and fall to the snow below from not pausing to take a breath.

When Solonn thought he could get a word in edgewise between the zubat’s chitterings, he called up to him. “Hey!” he shouted. “Do you need help?”

The zubat gave a startled squeak. The next second, he plummeted from the air without any warning, diving right into the snorunt’s face—Solonn braced himself for a wing attack or something equally unpleasant, but the zubat thankfully didn’t attack him. Instead, he merely asked, in a very high-strung voice, “Where am I?”

Solonn winced at the volume and pitch of the zubat’s voice. “You’re where you don’t belong,” he then answered, which immediately earned a shriek of terror from the zubat. “Relax! I can take you to someone who knows the way out of here.”

“Really?”

“Yes, really,” Solonn said a bit wearily, already fairly exasperated by the zubat. “Now, come on!”

If the zubat had possessed eyes, they might have been sparkling. “Oh, thank you! Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you—”

“Are you coming along or not?” Solonn interrupted suddenly in order to make the zubat shut up. He turned and started walking away.

“Oh yes, yes, right,” the zubat said hastily, fluttering after Solonn in a hurry.

As Solonn made his way through the warren, he tried very hard to ignore the person following him. This zubat was nothing at all like the last one he’d encountered; true, that one had been rather hostile, but at least she had also been relatively quiet. This zubat’s mouth, on the other hand, was in near-constant motion.

“Wow! This place is so weird!” the bat chittered, rattling on and on. “But it’s still pretty cool, though! Super cool! …And super cold. Brrr! I don’t like the cold. No, I sure don’t like it. Of course, for that matter, I don’t really like the sun, either… But that’s okay, cause I still like you! And that’s cause you’re helping me get out of here! What a pal!” he squealed.

Solonn cringed. Great, you’ve inflicted a “pal” on yourself, he thought. He reminded himself that he was doing the right thing by aiding this creature… or rather, he tried to remind himself of that, but the zubat’s voice seemed to be trying its hardest to destroy his mind.

The zubat then got right in his face—again. “Name’s Zyrzir, by the way,” the zubat said.

Solonn knew that already. Zyrzir had already introduced himself six times since leaving the snowgrounds.

“So, what’s your name? Huh? Huh? Huh?” Zyrzir asked as he resumed following behind the snorunt.

“Mr. Ice Beam,” Solonn said, utterly deadpan.

“Hey… that’s not what you said last time!” Zyrzir said with a frown. “Last time, you said your name was Mr. Bitey! The time before that, you said your name was Mr. Snowball! And all the times before that, you didn’t say anything at all, as if you didn’t have a name, and that was your answer! Why won’t you just please cooperate and tell me what your real name is, huh?” Zyrzir whined.

Because you are annoying me to death, and I am trying to ignore you so my brain doesn’t explode! Solonn thought.

But then Zyrzir laid down his ultimatum. “I won’t stop asking until you tell me the truth.”

The snorunt produced a sound halfway between a groan and a sigh. “Ugh, fine. My name is Solonn. Satisfied?”

“Oh yes, yes, yes! Thanks a thousand, Mr. Satisfied!” Zyrzir squeaked joyfully, at which Solonn made a face. “Oh, by the way, are we almost where we’re supposed to be going? Are we? Are we? Are we?” the zubat then asked.

“Yes, we are, luckily for you.” And even more luckily for me, Solonn added silently. Sure enough, they soon reached the Zgil-Al residence, where they were greeted almost immediately by Azvida.

“Oh good,” she said. “I was hoping you’d get back soon. Zilag was here looking for you. He just left not too long ago. I told him he could come back here after a little while.”

Solonn started to turn to leave at once.

“No, you don’t,” Azvida said. She shifted the ice on the walls to form a barrier in front of Solonn. “Now, I don’t know what’s going on between you two, but I think it’s time you sorted it out. And you’re not leaving until you do just that.”

Solonn grudgingly started toward his room, but was obstructed once again, this time by his mother’s face.

“And might I ask why you’ve brought a zubat here?” she asked.

“He needs out,” Solonn said.

“Fine, then. I’ll deal with that, and you’ll stay here and wait for Zilag,” Azvida said. “And I mean it, stay here. I’ll know if you don’t.” With that, she left, leading Zyrzir away with her.

And just how would she know if I left? Solonn wondered, but he decided not to chance it. He went to his room, and for several minutes he just sat there with nothing to do but dread Zilag’s visit. He wished that he could devise some means of distracting himself from that inevitability, but when he tried to think of a way to occupy himself, he found that he couldn’t come up with anything at all.

The reason for his inability to conceive an idea was that the memory of Zyrzir’s voice was, for some reason, now infesting his brain. It was leaving no room whatsoever for any other thought processes to take place. Solonn tried to displace that memory, but it remained firmly stuck in his head. He groaned in aggravation, muttering a venomous string of curses on the name of the zubat who was inexplicably continuing to torment him even after departing his company.

“Why couldn’t he just shut up?” he wondered aloud. “Gods, it was nonstop: ‘Are we there yet? Brrr, it’s cold! You’re my friend!’”

Solonn abruptly shut his mouth in surprise. That impression of Zyrzir’s voice had been eerily close to the real thing… Feeling a giddy little spark of wonder, he tried it out again. “Hi, I’m Zyrzir! And I’m… so… annoying!”

Dead on! he congratulated himself silently, bursting into laughter. It was then that the iron grip of the Zyrzir-voice on his brain finally relented and an idea occurred to him: perhaps now he could provide something for people to talk about that they just might find more interesting than his recent abduction…

Grinning in anticipation, Solonn put on the Zyrzir-voice once more. “Wait’ll Zilag hears this!”

* * *

In time, Azvida returned, checking at once to see if her son was still home. Shortly thereafter, Zilag arrived. Azvida showed him to Solonn’s room right away, then left the two snorunt alone.

“Uh…” Zilag started somewhat warily as he stood several paces behind Solonn, who had his back turned toward him.

Solonn turned very slightly to acknowledge Zilag, wearing an unreadable expression.

“Yeah, hi,” Zilag said awkwardly, sounding a bit troubled. “I just… you know, wanted to make sure that you’re okay.”

“Why wouldn’t I be?” Solonn asked nonchalantly.

“Well… since that thing that happened—”

“I really don’t want to talk about that, Zilag,” Solonn interrupted flatly. “I can’t anyway—I said I don’t remember anything about that, and that’s the truth.”

“I know! I believe you!” Zilag said.

“And what about the others?” Solonn asked. “Have they finally got it through their heads yet?”

“I told them to quit bugging you about that. I figured out that that was why you’ve been avoiding everybody.”

“And you’re sure they’ll really listen to you, too?” Solonn asked, wearing a skeptical look on his face.

“Well, even if they won’t listen to me, I bet they’d listen to you. You’re taller than any of us,” Zilag pointed out.

“Not by that much,” Solonn said, rolling his eyes. “And I am not going to start pushing people around just because I’m bigger than them,” he said firmly, sounding slightly offended.

“That’s not exactly what I meant… ” Zilag said—although it was almost what he meant. “Look, I just want you to be able to go out without having to worry about being harassed,” he said earnestly, “and I promise I’ll do whatever I can to keep people off your back about—well, you know what.”

Solonn turned around completely to face Zilag. Smiling, he said, “Thanks. I appreciate that.”

“No problem,” Zilag said coolly. “So… feel like hitting the snowgrounds and letting everybody know you’re still alive?”

“Well…” Solonn began. Then, he smiled craftily. Time to bring out the secret weapon… “Sure, why not?” he said perkily in his impression of Zyrzir’s voice.

Zilag stood completely still and silent for a moment as if petrified, his mouth agape as he stared like an idiot. “…What was that?” he finally asked, sounding almost as if he were a bit scared to find out.

“That,” Solonn said slyly, “was the voice of a zubat.”

Zilag continued staring stupidly for a moment. Then he unleashed a squealing laugh, the volume of which brought a clearly alarmed and confused Azvida rushing onto the scene in very short order.

“What in the gods’ names is going on in here?” she demanded in a bewildered-sounding voice.

“I’m sorry,” Zilag said, gasping a bit. He gestured toward Solonn. “It’s just him; he’s doing something funny. Do that zubat voice again!” he then requested of Solonn.

“Zubat voice?” Azvida asked, casting a puzzled look at her son.

Solonn hesitated, not sure of how his mother would react to his impression; perhaps this sort of thing fell under the category of disrespecting the “sacred prey”. Finally, he reckoned that she probably wouldn’t take it that seriously—it was just a silly little impression, after all.

Proceeding with his performance, “Hi, I’m Zyrzir! My voice causes brain damage!” he chittered cheerfully.

Azvida’s eyes widened. Then she, too, started laughing, though not to the same degree as Zilag had. “Oh gods,” she said once it had subsided, “that sounds exactly like him. I’d thought I’d never hear that horrid voice again!”

“Isn’t it just awful?” Solonn said, keeping the zubat voice.

“Oh yes,” Azvida agreed, laughing a bit more as she turned to exit the room.

Out she went, leaving Solonn to stare at Zilag, who was caught up in a fit of giggles. “Uh… are you okay?” he asked, stowing the zubat voice.

“Yeah,” Zilag replied, albeit voicelessly. As soon as he managed to catch his breath again, he said, “You have got to go and do that at the snowgrounds. I bet everyone’ll be there if we go now.”

“Okay, then,” Solonn said, smiling. “Let’s go.”

The two of them passed by Azvida as they headed out. “Guess you’re going to go show off to everyone you can, aren’t you?” Azvida teased Solonn.

“Guess so,” Solonn admitted as he and Zilag exited the Zgil-Al residence.

Azvida was glad to see that Solonn was up for social interaction again, especially given the way that he’d found to go about it. She grinned and chuckled to herself as she thought about Solonn’s zubat impression again, feeling both amused by her son and proud of him. In addition to finding the impression funny—Zyrzir’s was the single most ridiculous voice and manner of speaking that she had ever heard, after all—she also thought that it was uncannily, even disturbingly accurate.

How does he do that? she wondered. Solonn’s zubat impression was so accurate that it was as if he wasn’t just using the zubat’s voice, but also—

Azvida stopped laughing, quite astounded, as she realized that indeed her son wasn’t merely using the voice of a zubat. He was using the language of one, as well.

* * *

Once Solonn and Zilag arrived at the snowgrounds, Solonn produced the zubat impression yet again. It went over rather well with the crowd of snorunt who were gathered there.

“That was so cool!” Reizirr said.

“Yeah,” Davron agreed. “Hey, let’s see if I can do it.” Davron’s attempt at a zubat impression didn’t sound like anyone or anything other than Davron, however. “Aw, crap…”

“Just keep trying,” Solonn said, and using the zubat voice in demonstration, added, “Like this, see?”

“Wow, that’s so impressive,” said a sarcastic voice, one not belonging to a snorunt. Everyone in attendance turned toward its source. There, at the entrance to the snowgrounds, lingered a smirking glalie.

“Kashisha, go away!” Zilag urged. Kashisha was his older sister—though he wished that she weren’t.

Ignoring her brother entirely, Kashisha advanced into the room, shoving aside any snorunt unfortunate enough to be in her path. “Seriously, I thought there was an actual zubat in here,” she went on, “but it turns out to be just a bunch of snow-twerps. Shame, really. I was looking forward to biting its wings off.”

She stopped in front of Solonn. “You’re the one responsible for that little trick?” she asked.

Solonn remained utterly silent and still, wary of interacting with Kashisha in any way.

“Better answer her,” Zilag said. “She’s evil incarnate.”

“Why, thank you for the compliment, dear brother,” Kashisha said in a sugary tone, getting in Zilag’s face very suddenly; with a tiny squeak of fright, he dove right into hiding under the snow. Then she got in Solonn’s face. “Well?”

“Yes,” Solonn confirmed in a small voice.

“Oh, I’m sorry, what was that? I didn’t hear you…” Kashisha said melodiously.

“I said yes! It was me!” Solonn shouted hastily.

Kashisha backed off slightly—very slightly. “Well, then. I guess that makes you pretty cool—for a stupid kid, anyway,” she said.

Stupid kid? Solonn thought indignantly. You’re barely any older than I am! Which was true; Kashisha was only twenty-one months his senior, and just a year older than her brother. However, she, like all of her friends, had chosen to evolve early (six years ago, in her case), and like them, she treated those who waited until reaching a respectable age to evolve like dirt.

“I have a request for you, zubat-boy,” Kashisha said then. “Let’s hear… a spheal. Can you do that? Or is that too hard for the little baby?”

The distinct feeling that Solonn got from Kashisha was that he’d better deliver. He tried hard to remember the way that Sophine had sounded. All of a sudden, the memory of that voice flooded his mind, in just the same way that the memory of Zyrzir’s voice had done right before he’d replicated it for the first time.

“Is this what you mean?” Solonn asked then, using Sophine’s voice. This earned some impressed noises from the crowd and an approving nod of sorts from the glalie hovering before him.

“Bravo,” Kashisha said, grinning wickedly. “Say… why don’t you come with me and entertain some of my friends?”

“I don’t know…” Solonn wanted to back away from her, but he felt rooted to the spot.

“Oh, I think you’d better—unless you’d rather I snap you in half…”

“Okay, fine, I’ll go!”

“Good! And while we’re at it…” Kashisha plunged her face into the snow, pulled Zilag out of hiding, and dropped her protesting brother at Solonn’s feet. “He’ll be coming along with us, too. He is your best friend, after all, right? Surely he wouldn’t want to miss your big debut in front of a real audience?”

“No, ma’am, I wouldn’t,” Zilag said weakly in defeat.

“Off we go, then!” Kashisha said merrily. She circled around Solonn and Zilag and began shoving them along before her. The two snorunt got moving in a hurry as Kashisha set about herding them out of the snowgrounds.

“What should we do?” Reizirr asked once Kashisha and her victims had left.

“Start composing their eulogies,” Davron answered grimly.

* * *

Solonn and Zilag scrambled to stay both on their feet and ahead of the periodically snapping jaws of Kashisha, who had driven them into a part of the warren that Solonn had never seen before.

With one last shove, she brought the journey of the two snorunt to an end, forcing them into a wide, low-ceilinged room. Solonn saw at once that he, Zilag, and the glalie who had brought them to this place were not the only ones present. The room was also presently occupied by nine other glalie who were sitting in a row and glaring at the two snorunt like some sort of sinister council.

“I see you brought your pathetic little brother again,” the male in the center of the row said. “I’m getting bored of tormenting him, though… but who’s this other brat?”

“This is Solonn,” Kashisha told him. “He’s our new court jester,” she added with an enormous grin. She nudged Solonn toward the glalie in the center of the row. “That, Solonn, is Sanaika, the Master of Ceremonies. And I do mean ‘master’. Bow before him!”

“Yes, bow!” Sanaika snapped.

Solonn lowered his head slightly. Sanaika responded by spitting a chunk of ice that struck him in the forehead, eliciting a shout of pain from the snorunt.

“The Master approves! You are now initiated into the Fellowship of Slaves!” Kashisha said gleefully. “Now! Perform for your master!”

With a small sigh, Solonn ran through his impression of Zyrzir’s voice, followed by that of Sophine’s voice. Then, after rummaging briefly through his memories, he produced a third impression: the voice of Sophine’s mother.

“What an entertaining little weenie you are!” Sanaika remarked once Solonn had finished.

“I knew you’d like him!” Kashisha exclaimed proudly. “That sealeo voice trick at the end was a nice touch, by the way,” she told Solonn.

“Yeah, but I can think of one impression that I guarantee you he doesn’t know,” Sanaika said. The glalie at either side of him gazed expectantly at him with looks of toadying curiosity. “Human.”

“Oh, that’s brilliant!” Kashisha crowed, her eyes flashing diabolically. The other glalie echoed her enthusiastic approval.

“…Wait, did you say ‘human’?” Solonn asked. He was sure that he couldn’t have heard that right…

“Yes, you little turd, human,” Sanaika spat disdainfully. “You know, those weird, stupid-looking things with the long limbs and tiny little heads who sound completely ridiculous when they talk…”

“And taste like crap,” the glalie to Sanaika’s left offered.

You wouldn’t know,” Sanaika scoffed at him. “But yes, they do taste like crap.”

“Humans don’t exist,” Solonn dared to say. “They’re just a myth…”

All of the glalie stared incredulously at Solonn. Zilag quickly looked away from him, terrified that something hideous was about to befall his friend.

“Oh, they do exist,” Sanaika said in a low, rather ominous voice. “In fact, you’re going to find out for yourself just how real they are, and you might find yourself very, very grateful that they are, too.”

Sanaika brought himself to hover right before Solonn, just inches away from his face. “I am giving you a quest and an offer. You’ll go up to where the humans are. You’ll meet one, see them with your own eyes, and hopefully get to hear the idiotic sound of their voice. And if you can return to us with a perfectly realistic impression of that voice, then I promise you’ll never have to come here again if you don’t want to.”

“What do you say, little baby? You want to go human-hunting?” Kashisha asked playfully.

“Oh, it’s not his choice,” Sanaika told her. “Now, you and the others can stay here and babysit your little brother while I deliver this twerp to his date with a human.”

“Aw, we wanted to come and watch!” Kashisha said. The other glalie griped, as well, and one of them even snapped at Sanaika in her outrage. Sanaika calmly turned toward the offender. His eyes suddenly turned a blazing white, and with a resounding crack, he struck her with sheer cold. His would-be attacker’s eyes rolled back, and she dropped heavily to the floor, unconscious.

“You brain wrecks! We can’t all gather at the exit like that!” Sanaika then said. “Do you not realize how conspicuous we would be? What if we were spotted by some ball-chucking human, huh? Or worse, by the authorities? Now, all of you, stay put, or else you’ll all find icicles where you’d rather not.”

With that, Sanaika seized Solonn very harshly in his jaws and set off into the warren with him. He carried the snorunt through a series of tunnels that led, much to Solonn’s surprise, up to the very same cavern where, all those years ago, Solonn had met Sophine and her mother. Then Sanaika left the cavern, and he sealed the exit behind him with a wall of ice.

Solonn knew that there was no way for him to get through that ice wall. Barriers like that one were commonplace in the warren, existing to control where snorunt could and could not go. The ice of which they were made was too thick for even his teeth, the teeth of a creature who frequently ate ice, to break through. It was reinforced with the raw power of the ice element, and could only be removed by the kind of control over ice that no snorunt possessed.

He knew that the tunnel that led up into this place from the snowgrounds had been blocked off in the same way not long after Kashisha had told on Zilag for encouraging others to travel through it, having learned as much from Zilag years ago. So it seemed that there was no option for Solonn other than to sit and wait for some glalie—and a decent one rather than someone like Sanaika, he hoped—to discover that he was here. He figured that he couldn’t rightly get into trouble as he had last time once he’d had a chance to tell of how, and because of whom, he had ended up here—or, at least, he hoped that he couldn’t get into trouble…

Solonn found himself strongly wishing that he wouldn’t have to wait much longer to be discovered, regardless of any punishment that might or might not be awaiting him. He was growing quite nervous about remaining in that place, and when he realized that it was because of those humans that Sanaika had spoken of, he couldn’t help but give a little laugh.

Gods, that’s not what you’re afraid of, is it? Solonn thought incredulously. Don’t be stupid, he scolded himself silently. You know there’s no such thing as humans!

“Well, well, well. I just knew that if we kept coming back here, we were sure to find one sooner or later.”

Startled, Solonn jumped at the unexpected, somewhat gruff-sounding voice. He turned toward its source. Standing only a couple of feet away was a manectric, but Solonn had no way of recognizing that. The electric-type had managed to sneak right up behind Solonn, completely unnoticed until he had spoken.

“Who… who are you?” Solonn asked nervously.

“Oh, there’ll be plenty of time for introductions once we’re back in Lilycove, buddy,” the manectric said. He then unleashed a chilling, wavering howl, the sound of which was magnified and echoed by the cavern.

As the howl faded, another sound became audible. Solonn recognized it as the sound of snow crunching underfoot, but these footfalls sounded much heavier than those made by his own feet or those of any other snorunt. The footsteps were approaching swiftly, and soon their owner came into view.

For a very long moment, Solonn’s mind went blank at the sight of the newcomer. They do exist, Solonn thought, his eyes wide with wonder. Some tiny part of him still insisted that it was impossible, but the creature that now stood a short distance before him fit Sanaika’s description of a human well enough to make him believe otherwise.

“Ah, Brett, you found one! Good job!” the human said brightly. The sound of her voice surprised Solonn; he didn’t think that it fit Sanaika’s descriptions of how humans sounded at all.

The human then detached a pokéball from its resting place at her hip. It expanded in her hand, more than tripling in size. “Come out, Aaron!” she said.

The sphere burst open at its equator. Energy exploded from within it in a surge of white light, and then, much to Solonn’s astonishment, it coagulated into a living creature. A sceptile now stood at the human’s side.

“Don’t be afraid, snorunt,” the human said gently. “We don’t really want to hurt you. We’re going to make this as easy on you as possible. You won’t even feel a thing.”

She looked toward Brett and then toward Aaron. “Thunder wave and false swipe, please,” she instructed them respectively. The two pokémon gave quick nods of acknowledgment, then began moving toward Solonn. Brett’s fur crackled with dancing sparks of electricity, while one of the bladelike structures at Aaron’s left wrist took on a white glow.

Where others might have screamed, fled, or perhaps attacked out of fright, Solonn only stood and stared, transfixed by fascination and lingering disbelief at the human and the two pokémon who accompanied her. He seemed not to even realize that he was being attacked until it was too late.

Brett released a small pulse of electric-type energy. Solonn cried out at the initial pain as the attack struck him, but a second later, that pain was gone—along with all other sensation throughout his body. His legs gave out from under him in the next instant, and he toppled over onto his side.

Aaron was now standing over him, peering down through eyes of a dull yellow shade as he raised his glowing wrist blade. Solonn could not see this, however. His view of Aaron was limited to the sceptile’s tail and clawed feet. He didn’t see the careful, precise strike that left him on the sheer edge of consciousness, and just as the human had said he wouldn’t, he didn’t feel it either.

“All right, that ought to do it,” the human said. From a pouch strapped to her shoulder, she produced another capture ball, a great ball this time.

Barely able to remain conscious as he was, Solonn’s mind didn’t quite register the human’s next action: she threw the ball at him. It opened in midair before him and released a red beam that struck him and filled his fading vision with crimson light.

One second, Solonn was lying paralyzed and nearly unconscious on the cavern’s floor. The next… he was nowhere.

_________________________

A little history on the name “Kashisha”: the late Billie, one of my cats, would invariably hiss at me whenever I said that word to her. None of my other cats have ever responded that way to that word. Weird, but true.

Next time: The intentions of Solonn’s captor are made clear. See you then!

- Sike Saner
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  #5    
Old January 2nd, 2008, 07:30 PM
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Awesome two chapters, indeed.

Again, I have no helpful advice to give, both fortunately and unfortunately. You've made the chapters so enjoyable to read I couldn't pry any errors from it. You also made the dialogue seem so realistic and everything flowed so smoothely as a result of it. All I can really say is keep posting more of the same awesome chapters. I'm sorry this review wasn't very helpful.

Another Zubat wins the prize of my favorite character in a fic... It's always the Zubats xD
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Old January 6th, 2008, 06:48 PM
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Grovyle42(Griff4815) View Post
Awesome two chapters, indeed.

Again, I have no helpful advice to give, both fortunately and unfortunately. You've made the chapters so enjoyable to read I couldn't pry any errors from it. You also made the dialogue seem so realistic and everything flowed so smoothely as a result of it. All I can really say is keep posting more of the same awesome chapters. I'm sorry this review wasn't very helpful.
Ah, don't worry about it. I appreciate your reviews. ^^

Quote:
Another Zubat wins the prize of my favorite character in a fic... It's always the Zubats xD
Heh, I'm glad you enjoyed reading about Zyrzir. He was fun to write, too. ^^

Thanks for the kind words, and thanks for reading! ^^
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Old January 19th, 2008, 03:13 PM
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Thanks once again to everyone who has been reading this so far.

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Chapter 3 – The Deal


There were a number of things that Solonn felt upon his release from the capture ball. First came sheer relief, both at no longer being drained and paralyzed (he distantly wondered how he had recovered so completely and suddenly) and, to a greater degree, at just being out of that ball—he’d found its particular style of confinement too surreal. He had been conscious all the while that he’d been contained within that sphere, but had seemed not to actually exist. It was as though the great ball had reduced him to nothing more than a mind without a body, impossible though it seemed to him that such a thing should be. Trying to make sense of it seemed to achieve nothing more than a sore head, and so Solonn pushed that particular matter aside for the time being.

With the mysteries of the capture ball no longer first and foremost on his mind, Solonn’s focus shifted to the human who stood just a short distance in front of him. Since his captor was no longer wearing the heavy clothing that had protected her from the cold of Shoal Cave, she looked somewhat smaller now, and with her head no longer covered by a hood, he could now see her brown, shoulder-length hair.

The next thing that Solonn noticed about his present situation was that the environment into which he had been brought was too warm for his liking. “Er… excuse me,” he said as he looked up at the human. “It’s a little too warm in here… could you do anything about that?”

The human merely stared at him in response.

Solonn repeated his request. This time, his captor cocked her head a bit and smiled at him, but she still did not answer, nor did she make any move to change the temperature.

It was then that Solonn realized that the human was not understanding a single word that he was saying. This didn’t make sense to him; every time before that Solonn had encountered a member of another species, they had been able to understand him just like those of his own kind were. Why, he wondered, was the human any different?

Solonn wondered then if she might understand him if he were to speak to her using a human voice. As he considered it, his mind brought forth the memories of her voice as he had heard it back in Shoal Cave, and he felt quite sure that he could pull off an imitation of that voice.

With that confidence, he was about to give it a try—but then he stopped himself. He had just been struck by the realization that doing these “impressions” was what had gotten him swept up into this situation to begin with. It was because he had revealed that talent that he had gotten mixed up with Sanaika’s gang and that now—it hit him all at once—he would likely never see home again.

In sudden panic, Solonn began to tremble, and the human responded to this right away. “Oh, poor little guy,” she said, looking upon him with a pitying expression as she knelt down upon the floor in front of him. “It’s okay; you have nothing to be scared of.”

She opened her arms to Solonn, which only confused him. She then wrapped her arms around him and tried to lift him up, but he was quite heavier than she had expected. Solonn, meanwhile, did not like what she was doing. For a moment, his instincts took over, and he tried to wriggle free of her grasp. He just barely managed to stop himself short of biting her.

Finally, sensing both the futility of her efforts and the snorunt’s aversion to what she was trying to do, the human gave up and let go of Solonn. Shaking the coldness of her contact with the ice-type from her hands, she stood and went to fetch a pillow from the bed. She placed it on the floor as something on which Solonn could sit and perhaps be more comfortable. The snorunt ignored it completely, giving her a penetrating stare.

The human sighed. “Okay. I’ll tell you what: I’ll go and get you something nice, something that I promise you’ll like. In the meantime, I’ll give you a chance to get acquainted with a couple of your new friends. You’ve already met Aaron and Brett, but I have three other pokémon friends. I’m afraid you’ll have to wait to meet Sei until she gets out of the pokémon center; she’s been pretty sick. But you can go ahead and introduce yourself to these two.”

She removed two capture balls from her belt and released their occupants in twin surges of white light. A skarmory materialized at her right, while a claydol appeared at her left. There was something strangely disconcerting on a very primal level about the former, but Solonn couldn’t quite place what that something was.

“This is Raze,” the human introduced as she pointed at the skarmory, “and this is Ominous,” she said, pointing at the claydol. “Oh… I forgot to introduce myself, didn’t I?” she realized aloud with a small giggle. “My name is Morgan Yorke. Anyway, these pokémon are some of my best friends, and I just know that ultimately you and I are going to get to be really good friends, too. See you in a few minutes!” she said, then left the room.

For a moment, the other two pokémon just stared at Solonn, and he seemed unable to do anything but stare back. He quickly began to wish they would stop it, particularly with regards to Ominous—it was just more than a little unnerving to him to have that many eyes staring at him from the same face.

All those eyes left no room on Ominous’s face for a mouth; therefore, it was quite a surprise for Solonn to hear the claydol speak to him then—although it didn’t sound to Solonn as though Ominous was actually saying anything. Their voice consisted of a rapid-fire series of low-pitched, hollow-sounding noises. Solonn got an immediate sense that he could never replicate that voice, no matter how he tried.

“With your brain, nitwit!” Raze suddenly squawked, interrupting the claydol.

Ominous winced, closing all of their eyes in unison. <I apologize,> they said. <I should not still be forgetting about that…>

A second after Ominous had spoken, Solonn realized, astounded, that he’d not actually heard their words. Rather, even while their actual voice had rattled on incomprehensibly in Solonn’s ears, the words the claydol was conveying had sounded within his mind, just as one of his own thoughts would do. Solonn wasn’t quite sure what to make of this phenomenon.

<As I was attempting to say,> Ominous proceeded then, <the name by which Morgan called me is not my actual name. My true name is Oth.>

“My name really is Raze, though,” the skarmory said, sounding less than happy about it. “I was born in this house, and that’s when Morgan gave me that name. I don’t think it’s such a great name, but…” She ruffled her magenta-feathered wings in the skarmory equivalent of a shrug. “So, what name did she give you?” Raze asked then.

“Er… I don’t know,” Solonn admitted. “My real name is Solonn, though.”

<She must not have given him his new name yet, then,> Oth supposed.

“Maybe she isn’t going to give me another name,” Solonn said.

“Oh, she’ll give you one,” Raze said. “Maybe you’ll like it, and maybe you won’t. But you’ll be grateful for it, and also grateful that you got landed with Morgan and not some other coordinator, because with some coordinators, you would just get called ‘Snorunt’.”

“…Coordinators?” Solonn had never heard of such a thing.

Raze cocked her head at Solonn. “You have a lot to learn,” she said.

“Then you have a lot to explain,” Solonn countered. “What’s a coordinator?”

“Well, a coordinator is your human coach and partner for the contests,” Raze explained. “And before you ask: in a contest, you just basically have to show off your powers. You use them in ways that impress humans. In your case, that means you can’t just blow a couple of snowflakes at them and expect to win.”

Somehow, the idea of “showing off” for the humans was less than appealing to Solonn—in fact, it rather reminded him of being ushered off by Kashisha to show off for her friends. “Wait, why would I want to do this, anyway?” he asked. “What’s in it for me?”

Raze’s yellow eyes suddenly widened with glee. “I’ll show you!” she said eagerly, then speedily crossed the room. “Come here!” she beckoned, standing before a bookcase that was just a bit shorter than she was. After a moment of skeptical hesitation, Solonn complied. “Have a look at these!” Raze said once the snorunt had joined her, inclining her head toward something sitting on the bookcase’s top shelf.

“I can’t see up there, Raze,” Solonn said.

“Oh… oops,” Raze said with a small, embarrassed laugh. Somewhat awkwardly, she used her beak to pick up the thing that she was trying to show to Solonn, then set it down on the floor between herself and the snorunt.

Solonn peered at the object that had just been placed before him. It was a large, flat, plastic case. Through its transparent lid, he could see a collection of twelve small trinkets: colored ribbons, each adorned with a little metal medallion. The case also contained slots for eight more of these ribbons.

“The red ones are mine,” Raze said, positively radiating pride, “the yellow ones are Oth’s, and the green ones are Sei’s. Now, yours, if I’m not mistaken, are gonna be blue.”

“Hm.” You sure are assuming a lot, Raze… Solonn thought. It was going to take more than just a bunch of ribbons to convince Solonn that these “contests” were anything of which he should like to have any part. “So,” he spoke up after a long moment’s silence, looking up from the ribbon case and right into Raze’s eyes, “this is what Morgan keeps us for?”

“Well, yeah, pretty much,” Raze answered. She then put the ribbon case back up on top of the bookcase, taking one last moment to admire her ribbons before turning her attention fully to the snorunt once more.

“So… suppose I didn’t want to be a part of these contests… would she take me back home, then?” Solonn asked.

There was a prolonged silence. Raze and Oth exchanged awkward glances.

“Well?” Solonn pressed.

<Solonn…> Oth began hesitantly. <Morgan had been seeking a snorunt to train for entry into contests for quite some time. She has spent many an hour composing routines and strategies for you… I do not imagine that she would want her plans to go to waste.>

“Well, maybe she can just go find some other snorunt for the job,” Solonn suggested. “Someone who actually wants it.”

<I do not believe you would really want that,> Oth said. <You do not truly wish for another snorunt, possibly one of your friends, to be taken from his or her home just so that you can return to your own.>

Solonn stared agape at Oth for a moment. The claydol was completely right; Solonn did not even try in the slightest to contradict them.

“This… this is your home now, Solonn,” Raze said, knowing the consolation to be futile even as she offered it. “You’ll get used to it eventually; I know you will.”

“Yeah, of course you can say that,” Solonn muttered, not really bothering to make himself inaudible. “You were born here.”

“I—” Raze began to counter, but she couldn’t quite find the right words with which to respond and thus abandoned her comeback with a sigh.

It was then that the door opened as Morgan returned, and she was not alone. Accompanying her was another human female, slightly taller and with shorter, darker hair.

“There he is,” Morgan said as the two entered, indicating Solonn with her hand. “What do you think of him?”

“Oh, he’s adorable,” the other human remarked. She stooped slightly to come a bit closer to the snorunt’s eye level. “Hi,” she said in a friendly tone. “Let me introduce myself. I’m Eliza, Morgan’s mother.” She extended her arms to Solonn with an expecting gaze.

“He doesn’t do hugs,” Morgan informed her.

“Oh… Well, that’s all right,” Eliza said, withdrawing her arms and straightening her posture. “What’s his name?” she then asked.

“I’ve decided to call him Azrael,” Morgan replied.

Solonn gave her a funny look. That’s really the best you could come up with?

“Oh, that’s lovely,” Eliza commented.

Morgan smiled in response to her mother’s remark. She then brought a small, polystyrene bowl forward, holding it out in front of Solonn.

Distracted by the arrival of the new human, Solonn hadn’t even noticed that Morgan had been holding the bowl. He now stared at it with uncertainty, edging somewhat closer to it in order to get a look inside. He saw that the bowl contained something that looked more or less like snow but was bright blue in color.

“This is for you,” Morgan told him. “Try it, it’s really good.”

Solonn gazed into the bowl for another second or two, then turned a skeptical gaze toward Morgan.

“Go on, it’s tasty. I promise you’ll like it,” Morgan tried to assure him.

Still wearing an expression of doubt, Solonn nonetheless took the bowl from Morgan’s hands. He continued to hesitate for another long moment before unenthusiastically dipping his hand into the blue snow, scooping some of it up, and putting it in his mouth. The blue snow had a flavor that he could never have imagined—he conceded to himself at once that it was good as Morgan had said it would be, if not moreso.

However… the knowledge that his life had become one whose sole purpose was to perform tricks for people’s amusement like some kind of jester and that there seemed to be no way to return to the life that he’d previously known was now attending heavily upon him and leaving a rather unpleasant feeling in the pit of his stomach. He did not feel like eating. With a despondent sigh, he set the bowl down and turned away from Morgan.

“Hey… are you feeling okay?” Morgan asked worriedly.

Solonn did not respond to her, neither then nor following her several subsequent attempts to get through to him. More than once, she tried to tempt him with that blue snow, but he continued to refuse it. He could not change this new life, but for a while, at least, he could try to ignore it and pretend that it wasn’t happening.

* * *

The remainder of that evening consisted of an awkward pattern of failed interactions between Solonn and his would-be coordinator. Morgan attempted time and time again to converse and be friendly with him, but each time, she was met with resolute silence from the snorunt. After each unsuccessful attempt to socialize with him, she would leave him alone for an hour or so before giving it another go, only to fail to get through to him yet again.

The human did, at least, leave Solonn out of the great ball through the night, for which he was grateful. Perhaps, Solonn considered, she had thought that this would offer her new pokémon some time to grow more accustomed to his surroundings. However, the snorunt instead viewed it as a potential opportunity to flee from the human’s custody while she slept.

Unfortunately, he found out very quickly that escape was not an option. The door was rendered an impassible barrier by a sliding lock, one that was installed in the door at a height that was beyond Solonn’s reach. If not for the fact that Morgan’s bookcase contained small, pewter pokémon statues rather than books, he might have been able to stack up a few volumes as a means by which to reach that lock.

The room’s sole window was positioned within Solonn’s reach, but it didn’t offer an avenue of escape, either; Morgan’s room was upstairs in a two-story house. Though by no means enjoying his present situation, Solonn wasn’t inclined to escape it by falling to likely injury and possible death.

Having given up on finding a way to slip out, he just sat there on the windowsill, staring out through the window at its view of an alien environment. This was not his world, not his place…though he couldn’t deny that he found it fascinating, even rather lovely to behold as he watched the light show put on by the cars that moved past the house.

Though tired in many ways, most of which were not physical, Solonn found that he could not sleep. His eyes remained open and fixed on the city outside, watching as the rising sun brought a new day over the border of the horizon.

A couple of hours later, Morgan stirred nearby in her bed, awakening. Sighing, Solonn turned away from the window at last, wondering in which ways the human would try to reach him today.

He received his answer quite shortly. Morgan left the room for a few minutes, then returned with more of that blue snow and set it down in front of him. He accepted it this time and ate nearly all of it, but only because he was earnestly very hungry. The human smiled at him as she took away the empty bowl, then left to have her own breakfast.

It was when Morgan next returned that she attempted to step up the level of interaction between herself and her new pokémon a little more.

“I’ll bet you’re wondering why you’re here, aren’t you?” she said, her tone clearly intended to sound as kindly and non-threatening as possible. “Well, you don’t have to worry. It’s not going to be anywhere near as scary as you might think. In fact, I bet you’ll have more fun than you’ve ever had before.”

Morgan then proceeded to illustrate her intention to enter Solonn in contests, not really telling him anything that he hadn’t already heard from Raze and Oth the evening before. He pretended not to pay any attention to her, though in reality he was absorbing her every word. It seemed that he was simply unable to tune out a foreign voice.

The day progressed, and Morgan continued to tell Solonn of the ideas she had conceived with regards to the routines that he could employ in contests. As she spoke to him, he had to admit to himself that she didn’t sound as though she truly had any malevolent intentions for him. She wasn’t really coming across to him as a human version of Kashisha; she seemed only to possess a friendly desire to invite him into her strange little hobby, not a desire to prey on him in any sense.

Whether Morgan’s intentions were benign or not, Solonn nonetheless was still not too keen on the idea of making a spectacle of himself, having learned all too well how doing such sometimes earned the wrong kind of attention. There was also still the matter of his captor’s purported unwillingness to let Solonn leave if he so wished, which made it rather difficult for him to very readily accept any sort of friendship or partnership with the human. Hence, as the evening found Morgan offering to initiate the first steps in Solonn’s training, he refused her efforts to bring him into the role that she had chosen for him in silent protest of his detainment.

That night, Solonn sat in the moonlight once again, contemplating his situation as he perched upon the windowsill and gazed outside. Lilycove bore no resemblance to the world that Solonn had known. This left him quite certain that he was very far from home, too far for him to feasibly make it back there by himself.

His eyes fell upon the bed where the human was peacefully sleeping. Solonn wanted to leave, to return home, but this creature would not allow him to do so.

Wait, though… how do I really know she wouldn’t? the thought occurred to him then. Raze and Oth had implied that Morgan had no intention of letting him go, but the human herself had never said anything along the lines of, “You’re never leaving. You’re mine forever.” Morgan had never specifically mentioned anything at all regarding whether or not Solonn could ever depart her custody. Moreover, she didn’t even know that her new snorunt desired to be returned to his home.

What if she actually knew that I want to go back home? Solonn wondered. He could really only speculate as to what her response would be, though, for the problem remained that she was, for whatever reason, unable to understand his speech. He could not communicate with her.

…Although, maybe he could. He had, after all, still not tried to see if Morgan could understand him if he were to speak like a human. However, he was still hesitant to attempt it, for the memory of what the last use of his mimicry had earned for him was still fresh on his mind.

The fact remained, though, that Solonn would likely never know how Morgan would really respond to his desire to be returned home unless he shared it with her. As he thought about it, it began to seem to him that he was doing himself more of a disservice by not giving it a try than by taking the risk.

Furthermore, Solonn questioned if there really was that much of a risk involved with exposing his talents in order to speak with this creature. True, he had gotten into trouble the last time he had presented them. However, as he considered once again, Morgan was no Kashisha, at least not as far as he could tell, so perhaps it wouldn’t be like last time. Perhaps Morgan would simply hear him out and give him what he wanted without making him sorry that he’d reached out to her.

But then, Solonn found himself considering what Oth had told him: I do not imagine that she would want her plans to go to waste. Morgan truly seemed to him to have her heart set on entering contests with him, and he suspected that she would not so readily abandon those aspirations. Solonn could tell her that he wanted to leave, but as long as she held these intentions for him, what chance was there, really, that she would let him go?

That’s when the idea hit him: maybe, just maybe, a deal could be struck.

Solonn carefully gauged the distance between the windowsill and the bed, then sprang from his perch. The mattress yielded with a bounce to Solonn’s weight as he landed, yet Morgan slept on, snoring slightly. Solonn gazed at her from the foot of the bed. Her sleeping form glowed softly through the darkness with the heat of her body, giving her an almost spectrelike appearance.

Solonn made his way toward the concentrated glow that surrounded the human’s head almost as if it were a beacon. Morgan’s face was half concealed by a few errant strands of her hair. Solonn moved them aside, revealing the serene face of his captor. It was interesting, he thought, how a creature whose practice was to abduct people from their homes could look so incredibly benign. The snorunt then reached down toward the human’s face again, this time drawing his hand slowly across her cheek.

Morgan stirred, but only very slightly. Solonn had assumed that the contrasting coldness of his hand against her warm skin would be sufficient to awaken her but now realized that he should have recognized her as a heavy sleeper when his jumping on the bed had failed to wake her up. He began prodding her in the temple, hoping that that would end her slumber. If it didn’t, he was prepared to do whatever was necessary to awaken her. He was not averse to giving her a small bite if that was what it took.

Luckily for Morgan (at least compared to the biting that she would have received otherwise), Solonn’s current efforts succeeded in waking her up, albeit only because one of his prods missed its mark somewhat and found its way into her left eye.

“Hey!” she responded at once, awakening instantly but not quite fully. She lifted her head slightly from the pillow, grumbling incoherently and rubbing her sore eye for a moment, then shook her head a bit in an effort to more fully awaken, yawning loudly as she did so. She then shifted and turned, sitting up slightly more and craning her neck awkwardly in order to try and get a look at what could have possibly just poked her in the eye. Her still-blurry sight just managed to make out the pointed silhouette of the snorunt standing beside her. The light from Solonn’s eyes partially illuminated his face and reflected brightly off of his teeth, giving him a rather eerie appearance.

“Hello, Morgan,” he said quietly, nearly whispering, in a voice that wavered slightly but sounded like Morgan’s voice nonetheless.

Morgan blinked sleepily at the snorunt for a second. “…Hi,” she said finally, the word almost lost in its emergence in the near-simultaneous release of another great yawn.

Then she realized to whom and what she had just replied.

In an instant, she was wide awake, sitting upright and staring with greatly widened eyes at the pokémon beside her. For several seconds, a vocal response of any sort to the situation failed her. Finally, she managed a half-gasped, “What?”

“I said hello,” Solonn repeated, his voice deceptively calm.

Morgan remained silently agape for a brief while before she seemed able to get her next words out. “…But… no, you can’t…”

“Yes, I can.”

“But… how?” Morgan asked, her voice sounding rather strained.

“…I don’t know how I can,” Solonn admitted uneasily.

Morgan took a moment to digest that silently. “This is a dream,” she then decided aloud, and began to turn away from Solonn and back toward her pillow.

“No, it’s not,” Solonn said. “And you know it’s not.” He leaned over her slightly so that the light from his eyes washed over her face. “But if you want to be sure, I can bite you. It’d hurt, and I’m sorry it would, but you’d be sure you were really feeling it, I promise you.”

Morgan sat up once again. For a second, she was leveling a look at Solonn that suggested that she wanted to accuse him of lying, but that gaze faltered almost as soon as it had formed. She turned slightly, seeming less than willing now to look him right in the eyes. “It’s okay, Azrael. You don’t have to bite me. I… I believe you.”

Solonn nodded slightly. “Good. That’s good,” he said, his words followed by a small sigh of slight relief. There went the first obstacle—Morgan seemed to have accepted that she could now understand his speech. Hopefully, she could now be counted on to hear him out. “…But Morgan? My name isn’t Azrael. It’s Solonn,” he then said.

Morgan’s expression momentarily turned to one of surprise, but quickly relaxed once more. “It shouldn’t surprise me that you have your own name,” she said, sounding a bit apologetic. “I bet a lot of pokémon do. Like Sei; she told me hers the first time she evolved, and I’ve been calling her that ever since. Before that, I’d been calling her Enchantress…”

Morgan gave a faint chuckle. “I liked that name, but she told me not to call her that anymore, so I don’t. Now, Ominous… Sei told me what their real name was, and so I asked them if they wanted me to start calling them Oth from now on—that’s their name—but according to Sei, they said not to. I think they might have been worried about hurting my feelings by turning down the name I gave them; they’re such a softie, really…”

“So… you mean you can understand Sei, too?” Solonn asked, a bit surprised.

“Yeah. But that’s only because she’s a very powerful psychic-type. She has really advanced telepathic skills, and that’s how she can make me understand her.”

“Oth has telepathy, too. Why can’t you understand them?” Solonn asked.

“…I actually didn’t know that they had telepathy,” Morgan said, sounding surprised.

Oth must be hiding it from her… Solonn realized. He found himself beginning to wonder why they would do so, and also began to worry slightly that he perhaps shouldn’t have told Morgan of their telepathy since Oth apparently desired to keep that matter a secret.

Morgan, meanwhile, had found herself able to make eye contact with Solonn again. Her expression was now one that spoke of burgeoning amazement. “…I’m sorry, I shouldn’t be goggling at you like this,” she said as she seemed to realize the way that she was looking at Solonn. “It’s just… God, this is so incredible. I thought pokémon had to use telepathy to make themselves understood.”

“Guess you were wrong,” Solonn said simply.

“Guess so.” Morgan gave a soft laugh and smiled, her expression suggesting pride (although why Morgan should feel proud, Solonn couldn’t figure out; it wasn’t as though she were to credit for his ability to speak to humans, after all).

The human’s features shifted suddenly, becoming strangely unreadable. “Hey. Could you do me a favor, though?” she asked.

“What?”

“Do you… do you have to sound like a human when you talk?” Morgan asked. A very odd look came over her face as she realized something. “Do you have to sound like me? How can you sound like me?” she demanded, sounding rather alarmed.

“Shh! Try to keep quiet; I don’t want your mother to wake up,” Solonn said. “And I already told you: I don’t know how I do it.”

“…Sorry,” Morgan said, lowering her voice significantly. “But anyway, could you just… um, not sound like me? No offense, but it’s… kind of weirding me out. Why don’t you just use your normal voice from now on, okay?”

Solonn was about to respond, to tell Morgan that she would no longer understand him if he stopped using that human voice. But then something caught in his mind: Why should what voice I use make a difference in whether or not anyone understands me? He could understand how the abilities of a psychic could make the understanding of speech possible by entering the mind and tricking it into hearing words it recognized. He, however, was no psychic, and he knew it.

A different voice should still only produce the same words, he reckoned; it shouldn’t have the power to transform those words into others. If a creature, like this human, could not understand his words, he should have to use different words to be understood. Their words. Their language.

The gears of his mind momentarily stopped turning as epiphany struck him like a falling stone. The only way Morgan could be understanding him was if he was, in fact, speaking her language instead of his own. And that was precisely what he was doing.

Solonn was stupefied. For the life of him, he could not fathom how this could be possible. That he could spontaneously be able to fluently speak a language that he did not, could not know, a language of which he had only heard a couple of handfuls of words, was a staggering, almost paralyzing notion to him.

He swallowed hard, and his mouth went immediately dry afterward. He was fond of wondering and loath to resist the urge to do so, but the desire to understand this matter was so savagely desperate that he could hardly stand it.

If he had belonged to some other species, he might have begun crying in his astonishment. As it happened, though, his tears were not in service to his emotions, as was the case for all of his kind. His struggle to make sense of himself could only convey itself through the trembling of his body and the wavering of the light in his eyes.

“Is… is something wrong?” Morgan asked, sounding more than a little concerned.

Solonn met her gaze, the earnest care behind the human’s eyes managing to register within his mind despite everything else going on behind his own eyes at the time. He tried to respond but couldn’t quite decide what to say, especially since he wasn’t quite sure of how he should say it. He should be able to use his own voice, he tried to reason silently—it had to be the language and not the voice—but he still just couldn’t quite believe it.

“It’s okay,” Morgan said. “If you’re not comfortable talking to me in your own voice, you don’t really have to.”

Solonn closed his eyes. “No,” he croaked softly, continuing to use Morgan’s voice, his throat feeling as though it were trying to seal itself shut. “No, it’s… it’s not that.”

To prove that that wasn’t the issue, he determined that he would have to try and speak to Morgan with his own voice while still speaking her language. He would just have to find his way around the mental block that was created by the notion that he was doing something that should not be possible.

Solonn took a deep breath and forced himself to return Morgan’s gaze once more. “…It’s nothing,” he finally managed. Conscious as he presently was of the seemingly impossible thing that he was doing, the release of his every word felt almost as if he were pushing a boulder out of his mouth. Get a grip, he tried to command himself, you’re supposed to be talking to her for a reason, remember? “Listen…” he began slowly, all too self-consciously. “I’m sorry I woke you… but we need to talk.”

Morgan nodded. “Okay. What about?”

“Well… it’s about those contests…”

“You don’t want to do them, do you?” Morgan said. “I’ve kind of gotten that impression.”

“…What?” Solonn was taken aback—he had not expected that the human would have recognized his desires. “No… I mean, I’d rather not, but… I’ll do them.”

“Azr—Solonn… you don’t have to. Seriously, if you don’t want to…”

“No, it’s okay,” Solonn insisted. By the initial impression that he’d gotten from Raze’s and Oth’s words, he had imagined that Morgan would take great offense to his wishes to have nothing to do with the contests if she were to learn about them and would vehemently refuse to relinquish her plans for him. Yet here she was, ready to give up her intentions for him without any sign of a conflict. Solonn now found himself feeling quite guilty about his unfavorable preconceptions of her.

He sighed. “I know… I know you’ve been planning hard for a long time for this… and I know it means a lot to you. It’s… it’s not a big deal. Really. I’ll do it—but only on one condition.”

“What?” Morgan asked, sending a troubled, doubtful look into Solonn’s eyes.

Solonn took another deep breath. “Okay. Raze and Oth… they showed me their ribbons. Four each. That’s… that’s how many I have to get myself, isn’t it? Four?” he asked. Morgan nodded. “Okay. After I get the fourth one—you have to promise me, Morgan—after I get that fourth ribbon… you have to let me go. You have to take me back home. Promise me, Morgan. Or I won’t do it.”

“Oh, Solonn…” Morgan’s gaze turned from merely troubled to earnestly sad, earnestly sorry. “If you want to go so bad, I’ll take you home right now. I’ll get Ominous out of their ball and wake them up, and we’ll teleport there right—”

“No!” Solonn interrupted her. His guilt had increased greatly—not only was Morgan fully accepting of his wishes regarding the contests, she was even completely ready and willing to take him right back home… and he had imagined her as immovably, irreconcilably possessive of him, as a creature who would never release his life from the grip of her own.

“No… I said it’s okay, and I meant it,” he insisted, trying his best to convey a firm conviction in spite of the way his voice was shaking. “I’ll do this. I don’t mind, I really don’t, just as long as I know I’ll be going home when this is done. That way… that way, we can both get what we want.” He swallowed. “It’s only fair, don’t you think?”

There was a long silence. Morgan just stared at Solonn until a strangled sound, the prelude to a sob, escaped from her throat. In the next moment, her eyes filled with tears, which then fell forth in streams that shone in the moonlight as they ran down her face. Solonn had never seen such a thing in his life; he couldn’t help but stare in wonder at it.

Morgan nodded then, but that action was overshadowed by a sudden, forward motion that was halfway between lunging and collapsing. Her arms encircled Solonn, and she pressed her forehead against his. The snorunt stiffened, initially surprised by and resistant to the unexpected embrace, but he managed to get himself to relax quickly enough.

“Okay,” Morgan said, half-whispering. “If you’re really okay with this, then we’ll go ahead with it. And then afterward, I’ll take you home. I promise.”

Solonn nodded, acknowledging Morgan’s apparent acceptance of his terms. He had imagined that he would be greatly surprised should the deal go through. Now, however, he couldn’t believe that he’d honestly expected that it wouldn’t. Morgan cared as much about his wishes as her own; that much was now certain to him. She was perfectly willing to give him what he wanted. In return for and appreciation of that—and as an apology for harboring such harsh preconceptions, too, though he did quite a good job of convincing himself that his sense of guilt had very little to do with it—he would give her what she wanted. In his mind, it seemed only fair, after all.

The definite impression Solonn got from the human was that her word could be trusted. One day, she would take him home. But until then… It was now, with the initial panic at the prospect of never returning to the warren having gone and passed, that the opportunities of Solonn’s situation dared at last to come forward and present themselves to him. Until the day arrived when he would return to Virc-Dho, perhaps he would get to encounter and experience more strange things, more wonders of which he could never have conceived. This, he reckoned, could be interesting…

_________________________

Next time: In entering into the lifestyle of a contest pokémon, a new era of Solonn’s life begins… See you then!

- Sike Saner
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CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 06:40 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Old January 19th, 2008, 07:40 PM
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I love it! There's no flaws I can see, and the whole thing is wonderfully described, made, and everything! Your characters are original, and they really just get the reader interested. Can't wait to see where this will go! *quickly gives several stars for rating*
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Old February 26th, 2008, 09:06 PM
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iLike2EatPiez: Thanks! And if you’re the one who rated this thread, thanks for that, too.

If it wasn’t you, thanks to whoever did give this story such a high rating; I’m certainly honored.

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Chapter 4 – Spell of the Spotlight


The following morning brought a choice.

“All right, Solonn. The contest hall here in town will be holding two normal rank contests—those are the ones for newcomers—in the upcoming months,” Morgan said. “There’ll be one in three weeks, on the twenty-fifth, and then there’ll be another one two months afterward, on August twenty-fifth. Now, if you start your training now, you could enter into the earlier one, but you might want to wait until the August contest so that you can get more practice in and be more prepared. But it’s your call, Solonn.”

“I’ll go for the earlier one,” Solonn said at once. In his mind, it was no question at all—the sooner he got started with these contests, the sooner, he reckoned, he could be done with them and return to his home.

Morgan nodded. “Okay, then.” She would have preferred for him to wait until the later contest, believing that the extra time to prepare would have done him quite a bit of good. Nonetheless, she chose to respect Solonn’s choice and allowed his decision to stand.

* * *

That afternoon, Solonn’s contest training began in earnest. It was initiated in a way that Solonn found quite odd: Morgan offered him a small, indigo-colored cube and told him to eat it, saying that it would help him to do well in the contests.

Solonn looked at Morgan as if she were crazy. “How is this thing supposed to make any difference in whether or not I win?”

“Well… what it does is it refines your appearance. These pokéblocks will help you look as healthy and as… er, handsome as you can look. Making a good visual impression on the audience and judges is very important.”

Solonn continued to gaze skeptically at the human. Whatever, he decided finally, and took the pokéblock from Morgan, devouring it quickly. The little candy was… okay; it was kind of good, except that it had this funny, sort of sour aftertaste. That was really the only fault Solonn could find with the pokéblock, though, and it was really only mildly unpleasant—at first. Then he found the little candy cube beginning to disagree with him… and then to strongly disagree with him…

Morgan looked on with pity and poorly concealed revulsion as the snorunt’s body rejected the pokéblock. However, that undesired reaction did not dissuade her from attempting to feed Solonn another of those indigo candies later that evening. Solonn resisted at first—he wasn’t exactly eager to throw up again, after all.

“This one’s different,” Morgan tried to assure him. “I made more than one formula since I didn’t know which you’d do best with. Unfortunately, they just so happen to be the same color—but I promise you, they’re not the same. I even got rid of all of the other kind, so there won’t be any mix-ups.”

Solonn stared warily at her for a long while, his stomach threatening to go sour at just the mere memory of what the last pokéblock had done to him. Then, with a sigh of resignation, he accepted this identical-looking yet supposedly different pokéblock. Immediately, he discovered that Morgan had indeed been telling the truth—this little indigo cube was different from its predecessor. The flavor was one that Solonn immediately and greatly liked, and it didn’t have the disagreeable aftertaste of the other pokéblock. Seconds passed, and it showed no threat of sickening him. Solonn looked up at Morgan with an approving smile.

Morgan smiled back. “Ah, so this one’s a winner, huh?” Solonn nodded in response. “Good! Okay, then. You’ll be getting two of these a day until they’ve done as much for you as they can,” she told him.

This was certainly an aspect of contest training that Solonn didn’t mind in the least. However, he remained skeptical that merely eating candies was going to sufficiently prepare him for any sort of competition. He wondered what else the human might have in store for him in order to get him ready for these contests, these things which were the sole obstacle impeding his return home.

* * *

Around noon the next day, Morgan departed and returned a short while later accompanied by a heretofore unfamiliar presence.

“Solonn, this is Sei Salma, an alakazam,” Morgan said.

The pokémon at her side bowed, her blonde mustache twitching slightly as she smiled warmly. <A pleasure to meet you, young sir,> the alakazam said, her telepathic “voice” simulating a slightly gruff contralto that Solonn guessed was also the sound of Sei’s actual voice. <I understand that you and Ms. Yorke have a most unique relationship, yes?>

“…What?” Somehow Sei’s statement had come across to Solonn in a way that she had certainly not intended.

<You are able to speak to Ms. Yorke in her own language, are you not?> Sei elaborated.

“Oh… Yeah, that’s right,” Solonn confirmed, albeit a bit hesitantly.

<Ms. Yorke and I were discussing this on the way here. We’ve arrived at a conclusion regarding your abilities with which I know you’re already very much in agreement. It’s best that other humans do not discover your abilities, don’t you agree?> Sei asked.

“Yeah,” Solonn said. “I’d really feel better if as few people knew about this as possible.” By “people” he was referring not only to humans but to other pokémon, as well. He was very mindful of not letting just anybody learn what he was able to do. In fact, he really would have preferred for Morgan to ask him for permission before revealing his secret to Sei…

<I understand your concern,> Sei said then, <but I assure you, Ms. Yorke had your best interests in mind when she informed me of what you’re able to do. She wouldn’t have told me otherwise. Furthermore, you have my word that I will not reveal your secret to anyone without your consent… And yes, I have just read your thoughts. I do try to tune such things out for the sake of courtesy, but…> She shrugged. <Sometimes thoughts are simply too strong to block.>

A mind-reader… Solonn figured then that, courteous or not, Sei would have probably absorbed the knowledge of his abilities sooner or later, either from Morgan or from himself, without having to be told of them.

<The privacy of those who have no form of mental defense is something my people take very seriously,> Sei assured him earnestly. <We wouldn’t be trusted very well by the majority of other species if we didn’t stay out of their minds as much as possible. Even with our measures to respect their privacy in place, many species still do not trust us.>

Whether or not that was meant as a guilt-trip, it certainly worked as one on Solonn. “…Sorry,” he said. “I’m sure you don’t mean to pry into anybody’s business.”

Sei gave a relieved, satisfied smile. <Now. Since protecting the confidentiality of your skills is of such great importance, I’m offering you a means by which to speak more securely with Ms. Yorke.>

“And what would that be?” Solonn asked.

<This.> There was a brief flash of light in Sei’s eyes.

<Well? What do you think?> Morgan asked.

<What do I think of… Hey! How are you using telepathy?> Solonn asked—then, with a jolt, he realized that he, too, was speaking telepathically.

<Sei. She’s connected us via her own mind,> Morgan explained. <That way, we can talk with each other without anyone figuring out that… well, that we can talk with each other, get it?>

<…I think so,> Solonn said, still somewhat bewildered at the notion of being able to communicate in a psychic fashion. There was something about it that made him feel oddly powerful yet at the same time rather vulnerable, as well. He wondered if he would have agreed to try this method of communication if he had known beforehand that it would involve his mind being opened and shared in such a way.

<This method of conversing is undetectable to humans,> Sei told Solonn then, <and it’s the humans from whom you should be most concerned with protecting your secret. You see, pokémon who are able to speak to and be understood by humans are quite rare, and humans often look upon rarity as something from which they can gain some form of personal profit. If certain humans learned of your abilities, they would seek to exploit you for their own ends. I can guarantee you that you would not find such exploitation to your liking.>

Solonn cast a troubled gaze at Morgan. <Is this true?> he asked. Morgan had come across to him as trustworthy, but now Solonn found himself wondering if she was merely a rare exception in a species which generally could not be trusted.

<Yes,> Morgan said, sounding rather ashamed. <Solonn, I would never want to see you exploited like that.>

<Well, I wouldn’t want that, either,> he said, shuddering slightly. He turned toward Sei. <Okay. I’ll accept your method,> he said. <Thanks.>

<Think nothing of it,> the alakazam said, and with that she severed the psychic connection between herself and the other two.

The method of communcation that Sei had just made available was a welcome convenience indeed. As Solonn thought about it, something dawned on him: he wondered if the telepathic link could be used to enable Morgan to communicate with her other pokémon. After all, Sei’s telepathic abilities could trick the minds of those conversing into hearing words they understood, thus eliminating the language barrier between Morgan and her pokémon. Why hasn’t Sei offered this to the other pokémon? Solonn wondered silently.

To Solonn’s surprise, Sei turned her gaze upon him and then shrugged her plated shoulders. “Because they never asked,” she said simply, using her natural voice this time, speaking to Solonn in alakazam language. The snorunt only stared at her in response, apparently not knowing quite how to reply to her statement.

Sei then let out a long sigh. <Whew… It seems I’ve still got a bit of recovering to do before I’m quite up to speed again…>

“You want to return to your ball for a while?” Morgan asked her.

<Mmm… yes, I think so,> Sei answered. <I could do with a little time out of this poor, downtrodden flesh,> she added with a laugh.

Morgan chuckled. “All right, then.” She removed an ultra ball from her belt and recalled Sei with a beam of red light. The alakazam smiled wearily at Solonn before dissolving into energy and being drawn into her ball.

“I just don’t understand how anybody could stand being inside one of those things,” Solonn said with a small shudder, eying the ultra ball as it was minimized and reattached to Morgan’s belt. “It’s just so… ” He trailed off, unable to come up with a truly fitting description of what it was like in the great ball.

“So, you really don’t like being in a ball, huh?” Morgan asked. Solonn made a small, negatory noise in response. “Well, okay. You don’t have to go back in there if you don’t want to.”

Solonn smiled at her. He was sure that with no need to dread a return to the great ball, the time that remained to be spent here with Morgan would be much easier to endure—and perhaps even enjoy.

* * *

Several hours later, Solonn stood outside with Morgan and Sei Salma in the backyard. Though evening was approaching, the sun was still hot enough and bright enough to bother Solonn. Sunlight differed from the artificial light inside the house; it possessed its own peculiar kind of harshness, even in lower quantities.

There wasn’t much that Solonn could really do about the heat, but he did at least have one option that might make him able to more easily to tolerate the lighting. He made his way across the yard at once to stand in the shade of the large sitrus tree that stood tall in the backyard. Much better, he thought with satisfaction.

Morgan and Sei crossed the lawn to join Solonn. Sei promptly took a seat, leaning back contentedly against the trunk of the tree and opening a magazine. Meanwhile, Morgan came to stand before the snorunt, and then presented a small, cylindrical plastic case. She opened the container and produced a cyan-colored disc from it.

<I’ll bet you’re wondering what this is, huh?> Morgan said, making use of Sei’s telepathy. <Well, this is a technical machine, Solonn. From it, you can gain a new technique.>

An elemental technique being obtained from a little plastic disc. It wasn’t the most ridiculous concept Solonn had ever heard of, although it did come very close.

<Now, we may not even need to use this,> Morgan continued. <Let’s find out if we do… Solonn, could you show me the strongest ice-type technique you know?>

<The strongest? I guess that would be this.> Solonn called on the power of his element. The glow of his eyes intensified momentarily as he gathered the ice-type energy that he would need for the technique. A second later, the elemental charge coalesced between his hands, then fired forth as a jagged, electric blue beam that blasted a flurry of frozen leaves and twigs from the branches above as it streaked off toward the sky.

<Ice beam, huh? Okay, then it looks like we will need to use this.> Morgan knelt before Solonn, then popped open a compartment on one end of the technical machine case and slipped the disc inside. <There’s another, stronger ice technique that you’ll need to pull off your routine,> she said as she closed the compartment once more. <You’ll get that technique from this.>

Solonn eyed the case with uncertainty, his gaze caught and held by the lens that seemed to stare right back at him from the end of the case that faced him. <…This won’t hurt, will it?>

<No, it doesn’t hurt,> Sei said reassuringly. <I’ve received one myself. It’ll be a funny feeling, but one that won’t last long. You have nothing to fear from it.>

<Oh. Go ahead, then,> Solonn permitted Morgan.

With a quick nod of acknowledgment, Morgan set about activating the technical machine, bringing the lens to bear on Solonn’s forehead and pressing a button on the top of the case. It whirred to life, but apart from that nothing seemed to be happening at first—the beam projected by the case was invisible, and its initial impact was intangible.

Then, with a rather strong shudder, Solonn found himself overwhelmed by a sudden surge of power. The feeling was similar to that which accompanied the summoning of certain of his ice-type techniques, only it was stronger and seemed to all go straight to his head rather than spreading throughout his entire body. It escalated into a giddying rush, and when it reached its abrupt end, he found himself feeling incredibly lightheaded.

Solonn teetered comically for a moment, nearly falling onto his butt before managing to shake himself out of his dizzy spell. <That was weird,> he remarked. <So, that’s it? That’s all it took?>

<Mmm-hmm. You’ve just learned the blizzard technique,> Morgan confirmed as she removed the now spent and colorless disc from the front compartment and set it aside. <Go on, try it out—but be careful where you aim it, though; it can be pretty nasty.>

<…Wait, blizzard? Are you serious?> Solonn asked incredulously. Morgan nodded, smiling brightly. Even so, Solonn was still too bewildered to try out his new technique for a moment. It just seemed all too incredible that a simple disc could bestow any sort of power upon him, but to think that it had just given him one of the highest powers of his element…

Though he remained skeptical that he would succeed, Solonn decided to go for it. Once again, he gathered elemental energy. He felt a sizable thrill as the surge of power defied his expectations and answered his summons, then manifested itself in a blast of icy wind and snow.

As the blizzard howled forth, Solonn realized with a jolt of horror that he’d forgotten to aim the attack—its present course, he realized, might well result in a decent-sized hole being blown in the Yorkes’ back fence by the fierce ice technique. Fortunately, though, the blizzard was rather underpowered, and as a result the mini-snowstorm petered out before it could wreak havoc on the fence.

Solonn stared briefly at the small pile of snow that now sat contrastingly upon the green grass, watching as it began to melt in the heat of the June afternoon. That thing actually worked… He then laughed to himself, pleasantly bewildered.

<Not bad,> Morgan remarked. <That was just a little one, but with practice, you should be able to pull off a much more impressive blizzard. And wait ‘til you see what you can do when you combine that with other techniques!>

<You can actually do that?> Solonn asked, intrigued. He had never seen multiple techniques used in combination, not even by glalie.

<Oh yes,> Morgan said. <In fact, artful combination of techniques is what contests are really all about. A good, creative, graceful presentation is what comes out on top every time. Now,> she went on, opening the technical machine case once more, <there’s another one of these that you won’t necessarily need, but it could still do you some good. Do you want to go ahead and take it now, or do you want to wait a little while before you take another one?>

Solonn considered the matter for a moment. He decided that there was really no reason to turn down this offer to gain a new technique. He determined also that a delay in accepting it meant a delay in training. The more training he could get in before the twenty-fifth, he figured, the better his chances of getting that first ribbon and thus taking that first step toward his return to Virc-Dho. Hence, he decided that he would not wait.

<I’ll take it,> he told Morgan. <Let’s do this now.>

The human nodded in acknowledgment and pulled another technical machine from the case, a fuchsia-colored disc this time. Solonn watched as the disc was loaded into the front compartment and activated, wondering what sort of new power it would impart upon him as he anticipated the rush of technical acquisition once more.

The process of absorbing this technique felt quite different than its predecessor had. The sensation of connecting with the raw power of his element was absent—it was not an ice-type technique that was being bestowed upon him this time. Solonn could not even begin to guess the alien element of his new power, for the rush in his head that accompanied its acquisition was gone almost as swiftly as it had come.

<So what technique did that one give me?> Solonn asked once the sensation of learning the new ability was gone completely.

<Light screen,> Morgan answered. <It’s mostly a defensive technique, but there are also some pretty cool things you can do with it that are just for show. Try and call one up now,> she suggested. <It’s not as difficult or powerful a move as blizzard, so you should be able to pull it off now pretty easily.>

<Okay.> Seeking the new, unfamiliar element within him, Solonn found the root of his new power, then called forth his new technique. There was a peculiar but not unpleasant sensation that tingled very briefly in his head. Then he saw a bright pink aura form around each of his hands. He watched with fascination as it spread out very swiftly from them into a force field that surrounded him completely.

<Wow… this is pretty neat…> Solonn said as he gazed upon the wall of psychic energy that now surrounded him. <Wait, though… how do I get out of this thing?> he wondered aloud.

<Oh, you don’t have to get out of it. You’re not trapped in one place by that thing. It’ll follow you as you move,> Morgan said.

Solonn decided to test that claim for himself. Sure enough, as he walked across the lawn, the shield that surrounded him maintained itself and remained with him through his every movement. Then, unexpectedly, the light screen simply vanished.

<What happened?> Solonn asked.

<A light screen can only stay up for a couple of minutes at a time,> Morgan explained.

<Oh. So are there any more of these I can use?> Solonn asked with a glance at the case.

<I’m afraid not. Nearly all of the techniques you’ll be using come naturally to you—your routine will mostly be ice-based. Anyway, it’s not really very good for you to learn so many of these moves in one sitting. You could get a nasty headache,> Morgan said.

Solonn found himself rather disappointed to hear that he would apparently not be gaining any more new abilities anytime soon. <Well, okay then,> he said. <So now what?>

<Hmm. Right now, I’d say, nothing,> Morgan replied. <You’ve really had enough excitement for one day. You may not feel like it right now, but physically, you’ve just had quite an experience. You’ve instantly learned two moves that usually take pokémon several years and lots of hard work to learn. Give it a little while, and you’ll probably start feeling pretty tired. So let’s just take it easy for the rest of the day, all right?>

Solonn nodded in assent. In truth, he would have liked to go ahead and continue preparing for the upcoming contest, but his energy seemed to have begun to wane from the moment that Morgan had said it would do so.

<Your training will really start tomorrow,> Morgan then told him. <You see, there are three rounds to each contest. Each one is different, so you’ll be training in different ways.

<For the first round, we’ll just go out on stage along with all the other contestants, and the audience will basically just compare all the pokémon contestants based solely on their looks, and they’ll all vote on which one they think looks the best. You don’t really have to train for that; the pokéblocks pretty much take care of that aspect.

<The second round will be your solo performance. This is where you’ll be showing your techniques, combining them to make nice effects, et cetera. Don’t worry too much about it—you’ll be rehearsing your routine plenty every day. You’ll get it down just fine.

<Now, the third round is a battle,> Morgan told him. <Have you ever battled another pokémon before? You know, just for fun.>

<Yeah,> Solonn answered, <but not very much, though.> He recalled the matches that Zilag and a few of his friends had often held just for sport against one another. They had never really seriously hurt each other; they’d mostly just wrestled, with only the occasional, half-hearted bite or headbutt thrown in here and there. Ice-type techniques had also sometimes been thrown around in those matches, to little effect, of course. On several occasions, Zilag had invited Solonn to take part in this sport, but Solonn had only occasionally obliged. By and large, Solonn had been unenthusiastic about battling, even though he did sometimes win those matches. As far as he’d been concerned, it had merely been something to do in the event that there’d been absolutely nothing else to do. It hadn’t exactly been his idea of fun.

<That’s okay,> Morgan assured him. <Some experience is better than none. Besides which, contest battling is really not the same as battling anywhere else. Your goal won’t be to hurt the opponent so much as to upstage them. You don’t even necessarily have to ‘beat’ the other guy as long as you manage to look better during the match. I’ll let you practice battling against a couple of the others here. Raze’d definitely be up for it—don’t worry, she won’t use any steel moves on you. Her style’s a little different than the one you’ll be using, but you’ll still get the gist of how to handle yourself in one of these matches. All you have to do is to keep your poise and battle with grace.>

Solonn nodded in acknowledgment, mentally reviewing what Morgan had told him that he could expect. It seemed that there was more involved with being a contest pokémon than he had initially imagined. He hoped that the span of time separating him from that first contest would be sufficient for him to adequately prepare himself for this first task that lay before him. The sooner he could get that first ribbon, that first step behind him, the better.

* * *

Each day that followed brought diligent training. Solonn spent many hours rehearsing his solo performance and practiced battling techniques with Raze and even once with Sei Salma. He also continued to receive two pokéblocks each day until Morgan told him that he had received the maximum benefit possible from the little candies, meaning that there was no point in giving him any more of them.

Solonn had assumed that these measures were the only ones that would need to be taken in order to prepare him for his debut. However, there came a night five days before the date of the next contest when one last suggestion was offered to him with the claim that it could improve his chances of winning.

He was sitting on Morgan’s bed, waiting for her to return from an errand. When the human returned to her room, the first thing she did was to take a capture ball from her belt, maximize it, and release Oth from within it.

“All right,” Morgan said to the claydol. “It’s time for you to check him out and see if he’s ready.” She gestured at Solonn.

Ready for what? Solonn wondered what in the world could possibly be going on as Oth brought themself before him. Without any form of explanation or warning, the foremost of the claydol’s eyes dilated dramatically, and a pale red beam lanced forth from it and struck Solonn. The snorunt almost cried out but then realized a split-second later that there was no pain. Very puzzled, he merely stared at Oth as they expanded the beam and swept it up and down over his body.

Mere seconds later, Oth ceased their scan, terminating the beam of light. They turned toward Morgan (which seemed strange to Solonn given the fact that surrounded by eyes as Oth was, that action was not really necessary) and nodded as well as a claydol could manage, inclining their entire body slightly in her direction.

Morgan smiled. “Good news, Solonn. Ominous says you’re ready.”

“That’s nice, but ready for what?” Solonn asked in a quiet voice. He and Morgan had decided that it was safe enough to converse openly while within Morgan’s room so long as they kept their voices down. Solonn had also decided, though not at all hastily, that Morgan’s other pokémon could be trusted with his secret, and so he didn’t mind Oth’s presence there as he spoke with the human.

“Ready… for this!” Morgan reached into her pocket, extracted something from it, and held it out in her hand for Solonn to see. Nestled in her palm was something small in a blue wrapper. “I’d been looking around town for one, and I finally managed to scare one up.”

Solonn gazed at the proffered object for a moment, then turned a questioning gaze up toward Morgan.

“This,” Morgan explained, “is a rare candy. These give pokémon something of a boost. According to Ominous…” Morgan paused as a thrill of excitement flitted visibly across her features. “Well, this’ll give you just enough of a boost to make a huge difference. With this… you could evolve.”

Solonn’s eyes widened. “…That thing can’t possibly cause evolution!” he said, laughing.

“Oh, yes it can. So what do you say? Are you ready to do this?” Morgan asked.

Solonn hesitated to answer. Part of him still couldn’t believe that evolution could be induced by a piece of candy, but the part of him that did believe was possessed of a fair share of apprehension. “Is there any particular reason why I need to evolve?”

“Well, you don’t necessarily have to do it, but it might work out to your advantage to go through with it,” Morgan said. “Your routine is based almost exclusively on your ice-type powers, after all, and glalie have more finely-tuned abilities where their element is concerned. They can handle ice-type techniques more easily than snorunt can.”

Solonn agreed with that point; he knew it from experience. Members of his species did not truly come into their ice-type abilities until they achieved evolution. Among other purposes, the glalie of Virc-Dho used their greater elemental prowess to keep their unevolved counterparts in check.

He had no doubt that he certainly could execute his routine with greater ease as a glalie, and he was certainly concerned with succeeding in the upcoming contest. Still… this was a physical transformation that was being suggested. This was not something to be taken lightly—particularly not where his kind were concerned. Snorunt who evolved too early in life ran the risk of being corrupted by incomplete instincts, as had happened to glalie like Kashisha. Furthermore, the changes involved with transformation into a glalie were such that it was almost like a change into a different species altogether. Those of his kind were born as snow-eating bipeds who could become limbless, floating predators.

“The choice is yours, Solonn,” Morgan told him gently. “I won’t make you evolve if you don’t want to.”

So… am I really ready to evolve? Solonn asked himself silently. Well… technically, I probably am, he answered himself. He was indeed at about the age that his people considered the safest and most appropriate time to start considering evolution. In fact, once they got to be very much older than he was now, they found themselves actually having to make a conscious effort to stop the process from simply occurring on its own. So Solonn was old enough to evolve, and hence there wasn’t much of a risk of corruption.

But… do I really want to go through with this now?

Solonn couldn’t answer that question, though he tried. He wished that he had been given more time to consider this rather than having such a major decision dropped on him out of nowhere at nearly the last minute. In the end, he could only lower his gaze and sigh in response.

“You don’t want to do it, do you?” Morgan asked. Solonn shook his head vaguely in response. “That’s okay, Solonn. That’s perfectly fine.”

“Okay.” Solonn’s eyes followed the rare candy as Morgan put it back in her pocket. “Hey. Hold on to that. Just… you know, for whenever.”

Morgan nodded in acknowledgment. “Sure thing. If you ever decide that you want it, just let me know. Do you want back in the ball?” Morgan then asked Oth. The claydol nodded in their curious fashion and was subsequently recalled.

“All right, then,” Morgan said. “Now, don’t worry about your decision, okay? Like I said, you don’t really have to evolve to do this. You’ll do just fine.”

Solonn sincerely hoped that Morgan was right.

* * *

In what felt to Solonn like no time at all, the twenty-fifth had arrived. All at once, the task at hand was upon him, and he was swept up by it into a situation that, as it came to be, made him realize that nothing could have truly, completely prepared him for it.

Next thing he knew, he found himself riding in an automobile for the very first time. As he gazed out through the window, the view before him of the scenery rushing by mirrored his perceptions of this experience. Hurtling irresistibly forward through these moments, he scarcely had a chance to take it all in.

The vehicle came to a halt, and as he was unbuckled from his seat and brought out into the parking lot, Lilycove’s contest hall seemed to blossom into being before him right out of thin air. It was huge, and it loomed larger still with each step that brought him closer to its entrance.

Solonn immediately found himself in awe as he passed through the front doors into the contest hall’s lobby. All around him, humans of widely varying appearance stood, accompanied by pokémon partners the likes of which Solonn could have never conceived.

Morgan led him into a queue, and there they waited for their turn at the desk that sat at the front of the line. After a fairly short wait, they made it to the desk, where the receptionist asked Morgan to present her contest pass. Complying at once, Morgan produced a card and handed it to the human behind the desk. The receptionist held on to the pass for a few seconds; Solonn couldn’t see what she was doing with it, for the desk exceeded his height.

When the receptionist gave the pass back to Morgan, she took a moment to peer over the edge of the desk at the pokémon who accompanied Morgan. “Oh, now isn’t that a cutie,” she remarked airily, flashing a very bright smile.

Solonn returned her gaze with a slightly skeptical look. Cute? I’m not cute

“You may now proceed,” the receptionist then said. Morgan smiled at her, then led Solonn out of the lobby and toward the backstage area.

Several minutes of doing nothing but waiting followed. The other contestants were gathered along with Solonn and his coordinator, anticipating the impending events with varying degrees of patience. A television mounted in the corner showed the scene that awaited the contestants. With an incredible amount of noise and a level of enthusiasm that was almost tangible, even transmitted through that television screen, an audience was filing into the seemingly endless rows of seats and declaring their eagerness for the show to begin.

The spectators’ wait was not prolonged much further. The voice of the announcer came blaring forth, the audience quieting somewhat while he spoke.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” boomed his greatly magnified voice, “get ready to witness the hottest up-and-coming faces in the Hoenn contest circuit! The normal rank beauty contest shall now begin!”

“It’s time,” Morgan informed Solonn in an excited whisper, then began guiding him before her as they made their way to the stage in an orderly procession along with all the other contestants.

As Solonn emerged onto the stage, he was greeted by an unbelievable level of light and noise. The number of humans gathered just to look upon him and the other contestants was staggering—Solonn had never seen so many people in any one place before.

He had not expected that the spectators would be quite that many in number…

The coordinators and their pokémon partners formed an orderly line across the stage, facing the audience. One by one, the announcer stopped before each team and introduced them, then moved on down the line to the next team. Before long, he arrived at Solonn and Morgan.

“Next up, hailing from right here in Lilycove, it’s Morgan Yorke and her snorunt, Solonn!” the announcer said. Just as had greeted the introduction of each team before, a peal of applause rose up for Solonn and Morgan. Part of Solonn wondered what they were applauding, exactly; neither he nor any of the other contestants had actually done anything yet, after all.

“Now it’s time for you to cast your votes,” the announcer told the audience after introducing the last few contestants. “Who will make it to the next round? You decide!”

Solonn found himself unable to count the moments that passed as the audience cast their votes. His awareness of being scrutinized by innumerable eyes only intensified now that that was literally what they were doing. He didn’t see that on a colossal screen behind him, a close-up view of each of the pokémon in turn was presented to the audience—he might have been surprised, to say the least, to see a gigantic image of his own face staring back at him.

Finally, the votes were all tallied, and the results appeared on the screen behind the contestants, who all turned to see who among them would proceed to the next round.

“Look!” Morgan exclaimed. “There we are!” She pointed to the upper right corner of the screen; Solonn saw that he and Morgan were indeed pictured there. They had made it through the first round. With that obstacle out of the way, Solonn followed Morgan with a funny little detached sort of thrill as they and the other contestants returned backstage to get ready for the second round.

The small television backstage presented Solonn with a view of the performances of the contestants who had been slated to go on before him. For a crop of newcomers, their performances were generally quite competent; none of them thus far had made any mistakes in their routines, at least not as far as Solonn could tell. He found a few of the performances kind of boring despite their technical integrity and correctness of form, but there were a couple of the others that really stood out.

Those performances easily held Solonn’s rapt attention—and also managed to stoke the doubt within him further. As the last of the performances preceding his own turn on stage came to a close, he found himself attended by an unbidden question of whether or not he had truly, sufficiently prepared himself for this.

That question followed Solonn out onto the stage as he was called forth. It was much darker as he emerged this time than it had been during the first round, but he could still see the crowd, could still make out all those faces. Solonn had been told what to expect since his training had begun, yet Morgan’s descriptions of what this experience would be like seemed awfully weak and ill-fitting when held against this moment, these surroundings, the expectations held by all these people whom he now had to impress…

He came to stand in the center of the stage, and a single, bright spotlight fell upon him as the music that Morgan had chosen to accompany his routine rose up, seeming to emanate from the very walls of the contest hall itself. Under the ray of white light bearing down upon him, he felt overemphasized to dimensions far greater than his own, yet at the same time also all too aware of just how small he was compared to the vast, scrutinizing crowd.

A moment later, the spell of the spotlight abated enough to allow Solonn to realize that he had missed his cue. With a jolt, he hurriedly cast the hail technique up into the air above him. The summoned hailstones began falling at once, but at twice the normal intensity and not at all in the pattern he had rehearsed—it was fortunate that this was a solo performance, for had Morgan accompanied Solonn on stage for this round, she would have had to take cover from his bungled first move.

Solonn winced inwardly at the mistake and tried desperately to make some sort of recovery with his next move. He called upon powder snow and felt the most infinitesimal relief as it bowed to his will according to plan, its winds sweeping up the falling hail in a gently turning, tamed cyclone. Solonn’s creation partly obscured his view of the audience, for which he felt a wave of gratitude spread throughout his nerves. However, he knew that with his next maneuver, he would have no choice but to forfeit that comforting veil of ice and snow.

Sighing softly, Solonn kept the powder snow blowing as he slowly expanded the vortex of snowflakes and hailstones around himself while the music began to swell in a slow crescendo. The winds swept around him in a growing spiral, and as the cyclone widened and thinned out, the multitude of humans before him filled his sights once more.

Don’t pay attention to them, Solonn urged himself silently, just pretend they’re not there… He fought against an urge to close his eyes as tightly as he could and shut out the sight of the audience, for he knew that showing signs of his nervousness could count against him in the judges’ eyes. He was also finding himself dealing with a burgeoning desire to simply cut his performance short and run.

Trying with a growing desperation to keep a hold of the fraying ends of his nerves lest they unravel completely, he called upon the next element of his routine—the one which had given him cause for doubt at several points during the course of his training. He still couldn’t believe that he had gained one of the highest powers of his element in a single moment’s rush that one afternoon, disbelief that had caused him to struggle all the more in his efforts to master the technique.

Incredible though it still seemed to Solonn that he even possessed that ability, the fact remained that he did indeed possess it and was required by his routine to execute it adroitly. Don’t think about what you’re doing, he tried to remind himself, just do it… At the music’s cue, Solonn executed his strongest technique, unleashing a blizzard to join his dancing cyclone.

The blizzard howled forth, stirring the spiraling snowstorm into a frenzy as it was meant to do… but then, most disobligingly, its winds began to falter. Solonn swore that he could feel his heart fall utterly still as the blizzard, along with the other elements of the cyclone that had woven themselves into its winds, petered out right before his eyes. As if in slow motion, snowflakes, sleet, and hailstones alike all fell to the stage.

No… Solonn lamented silently. He was all too certain that his chance to obtain the ribbon and thereby surmount the first step toward his return to Virc-Dho had died along with his enchanted snowstorm. The elements of his musical accompaniment suddenly bled and merged into a formless din in his ears, while the spotlight seemed to swell to an abnormal brightness for a moment before being swallowed up in a sudden, all-consuming darkness, taking the stage, the audience, the surrounding noise, and Solonn’s consciousness along with it.

_________________________

Next time: Solonn faces a decision that stands to change his life forever… See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 06:42 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Chapter 5 – Elements Embraced


Solonn awoke several hours later, but he was unaware of how much time had passed since his failure within the contest hall. His eyes opened to a view of Morgan’s room, which was more dimly lit than usual, the only source of artificial light presently in use being a lamp sitting on the bedside table.

With a hazy delay, he noted that he had been placed on Morgan’s bed. He was presently lying at the foot of the bed with a small, thin blanket draped over the lower half of his body. The blanket was slightly itchy and created a bit more warmth than he liked, but he made no immediate move to displace it.

His most recent memories gathered within his mind to bear down upon him in the present. The haze of the aftermath of his unconsciousness gave way to focus, provoking him into consciously and actively musing on his failure. Again and again, he mentally replayed the scene of his botched performance, earnestly wondering what had happened to him up on that stage, trying to figure out why first his routine and then he himself had fallen apart before the audience.

Because you weren’t ready, he silently answered himself at last.

I should have been… he countered internally. But he knew better, really. He had not been ready. He had not taken adequate time to prepare himself for his first performance. He had been in such a rush to get that first step toward home behind him, and it was because of that haste that his goal now lay further away.

You should have waited until the later contest to try and get that ribbon, he admonished himself. Now you’re just going to have to wait anyway.

In that sense, perhaps, no harm done. He could indeed just try again in two months, which would give him the extra time to train that he probably should have taken the first time around before trying for a ribbon.

However, as Solonn continued to muse on his failure, he couldn’t help but wonder if his next performance wouldn’t just end up suffering the same fate as his first had even with another two months’ worth of preparation for it. After all, wouldn’t the audience be every bit as large as it had been the time before? Wouldn’t he be just as alone and exposed on that stage, with not only the spotlight but also all of those innumerable human eyes focused upon him?

Solonn groaned, feeling a mix of annoyance and disappointment toward himself for the way he had so easily succumbed to the pressure of his performance. You were supposed to be paying attention to what you were doing, not to the audience, he thought miserably. Morgan had even told him something along those lines during his training, and yet he had managed to lose sight of that advice right when he had needed it most.

As Solonn recalled, there had been a couple of moments during his performance, albeit woefully brief ones, in which he almost—just almost—felt as though he could just shut out all else around him and vanish into his routine. It was, he noted in recollection, a weaker version of a feeling that he had attained on a couple of occasions during his training. Through the harnessing of some of the higher powers among his ice-type abilities, he had sometimes achieved the slightest sensation of becoming one with these powers, of practically losing himself within them…

Solonn sighed as he determined that that right there was the key. To maintain command over his performance despite the vulnerability and scrutiny that awaited him on stage, he had to somehow achieve and maintain that oneness with the element that brought his routine to life.

But how? he asked of anyone and no one, silently and earnestly.

At that moment, words from only a few days prior rose from his memory. Glalie have more finely-tuned abilities where their element is concerned, Morgan reminded him within his mind. They can handle ice-type techniques more easily.

Gods… she’s right about that… Glalie could indeed perform ice techniques with considerably more ease than snorunt could—and perhaps this was not the result of having more elemental power so much as that of being closer to the power of their element…

As if rallying to the point, words from a more distant past came forth within his mind then, the words of his mother: Our element is our very life, Solonn. We couldn’t survive without its power, and by practicing its ways, we achieve some of the most rewarding experiences in our lives.

So, that’s the answer, then, isn’t it? Solonn reckoned. If I evolve, maybe then I won’t lose it in the middle of my routine next time… but gods Whether or not it was a solution, even if it was the only solution, the fact remained that it was still evolution—physical, permanent change. It was an irrevocable choice; if he came to regret it, there would be no way for it to be undone.

Furthermore, he didn’t know what he could even expect from the process itself. Having never evolved before, he had no sure idea of what it would actually be like. He had once asked his mother about it, but she had told him that she could not adequately describe it. Azvida had also tried to assure him that the process usually did not hurt, which was no real comfort, especially not with the presence of that nasty little “usually”.

Solonn couldn’t deny that he still viewed the prospect of evolution with apprehension. However, he also considered the notion of enduring a performance that was a repeat of the last one… and he realized that that was something that he actually feared more. It seemed now to have come down to a decision between facing either evolution or the possibility of another failure in the contest halls. Between the two, he found that it was actually the latter that he would rather not risk.

Solonn sat up, finally bothering as he did so to cast off the uncomfortable blanket. For minutes, he sat there, staring at his hands as he tried to let his decision settle within his mind. He figured that Morgan would likely return soon, and he felt that he had to be ready to inform her of his decision as soon as he possibly could.

Just as Solonn had managed to get himself to stop counting the passing seconds that delayed the moment of truth, the door to the bedroom opened slowly with barely a creak. As if possessed of a notion that she had to sneak into her own room, Morgan at first allowed only her face to cross the threshold, peering in cautiously. Then, slowly and silently, she allowed the rest of her body to slip into the room, closing the door almost noiselessly behind her.

It was later than it had quite seemed, Solonn realized; Morgan was dressed for bed. He hoped that Morgan wouldn’t mind being kept awake for this purpose, especially since he wasn’t at all sure that he could maintain his resolve throughout the night.

Inhaling very deeply, Solonn turned to face the human who still hovered cautiously just inside the doorway. “Get it out,” he said with false calmness.

Morgan stared in bewilderment at Solonn, a bit startled by the way he suddenly spoke up, not quite processing what he’d said. “…Get what out?”

“The candy, Morgan,” Solonn said, maintaining an even tone with an effort. “It’s time.”

Morgan blinked in utter surprise for a moment. “Oh,” she said, an unmistakable look of worry forming on her face. “…Now?”

Solonn nodded slowly. “I’m sure you would rather go to sleep, but…”

“No, that’s okay,” Morgan assured him, though she did sound a bit shaken. She made her way over to a small dresser, opened its topmost drawer, and rummaged through its contents a bit before she managed to find what she was seeking.

She began to lift the rare candy out from the drawer, but then hesitated. “Solonn… are you sure you’re really ready for this?”

“Yes. I’m ready,” Solonn said without inflection, inwardly cursing the human’s choice of words—few phrases in existence bred as much doubt in him as “are you sure” could. The snorunt’s eyes stayed fixed upon Morgan, nearly unblinking, but their light was beginning to pulsate and flicker unsteadily, betraying the presence of at least some trepidation within him.

“You just seem awfully nervous,” Morgan said concernedly.

Solonn made a small, dismissive noise. “It’s really nothing. Everyone gets nervous right before they evolve,” he said, guessing rather than actually knowing this. "It’s not exactly a minor thing, you know.”

“No, it isn’t,” Morgan concurred. “But if you’re sure you’re ready… well, here goes nothing, I guess…” She unwrapped the rare candy and brought it to Solonn, placing it in his hand. “There. Just eat that, and the rest should follow.”

Solonn gave a quick nod. He looked down at the little pink candy that now sat in his hand… and kept on looking.

“Are you gonna go ahead, then?” Morgan asked.

Solonn snapped out of his temporary mind-freeze. “Huh? Oh… right.” He furrowed his brow at the rare candy, continuing to stare down at it but making no further move toward it other than to give it a small poke with his other hand.

“I don’t blame you at all for being nervous, you know? I’m pretty nervous right now, myself,” Morgan admitted.

Solonn had already figured as much, aware of the hammering of both of their hearts. He gave her a little smile in an effort to ease some of the tension that he and Morgan shared but knew that the corners of his mouth were shaking as he did so.

Just get it over with! urged a voice in the back of his mind. Fighting in vain to still the trembling of his hand, he raised the rare candy to his mouth. His jaws were reluctant to part, but he finally pried them open just enough to shove the candy in, barely bothering to chew it or to enjoy its somewhat sweet flavor before rushing it down his throat.

There, he consoled himself silently, the “voice” of his mind seeming to tremble just as much as his body was doing. Now just try to relax and wait for it to happen…

Nothing happened.

Moment after moment passed, and still the candy just sat there in his stomach, doing nothing whatsoever to alter his state of being. He felt absolutely no change from how he had felt prior to consuming the rare candy. The boost of which Morgan had spoken was completely absent, as were any feelings that would even remotely suggest that he was going to turn into a glalie anytime soon.

“Guess you and Oth weren’t right about me after all,” Solonn said finally.

“Guess not,” Morgan said with a sigh. “It’s just hard to believe, though. Oth was so sure, and they know from such things… Are you sure you don’t feel any different?”

“No difference at all,” Solonn replied.

“It should have given you a boost, though, even if not enough of one to make you evolve,” Morgan said.

“But instead it gave me nothing.”

“Hmm… maybe you just need enough time to digest it first,” Morgan suggested.

“Hmph.” Solonn was done with having any expectations for the rare candy. All that it had succeeded in making him become was annoyed over having suffered all that anticipation for nothing.

Then there came the buzz.

It was a distinct tingling that radiated from the pit of his stomach and spread throughout his entire body. It felt like pure energy was flowing through his veins. A sudden, incredible sense of exhilaration flooded his brain, making his breath catch in his throat and causing his eyes to grow huge.

Morgan took notice, and her eyes widened likewise. “Are you okay?” she asked anxiously. Her eyes grew even wider. “Is it happening?”

Before Solonn could even begin to form any sort of an answer, a powerful jolt from deep within him struck him with almost no warning, taking his breath away completely. The tingling sensation that was still coursing throughout his body shifted in an instant into a strong vibration, one that intensified by the second and produced a dull ache in his bones.

His mouth opened in a silent scream as the sensations he was experiencing made a turn toward earnest pain. He stared wildly at Morgan, who now looked more terrified than excited. She could clearly see the fear and pain in his eyes. Then her face was erased from Solonn’s sight as bright light began to shine from his entire body, filling his vision with a blindingly white emptiness.

In an instant so swift that he could not possibly have marked its precise arrival or passing, Solonn went from feeling full to bursting with energy to feeling as though he were made of energy. The sensation was, in a sense, similar to that of entering a capture ball. The difference was that rather than feeling as though he had ceased to actually exist, he instead felt as though he becoming more real, more alive.

There was no longer any pain. Distantly, as he began to rematerialize into his new form, he could sense that he was growing larger, but it didn’t quite manage to register as a truly physical sensation; he was presently not truly physical himself, after all.

But there was another sensation present that had no trouble at all getting through to him. One that was all but overwhelming. This, he recognized with joy and amazement, was the raw power of the element of ice—and here he was, united with it in a way that made his prior experiences of closeness to it look like the poor facsimiles of this strange, sweet union that they truly were. At last, he had truly become one with his element, and it was a wonderful sensation.

The bright, white nothingness drained at last from Solonn’s vision, allowing his surroundings to come back into focus. The first thing he saw, through eyes whose vision was much sharper than that which he had previously known, was the face of his coordinator. Her eyes were still very wide, and her mouth was agape.

Solonn couldn’t blame her. Along with his sight, all of his other senses had returned, as well, giving him a full sense of what he had become. He was well aware of the sheer size of his new body—he was huge. At the same time, however, he didn’t feel like he was very heavy at all.

He realized then that he had taken to hovering without even consciously trying to do so and was now suspended just above the surface of Morgan’s bed. Solonn became fascinated at once with his newly gained levitation. He moved himself for the first time in this new fashion, gliding a very short distance forward, marveling at how effortless it felt.

Solonn was instantly at home within his new form. He felt a wonderful blend of elation and immense relief wash over him and wondered how he could have ever feared to become what he now was. A contented sigh escaped him, and he began to set himself down upon the bed with a smile—but he got back up in a hurry when the bed creaked ominously beneath his now considerable weight. In doing so, he knocked his horns against the ceiling. Biting back a swear, Solonn looked up to see if his horns had damaged the ceiling and saw to his relief that they hadn’t.

Morgan laughed. “Oh God, be careful! You’re almost too big for this room, you know that?”

She wasn’t kidding. Solonn realized how fortunate it was that Morgan’s room was as large as it happened to be; he took up a sizable share of its space. If the room had been much smaller…

“Actually… you’re too big, period,” Morgan noted. “No offense, but normally, glalie don’t get quite so large; I’d expected you to be closer to my height, actually. Do you have any idea what could have made you turn out this way?”

Solonn would have shrugged were it not for the fact that he no longer possessed shoulders. “Well, uh… I’ve always been kind of tall,” he said in his new, much deeper voice, “but I have to admit, this is…” He trailed off, rather at a loss for words. He was easily half again the size of even the largest glalie he had ever seen, and he had no explanation as to why.

“You know,” Morgan said then, “this might actually be a development that could work out in our favor. The audience is likely to be impressed by your size, and so are the judges.”

“Mm. Well, that’s good to know.”

Morgan nodded. A second later, her expression suggested that something had just occurred to her. She cast a slightly uneasy glance at the doorway, then at Solonn, and then back to the doorway once more. “Hey… um, how do you suppose we’re even going to get you out of here so we can take you to the contest hall?”

Solonn gave her a puzzled look, then followed her gaze to the doorway and understood at once.

“I will never fit through there,” he said with a small, hissing chuckle. “Never again.”

“No, you won’t,” Morgan concurred, laughing.

“…The ball will, though,” Solonn noted.

Morgan frowned slightly. “Well… you are right about that, but…” She sighed. “I don’t know. I mean, I know you don’t like it in there…”

Solonn made a dismissive noise. "It’s fine. You and I both know I can’t be trapped here in this room. There’s barely any room for us both to be in here at the same time; you’d hardly be able to get around in here with me in your way. You can’t even get into your own bed with me in here.”

Morgan cast a glance backwards at where her capture ball belt was hung, from whence Solonn’s great ball gave off a slight, teal glint in the soft lamplight. “Yeah, I know,” she said, still sounding rather guilty about the whole matter, “but…”

“But nothing,” Solonn said gently. “I don’t mind going in there from time to time as long as it’s only when I really have to. For now, go ahead and get some sleep, all right? I’ll go in the ball for the night, and in the morning you can just take me out to the backyard where there’s plenty of room, and I’ll just stay out there from now on.”

Morgan gave him one last look of uncertainty. “Well, as long as you’re sure you don’t mind…” she said, then went to fetch the great ball.

“Hey,” Solonn said then. Morgan turned an inquisitive gaze upon him. “…I just wanted to thank you for making this happen… I never imagined this change would be so wonderful,” he said earnestly.

“Oh…” Morgan turned her head and smiled broadly, blushing slightly. “You’re welcome,” she said. “I’m glad you’re happy with your new form.”

She raised the ball toward Solonn, preparing to activate its recall function. “Goodnight, Solonn.”

“Goodnight,” the glalie echoed. As he allowed his body to be absorbed by the capture ball, he allowed his mind to be absorbed by thoughts of what he had become and the possible ramifications of the change.

* * *

Four days after Solonn’s evolution, Morgan and Sei Salma stepped out into the backyard to join him. The former brought along a small, portable stereo, just as she had done on Solonn’s request each day since he had evolved.

Solonn sat beneath the sitrus tree, watching the others as they approached. Morgan took a seat next to him, while Sei, carrying a large stack of magazines, levitated herself up into the branches above, picking a large sitrus berry for herself as she settled into a comfortable position. Morgan then started the music with a smile.

Solonn imagined that he would never cease to be amazed by human accomplishments such as the stereo that sat nearby, what with the way that it somehow produced human voices and the widely varying sounds of their music. The music that had been chosen that day impressed him more than any other that he had heard to date. One song in particular took a peculiar hold of him; he found its instrumentation rich and its lyrics poetic.

He closed his eyes, and he swore that he could actually see the music in his mind’s eye. He visualized the music in the form of twisting, spiraling shapes that branched upward and outward, forming intricate patterns…

A gasp from nearby interrupted his reverie. A second later, the music was shut off. Solonn’s eyes opened, and a hiss of surprise escaped him at what he saw. Surrounding himself, Morgan, and Sei Salma were the shapes that he had envisioned within his mind. As if of their own accord, they had been brought out of his head and into the backyard, formed out of spontaneously generated ice.

<But… how?> Solonn asked.

<You’re a cryokinetic,> Sei said, gazing down with a smile as she munched on the sitrus berry. <Among other things, this gives you the ability to generate ice. You are also able to mentally manipulate it. All glalie have these abilities.>

<Well, yes, I knew that,> Solonn said, <but—>

<—You didn’t mean to use them,> Sei finished. <The subconscious activities of a cryokinetic can sometimes manifest themselves in a visible display, especially when said cryokinetic’s abilities first awaken. And I did not mean to read your mind there,> she added.

Solonn continued to stare, stupefied by the formations of ice that had been born of his own mind. He had created that display while being completely unaware of doing so. He had managed to lose himself in that act, just as he had lost himself in the music that had inspired it.

His gaze fell upon Morgan, who wore an impressed expression as her eyes swept from one part of the ice formation to another. <Do you… do you like it?> he asked tentatively.

The human turned toward him and nodded, beaming brightly. Her finger moved over the “PLAY” button. <Keep it up. Please,> she said, then pushed the button.

The song resumed, and Solonn closed his eyes and tried to let the music absorb him once again, succeeding quite readily. For a brief moment, he wondered if continuing his cryokinetic display would not be so easy now that he was conscious of his actions, but he found that awareness of the use of this ability had no effect on its ease and enjoyability. He was still able to lose himself within his actions even though he now consciously chose them. Solonn allowed his eyes to open and serenely watched the manifestations of ice as they continued to change, grow, and dance in time with the music.

* * *

In the weeks that followed, Solonn underwent a far more stringent regimen of training and rehearsing than had preceded his prior contest appearance, and he did so at his request. On occasion, he had spent an entire night rehearsing his routine alone in the backyard.

“You don’t really have to work so hard,” Morgan told him more than once, but each time, Solonn insisted on continuing to rehearse to this extent.

This was partly because he was, of course, intent on making it as likely as possible that he would perform better than he had last time, but there was another motive behind his desire to devote so much time to perfecting his routine. Following that first interpretive ice display in the backyard, he and Morgan had decided to work one into his routine, even opting to replace the song to which he had performed last time with the one that had played during his first ice display. Nothing else in his prior experience compared to the sensation of oneness with his element—a sensation that he now attained every time he practiced his routine. It became a high priority of his to achieve that feeling as often as he could.

Soon, those two months of preparation were behind him, and he once again found himself onstage with his coordinator and all the other contestants in the Lilycove contest hall. The vast audience before him was in the process of voting, and Solonn quickly found that he could not help but wonder about what they all thought of him. Consideration of this subject had come unbidden, but he made a conscious effort to dismiss it.

If you can just get past this part, he told himself, then in just a short while, you can get away from all of them…

The announcement that came a minute or so later, declaring that Solonn had received a sufficiently high rating from the audience to advance to the second round, brought him a sense of relief and something else, as well: a mild but nonetheless present sort of eagerness. He was soon to be alone on that stage, performing before that huge audience—but at the same time it would also still be a chance to experience that incomparable unity with his element.

And they won’t be a part of that, he reminded himself as he departed to the backstage area with Morgan.

The television backstage showed each of the performances preceding his own, which was slated for last this time. Solonn made a point of not watching any of them, remembering well how watching the other performers in action had only intimidated him the time before.

They don’t matter, he thought resolutely. This is about something far beyond them.

Finally, the time had come. Solonn emerged onto the stage, trying as he took his place there to view it as merely a stop en route to the far better place to which he was about to go.

The lights went out completely. Nothing was visible to the crowd gathered within the auditorium except for two large, blue eyes glowing brightly from the center of the stage through the darkness. Those eyes could still see the individual human faces in the crowd quite well, more clearly than he had the time before…

They will not be part of this.

The music came alive. Very slowly, lights mounted in the stage began to emit pale blue rays. Glistening within this glow, ice began to rise in thin, vinelike shapes from the stage. They branched out and twisted as they grew slowly but steadily upward, swaying and flicking at the air in time with the music.

The many branches of the seemingly living ice curled downward and inward toward their maker and joined together beneath his hovering body, forming a cradle of sorts underneath him. The ice began to rise upward, lifting Solonn toward the ceiling.

Meanwhile, more of the thin, branchlike structures extended outward from the cradle to dance around him. They then transformed into seven long, thin needles. Atop each of them, ice was formed into the shape of a diamond.

Solonn rose slowly along with the song’s building crescendo, ascending from the ice below him as high as he could manage. He brought a protect aura around himself as he lifted himself ever higher, surrounding himself with a deep blue glow. At the apex of his ascent, his eyes suddenly blazed with a surge of white light—and so did the diamonds of ice, which then exploded one by one in time with the music in sparkling bursts of frozen mist.

As the glow of the protect aura faded, Solonn descended to the stage once more, while the level of the ice beneath him lowered as the ice was gradually dissipated. The music worked itself into a frenzy soon after, and accordingly Solonn summoned a miniature storm. Blizzard, icy wind and powder snow rushed in a maddened spiral around him while the blue stage lights strobed.

Then the song abruptly ended, and Solonn’s performance did likewise. The lights cut out; when they came back on a second later, there was not a trace of ice or of snow to be found anywhere. Nothing remained of the wintry spectacle save for the glalie who’d made it happen.

Solonn looked out upon a silent audience as he hovered at the center of the stage, trembling a bit and breathing rather hard. Closing his eyes, he bowed deeply, inclining his face toward the floor. Then the audience erupted into applause—Solonn was grateful for their enthusiasm, but this was one moment in which he rather wished that his evolution had not enhanced his hearing. The judges approved of his routine, as well; his score was in the top two, meaning that he would proceed to the third and final round along with just one other finalist.

Solonn was taken backstage where he had to be recalled for a moment into his great ball so that he could have his energy restored by the rejuvenation machine that was kept backstage. Second-round performances usually took quite a bit out of a pokémon, and Solonn’s performance was no exception; without rejuvenation, he knew, he would certainly not have the strength to perform well enough in the final round’s battle. Once both he and his opponent had both had their turn in the machine, the third round was ready to begin.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” boomed the voice of the announcer, “we’ve seen quite a parade of truly skilled performers tonight. Now we’re down to the very best of the crop, the final two. Let’s hear it for Alex Rhodes and Kelly from Mauville and Morgan Yorke and Solonn from right here in Lilycove!”

The exuberant noise of the crowd filled the air as the finalists made their way onto the stage. Solonn took his place a couple of yards in front of Morgan and gazed across the stage at the opposing team, which consisted of a girl with long, blonde, braided hair and a golduck who was giggling to herself.

“The match will end when the clock runs out, when one pokémon’s points are entirely depleted, or when one pokémon is rendered unable to battle,” the announcer explained. ”Without any further ado, let the final round begin!” With that, a loud tone rang out over the PA system, signaling the commencement of the battle.

“All right, Solonn. Let’s show them our icy wind/ice beam combo,” Morgan said.

“Then we’ll start with psybeam and water pulse!” Alex said.

Solonn summoned two of his ice-type abilities simultaneously. Charged with the pure elemental energy of the beam, the small, razor-edged ice particles contained within the icy wind took on a brilliant cyan glow as they rushed toward Kelly on a frigid gust.

Meanwhile, Kelly launched her own attack, continuing to giggle inexplicably as she did so. Her combination of psybeam and water pulse created a rainbow-hued ray through which glowing blue rings of water-type energy rippled.

Solonn’s attack turned out to be the stronger of the two, the result of both of the constituents of his combination being derived from his own element. The ice-type combo overtook Kelly’s attack and scattered its energies, foiling it. The shredding gale then assaulted Kelly herself. Being a water-type, she suffered very little from its charge of elemental energy, but the sharp edges of its icy shrapnel nonetheless managed to tear shallow cuts all over the golduck’s body, making her squawk in pain.

As a result of her taking the hit, Kelly’s points suffered. The bar that represented them on the scoreboard decreased in length, albeit only slightly.

“Now, let’s take some defensive measures, shall we? Light screen, Solonn,” Morgan said.

“We’ll try our psybeam and water pulse combo again, then,” Alex said. “He’s sure not to like it…”

A glowing pink force field rose around Solonn, enveloping him completely. At the same time, Kelly once again fired her psychic/water-type combination attack, which lanced forth in a rush of psychedelic colors. Solonn’s psychic shield negated the water-type aspect of Kelly’s attack, but the psybeam at the combo’s core managed to penetrate the barrier. It struck Solonn squarely between the eyes, its psychic-type energy finding its way straight into his brain in an attempt to addle his mind. Solonn snarled at the pain as he shook his head furiously to rid himself of the psychic assault. Fortunately, the attack failed to throw him into confusion, but both he and his points still took a hit.

“Okay, now give him a hydro pump!” Alex instructed her pokémon enthusiastically.

“Uh-oh… you’d better protect, Solonn,” Morgan warned.

Still giggling, Kelly summoned one of the highest powers of her element. An intense, blue glow filled her eyes, and in a massive, sudden burst, a thick, powerful jet of highly pressurized water surged forth from her open bill.

However, just as the golduck launched her water-type assault, Solonn conjured the deep blue aura of the protect technique around himself. The hydro pump dissipated spectacularly on contact with the indigo force field in a great burst of mist; the protect shield fell an instant later. Kelly’s point bar shortened further due to the utter failure of her attack.

Alex sighed. “Well, I was really hoping we wouldn’t have to resort to this, but it looks like you guys have left us little choice. Attract, Kelly!”

“What? Ah, no… protect, Solonn! Hurry!” Morgan urged. It was a gamble; she knew that a protect aura could not always be counted on to successfully form more than once in succession. However, there was simply no other hope for Solonn to avoid Kelly’s technique.

Solonn tried to bring back his protect aura, and for a very brief moment, he seemed to have succeeded. But the deep blue shield was gone a split-second later, leaving Solonn with no form of defense between him and Kelly, the latter now surrounded by a rose-colored glow. With a sweeping motion of her arms, the pink light was sent forth in a wave that washed swiftly and inescapably over Solonn.

All at once, he was rather appalled at himself. Good gods, have I seriously been attacking that? How could I have even considered doing harm to such a beautiful creature? How could anyone? A very cheesy smile crept across his face as he surveyed Kelly from across the stage. Look at her, over there… so elegant… so exotic… those eyes… that tail!

Morgan cast an uneasy glance at the scoreboard as Solonn’s points suffered both from his failed protect technique and his succumbing to Kelly’s attract technique. “Solonn!” Morgan shouted. “Listen to me: you have got to keep your head! She doesn’t love you, and you don’t really love her. It’s just a trick, Solonn! Now, quickly, hit her with a blizzard/icy wind combo before she can attack again!”

Solonn ignored Morgan’s instructions, simply refusing to attack the suddenly attractive golduck on the other side of the stage. Kelly, meanwhile, was giggling her brains out louder than ever. It was a wonder that she even heard her coordinator’s next command, which was to blast Solonn with a hydro pump while he was still dopily goggling at her. But she heard indeed, and she didn’t hesitate for even a second to launch her attack upon her infatuated opponent.

The water-type blast came hurtling toward Solonn. Oh, how pretty… he remarked silently and vacantly as it approached…

With a loud crash and a veritable explosion of water on impact, the hydro pump struck Solonn powerfully, blasting him with such force that he was nearly sent flying on a collision course with his coordinator. Solonn’s points decreased greatly—they were now perilously low.

Righting himself with some difficulty, Solonn gasped wildly for air in the wake of the hydro pump. In the next instant, the light screen he had summoned finally faded away. Had it not still been present when the hydro pump had struck, Solonn might not have been able to get back up following that attack.

Hey… that wasn’t very nice… Solonn thought dazedly as he fought to catch his breath. I thought she liked me! He decided to go over to Kelly and ask her why she had done that.

“No, Solonn, don’t get closer!” Morgan tried urgently to warn him. “That’ll just make it easier for her to blast you!”

No way! She’d never blast me! Solonn objected internally, seeming to have forgotten the fact that Kelly had done just that mere moments ago. She loves me!

And then something clicked in his brain: Wait… no, she doesn’t…

“All right, Kelly, let’s finish him off now,” Alex called out, sounding very pleased with the current situation. “Surf!”

“Come on, Solonn!” Morgan urged. “Cut through her tricks and stop her with a blizzard/ice beam combo! Come on, I know you can snap out of it!”

As it so happened, Solonn already had.

Kelly’s giggles rose up into a sharp, triumphant quack of a laugh. She closed her eyes, then clasped her hands together and lifted them toward the ceiling. There was a brief, blue shimmer of water-type energy at her feet, followed by a pillar of water that began to rise from the stage beneath her. She inhaled deeply just before the rising water engulfed her. The pillar lifted her from the stage and up through itself as it rose, ready to surge forth at any instant. Even as Kelly was still rising up through the wave toward the position where she would ride it over her opponent, the summoned wall of water suddenly lurched forward toward its target.

Solonn’s eyes blazed with bluish-white light as his gaze fixed itself firmly on the burgeoning wave. As the water surged toward him, he threw his jaws wide open, and a narrow, highly concentrated blast of wind, ice, and snow exploded forth with raw ice-type energy crackling through it like lightning.

The combination attack roared as it rushed through the air, intercepting Kelly’s attack swiftly. With a series of cracking sounds, the ice-type blast froze the summoned wave around the golduck. Only the spiked crown of feathers atop her head had crested the wave before the water had frozen; not desiring to smother Kelly to death, Solonn quickly shifted the part of the frozen wave that surrounded her into the shape of a hollow sphere around her.

“Oh crap! Kelly, you’ve got to get out of there!” Alex cried.

Kelly was already trying to escape her icy prison. She clawed frantically at the frozen walls with her fury swipes technique, but the ice that formed the walls of the sphere was just too thick to succumb easily to her claws. She fired a psybeam at the ice, but much of the psychic-type energy dissipated against the frozen barrier, while the rest just passed inconsequentially through it—psybeam was, after all, a technique that was more mentally harmful than physically destructive.

Panicking, the golduck desperately tried again to claw her way out of the icy sphere, tearing savagely with all her might. The ice was finally starting to truly give way to her efforts, but not by much.

Meanwhile… there was only so much fresh air in that frozen prison, and Kelly was spending her oxygen quite swiftly through her struggles to free herself. Thus it was that in fairly short order, the golduck exhausted herself thoroughly and passed out. Seeing that Kelly was out cold, Solonn evaporated the ice bubble that surrounded her, then slowly dissipated the pillar of frozen water on which it had stood, gently lowering the unconscious water-type down to the stage below.

A loud buzzer sounded, and a large, red “X” appeared over Kelly’s picture on the scoreboard, signifying that the golduck had been rendered unable to continue. Solonn had won the final round—and just in time, too. The clock had nearly run out for the match, and despite the loss of points that Kelly had suffered when her own attack had been turned against her, Solonn’s score had still been lower. If Kelly had not fainted before the timer could hit zero, she would have won.

“Ladies and gentlemen!” the announcer said in an exuberant voice. “Please give a great, big, hearty round of applause for the winners of the Lilycove normal rank beauty contest, Morgan Yorke and Solonn!”

The lights in the auditorium blazed into vibrant colors, and showers of confetti began falling from the ceiling. A great surge of noise rose up from the audience, many of whom stood as they applauded and cheered.

A shriek of delight sounded behind Solonn. Its source then tackled him in a joyous semi-embrace; Morgan seemed not to be fazed by the fact that her arms barely encircled him at all, such was her determination to heartily hug her pokémon partner.

After recalling Kelly, Alex rushed across the stage to shake her opponent’s hand, wearing an impressed look on her face. A moment later, the short, mustached head judge approached Solonn and the two coordinators. Solonn watched as the head judge handed the normal rank beauty ribbon to Morgan.

Good, the glalie thought as he gratefully allowed his weary body to settle down upon the floor, good. One down, three to go…

_________________________

Next time: A visitor to the Yorke household may bring unexpected consequences, particularly where the resident glalie is concerned. See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
Communication banner by Saffire Persian | TOoS banner by CHeSHiRe-CaT

Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 06:46 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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  #11    
Old April 19th, 2008, 02:17 AM
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Luphinid Silnaek
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Haven't read these chapters for a while now. Neither have I realized how many ideas I plagiarized in those old days from Communication. /: I do so enjoy this fic.

I hadn't realized then how Solonn was beginning to separate from the mainstrem from his beginning. (What is the relation, incidentally, between glalie and human years? Was he really at the old end of his teenage years when Morgan caught'im?) I think the way you portrayed his special ability's effects on his society was very nicely moderate. No one labeled him a freak, and no one revered his awesomeness; he was merely slightly different, like a psychic. He was special, but he was neither godly nor hated. Also, the pokécentricity makes me happy in a detailed, matured way.

Your obsession with revision, of course, defeats my obsession with critique. I really can't find anything objectionable, like everyone else. The style is just too smoothened, and I anticipate greater improvement as time goes on. I really must dust off my memories of the Origin of Storms sometime, too.
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Hoenn journeyfic. Credit to Filb for the font.
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  #12    
Old July 8th, 2008, 04:04 PM
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Sike_Saner
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Luphinid Silnaek:
Quote:
Originally Posted by Luphinid Silnaek View Post
What is the relation, incidentally, between glalie and human years? Was he really at the old end of his teenage years when Morgan caught'im?
Chronologically, he was; biologically, he wasn't quite. In the context of my stories, his kind age more slowly than humans do, though the difference in aging rates between the two species is considerably less pronounced prior to evolution. I don't have the exact math worked out, but I estimate that biologically speaking, he was actually closer to being in his mid-teens rather than his late teens.

Whoever's responsible for bringing this thread's rating up to five stars: Thanks! I'm very honored.

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Chapter 6 – The Sought-For Matter


Having earned the beauty ribbon in the normal rank, Solonn’s next goal was to obtain a ribbon in the super rank. The next super rank contest was slated for the fourteenth of November. Solonn lamented the long span of time that separated him from the opportunity to gain his next ribbon, but he also recognized its value. He would have even more time to rehearse than he’d had prior to his last contest, time that he was sure he would need in order to sufficiently prepare him to compete to the higher standard now demanded by his higher rank.

Though Solonn would have more time to prepare for the upcoming contest than he’d had for the previous one, he would have less time to train with his coordinator. It was now early September, and a new school year had begun, leaving Morgan with less time to spend at home.

Morgan wasn’t the only one who was being drawn away from home; Eliza was a teacher at one of the local elementary schools. With both of the Yorkes away during much of the daytime, Solonn now found himself left home alone for several hours on end nearly every day. Even Morgan’s other pokémon were not around to keep him company; most of them preferred to remain in their capture balls at nearly all times. Sei was an exception, but she seemed to prefer to go out into the city (doing gods only knew what; she never spoke of what her excursions entailed) while the humans were away.

Not that Solonn exactly minded the solitude, though. He readily made use of the quiet time afforded by the absence of the others in order to meditate upon his connection to the element of ice, which in turn aided him in conceiving and practicing new ice displays. Solonn quickly grew to treasure these hours alone, time that belonged strictly to himself and his element. The only thing he could think of that would make him enjoy those sessions more was if he were able to operate Morgan’s stereo and thus enrich them with music.

One Tuesday morning, Solonn was preparing to begin another of these sessions, initiating a ritual he had devised that now preceded each period of solitary rehearsal. He was about to enter the meditative state that would allow him to more quickly achieve a very strong and deep connection with his element when he heard something step into the grass just beyond the fence. Solonn would normally have dismissed such a sound, but the noise that immediately followed it—distinctly a vocalization of some sort, and one that sounded rather puzzled—made it hard to ignore.

He listened closely and was soon met with an odd scrabbling noise—There’s something climbing the fence… he knew at once, but he couldn’t even begin to guess what that something could be. A second later, however, the mystery solved itself.

Solonn was now staring into the huge, crystalline eyes of a sableye who now sat atop the fence. He cocked his head at Solonn as if puzzled by him.

“Who’re you?” the sableye asked in a perky, slightly rasping voice.

Solonn gave the sableye a bemused look. “I could ask you the same.”

The sableye chuckled weirdly, giving no other response to Solonn’s retort. He then sprang from the fence and onto the trunk of the sitrus tree in the backyard, clinging to the bark with sprawled limbs. He scrabbled up the tree and sat down upon one of its branches, letting his short legs dangle off the side.

Solonn could not even begin to figure out what in the world the little creature was up to, but he quickly decided that he had better things to do than to bother with the sableye. He closed his eyes and commenced his meditation, determined to ignore the presence perched above him. He might have succeeded in this endeavor if it weren’t for the overripe sitrus berry that burst against the top of his head a second later.

Solonn turned a flat, annoyed glare upward. The sableye above him was grinning, showing an incredible number of tiny, pointed teeth. “What do you want, exactly?” Solonn demanded of him.

The sableye stared down at Solonn for several moments with his brow furrowed, feigning deep thought. “I think I want to throw more fruit at you,” he replied finally. With a faint whoosh, the sableye seemed to turn into smoke and shadows, then vanished in a faint attack. There was a bit of rustling amidst the branches before the sableye reappeared on the branch above Solonn, both arms laden with more sitrus berries. He proceeded at once to throw them at Solonn, but they collided in vain with the glalie’s deep blue protect aura.

“You’re no fun,” the sableye pouted. He clambered down the tree trunk and sat down next to Solonn, drumming his fingers on the ground for a brief while. Then he began poking Solonn in the side, prodding at the gaps in the glalie’s armor.

With an exasperated sigh, Solonn turned to face him. “Could you leave me alone, please?”

The sableye left Solonn alone—for about five seconds. Then he gave an exaggerated groan of boredom. A second later, he climbed back up the tree. He hung upside-down from a branch for a moment and then dropped down right onto the glalie’s head.

Solonn tried very hard to ignore the sableye, who was now dancing atop his head. There’s something wrong with that creature’s mind, he determined with absolute certainty. As far as he was aware, people typically didn’t just enter someone’s personal space and begin pestering them with no explanation.

“Is there any reason why you need to be doing this to me?” Solonn asked, somehow managing to keep most of his impatience out of his tone.

“Hm? No, not really,” the sableye answered airily. He continued to skitter around upon Solonn’s head for a few moments more, then crawled headfirst down the glalie’s forehead and lowered his face between Solonn’s eyes, grinning. “Hi.”

“Go away, please,” Solonn said through gritted teeth.

The sableye shook his head solemnly, continuing to stare right into the glalie’s eyes—and then suddenly recoiled, pulling his head back as though something had just taken a swipe at it. His faceted eyes flashed; he’d have been blinking in surprise if he’d had eyelids.

“Hmmm…” the sableye said as he brought his face even closer to Solonn’s.

“What in the name of all gods are you doing now?” Solonn demanded.

“I’m seeing you in a whole new way…” the sableye said in a voice that suggested that he was trying to sound mystical. “Hmmm… very interesting. Very interesting, indeed…”

“Are you quite finished bothering me?” Solonn said, at nearly the limit of his patience.

The sableye seemed to take a moment to consider the question. “Almost,” he responded. Then he planted a very juicy kiss right on the diamond-shaped patch of bare hide in the middle of Solonn’s forehead. With that, he sprang off of the glalie’s head and onto the lawn, then turned and gave Solonn a Cheshire grin. “Buh-bye!” he said cheerfully, then scampered off across the lawn, scaled the fence, and disappeared over the side.

Supremely baffled by what had just transpired, Solonn breathed a sigh of relief now that the sableye had left the scene. Stop trying to make sense of him, Solonn advised himself. You’ll only end up giving yourself a headache. Giving the sableye no further thought, Solonn gratefully sent himself into the serenity of his meditation.

* * *

The sableye scampered through the alleyways of Lilycove, anxious to get home as quickly as possible—he had made quite the discovery while pestering that oversized glalie. The sableye’s eyes held an peculiar sort of sight; if he looked hard enough, it showed him things beyond a person’s appearance—including secrets. Among the glalie’s secrets, there was one in particular that was quite remarkable, and the sableye knew that he wasn’t the only one who would take interest in it.

In no time at all, he arrived at a modest brick house, a place that he had called home for only a few days. He hurried up the walkway, pausing before the front door. Summoning his faint attack technique, he felt a momentary tingling of dark-type energy throughout his body before it swept him into a quick transformation. His solid form changed into shadowy wisps of black vapor before disappearing altogether. He then reappeared inside the house, returning to his previous form once more on the other side of the door.

Once indoors, the sableye began screeching excitedly to inform another resident of the house of his arrival. In short order, a male human picked his way swiftly but carefully through an adjacent hallway and into the living room, dodging scattered cardboard boxes that were filled with the things that he still had yet to unpack. The human had apparently just emerged from the shower; his slightly long auburn hair was still sopping wet, and he had only bothered to throw on a pair of boxers before going to greet his pokémon.

“Hey, Xi,” he greeted the sableye. “Back kind of early today, aren’t you? Are you feeling all right?”

<I’m okay, Daron!> Xi cheerfully assured the human, employing the telepathic skills that he had inherited from his gastly father. He chuckled effervescently, his multitude of pointed teeth flashing in another of his enormous grins. <I just found something really neat, and I just couldn’t wait to tell you about it! Oh, you won’t believe it!>

“Is that right?” Daron said with a small laugh as he crossed the living room to the front door and scooped his pokémon up into his arms. He carried Xi over to the sofa and sat down. “So, what’d you find, hmm?”

Xi chuckled again. <You might not believe me if I just told you… I have to show you instead…> Xi told Daron, gesticulating dramatically and using the telepathic equivalent of his “mystical” voice.

Daron sighed. “Ah, that’s never pleasant… but, if you insist…” He lifted Xi up to eye-level. The sableye beamed at him, then pressed his palms against Daron’s temples. Daron braced himself for an experience that he knew would not be any less unpleasant than it had ever been before, forcing himself to stare unwaveringly right into Xi’s crystalline eyes. Those eyes lit up from within, and a sudden, painful jolt lanced into Daron’s head as Xi’s most recent memories rushed into his brain.

Almost as soon as the memory transfer had been initiated, the task was finished. Xi let go of his trainer’s head, and Daron produced a sound halfway between a sigh and a groan as he set the sableye down on the sofa cushion beside him, grateful that the process was such a quick one.

Xi looked up at his human companion with a grin. Daron was returning the sableye’s gaze with a positively awestruck expression, his eyes wide and staring.

“You did it…” Daron said. “I don’t believe it… less than a week on the job, and already you’ve hit pay dirt!” He let out a short laugh of sheer amazement and pride. “Great work, Xi!”

Xi gave a squeal of delight. <I knew you would like it!> he exclaimed while cheerfully applauding himself for his discovery.

“Oh, I’m not the only one who’ll like it,” Daron said. “I’m gonna go call him right now,” he added. He rose from the sofa and made his way into the kitchen, retrieving the cell phone that he’d left on the counter and immediately placing the call that he’d thought he might never get to make.

“Mr. Saller?” a kindly-sounding, elderly man’s voice said through the receiver a second later. “What a pleasant surprise to hear from you, my boy! Have you quite settled in to your new home yet?”

“Getting there,” Daron replied. “I’ve still got a bit of unpacking to do, I’ll admit, but I’ve gotten pretty accustomed to this place already. Xi and Cleo love it here,” he added.

“Oh good, good!” the voice on the phone responded. “So, tell me, my boy. What’s the occasion for this conversation, hmm?”

Daron smiled. “You might want to make sure you’re sitting down, sir.” He took a deep breath, then announced, “We’ve found one.”

Not a word issued from the receiver for a long moment. “…You’re quite certain?” the old man finally asked.

“One hundred percent,” Daron said confidently. “Xi’s eyes don’t lie, and he showed me exactly what they showed him.”

“Well, he’ll need to show me, as well. Can’t be certain any other way, after all, and we mustn’t move ahead until we are indeed certain,” the old man said. “You can transfer him here from the pokémon center.”

“Will do, sir,” Daron assured him.

“Good, good…” The old man gave a sigh of happiness. “It’s a wondrous thing, my boy, to see our goals coming to fruition so soon…”

“It sure is,” Daron concurred, nodding.

“Well, then,” the old man then said crisply, “once I’ve had my meeting with Mr. Xi, we’ll discuss our further course of action. Be on standby, my boy.”

“No problem, sir… And the authorities?”

“A non-issue, as I stated during our first meeting,” the voice on the phone told Daron in an assuring manner. “You need only concern yourself with the task at hand. See to it that everything is carried out without a hitch, and both you and your partners will be handsomely rewarded.”

“You can count on us,” Daron said coolly, and then the old man hung up.

* * *

Eight days had passed since the appearance of the sableye. Much to Solonn’s appreciation, the sableye had not returned since, leaving Solonn free to practice his art without any disturbances.

At his summons, twin spires of ice extended toward the heavens, catching the sun’s rays with a brilliant sparkle. They began a sinuous dance while their choreographer watched them with an expression of deep serenity playing over his features.

“That’s very pretty,” said an unexpected, monotone voice from above.

Surprised, Solonn turned toward the source of the voice. Overhead, a venomoth hovered, scattering a small quantity of fine powder into the air with every flap of her wings.

Another unexpected guest, Solonn thought, his expression somewhat wary as he looked up at her. He could only hope that this visitor wouldn’t give him the same sort of company that the previous one had. “Er… thank you,” he said a bit awkwardly. He moved out from under the venomoth; the powder that was falling from her wings was beginning to irritate his eyes.

“Sorry to interrupt your performance,” the venomoth said, “but I was sent to give you something.”

The venomoth gave no further explanation for her next actions. Her wings suddenly made a dramatic shift from lavender to baby blue, and with a single, powerful flap, they tossed a cloud of pale blue sleep powder on a swift gust of wind at Solonn.

Taken by surprise, Solonn failed to do anything to avoid the attack and inhaled some of its dust before he could stop himself. He tried to retaliate at once, but his ice beam missed its mark, for his eyelids had closed irresistibly before he could aim it. He dropped to the ground, swallowed up in a profoundly deep sleep.

There was a faint rushing sound, and a mass of black vapors formed out of thin air just outside the back door. They solidified into the form of Xi, who clutched a great ball in his hands. His faceted eyes found the sleeping glalie, and he broke into a grin. “You did it, Cleo!” he congratulated the venomoth, happily scampering across the lawn to join her.

Cleo glanced down at the capture ball that Xi held. “Are you sure that’s the right one?” she asked.

“Uh-huh. I checked them all. This is the one!” the sableye answered with confidence, having scanned each of the capture balls and thereby having found the signature which designated the great ball as belonging to the glalie.

“And are you sure you know how to use that?”

“Uh, yeah,” Xi said a little crossly. With a exaggeratedly demonstrative air, he aimed the capture ball’s lens at the sleeping glalie and recalled him into the device. “See? I told you I could do it,” the sableye said triumphantly. Cleo merely rolled her eyes at him.

“Okay! We got what we came for,” Xi then said. “Let’s go!” With the great ball clutched tightly in his hand, he quickly scampered up and over the fence and departed the scene in gleeful haste, with Cleo winging her way close behind him.

* * *

Roughly three hours later, Solonn at last awakened from the sleep that had ambushed him, his eyes opening with something of a delay. Almost immediately, they registered the sight before them as unfamiliar. He found himself in the middle of a somewhat large, high-ceilinged, and presently rather dark room. The place was quite bare; there were no furnishings around him, and only a couple of scattered, human-made objects strewn about suggested that this place actually belonged to anyone. As far as Solonn could tell, he was presently alone.

He didn’t know what this place was or why he had been taken here, but he was quite sure that he didn’t want to stay to find out. He promptly ascended from the ground, the last traces of drowsiness from his induced sleep gone entirely in the face of his urge to get out of wherever he presently was as soon as possible. His gaze swept the room in search of an exit and found one in the form of a door in the wall to his left, near the back of the room. It was plainly too narrow to admit him, but Solonn wasn’t going to let that stop him. He was prepared to smash right through it.

Without a second’s hesitation, he lowered his massive, horned head, ready to ram the door down and burst through its frame. With a surge of speed, he charged toward the exit—but unexpectedly, violently, he was caught short and sent reeling back by some unseen barrier. Partly stunned and taken utterly by surprise by the recoil from his thwarted charge, he wildly overcompensated in his efforts to regain control of himself. He lost hold of his equilibrium entirely and ended up crashing face-first into the wooden floor, the boards beneath him splitting on his impact.

Solonn hissed and snarled in pain as red and white flashes played across the inner surfaces of his eyes and a shrill whine rang within his ears. He lay face down for a moment, wondering what in the world had just happened. Ignoring the throbbing in his head and the dizziness that came along with it, he lifted himself back up from the floor. He stared hard into the empty air before him as if trying to will the barrier that had caught him there moments ago into visibility, but neither it nor anything that could have been its source would let him see them no matter how hard he tried.

Solonn was baffled by this phenomenon, but he was also determined to figure it out. He knew that his escape from this place, from the ones who had brought him here, and from whatever their intentions for him might be required him to overcome this obstacle. He approached the invisible barrier slowly and carefully, mindful of the recoil that it had given him when he’d charged it at full speed. He soon found it and felt it firmly resisting him as he pushed against it.

Closing his eyes in determination, he began to slowly increase the pressure that he placed on the force field. He gradually entrusted every ounce of his considerable weight to the barrier, exerting it upon the obstacle before him with all his strength. But no matter how he pressed against it, the barrier would not yield to him. Still, he kept trying, despite how the pressure of his forehead against the invisible wall aggravated the pain from his recent fall.

Then the force that held Solonn at bay abruptly stopped resisting him altogether, causing him to pitch forward and fall onto his face for a second time. He shouted a muffled oath into the floorboards as the intensity of the pain in his head spiked sharply.

He heard a sound then and recognized it as that of quickly-approaching, human-sounding footsteps moving toward him from behind. He suspected that this signified the arrival of someone who was somehow involved with his abduction and detainment, probably coming to subdue him after hearing the commotion caused by his attempts to escape. Quite certain that he couldn’t get away from whomever was approaching, he prepared himself to fight his captor off. Growling a warning deep in his throat, he rose and turned to face—and to strike—whomever had just arrived.

But Solonn caught himself short of attacking as his eyes fell upon the newly-arrived human, and he let the elemental energy that he had gathered for his intended ice beam dissipate harmlessly. Standing there a couple of yards before him was none other than Morgan, breathing hard and casting furtive glances about herself every few seconds. Solonn noted at once how badly disheveled she looked: her skin was pale and drenched with sweat, her hair was mussed, and her eyes were swollen and bloodshot as if she had just spent an hour or two crying. Her right hand gripped the handle of a hammer that wobbled as her shoulders heaved; it looked ready to drop to the floor at any second.

“Oh, thank God I found you…” Morgan said almost voicelessly. “Now try to move toward me.”

Still quite dumbfounded, Solonn did as Morgan requested. He found as he moved forward that the force field was indeed gone completely, allowing him to go to her unimpeded.

“It’s gone,” he noted aloud as he came to hover before her. “Some kind of invisible barrier was holding me here—you stopped it somehow, didn’t you?” Solonn asked. Morgan nodded. “Do you know what it was, exactly?” he asked.

“It was the mean look technique,” Morgan said hoarsely. “I found a sableye right out there.” She indicated the thick, maroon curtain hanging at the front of the room; Solonn had assumed it to be another wall, but now recognized it as something through which someone could pass by simply pushing it out of the way. “He was using that technique to keep you within a certain distance of him—until I hit him in the head with this.” She raised the hammer, then let it fall to the floor. “He’s out cold now.”

A sableye… Solonn had told Morgan of the creature who had paid him a visit eight days ago, and she had told him the name of his visitor’s species. The image of the sableye flashed within Solonn’s mind… and was closely followed by that of the venomoth who had paid him a visit that very morning and drugged him with sleep powder—another unexpected guest within such a short frame of time. It seemed to Solonn like an awfully unlikely coincidence…

“Did you find anyone else here?” he asked Morgan. “A flying, purple pokémon, perhaps?”

Morgan shook her head. “No. I searched this whole place over. No one else here except that sableye… I didn’t find the rest of you here, either,” she added, her voice quieting considerably on those last nine words.

Solonn’s brow furrowed in sudden, troubled confusion. “The rest of… what? Morgan, what are you talking about?” he asked worriedly.

Morgan’s eyes closed, and she turned away. She opened her mouth to speak, but whatever words she’d had prepared caught in her throat. “I’ll explain soon,” she finally managed in a constrained voice, then turned again to face Solonn. Her eyes were brimming with tears. “Let’s just get you out of here.”

Solonn nodded, then made for the curtain.

“No,” Morgan said, halting him. “That way just leads into another part of the building. We’ll go out that way.” She pointed toward the exit that Solonn had previously spotted. “That’ll take us outside.”

Solonn made his way over to the exit, and Morgan followed. “You’re gonna have to smash the door down,” the human told him as they reached the exit. Having already figured such, Solonn was already backing up for a charge as she spoke. Once he’d put sufficient distance between himself and the door for a full-velocity charge, he lowered his head (resigning himself to the certainty that this would reawaken the pain there), then hurtled forward in a headbutt attack. The door exploded from its hinges as he crashed into it, its frame bursting apart as he emerged violently into the sunlight.

Morgan quickly joined him outside. “Sit down just for a second,” she instructed him. “You’re much faster than I am—we can get out of here a lot quicker if you give me a ride.”

Solonn complied at once. As soon as he set himself down upon the grass, he felt Morgan clambering onto his back, using the gaps in his armor as handholds and footholds to climb up onto the top of his head.

Morgan situated herself there upon the glalie, sitting with her legs extended forward and her hands clutching his horns. She soon began shivering hard; noting this, Solonn took on a more conscious effort to focus his elemental power and keep his coldness to himself.

“Okay,” Morgan said, “okay. I’m going to tell you which way to go… you just concentrate on moving as fast as you can. Now, go! Hurry!”

Solonn set off in an instant, achieving his maximum velocity quickly. He worried that the human he was carrying might fall off of him at this speed, but she seemed to hang onto him capably enough. While he’d expected her to have him hurry toward her house, she instead steered him into unknown territory, guiding him through a maze of alleyways barely wide enough to admit him.

Her directions eventually led Solonn out of those alleyways and then, unbeknownst to him, out of the city itself. He had been rushing along at top speed for minutes now and was tiring. Had he been one of those creatures that moved by the power of their limbs and muscles, he would have been far wearier still. Morgan urged him to keep going, and he figured that she probably had a good reason to have him go so far from the scene that they had fled. Preferring to be safe rather than sorry, he reckoned that he’d do best to trust that notion, and so he continued on, ignoring the rising complaints of his body.

Solonn and Morgan were now swiftly making their way westward along a scenic, grassy route. Delicate-looking metal fences lined the path on either side. Some distance beyond the fence on the right, a large, flat building stood. The fence on the left provided the sole barrier between the road and a treacherous drop off of a sheer cliff toward a sparkling expanse of water. Even though only able to see the scene to the south through his peripheral vision, Solonn found himself in awe of what he could glimpse of the waters and the mountain that they embraced.

At length, this route gave way to a place teeming with trees and vast patches of tall grass. By this point, Solonn simply could not go any further. It’s far enough… he figured, it has to be… Groaning, he allowed himself to sink to the ground, managing with something of an effort to keep from obeying his body’s desire to roll over onto his back. He wasn’t about to risk casting Morgan off and possibly crushing her.

Morgan climbed off of him somewhat awkwardly. She sat down in the grass in front of him and promptly buried her face in her hands.

For a very long moment, Solonn sat silently, trying to catch his breath and to ignore the fact that he ached everywhere. “What’s happened?” he asked finally, still practically wheezing.

Several seconds passed before Morgan made any sort of response. Her face remained buried in her palms, her fingers knitting themselves fretfully into the hair that framed it.

“They’re gone,” she finally answered in barely more than a whisper.

“…What’s gone, Morgan?” Solonn asked softly, the edges of his voice frayed by the sense of dread building rapidly within him.

“Not ‘what’, Solonn,” Morgan corrected him, her voice breaking. “Who.” Her shoulders started to shake uncontrollably, and then she gave a wrenching sob. “My other pokémon are gone. Stolen. All of them.”

What?” Solonn could have sworn that his heart had just stopped at the news he had just received. “Oh good gods… When did you find out?” he demanded.

“A couple of hours ago,” Morgan answered miserably, still hiding her face. Tears were now streaming through her fingers. “I wasn’t feeling so good at school… really, really nauseous… and they excused me early. I came home, and you were gone, and all the others, too… they took the balls they were in and everything,” she sobbed.

The news struck Solonn like a hammer. Oth… Raze… Sei… Aaron… Brett… all those people who had come to be good friends of his were now gone, taken gods only knew where. As he thought about the others, he became brutally aware of just how helpless they had been, contained within their capture balls—small, portable devices, easily carried away.

But not all of them had been in that vulnerable position… ”What about Sei?” Solonn asked. “She was out of the house, wasn’t she?” The possibility of Sei still being free offered a ray of hope for the others—her psychic abilities could certainly aid in locating them, Solonn was sure.

Morgan shook her head. “No, she wasn’t. Before I left, she said she was staying home… some marathon on TV…”

Solonn gave a low, sorrowful hiss. He hadn’t even noticed that Sei had been home the whole morning; he supposed that he must have been too engrossed in his practice to be aware of her. “My gods…” he muttered. He almost feared to imagine what sort of abductors could have successfully subdued such a powerful psychic as an alakazam—he realized that he had been beyond fortunate to have safely escaped from what were certainly very dangerous captors. The others, however, had not been so lucky… A sickening feeling coursed through him as an unbidden parade of the grim scenarios that might have befallen his friends played within his mind.

“How did you manage to find me?” Solonn then asked.

Morgan took a very deep, shuddering breath, trying in vain to calm herself. She finally took her hands from her face, revealing her still-bloodshot eyes and tear-streaked cheeks. “When I found you all gone,” she started, having to pause to catch her breath in between sobs, “I called the police… they came and talked with me for a while…

“After that… I don’t know. I just started wandering—when I’m sad, I’ll just do that, just go for a walk—and then I saw this place with this sign in front…” Her face contorted into what was unmistakably a grimace of disgust. “‘See the Amazing Talking Glalie!’, it said.”

Solonn’s eyes widened dramatically, the light within them blazing with outrage. He hissed again, not a low lamentation this time but rather a vehement, explosive outburst. “That’s what they took me for? Some kind of freak to show off?” he asked. Morgan nodded regretfully. “How… how could they have possibly found out?” he demanded.

“I don’t know!” Morgan blurted. “I sure didn’t tell anyone!”

Solonn winced. “Sorry… I wasn’t trying to accuse you…”

“Oh God…” Morgan’s tears began to fall even harder in a fresh surge. “No, I’m… I’m sure you weren’t…”

Solonn gave a long sigh. “It’s all right…” he muttered. With no small measure of difficulty, he lifted himself from the ground, setting himself back down closer to Morgan. Burying her face in her hands once more, she leaned into him at once, her side against his—he wished at once that she hadn’t. He barely had any strength to keep his element at bay, and the human was shaking enough without his chill right up against her. Ultimately, though, Solonn just didn’t have the heart to try and persuade her to move.

For seconds on end, they just sat there beside one another, neither saying a word. Nothing disturbed the silence save for the faint calls of distant seabirds. Even Morgan’s sobs had grown quiet, though they remained just as violent.

“Did you say that you called for help… for people who could possibly help find the others?” Solonn finally asked in the softest, most soothing tone he could manage at the moment, trying despite his own terrible worry to provide a calming, consoling presence for his distraught friend.

“Mmm-hmm,” Morgan responded weakly.

“They might still set things right,” Solonn said in as much an attempt to reassure himself as to reassure Morgan. “They might still find out who did this… they might still find the others.”

“God, I hope so… Do you know anything about the ones who took you?” Morgan then asked. “Anything that might help the police find them?”

“Not really,” Solonn answered with a sigh. “Some sort of winged pokémon came and threw some kind of strange dust on me, and then I fell asleep. When I woke up, I was where you found me. I have no idea what happened in between—I know that creature couldn’t have worked alone, though. We know that that sableye was involved, but there had to be others. I’m so sorry; I wish I knew more…”

“It’s okay,” Morgan muttered. “It’s not your fault. If anything… it’s probably mine.”

“What? Gods, no, you know better than that!” Solonn responded incredulously at once.

“Solonn, think about it. They probably came for you. Somehow, they found out about you, and then they took you so they could make money showing you off—and all the others were just in the wrong place at the wrong time…” Morgan turned her gaze briefly to the east, then closed her eyes. “I should have let you go when you first asked. Then none of this would be happening.”

Solonn closed his eyes. “Please, Morgan… don’t blame yourself. Please.” He opened his eyes once more and turned them upon her, their light dimmed by sorrow and weariness. “Besides,” he added, “I’m the one who told you not to take me back right away, remember? It was my idea.”

But Solonn’s words seemed useless; the look in Morgan’s eyes told all too clearly that she was not consoled and not convinced. “Doesn’t matter,” she said, almost voicelessly. She tried once again to steady herself with a deep breath, but to no avail. “I shouldn’t have kept you here. I guess there’s just no safe place for someone like you among humans. Solonn… I’m letting you go now.”

Solonn stared at her, dumbfounded. A part of his mind returned to the last time that Morgan had offered to release him from her custody, that night when he had revealed his talents to her. Though he had come to know her quite well and knew that she was not nor was she likely ever the sort to treat him as a possession, somehow he was still amazed by the notion that she, the very creature who had taken him from his home, would so willingly relinquish him. Twice, he thought to respond, but neither time did he have any clue what to say.

“Listen.” Morgan rose shakily to her feet, casting another glance eastward, then turned to face Solonn once more. With an obvious effort, she kept her gaze locked firmly into his eyes. “Since… since the others are gone…” she said with difficulty, “…well, I can’t have you teleported home, and there’s an ocean between here and there, so…” She swallowed hard, running a hand fretfully through her hair. “What you’re gonna have to do is just lie low for a while. I’m… I’m kind of scared for you to go back to Lilycove right now; the people who took you are still out there for now, and when they find out you got away… If they find you again, God knows what they’ll do. Just stay away from Lilycove for a week or two, just to be safe, and in the meantime, I’ll try to get a hold of someone who can get you home. I promise. Maybe… maybe the others will be found by then… then Sei or Ominous could take you. But if you find some way to get home on your own… go ahead and take it. Please. Don’t wait for me if you don’t have to.”

Still in disbelief, Solonn remained silent for several moments more before responding. “If you’re sure this is what you really want…” he began with uncertainty. Morgan nodded almost imperceptibly. Solonn sighed in acquiescence. “All right,” he said quietly. “I’ll return to Lilycove after a few days. Until then,” he said with a solemn look straight into her eyes, “I want you to take care of yourself. You’re a good person, Morgan. You really are. I wouldn’t want to see anything happen to you.”

Morgan nodded again. “Okay,” she whispered, wiping the tears from her eyes as well as she could. She wrapped her arms around the glalie as far as they would go and gave him a long embrace, then let go and took several steps back from him. “Guess I’ll see you again soon, but if I don’t…” She shrugged feebly. “Goodbye, Solonn.”

“Goodbye,” Solonn echoed. He rose from the ground, ignoring his body’s protests, and bowed deeply, inclining his great face toward the ground.

“Stay safe,” Morgan said. With that, she turned and set off for the city in the east.

“You, too,” Solonn called after her, allowing himself to sink back into the grass as he watched her go. He worried for Morgan, who had been parted from so many dear friends in the blink of an eye. He feared even more for her other pokémon, whose fates remained unknown. There was no way of telling if things would be set right again for them. He could only hope that they would be.

* * *

Morgan returned to her home, listlessly casting the light jacket she was wearing onto a nearby chair as she passed through the living room. Her mind was somewhat distant after such a long, difficult day. Out of habit, she made her way straight to the back door, to the backyard where she had shared so many hours with the glalie who had become one of her best friends. A sickening pang struck her at once as the door opened upon the empty space near the sitrus tree where he should have been.

“Oh my God… Where is he?”

_________________________

A free cookie to anyone who knows from whence I got the title of this chapter.

Next time: Solonn is offered a place to lie low for a while, but what might await him there? See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 06:52 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Chapter 7 – Convergence


Tall, thick grass surrounded Solonn, swaying slowly in a light breeze, save for in the wide, more or less circular patch that had been flattened where Solonn had tried unsuccessfully to sleep during the night before. There, he now sat under the pale pink morning sky, gazing out over the grass into the east. Though it was too far away for him to actually see, he knew that the city that he’d fled stood there beneath the rising sun. He wondered if the ones who had tried to abduct him were prowling Lilycove in search of him at that very moment or if perhaps they were extending their search outside the city limits.

He didn’t know how likely it might be that his enemies would find him there before his allies could return to him. Despite his worries, part of him still managed to hold on to some hope that Morgan might appear through the grass at any moment, calling to him with the news that their friends were safe once more and that she was ready to take him back to Virc-Dho.

These were precisely the sorts of thoughts that had denied Solonn sleep through the previous night. Countless times, his eyes had begun to close, only to immediately fly open once more and dart about in fretful search of anyone, friend or foe, who might have been approaching him.

Solonn could not recall ever having been so on edge in his life, and wondered how he would ever allow himself to sleep during the coming night if he still hadn’t heard from Morgan or from anyone else who could help him. He also wondered how he was going to go about feeding himself at this point. While he had lived with Morgan, she had always provided him with sustenance. Before Solonn had evolved, Morgan had given him that flavored snow to eat, and after his evolution he had been provided with a diet of specially-formulated pokémon food designed to meet the nutritional needs of a large carnivore without requiring the predator to do their own hunting.

Now, however, without Morgan to provide for him, he seemed to have no choice but to take on his natural role as an active predator. Solonn was anything but eager to go through with this. His hunger was steadily growing, but through minute after minute, hour after hour, he had ignored its pleas, and he remained determined to continue doing so for as long as he could.

He began to wonder just how long he could go without food. Morgan had always fed him twice a day. He didn’t know how frequently the glalie back in Virc-Dho hunted, for they still generally kept those matters from the snorunt.

Solonn suspected that their reason for not telling snorunt of the hunters that they would grow up to become was so that the snorunt would be able to accept the predatory instincts that came with evolution without any prior misgivings about predation to get in the way. Solonn had possessed precisely those kinds of reservations ever since learning that glalie were carnivores. Still, the instincts that came with his evolved form were nonetheless also present within his mind. He tried not to pay them any heed, but they remained steadfastly in place, waiting for his inevitable surrender to their demands.

He winced slightly at yet another pang of hunger. It had been nearly an entire day since he’d eaten last; Morgan had fed him prior to leaving for school the day before, and he’d not had anything since. Though Solonn had looked toward the day when he would regain his independence ever since coming into Morgan’s custody, the simple fact was that he had fallen into the habits of a human’s pokémon. He had been rendered unused to fending for himself, and was certainly not prepared for anything along the lines of “roughing it”. Though he was quite hesitant to admit to himself that he’d grown accustomed to being tended to, he could not deny that he was left in no position to defy his body’s expectations for much longer.

A brief rustling in the grass alerted Solonn to a newly arrived presence not too far from where he sat. He turned toward it and saw the glow of the newcomer’s body heat, which seemed to flicker as it shone between the swaying blades of grass. Something stirred within the back of his mind, trying to persuade him to see the solution that lay in this discovery.

Take them, it seemed to say. Take them and know relief.

Solonn paid no mind to the notion, closing his eyes and beginning to turn away from the creature nearby. He silently told the faction of his mind that had suggested using the newcomer as a means by which he could alleviate his hunger that whatever the creature was, they were not prey. Still, his instinct continued to relentlessly plead its case, but still, Solonn managed to tune out its suggestions, even as it seemed to emphasize its point by sending another tendril of aching hunger down into his belly.

I’m not doing it, he argued internally, gritting his teeth in desperate determination. Good gods, I’m not starving to death yet…

His physical demands would not stand to be silenced, however, and so they presented yet another unbidden argument through his mind: You had better get used to this—it’s going to be the way you’ll be feeding yourself for the rest of your life. There aren’t going to be any humans around to feed you when you get back to Virc-Dho.

Solonn sighed in resignation as he ceased his internal argument. There was the undeniable truth of the matter: his independent survival required him to embrace his predatory nature. There would be no processed pokémon food outside the human realm. There would only be prey—lives which he would have to end in order to sustain his own. He knew that he would ultimately have to accept it, but he couldn’t imagine himself ever liking it.

It was with considerable reluctance that he turned back toward the heat signature of his would-be prey, rose from the ground, and began to glide in their direction. The creature had drawn closer to him since he’d last allowed himself to look toward them, apparently oblivious to his presence; even moving at minimal speed, Solonn would be upon them swiftly.

As Solonn approached, he called upon his element, summoning ice to hold the prey in place and prevent their escape. The hapless creature began screaming at once in response to Solonn’s actions, their voice shrill and surprisingly loud to be issuing from what had to be a tiny throat and tiny lungs.

Solonn tried in vain to shut out the cries, but his keen hearing allowed him no refuge from them. Struggling to steel himself for the task that lay ahead of him, he pushed his way through the last blades of grass separating him from his prey and looked down upon them directly for the first time.

There, with ice encasing her legs and tail, a female zigzagoon screamed again and again, the terror in her cries magnified greatly upon seeing the huge face of her captor looming before her. Her head thrashed and her spine arched as she fought to free herself, but her struggles were of no use; in truth, she knew this just as well as the creature who had frozen her to the spot did. Closing her eyes, she fearfully awaited her imminent demise.

Solonn could almost literally taste the fear of his prey on the air as he prepared to deliver the killing strike. He knew that he could freeze the flesh and blood of the zigzagoon in an instant, and perhaps that way, just as his mother had told him years ago, his prey would not have time to suffer. He needed only to tap into that power, and the deed would be done…

He hissed as hesitation pulled him sharply back from finishing off the zigzagoon. You should have just taken her out when you first noticed her, chided the faction of his mind that still remained in favor of the act that he had so very nearly committed. You shouldn’t have looked at her first.

Solonn’s gaze fell upon the face of the zigzagoon, whose features were contorted almost grotesquely in mortal terror. His throat constricted, and his stomach went sour, extinguishing his appetite. With a hiss of disgust, he instantly vaporized the ice that had held the zigzagoon in place.

After a second’s delay, she dared to open her eyes. She stared up at Solonn with a wild gaze, seemingly paralyzed with fear and confusion.

“Go,” Solonn said abruptly. “Just go.”

The zigzagoon remained rooted to the spot, fixed in place by disbelief. Her jaw worked almost imperceptibly, as if she were trying to speak.

Solonn didn’t wait for her to pull her words together. “Go!” he commanded sonorously, darting at her to emphasize his point. With a squeak of fright, the zigzagoon scrambled away as fast as she could with not a single glance behind her.

Solonn sank wearily to the ground, more than a little disgusted with himself. Gods’ mercies, you almost killed that poor creature… He shuddered as he thought of what would have happened had his reluctance not gotten the better of him in time.

“Well, that certainly was magnanimous of you,” said a jovial and utterly unexpected voice.

Quite startled in his rather compromised state, Solonn spun around instantly to face the source of the utterance. He found a swellow hovering in midair before him, sweeping the grass below him around with the steady beats of his wings. Solonn wondered how this creature had managed to sneak up on him so thoroughly unnoticed.

The swellow descended to the ground, pushing the tall grass out of his face with his wings once he’d landed. “You know, ordinarily I might hesitate to stop and chat with an ice-type such as yourself, but given what I’ve just witnessed here, I’d dare assume yours to be safe company,” he said. The swellow then bowed. “Do allow me to introduce myself. I am the swellow Jal’tai. And you are…?”

Still slightly bewildered by the pokémon who had just apparently spontaneously appeared in his midst, Solonn responded with a bit of a delay. “Solonn Zgil-Al,” he introduced himself; then, after a short pause, he added, “the—”

“Oh, I know, I know,” Jal’tai interrupted with a chuckle. “You don’t need to tell me what you are, Mr. Zgil-Al. There’s no mistaking a glalie for anything else once you’ve seen one. So, then. I haven’t seen you around these parts before. Have you only recently relocated here?”

“I guess you could say that,” Solonn replied. “I mean, I haven’t exactly moved here permanently…” The swellow cocked his head inquisitively. Solonn hesitated at first to elaborate on what he was doing in the area, but then reckoned that it was safe to tell of such as long as he was careful not to give away too many details of the situation. “I’ve just escaped from human kidnappers in Lilycove,” he told the swellow. “I’m just lying low in this area until I can find some way to get back where I came from, across the sea.”

“Oh my… that must have been harrowing,” Jal’tai remarked, sounding both astounded and pitying. “Thank goodness you escaped, then. Say… if you need a place to stay, I know an excellent candidate.” He took on a rather grand pose, puffing out his feathered chest. “I don’t reside in this area, either; I just like to come here every now and again for a break from all the hustle and bustle back home. I come from a city in the west, and it’s the greatest city in the world, in my opinion. And I’d bet anything you’d agree with me, given the chance to see it with your own eyes! You could stay safe from your pursuers there, and in far more comfortable conditions than you’ll find out here. Plus, I’m certain you’d find a means to cross the sea there—that is, if you’ll want to leave!” the swellow added with a chuckle. “So, what do you say, hmm? Can I tempt you with a stay in my beloved city?”

Solonn eyed him somewhat skeptically. “That’s a very nice offer, but… well, I would really rather not enter another human city if I can avoid it—that is what you’re talking about, isn’t it?”

Jal’tai blinked in surprise, then burst out into crowing laughter. “No, no! It’s not a human city, I assure you. You’d realize that quite swiftly if you saw it for yourself. Oh, you’d be amazed at the things it has to show you…”

Solonn considered the swellow’s offer. Moving farther into the west, and thus farther from Lilycove, would keep him farther from the reach of those who sought him with ill intent. It also occurred to him that the locals probably wouldn’t mind sharing their food with him as well as their shelter; he could already feel the relief of possibly being spared the need to hunt, even if only for a while. Plus, the swellow certainly made this city out to be a nice place, although Solonn did find the level of Jal’tai’s enthusiasm vaguely disturbing.

At the same time, however, he couldn’t help but think of Morgan, who had said she would return to where she’d left him if she came up with a means to take him back to Virc-Dho. He didn’t want to entirely discard faith in her; furthermore, he did, in all honesty, still hope to once again see her and the pokémon whom he’d met and befriended through her, and hopefully in a happier light next time. That, at least, seemed to him like a more proper farewell, and an easier one—the one she and they deserved, in his opinion, for treating him so well.

He hadn’t forgotten what Morgan had said the evening before, though, not one word of it. She had expressly told him that if he found another means for him to return home before she could find one, then he was to take it. Solonn questioned whether or not this truly was what she wanted; surely she wouldn’t want to lose a chance to see one of her closest friends one more time, would she? But in the end, he decided that he had to give her the benefit of the doubt where that was concerned. This was what she’d said she wanted, and he reckoned that he should take her word for it.

“All right,” Solonn said finally.

“Ah, excellent!” Jal’tai said, sounding supremely delighted. “Come, then, follow me!” With a powerful flap of his wings, Jal’tai took to the air, sending the grass below him into a frenzied dance as he set off very swiftly toward the west.

Solonn sighed wearily; the evening before had been quite taxing and his body was still not quite ready to endure being made to hurry anywhere. “Jal’tai? Excuse me, could you slow down a bit?” he called after the swellow as he struggled to keep the pace.

“Oh, of course!” the swellow responded, and slowed down significantly. “Terribly sorry about that. I just simply can’t wait to show you my city…”

As Solonn followed Jal’tai, he found the tall grass that had surrounded him thinning, eventually disappearing from his surroundings altogether. Conversely, the trees were becoming more plentiful as he continued westward, increasing in number and density until Solonn found himself led into a true forest—and a bit of inconvenience.

“Jal’tai! Wait!” Solonn shouted. Jal’tai’s speed had decreased even further due to the fact that the surrounding trees left him little room to fly, forcing him to walk. Solonn would have had no problem keeping up with him if it weren’t for the fact that the trees provided an even greater impediment to him than they did to the swellow. Solonn was forced to pick his way between those trees that grew far enough apart to admit his considerable girth.

Jal’tai halted and turned. There was a smile playing about his eyes that suggested that he was holding back an urge to laugh. “I apologize on the trees’ behalf,” he said, the tiniest of chuckles managing to break through.

Solonn gave Jal’tai a dull glare, then resumed making his rather difficult way amidst the trees. “I do hope that this ‘city’ of yours isn’t so—” He broke into a snarl as a branch on one of the trees between which he was squeezing swatted him just below his left eye. “—infested with trees…”

“Oh heavens, no. The forest had to be cleared in that area before the city could be built—a necessary evil, I’m afraid, but I daresay that’s it’s come to give more to the area than it’s taken. Anyway, you’ll not have to suffer the vegetation much longer. We’re nearly there.”

This came as a surprise to Solonn; from what he could see, the only thing that they were drawing closer to was another several acres of dense forest. Managing at last to follow closely behind Jal’tai once more after coming across a fair number of trees in his path that had all grown far enough apart to allow him to pass through with ease, Solonn began casting glances about for signs that they were indeed nearing Jal’tai’s city, but still saw nothing but trees surrounding him.

Halt!” two voices shouted in unison, taking Solonn by surprise. In nearly the same instant, the owners of those voices, a pair of stantler, jumped out before Solonn and Jal’tai from behind two of the trees, landing gracefully on their dainty hooves. They glared at Solonn and Jal’tai for a moment, lowering their golden antlers menacingly—then, abruptly, the stantler both raised their heads and took a step back, wearing alarmed expressions.

“Oh! We… we didn’t realize it was you!” one of the stantler said.

“We’re so sorry… really, we are… very sorry…” the other one rambled.

“Well, that is why it’s wise to always look before you leap, now isn’t it?” Jal’tai said pleasantly.

The two stantler nodded. “Can… can you forgive us?” one of them asked.

Jal’tai gave a chuckle and a dismissive wave of his wing. “Oh, of course, of course,” he said. “No harm done at all. Now, why don’t you fellows let us in and then see about having someone else finish your shifts, all right? It doesn’t do to work too long; it’s absolutely murder on the nerves, as we’ve seen displayed here quite clearly.”

“Yes, yes, of course…” one of the stantler muttered. His eyes then traveled from Jal’tai to Solonn, and the other stantler’s gaze followed. It was as though they had actually not noticed the large glalie hovering there up to that point.

“Yes, he’s with me. You know I wouldn’t let just any of them in,” Jal’tai said.

Both stantler seemed to have one last moment’s hesitation. Then they both gave another quick nod and stepped aside.

“Thank you kindly,” Jal’tai said warmly, bowing his head as he passed between the two guards. “Right this way,” he said to Solonn, beckoning with his wing. “It’s right through here.”

“Where?” Solonn asked as he moved forward alongside Jal’tai. “I don’t see—”

The glalie was instantly stricken silent by the sight that had spontaneously appeared then. All at once, the endless forest before him was replaced by a view of a thoroughly modern city. There was no canopy of leaves to obstruct the sky above, for the trees’ presence was relegated to neat rows lining the streets and the occasional one growing in someone’s yard. A few of the inhabitants of the city, varying in species, could be seen strolling on the sidewalks or milling about in the lawns or on street corners. Every now and then, a vehicle cruised up or down one of the visible streets at a casual pace.

Still rather mesmerized by the city that had just appeared before him out of thin air, Solonn was a bit startled by the wing that clapped him heartily on the back then. His gaze shifted to the swellow beside him, who was smiling warmly in the fashion of his kind, the look in his eyes positively radiating pride.

“Welcome, my friend,” Jal’tai said, spreading his wings wide, “to Convergence, the city of a better future! Isn’t it magnificent?”

“Well…” Solonn began a bit awkwardly, furrowing his brow in an expression of uncertainty. The city of Convergence had certainly made an entrance that had impressed him, but beyond that… The fact of the matter was that the city might have come closer to being magnificent in his eyes if it hadn’t seemed so familiar. Solonn had gazed out the window upon a view of Lilycove on enough occasions to know a human-style city when he saw one. “It’s certainly… er, doing well for itself, and I guess that’s nice, but… Jal’tai, I thought you said this wasn’t a human city…”

The swellow chuckled. “Yes, I most certainly did. And on closer inspection, you might realize that indeed, just as I stated, this is not a human city. Or do you not see the abundance of pokémon about?”

“What of it? Pokémon live in human cities, too,” Solonn pointed out.

“True, true… but there remains a very significant difference between those cities and this one. Why, look over there,” Jal’tai said, gesturing with his wing toward a truck that had stopped at a traffic light some distance before them. Its driver was large and hairy—and an ursaring. The light turned green, and the truck went on the move again, heading their way. Solonn could hear country music issuing from the vehicle’s sound system; the bear was nodding her head and growling faintly along with the song.

“Now, there’s something you won’t see in a mere human city,” Jal’tai said.

The ursaring driver rounded a corner, pulled into a driveway, and stepped out of her truck. She then turned and spotted Jal’tai and Solonn. Her eyes widened, and she waved vigorously. “Hi!” she half-roared cheerfully from across the street.

“Good day to you, madam!” Jal’tai returned, waving back at her. “I might also add that Ms. Olcarion actually owns that lovely house,” he then informed Solonn. “As a matter of fact, all of those homes are owned by pokémon,” he said, indicating the three houses to the right of the ursaring’s home. “Independent pokémon, Solonn. Do you realize the significance of that?”

Without waiting for Solonn to answer, he continued. “In human cities, pokémon are second-class citizens—if even that.” His features gave a brief flash of disgust. “But here, pokémon are afforded the same rights and opportunities as humans. They may own properties like those the humans own. They may learn to operate the vehicles invented by humans if they so wish. Our academy offers them the same education that humans receive and training for those who wish to enter occupations that elsewhere may only be held by humans.

“This is a community with no parallel in the world today, one in which pokémon and humans are truly able to live and work as equals. Do you see now what makes Convergence great?”

Solonn nodded vaguely, still absorbing the information Jal’tai had just imparted upon him. He had not realized that pokémon were such non-entities in human society. True, pokémon were taken from their homes and made to live in human custody, but judging by his experience with Morgan, he had not found himself or any of her other pokémon treated poorly… Solonn realized that if what Jal’tai said was true, then he had been quite fortunate indeed to have been taken in by Morgan and not by one of the apparent, inconsiderate majority of humans.

“Now, then,” Jal’tai said crisply. “I’m feeling rather in the mood for lunch of a sudden… How about you?”

Solonn made to answer Jal’tai, but his stomach beat him to it.

“Ah, right then,” Jal’tai said. “We’ll go to Whitley’s; it’s to die for…”

The swellow led Solonn deeper into Convergence, heading toward the center of town. Along the way, Solonn spotted more of the city’s residents out and about. They were mostly pokémon, some of whom were using what he figured were devices made by humans, such as the very noisy leaf blower being operated by an electabuzz at the curb in front of one of the houses.

Solonn also spotted a couple of humans as he continued through the city after Jal’tai—literally a “couple”; he saw only two of them and they were together. It seemed that the pokémon outnumbered the humans here. From what he could glean at a glance, though, Solonn thought that the two humans both looked quite happy to be living here. They were neither goggling nor blatantly avoiding looking at the pokémon citizens; it seemed that they found nothing strange at all about the notion of pokémon living right alongside them, which Solonn found to be a relief in the wake of what Jal’tai had told him.

At last, Solonn and Jal’tai arrived at Whitley’s. The restaurant was a large, country-styled building situated at the end of a fairly sizable parking lot that presently had most of its spaces unoccupied. Above its entrance, a sign bore the image of an elderly, goateed man’s smiling face, along with the words “Whitley’s Family Restaurant” spelled out beside the portrait—twice. It was written once in what Solonn recognized from his time with Morgan to be a form of human writing and once in a curious, unfamiliar script that seemed to be largely made up of eyes. Each character was formed by one of these large, round “eyes”, with the letters differentiated by bars that radiated from them in varying shapes and at varying angles.

Solonn found himself able at once to read the first script just as he had been whenever he’d seen it before, so it didn’t surprise him much to find the second script instantly understandable, as well. However, there was more to his comprehension of the eyed letters than mere literacy, and he recognized this immediately. Puzzled, he brought the matter up with Jal’tai.

“That second kind of writing, there on that sign… There’s something different about it. I don’t know how to explain it other than that it just feels… more natural to read somehow.”

“Ah. I suppose you’ve never seen unown-script before.” Jal’tai smiled. “Well, Mr. Zgil-Al, there is reason why it feels natural to read. It is our written language, the script of pokémon. Allow me to explain. The unown are a species of pokémon who are credited as the ones responsible for eradicating many of the communication barriers between the peoples of the world. Many pokémon, myself included, believe that it was they who blessed the differing races of pokémon with the ability to understand both one another’s languages and the spoken languages of humans. But for some reason, their blessing failed to touch humans, leaving them unable to understand pokémon speech.

“The unown tried to solve the problem through the creation of a universal written language, a process so demanding that it apparently forced them to evolve to that specific end. They developed special written characters that they infused with a mysterious quality meant to render them instantly comprehensible to both pokémon and humans alike. And it worked, too, at least under some circumstances; with it, pokémon have been able to convey messages to humans that they could otherwise never receive. Sadly, the script failed to catch on—perhaps the cultures that used it were conquered or decimated by humans who trained pokémon to fight for them rather than communicating and living in harmony with them,” the swellow added, bitterness seeping into his tone.

“Anyhow,” he finished, “though the script fell short of a perfect solution, it was successful enough for us to see fit to celebrate and honor the unown and their tremendous efforts toward interspecies understanding by using unown-script as a sort of official ‘language’ of our city. All citizens are required to memorize all of its symbols, humans and pokémon alike.”

Solonn took another look at the sign and its message in unown-script, intrigued and quite impressed. It was an incredible notion to him, that of an entire species literally transforming itself in the name of promoting universal communication. He wondered what it might be like to actually encounter one of them, what things that could be learned from such creatures—especially by one such as himself, who had his own relationship with the concept of universal communication…

His eyes widened. Wait…

“Tell me, Mr. Zgil-Al,” Jal’tai spoke up crisply then, interrupting Solonn’s reverie almost as soon as it had begun, “when you mentioned that unown-script felt ‘different to read’… did you mean as compared to human writing? I have always hoped to meet another who is human-literate just as I am.”

Solonn just barely managed to suppress an urge to let his jaw drop wide open. Stupid! he scolded himself silently. He fumbled internally for a means to repair any possible damage done. “Oh… no, I can’t read that,” he finally said, his words tumbling out a bit more quickly than he’d intended. “I just guessed that it said the same thing that it said below in the unown-script.”

“Hmm…” the swellow responded, sounding perhaps not quite as crestfallen as he felt. “Well, perhaps if you’re interested, I could teach you to read human-script sometime, hmm? In the meantime… I daresay we’ve tarried here outside for quite long enough,” he then said. “Why wait a moment longer when food’s right inside, right? Come on, then!”

Solonn followed Jal’tai to a set of doors, which opened automatically for them a couple of seconds after the two had stopped before them. They entered the restaurant, which was warmly lit by a large number of hanging, stained-glass lamps, and were immediately greeted by a hitmonchan in a tuxedo.

“Ah! You grace our presence in person yet again!” the hitmonchan exclaimed. “And this gentleman is your guest?” he asked, at which Jal’tai nodded. “Very well, then! Please, let me show you to your usual table!”

The hitmonchan beckoned the two of them toward the back of the restaurant. They passed a table where a female human sat feeding small morsels of meat to a baby makuhita in a high chair that barely accommodated him. Solonn spotted an area in one corner of the restaurant that was enclosed by slightly tinted, soft plastic walls with a zippered door flap, in which an assembly of koffing and grimer laughed around a pile of something slimy and rotten-looking beneath a large exhaust fan. In another corner, two magnemite contently orbited a peculiar, seven-foot-tall, towerlike structure that hummed faintly with electricity.

Jal’tai’s “usual table” was located in a private room in the very back of the restaurant. The room was decorated with paintings of landscapes on every wall and a potted shrub in every corner. A modest chandelier hung above the table in the center of the room, bearing the light of a number of small light bulbs rather than actual, burning candles.

Jal’tai seated himself at the table, or rather perched atop his seat, his talons gripping the back of his chair while his tail feathers draped over it toward the floor. Solonn, being quite large, quite heavy, and generally just not equipped for setting himself down on chairs without breaking them, merely pushed the one at the opposite end of the table aside and sat down in its place, grateful to be out of the air once more after all the traveling that he’d done lately.

“Your orders, then, sirs?” the hitmonchan prompted.

“Oh, it’ll be the Cerulean fish platter for me. Yes, again,” Jal’tai said with another of his chuckles. “And for him… oh, just give him the Specialty of the House to start with. And you know where to send the bill, of course.”

“Yes, sir!” the hitmonchan confirmed enthusiastically, then departed their table and the room.

“Isn’t it refreshing to see pokémon holding occupations other than ‘gladiator’?” Jal’tai said wistfully. He sighed. “Alas, the indignities we suffer at the hands of humans… Which reminds me, Mr. Zgil-Al: what of those humans from whom you escaped? Have you any idea what their motives might have been?”

Solonn was taken a bit by surprise by that question even though he hadn’t exactly expected that the subject of his pursuers wouldn’t come up again; he had just rather strongly hoped that it wouldn’t. Recovering quickly enough, he untruthfully replied, “No idea whatsoever. Frankly, I’m glad I never got the chance to find out.”

“Indeed,” Jal’tai said. “You’ve certainly been spared a most degrading fate.”

You don’t know the half of it… Solonn held Jal’tai’s gaze for a moment more, then let his eyes flit about from one painting on the wall to another in the awkward silence that hung in the air until Jal’tai spoke again.

“You mentioned fleeing from Lilycove… I’ve not heard of an ice-type colony anywhere in that vicinity—believe me, as a flying-type I would make sure to know of such!” Jal’tai said with a laugh. “No offense, of course,” he added quickly but coolly.

“Meh,” Solonn responded unconcernedly.

“Anyhow, you were brought into Lilycove by these humans from someplace else, then, correct?” the swellow asked.

“Well…” Solonn hesitated for a moment, but then supposed that there was no real harm in speaking of Morgan, though he opted against mentioning her by name. “Not by those humans, but yes, I was brought to Lilycove by a human.” He mindfully chose the word “brought” rather than “taken”; he had deduced that Jal’tai had a less than favorable attitude toward humans, especially those who kept pokémon, and so Solonn decided that it was probably prudent to choose his words carefully so as to give the swellow as little provocation to speak ill of Morgan as possible. “I lived with her for several months. She really was a decent person. I won’t lie about it—I do miss her…” He sighed, feeling a strange sensation spreading through his nerves in the wake of this admission. “She must be horribly worried about me…”

“Do you think you’ll ever return to her?” Jal’tai asked quietly.

“I don’t know,” Solonn answered truthfully. “I mean, I’d like to, sure. I just don’t know if Lilycove will ever be safe for me again… those people are still out there, and I don’t know if they’ll ever be caught.”

“Let us hope they will be, at any rate,” Jal’tai said soberly. Solonn nodded in agreement.

Their food arrived then, carried in on a wide tray that was balanced deftly upon the large hands of the hitmonchan waiter as he pushed the door to the private room open with his hip. Several smoked fish fillets on a ceramic platter were placed before Jal’tai. Before Solonn, the waiter placed an odd, wooden pedestal on which there sat a rather large steak. The hitmonchan then provided each of them with a saucer of water.

“I’ll be back shortly,” the waiter said merrily. “When I return, you just let me know if you need anything else, okay?” With that, he departed Jal’tai and Solonn’s company.

Solonn eyed the pedestal on which his meal sat, puzzled. “What is this thing?”

“Hmm?” was Jal’tai’s muffled response; he already had a large chunk of fish in his beak. “Oh yes, that. It’s just something to make it a little easier for those without limbs to enjoy their meal, particularly someone like yourself—I can see where you would experience some difficulty in attempting to pluck meat off a plate as I am doing.”

Solonn’s eyes shifted the tiny distance upward from the pedestal to the steak itself. “So… this is meat, then?”

“Mmm-hmm,” the swellow confirmed through another bite of fish. “I imagine you’re unused to it being cut and processed in such a manner, but I assure you, it is meat.”

Solonn made a small, wordless noise of acknowledgment. So… this thing before him had once been a part of a living creature… He felt a sense of trepidation fluttering about the vicinity of his heart as he continued to stare at the steak.

Once again, his internal advocate for predation chose to speak up. It’s what’s right for you, you know.

Solonn continued to eye the steak uneasily. There was a part of his mind that couldn’t help but try and picture what the former owner of this flesh had looked like before being slaughtered.

Come on—it’s not like you killed whatever it was, was the internal argument.

That angle fell just short of mollifying Solonn. He cast a quick glance at Jal’tai and found that the swellow was temporarily neglecting his fish fillets to gaze back at him concernedly.

“Are you quite all right?” he asked. “You haven’t touched your Specialty there.”

“Er…” Solonn began, pausing as he swallowed nervously. “…I was just trying to figure out what’s so ‘special’ about it…” he half-muttered, inwardly cursing himself a bit for not coming up with a better response. Still, he found it rather preferable to telling the truth. It shamed him somewhat to admit it to himself, but the fact was that he was disinclined to confess—and perhaps have to justify—his reservations about carnivorousness.

“Well, taste it and you’ll find out!” Jal’tai said, giving the swellow equivalent of a beaming grin.

Solonn shut his eyes briefly as he battled an urge to grimace. It seemed that until he partook of the food that Jal’tai had ordered for him, the swellow would continue to press the issue. He was not enthusiastic about accepting the steak, but he was all too aware of the swellow’s eyes upon him.

At least it hasn’t got eyes, the other faction of his mind told him. At least it can’t look back at you.

Solonn sighed heavily. It seemed that there were two in his company who would not relent until he accepted the meat, a fact made more difficult to abide by due to the fact that one of those persistent voices was actually a part of him.

Silently, he rose from the floor and looked down upon the steak. With a flash of light in his eyes, it was instantly frozen. Closing his eyes involuntarily, he lowered his opened jaws toward it and took it into his mouth.

The taste of it was not as he had anticipated. He had expected it to have the sharpest, most foul flavor imaginable, but found it instead to be rather bland. Vaguely, he wondered if his brain had done him a merciful favor and had temporarily weakened his sense of taste. As he began to chew the steak, he tried very hard not to think about what it was that he was grinding between his teeth. It’s just ice, he tried to convince himself, that’s all… He wanted to rush it down his throat as quickly as he could, but his gullet seemed possessed of contrary urges. It took a few attempts just to force the meat down.

Solonn opened his eyes again, realizing only then that he’d kept them closed all the while that he’d been consuming the steak. He saw Jal’tai smiling at him, looking satisfied.

“Was it to your liking?” the swellow asked.

Solonn gave a quick nod, wondering if anything in his expression was contradicting the gesture even as it was made. His eyes traveled downward to where the saucer of water lay. He rather liked the thought of some good, fresh ice right about then.

It was convenient that water had been provided for him to freeze, too; it would mean just a bit less effort than spontaneously generating ice would require. He stared intently at it, and within mere moments it changed into a stalk of ice rising from the middle of the saucer. He nipped it off as close to the dish as he could, then sat back down as he crunched it up.

The hitmonchan returned then and immediately set about removing the now cleared plates and pedestal as well as Solonn’s saucer, leaving Jal’tai’s still largely ignored saucer where it sat. “Is there anything else I can get for you gentlemen?” he asked.

“Nothing more for me,” Jal’tai said, shaking his head gently. “What about you, Mr. Zgil-Al? Care for another Specialty?”

There were very few things in the world that Solonn would have cared for less at that moment. “No thanks,” he said—or tried to say, at least. His words were almost completely engulfed in a massive yawn.

“‘No’, did you say?” the hitmonchan asked.

“Hm? Yeah, that’s right,” Solonn confirmed.

“Very well then, sirs. I hope you have enjoyed your day here!” the hitmonchan said cheerfully, then left.

Jal’tai took a moment to stretch his wings, then jumped down from the chair. “So, Mr. Zgil-Al. Would you like for me to give you a nice tour of the city?”

“Ugh… that’d be nice, but…” He unleashed another yawn. “I don’t know… I’m just really tired all of a sudden. I feel like I need to get to sleep.”

Jal’tai frowned concernedly at him. “Hmm. Well, in that case, I think we’d better seek out a place where you can rest. I think your recent tribulations must have finally taken their toll on you.”

Solonn nodded listlessly, suspecting that the swellow was right. It seemed that his body had taken all that it could and was demanding a break from any possible excitement for a while.

“Come, Mr. Zgil-Al. The Convergence Inn is not terribly far from here at all. I should be able to get a room for you there without any trouble.” The swellow made for the door leading out of the private room and beckoned Solonn to follow.

* * *

Solonn barely registered the trip from Whitley’s to the Convergence Inn, barely even aware of any conscious effort on his part to keep his body afloat as he drifted lethargically behind the swellow. He didn’t seem to absorb Jal’tai’s words when the swellow told him that they had arrived at their destination until several seconds after those words had been spoken.

Vaguely, Solonn noted that he was following Jal’tai into the hotel. He almost didn’t notice when Jal’tai strayed from his immediate vicinity and crossed the lobby to go speak with a swampert receptionist.

Jal’tai returned shortly, then gestured with his wing toward an elevator to Solonn’s right. “This way,” he said. “Your room is on the top floor.”

Making a wordless noise of acknowledgment, Solonn allowed himself to be guided toward the elevator. Jal’tai pressed a button set in the wall beside one of the elevator’s steel doors, and a few moments later the doors opened. Solonn drifted quite slowly and somewhat unsteadily into the elevator; Jal’tai just managed to dash in after him before the doors closed and the elevator began to rise.

Once it came to a stop, the two of them emerged onto the uppermost floor. Jal’tai moved ahead of Solonn and began making his way through the corridor, heading toward what was to be Solonn’s room. “Here it is!” he soon called back to the glalie.

Solonn glided over to join him, so hampered by drowsiness at this point that he very drifted right into the wall before coming to a stop beside the swellow.

“This shall be your room for the night,” Jal’tai said, “right in there.” He gestured toward the very same wall with which Solonn had just nearly collided. There was no door, no apparent means of gaining entry into the “room” that Jal’tai was indicating. The wall was nearly featureless save for the words “Grand Suite” in blue human- and unown-script and a pair of strange devices fitted to the wall next to the words. One of these fixtures was some kind of keypad, while the other resembled nothing so much as a round, blank, gray eye.

Even in his lethargy, Solonn managed to give the swellow quite a skeptical look.

Jal’tai smiled. “Observe.” Fluttering up into the air before the keypad, he punched a code into it using a single claw on his right foot, then hurriedly flapped aside from it.

“Ready,” said a computerized voice from out of nowhere, and a large, glowing, green square lit up dramatically on the floor in front of the lens and keypad. “Please enter the transport field.”

“Go to that square and sit down,” Jal’tai said.

Solonn did as he was told. “Initializing scan,” said the computerized voice. The lens on the wall awakened, glowing with a brilliant, golden light. It projected a beam of the same color, which touched Solonn, broadened to his width, and swept up and down over him. “Scan complete,” the voice then said, and the beam vanished.

The tile on which Solonn was sitting flashed. A peculiar, tingling sensation prickled over the glalie’s skin, followed by a strange, sort of transcendent sensation not unlike that which accompanied entrance into a capture ball. However, he was drawn not into a disembodied netherscape but rather into a large, richly furnished suite with paintings on its walls that put those hanging up at Whitley’s to shame and marble figures of various dragon-type pokémon placed here and there. Not that Solonn could truly appreciate his surroundings, however; to his weary eyes, everything around him seemed to want to bleed together into a blur of color and light at this point.

“Hey in there!” Jal’tai shouted, his voice coming in through the wall. “Do you like it?”

Solonn turned toward the wall and made a noise that was as affirmative-sounding as his lack of energy would allow.

“Good, good!” Jal’tai responded merrily. “Now, listen, I doubt you’ll need anything overnight; your suite comes very well equipped, I assure you. But, if you do… Well, have a look at the little table by that green armchair in the den.” He gave the glalie ample time to find it; Solonn, in his present state, needed every second of it.

“I see it,” Solonn finally said, his words slurred.

“Good,” Jal’tai said, speaking more loudly now to ensure that his next instructions would be heard. “Now, you’ll notice the little black box with a large, round speaker on top—you can use that to call me if you need anything. It’s voice-activated. You need only speak into it—say ‘Page’, then my name, followed by ‘Room 44-B’, which is where I’m going to be staying. Call, and I’ll come up here as quickly as I can manage. Got it?”

“Got it,” Solonn confirmed, although he was only minimally aware of what he was saying.

“All right, then. Rest well, Mr. Zgil-Al!” Jal’tai said brightly. His words were followed by a continuing silence that signified that he’d left.

With yet another huge yawn, Solonn lowered himself onto the floor. He rolled onto his back and gratefully let his eyelids meet, sighing as he did so. His fading mind drifted back to information that it had absorbed earlier that day, specifically information regarding the unown. Solonn remembered, in a detached sort of way, something having been piqued within his mind at learning of them, but he had fallen too far toward sleep to truly reach any of those notions now. Already half-dreaming, his brain conjured images of the fantastic, surreal beings that it guessed the unown to be, whimsically bizarre creatures that danced in circles around his consciousness as it dwindled away.

_____________________

Next chapter: Solonn makes a discovery of a most unexpected nature and gets to know Jal’tai a little better. See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Chapter 8 – Preclusion of Choice


The space surrounding Solonn was utterly silent and utterly dark but far from still, anything but empty. Rushing through this lightless, ethereal plane, a stream of pure power surged like a river. It carried the most wonderful feeling along its current, an almost inebriatingly sweet familiarity that embraced the very core of his being, comforting and revitalizing him as it flowed freely all around him.

This was the raw, elemental power of ice, and he reveled in its direct presence and contact. He could not see it, but he recognized it for what it was in the surest and most ingrained way. His mind floated in pure contentment, free from distracting thoughts as he hovered effortlessly there, motionless, feeling the very essence of his mother element rushing over him.

Subtly, imperceptibly at first, the elemental stream began to pick up speed as it flowed. The glalie in the midst of it noticed the acceleration with a delay, initially regarding it with only a mild curiosity, still very deeply engrossed in his unity with the power of ice. True concern for the change in the energy stream’s behavior eventually set in and quickly grew as the current continued to flow faster and faster—soon, it was rushing by so swiftly that he could barely register its caress over his bare hide as it flowed past.

That concern made a shift toward first fear and then panic as Solonn found the elemental stream now moving with such speed that he couldn’t feel it at all anymore. No longer was it merely flowing alongside him; it seemed to be rushing away from him now.

It was leaving him behind.

No! No, come back! he tried to call out as the last of the flowing energy passed him by, giving him barely the time to note its departure as it hurried to some distant, invisible point far beyond him. But his cry was completely in vain; in this place, it seemed that he had no voice. All at once, he found himself suspended helplessly in empty space, the life-sustaining flow of elemental power having drained out and dried up completely from his surroundings.

Left in the utmost vulnerability, he was compelled to cry out in terror despite his voicelessness, his futile screams heard by no one, not even himself. His mind was so gripped by panic that he couldn’t even begin to imagine how this could be happening, how his mother element could abandon him like this. The only notion that remained truly intact within his mind was the fact that separation from his element meant certain death.

His mind was beginning to splinter in earnest as he made his final, seemingly hopeless appeals for salvation, pleading voicelessly to the multitude of gods, calling out to the very heart of the universe, begging for his survival and safe return to the embrace of his element unto anyone, anything, that could possibly hear his desperate prayer. Soon, however, it became all to clear to him that his severance from his element, his life, would not be mended.

He almost didn’t feel it when something disturbed the emptiness around him, something foreign and hard to discern. Just as soon as he had noticed it, before he could even begin to perceive its true nature clearly, a strange, pacifying wave emanated from whatever it was and engulfed his mind completely.

All will be fine, it seemed to tell him. Do not be concerned.

The suggestion came as gently as could be, but also as irresistibly as was possible. Perhaps it was death; perhaps it was salvation; perhaps it was something entirely beyond reckoning. Whatever it was, its consoling command was obeyed without resistance. The glalie slipped away from all further thought and sensation without a care.


* * *

The most vague notions of waking up crept into Solonn’s mind, just out of grasp of his full consciousness. Unhurriedly, he began to reconnect to his senses, and before fully awakening, with his eyes still closed and his consciousness liable to slip right back into sleep at any moment, he decided and attempted to rise up.

He failed.

Still only minimally awake and emerging very slowly from what had been the deepest sleep that he had ever known, Solonn felt something only marginally resembling concern. He thought he had just commanded himself to rise up from the floor and into the air. He tried once more to lift off…

…And failed again.

As his mind unmuddled and awakened even further, Solonn felt a burgeoning panic, one that spiked when the notion finally hit him: I can’t get up!

With a delay, his eyes opened to a view of the ceiling, where a plant hung in a basket directly above him, a number of leafy tendrils spilling over the basket’s rim to dangle toward the floor. The picture his eyes presented seemed strangely dull to him, lacking in definition and color. He began blinking rapidly, trying to clear out whatever was hazing his vision. At the same time, he set about continuing to try and ascend, but his body still didn’t respond; it was as if it didn’t even understand the instructions that he was giving it.

His ears filled with the sound of pounding blood as his heart began racing. Why can’t I get up? He tried, to very little avail, to calm himself enough to make sense of things. It seemed that while his mind had almost fully awakened, his body was having an unusually difficult time following suit. The thought occurred to him that maybe it would have an easier time responding to an order to execute a simpler, less demanding action. He decided to give up on trying to ascend into the air for the time being and instead just concentrate on getting off of his back and sitting upright and face-forward.

This demand, it seemed, was not too extravagant for his body to carry out in its strangely compromised state. However, as it did so, Solonn found himself stricken by a very unusual sensation; as his face pitched forward, he felt something seeming to cinch together in the vicinity of his abdomen—almost a bending sensation, as if at a waist, which was something that he did not have.

And yet, he did.

He cried out in disbelief at the sight that met his eyes once he had succeeded in sitting up, a picture that told him in the most blunt manner possible how it was that his body had bent in a fashion that should not be possible. There before him, he saw a pair of long legs ending in five-toed feet. And unless his mind was playing a very cruel trick on him—it had to be, he told himself silently in a repeating loop—those limbs were his.

No… no, this can’t be real… I’m still dreaming; I’ve got to be… Solonn was almost able to believe that conclusion—almost. Swallowing against a hard knot of dread that had built up in his throat, he stared intently at one of the feet and, hoping and expecting in equal measures that the effort would fail, he willed it to move.

It moved right on command.

He screamed, flailing as he half-jumped, half-scuttled backwards in horrified surprise. In his futile attempt to escape from his own feet, the back of his head connected very sharply with a corner of the small table near which he had fallen asleep. He exclaimed wordlessly at the pain as it exploded across the inner surface of his skull. There was no doubt about it: the pain was real. Though Solonn wished dearly that it weren’t so, it seemed that reality was determined to literally beat the truth into his head. This was not a dream. This was really happening. Somehow, impossibly, he had become human.

He swooned in a sudden wave of weakness and slumped backwards against the side of the nearby armchair, panting. A growing ache awakened in his chest as his heart continued hammering in animalistic terror. He almost felt as though he might pass out from the bewildering shock at any moment and would have been all too grateful to do so, but his brain stayed disobligingly conscious and forced him to endure this bizarre new reality.

Though he desired very strongly not to do anything of the sort, something compelled him to look upon himself, to force-feed the surreal image of what he had become into his brain. Unwilling eyes swept over the form of the tall, lanky body that was now his own. This was the first time that he had ever seen a human body unclothed, and the sight left him mortified both for his own sake and that of an entire species. Good gods, they keep that out?

This body was more than just very strange to him—it was wrong. He should not have this; he should not be this. He should be a glalie, a creature of the element of ice… but that element was no longer there for him. He tried to reach it again, some part of him desperately hoping that in doing so he could somehow return to his true form, or at least feel more at home in his current one, but he felt nothing at all of his mother element’s embrace.

He moaned involuntarily, not at the throbbing, shooting pain that still lingered in his head but rather at the severance from his beloved element. He felt his anguish seem to swell in his chest and then well up behind his eyes until they could hold it in no longer, and thus he cried for the very first time in his life.

Several minutes after the fact, he finally noticed that there was something damp at the site of the impact on the back of his head. Shaking, he glanced down at his hands as they lay limply at his sides; then, only half-aware of what he was doing, he lifted one of them to the back of his head. He recoiled at the warm stickiness he found there amidst the hair. He then brought that hand before his face, and he felt his throat go dry at what he saw. Though his vision was presently a little blurry, he could still make out the blood that was smeared across the tips of his fingers—blood that was red and not at all evanescent. Human blood for a human body. Which he should not have.

Solonn closed his eyes and tried to retreat into the corners of his consciousness, thoroughly overwhelmed. He could not even remotely fathom how such a thing could have possibly happened to him, nor could he even begin to think of what he should do under these circumstances.

Sighing, he allowed his eyes to open once more, conceding to the fact that he would not be given the mercy of release from his awareness of this situation. He turned his head and let it sink listlessly to his left shoulder, faintly regarding a number of long, black strands of hair that fell across his face. Through them, he saw the little table at his side, on which there sat a small, flat, black box.

A course of action occurred to him as he recalled the little device’s function: he didn’t know what to do about the situation that had befallen him, but perhaps Jal’tai would. Solonn could think of no one else available from whom to seek any possible solutions. He reached up toward the device and pulled it down from the table. He turned it over in his hands for a moment as he tried to remember how to operate it. Voice-activated, he then recalled. You tell it what to do. After another few seconds, he remembered the instructions that he was to give it.

He looked upon the large speaker that dominated one surface of the strange paging device; seeing no other prominent feature on it, he figured that this was the part of it to which he was to direct his command. He took a deep breath, trying to get a hold of himself long enough to do what he intended to do here in spite of the toll that this turn of events had taken on his mental state, then spoke his intentions to the little black machine.

“Page,” he said almost breathlessly, and he felt his throat constrict as soon as the word had escaped it. Aside from the slight alteration caused by the fact that his nose was a bit congested at the time, his new voice sounded exactly like the one he had possessed as a glalie. He still sounded like himself—why, he wondered, couldn’t he still be himself in every other way?

There was a small beep, and a tiny, green light turned on beside the speaker. “Please state the name and room number of the one you are paging,” the device said in the same computerized voice that the transport device outside the suite had used.

“Jal’tai,” Solonn answered hoarsely, “room 44-B.” He dearly hoped that he had remembered that number correctly.

“One moment please…” the device said.

Solonn held his breath as he waited for a response. Thankfully, it seemed that he had correctly recalled the number for Jal’tai’s room; after several seconds: “Yes? Is there something you need?” Jal’tai asked through the speaker.

“Oh yes,” Solonn responded shakily, his voice charged with urgency, “yes, there is.”

“Oh dear…” Jal’tai clearly had no trouble detecting the distress in Solonn’s voice. There was a brief pause, then, “What’s the matter?”

Solonn strongly doubted that Jal’tai would believe the answer to that question. “Can’t explain,” he replied hurriedly. “Just need you here now. Please hurry.”

Another pause. “Yes… yes, of course. I’ll be right up,” Jal’tai said finally.

“Connection terminated,” the computerized voice of the device then said. The beep sounded again, and the green light turned off.

Solonn set the paging device down on the floor beside him and released a long, weary sigh. All he could do now was wait for Jal’tai to show up—even if he only had seconds to wait, he was not sure how well he could endure it. He was fully aware of how he trembled, his hands shaking like leaves, with tiny yet powerful twitches tugging and pricking at the skin around his eyes and mouth. Vaguely, he wondered if he might not lose this body just as soon as he’d come by it, for it seemed to be threatening to shake itself to pieces.

As the seconds crept slowly by, he stared forward blankly, barely blinking, at one of the suite’s draconic statues that sat a couple of yards away. It lay on its marble pedestal with its tapered wings outstretched and its taloned forearms crossed in front of it and gazed sightlessly back at Solonn with a look of absolute serenity. Solonn could only wish that he were in a position to return a matching expression to the smiling stone figure.

A voice sounded then, startling Solonn in his compromised state, pulling his attention at once from the statue of the dragon pokémon. “Solonn? Are you all right in there?” It was Jal’tai. “May I come in now?” the swellow asked him through the wall.

“Please do,” Solonn called back shakily.

“Of course, of course… just give me a moment here…” Jal’tai responded.

A tone sounded within the suite shortly thereafter. “Prepare to receive a visitor,” the computerized voice said calmly. Solonn turned toward the wall separating the suite from the hall outside. A second later, a shimmering, pale green field of light appeared within the suite, forming above a tile that matched the one outside, then solidified into the form of Jal’tai, who stood there in front of the wall with a concerned look leveled at Solonn. If he was at all shocked or surprised to behold a human where there should have been a glalie, he didn’t show it.

Without a word, Jal’tai walked over to where Solonn was half-sitting and half-lying. He stopped before the former glalie, ruffled his wings and folded them tightly against his back, and gave him a long, unflinching look, his face taking on an expression that was difficult for Solonn to quite interpret.

Already disturbed to no small degree by what had befallen him, Solonn found himself unnerved further by the way the swellow’s steely raptor’s eyes took in his new form—his naked new form…

Solonn inhaled sharply in sudden mortification. This was one detail which he had overlooked—now Jal’tai was getting an unobstructed view of something that Solonn wouldn’t show to anyone under normal circumstances, not even to those of his own kind. Feeling the blood rush to his face in a hot wave of embarrassment, Solonn repositioned himself hastily to cover himself.

“Relax, relax,” Jal’tai said coolly. “It’s nothing I haven’t seen before. After all—” He paused briefly to take a breath, his gaze shifting to Solonn’s eyes and sharpening further. “—it was I who designed that very body for you.”

That took a very long moment to fully register in Solonn’s brain. For a moment, he forgot to breathe. He gave the swellow a stupefied stare.

Jal’tai nodded. “It’s true, Solonn.”

The human’s stare went flat. At first, he made no response whatsoever, frozen in the moment. Then he inhaled very slowly, very deeply.

“Why?” he asked, his voice constrained. “Why… and how… in the fires of a thousand hells… did you turn me into a human?”

Jal’tai closed his eyes and lowered his head. “Yes,” he said soberly, “you are owed an explanation for all this. It’s imperative that you be made to fully understand the situation. I will address your question of ‘how’ first, since that comes with the shorter answer. To begin to answer that question, however, I must start by being more honest with you with regards to the matter of who—and what—I truly am.”

The swellow suddenly took to the air without warning, hovering in place to Solonn’s right and slightly above him. “Don’t be frightened by what I’m about to show you,” Jal’tai said, his words accompanied by the sound of his steadily beating wings, “for it is my true form. I am and shall still be the same person in spirit that I have shown myself to be while in your presence up to this point.”

Solonn could only stare mutely at him, watching as the air around Jal’tai began to ripple and shimmer, blurring the swellow’s form. Soon, Jal’tai completely lost definition, becoming nothing more than a wavering mass of faint light. The light then intensified and began to take shape once more. When it faded away a second later, the swellow was gone. In his place was something very different, something blue and pale gray that, though still feathered, was no longer a bird.

Jal’tai was now a dragon.
“There,” Jal’tai said. He sounded no different than he had prior to revealing his true form, and he used a tone that was likely meant to be soothing, though it failed in that endeavor.

Solonn stared agape at him for seconds on end. His eyes then cast a couple of flitting glances back and forth between the hovering form of Jal’tai and the draconic statue nearby.

Jal’tai followed one of those glances and then let out a chuckle. “No, no, dear boy,” he said. “That is a latias. I am a latios.”

“What does what you are have to do with… with this?” Solonn demanded in a pained-sounding hiss, sweeping his gaze quickly over himself before returning his wild, bewildered stare to the dragon.

“Well, my dear boy, the matter of my species is actually quite relevant to what has been done to you, for it was by the transfigure technique, an ancient art which survives in practice today among none outside the lati, that you were given this new form. A swellow could not have used the transfigure technique; on the chance that you might have known that, I deemed it necessary to reveal my true form lest you fall short of believing me when I told you how it was possible for me to transform you.”

Solonn hadn’t known what swellow were and were not capable of or why it should be any easier to believe that a dragon could possess the power to transform him than to believe that a bird could, nor did he care to know these things. Jal’tai’s explanation as to how the change was made held little meaning for Solonn and fell quite short of a satisfying answer.

Hoping that the other question would yield an answer that he could use, “Why, Jal’tai?” Solonn pressed in a brittle voice, the words more exhaled than spoken.

Lowering his head, Jal’tai drew back slightly from Solonn. “Forgive me, Mr. Zgil-Al,” he said soberly. “I sincerely regret not being more straightforward with you from the start. But there was only one way this could be done feasibly, and unfortunately, it did require me to keep you largely in the dark up to this point.”

The latios clasped his talons and met Solonn’s gaze steadily despite the way the human’s brown, bloodshot eyes pierced into his own. “The first thing you need to know in order to understand the situation is this: I am not merely a proud citizen of this great city. I am also the mayor and director of the Convergence Project, its guide and guardian.”

“Well, good for you,” Solonn croaked acidly. “And what is it about that, exactly, that required you to turn me into this?”

“Patience, my boy,” Jal’tai said evenly, unfazed by Solonn’s venom-laced response, earning a very indignant look from the former glalie. “You must allow me to explain; it is crucial that you understand the circumstances that have come to include you and understand them completely, and not just for your own sake, either.”

The latios paused for a breath, then released it on a sigh before proceeding. “I love my city, Solonn,” he said wistfully. “I love it more than anything else in this world. The fact remains, however, that I will not be around to guide it forever. Therefore, it will become necessary for someone to one day take my place.

“This is where you come in, Solonn. Now, it may not be obvious to the eye of the beholder, but I am getting on in years… Soon, I will be retiring from my position as mayor of Convergence, and the city will need someone to take my office when I depart. That someone is required to have a very particular and very rare skill in common with me—it is rendered a vital necessity by the very nature of this place. My successor must be able, just as I am, to freely and fluently communicate with pokémon and humans alike. My successor must possess the Speech.”

Solonn’ eyes widened dramatically. Almost autonomically, he began crawling backwards away from Jal’tai, compelled to put a healthy distance between himself and the latios as swiftly as he could manage. How did he find out? he wondered fearfully. His mind was now racing much too fast to light on many explanations, but the only one that managed to come through seemed to be the only one that could be plausible to him anyway.

Just as soon as it had appeared in Solonn’s mind, it was confirmed. “Yes, Solonn. I am a psychic,” Jal’tai said, nodding. “But, no, that’s not how I learned of your gift. Not initially, anyway,” he clarified.

Lowering his talons and turning them palms-outward, trying to appear as non-threatening as he could, Jal’tai began to glide slowly toward Solonn. His wings remained rigid and stationary all the while, suggesting that some less mundane force powered his flight. Solonn continued backing away from the advancing latios, but he soon found himself backed into a corner, trapped by a wall to his left, a large, oak dresser to his right, and Jal’tai before him, who had apparently accelerated his approach somewhat as he was now only a foot or so in front of Solonn.

Jal’tai settled himself onto the carpet before Solonn, folding his forearms in front of his chest, and continued. “I saw you, you see,” the latios said. “The day before last, I saw what happened to you in Lilycove,” he elaborated, with a note of earnest sorrow in his voice on that statement. “I was out for a nice flight—as I mentioned before, I do make occasional excursions outside Convergence, just for a change of pace. I decided to alter my usual course a bit that day and chose to go eastward instead of the southward direction I usually take. My course found me flying over Lilycove, and there I caught sight of a most deplorable scene: there was a sign out in front of an old, rather miserable looking theater, promising a real, live… ‘talking’ pokémon inside…” The word “talking” was ejected from the latios’s beaklike mouth with as much force and clear distaste as if it were something on which he had been gagging.

“I saw a small group of humans rush you into the theater through the back way,” he went on. “I slipped in after them, cloaked by my psychic abilities. I found you sleeping backstage, and I tapped your mind while you slept, just deep enough to learn if what the sign outside that wretched scene claimed was accurate, and thereby I confirmed that indeed it was.

“Even if it hadn’t been, though, I would have still broken you out of there. The way you were being treated there, as a spectacle… it was sickening…” he hissed, his red eyes narrowed in vehemence. “I was about to make a move toward your liberation, too, but just then, a new human presence came onto the scene, one in whom I immediately sensed benevolent intentions regarding you. A quick tap of her mind told me that she was your friend and had come to rescue you from your would-be exploiters.

“You had awakened at this point, but your attempts to escape were foiled by a restraining technique, one cast by a creature whose presence I had not even detected. I went and searched about the vicinity for the caster and thereby found a sableye—a dark-type, able to evade detection by my psychic senses. I dispatched him at once by means of a dragon claw.”

Solonn’s eyes narrowed in sudden suspicion. “Morgan told me that she had taken him out,” he said.

Jal’tai sighed. “I am afraid that both you and Morgan were misled where that is concerned,” he told Solonn. “You see, your human companion happened to walk in onto the scene where the sableye had been hiding just as I was dealing with him—the summoning of the technique I used to take him down required me to shift my focus from my psychic element to my dragon element, thus forcing me to give up my invisibility, and so it was that Morgan saw me there. I should explain that my kind are… valued by humans—” There was another charge of the dragon’s particular brand of revolted emphasis on the word “valued”. “—due to our potent psychic and draconic abilities. Though I sensed virtue in this particular human, I was in no position to say the same about the other humans in her life, and I confess that I was unwilling to take a chance on whether or not her integrity was so strong that she would keep my appearance a secret.

“Hence, I found it necessary to modify her memory of that event. I quickly rendered myself invisible once more. Then I placed a hammer that I found lying nearby into her hand and implanted a memory of her using it to knock out the sableye, and I made her forget having seen me.” He briefly closed his eyes and lowered his head as if in shame. “I regret that action now. I should have given her the benefit of the doubt. I should have recognized just how honorable her nature truly was. I did come to recognize it, after watching her help to liberate you, and following her as she guided you to safety outside the city…”

The latios’s face took on a faint, wistful smile. “She, a human, actually chose to let you part from her company rather than allow you to remain and risk exploitation again… very noble… very rare. Anyhow… following the events of that evening, I knew you could go nowhere but west, and so I waited in the grass for you and then brought you here.”

“You could have told me all of this at the start,” Solonn admonished him. “And none of that explains why you needed to change me like this.”

“Actually,” Jal’tai said, “within what I have just told you lies the precise reason why your transformation was necessary. You were taken to be made into a spectacle by those humans in Lilycove because you were a glalie who could speak their language. For that quality, you were regarded as a freak—a valuable freak, yes, but a freak nonetheless—and you were treated as one.

“Now, you are a human who can speak pokémon languages—you have been speaking glalie language this entire time, as a matter of fact,” Jal’tai added. “My point is that humans sought to exploit and degrade you as a freak when you were a pokémon. They will not, however, do that to you as a fellow human. The unfortunate truth is that generally speaking, humans only hold true respect for their own kind. That is why I transformed you.”

“Without my consent!” Solonn shouted, throwing a feral look at Jal’tai.

“Yes, and I apologize!” Jal’tai responded swiftly, actually sounding quite hurt. “But that was only to spare you the experience of what would have been a very painful and disturbing process. The nature of my method is such that if the subject knows the change is coming, their brains cannot be made to ignore that it is occurring. With that in mind, I had a sleep-inducing drug added to your meal at Whitley’s. Once I was certain you had fallen asleep in here, I entered the suite. Then, using certain of my psychic abilities, I put a sort of… for lack of a better term, a lock upon your brain to separate it from your tactile senses so that you would not awaken while I changed you.”

“You did it that way,” Solonn said accusingly, “because you knew I would say ‘no’.”

Jal’tai winced. He then turned the most wounded expression that Solonn had ever seen upon the human. It did nothing whatsoever to bring down the fear and outrage that was growing clearer by the second in Solonn’s eyes. “Please, my dear boy… please… you must believe me when I say that I never wanted to cause you suffering. My course of action was for the sake of mercy, and, yes, it precluded your choice. For that, I am sorry, Solonn, sorrier than I could ever adequately express. But it had to be done. I need you, Solonn.”

For a moment, Solonn had nothing to say to the latios, remaining silent save for the rasping of his long, hard breaths, his shoulders shaking. He merely maintained an unforgiving gaze straight into the eyes of the creature who had subjected him to this change and torn him from his mother element, feeling fresh tears making their way down his face as he thought once more of what he had lost. At length, he closed his eyes and allowed his head to sink to his chest, his hair almost completely veiling his face, and he remained this way for a very long moment.

Finally, he lifted his head and opened his eyes, and he turned a cold, penetrating stare upon Jal’tai, his brows drawn tightly together, the already severe lines of his angular face sharpening further. “You’re no different,” Solonn said, his voice uninflected save for the places during that statement where it threatened to break. “You want to use my abilities to serve your purposes. You seek to exploit me, Jal’tai, just like the humans did in Lilycove. You are no different from them.”

The latios pulled his head back almost as if the human before him had just taken a swing at him. His eyes widened dramatically, then narrowed sharply. “How dare you!” he hissed in outrage. “There is a tremendous difference between myself and those—” In lieu of a word, Jal’tai chose to describe the abductors of Lilycove with a short blast of acrid-smelling, sickly-yellow dragonbreath over his shoulder. “I,” he went on, his voice dripping with indignation, “respect you.”

“You respect me?” Solonn said sharply, incredulously. “Is that why you’ve lied to me and subjected me to a physical transformation without my consent? Is that why you insult my intelligence by expecting me to just sit here and swallow everything you say after that?”

“Solonn, please…”

Solonn shook his head. “No, Jal’tai. There is no reason why I should listen to you, not when you’ve been dishonest from the moment we met.” The birth of a sudden suspicion flashed across his features. “Answer this, Jal’tai: if running the city required me to be made human, why didn’t the same job require that of you?”

“Because you can’t do this,” the latios said simply, and with another rippling shimmer, the dragon was gone. Sitting there instead was an elderly, goateed human man, one whom Solonn recognized immediately as the man pictured on the sign at Whitley’s.

“This is what the citizens of Convergence, as well as those with whom I do business outside of town, see when they look at me,” Jal’tai said. “And this—” He suddenly sounded the part of the old man, too, with the human language to match. “—is what they hear. To them, I am a human by the name of Rolf Whitley. Under this guise, I became a very important, albeit not widely recognized figure in human society. In addition to being the mastermind behind the Convergence Project, Rolf is also a very important senior member of the International Pokémon League. I could not have attained that kind of power and the resources that come along with it in my true identity as a pokémon.”

Jal’tai reassumed his latios form. “Now, under less demanding circumstances, I could simply apply a mirage to you, too. In fact, when we entered Convergence and when I brought you into this hotel, I presented you just as you now appear. However, the method does have its limits, limits that make it impractical as a full-time, twenty-four-seven solution. For one thing, I cannot maintain a mirage over you from a distance, and not much of a distance, either. You would have to remain within the sphere of my psychic perception, which in my old age is, I’m afraid, quite small. I think we can both agree that it would be quite impractical for me to follow you like a shadow everywhere you go, right?”

Solonn gave him a look that suggested that he was not even inclined to agree with Jal’tai on the sun being bright and the night being dark.

“Furthermore,” Jal’tai said, “it is not enough to merely look like a human. You must support the image you present accurately in the tactile sense, as well. You must feel like a human. What if another human wanted to shake your hand? You would have to be able to offer one that they could clasp, one that they could feel. Now, while I am able to produce ‘solid’ mirages, as I use for my own needs in portraying a human, I’m afraid it is outside the scope of my abilities to project a ‘solid’ mirage over you and keep some kind of mirage or cloak over myself at all times. And it would be necessary for me to conceal my true identity somehow if I were to remain near enough to you at all times to maintain your disguise; again, being what I am, I must not let just anyone see me about. Furthermore… I will remind you of the fact that I will not be around to conceal your identity forever. Therefore, the only feasible way for you to meet those particular demands of this position was for me to subject you to the transfigure technique.”

Jal’tai sighed very heavily, lowering his head slightly and passing a talon backwards over it as if raking it through hair. “Solonn… do you not recognize how very important it is to the future of the world that the Convergence Project is kept alive and running? This community must be maintained, for it is a shining example of the fact that pokémon and humans can and should live and work as equals, that anything humans can do, we can do, too. It’s an example sorely needed by the world. The state of relationships between humans and pokémon desperately needs to be changed. Solonn… did you know that most humans do not realize—or else deny—that pokémon are intelligent beings?”

Solonn only stared back with wild eyes. His throat worked, but he did not answer.

“I didn’t think you were aware of that,” Jal’tai said softly, reading Solonn’s blank silence correctly. “It’s true, though. The majority of humans regard pokémon not as people, but as mere animals.” Disgust rose back up through his voice at those words. “That is why they will only respect one of their own kind,” the latios said. “Hence the unfortunate need for our façades.”

Solonn was silent for a moment after Jal’tai finished speaking. He appeared to be deep in thought. Then, with a look in his eyes that spoke both of dawning epiphany and the prelude to a volley of fresh accusatory barbs, he said, “You said you needed me—me, specifically, because I have ‘the Speech’, as you called it. You said that the person in charge of this city has to have this ability—it’s necessary because the person running this city has to be able to communicate just as well with both humans and pokémon, because the job requires you to deal with both, do I understand right?”

Jal’tai blinked in surprise, and then his features relaxed into an expression that looked equally relieved and impressed. “Yes, that’s correct,” he confirmed.

But to the latios’s surprise, Solonn shook his head. “No, Jal’tai. There was another way. Telepaths, Jal’tai,” he said. “Telepaths can make anyone understand them, including humans. How can you have not even considered this? You’re probably a telepath yourself!”

Jal’tai lowered his head slightly and sighed. “That would certainly be very convenient if it were a truly viable option, but unfortunately there are reasons why it cannot be one. There is no shortage of people in this world who are mistrusting, even fearful of psychics and the abilities commonly associated with psychics, including telepathy. Those insecurities and superstitions make those of any species who would have to rely on telepathy to communicate far less than ideal candidates. Convergence and its mission will not be accepted by as many as is needed by this world if its leader is one to whom so many would not listen.”

Even with our measures to respect their privacy in place, many species still do not trust us. Sei Salma’s words echoed in Solonn’s memory, and a twinge of guilt for forgetting the plight of her people struck him. At the same time, however, he found that he couldn’t help but also find sympathy for those who were wary of psychics—the notion of another creature being able to reach and affect his mind was harder for him to abide by when he thought of that latios having trespassed there so recently.

After a moment of scrambling, his mental faculties managed to scrape together another possible argument. “The unown-script, what about that?” he asked. “Both humans and pokémon understand it—and everyone here is made to learn it…”

Jal’tai tried to speak then, but Solonn pressed on, something fierce in his expression. The human was now all too desperately certain that he’d found proof that Jal’tai had not had to do this to him, and that certainty stoked his fury to new heights. “Any human who knows the unown-script could have been your replacement, and there are plenty of those here because knowing unown-script is mandatory here. You didn’t need me. It could have been any of them! You didn’t need me!” he cried.

“Solonn… you must get a hold of yourself,” Jal’tai said, sounding genuinely concerned for Solonn—however, there was also the slightest hint of a warning along the edges of his voice. “Calm down, please…”

But Solonn was inconsolable. “You didn’t have to do this to me! You didn’t need me!” he practically shrieked.

Jal’tai let out a long, slow exhalation and met Solonn’s feral stare with an expression like that of a parent who has finally lost the last shred of patience for a child’s behavior. “I said, calm down,” he said, rising into the air to look down upon the human with displeasure. There was an ominous gravity to his voice that hadn’t been there before, a far cry from the jovial tone that he had once used with Solonn.

Jal’tai raised his talons, then brought them swiftly together and pointed them at Solonn as the latios’s eyes suddenly blazed with a fuchsia light. At once, the human’s eyes went massively wide with shock, and he began gasping madly at the air as if suddenly unable to breathe.

“I cannot have you losing your mind, Solonn,” Jal’tai said gravely. “Not when you have such a demanding future ahead of you.”

Solonn could only stare back in mortal fear at Jal’tai as the latios’s telekinetic onslaught continued, preventing his lungs from filling. His vision was failing, growing dark around the edges and hazing out of focus, and he could feel a smothering oblivion trying to consume his mind. He was certain that was about to die.

But before he could succumb to the lack of air, Jal’tai relented. Solonn immediately took a massive, involuntary gulp of air, pain exploding within his chest as his lungs refilled themselves harshly. His body immediately slackened, slumping over against the dresser, his head hanging low. After several more sharp, gasping breaths racked his aching ribs, he weakly raised his head to look up at the latios, his face a sweat-drenched mask of pure, primal terror.

Jal’tai regarded the former glalie with a gravely displeased expression. “I’m very disappointed in you, my boy,” he said heavily. “I had thought you would understand the crucial importance of this project. This is about something far greater than you, Solonn. This is about the future of our world, a better future. An equal future. Without our efforts, pokémon will never get the respect and dignity in the eyes of humans that we deserve.”

He set himself back down on the floor before Solonn, who immediately shrank further into the corner from him. The latios sighed, the sound carrying equal measures of exasperation and seemingly earnest sorrow. “You must accept your destiny, Solonn,” he said quietly. “You must realize that you were blessed with the Speech for a higher purpose.”

He laid a talon on Solonn’s arm in an attempt to console him; Solonn immediately flinched at the contact but didn’t have the strength to resist further. “Please, Solonn. This is a most wonderful and important calling that has chosen you… you should be honored, Solonn. At the very least, you should recognize that losing your head over this is not going to make things any different for you, and it’s not going to make things as they were. You must find the serenity to accept this. Please…” he said, squeezing the human’s arm gently, “do not make me have to pacify you again. I told you that I never wanted to cause you suffering, and I meant it…”

The latios sighed sorrowfully again and rose back into the air. “Now, to answer your earlier questions regarding unown-script… it is true that it is mandatory for all citizens of this city to learn. However, it is not required learning in the rest of the world. As the mayor and as part of the Convergence Project, you will frequently have to deal with outsiders, both human and pokémon, with whom you will have to be able to speak on their terms. A human who possesses the Speech is the only one who can speak freely to all peoples, to whom all peoples would listen. Hence you are as you are. It’s as simple as that. So you see, I do need you, Solonn.”

Jal’tai cast a glance off to his right, toward the bedroom. “In time, I hope you will be able to see things more clearly. Until such time, I’m afraid you will have to remain in this suite. I will give you the code to exit the room using the transport tile when I feel you are ready to re-enter society as a human, and I will gladly speak with you more in order to help you prepare for your future duties, but only once I can be sure that you have regained your composure enough to listen to me. For now, though, I think you could do with some quiet time alone to relax and contemplate your destiny.”

Jal’tai’s eyes once again took on the fuchsia glow that accompanied his telekinesis, and once again, he applied the psychic force to Solonn. However, he merely used his powers to gently lift Solonn from the floor this time. Panic showed plainly on the human’s face; he desperately wanted to be released from Jal’tai’s telekinetic hold, but it was just too strong. He could not put up any sort of a struggle against Jal’tai’s power.

The latios guided him through the air, bringing him into the suite’s bedroom, then set him down upon the bed. “Be at peace, my dear boy,” Jal’tai said in a warm, paternal tone. He relinquished the light in his eyes and his hold over Solonn along with it. Then a golden light blossomed around him. A second later, it faded, and Jal’tai was gone.

The human lay there where he’d been placed, alone now but finding no comfort in his solitude. Jal’tai was gone for now, but in making his exit through teleportation, he had revealed that he could return at any time, without any warning..

Solonn felt another pang of anguish as he lay there thinking upon what he had become and what he could no longer be. With his identity and element gone, he was certain that there was now no returning to the life that he had once known. Even if he could escape from this suite, this prison, this city and the one to whom it belonged… what then? As far as he could figure, he couldn’t go back to anyone that he once knew, neither Morgan nor his own kind—or what had once been his kind—back in Virc-Dho. None of them would recognize him now, and he couldn’t imagine that they would believe that he was not as he appeared, that he was the pokémon whom they had once known, just trapped in a human body now…

Solonn moaned softly as if in defeat. Trembling, he drew his arms and legs up against his chest and broke into tears once more as he fully realized the impact of this new reality. His life as he had known it was over.

_____________________

Next time: Jal’tai wants to begin grooming his replacement as soon as possible. His replacement has other ideas… See you then!

- Sike Saner
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CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 08:13 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Chapter 9 – Anywhere but Here


Solonn lay listlessly on the bed, staring up at the ceiling fan above him as if mesmerized by the whirling of its blades. Through vision blurred by sheer exhaustion and an almost continuous stream of tears shed in silence, the sight before Solonn’s eyes was that of a shimmering vortex of light and motion, and part of him felt like it might just draw him right into it.

Hours had passed since the loss of his identity, his element, and his freedom, but he hadn’t regarded the time as it had crept by and didn’t mark the passing moments now. Physically, he was utterly drained, but his mind was host to too many troubles to allow him any rest. He still ached from the telekinetic punishment he had suffered at Jal’tai’s hands. His body complained of hunger, of lying in the same position for a considerable while, and of a number of other things. But lost as he was in barely-willing contemplation of his situation, Solonn somehow couldn’t really care about his physical discomfort or even truly notice it, for the troubles from within just seemed so petty in comparison to what—and who—now troubled him from the outside.

A voice from outside the suite broke the near-silence then, managing to cut through all of the other things that were attending Solonn’s mind. It was the familiar voice of Jal’tai. “Are you awake? I’d like to come in and have a few moments with you if you don’t mind,” the latios called to Solonn from the hall outside.

Solonn didn’t respond, not even so much as to turn toward the voice that had just addressed him, but regarded what the latios had just said with a weak but nonetheless present derision. Since when do you care what I do or don’t mind?

“Prepare to receive a visitor,” announced the voice of the suite. Jal’tai was using the transport tile, Solonn realized. It seemed strange to him that Jal’tai would bother with such considering that the latios could simply teleport in whenever he pleased with no need to warn his prisoner before entering. Solonn didn’t cast even the slightest glance back toward the place in the adjacent den where his visitor would materialize, remaining motionless.

Once inside, Jal’tai drifted silently into the bedroom. He appeared at the edge of Solonn’s vision, and the form he presented was his true form; he no longer bothered with any disguises, any pretense. Solonn shut his eyes, curling up and turning away from the latios. A second later, Jal’tai set himself down on the bed beside him.

“Good morning, Solonn,” he said amiably. “How are you feeling today, my boy?”

Solonn gave no response.

The latios frowned; this was already not going well for him. “I wanted to have a few more words with you about what lies ahead for you,” he said, his tone considerably more reserved than it had been moments ago. He drew closer to Solonn, looming over him for a moment before craning his neck downward to look right into the human’s face.

“Listen,” Jal’tai said, something slightly authoritative in a paternal sort of way creeping into his voice. “I know this has been quite an overwhelming experience for you, but you are going to have to adjust to things as they now are, and preferably before terribly much longer. There is much that you will have to get used to, but I know you can do it.”

He lowered a talon and gently took hold of Solonn’s face, lifting and turning it toward his own. Solonn didn’t bother to resist the contact, his face expressionless as he finally looked at Jal’tai again through glazed eyes. Somewhere deep within him, a bitter, smoldering hatred was stoked at the sight of those red eyes, that kindly face, but Solonn didn’t dare to give audience to that feeling and allow it to take over despite being sure that it would be wonderfully cathartic to unleash his loathing upon the latios who, in his mind, thoroughly deserved it. He knew how dangerous Jal’tai’s displeasure could be and was very mindful of the fact that any voiced dissent on his part might once again invite that wrath and the mortal threat that had come with it.

“You know,” Jal’tai then said as he continued to hold his would-be replacement’s gaze in more ways than one, “there are certain positive aspects of your current situation that I don’t think you’ve taken the time to consider. Perhaps they’ve simply failed to cross your mind in the midst of all the activity that must surely be buzzing about in there, or perhaps you didn’t even know such benefits existed.”

Jal’tai paused momentarily to allow Solonn to ask what he was referring to, but no such question came. Managing to at least appear unfazed by Solonn’s continuing silent treatment, he resumed. “I happen to know that you have a particular aversion to eating meat,” he said; this revelation of Jal’tai’s knowledge surprised the human slightly, but not even the shadow of that surprise showed through his expression. “I inadvertently learned this about you at the same time that I confirmed your possession of the Speech. Knowing this about you, I did lament then and do apologize now for having to make you partake of the Specialty of the House the night before last, but the fact was that you needed it in order to have the strength to endure your transformation.

“However, you need never consume meat again if you don’t want to. Humans are omnivores, Solonn. They don’t have to feed on the flesh of others; they can obtain their protein from other sources. Good news for you, wouldn’t you say?”

The notion of never having to eat meat again might have been quite appealing to Solonn under different circumstances, but he could not see such a luxury as being worth what his transfiguration had cost him. Through silence, he rejected Jal’tai’s appeal.

Jal’tai let go of the bright, hopeful look in his eyes at this point, his brow and mouth setting into hard lines. “Well, Solonn,” he began, his tone quite stern now, “if you can’t see the merit in this for yourself, I certainly hope you can at least be glad for what your cooperation will help to make possible for others. After all, when it all comes down to it, this isn’t about you, me, or this city, but rather the world, the future.”

Here he let go of Solonn’s face and rose from the bed, hovering in place above the human. Solonn immediately turned away once more, trying to ignore the shadow that hung over him.

“The fact of the matter is that whether or not you think you’re ready to begin your new life, you must begin it nonetheless,” Jal’tai told him firmly. “I told you that I must soon be replaced as the mayor of this city, and I wasn’t fooling around about that. You have a lot to learn, Solonn, and you must begin doing so as soon as possible.”

Jal’tai left the room then, leaving Solonn alone with the swarm of thoughts infesting his mind, including the newly raised questions he had regarding what else the latios might have absorbed from his mind—and the doubt that that absorption had really been accidental. He figured that Jal’tai had probably just gone ahead and opened his mind wide while he’d slept in that theater, leaving no corner of his brain unscathed by the touch of his psychic powers, taking advantage of the fact that his subject was completely powerless to stop him.

That was the way Jal’tai liked things to be, Solonn decided without a doubt: the latios liked to be in total control of any given situation, to have those with whom he dealt in no position to contest his will. That was certainly the real reason why he had turned Solonn into a creature devoid of elemental power, the human reckoned: so that he couldn’t really fight back.

It wasn’t long before Jal’tai returned. Solonn, determined once more not to look upon him if he could at all help it, didn’t know that Jal’tai was once more in the room with him until the latios spoke.

“It’s time you started growing accustomed to your humanity, Solonn, but for your sake we’ll begin with small steps. Here,” Jal’tai said gently, then lowered something in front of Solonn.

Only part of the item hung into Solonn’s field of vision since his face was half-buried in the comforter underneath him. All that he could see was a length of black, folded fabric; he couldn’t tell what the item actually was.

Jal’tai seemed to recognize that Solonn didn’t really have the best view of what he was trying to show him. He unfolded the item and laid it down directly in front of Solonn’s face. Solonn was now able to clearly see that he had just been given a pair of boxer shorts.

“You do know how these go on, do you not?” Jal’tai asked.

Solonn stared at the shorts. He did have a fair understanding of how they were supposed to be worn; the pants that Morgan had worn were fundamentally similar, after all, albeit longer. Solonn was almost too weary in both body and spirit to bother with the boxers… however, the events of the night before were still fresh in his mind, and the memories of the more painful of those events shone especially vibrantly even through the haze of everything else on his mind. He still feared that if he didn’t do as the latios expected of him, he would risk being subjected once more to that psychic punishment.

Besides which, the boxers did offer the restoration of a small aspect of his dignity, at least. Solonn tried with only scant success to focus on that point in an effort to convince himself that his next actions were motivated by more than just terror as, without a word, he stirred, shifted, and took hold of the shorts. Rather awkwardly, he sat halfway up, staring at them for a moment as he turned them over in his hands, trying to figure out which side was which. Once he was sure that he had it right, he put on the boxers, slipping them over both ankles at once and wriggling clumsily the rest of the way into them.

“Hmm… I’m afraid you’ve got those on backwards, my boy,” Jal’tai said, wearing an odd expression that only partially succeeded in concealing a hint of amusement.

With a faint sigh, Solonn removed the garment and put it back on, correctly this time.

“That’s more like it,” Jal’tai said with a smile and a nod. “Now, wearing clothing, even as little of it as you’re presently wearing, might seem strange at first, but I promise you’ll get used to it quickly enough.”

Solonn found that statement to be a little odd coming from someone who could just pretend his clothes onto himself. Besides which, the notion of covering one’s self was not one that Solonn found strange at all; as a glalie, he had kept most of his body covered in ice at nearly all times.

“All right, then,” Jal’tai said with a clap of his talons, his voice having regained its former brightness. “Why don’t we take a little tour of this lovely little place, hmm? You will be living in this suite until you are ready to take my office, and so you might as well start making yourself at home here. Also, you’ll need to get an idea of how everything works around here; this suite has everything you need in your day-to-day life, but that does you no good if you don’t know where and how to get what you need.

“Up you get, then,” the latios said. He didn’t bother waiting for Solonn to get up of his own volition, certain that the human had no intention of doing any such thing anyway. Once again, he employed his telekinesis to move Solonn, lifting him off of the bed and onto his feet. He then relaxed his psychic hold on Solonn considerably, keeping him standing upright but not prohibiting his independent movement otherwise.

“No need to worry, my boy; I’ll not let you fall,” Jal’tai assured him. “Now, I know that this method of movement is about as different as is possible from the levitation you’d used to get around prior to your transfiguration, but still, walking on two legs shouldn’t be entirely alien to you. After all, you were born as a biped, were you not?”

That much was true; in fact, it had been less than three months since Solonn had last possessed legs. He had gotten around by walking for nearly two decades prior to his evolution.

You’ve done it before, Solonn reminded himself in a continuous loop as he stood there, but that mantra fell just short of successfully building and maintaining his confidence in his newly gained human legs. They were, after all, quite different from those he’d possessed as a snorunt, seeming almost ridiculously long and gangly in comparison, looking incapable of supporting or moving him. He was so mistrustful of them that were it not for Jal’tai’s telekinesis keeping him upright, his lack of faith in them might well have caused them to give right out from under him.

Again, though, Solonn was very mindful of the threat that lay at the end of Jal’tai’s patience. The latios expected him to stand, to walk, to follow wherever he was led, and Solonn reckoned that he had better comply if he valued his safety. Inhaling deeply, trying but not quite succeeding to avoid overanalyzing what he was doing, he took one short, unsteady step forward and then another. He stopped then, standing still as he finally remembered to exhale the breath he had taken, trying to will himself to at least appear to relax and seem sure even if he couldn’t actually do these things in earnest. With an effort, he lifted his gaze from the carpet to the latios hovering nearby in an attempt to signal that he was good to go.

Jal’tai seemed to accept this, nodding slightly with a small smile. “Good, good. Come, then, let me show you around…”

He turned to his left and drifted out of the bedroom, then cast a look over his shoulder and made a beckoning motion with a single talon. Unenthusiastically, but mindfully compliant all the same, Solonn followed. He tried to move a little quicker and more confidently than he had done in the first couple of steps that he had taken on human legs, but his faith in those limbs was still somewhat lacking, and it showed. Though he was successfully moving forward, keeping fairly close to Jal’tai (though the latios’s deliberately slow drift was mostly to credit for Solonn’s ability to keep up with him), his legs were doing nearly as much wobbling as walking. But Jal’tai kept him steady, sustaining his telekinetic hold on the human to support him through his every step, no matter how unstable those steps might be.

He was led by the latios into the den, where there were especially many of those draconic statues. Solonn quickly found himself rather disliking their blithe expressions, the way they smiled as if they approved of what had been done to him. He was shown over to the green armchair next to which he had awakened on his first morning as a human and had witnessed the revelation of Jal’tai’s true identity.

Smiling, Jal’tai motioned for the human to come and stand beside him, the latios gesturing with his other talon toward one arm of the chair as he did so. Apparently, this was something that Jal’tai regarded as noteworthy, though Solonn couldn’t fathom why. He came to stand at Jal’tai’s side, trying once he did so not to shift about too conspicuously despite his unease around the latios.

“Have a look at this,” Jal’tai said as he laid a talon upon the arm of the chair, its soft surface yielding slightly as he clutched it. He then pulled upward on it, doing so slowly to ensure that the human at his side could clearly see what he was doing. The arm of the chair opened on an unseen hinge, revealing a previously hidden compartment from which the latios pulled out a small, silver device.

“This is the remote control for your entertainment system,” Jal’tai told him. “In case you’ve not seen one of these in use, observe.” He drifted over to a large oak armoire against the wall and opened it, revealing a television, a DVD player, and a CD player surrounded by speakers. Jal’tai then returned to Solonn’s side and pointed the remote at the devices.

“Pay close attention, now,” Jal’tai instructed, and indicated first one of the remote’s buttons and then another. He repeated this action a couple of times, seeming intent on making sure that Solonn memorized the sequence, then pushed the two buttons in succession. The CD player came awake with golden LED numbers, and a split-second later, a light, jazzy tune began issuing from the speakers.

Jal’tai allowed the music to play for a few moments, seeming to enjoy it as he listened, smiling slightly, his eyes closed. He then shut the music off, making certain to let Solonn see how he did so.

“If you’re not in the mood for music, you could always enjoy what the television has to offer,” the latios said, then demonstrated how to turn the television on. The screen lit up with an image of a human in a brightly colored suit and tie who was standing in front of a brown car while shouting about being crazy and about offering the lowest prices in Hoenn.

“You’ve got three hundred and fifty-one channels to choose from. These arrows here—” He indicated two more of the remote’s buttons. “—will let you cycle up and down through them one at a time, or you can go straight to a channel by inputting its number with the numeral buttons. I’m sure you’ll memorize the numbers of the good ones quickly enough…” He cast a brief glance back at the television, where a different human was pictured offering the secret to shed excess weight around the hips, thighs, and buttocks; Jal’tai regarded the commercial with an odd look before turning back to Solonn.

“I’ll admit, most of those channels are pure rubbish around the clock,” he said almost apologetically, “but there are also a couple of real quality stations—they’re broadcast from right here in Convergence,” he informed Solonn, his tone colored with unmistakable pride on the last statement. He changed the channel again, and this time images of pokémon rather than humans appeared on the screen. A ledian was seated behind a desk. Beside him, a small image appeared of three smeargle being led out of a building by a medicham in a police uniform and two houndoom with badges affixed to collars around their necks.

“Police have finally apprehended the vandals responsible for defacing storefronts downtown on multiple occasions,” the ledian anchorman reported, while at the bottom of the screen, his words were displayed in unown-script subtitles for the benefit of human viewers. “Whether these individuals were actively trying to claim territory or were merely acting toward their own amusement remains unclear, but the CPD has issued a statement saying that whatever their motives might have—”

Jal’tai turned off the television, then replaced the remote control in its storage compartment within the arm of the chair. “There’s something else I have to show you with regards to the television, but let’s finish having our look around first, shall we?”

The latios left the den, and Solonn shuffled out after him with a final glance back at the now dark and lifeless television screen. He wasn’t particularly impressed with it; he was already somewhat familiar with television, having watched it with Morgan a couple of times back when he was still small enough to be kept indoors. Even then, though the ability of that device to reproduce images and sounds even more faithfully than one’s own memory could do was certainly an incredible achievement in his eyes, what he’d seen of its programming had fallen short of appealing to his tastes. Under normal circumstances, the idea of the stations this city boasted, run by pokémon for pokémon, might have been fairly intriguing to him. But again, these were far from normal circumstances.

Solonn was guided next into a walk-in closet. It was fairly long and wide enough to admit Jal’tai’s generous, rigid wingspan, albeit only just.

“Now, it was never my intent to have you running around in your underwear all the time,” Jal’tai said, with yet another of his chuckles. “Here, I have provided you with an exquisite collection of some of the finest clothing money can buy. I’ve spared no expense for you, my boy—why, just look at this here.” He gestured to his right, where a navy blue jacket hung.

Much less interested in it than the latios seemed to be, “Hm,” Solonn said with the ghost of a nod, just for the sake of giving some response to appease Jal’tai. In truth, he found nothing at all remarkable about the garment. He was equally unmoved by the other articles of clothing that Jal’tai showed him from what was now his wardrobe, but he gave the latios, who was obviously quite proud of these purchases, an occasional, noncommittal noise or vague nod, feigning at least some interest in and attention to what was being presented to him. In spirit, however, he could not be farther from the closet and the expensive outfits therein, let alone any care for these things.

As there wasn’t room enough in the closet for Jal’tai to turn around, the latios chose to teleport in order to make his exit. He then resumed his tour, ushering Solonn into a spacious bathroom, one that had been designed with multiple, varying species in mind. It contained sinks at three different heights and four different kinds of toilets. The shower was quite large, and it possessed multiple spigots of varying shapes and sizes; in addition to the standard one that dispensed water, the extra spigots offered bathing options such as “mud”, “sand”, and “acid”, according to a large, yellow label affixed just outside the shower compartment. There were labels of this sort next to each of the fixtures, bearing instructions for their use in human- and unown-script. Solonn noted that there were also small, white labels, apparently handwritten, that designated certain of the fixtures for human use.

There were also mirrors in this room: one over each sink and a tall one that stood alone against the opposite wall. It was in the latter mirror that Solonn saw his new, human face for the first time. The dark eyes that had become his own stared back at him from within the glass, bloodshot and glazed over.

Solonn didn’t notice at first when Jal’tai spoke next, the latios’s words reaching him with a delay through the fog enveloping his mind. “This, Solonn, is where you’ll attend to your hygienic needs… among other needs,” the latios said. “Be sure to read those labels; they’ll show you exactly how to use these things, as well as which among them you should use and which you should not. Generally speaking, most of this equipment is for the purposes of cleaning and grooming yourself, whereas this—” Jal’tai craned his neck toward the toilets, pointing at the one that was labeled as suitable for use by humans. “—well, its purpose is…”

Short moments later, they both left the bathroom and the topic of its purposes. Jal’tai then brought Solonn to the other end of the suite, where the kitchen was located. The room itself was quite small, as were the appliances within it: the refrigerator, sink, counter, and electric range were much shorter than their counterparts in kitchens designed solely for human use (though the refrigerator was also rather wider than the typical human-style model, so as not to forsake any of its capacity). Cabinets, drawers, a toaster, a blender, and a microwave oven were also set up at heights that were convenient for smaller species. Yellow instruction labels like those found in the bathroom were present here, too, detailing the use of each of the appliances. There was also a modest dining area adjoined to the kitchen, containing a small, low table and a trio of cushioned, wooden stools.

“Here is where you can get yourself something to eat whenever the need or desire arises, as I would imagine it surely must have by now,” Jal’tai said. “You must be famished, hmm?”

Indeed Solonn was hungry, and considerably so; he had not eaten since the evening before last, after all. However, he had been so preoccupied through much of the time since that that sensation, as well as several other physical complaints, had gone very largely ignored. Still, for the dragon’s sake, “Hm,” he responded, yet another minimal noise, with yet another minimal nod as the sole factor indicating his reply as affirmative.

“Mmm-hmm, figured as much,” Jal’tai said with a warm smile (that the latios had just smiled at the confirmation of his hunger was not lost on Solonn, nor did it fail to bother him). He pulled first a bowl and then a box of frosted corn flakes from the cabinets, setting both items down on top of the kitchen counter. He then fetched a quart-sized carton of milk from the refrigerator and a nanab berry from a bowl of fruit that sat on the dining room table and set them down on the counter, as well. Faintly humming the jazzy tune from earlier, the latios dispensed a small amount of cereal and milk into the bowl, then diced up the nanab with his claws and put the fruit into the bowl, too.

Jal’tai took a spoon out from the drawer and brought it along with the bowl of cereal to the table, then fixed a glass of milk, set it upon the table as well, and beckoned Solonn to come over. The human complied, stopping a couple of feet away from Jal’tai as the latios pulled out a chair for him, indicating with a talon that he expected Solonn to take his seat here.

Having seen Morgan sit down before, Solonn had a sense of how it was done in human-fashion—he knew what the action looked like, at least. At any rate, it was enough for him to just try it without much hesitation. He moved over to the chair, trying to allow his body to fold up and conform to it in a way that matched the image of a seated human in his memory. He did a fairly commendable job of it, too, although he did drop himself onto the stool a little too hard, resulting in a bit of an unpleasant shock to his tailbone despite the chair’s cushioning.

“I certainly hope you like this,” Jal’tai said pleasantly as he hovered beside Solonn. “It’s something for which I confess to have developed something of an addiction,” he said with a chuckle. “Plus, it’s something that’s very easy to whip up; I’m sure that you can do it yourself anytime now that you’ve seen me do it. Now, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that this is the sort of thing you ought to be living on, but as far as more advanced meal preparation goes… well, no one becomes a master chef in a day, now do they?” He laughed again, then turned an expectant gaze straight into Solonn’s eyes. “Well, have at it, then!” he said cheerfully.

Solonn turned his gaze downward and merely stared into his cereal for a moment. He was not particularly moved to eat despite his body’s need for him to do so, but with the latios hanging around like a second shadow, he reckoned that he’d better just get it over and done. Almost robotically, he began to lower his hand toward the bowl—but it was caught short of descending into the cereal by the swift action of a blue, three-clawed talon.

“Whoops!” Jal’tai exclaimed, laughing. “I can’t believe I could be so forgetful… Here.” He lifted the spoon from where it sat beside the bowl. “Use this; it’s proper human etiquette, not to mention less messy. You just scoop it up like this,” he said, miming the action a couple of times in demonstration before handing the spoon to Solonn.

Solonn did well enough with the spoon; he only spilled a couple of spoonfuls. The sweet flavor of the cereal and berries was not unpleasant to him, but failed to pique his interest. His apathy toward eating made it somewhat difficult to finish his breakfast, but he managed to finish it nonetheless, earning a pleased smile from the draconic face that had been hovering beside him in order to ensure that the human accepted the food and drink that he had been given.

“There, now wasn’t that nice?” Jal’tai asked, earning himself another of the Solonn’s vague responses. He took a small roll of paper towels from the cabinets, tearing one off to clean up the spilled cereal, then disposed of the used tissue and put the bowl, spoon, and glass into the sink. Once he was finished tidying up, he motioned for Solonn to rise and follow him once more, and the human did so without a word, allowing himself to be led back into the den.

Once there, Jal’tai immediately took the remote from its compartment in the arm of the green chair and turned on the television, bringing a rather tone-deaf, singing meowth to life on the screen. “You’ll recall that I mentioned having something else to show you over here, correct?” the latios said as he made his way over to the armoire, opening the cabinet under the television and producing a DVD jewel case from it. Solonn gave even less of a response than he had been giving, but Jal’tai didn’t seem to mind.

The latios looked over his shoulder and saw Solonn just standing there beside the armchair. “Go ahead and have a seat in that chair,” he instructed the human while carefully prying the DVD out of its case with his claws. “Watch me carefully, now,” he said once he saw that Solonn had sat down where he was told to sit. He turned on the DVD player, inserted the disc into it, and then went over to hover right beside Solonn.

“This is just one of a series of videos I made specially for the benefit of my successor in the event that said successor would come to me in the form of a pokémon,” Jal’tai said as the video started, bringing up a simple menu in unown-script onto the screen. The menu bore only two options: “Setup” and “Play”. “Now, to begin the video, you simply press these.” He highlighted the “Play” option and pressed the “ENTER” button, making certain that his actions were performed in clear view of Solonn and not too quickly to be followed. “This will pause it if you need to take a break while viewing; this one will go back and replay certain parts if you feel you need to review them or if you miss something; and this one will stop it when you’ve finished watching it,” he explained, indicating others among the remote’s buttons. “Then just take the disc out and put it back where it belongs—the ‘OPEN’ button is right there on the device; you’ll also find ‘POWER’ buttons on all the devices there to turn them off when you’re done using them.”

Meanwhile, the video began to play. Rather loud, synthesizer-based music blared forth, and the title “Humanity and You” appeared on the screen in brightly colored letters.

Jal’tai grinned. “I think you’ll enjoy these, Solonn; they really turned out quite nicely, in my opinion. These videos will help you learn the basic habits and skills of living as a human. Once you’ve watched this volume, you can just pop in another one and watch that. Mind you, they are numbered, and you’d do well to watch them in numerical order—some of the later ones might be a bit confusing if you don’t,” he advised Solonn, chuckling yet again.

Jal’tai placed the remote in Solonn’s hand, then drifted over to the wall that separated the suite from the hall outside. “I’ll check in on you again sometime soon,” he said. “Oops… I fear you might have missed some of the beginning of that video due to my talking,” he added, sounding mildly embarrassed and apologetic. “You might want to back that up, then. Well, anyway, I’ll be seeing you!” With that, the dragon left the suite, once again skipping the keypad and transport tile and just teleporting out instead.

Solonn stared dully at the television screen, not really absorbing anything going on there and not bothering to restart the video from the beginning as per Jal’tai’s advice, either. His mind was still on Jal’tai even though the latios had left. Solonn had stashed much of his loathing for Jal’tai deep within his mind while in his presence, silently detached from it through a sort of numb, temporary resignation born out of self-preservation. But now, with the latios no longer shadowing him, all of the offense, hatred, and bitter indignation that Jal’tai had inspired within him came to the forefront once again.

Solonn very briefly allowed his attention to light upon the video. Almost immediately, he shut the doors of his mind to it once more. He had quickly developed a rather strong dislike for the program, for it was, after all, the handiwork of that latios, just another element of his scheme. Solonn paid the video no further mind even as it concluded, returned to the menu screen, and began playing its loud theme music on a continuous loop.

* * *

Solonn continued to feign compliance during Jal’tai’s next visit two days later, looking at whatever he was shown, doing whatever he was told to do, and managing to show no outward sign of resentment or indignation. As soon as the latios left, however, that veneer fell away, leaving behind a bitter, despondent man who, for the most part, just languished through the hours, lacking the spirit to look after himself beyond the bare minimum needed to keep himself alive. He barely slept, his mind too besieged by thoughts of what lay behind, what might lie in the future, and what could now never come to be to allow him any peace. He didn’t bathe or groom himself in any way, nor did he bother to further his assimilation into his forced humanity by watching any of the latios’s training videos. He ate only when Jal’tai was actually present to monitor him and make sure that he did.

The self-neglect was beginning to take its toll on Solonn—developments that did not go unnoticed by the latios, as Solonn learned the very next evening on Jal’tai’s third visit.

Jal’tai materialized in the room, and Solonn met his eye at once from where he sat in that green armchair. From the moment the dragon appeared, Solonn knew that this visit would not be like the others. The friendly, jovial countenance that the latios had worn during his previous visits was gone; his face was instead a hard-lined mask, the expression not quite readable, but Solonn was sure that it was not a sign of a pleased latios.

Lowering his head slightly and folding his arms in front of his chest, Jal’tai brought himself to hover right in front of Solonn. His feathered brows drew together almost as if he were wincing in pain, allowing some evidence of concern to show through his features. He held the human’s dark, flat stare for a long moment, then shook his head pityingly.

“Look at you…” the latios said quietly. He moved even closer to Solonn, his gaze burning upon the former glalie’s unshaven face from only a few inches away now. “Solonn,” he said, his tone heavy, “I know that you’ve been neglecting yourself and your lessons. This won’t do, my boy. This won’t do at all.”

Though the human’s slackened, expressionless features showed no sign of it, a spark of fear awakened and began swiftly growing deep within Solonn, something not quite conscious, something primal. Jal’tai knew that he wasn’t getting what he wanted from his would-be successor, and Solonn strongly suspected that he was about to suffer for disappointing the latios—and perhaps this time Jal’tai would simply give up on ever getting what he wanted from Solonn and decide to cut his losses. In silent terror, Solonn awaited the fuchsia blaze in Jal’tai’s eyes and the agony that would follow… but no such things came.

“I told you emphatically that you must find it in yourself to make peace with this life,” Jal’tai said soberly, “for it is something you cannot change. I told you this for a very good reason, Solonn: you cannot live a life that you do not accept. If you keep on like this, you’ll waste away… I cannot allow that, Solonn. There is too much at stake. I will not see the future of my city, my mission, simply fade out like this.”

He ascended higher into the air, stopping just short of scraping the ceiling with his wingtips. From this height, his gaze bore down upon Solonn, its intensity further stoking the human’s certainty that he was about to meet a terrible demise. But still the latios made no move to harm him.

“For the sake of your destiny, as well as that of Convergence and the most noble cause for which it stands, serenity will be instilled in you,” he told Solonn firmly. “Fortunately, I have come across someone who should be of a tremendous benefit to that end. Her name is Neleng, and you will be having your first session with her tonight. She ought to be arriving in less than an hour.

“I dearly hope to see improvement in you, Solonn. There’s no need for you to make things harder for yourself than you already have.” With those words, Jal’tai made his exit in his usual fashion, vanishing in a burst of golden light.

Solonn’s eyes lingered for a while upon the empty space where Jal’tai had just been, resenting the latios’s ability to simply be gone from this place in a flash—he wished that he could do the same. The ease with which Jal’tai could come and go as he pleased only seemed to rub Solonn’s nose into the fact that he was stuck in the suite, unable to leave. Solonn wondered if perhaps that was part of the reason why Jal’tai always chose to teleport out.

As the minutes passed, Solonn merely sat there, doing nothing. He wasn’t really anticipating Neleng’s arrival; he had been too preoccupied with the notion that he was possibly going to be punished and maybe even killed to pay much attention to what Jal’tai had been saying during his visit. The matter of the impending arrival of another visitor had been pushed to the back of his mind.

At length, the computerized voice of the suite announced an incoming arrival; Solonn, expecting it to be Jal’tai again, was faintly surprised to find someone and something very different appearing within the suite: a chimecho. He was a bit confused by the newly arrived guest until the memory of Jal’tai’s mention of a visitor surfaced within his mind. It was someone with an “N”-name, as far as he recalled; he couldn’t remember the exact name.

The visitor made her way into the den at once, her tail trailing from beneath her as she drifted through the air. She stopped before Solonn and smiled.

“Good evening,” she greeted him in an airy voice. “My name is Neleng, and I’m here to help clear your mind. Are you ready to begin?”

Solonn didn’t respond, gazing upon the chimecho with uncertainty. He had no idea of what this creature was planning to do and therefore couldn’t really be ready for it in any way.

Neleng, however, seemed to have been prepared to proceed regardless of any answer or lack thereof that she might have received. She beamed at him as brightly as if he had just agreed with the utmost enthusiasm to whatever she was about to do. “Very well, then,” she said. She rose upward until the golden suction disc on the top of her head met the ceiling and took hold of it, clinging tightly yet effortlessly.

The chimecho gave a few gentle ripples of her tail as she hung there, smiling serenely down upon Solonn. “Just relax… Float away on a breeze of music…” she said. She began swaying there where she hung, very slowly, very gracefully, and then she began to sing.

She began with only a single voice, but it gradually unfolded into a chorus of many, one voice at a time. Harmonies and countermelodies gracefully intertwined, weaving in and out amongst one another, merging, diverging, and reuniting in cycles.

The music surrounded Solonn, absorbing his mind as it seemed to swirl around him. Under the song’s spell, everything else within the scope of his consciousness was washed away. Soon, the world around him was comprised solely of the swirling currents of melody. Nothing else existed. Nothing else mattered.

He didn’t notice at first when the song finally ended some twenty minutes later. Once he did, he began looking about somewhat dazedly for the source of the music, briefly unable to remember from whence it had come. Then the last of the psychic residue that the chimecho’s song had left within his mind cleared… and he realized slowly that as it had gone, the swarming miseries that had plagued his mind during these past few days had faded.

Not that he had been truly and entirely purged of them; undeniable anguish and bitterness remained within him and would continue to do so as long as their source, the unwanted, elementless body and the suite that both imprisoned him, also remained. But by the preternatural qualities of Neleng’s song, all of those thoughts and feelings, though no more pleasant than they had previously been, were now tamed to a degree. They were now organized in a sense, not perfectly but well enough that they no longer smothered him with their weight. His spirit was freed to begin to rise up out of his fog of despondency, awakening as if from a long and muddling spell.

Solonn’s memory realigned with his awareness; he recalled the sequence of the most recent events as they had occurred. Jal’tai had shown up, saying that Solonn would have a visitor, then Neleng had arrived and had begun to sing. After that point, his memory was still very hazy; he couldn’t remember what had happened between the start of the chimecho’s song and its end, if indeed he had ever actually known what had happened at all.

He turned his sights up to where Neleng was still hanging and still swaying slightly. She appeared to be slowly emerging from a trance. She did something to me, Solonn strongly suspected, something psychic… Exactly what she had done, he couldn’t be sure. He hoped that it hadn’t been anything harmful, but he was inclined to have a dark feeling about it since she had, after all, been sent to him by Jal’tai.

The chimecho finally fell still, sighing softly as her eyes slowly opened. She detached herself from the ceiling, smiling gently as she descended once more.

“I will see you again tomorrow,” she said. “Drift free until then…”

Neleng floated away then, and Solonn’s gaze followed her as she made her way back to the wall between the suite and the hall outside. She stopped before the lens that was set into the wall and brought the end of her tail up to reach the keypad beside it, folding its prehensile tip and using it to input a sequence of eight numbers. The transport tile below her awakened with green light, and she lowered herself onto it with a quickness that she hadn’t exhibited before. The lens awakened and scanned her, and a second later, she was gone in a green flash.

Solonn’s eyes lingered for a long moment in that direction, looking upon the lens and keypad with a twinge of envy toward the chimecho who had just used them to leave the suite. He longed to do the same, but the system that had offered an open gateway to Neleng also created the barrier that held him there in that suite, for it would only admit those who possessed the codes to open the way in or out.

Jal’tai had shared the codes with Neleng. He had not shared them with Solonn, and he likely had no intention of doing so anytime soon or possibly ever, Solonn was sure. It seemed to him that Jal’tai was intent on keeping him trapped there, while the latios and those whom he employed to aid him could just come and go as they pleased with those codes. Furthermore, Jal’tai himself didn’t even need them; he had the option of teleporting, and he made use of it, too. In fact, he never even bothered with the keypad and tile to get out…

Something clicked into place in Solonn’s brain and clicked hard: Jal’tai never used the transport tile to get out, but he always used it to get in… but why? Solonn found himself locked into puzzling over the matter at once; this habit of Jal’tai’s was peculiar to him in a distinctly nagging way, one that clearly marked itself as significant. He at first chiefly wondered, as he had done on more than one occasion before, why the latios bothered with the tile at all; couldn’t he just instantly, conveniently enter in the same way as he exited? Why the latios didn’t teleport into the suite was a matter that Solonn couldn’t seem to figure out… but when his mind inverted the question, wondering why Jal’tai did teleport to get out

The first answer that came to Solonn’s mind at that question was that Jal’tai did it that way simply because he could. But another possible angle occurred to Solonn a beat later: perhaps Jal’tai avoided using the keypad code to leave the suite on the chance that the human might pick up the code from seeing him use it. To Solonn’s mind, it made sense; Jal’tai was just being cautious.

A second later, a powerful realization struck him as his mind was thrown back to what he had just witnessed mere minutes earlier: Jal’tai was being cautious, but Neleng was not…

There was a feeling like a sudden, sharp blow to his chest, seizing his heart in an almost painful thrill. Incredible though it seemed, after all of the work and planning that Jal’tai had clearly put into his endeavor to prepare his replacement, the latios had made a mistake in giving the codes to that chimecho, a mistake whose ramifications had the potential to severely undermine his plans.

All of a sudden, the way from here seemed almost ridiculously clear to Solonn. Neleng held the means for him to escape—he needed only to observe her closely on her departure from now on. He could possibly obtain the code that would allow him to leave the suite by watching her use it.

There remained, however, the matter of what he would do after he got out. No longer being the glalie that he once was and having no real way to prove that he ever was such, returning to Virc-Dho now no longer seemed like an option. The only other familiar place he had to go was Lilycove… and as he thought of that, it occurred to him that if Morgan had been successfully reunited with her other pokémon—or at least with one of the psychics among them—perhaps one of them could look into his mind and confirm to her that he was indeed what he would claim to be. If so, then he could at least have the option of making a new home among some of his friends even if he could never go back to his original home.

But then another thought occurred to him, one that sent a chill straight into his heart: after he made his escape, Jal’tai would be sure to try and find him—and since Solonn had specifically mentioned having fled from Lilycove, that was one of the places where Jal’tai was sure to look.

In his mind, Solonn saw Jal’tai in the Yorkes’ house with both Morgan and Eliza lying unconscious before him as he scoured their minds for information that might lead him to Solonn. The thought of them having their minds violated in such a manner disgusted Solonn, and the picture that came to him when he imagined what might happen if any of Morgan’s other pokémon were there to try and stop Jal’tai sickened him even further—he suspected that not even all of them combined would be able to take on the latios and that their resisting him could quite possibly cost them their lives.

He sighed heavily; it seemed that Lilycove was out of the question as well, leaving him to wonder just where he could go.

Anywhere but here will do, Solonn decided finally, resolutely, anywhere he isn’t. It seemed that Solonn could not reclaim the life he had once known, that he could no longer share it with the people whom he had known, but he could at least make his life his own again, taking it out of Jal’tai’s talons. He didn’t know what sort of future could possibly lie ahead of him now, but at least now there was a chance that it could be his future, his choice.

With a deep breath, Solonn rose from the chair, shakily but determinedly. He leveled a hard stare at that wall, that barrier separating him from the way to freedom. Soon, he told himself silently, he would surpass that barrier. Soon, he would take back his life.

* * *

From the moment that he’d discovered the way by which he would try to escape, Solonn carried on in a very different manner than he had done in the days prior. He knew and accepted now that he would have to prepare himself for the life that he would have to forge once he was free—a human life.

So it was that not long after Neleng had left him, he had sat down and watched one of Jal’tai’s training videos. Though not fond of the notion of partaking of something that Jal’tai had made, he’d determined that he would just have to bite back his resentment toward him in this matter. The videos were a source of valuable information and demonstration, offering knowledge that he would need in his new life, and so he had decided that he would watch as many of them as he could before the time came when he would finally succeed in obtaining the code that would get him out of the suite.

He had also regained the strength of spirit to really take care of himself again, fueled by the hope of impending freedom. He tried to get at least a couple of hours of sleep each night and bothered to feed himself whenever he hungered, for he knew that he would need his strength for his upcoming escape. From the videos, as well as from the next couple of visits by Jal’tai, he learned how to prepare a small variety of meals, but was still not quite courageous enough to try and make anything that required actual cooking, for it just seemed too easy to ruin such dishes—it wouldn’t do for him to burn more food than he ate, after all.

The videos also illustrated the importance of good hygiene and dressing well in human society, lessons which motivated Solonn to begin practicing human hygienic rituals. Though his first attempt at a bath resulted in minor scalding and his first attempt at shaving left his face bleeding in no fewer than six places, he generally did a fairly competent job in keeping himself tidy and assured himself that he would improve in these skills with time and practice. He also began fully dressing himself rather than just lounging about in his underwear, for he knew from both those videos and his time with the Yorkes that humans generally kept most of their bodies covered at all times.

During his visits over the course of these days, Jal’tai noticed the improvements in Solonn’s well-being, and as a result the latios’s demeanor around him was even livelier than ever, with no signs of stern displeasure—it seemed that his would-be successor was finally accepting and growing into the role that had been chosen for him.

Though Solonn’s temperament was definitely improving, Jal’tai still sent Neleng over each night to perform her mindsong therapy; Solonn reckoned that the latios had decided that those sessions might as well continue since they seemed to be doing the human some good. Indeed they were, but not solely in the way that the latios had intended—Neleng’s sessions helped to keep Solonn’s mind clear, which in turn allowed him to stay focused and determined to achieve his goal of escape.

The chimecho was fulfilling her role in Solonn’s endeavor most obligingly; at the end of each of her visits, she let herself out by means of the transport tile. From that green armchair, he had watched her out of the corner of his eye on the evening of her second visit, trying not to be overtly conspicuous about it, but had found that this didn’t provide the best angle from which to get a good look at precisely what she was doing.

But shortly thereafter, he had thought to shift that chair just ever so slightly toward the wall that bore the lens and keypad, just enough to hopefully give him a somewhat better view of that area without it being too obvious that he had moved the chair. Sure enough, as he had learned the following evening when Neleng returned once more, this new angle did make it rather easier to see what she was doing. Thus, from that point forward, he had been able to watch Neleng without being too conspicuous about it, trying each time as he did so to discern and memorize the code that she used to exit the room.

It was following the eighth session with Neleng, eleven days after the morning when he had first awakened as a human, that Solonn was ready at last to make his move. After carefully watching the chimecho input that code on multiple occasions, he was now quite sure that he had successfully learned it.

Jal’tai had visited earlier that day, and Neleng had just left an hour or so ago, so Solonn wasn’t expecting either of them anywhere near the suite again anytime soon. If ever there was an optimal time to make a break for it, he reckoned that this was it.

He stood there before the keypad, his breathing shallow as his chest tightened with nervousness. He raised a trembling, sweating hand to the keys, and one by one, his shaking index finger found each of the code’s eight digits as his mind recalled them in sequence:

Seven… three… four… nine… zero… four… six… two…

The next second felt to Solonn like it would never end, a lingering moment of wondering if he had succeeded and fearing that he had not. Then that second passed, and to Solonn’s immeasurable relief, the tile below his feet took on that familiar, green glow and the lens before him scanned him.

The tile gave a bright flash. He felt a tingling sensation over the surface of his skin before being rushed swiftly through a state of physical nonexistence, emerging from it to rematerialize on the other side of the wall.

His eyes met the scene of the corridor around him, and a giddy sort of disbelief spread through him. A beat later, he dared to believe what the sight surrounding him signified: he had done it. He was out and could now make his bid for freedom.

His mind reviewed the events that had taken place in that corridor the last time that he had been there, replaying them in reverse to recall how he had gotten from the part of the building where the exit lay to where he now stood. It was difficult to extract much detail from his memory regarding those events, for at the time when they had occurred, he had been under the influence of the drugs that Jal’tai had slipped into his food, which had hampered his perception to no small degree. He managed to remember the elevator, however, and seemed to recall that it was nearby. Sure enough, he soon spotted it.

The steel elevator doors before Solonn were shut tightly. There was a button beside the doors, set somewhat low in the wall; as Solonn’s eyes fell upon it, he remembered that Jal’tai had pushed a button to enter the elevator. He stooped down slightly and pushed the button, but for a few moments, nothing seemed to happen, giving Solonn another surge of fear that his escape would fail. But then the doors opened, and Solonn passed through them without a second’s hesitation.

Once he was inside, the doors closed. Solonn tried to ignore the rather bland music that was playing in the elevator as he waited for them to open again and release him into the lobby. Moments on end passed, but no such thing happened. Solonn was first confused by this, then worried—and then he noticed the line of buttons next to the doors, above which was a label reading “Please Select Your Desired Floor”. The elevator was not moving because he had not yet told it where he wanted it to go.

You idiot… he reprimanded himself silently as he looked over the buttons. They were numbered from one to seven; he reckoned that each one corresponded to a different level of the building and that the button marked “1”, bearing the lowermost number, represented the lowermost floor, where the doors that led out of the building were. That was the floor he wanted.

He pressed that button, and a breath later, a funny little plummeting sensation in his stomach signified the elevator’s descent. Soon after, the elevator came to a stop and its steel doors slid open, revealing a view of the spacious lobby—and the exit beyond.

The lobby was currently relatively quiet, with no one present except for the swampert receptionist and a solitary primeape off in the corner, the latter staring with a rather bored-looking expression at a television on which a cartoon was playing. Solonn was very conscious of their presence and quite nervous around them, but knew that he should try to act nonchalant so as not to draw too much attention to himself. As far as those two needed to be concerned, he was just a human being like any other, no one particularly worthy of notice, with no reason why he should not be in that lobby or heading out those doors. He intended to leave them in that mindset.

Without a word, he crossed the room to the exit. Those last doors separating him from the way out of Convergence slid silently out of his way, and he stepped out into a starless, overcast night.

He cast one last look behind him at the towering structure of the Convergence Inn, the place where his identity and element had been lost, the place that had been his prison for nearly two weeks. He averted his gaze from it almost immediately and began moving away from it at a brisk pace with the desire to never have to behold that place again.

Solonn was forced to stop at the next corner, where cars sped up and down the street in his way. He shivered as he stood there; the silk shirt and simple slacks that he had chosen to wear that day offered little protection against the chilly, late-September wind that whipped at him. Not terribly far away, he just managed to identify the dark line of trees that represented the border between Convergence and its surrounding woods—that was his goal. The vehicles rushing by were currently barring his path… but seconds later, the flow of traffic in his way ceased. He took advantage of this at once, hurriedly crossing the street while the way was clear.

His eyes locked onto the boundary beyond which the world didn’t belong to Jal’tai—the sooner he reached it, the better, he knew. He wanted to make a dash for the trees, but having only recently become fully accustomed to walking on his new legs, he was somewhat wary of the notion of running.

He shook his head, trying to clear his mind of doubt. If you can walk, you can run, he told himself silently. Don’t think about it; just do it! Hesitating no longer, he broke into a run with a somewhat awkward start, stumbling over the first step and nearly overcorrecting afterward.

Once Solonn managed to stabilize himself, he silently told himself not to stop running, not until he reached that forest. However, he was unused to running for any great distance, and exhaustion came on quite swiftly. Nonetheless, he ignored his body’s demands for him to stop and take a rest, his sights and his determination fixed upon his goal. But he was forced to stop two blocks away from the Convergence Inn by another red light, another wave of rushing cars in his path.

Solonn gritted his teeth in pain as he waited anxiously for a break in the traffic, the cold, sharp wind tearing through his throat with each harsh, gasping breath that his lungs tore from the air in their need. The forest was now not much further before him than the Convergence Inn was behind him; the closer he got to his goal, the more impatient to reach it he became.

Finally, the path before him was clear and safe again. His body was quite averse to taking off and running again since he had not even caught his breath completely from the last dash, but with such a short way left to go before he could put this city and the latios to whom it belonged behind him for good, he just couldn’t wait to close that final distance.

Amber sparkles of light streaked past him: rays from the streetlights that were distorted by the tears that the stinging wind and everything else that he was presently suffering brought to his eyes as he ran. Shooting pains stabbed into his ribs, and there was a burning ache in his stomach and legs. Still, he kept running, desperate to escape Convergence no matter how it hurt. As far as he was concerned at this point, living free was worth any suffering.

Very nearly at the verge of collapsing, with his heart hammering so violently that it seemed ready to explode at any second, Solonn reached Convergence’s limit at last. He was seconds from crossing the boundary—

—And then blazing jets of fire shot forth from either side with a loud fwooossssh and surged up before him. With an almost voiceless cry of alarm and surprise, he backpedaled at once from the burning line of flames in his path, stumbling and falling backwards in the haste of his reaction. He tried to get back to his feet but failed. Realizing his legs’ unwillingness to support him again anytime soon after what he had just forced them to do, he instead started scrabbling backward to escape from the fire before him only to be stopped very soon after when he bumped into something.

Throwing a fearful glance over his shoulder, Solonn saw two houndoom, golden badges affixed to their collars glinting in the light from the flames. Their jaws dripped with glowing embers as they stared him down, and both of them growled ominously.

“Hold it right there,” one of them snarled menacingly. “You’re not going anywhere.”

As if to emphasize the point, the blazing line suddenly advanced at either side, forming a burning circle around Solonn and the two houndoom. The flames roared as they danced on all sides, but they did not touch him, as if something was holding them at bay.

That something—or someone, rather—seemed to just drop right out of the air in front of Solonn in the next moment, landing without a sound. A medicham in a police uniform now stood before him—Solonn had been so singularly focused on the path directly in front of him that he had failed to see her perched in the trees up ahead, awaiting him.

Her eyes held a fuchsia glow, a sign of the psychic powers that she was using to manipulate the two houndoom’s flames and keep them in check, but Solonn feared that it instead meant that she was about to subject him to the same kind of telekinetic punishment that Jal’tai had used on him. As it was, he found that he now couldn’t move at all, and he was sure that his exhaustion wasn’t solely to blame.

The circle of flames simply and abruptly vanished, and the medicham stepped forward. She took hold of Solonn’s arms, and using a combination of her telekinesis and her own physical strength, she brought him back to his feet. Solonn wanted to struggle but found, to no real surprise on his part, that he was still unable to move of his own accord.

The houndoom stepped aside as the medicham moved to stand behind Solonn. Once there, she took both of his wrists in her hands, gripping them tightly.“Start walking,” she commanded him, her voice soft but her tone unmistakably serious.

Tentatively, not quite daring to believe that the medicham could have loosened her psychic hold on him enough to let him move outside of her control, Solonn tried to take a step forward and succeeded. He then tried to pull himself out of the medicham’s grasp, but it was much too strong for him to break, especially given how very little strength his dash from the Convergence Inn had left him. Resigned to the fact that that there was nothing he could do to resist her, Solonn could not help but allow the medicham to drive him onward, dreading whatever lay at their destination as he walked.

The cops brought him back into town, the medicham telekinetically keeping her captive from collapsing, the houndoom directing nips at his feet whenever he faltered in his steps. At length, they arrived at a very tall, brick building downtown. A brass sign hung over its entrance, lit from below by bright lights and bearing the words “CONVERGENCE TOWER”.

The houndoom pushed the doors open, and the medicham shoved Solonn into the building, still holding on to him tightly. He was steered into an elevator, which made a long ascent before letting him and the cops out into a short hallway with massive, wooden doors at its end.

The doors filled Solonn’s vision as his captors came to a stop before them. A speaker mounted in the wall to his left awakened with a brief crackle of static, and then the last voice in the world that Solonn wanted to hear at that moment issued forth from it.

“Bring him in,” Jal’tai said through the speaker. The cops responded to the order at once. The two houndoom pushed their way through the doors and held them open as the medicham brought Solonn through them.

Solonn now stood in an enormous, richly furnished office. Seated before him at a very large and tidy desk, Jal’tai, in the guise of Rolf Whitley, leveled a stare at Solonn that was forbiddingly stern but held an unmistakable sadness at the same time.

“That’ll do, madam, gentlemen,” Jal’tai said without inflection to the medicham and houndoom, dismissing them. The three cops nodded in acknowledgment, and the medicham released both of her holds on Solonn before walking out of the office. The two houndoom followed her away, and the doors swung shut behind them.

Solonn, still drained of most of his strength and no longer supported physically or psychically by the medicham, had dropped to his hands and knees almost immediately after she had let go of him and had remained in that position since, his head hanging toward the hardwood floor. A winged shadow fell over him as soon as the cops were gone, and a second later, a talon descended upon his head, lifting his face up to look upon its owner.

No longer wearing his human mirage, Jal’tai stared right into Solonn’s eyes with a look of distinct sorrow. “I’m very disappointed in you, my boy,” he said gravely. “I told you not to make things harder for yourself than they had to be, but you just wouldn’t listen…”

The latios sighed heavily, and his eyes began shimmering with tears. “I never wanted it to come to this,” he said, his voice quavering as if threatening to break, “but you’ve left me no choice. I’m afraid that I am now forced to take drastic measures to ensure your cooperation and the preservation of this city’s noble mission…”

_____________________

Next time: Find out what Jal’tai means by “drastic measures”… See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 08:21 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Old February 20th, 2009, 03:29 PM
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Sike_Saner
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P.I.E. ADVISORY

In reading this chapter, you will experience Prolonged Italics Exposure in the form of large sections of italicized text. P.I.E. has been clinically proven to cause eye irritation in some individuals. Visine will be handed out at the end of this chapter for any who have need of it.

_________________________

Chapter 10 – Deceiving Yesterday


Taloned arms lowered, embracing Solonn as his gaze was held by grave, red eyes. Solonn immediately wanted to be released, to be able to move away from the latios rather than being drawn closer to him, but he simply lacked the strength to resist the hold of that grip or that stare, too drained to move other than to shudder in the latios’s arms as he was lifted from the floor. Part of him wanted to scream, but he didn’t have that in him, either; his fear could only display itself through his pallor and a continuous stream of nearly voiceless protests, mutterings that were wordless save for an occasionally discernible “no”.

Jal’tai held him there against his chest for a long moment, drawing a deep breath as his somber stare continued to weigh down upon the human’s face. He could barely stand the way Solonn was looking back at him. Hopelessness and terror were etched into every line of the human’s face, an expression befitting cornered prey.

It didn’t have to be like this, the latios lamented silently. It all could have been so much easier, but you just wouldn’t let yourself see the way… and now…

Jal’tai sighed, resigning himself with no small measure of regret to the course of action that he now felt that he had to take. He envisioned himself, along with the human in his arms, in another location, a place that lay hidden below that very tower, and focused his mind sharply on that image. Then he cast a tendril of his psychic power out and projected it into that destination. A fraction of a second later, the psychic force reeled both him and Solonn in toward it, and with a burst of golden light, the two of them teleported out of the office.

An instant later, that light drained from Solonn’s vision, revealing the scene that had replaced his prior surroundings. The room that he and Jal’tai now occupied was longer than it was wide and just large enough to allow the rigid-winged latios to move about comfortably. It was somewhat dimly lit by a single light mounted overhead, which cast a soft, rose-colored glow over the room.

Solonn saw little more of this place than what could be viewed over Jal’tai’s shoulder, but what lay there before his eyes, taking up the entirety of one end of the room, was a sight that he would have never expected somehow. On a large marble panel mounted into the far wall, an image of a latias stood out in relief. She was depicted hovering in place, her arms outstretched, with a benevolent smile curving across her face. Her feathers were accented with inlaid gold, making her image shine in the warm, gentle lighting. At her feet sat several elaborately carved, earthen pots containing delicate-looking, fluffy white flowers. The pots surrounded a tiny, shallow pool, at whose center a small fountain continually flowed with a soft murmuring.

In a very detached way, Solonn wondered about the enshrined latias and what sort of a place this could be to contain such a thing. His inability to determine the purpose of this place did nothing to assuage his fear, however, for it made it even harder to guess just what Jal’tai could have in store for him here. But he remained sure on the deepest level that whatever awaited him, it would not be good.

He allowed his head to loll backwards over Jal’tai’s arm in order to see what lay at the other end of the room. The inverted picture that reached his eyes was very different from his previous view: no shrines, no flowers, no portraits. There was only a metal table, unremarkable and featureless save for a series of slots of varying widths that were arranged in symmetrical patterns all the way down the length of its surface.

In contrast to the seemingly benevolent image of the latias on the other side of the room, the table looked especially uninviting, enhancing the inauspicious feeling Solonn got from it. He strongly suspected that the table would have something to do with whatever punishment Jal’tai intended for him; just looking at it, he could already begin to feel the suffering that he expected he would soon be facing.

Jal’tai let go of him then, but to Solonn’s brief surprise, he didn’t fall. At the moment when he should have hit the floor, Solonn noticed that the latios’s eyes carried that familiar fuchsia light once again, telling him that Jal’tai’s telekinesis was being employed to keep him up off the ground. Jal’tai lifted Solonn slightly higher into the air and then began guiding him backward—toward that table, Solonn recognized at once. It seemed his suspicion and dread toward the table had been right on the mark.

Solonn felt the coldness and hardness of the metal against his back through his shirt as he was laid down on the table, its chill wasting no time in seeping unpleasantly into his already aching bones. His entire body was then locked into rigidity by the latios’s psychic force, and his limbs were straightened and positioned between pairs of the slots in the table’s surface. The next second, metal bands suddenly erupted from the slots and shackled his arms, legs, and waist to the table.

Slowly, Jal’tai moved forward toward Solonn. The light faded from his eyes as he came to levitate directly above his captive—and then a blaze of another kind seemed to awaken in its place, the exact nature of which Solonn feared to guess. However, the phenomenon was gone just as soon as Solonn had noticed it, leaving the human to wonder if his fear hadn’t caused him to imagine it.

The latios closed his eyes, taking a long, steadying breath while clasping his talons as if in prayer. “I had dearly hoped that it would not come to this,” he said, his voice somehow sounding very heavy despite being barely more than whispered. “I had hoped you would see things clearly and understand what must be… I wanted to believe that you would…”

His eyes opened and locked into Solonn’s gaze, his face exuding weariness and disappointment. “But I knew better, really,” he said almost inflectionlessly, “even from the very start—hence the need for our little experiment tonight.”

Before Solonn could even begin to guess just what Jal’tai was referring to, the latios continued. “The events of this night were the final culmination of this experiment, which was designed to test your willingness to serve our cause. On the night you were transfigured, I injected a small transmitter under your skin. I instructed Neleng to obliquely allow you to learn the exit code from her, and the police were told to keep an eye on your transmitter’s signal and to apprehend you and bring you to me if you attempted to leave Convergence.”

An immediate sinking feeling struck deep into Solonn’s chest, while his extremities went numb with shock. “…You set this up?” he asked hoarsely, still quite breathless, his mouth and throat dry and not quite able to coordinate properly all of a sudden. “You—” He paused momentarily, attempting in vain to swallow to relieve his parched throat. “—you let me run away?”

Jal’tai nodded slowly, sorrowfully. “I had to know if you would.”

Pained outrage seized Solonn’s features. “Of course I would!” he croaked, his voice badly constrained and cracking painfully. “Of course I would, after what you did to me!”

Solonn looked right into the face of his captor with an unflinching, accusatory stare, a steady stream of tears running from his bloodshot eyes. That the one ray of hope that he’d found since being captured by Jal’tai had turned out to be nothing more than an illusion was almost too much for him to bear, and it elevated his hatred of Jal’tai further than even Solonn himself would have thought possible.

Yet somehow, learning that his “escape” had been staged failed to completely surprise him; as he thought about it, it seemed to fit perfectly with the motive of total domination that he saw in the latios. He was sure that the real main point of Jal’tai’s experiment was to demonstrate very clearly that any resistance on Solonn’s part was utterly futile—that he would never escape.

Jal’tai gave a soft, troubled sound as he turned away from Solonn, seeming to have lost the will to look upon his captive’s tormented face any longer. He hovered there in place for several moments on end, staring at the shining image of the latias who smiled back at him from across the room. Then he lowered his head, and a beat later, he turned back toward Solonn with abnormal haste as if trying to execute the action before he had a chance to be aware of what he was doing.

Though in truth, he knew it was useless to even try, Solonn nonetheless struggled in his restraints as Jal’tai drew close once more, the anticipation of imminent suffering having awakened a desperate, primal urge within him to flee from the oncoming threat. Within a breath, Jal’tai was hovering over him once more, and burning brightly within the latios’s eyes…

Solonn learned in an instant that no, he had not imagined the strange light that he had seen within Jal’tai’s eyes minutes earlier. There it was again, just as before, but now that it remained burning there rather than extinguishing itself just as soon as it had come, Solonn was able to witness more of its peculiar qualities. As if spellbound, his gaze fixed upon the way that the light in Jal’tai’s eyes pulsed and swirled arrhythmically, constantly shifting its color and intensity.

The light and color expanded outward from the latios’s eyes in a sudden burst, first spreading over the rest of his body, then proceeding to wash over the entire room. Now camouflaged in the psychedelic colors that had consumed everything in sight, Jal’tai was only discernible as a vague outline; if it hadn’t been for Jal’tai’s slight motion in midair as he breathed, Solonn might have easily lost sight of him.

Solonn was stricken with a sudden, sharp pain as the light that surrounded him intensified sharply, lancing into his eyes like burning needles. He tried to close them, but something was holding his eyelids open against his will and their own, forcing him to suffer the harsh light that Jal’tai had set upon him.

The dancing colors abruptly and greatly increased their speed, rushing in every direction around Solonn. In their frenzy, a powerful noise arose: a formless, discordant chorus of screeches and roars. The sound of the phenomenon matched the sight of it perfectly, chaotic and painfully intense. In the next second, Solonn found himself seemingly able to taste and smell the chaos as well as to see and hear it; its scent and flavor were extremely sharp and sour, burning his throat as he inhaled it on the air, making him cough and gag.

The phenomenon then assaulted the rest of him, and the instant he began to feel this, he gave an agonized cry, its forcefulness belying how weak he still was. Jal’tai’s strange power seared almost continuously against Solonn’s skin and struck deep through his nerves in bolts that stabbed intermittently into different parts of him.

With every passing second, the punishment of his every sense grew stronger. He had never known such absolute suffering in his life. Through a mind throttled by the grip of a full sensory overload, Solonn’s sole conscious desire was for an end to this torture. It seemed impossible that he could still be conscious in the face of such overwhelming pain, and yet still he was being denied the mercy of passing out.

The outline of the latios above suddenly became much more distinct then, and the change took an immediate and absolute hold of Solonn’s attention despite the escalating chaos that had consumed him.

<Be at peace,> came a telepathic voice that mirrored the latios’s spoken voice, reaching Solonn as clear as a bell despite the din. Then, all at once, the light, the noise, and all of the pain simply ceased.

* * *

There was a delay before Solonn dared to recognize that the bizarre torture to which Jal’tai had been subjecting him had finally ended. Once he did, he became aware of his surroundings—or rather, the lack thereof. He could see nothing, hear nothing, taste nothing, smell nothing, feel nothing; there was simply nothing around him to be perceived. He couldn’t even perceive anything of himself other than his own awareness.

This surreal unbeing considerably resembled that which lay within the confinement of a capture ball, and Solonn began to wonder if he hadn’t been sent into a device of that nature. Perhaps this was part of his punishment, he reckoned—maybe Jal’tai intended to keep him imprisoned within this place, perhaps only letting him out to inflict more of that multisensory torture upon him, until his mind and sense of reality were so severely traumatized and disarrayed that he would accept anything…

In a literal flash, the solitude of his unbeing was broken. A shapeless, luminous body shone like a star within the darkness that surrounded him, impossible light in a world without vision. Just as suddenly as it had appeared, it took on a form, one that Solonn recognized at once.

Jal’tai now hovered there in the emptiness before Solonn, glowing brilliantly, a latios made out of pure, white light. Only his eyes did not emit this glow, appearing as two fathomless, pitch-black holes in the otherwise featureless surface of his luminous form.

The latios then spoke to Solonn telepathically, but in a mindvoice that was different than before, one as vast as the void that surrounded him. <No, Solonn. That is not what I have done to you, nor is it what I intend to do.>

Solonn was immediately stricken by fear at the sheer immensity of the psychic voice that had just spoken to him. He acknowledged Jal’tai’s words, but was too overwhelmed by them to respond.

<I will not let any further harm come to you,> Jal’tai said somberly. <I know you’d never be able to forgive me for all that you’ve suffered to this point… and I wouldn’t expect you to,> he added. <I doubt I’ll ever be able to forgive myself… and if She won’t, either, I would understand…>

The glowing latios extended his arms. Solonn felt Jal’tai’s embrace despite having nothing of himself with which to actually, physically feel anything, just as he had seen and heard Jal’tai amidst the emptiness despite being without eyes and ears.

<Your suffering ends here,> Jal’tai tried to assure him. <I will now ensure that you will struggle no more.>

What are you going to do to me? Solonn asked fearfully. He had no voice in this place, but he also had no doubt at this point that Jal’tai could hear his thoughts.

<I could tell you,> Jal’tai replied, <but you would not be able to keep that knowledge.>

With that, the black holes that were the latios’s eyes suddenly gave a single, massive flash of light that was even brighter than that which comprised the rest of his form, and Solonn knew no more.

* * *

A gasp rent the air as lungs in a body that had been suspended in stasis for nearly five minutes suddenly reawakened and resumed their duties. Their owner’s head sank and remained low as he took several moments to catch his breath. His spine arched and his talons flexed, reviving his muscles somewhat painfully.

With something of an effort, Jal’tai made himself look upon the face of the human before him. Solonn stared expressionlessly back at him through blank, dilated eyes that held a faint, silvery glow. The former glalie was still alive, but suspended in a peculiar state between consciousness and unconsciousness. His mind was subdued and encapsulated within a psychic prison, barred from access to his own brain. The lati had a name for this state: liasa andielenne—the waking death.

Entering this state was an invariably unpleasant experience for the subject, which Jal’tai regretted to no small degree, but he knew that it was crucial for what was to be done next. There was work to be done within this human’s brain, and said human could not be present there to witness or interfere with the task at hand.

Still, even with the necessary preparations made, Jal’tai worried for the outcome of this procedure. Major, intrusive psychic methods such as the one he was about to employ bore a significant risk of unwanted, detrimental side effects, especially in brains with no sort of defense against the psychic element. Of particular concern to Jal’tai was the fact that they could corrupt or even destroy psychic anomalies in the brain—anomalies such as the Speech.

Hence Jal’tai had been severely reluctant to resort to this course of action—it had every bit as much potential to ruin his candidate as it had to secure him, if not more. Nevertheless, the latios committed himself to this act, feeling that there truly was no better option. It had been by an extraordinary stroke of luck that he had come by someone who possessed the rare and crucial quality needed to take the reins of this city. The odds were overwhelmingly against finding another Speaker anytime soon; Jal’tai didn’t know how long he had in this world to wait and furthermore knew that he would rest much more easily at night once he could be sure that Convergence’s future was secured.

Thus he was determined to do whatever could be done to keep Solonn as a viable successor. Though this last resort might bring failure to that endeavor, Jal’tai was certain that any chance for success with this candidate would be lost for sure if he didn’t go through with it; he doubted very strongly that Solonn would cooperate otherwise. Jal’tai needed to be sure that his replacement was loyal to the mission of this city and could be counted on to serve that mission once given his office, and he was therefore willing to take this risk.

It would be all or nothing, he knew. Either he would have his successor, dedicated and willing to take the role that Jal’tai truly believed that destiny had assigned to him, or else he would have something that was useless to his cause, casting the future of his project back into an indefinite uncertainty.

Jal’tai cast an imploring glance back over his shoulder toward the marble panel on the wall behind him. Please watch over him, Rei’eli, he prayed silently to the image of the goddess that smiled at him from the far end of the room. Keep his gift whole.

He turned back toward Solonn, his heart heavy with concern. He placed his talons upon the human’s head, staring intently into his subject’s empty eyes. His breathing slowed dramatically as his focus deepened, stoking his psychic element and manifesting it into a vehicle for his consciousness. As it carried him out of his own mind and into that of the human who lay before him, he dearly hoped that his goddess had heard his prayer.

* * *

Haze enveloped the intruder, hanging calmly over the surrounding mindscape. It was a thick and very murky medium, one that would have offered up no distinction among its constituent elements to less sophisticated senses and would have threatened to erase the lines between itself and any less capable invader.

For Jal’tai, the haze held no danger of absorbing his consciousness and didn’t obscure his mind’s eye in the least. He could discern the nearly innumerable, individual mental signatures that formed the haze, as well as the intricate ways by which certain among them were connected and associated. The task was made all the easier by liasa andielenne; the haze would have been roiling turbulently in an active mind, making it harder to see what lay within it. It also helped that this particular mindscape was not unexplored territory.

Jal’tai knew not only how to distinguish these mental signatures but also what they truly were: memories. This was the history of Solonn Zgil-Al, far more complete and detailed to Jal’tai’s perception than it could ever be to its owner’s, recorded through Solonn’s own senses.

Among the archives of Solonn’s mind were records of particular importance to Jal’tai, records that held the key to the human’s cooperation—answers to the questions of both why it had not yet been achieved and how it could be. These were the records of the past twelve days, beginning with Solonn’s earliest recollection of Jal’tai from that morning when they had first met west of Lilycove.

Jal’tai focused on his own memories of that morning as he began to sift through the haze, searching for images of that overgrown field and the guise of the swellow that he had worn there. He was fully aware that these images would certainly appear somewhat different in Solonn’s memory than they did in his own, for there were notable differences between the perception of a glalie and that of a latios. Still, Jal’tai reckoned that he’d recognize those memories once he found them, and sure enough, he did.

He had now successfully located Solonn’s memory of departing the field with him and heading off into the forest toward Convergence. Keeping it within his focus, he traced along its connections to other memories, following a backwards route to the moment when Solonn had first encountered him as a swellow.

Having found the starting point for the chain of memories that were of importance to this operation, he proceeded to anchor a part of his own mind to it. He then began to copy this memory and all those that followed it as he allowed them to unfold in chronological order at an incredible speed. Almost as soon as it had begun, the process was finished. In barely more than an instant, Jal’tai had obtained twelve days’ worth of memories that were not his own.

Now the task at hand was to deal with the original copy of this chain of memories, upon which Jal’tai remained tightly focused. There were two options that he could apply here, he knew. One was to simply erase these memories. The other was to keep them intact but heavily suppressed, locking them away deep within Solonn’s subconscious mind.

Erasure was, of course, the more alluring option to Jal’tai; an erased memory was completely irretrievable, after all. However, it was also a much more intrusive method than merely sealing the memories. In even conducting the steps of this procedure that he already had, Jal’tai knew that he was pushing it, endangering the very aspect of this mind for which he was going to these lengths. Comforting though he was sure it would be to know that these memories were gone for good, Jal’tai accepted that for safety’s sake, it would be better not to destroy any of them unless he truly felt that it was necessary.

In order to judge if these memories could be trusted to be preserved in the shadows of Solonn’s mind or if he should try to remove them without a trace despite the added risk that that method brought, he accessed the copy of the chain of memories that he had absorbed and let the sequence of events play out in his mind somewhat more slowly than when he’d last let them unfold, allowing him to vicariously experience the past twelve days as Solonn had experienced them.

He saw himself, disguised as a swellow, leading Solonn through the woods and into Convergence. Through Solonn’s perspective, he experienced the morning when the human had awakened to find himself in a new form, feeling Solonn’s fearful disbelief at his new form and his bereavement at the loss of his element in a secondhand way. Jal’tai beheld the revelation of his own true form, listened to his own attempts to make Solonn listen to reason, and watched—and felt—the excruciating, telekinetic punishment that he had inflicted upon the human when his failure to convince Solonn through words had caused him to lose his patience…

…And here he paused, bringing the playback of Solonn’s memories to a grinding halt. Suddenly confronted with the suffering that his frustration had caused and made to actually experience the pain and terror that he had inflicted, he found himself overwhelmed all at once by immense horror, guilt, and shame.

What in heaven’s name came over me? he wondered, aghast. By the Goddess… I could have killed him…

Long moments passed before he regained himself enough to continue his psychic work. Even then, he remained somewhat shaken by the reminder of what he had done as he resumed studying the former glalie’s memories of the recent past, watching as Solonn dragged himself listlessly through his first few days as a human and then began planning an escape in more recent days, with the chain of memories ending with Solonn’s foiled escape and his subjection to liasa andielenne.

Having reviewed the memories that were to be censored, Jal’tai made the decision to seal them rather than erase them. Realizing just how very close he had already come to losing Solonn as a candidate once, he was now especially disinclined to tempt fate any more than he could help. And yet… thoughts of that day when he had lost control and of the pain that had caused remained close at hand, haunting his mind. Not only was he deeply ashamed of it, but if the human were to somehow recall it against the odds, it was certain that that would destroy any trust that Jal’tai instilled in him.

Jal’tai proceeded to isolate the memory of the past twelve days from the rest of Solonn’s memories. He then set a psychic lock upon them and relocated them to the deepest, most obscure and inaccessible layer of the human’s mind—but not before extracting one particular memory from the chain and annihilating it.

The offending history was now subdued, but Jal’tai’s work was not yet finished. As he departed Solonn’s mindscape to proceed with the next step of the process, he tried to draw some relief and satisfaction from the fact that at least now Solonn would never be able to recall his brutal punishment at the latios’s hands again… but his efforts were hampered by the knowledge that he could not purge that memory from his own mind likewise.

* * *

With his consciousness having returned to the physical plane, Jal’tai once again beheld the motionless form of the human before him. Solonn still wore the same blank, emotionless, lifeless expression that he had been wearing ever since entering liasa andielenne.

At least he’s not suffering anymore, the latios thought wearily as he set himself down on the floor for a short break following the work that he had accomplished thus far; the act of sustaining his presence within a foreign mind for extended periods of time was fairly taxing, especially at his age. He rested his head in his talons as he prepared to initiate the next task, which was to create a different version of events to replace the twelve days that he had just sealed away from Solonn’s memory.

Jal’tai still saw promise in Solonn despite the obstacles that had arisen in trying to get the human to recognize his potential. He was quite certain that Solonn was capable of appreciating the mission of the Convergence Project and might have thereby accepted his new role under different circumstances. Jal’tai still felt that no other course of action but the one that he had taken could have securely yielded success, however; he believed that it was the only way to have been absolutely sure that Solonn would take the form that becoming the new mayor demanded. What was done was done, and because Solonn had reacted so adversely to the way that things were done, the next step for Jal’tai was to make the human believe that things had been done differently.

From what he had gathered both from reviewing Solonn’s memories of the days since the two had met and from his own memories of his interactions with the human over the past several days, Jal’tai had determined that one of the main reasons why Solonn was refusing to accept his new form and the purpose for which it had been bestowed upon him was that the change had not been his choice. He had also determined a number of other elements which, if removed or added to the circumstances, would help to ensure Solonn’s cooperation, as well as to enable Jal’tai to earn the human’s trust and escape his resentment.

With all of these things in mind, Jal’tai entered a trance in which he began to fabricate an alternative version of the circumstances surrounding Solonn’s reception of his new identity. If all went as Jal’tai desired for it to go, this rewrite of history would turn Solonn into the ready and willing successor for which the latios so dearly hoped…

* * *

Go!” Solonn shouted at the terrified creature who cowered before him—the creature who had almost become his prey. He watched as the zigzagoon sprinted fearfully away through the tall grass, sickened by himself as he thought of what he had nearly done.

“Well, that certainly was magnanimous of you,” said a bright, jovial voice.

Surprised, Solonn turned at once to see whom and what had just spoken. He was met with the sight of a feathered, blue-and-gray dragon hovering in midair a short distance in front of him.

The dragon introduced himself as Jal’tai, a latios. After Solonn had introduced himself in turn, Jal’tai inquired as to what had brought him to this area, having never seen Solonn around before. Solonn told him of how he had fled from human abductors in Lilycove and was just trying to lie low until he could find some means to return to his home across the sea.

Jal’tai offered him a place to stay in a city in the west where he could be safe and comfortable. Solonn hesitated to take him up on the offer, reluctant to go into another human city. Jal’tai assured him that the place that he had in mind was nothing of the sort. After a few more moments’ consideration, Solonn accepted Jal’tai’s offer and followed him westward through the forest.

Upon arriving at their destination, a place which Jal’tai identified as Convergence, Solonn couldn’t help but notice certain familiarities about the city—familiarities which contradicted the latios’s assurances about it.

“Jal’tai, I thought you said this wasn’t a human city…”

“Yes, I most certainly did,” Jal’tai responded. “And on closer inspection, you might realize that indeed, just as I stated, this is not a
human city. Here in Convergence, pokémon and humans live and work as equals.” He smiled proudly. “I’m the man in charge of this city, you see, and I would not have it any other way around here.”

The last of the latios’s statements took a moment to fully register in Solonn’s brain. “…Wait, did you say you were
in charge here?” he asked incredulously once it clicked.

Jal’tai nodded, still beaming. “Yes, that’s correct,” he said. “I am the mayor of this fine city. Convergence is my pride and joy—a testament to the equality of all peoples. You see… in the cities owned and ruled exclusively by humans, pokémon are second-class citizens—if even that.” His features gave a brief flash of disgust. “But here, pokémon are afforded the same rights and opportunities as humans. They may own properties like those the humans own. They may learn to operate the vehicles invented by humans if they so wish. Our academy offers them the same education that humans receive and training for those who wish to enter occupations that elsewhere may only be held by humans.

“My hope is that the rest of the human world will learn from Convergence’s example, that they will see that they can and should live alongside pokémon in harmony and equality. This community may very well be the starting point for the greatly-needed change in human-pokémon relations—perhaps then, pokémon will be respected by humans, rather than disregarded, exploited, and abused as we have all too often been in the past. Now do you see what makes Convergence great?”

Solonn could only nod in response, still quite absorbed in thoughts of what Jal’tai had just told him about the state of relations between humans and the other peoples of the world, in the latios’s claim that pokémon were such non-entities in the eyes of humans.

Jal’tai offered to take him to lunch at a local restaurant then, and he accepted. Along the way, he was shown how the pokémon citizens of Convergence were able to utilize the technological conveniences invented by humans to go about their everyday lives—a privilege that they would be denied in the human world, according to Jal’tai.

Once they had reached the restaurant and had been served their respective meals, Jal’tai spoke further about the apparent schism between humans and other intelligent species.

“As I was saying,” the latios said as he paused momentarily in his enjoyment of his fish platter, “the way pokémon are perceived by humans
desperately needs to be changed. Did you know that most humans do not realize—or else deny—that pokémon are intelligent beings?”

Solonn looked up from the steak that had been served to him, which still lay untouched due to the glalie’s internal conflict with his own sensibilities. “…No,” he responded, sounding quite troubled at this information. “No, I didn’t know that.”

Jal’tai nodded sadly. “It’s true. The majority of humans regard pokémon not as people, but as mere
animals,” he told Solonn, a distinct touch of vehemence coloring his words and seeming to shine in his eyes.

“Gods… How could they see us that way?” Solonn wondered aloud.

The latios sighed sorrowfully. “I have been trying to figure that out myself for many years now, to no avail, I’m afraid. All I know for certain is that they must be made to see the truth if pokémon are to receive the treatment we deserve from their kind.”

Jal’tai resumed his meal then, leaving Solonn to muse on all that he had just learned. It disturbed and saddened him to think of how poorly humans apparently regarded pokémon. At the same time, however, he thought of Morgan—she hadn’t fit the portrayal that Jal’tai had given of humans as uncaring and disregarding of pokémon. She had always treated Solonn and the other pokémon who lived with her with respect instead of as inferiors. If she could respect pokémon, then perhaps the humans who didn’t could learn to do so, as well… maybe, Solonn considered, there was hope for the relations between humanity and the rest of the world’s peoples.

At length, Solonn finally managed to force himself to take the meat that he had been given. Shortly thereafter, he found himself becoming quite tired with an unusual and alarming suddenness—he suspected that the trials of the prior evening were finally taking their toll on him. When he mentioned this to Jal’tai, the latios told him of a nearby hotel where he could rest and brought him there right away.

Solonn fell into a profoundly deep sleep just as soon as he was given a suite in which to stay, and he remained asleep until late in the following morning when he was awakened by a series of loud, shrill beeps followed by the sound of a computerized voice.

“Receiving message,” the voice said coolly.

Solonn only distantly noted those words, not quite absorbing them, as he was still emerging with an effort from his sleep. He was slightly more awake and aware when another voice arose; he recognized it at once as that of Jal’tai.

“Solonn? Are you awake?” the latios asked.

Stifling a yawn, Solonn rose from the floor and turned toward the source of Jal’tai’s voice, but saw no one there. A second later, as his brain finally finished awakening, he spotted the paging device that sat on the nearby table, and he remembered being told that he could use it to call Jal’tai—apparently it also worked the other way around.

“Yeah, I’m awake,” he answered finally.

“Good, good,” Jal’tai said brightly. “Is it all right if I come and pay you a visit?”

“Hm? Sure, go ahead,” Solonn said nonchalantly.

“Ah, very well, then,” Jal’tai said. “I’ll be right up in a moment.”

“Connection terminated,” said the computerized voice again, and with another beep, the device shut itself off.

Very shortly thereafter, that same voice spoke up again, this time to announce the arrival of a visitor. Bright green light blossomed from a tile on the floor near the wall, then faded as Jal’tai materialized within the suite.

“Good morning,” the latios said amiably. “How are you feeling today?”

“Meh, just fine, I suppose,” Solonn answered. “Still a little tired, but other than that…”

“Hm,” Jal’tai responded, nodding. “Well, I’m glad to hear that you seem to be on the mend. I was quite concerned about you yesterday, you know,” he said, his tone serious. “I feared you wouldn’t even remain conscious through the trip to this hotel. Never in my life have I seen someone drained of energy so suddenly and completely… those humans in Lilycove must have put you through a most dreadful ordeal, indeed…”

Solonn only made a small, wordless, affirmative noise in response.

“Well, at least you did manage to escape from those scoundrels,” Jal’tai said. “You’ve certainly been spared a most unpleasant fate… Do you have any idea what their motives might have been in taking you, what they might have had in store?”

Solonn hesitated to answer. Yes, he did know why he had been taken—and in the wake of learning such, he was particularly wary of speaking of that very thing that had gotten him into such a situation in the first place.

However, he did wonder how much danger there could actually be in confiding in Jal’tai. It wouldn’t be the first time that he had trusted his secret with another—he had deemed Morgan and her pokémon to be safe to confide in, and as he thought about it, he still felt that that had been a sound judgment, even considering what had happened the day before. After all, his abilities had only gotten him into trouble in Lilycove due to completely external forces stumbling upon his secret, something that might not necessarily have happened under different circumstances even given the fact that he had chosen not to hide that secret from Morgan and her pokémon.

None of them had not come across to him as being untrustworthy, and Solonn was finding himself of the mindset that Jal’tai didn’t, either. Ever since he had met him, the latios had been speaking of his disapproval of unjust treatment and exploitation of pokémon—he seemed like one of the last people who would ever make Solonn sorry to reveal his abilities to him.

Solonn got the feeling that if he told Jal’tai to keep the secret, he would do so. And since Jal’tai was this city’s leader, perhaps he had authority enough in this place to help ensure that none of the wrong people happened upon the secret themselves.

So, feeling fairly secure in doing so, Solonn went ahead and told Jal’tai of the reason why he was targeted for abduction.

“They wanted me…” he began, “because I can do something that apparently very few pokémon can do… I can speak to humans. In their own language.” He sighed bitterly. “The humans who tried to take me wanted to show me off because of it, as a
freak,” he told Jal’tai, that last word more hissed than spoken.

Jal’tai’s expression became dramatically sterner as he stared back at Solonn in the wake of the glalie’s admission. “
Sickening,” he hissed, his voice low and rather ominous-sounding. “Absolutely deplorable… what you possess is a gift; you should be honored for it, not exploited…”

Fury radiated almost tangibly from Jal’tai as he hovered in place for a moment, his features contorted with clear disgust. At length, he drew a long breath, seemingly trying to calm himself, and released it on a sorrowful sigh. “I’m afraid such troubles come with the territory of the talents you possess,” he said soberly, closing his eyes and folding his hands. “I know it all too well myself…” He met Solonn’s gaze directly, his eyes staring pointedly into those of the glalie. “It is true that exceedingly few possess the Speech—the ability to communicate universally. As such, I thought I would likely never find another who shared this ability in common with me.”

Solonn stared speechlessly back at Jal’tai for seconds on end. Like Jal’tai, he had not been expecting to come across another person who shared his linguistic abilities. As Jal’tai’s revelation sank fully into his mind, he was left without a doubt that his assessment of the latios’s trustworthiness had been right on the mark. Jal’tai was a kindred spirit—if anyone could be trusted, Solonn reckoned, it was him.

“So, this thing… this ‘Speech’, as you called it… it’s gotten you into trouble, too?” Solonn asked, earning a nod from the latios in response. “Was the trouble with humans?”

“Not exclusively,” Jal’tai answered, “but mostly, yes. Hence the need for a bit of deceptiveness unto the outside world on my part, I’m afraid. Observe…”

Solonn gave the latios his attention, having no idea what to expect from him. As he watched, a strange, shimmering light surrounded Jal’tai, blurring and consuming his form until it was completely unidentifiable. The mass of light brightened momentarily, then began to take shape once more as it faded.

Once the light was gone completely, Solonn saw that the latios that had been in that very spot had apparently gone with it. An elderly, goateed human in a brown suit stood there instead—one whom Solonn recognized at once as being the man pictured on the sign at Whitley’s.

“This is how I appear to the citizens of Convergence, as well as those with whom I do business outside of town,” he said. “To them, I am known as the human Rolf Whitley—I virtually never work under my true identity. I lament that I must appear to the people as something and someone I am not—it should not have to be this way, but the unfortunate fact is that it is a necessity of my work.

“You see, as a pokémon who can speak human languages, humans may look upon me as a curiosity—a freak, as you so aptly put it,” Jal’tai explained, his tone carrying clear distaste. “They will not listen to or respect something that they regard in such a demeaning way. However, as a human who can speak pokémon language, I am not seen as a freak, but merely gifted. It’s a shameful double standard, but it’s the reality for people like us, I’m afraid.”

With another brief shimmering of light all around him, Jal’tai resumed his true form. “So, you see, that guise is the means by which I am able not only to live with my gift in peace but to also utilize it to do good in this world.”

He turned toward Solonn. “You know, this place, this embodiment of all that I believe in… it could not have been made possible were it not for my possession of the Speech,” he then said. “Because this is a community for both pokémon and humans, its leader must be able to deal with both equally. Thus this office demands the Speech, meaning that there are very few who could take care of this city’s needs.”

An unreadable expression suddenly over took Jal’tai’s features, but Solonn was given little time to look upon it or to wonder about it before Jal’tai turned away from him. A very long and rather awkward silence followed.

Eventually, Jal’tai turned back, his expression distinctly uneasy. “Solonn…” he began, “I would like to know if…” He faltered, seemingly unable to complete the sentence. “No,” he said in a subdued tone a moment later, “no, I just couldn’t ask such a thing of you…”

Solonn’s brows drew together, the light in his eyes flickering slightly in concern. “…What is it?” he asked. “What are you talking about?”

Jal’tai only gazed back at him for a time, looking almost guilty. He hesitated momentarily before answering, and even once he did respond, he spoke with clear reluctance.

“I’m… well, I’m not a young dragon anymore,” he said quietly. “I won’t be around to take care of this city forever… I love Convergence, Solonn,” he all but whispered. “I worry for its future… I don’t know what will become of this place without me. Who will watch over this city when I’m gone?”

Solonn didn’t know how to respond to that at first. Then he realized just what the latios was saying. “Are… are you saying you want
me to take your place?” he asked, his eyes wide.

“Well…” the latios responded with something of a delay, “as I said, only those who are blessed with the Speech, as you and I are, are qualified to guide and maintain this community. And as I also mentioned, I had not expected that I would ever find another such person… I have been fretting over the matter of who could possibly take my office after me—and what might become of Convergence and its mission if no one suitable could be found…”

Quite overwhelmed, Solonn suddenly felt the need to sit down. “…I don’t know what to say…”

“I don’t imagine I would, either, were I in your position,” Jal’tai said quietly.

“I mean… I understand what you’re worried about, but… are you sure there’s no one else you could ask?” Solonn asked, finding it difficult to get the words out.

“I honestly can’t say for certain,” the latios answered, “but the odds are very much against it.”

With every passing second, Solonn found himself feeling more cornered by the matter. How the guilt had overtaken him so swiftly and strongly, and precisely where it had actually even come from, Solonn could not guess, but there it was, present and undeniable. He understood and cared about Jal’tai’s dilemma… but still…

“…I don’t know…” he said guiltily, “…This is not a minor matter—I mean, you’re thinking of putting me in charge of an entire city?” He shook his head in disbelief. “Jal’tai… I don’t know if I have it in me.”

“There’s no need to worry where that’s concerned,” Jal’tai said softly. “I assure you that you would be adequately educated and prepared to take up these responsibilities.”

The latios’s already troubled expression suddenly became even moreso. “Solonn… there is one more thing I need to tell you before you commit yourself one way or another to my offer,” he told the glalie, his tone grave. “I demonstrated the way that I disguise myself as a human in order to live and work with the Speech safely. You would have to take on a human identity as well if you were to take my office. But since you are not endowed as I am with the power to project a mirage over yourself… well, you would have to come by your disguise by a different means. The only other method by which you could pass for a human… is to actually become one.”

“…
What?” Solonn thought he must surely have misheard the latios. “You can’t be serious!”

“I
am serious, Solonn,” Jal’tai said. “In order to replace me as the mayor of this city, you will have to be physically transformed into a human.”

“But… how is that even
possible?”

“There is an elemental technique that has been practiced by my people for millennia—namely the transfigure technique—that enables the user to change the form of another thing or person,” Jal’tai explained. “Allow me to demonstrate…”

Jal’tai left the room momentarily. When he returned, he was carrying a small decorative pillow in his talons. “Watch carefully,” he instructed Solonn, then set the pillow down upon the floor. He extended his arms, keeping his talons rigid over the pillow. Slowly, spheres of mint-green light swelled around his hands; soon after, an aura of the same color surrounded the pillow.

The light began strobing then; Solonn winced, his eyes narrowing to slits to fend off the flashing light. He kept them open with an effort despite the discomfort, however, determined to see if Jal’tai could actually do what he was claiming to be able to do. With astonishment, he realized that he could see the pillow warping, shifting somewhat jerkily and unevenly into another shape.

With one final flash of green light and one last metamorphic spasm, the pillow was no more. Right before Solonn’s eyes, it had been transfigured into a plant sitting in an earthen pot, its many leafy tendrils spilling out over the rim.

“And that is how it’s done,” Jal’tai said, sounding somewhat winded, as he picked up the potted plant and examined it briefly. He cast a quick look upward at a particular spot on the ceiling. “This would look rather nice right about there, I think…” he remarked, then set the plant back down and turned back toward Solonn once more.

Solonn, meanwhile, stared dumbstruck at the plant. “Oh gods…” he said almost voicelessly. He had risen from the floor without realizing it and was now starting to back away from the plant.

“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Jal’tai assured him. “If you choose to accept the change, I will do everything in my power to make it as non-traumatic an experience as I can. If you wish, I can render you unconscious during the actual transfiguration so that you can be sure not to experience any discomfort. Afterward, I promise that I will help you to become accustomed to your new form. Furthermore—” He inclined his head slightly further toward Solonn. “—the change is not permanent. It will wear off after about eight to ten years… perhaps by that time, such masquerades will no longer be needed in this world.”

Those reassurances fell short of quite comforting Solonn, and Jal’tai seemed to recognize this. “I know that physical transformation is not something to be taken lightly, but it’s also something with which you’ve had some prior experience, have you not? I happen to know that yours is an evolved form—perhaps you might try looking at this as just another stage of evolution.”

Jal’tai was right in one sense: this was indeed not the first time that Solonn had been faced with the prospect of transformation. However, Solonn had not accepted his last change hastily; he had only agreed to go through with it once it had truly seemed necessary. Furthermore, after comparing his memory of evolving into a glalie with the process of transfiguration that he had just beheld, he was quite certain that they would be two very different experiences.

“This is just… all too much,” Solonn said finally, wearily, as he set himself back down.

“I understand,” Jal’tai said softly. “I would not expect anyone to make such a major decision in any hurry.” He began to glide past Solonn then, moving toward the wall that bore the keypad and transport tile, but turned back before exiting. “You can stay here as long as you like,” he told Solonn. “And when you come to a decision regarding what I have offered to you, please call me and let me know. I won’t force you to decide one way or another… but I do ask that you consider what is at the heart of this matter. This community was born in the name of a better future, one in which the schism between humanity and all the other peoples of the world is bridged at last. Ask yourself: is this not a future that you desire to see made into a reality?”

Solonn winced, feeling as though a large weight had just dropped into his stomach. He did want to see unity between humans and pokémon, but there was still also the matter of what acting on that desire here would apparently require of him. He couldn’t even begin to decide what to do.

He finally pried his eyes away from the plant and turned quickly to face Jal’tai and ask him how he was supposed to deal with these conflicting notions, but he saw only a flash of green light. The latios had already gone, leaving him alone with the weight of this decision.

For the rest of the day, Solonn’s thoughts were monopolized by the matter of Jal’tai’s offer, and it denied him sleep throughout the night. He agreed with the latios’s mission, and he could not deny that he truly did want to help. But to
become a human… how could he readily accept something that he could barely believe?

As hour after hour was claimed by these thoughts, bringing the morning and then midday, Solonn found himself reckoning this situation by a previous one: that which had surrounded his evolution. He had initially dismissed the comparison, certain of there being a major difference between the two methods of change. As he considered the comparison further, however, he began to see similarities between the two situations.

The last time that he had been faced with the prospect of taking on a new form, he had ultimately determined that it was the right course of action, that it would offer the elemental skill that he would need to succeed in his contest performance. Now, with the matter of physical transformation having been raised once again, he would once more have to determine if it was the right thing to do under the circumstances.

He knew that if he did agree to the change, it would be for the purpose of joining in Jal’tai’s cause—again, he could not deny that it was one with which he agreed. The notion of being made human was quite daunting to him, but if he went through with it, then he could aid Jal’tai in his efforts toward fair and equal treatment for pokémon…

Solonn thought about some of the things that he had learned about the way that humans tended to view and treat pokémon—both from what Jal’tai had told him and from his own experience. His thoughts turned toward his own abduction by humans who had wanted to profit from his abilities—and the fact that they had not been content to merely take him but had taken the rest of Morgan’s pokémon, as well. He thought of those pokémon, friends of his whose condition and whereabouts were still unknown. He thought about Morgan, separated from some of her closest friends, shaken and crying the last time that he’d seen her.

If enough humans could be made to respect pokémon, he considered, then perhaps scenarios like that one would never happen again.

The glalie’s eyes drifted toward that paging device sitting a short distance across the room. There was his answer, it seemed. He had been given an opportunity to do something that he believed could be significantly beneficial to the world—he had to take it, he decided then, even if the knowledge of what it would require of him still terrified him.

He felt heavier than usual as he ascended; it was as though his body were less than willing to rise from the ground. With his heart hammering, he glided across the room until he found himself looking down upon the paging device. Once he had recalled how to operate it, he used it to call Jal’tai.

“Yes? What is it, my boy?” Jal’tai said once the connection went through.

“…I’ll do it,” Solonn spat out before his trepidation could have a chance to foil him.

Jal’tai didn’t respond right away, making Solonn worry that he had perhaps been too vague in declaring his acceptance. But then,
“All right, then,” the latios said simply, and the connection was terminated.

In virtually no time, Jal’tai arrived at the suite, entering by way of the transport tile and immediately coming to hover before Solonn.

“I know this was no easy decision for you,” Jal’tai said, “but in the end, you have made the right choice.” He gave a warm, proud smile. “We and our efforts will go down in history, Solonn. And someday, pokémon throughout the world will thank you for your selfless actions here.”

They were nice words, Solonn thought, but the glalie wasn’t feeling quite as long-sighted at the moment as Jal’tai was. He couldn’t quite look to the future and any praise and appreciation that lay there—he saw only the present and what it was about to bring and just wanted it to be over and done.

“Do you wish for me to put you under for the transfiguration?” Jal’tai asked him.

An image of the pillow’s rather spasmodic transformation entered Solonn’s mind along with an unbidden sense of what that sort of a process might actually feel like, and he shuddered. “Please do,” he responded quickly.

Jal’tai nodded in acknowledgment, then moved forward and placed his talons on top of the glalie’s head, giving a shudder at the contact with the glalie’s frigid hide. “There will only be a brief discomfort,” he assured Solonn. Solonn gazed nervously into Jal’tai’s eyes for a moment, hoping that the latios was right—and then his vision, as well as his consciousness, were extinguished in an instant by something that sent a shock through his skull and a burst of red light to the back of his eyes.

When Solonn awakened, the scene surrounding him had changed. He knew at once that he was seeing through different eyes, eyes that were much weaker and more limited in their range than the ones that he’d previously had. He shifted slightly, feeling soft surfaces all around him as his limbs stretched—yes,
his limbs. It seemed that Jal’tai’s technique had worked—that Solonn was now a human.

He lifted his head and saw that he was presently lying in a bed. The sheets that covered him prevented him from seeing most of his new form; he pushed them aside with one of his newly-formed arms in order to have a look at what he had become. He found that seeing the human body that he now possessed actually made it harder somehow for him to believe that the change had really occurred.

A shadow fell over him then; he looked up and to his left and saw Jal’tai there, smiling gently as he hovered in place.

“The transfiguration was a complete success,” the latios said. “Here—have a look at your new face with this,” he suggested, then offered Solonn a small hand mirror. The human took the mirror, and after a moment’s fumbling with it, he managed to catch his own reflection in the glass. “Do you like it?” Jal’tai then asked.

Solonn wasn’t quite sure what to make of his new form; he could still scarcely believe that he actually possessed it. He responded to Jal’tai’s question with a noncommittal noise.

“Well, given time, I’m sure you’ll get used to it,” the latios said as he took the mirror back from Solonn. “Come, now,” he said, offering Solonn a talon to help him up out of bed. “Allow me to show you around your new home and to help you begin to grow accustomed to your new form.”

Not knowing what else to do, Solonn took Jal’tai’s hand and allowed himself to be made acquainted with his surroundings, hoping all the while that he would indeed get used to this new way of life eventually.

On each of the days that followed, Jal’tai paid Solonn a visit, during which he helped Solonn to learn human habits. He brought a series of instructional videos that demonstrated the ways of human life, and he gave Solonn extra tutelage on certain points of those lessons. While Solonn found some of the practices of human beings to be quite strange (particularly where hygiene was concerned), he nonetheless allowed himself to be taught of these habits and picked them up quickly enough for Jal’tai’s liking.

Things carried on fairly smoothly in this manner until the eighth day following Solonn’s transfiguration. Jal’tai had just left after giving a brief lecture to supplement a segment on one of the DVDs, specifically a segment explaining the concept of money. Solonn was sitting in the den, reviewing that segment and trying out of semi-boredom to memorize whose portrait was on each denomination of the paper notes, when a sudden, incredibly strong pain awakened in his head, completely without warning.

Solonn shouted in pain and alarm, wondering what in the world could possibly be causing this spontaneous suffering. It worsened with each passing second, making flashing spots explode within his vision and shooting a bolt of nausea down his throat.

Certain that something was terribly wrong, he tried to call Jal’tai, hoping that the latios could get help for him. He reached for the paging device—but as he did so, a powerful spasm tore through his body. His outstretched arm flailed wildly, knocking the device to the floor.

He tried to make a move to pick it back up, but he had still not quite regained control of his muscles. No sooner had he risen from his chair than he collapsed to the floor—and he did not get back up. The last thing that Solonn was aware of before he blacked out completely was a blurred, sideways view of the paging device lying just inches away.


* * *

Jal’tai emerged from his trance, having constructed and packaged a chain of memories to replace the ones that he had quarantined. The latios allowed himself a couple of minutes’ worth of rest before rising and returning to the table where his subject lay.

Once again, he entered the human’s mind and immediately sought out the chronological telltales that identified the memory that directly preceded the ones that he had locked away, showing him where the new memories were to be placed. Very carefully, Jal’tai implanted the chain, made certain its connections to the preceding memories were secure, and then exited the human’s mind once more.

The procedure was now completed. Anxious anticipation spread through Jal’tai’s nerves as he looked upon Solonn, wondering if the work that had just been done had secured the human as a successor or if it had done quite the opposite.

This was the moment of truth, Jal’tai knew—he needed to see if his interference with Solonn’s mind had robbed the human of the Speech. Focusing his psychic abilities, he stirred Solonn’s consciousness within the confines of liasa andielenne but did not truly awaken it. The human shifted slightly in his shackles, turning his still-blank eyes toward Jal’tai. Solonn was now in a state in which he would respond to stimuli and commands while being utterly unaware of doing so.

“Solonn,” Jal’tai addressed him. He held up one hand and pointed two claws toward his own eyes. “What am I pointing at?”

Solonn maintained his empty stare at the latios for a brief moment. Then, “Vhekahr’syin sierahs hivhassen,” he responded inflectionlessly.

Glalie language, Jal’tai noted, unsurprised. Solonn had spoken his own language almost exclusively in all the time that Jal’tai had known him; he was not one to “show off” his linguistic abilities. However, this situation was one that required Solonn to do just that.

“Solonn, this time you will answer in my language,” Jal’tai instructed, then indicated his eyes once again. He had never heard Solonn speak in lati language and was certain that the former glalie had never done so. Jal’tai reckoned that if Solonn could respond in this language, it would be a good indication that his abilities had survived the psychic procedure. “What am I pointing at?” he repeated.

Like the last time the question was posed, there was a delay in Solonn’s response, but it was a longer one than before, making Jal’tai fear that perhaps the human would not be able to respond as instructed. But then, much to Jal’tai’s immense relief, “Catelisi adiele setali assiria,” Solonn answered.

“Oh… oh, thank the Goddess!” Jal’tai exclaimed almost breathlessly, so overjoyed with relief that he broke into tears. The procedure was a complete success—Solonn now possessed memories that would allow him to accept his new purpose and had kept the skills that would allow him to serve it.

Jal’tai released Solonn from both the hypnotic state and liasa andielenne then, allowing the human to lapse fully into unconsciousness. “Rest well, my boy,” Jal’tai said softly. “You’ve certainly earned it.”

Smiling, Jal’tai then turned toward his shrine to Rei’eli and drifted over to it. Once there, he reached down toward the potted autillia flowers and closed his talons around a pair of them, allowing them to fall apart in his hands. He looked up at the serene face of his goddess as he held the handfuls of petals that he now clutched over the fountain, an almost rapturous gratitude showing through his features.

Thank you, Jal’tai prayed silently and sincerely. With all my heart, I thank you. With that, he let the petals fall from his hands, drifting gently down into the water in a symbolic return of the power that he believed that his goddess had lent him.

* * *

“…which came back negative, thankfully… Oh look, he’s awake!”

Solonn awoke to the sound of the cheerful voice that had just spoken and was greeted with a somewhat blurry view of its owner: standing nearby was a chansey, who was looking at him and smiling. He also awoke to a splitting headache.

“Oh good, good!” said another voice, a much more familiar one. “Could you give the two of us a moment, Miss Teresa?”

“Of course,” the chansey replied amiably, then departed the room, her tail waving behind her as she waddled out of the room.

Groaning softly, Solonn rubbed his eyes to clear them completely, then cast a glance about himself, confused. He found that he was lying in a simple bed in a sterile, white room. He also found that he was not alone; seated at his bedside was an elderly man—Jal’tai in his human guise, Solonn recognized with a slight delay.

“Good morning,” Jal’tai said warmly. “Or, to be more accurate, good late morning,” he amended with a chuckle. “Feeling all right?”

“Ugh… not really,” Solonn answered groggily. “Gods, my head hurts…”

“Hmm,” Jal’tai responded, sounding concerned. “Well, that’s nothing a little aspirin won’t cure, I’d reckon.”

Solonn cradled his aching head in his hands for a moment, hoping that he would be given some of this “aspirin” as soon as possible. “Where am I?” he then asked.

“You’re in the Haven, Solonn,” Jal’tai told him, “our city’s medical center. I brought you here after I found you unconscious on the floor in your suite. I’ve been so worried about you, my boy,” he said earnestly, concern etched into the deep lines of his aged, presently-human face. “You were out cold for nearly four days.”

With some difficulty amid the pain that wracked his head, Solonn managed to recall his last memory of being in that suite, of that evening when he had been suddenly stricken with a headache that was even worse than the one that he was suffering now and had subsequently passed out. “What in the world happened to me back there?” he asked. “Gods, it scared me half to death…”

“I’m afraid that what you experienced was a side effect of your transfiguration,” Jal’tai said. “That sort of a change can put quite a lot of stress on a body, and sometimes that stress can sneak up on you and hit you all at once—sometimes immediately, sometimes with a bit of a delay, but usually never.”

He sighed. “What you experienced is a rare occurrence indeed; I had truthfully not expected that it would happen. It usually only occurs in the wake of transfigurations performed by less-than-skilled users… I assure you that I am well-practiced in the art, but I fear that age may have deteriorated my skills somewhat. I sincerely apologize for the suffering this has caused you,” he said somberly, lowering his head.

“Mmm,” Solonn said dismissively. “Don’t worry about it. You said you hadn’t expected this to happen.”

Jal’tai gave a small, reserved smile in acknowledgment of the human’s forgiveness. “You’re too kind,” he said gratefully. “Anyhow… as I mentioned, this is a very rare occurrence, and as such, I don’t expect it will happen again. However, just to be safe, I have enlisted the services of someone who possesses abilities that should help to keep you relaxed and well in both body and mind. Her name is Neleng, and I have made an appointment for her to come and visit you tonight. She can also offer a session any and every night after if you so wish.”

“Okay,” Solonn said, grateful for anything that might prevent him from going through this unpleasant experience again.

Jal’tai stood then—or more accurately, his human mirage appeared to stand. “So, then. Do you think you’re up to resuming your education as a human?”

“Yeah… yeah, I think so,” Solonn answered. “Although I think I’d like to get some of that ‘aspirin’ you were talking about first,” he added.

Jal’tai laughed brightly. “Ah, good,” he said, smiling. “Yes, I think we can safely say that all the unpleasantness is behind you now.”

* * *

Not long after awakening, Solonn was released from the Haven. He stepped out into the early afternoon under an overcast sky. A light rain was falling, making pattering noises against the wide, burgundy umbrella that Jal’tai had given him. There was an identical umbrella in the hand of Jal’tai’s human mirage, but whether the latios was actually holding one or simply projecting an image of one and letting the rain fall on him without a care, Solonn couldn’t tell.

A long, sleek, black car waited in the parking lot in front of the hospital; as Jal’tai and Solonn reached it, a uniformed human stepped out of the vehicle and opened a door on either side in the back of the car for the two of them. Solonn got in and took a seat right away, while Jal’tai went around the back of the car and appeared to enter from the opposite side. In actuality, the latios was only projecting his human mirage into the vehicle while he hovered above the car outside. The chauffeur closed the doors, then took his seat behind the wheel. Jal’tai’s mirage smiled at Solonn from its place beside him as the car left the parking lot and set off toward the Convergence Inn.

Solonn stared idly out through the window during the ride, watching the urban scenery race past through a veil of autumn rain. As he did so, a most peculiar notion came over his mind: a sense of wondering how he had gotten there, how things had come to be just as they presently were. He was briefly puzzled by it, but then dismissed the momentary confusion as just some temporary malfunction of his mental faculties, some brief and harmless aftereffect of his recent malady that might never happen again. He gave it no further thought, just glad and grateful that the worst of it was over, and serenely allowed the wheels to carry him home.

_____________________

*proffers basket of Visine* Heh heh heh…

So. It would appear that I have chosen to completely forsake both the “language consisting of the species’ name” route and the “language consisting of animalistic cries” route. Fear not, though—for the record, something of one of those established forms of pokémon speech (specifically the latter version) is kept in my fics.

In these fics, humans generally do not, for whatever reason, perceive pokémon speech as it actually is. What humans hear instead basically amounts to the pokémon cries as heard in the games (or more “lifelike” versions thereof, perhaps). This is why Oth is described as sounding the way it does when it speaks: it’s meant to represent the sort of odd, low, rattling cry claydol have in-game.

Please note that this does not mean that I demand for anyone else to handle pokémon speech the same way I do—I’m not going to give any of you or any other author a hard time about how you or they handle pokémon speech. I respect the personal preferences and choices of individual authors with regards to their own work.

Next time: A new era will soon begin in the city of Convergence... See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 08:28 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Old March 28th, 2009, 01:35 PM
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Chapter 11 – Heart of the City


“Ahh… Sure is good to be back home, isn’t it?” Jal’tai asked.

Home… It seemed a peculiar notion to Solonn as his eyes took in the scene of the Grand Suite once again. He had only lived there for just under two weeks, after all; there were plenty of aspects of living in this place—not to mention this body—that he was still getting used to. And yet… he could not deny that the suite was taking on a sense of familiarity, even comfort at times. It truly did seem to have become home.

“Suppose so,” he responded, semi-absently raking the fingers of his left hand through hair slightly dampened with the rain that the wind had thrown at him in spite of his umbrella.

Jal’tai smiled at him. “Here, let me take your coat,” he offered. Solonn allowed the latios to do just that. Then, still quite taxed from his recent hospitalization, Solonn made his way straight to the armchair in the den and dropped himself onto it, letting his weary body sink deep into the upholstery.

After putting Solonn’s coat in its right place, Jal’tai disappeared into the kitchen; a moment later, there came the rather loud whirring of the blender in use. It fell silent shortly thereafter, and then Jal’tai drifted back into the den with a glass of something opaque and pale purple clutched in one of his talons.

“Here,” the latios offered, handing the glass to Solonn. “It’s one of my specialties. It has something of an energizing property to it—the effect isn’t quite as strong for humans as it is for pokémon, but it still ought to put a little of the vigor back into you. Plus, it’s quite tasty,” he added with a grin.

Curious, Solonn sampled the beverage. It had a pleasant, creamy texture to it and a strong berry flavor that Solonn immediately and greatly liked. Perhaps Jal’tai had somehow learned that he was particularly fond of such flavors, though Solonn reckoned that it was much more likely that the latios had simply made a good guess. After all, since he had never explicitly told the dragon that he liked it, the only way that Jal’tai could have figured this out was if he had read Solonn’s mind, and Solonn had not seen any evidence that Jal’tai was a mind reader in all the time that he had known him.

He looked up from the drink to voice his approval of it to Jal’tai—but where his eyes should have met those of the latios, they were instead greeted by empty air. “Jal’tai?” he called out, throwing a perplexed gaze about. It landed on the wall bearing the lens and keypad for the transport tile just in time for him to see a green flash there.

Puzzled, Solonn stared at the space where Jal’tai had just been, then set about wondering what the cause for Jal’tai’s abrupt and unexplained departure could have possibly been, taking a drink of the berry smoothie every few moments as he did so. Before he could come up with any real explanations, however, the latios came back as suddenly and unexpectedly as he had left.

“Sorry to have just popped out and back without warning,” Jal’tai said, having noticed the somewhat bewildered look on the face of the human before him at once. “I’d meant to pick this up on the way here, but it slipped my mind.”

Before Solonn could ask what it was that the latios had just procured, the thing in question was placed under his nose for him to see. It was a paperback book, one whose title instantly caught Solonn’s attention and bemused him slightly; he took it at once to perhaps confirm the impression he’d immediately gotten from it and try to make sense of it.

Parent’s Choice: The Very Best Names for Your Baby?” Solonn read the title of the book aloud, an odd expression overtaking his face.

The latios gave a confirming nod. “You’re going to be selecting a name from this book to use as your own from now on.”

“Is that really necessary?” Solonn asked. “What’s wrong with the name I already have?”

“Nothing, of course,” Jal’tai answered. “However, it’s still a good idea for you to take on a human name. It will help to reinforce your human identity.”

Solonn’s brow furrowed skeptically as he set what remained of his smoothie on the table beside him and opened the book, rifling through its pages without really pausing to look at its contents. “I still don’t quite see the need for it… I don’t think anyone outside my—” He nearly said “my own species”, but he caught himself short as he remembered that such a statement was technically no longer true. Managing with an effort not to get too ensnared by that matter, “No one other than snorunt and glalie would be likely to recognize it as something other than a human name,” he said instead. “And what are the odds of one of them showing up here?”

“Considerable enough,” Jal’tai replied seriously. “Your position here will present the possibility of encounters with any number of species. It’s best to be prepared for anything. And furthermore, any effort that can be made toward the integrity of your new identity is a step worth taking. Your new occupation and your new life will be much easier to conduct if those with whom you work, especially outside the city, are given as few reasons to ask questions as possible. A name that strikes humans as unusual is one that might lead them to inquire about its origins—about your origins, Solonn. Do you wish to be faced with those kinds of questions?”

“No,” Solonn answered promptly. “No, I wouldn’t.” Considering that he still had a fair deal of work to do in getting used to the idea of being human, he suspected that he might be less than able to construct a history for himself as though he had been human all his life and therefore hoped to never be put in a position of having to do so.

He opened the book again, this time bothering to read through it from its beginning. The names were arranged alphabetically, and as he perused one name after another, none of them seemed to be striking his interest. Minutes wore on, and then hours, the monotony of it gradually slowing his pace.

Finally, Solonn grew so weary of the whole matter that not even midway through the “M”-names, he decided to simply settle on the next one that he came across that he found at all acceptable and announced his selection to Jal’tai the moment it was made.

“Michael,” he said, meeting Jal’tai’s gaze steadily enough, his voice succeeding in projecting more confidence and like of his final choice than was truly present. “I’ll take that one.”

Jal’tai gave him an inquisitive look, cocking his head slightly. “Are you sure?” he asked brightly.

Solonn only just managed to stifle a wince. Those damned words… “Absolutely,” he replied at once, wanting to get the matter sealed and behind him as soon as he could.

The latios smiled, nodding approvingly. “A fine choice, I say. Common enough, yet also quite stately, in my opinion.” Solonn rolled his eyes in mild embarrassment at Jal’tai’s choice of words. “Well, then. For our next matter of business, it would perhaps be a good idea to choose at least one middle name for yourself.”

Solonn sighed. From his time spent with Morgan and her pokémon, he had learned (mostly from Sei) that unlike his own kind, many peoples didn’t find it necessary to give their children more than a single personal name and some sort of a family name, if even that much. Sei had only two names, while Oth had just one. Morgan, however, had a middle name just as he did, one that he had only heard once and had managed to forget.

Solonn had never seen any real point in having a middle name and still didn’t. As a child, he’d believed that the middle name existed solely as something that parents could use to severely embarrass their child whenever they were particularly displeased with them; even now, he couldn’t help but suspect as much. He would have rather liked to be able to do away with having one, but Jal’tai wasn’t really offering such as an option—although he hadn’t explicitly said no to such, either…

Figuring that it was at least worth a try, “Do I actually have to have a middle name, exactly?” Solonn asked tentatively. “I mean, do humans have to have one?”

Another of those inquisitive looks crossed Jal’tai’s face (Solonn dearly hoped that Jal’tai wasn’t about to break out those words again). “Well, no,” the latios answered. “Plenty of human cultures don’t use them, as a matter of fact. You don’t have to yourself; I just thought I’d offer it as an option.”

“Thanks, but no thanks,” Solonn said promptly. “I’d prefer to do without.”

“Very well,” Jal’tai said, at which relief spread through Solonn.

All that was left now was to take on a human surname—a name to represent a human family that he didn’t have. The notion of it bothered Solonn, and he couldn’t quite pretend that it didn’t. It wasn’t that he wasn’t convinced of the necessity of such deceptions in what was becoming his position—it was just a matter about which he didn’t feel very comfortable lying. In his eyes, it essentially amounted to denying his family, his mother…

Denying doesn’t have to mean forgetting, something inside him seemed to say then, and that notion immediately struck him as true. The need to take on a new name was required for where he was going, but he could still keep something of where he had been: his memories. Though he didn’t really like having to do this and imagined that he never entirely would, he nonetheless understood and accepted it, recognizing this as just part of the change of what he was, but not of whom he was.

With that settled, he listened as Jal’tai began to suggest various human surnames to him, and stopped the latios when he heard one that he thought sounded decent enough. Jal’tai voiced his approval, commenting on how nicely he thought the two names sounded together. Solonn didn’t exactly share Jal’tai’s level of enthusiasm where that was concerned, but he did think that it wasn’t half bad. And so it was that on that day, Solonn Zgil-Al became Michael Layne.

“Whew,” Jal’tai said, casting an eye toward the clock. “Well, that certainly took a fair amount of time. I’d expected it would, though.”

“Yeah, well…” Solonn said, not really knowing how else to respond. Of course it should take a while for someone to choose a name for themselves, he reckoned—who would want a name they disliked or regretted following them around wherever they went? Thoughts of that matter made something occur to him, something that interested him enough to provoke him to ask about it at once. “So, did you have a hard time choosing your human name?”

So fleetingly that it could have easily been imagined, a peculiar, inscrutable look appeared on Jal’tai’s face. “Actually, not really,” he answered with only the slightest delay. “I came by the decision quite readily.”

“Hm.” Not really sure of what he thought of that, if anything, Solonn dismissed the matter.

“Well, what matters is that we’ve gotten this taken care of now,” Jal’tai said pleasantly. “Now you’ve got a human name to match your human appearance—a name under which I can enroll you for your further education at Convergence Academy,” he added.

The look Solonn gave him in response was somewhere between puzzlement and amusement. “You’re going to do what?” he asked with a small laugh.

“You’ll be going to school, Solonn. A place for education, fashioned very much like the sort that humans use. Are you at all familiar with such places?”

“In a way, I suppose,” Solonn answered. “I mean, I’ve never been to one, no, but I know what you’re talking about. Morgan used to tell me about some of the things she did at her school.” An odd little smile curved across his face. “She described it as… well, kind of boring sometimes…”

Jal’tai laughed. “A common perception of school,” he said. “I do hope you’ll find your experience at the academy interesting and engaging, though, at least during most of your time there. I’ve enlisted the services of a very capable instructor, one who’ll impart upon you the knowledge and skills you’ll need when you go into office. Systan Exeter, your future educator, knows you have a lot to learn, and is sure to keep you very busy—I don’t mean this to intimidate you, of course,” he added with a sort of self-conscious little chuckle.

Solonn gave a dismissive shake of his head, unsurprised by the notion of having a lot of work lying before him. He’d known from the outset that this was an undertaking that would require a lot from him and that therefore he could expect to have a significant amount to learn. He was a little surprised at first to learn that much of his training would not be given by Jal’tai himself but then supposed that he shouldn’t be; Jal’tai still had a city to run, after all. He couldn’t be expected to tend to all of his successor’s needs. Solonn only hoped that this “Exeter” would be likeable enough and hopefully not too strict.

“Now, I won’t be shipping you off to school just yet,” Jal’tai told him then. “You’ve been through a great deal these past few days, and I think you’re entitled to have some time to rest and recuperate before taking on something so major.”

The latios cast a look at the now-empty glass that sat on the table beside Solonn. “Would you like for me to make you another smoothie before I go?”

“Hmm? No, that’s okay,” Solonn answered. “Thanks anyway, though.”

Jal’tai nodded in acknowledgment of the human’s reply, but took the glass in his talon anyway. “It ought to at least be washed,” he said, indicating the pale purple film that was beginning to dry on the inner surface of the glass, then took the glass into the kitchen. Very shortly thereafter, the sound of the blender was heard again, puzzling Solonn. It seemed that his polite refusal had slipped from Jal’tai’s mind.

Sure enough, there was a fresh glass of the purple berry beverage in the latios’s talon when he came back into the den. He set it down beside Solonn with a funny sort of apologetic smile. “Sorry—I just couldn’t resist,” Jal’tai said. “I could tell you really liked the last one, so…” He shrugged.

“Uh… thanks,” Solonn replied politely, albeit a bit awkwardly.

“Anyway,” Jal’tai began, stretching his arms out and flexing his neck in the manner of someone ready to hit the trail, “I’ll be bringing you to the academy on, oh, the Monday after next, I think. I’ll let you have a tour of the facilities and meet Exeter, and you can probably start your classes the next day.

“Now, I won’t lie to you—the workload will seem a bit heavy at times during the course of your education. But I truly do feel that you’ll be able to handle it. And I do have a lot of faith in Exeter—you will be under the tutelage of one of the greatest and most important minds in all of Convergence, someone who’ll make sure that you stay on course and are fully prepared for the responsibilities that lie in your future. You have absolutely nothing to worry about—you’re going to be in excellent hands… well, in a manner of speaking, that is,” he amended, then laughed about it for some reason that Solonn couldn’t guess.

“In the meantime, though, I just want you to relax,” Jal’tai told Solonn warmly and earnestly. “Yes, you’ve got quite a road ahead of you, but it’s nothing to fear, nothing to be stressed about. I think you’ll find that your life will become richer and better as you begin to truly apply yourself to your purpose. Coming into your role is something to look forward to, my boy. Keep that in mind and be at ease in it in your days to come.

“Of course, Neleng can help you keep your nerves about you—she’ll be here in just over an hour. And again, she can come to visit any evening you wish.

“Until we meet again, take care.” With that, Jal’tai went to the transport tile and exited the suite, leaving Solonn alone with a berry smoothie and plenty on his mind.

* * *

The final Sunday night preceding Solonn’s first visit to the academy arrived, and he went to bed at its close thinking exclusively of what would await him the next day. What he most certainly did not expect to be awaiting him the next morning was a latios holding a tray of hot, buttered pancakes, hovering almost directly over him.

“Rise and shine!” Jal’tai greeted him cheerfully—and loudly.

Jal’tai’s greeting startled Solonn awake at once and startled him badly. “Bwaaa!” Solonn exclaimed, flailing momentarily in the confusion of his shattered sleep. He very nearly knocked the pancakes right out of Jal’tai’s talons; doing an admirable job at concealing most of his amusement, the latios backed up and watched patiently as Solonn untangled himself from his sheets.

Sweeping a handful of matted black hair out of his face and trying to will his hammering heart to calm down, Solonn shot a bewildered, incredulous look at Jal’tai. “Good gods… why in the world did you think that was a good idea?”

Jal’tai shrugged. “I figured that if you were anything like me, an ordinary alarm clock wouldn’t do the trick, so…” He held out the tray in front of Solonn with a lopsided, hopeful smile.

Still a bit frazzled by the unexpected wake-up call, Solonn took the tray from Jal’tai without a word and started in on the pancakes. They were still quite warm, quite fresh; he vaguely wondered how Jal’tai had managed to slip in and cook breakfast without the smell awakening him. When he had nearly finished his breakfast, he asked, “What time is it?”

“It’s 5:00 a.m.,” Jal’tai replied.

“…Oh, you have got to be joking,” Solonn half-groaned, suddenly feeling quite drowsy again at the mention of the hour. The clock had read around 10:00, 9:00 at the earliest, when he’d awoke on the past several mornings. “I don’t think I got even seven hours of sleep last night…”

“Well, I did advise you to get to bed early this time, you know,” Jal’tai pointed out.

“Which I did,” Solonn informed him. “A whole hour and a half earlier, in fact. I knew I’d be getting up early, but not this early… I’ll bet the sun isn’t even out yet, is it?”

“It’s about to be,” Jal’tai said. “Anyway, you will need to get used to early mornings. You’ll need plenty of time each day for the lessons you are to learn and the work you’ll be given, and so the school day can’t start late. You should be glad you’re going to be given so many hours each day with which to learn. You’ll be able to get through your courses much more quickly than you would if you were taught at a more leisurely pace.”

“Lucky me,” Solonn muttered, still somewhat irritable from having been jolted awake. He stirred the remaining maple syrup on his plate about with his fork for a brief while, tracing little patterns in it, not quite energized enough to think of anything better or more involving to do. “So how long until we leave?” he eventually asked.

“In about three hours,” Jal’tai answered.

“…What? You woke me up before the sun, and we’re not even leaving for another three hours?”

Despite Solonn’s agitation, Jal’tai kept a remarkably even temperament. “This is the time at which you’ll be waking nearly every day from now on,” he told Solonn. “When you begin attending classes tomorrow, you’ll be leaving an hour earlier than we’ll leave today. I felt it was a good idea for you to start getting used to being up and around at this hour.

“Now, the idea of waking up hours before you have to leave might seem silly to you, but it’s important to have ample time to get yourself ready for where you’re going. You should be able to shower, get dressed, have a nice breakfast, and even have a little time to just sit back and relax before you leave each day. Rushing to an appointment is never a good idea; it can have very sloppy results. Why, you wouldn’t want to arrive there only to find you’d forgotten your trousers, now would you?”

A crooked smile crept across Jal’tai’s face, and he burst into uncontrollable laughter. Solonn only stared bemusedly at him for a moment, failing (or perhaps refusing) to see the humor in the little hypothetical situation that the latios had just illustrated. Slightly disturbed, he pushed his tray to the foot of the bed, then climbed off and left the room to go take a shower, leaving Jal’tai still laughing at his own joke.

Solonn emerged from the shower minutes later, trying in vain to calm the static in his newly dried hair (Thank the gods for hairspray, he thought to himself, eager to finish taming his hair soon) as he stepped out of the bathroom. There was Jal’tai in the den, perched oddly in the armchair and listening to his favorite jazz station with Solonn in his line of sight—he presently seemed not to be paying the human any mind, but still Solonn was feeling quite grateful at that moment for his bathrobe.

A sudden, brief fanfare sounded seemingly out of nowhere, clashing with the music that was coming from the radio. In a swift series of motions, Jal’tai silenced the radio and snatched something from the table nearby: a tiny, silver cell phone, which he answered just as it rang again. “Hello? …Ah, good morning, Ms. Kal!” he greeted the person on the other end of the line. Solonn stopped on his way to the closet, wondering about the occasion for the call and who this “Ms. Kal” might be.

“Is that right… So, the idea just struck you out of the blue, did it?” Jal’tai asked of Ms. Kal. There was a pause as she responded, and then the latios gave a short laugh. “I’m sure they’ll do just fine, and I know he’s going to appreciate this. This was a very nice thing to decide to do, you know, especially on such short notice.” There was another pause. “Well, we’ll be seeing you shortly. Goodbye.”

The latios ended the conversation and put down the phone. His eyes then shifted directly to Solonn, and he raised a questioning eyebrow. Solonn could tell from the way that Jal’tai was looking at him that the latios had probably not just noticed him then, and the notion that he was known to have been eavesdropping was one that swiftly made him uneasy. Embarrassed, he hastened to get out of Jal’tai’s sight.

Once dressed, he walked into the den to get Jal’tai’s opinion of the outfit; the latios noticed him with a slight delay and then looked him over for perhaps a second and a half at most.

“You forgot your tie,” he then informed Solonn.

Solonn made a face at Jal’tai. Ties were easily his least favorite aspect of human-style attire; he found them utterly ridiculous-looking.

“Come on, now. It’s important to make a good first impression whenever introducing yourself somewhere new—hence the importance of dressing like a gentleman. My videos illustrated that point; do you not remember?” Jal’tai reminded him.

“Right, right…” Solonn said blandly, departing the latios’s company to finish getting himself ready to leave.

* * *

Solonn walked along a fairly new-looking, barely-worn cobblestone path that wound through the sprawling grounds in front of Convergence Academy. He was accompanied by Jal’tai, who was presently wearing his human disguise. Every so often, a red or yellow leaf from one of the trees that grew along the sides of the path fluttered down and landed on Solonn; he promptly brushed off the ones that he noticed, with Jal’tai removing the ones that he didn’t notice.

As they got closer to the academy itself, Solonn noticed marble panels stretching across the face of the building at each of its floors. They depicted both humans and pokémon who were historically associated with wisdom, invention, and the arts, carved in relief. On the roof, several flags waved in the wind, lined up in a neat row and representing many different regions, with one of them representing the International Pokémon League. In the very center of them all, on a pole longer than those on which the other flags waved, there was a flag representing Convergence itself, bearing the unown character “C” in black over a background of silver and gold colors that intertwined into a spiraling shape.

At last, they arrived at the entrance, on either side of which a large marble statue stood. One of them depicted an elderly human man with flowing robes and a long, curly beard, while the other was carved in the form of a wingless, five-horned dragon pokémon. The two figures each had an arm outstretched toward the other.

“Aphilicus, a great human philosopher, and Meron, an emyril known to a number of pokémon cultures as the Father of Wisdom,” Jal’tai identified the two statues after noticing the intrigued expression with which Solonn was regarding them. “Two of the greatest minds in history and therefore fitting icons to represent one of the most important educational facilities in the world.

“Now,” he then said in a somewhat lowered voice, drawing the rest of Solonn’s attention from the statues with a tap on the shoulder, “I’ll remind you that you should make a conscious effort to speak human language most of the time. Almost exclusively, in fact. It seems much more fitting, much more natural for a human to speak in the fashion of their kind as a habit, Speech or no Speech; do you understand?”

“Right,” Solonn said, nodding.

Looking pleased with Solonn’s answer, Jal’tai then motioned for him to enter the school alongside him. The two passed through the doors and into a vast foyer. A nearly full trophy case stood against the far wall adjacent to the doors, while the other walls were covered in plaques with the names and achievements of star pupils engraved in gold and banners that sported mottos like “Knowledge Is Power!”. There was a round symbol emblazoned in the center of the foyer on the linoleum floor, bearing the intertwining spiral of gold and silver from the Convergence flag.

Footsteps sounded from the hall to the right, heavy-sounding with a faint clicking that suggested claws on the hard floor. Turning toward the sound, Solonn saw a nidoqueen making an approach. She soon reached Solonn and Jal’tai and stopped before them, smiling eagerly.

“Ah, hello, Ms. Kal,” Jal’tai greeted in a friendly tone.

“Hello to you too, sir!” the nidoqueen returned enthusiastically. Her gaze shifted to the unfamiliar human at Jal’tai’s side. “And this must be Mr. Layne, right?”

“Correct,” Jal’tai said.

“Hello, Mr. Layne. It’s so nice to meet you,” Ms. Kal said merrily.

“Nice to meet you, too,” Solonn responded. Remembering some of the etiquette lessons from Jal’tai’s instructional videos, he extended his hand to the nidoqueen. He knew that this custom was mostly just practiced by humans, but he also knew that it was fairly widely expected for humans to automatically do this as a habit when greeting someone new regardless of the species of the one to whom they were offering the gesture. Ms. Kal seemed indeed to have expected for him to do this; she took his hand readily in one of her own and shook it with a strong grip.

“So have they got it all set, then?” Jal’tai asked of the nidoqueen.

“Oh yes,” Ms. Kal said, beaming. “They’re all ready to go.”

Jal’tai nodded and smiled. He turned to Solonn and said, “Ms. Kal is in charge of educating some of the academy’s younger students. She will not be teaching you. However… she and her class would certainly like to meet you. Come, let’s go and say hello to the children. Lead the way, madam!”

Eagerly, Ms. Kal turned back toward the hall from whence she’d come and set off. Jal’tai and Solonn followed her, the latter being especially careful to not follow too closely behind in order to avoid stepping on the nidoqueen’s tail. They soon reached a door with a placard that read “GRADE 1 (P) – MS. KAL”… but to Solonn’s surprise, they were led right past it. Though perplexed as to why the nidoqueen might have passed by her own classroom, Solonn guessed that she probably knew what she was doing, and so he kept silent.

Ms. Kal rounded a corner and continued onward, leading Jal’tai and Solonn behind her until she arrived at the entrance to a gymnasium. Seeming almost giddy with an unexplained excitement, she opened the doors…

Welcome, Mr. Layne!” shouted a chorus of voices in less-than-perfect unison. The source of the greeting was a small crowd of children representing numerous species—all pokémon, Solonn noted—perched upon rows of bleachers. The children in front held signs that mirrored the spoken welcome—or were supposed to, anyway. The “l” and the first “e” in “Welcome” were in the reverse order; the “y” in “Layne” was upside-down; and the student holding the “M” in “Mr.” forgot to turn up his sign until after all the other students had put theirs down.

Ms. Kal’s eyes shifted swiftly toward Solonn and Jal’tai, holding an alarmed and very apologetic look. “Mr. Layne is very pleased by your excellent welcome,” she said merrily albeit rather hurriedly to the children. She cast a quick look at Solonn, a hopeful yet urgent look that seemed to say, “Right? Right?” Solonn took the cue and nodded, smiling warmly and managing not to look as vicariously embarrassed as he felt.

An aipom in the third row of the bleachers lifted a hand to gain the teacher’s attention—the hand on her tail, specifically.

“Yes, Ms. Chibbles?” Ms. Kal acknowledged her.

“Is he gonna be our new teacher? Did you get fired?” asked Chibbles.

Ms. Kal made an incredibly flustered face, her cheeks turning a shade befitting a bruised oran berry. “No, no, of course not, Ms. Chibbles,” she said hastily. “Mr. Layne is going to be a new student here.”

Wondering gazes and whispers flittered about among the students. “A grown-up’s coming to our class? He must not be very smart…” a totodile in the back row said very loudly without raising his hand.

Ms. Kal winced and blushed even further, giving Solonn and Jal’tai another apologetic look. “Please don’t speak out of turn, Mr. Cuomo,” she reprimanded the totodile, her tone falling quite short of assertive. “And no, Mr. Layne will be taught by Systan Exeter.”

The whispering among the students abruptly stopped. Ms. Kal smiled in relief, seeming to believe that she’d recaptured the respect and orderliness of the students, but it appeared to Solonn that it was actually the mention of Exeter’s name that had brought the hush over the crowd. He wondered just what sort of a person Exeter could be for the mere mention of their name to command silence.

“Well, then,” Jal’tai spoke up suddenly, clapping a hand onto Solonn’s shoulder and startling him so badly that the human nearly jumped at the voice and contact, “I’m certain that Mr. Layne enjoyed your surprise greeting and had a lovely time meeting you all.” Again, Solonn recognized the cue and nodded very consciously. “Have a nice day students! You too, Ms. Kal!” Jal’tai said.

“Bye!” she responded cheerfully, waving heartily. As Solonn departed the gymnasium with Jal’tai, he turned briefly and noticed Cuomo standing up in the bleachers and mocking the nidoqueen’s voice and the way that she waggled her rear end when she waved. Ms. Kal was utterly oblivious to the totodile’s actions.

“Wasn’t that a lovely little thing that she decided to do there?” Jal’tai remarked. “Just a spur-of-the-moment, random act of kindness; she said the idea just hit her last Friday, and she simply had to try and pull it off for you. She’s a good person, that Ms. Kal. She’s only recently begun teaching here, but I think that given time, she’ll really come into her own here. The children certainly do seem to like her, that’s for certain.”

They seemed to like her, all right—in that she unintentionally amused them. Solonn’s thoughts didn’t linger long upon the nidoqueen and her class, however, instead turning to the matter of the one who would be his own educator. “What do you know about Exeter?” he asked.

“That’s Systan Exeter to you,” Jal’tai corrected him, but not harshly. “You should keep due etiquette in mind for the one who’ll be preparing you for the important tasks that lie ahead of you in life. Anyway, I know quite a lot about Exeter, actually,” the latios said, the white mustache of his human guise turning up in a smile. “Exeter is an old friend of mine and one of the primary founders of the Convergence Project. They provided a great deal of research into human industry and technology as well as a number of other key fields, research that was vital to the conception and creation of this city and that remains invaluable to Convergence and its citizens to this day. Exeter’s is a brilliant mind, and the unique abilities and properties of their kind give them unparalleled access to some very rich resources and broad varieties of information.”

Learning of Exeter’s intelligence and importance had the effect of stoking unease in Solonn regarding his new teacher. If Exeter was really as smart as Jal’tai claimed them to be, surely their classes would be at a particularly challenging level. “Just how difficult are Systan Exeter’s classes going to be?” he asked.

“I’ll be perfectly honest with you, Solonn: what you are about to undertake is a very intensive and demanding education. Exeter usually only tutors psychic students, particularly those of especially sophisticated mental development. It took very little convincing to get them to agree to tutor you exclusively for as long as is necessary, though. Knowing your reason for being here, they seemed glad enough to put aside their classes for a while in order to take you on; they cherish the welfare and future of this city as much as I do.

“Exeter’s are tough courses, yes, the most rigorous ones provided by this school. But Exeter themself is not harsh at all—they’re one of the most patient and pleasant people you will ever meet. They want you to learn all that you need to know and are willing to invest as much time and effort in your education as they must. All that they will ask is that you are willing to invest the same in yourself. Will you give them—and yourself—that much?”

Solonn nodded silently. He was still somewhat nervous, but no longer about his teacher so much as about the magnitude of his undertaking, which seemed to be looming larger as he prepared to confront it directly. “You know… I still can’t completely believe I’m doing this,” he said quietly. “I still can’t quite picture myself in charge of an entire city…”

“You needn’t try so hard to grasp these things all at once,” Jal’tai said warmly. “Everything you’re meant to be will come about in time.”

Solonn turned to look at Jal’tai, to regard the kindly, presently human face that smiled comfortingly back at him. He almost spoke, only to realize just as quickly that he didn’t really have anything to say. He gave a smile that was less than earnest, feeling that Jal’tai’s smile somehow demanded reciprocation, and then turned away, swallowing against a sudden lump in his throat.

The two walked through the halls of the academy in silence broken only when a stream of human kids emerged from a classroom they passed, the students chatting animatedly as they diverged and made for their next classes. Noise filled the air as a similar event took place in several locations throughout the building near-simultaneously. Several of the passing students shot looks at Jal’tai, clearly recognizing him—or recognizing Mayor Whitley, rather. Most of them kept going, continuing to look back at him over their shoulders but nonetheless intent on getting to their classes in time. A small handful of them did not, however, and they stopped before him and Solonn.

“Is it really you?” one of them, a short blond boy, asked incredulously.

“Well, I’ve always been me, as far back as I remember,” Jal’tai responded, then laughed. Solonn nearly laughed as well, but not at the joke itself so much as the fact that Jal’tai was being recognized for not being himself; the students would never know who the “me” to whom Jal’tai referred actually was.

The blond boy’s eyes widened, and he exchanged significant looks with the other students. “What are you doing here?” he then asked, apparently the unofficial spokesman of the group.

“Well, young man, Mr. Layne here and I have a very important appointment with the staff to get to. I’m afraid we really must be moving along, as a matter of fact… Good day to you all, students!” he said, bidding them farewell as he began to lead Solonn away.

“Bye!” the blond boy called after Jal’tai. A couple of the other students echoed the farewell. Solonn looked over his shoulder and saw a few of them waving at him and Jal’tai, and he waved back.

As the halls began to empty once more, Jal’tai came to a stop at the doors of an elevator, and Solonn followed suit.

Systan Exeter’s class is on the top floor,” Jal’tai informed him. “Many of their old psychic students would simply teleport up there, but we’ll just have to make do with the elevator.” The doors opened after the press of a button and the passage of a few moments, and the two stepped inside. “Just be glad you’re not being made to take the stairs,” Jal’tai said with a small laugh.

They arrived at the sixth floor, and Solonn found his nervousness peaking as they approached Exeter’s classroom. He tried to distract himself with his surroundings, his eyes darting over the framed photographs that lined the walls. They depicted various noteworthy people, from past and present educators at the academy to important figures in Convergence to people who had worldwide fame or accolade. His mind failed to truly take in the sight of the photographs, however, and instead directed his eyes forward and locked them there upon the swiftly approaching door that stood between him and the place where he would apparently soon undergo the most stringent training that he had ever known.

“SYSTAN EXETER – INTENSIVE EDUCATION,” read the placard on the door. Jal’tai gave Solonn one last reassuring smile (which only slightly succeeded in its aim) and then pressed a button beside the doorknob. A faint tone sounded within the classroom.

“Come in,” a voice called from behind the door a moment later. The quality of the voice surprised Solonn a bit; it bore striking similarity to the soft chime of the doorbell that Jal’tai had just pressed.

Taking the cue, Jal’tai opened the door and stepped inside. He stood just within the room for a moment, beckoning Solonn into the classroom ahead of him. With no small measure of apprehension, Solonn did as he was directed, passing through the door gingerly. Once he was completely inside the classroom, he saw Jal’tai close the door behind him; involuntarily, Solonn imagined it sealing itself shut and melting into the wall, trapping him inside.

Shaking such thoughts from his mind with only slight success, Solonn swept his gaze over the classroom. It was much smaller than he had expected, and there was nothing at all on the pale blue walls. The classroom was almost entirely bare, in fact; it contained only a single desk and chair near the center, a longer desk up near the front on which there sat a number of devices that Solonn couldn’t identify, and a vast screen mounted on the wall above that desk.

There, hovering before that screen, was Systan Exeter themself. Solonn hadn’t really had any idea of quite what to expect his new teacher would actually be, but he was certain that nothing even remotely like the porygon2 whom he now beheld would have ever crossed his mind.

It was then that Exeter glided effortlessly toward Solonn, who went stock still as they approached him. “Welcome, Mr. Layne,” they said in their chiming voice as they stopped before him. They appeared to have nothing at all in the way of a mouth, and no other part of them moved when they spoke, either. Solonn found himself rather reminded of Oth, who had not spoken with a mouth, either. Unlike Oth, however, Exeter’s audible speech was comprehensible to him; they didn’t need to resort to telepathy in order for him to understand them.

Solonn knew that he couldn’t shake hands with Exeter since they didn’t have any. At a loss for any other way to greet the teacher, “…Hi,” he said somewhat awkwardly.

The porygon2 cocked their head slightly at Solonn, staring appraisingly at him through large, bright eyes. Finally, they lowered their head respectfully; when they looked up once more, there was something playing about their eyes that suggested a smile, only without the involvement of a mouth. “I’m most glad to meet you, Mr. Layne, and I’m even more pleased to be able to teach you.”

“…Thanks,” Solonn said, still gathering his wits.

Exeter made an odd, jingling sound that Solonn guessed to be laughter. They then turned their attention toward Jal’tai. “You’re looking well today, Mr. Jal’tai,” they said.

“Why, thank you. You’re looking quite well, yourself,” Jal’tai returned.

It was then that Solonn realized something very significant in what the porygon2 had said—they had referred to Jal’tai by his true name, his lati name, not the human name that Jal’tai normally used in public. Solonn turned toward Jal’tai and saw that the latios had done away with his human mirage and was now hovering there in his true form. He stared speechlessly at the latios in surprise—Jal’tai revealed himself as he truly was to virtually no one, humans and pokémon alike, such was his strict maintenance of his human disguise and identity.

Jal’tai noticed the way that Solonn was staring at him. “No need to worry, Michael,” he assured him, interpreting that look correctly. “As I said, Systan Exeter and I go back quite a long way. They know me for whom and what I truly am; they’re one of the very few here who do.”

Solonn’s eyes shifted between Jal’tai and Exeter, and he found himself feeling strangely singled-out all of a sudden. Those two knew each other by name, as he knew them. The only identity that was not known by everyone present was his own. Jal’tai had only referred to him by his human name in the porygon2’s presence. Exeter didn’t know the true identity of their new student, and Solonn suspected that they likely never would.

“Say… why don’t you give him a little preview of what you have to offer him?” Jal’tai suggested then.

The porygon2 gave another of their mouthless smiles. “Certainly!” they said brightly. They glided over to their desk and set themself down on a flat, gray, circular pad surrounded almost completely by the devices arranged there. Their eyes closed, and then, much to Solonn’s surprise, they sparkled, became transparent, and then disappeared completely.

“What? …Where did they go?” Solonn hissed at Jal’tai.

The screen over the desk suddenly came awake, showing an image of Exeter in front of a flowing, liquid-looking, emerald green background. “I’m right here!” the porygon2 said cheerfully, their melodious voice magnified greatly.

Solonn could only stare at the screen that somehow contained the teacher. He might have asked Exeter how they had done such a thing, but he found his brain and his mouth refusing to cooperate.

Exeter gave another of their peculiar little laughs at Solonn’s plain bewilderment. “Give me a subject,” they then said.

Solonn supposed that the teacher was addressing him and tried to think of something, but he was still a bit discombobulated; no suggestions seemed to want to come to him.

“How about… dragons?” Jal’tai suggested once it seemed clear to him that Solonn was drawing a blank.

Apparently Jal’tai’s suggestion of a subject was something that Exeter found particularly amusing; their musical laughter tinkled on for several seconds before subsiding. Once they managed to fall silent once more, the porygon2 nodded in acknowledgment. Exeter’s form then darkened to the green shade that surrounded them, their outline fading until the porygon2 blended into the background completely and vanished.

A second later, the flowing green field was replaced by an image of a mountain range. Sweeping classical music began to play as a salamence suddenly surged upward from behind the mountains and began soaring over their peaks. The salamence rushed across the screen, filling its view completely; when it cleared, a desert scene was revealed, through which a pack of flygon sped along, their wings buzzing.

A few more cinematic scenes depicting different varieties of dragon pokémon in their natural environments played, then gave way to a screen on which small, three-dimensional representatives of numerous dragon species perched along the sides. Exeter returned to this screen at its center; some of the tiny dragons merely turned their heads toward the porygon2, while others among them hissed or growled at Exeter in disdain.

“Please select a species for further discussion,” the porygon2 prompted.

“Let’s have a look at the dragonite,” Jal’tai suggested.

Exeter acknowledged this and then turned toward the tiny dragonite at the upper right corner of the screen. The teacher, along with all of the other dragons, vanished as the dragonite increased in size until they took up most of the screen. They came to stand at the center, where they remained as Exeter began to describe various qualities of that species from offscreen. As the porygon2 continued narrating, the camera focused on the dragonite from several angles, and then the view of the model of the dragon was replaced by a series of video clips of their species in action.

Exeter was also asked to provide brief packages of information on the salamence and drathlon species before Jal’tai decided that that was enough for the day. The porygon2 terminated the dragon program and then rematerialized within the classroom as the screen went blank once more.

“That was only a small example of the sort of lessons Systan Exeter has in store for you,” Jal’tai told Solonn then. “Now, this is not the only method that they will employ; they will provide a variety of different types of lessons.

“Also, I’m afraid that dragons will not be a focal point of your education. I just really happen to like that particular program,” he admitted with a chuckle. “Figured you might like it, too.”

Solonn did think that it was fairly interesting, even if he wasn’t overly interested in dragons. It seemed that learning under Systan Exeter might not be quite so unpleasant as he had anticipated. At the very least, it looked as though it wouldn’t be as boring as he had thought it might be. Given the porygon2’s pleasant, even cheerful demeanor and the fact that he found what he’d seen of their teaching methods to be pretty interesting, he now imagined that the experience ahead of him might actually even be kind of enjoyable.

“Well, I suppose we’ll be taking our leave now,” Jal’tai said. “I’ll let Michael here have a look around the academy for a while longer, and then it’s off to enjoy a nice, relaxing evening.”

Exeter turned toward Solonn and smiled once again. “I hope you’ll enjoy your time here, Mr. Layne,” they said. “Farewell, and I’ll see you tomorrow!”

“Goodbye,” Solonn said, and then he followed Jal’tai out the door.

* * *

(CONTINUED)

Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 08:32 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Old March 28th, 2009, 01:47 PM
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Solonn had never quite managed to really guess what he could expect from his education with any certainty. As it turned out, neither what he’d learned of school from Morgan nor the demonstrations that he was given when he first visited the academy were altogether representative of the experience that he entered when he began attending Systan Exeter’s classes.

The main difference that he came to recognize between his own experience at school and what he’d known of others’ experiences was the schedule that was demanded of him. A day’s work at school for him was nearly twice as long as those that Morgan had to endure, and unlike her, he had to attend classes seven days a week. He learned also that most of the students were offered vacations during the late winter and the spring, as well as a long one spanning nearly three months over the summer, but he would not be given such long breaks. He would only be given the option of taking up to four days off each month; beyond that, he would only be excused by illness.

Solonn had learned of his demanding new schedule on the very first day that he began attending classes at the academy, and he had initially been less than pleased about it. He knew that he was being prepared for a very major responsibility, and it did make sense to him that such an undertaking would require a lot of time and effort spent to adequately prepare him. Yet still, he couldn’t help but find the sheer volume of time that he was to devote to his education rather daunting—he was concerned that his mind might turn to mush from being made to do almost nothing but study and work.

However, there were factors that, in time, combined to make the new daily routine more tolerable. Systan Exeter was someone who clearly enjoyed their job, and as such, they seemed infinitely patient and determined in their endeavor to see to it that their student would come to enjoy the classes at least somewhat as much as they did. Solonn did have to admit that their teaching methods weren’t exactly boring; Exeter’s lessons were delivered in a number of engaging and even occasionally entertaining manners, sometimes using their ability to manifest themself through interactive educational programs, other times involving Solonn in more practical forms of learning. While the time spent in class was undeniably long, the variety in the lessons, as well as the enthusiasm, patience, and understanding of the teacher, made the hours less monotonous for him than they could have been.

Another thing that helped make the long sessions at school more endurable—and helped greatly—was the hour or so each evening spent in the presence of Neleng and her therapeutic mindsongs. Following an appointment with her, the mental exhaustion that came from being forced to adjust to longer, busier hours was greatly alleviated, leaving Solonn in a revitalized and much clearer state of mind, allowing him to enjoy the rest of the evening in peace and calm and to awaken the next morning far more ready to face the day’s work than he likely would have been otherwise. Solonn suspected that his new schedule might devour his sanity if it weren’t for the psychic oasis that Neleng provided for him every evening, and so he was quite grateful for her aid. He didn’t want to go a single day without her services, and she was all too happy to oblige.

To Solonn’s surprise, it was not Exeter alone who educated him; there were lessons of certain natures that the porygon2 could not teach, typically requiring a type of hands-on teaching that they simply couldn’t provide, wherein other tutors were brought in to momentarily take the helm. On rare occasions, usually during Solonn’s short breaks from schoolwork, Jal’tai himself would instruct him. The latios liked to take Solonn on “field trips” throughout Convergence in order to get his successor as acquainted with the city as possible and always had stories and anecdotes to tell about the sites visited, having witnessed the birth of many of these places firsthand.

Solonn’s education consisted of training in a wide variety of skills and subjects, ranging from very basic to very advanced. He was taught far more than he had ever expected to need to know, a fair amount of which he came to find quite fascinating, and he found a number of the skills that he learned to be quite enjoyable. He was exposed to a number of human languages, which his possession of the Speech allowed him to acquire swiftly. He was instructed with a particular emphasis on the history and inner workings of the International Pokémon League, the powerful organization that funded and managed the Convergence Project and to which he would one day be in direct service.

For nearly four years, Solonn was trained in this way. Finally, the day came when he was declared ready by both the staff at the academy and by Jal’tai. According to them, he was now sufficiently prepared to take on this office—this new life—even if he could barely believe that he was.

One late morning the following week found him in what was presently Jal’tai’s office and what was soon to be his own, pacing back and forth across the round room, awaiting the arrival of those who were to witness the event that was about to transpire there.

“You needn’t be working yourself into a frenzy, now,” Jal’tai told him evenly, perched oddly over his chair behind his desk. When the witnesses arrived, he would need to put on his human disguise, but he seemed utterly unconcerned about the matter for the time being. He had no reason to worry, and he knew it—he would be given fair warning when his guests showed up; no one was allowed to simply barge into the mayor’s office unannounced. He only wished that the human in his company could be at the same ease as he was. “I’ve already explained to you what’s going to happen; it’s not going to be any big deal, really, I assure you.”

Solonn only grunted distractedly in response, then resumed the mantra that he’d been repeating in his mind in an effort to keep himself focused and his nerves in check. It was proving to be only moderately successful, however.

He hoped that he would be able to stave off any possibility of fainting or embarrassing himself in the presence of the very important people who would soon be there. Jal’tai had indeed outlined what he could expect from what was about to happen there on this day, and it was, as the latios had said, really a very simple and quiet affair. Its lack of extravagance didn’t diminish the significance of the turn that his life was about to take, however, and it seemed that the magnitude of this day would not be coaxed off of his shoulders no matter how much he tried.

It was a small mercy when the witnesses finally arrived; though the significance of what he was about to do still attended Solonn’s thoughts diligently, he no longer had to endure the anticipation of it any longer, at least. Four humans were admitted into the office; Solonn recognized them immediately as senior members of the IPL, very powerful and important people. There were two men and two women, all of them older and expensively dressed. They were accompanied by none other than Exeter, who smiled brightly and proudly in their mouthless fashion as they hovered alongside the league representatives.

Jal’tai, now disguised as Rolf Whitley, appeared to rise from his chair and greeted his colleagues heartily. The representatives took a couple of minutes to exchange a few friendly words with him and to greet Solonn as well. Then one of them produced a portfolio, within which there were a number of documents. Solonn looked with a mild amazement at the sheets of paper as they were taken out of the portfolio. It still seemed incredible to him that within these pages lay the power to transfer the leadership of an entire city.

The documents were handed to Solonn for him to read. They outlined a contract of sorts, binding him to the authority of the IPL and to service to their Convergence Project, while bestowing upon him the right and authority to govern Convergence as a community that was independent from the rest of Hoenn. The documents also contained an oath of service unto the city, and Solonn was made to read this as well as all of the terms illustrated within those documents aloud in order to help prove that he acknowledged and understood it all.

Once Solonn had finished reciting the contents of the documents, he was told to set them down upon the desk. Jal’tai rearranged them so that the last page sat on top of the stack. One by one, the league members each signed their name on the topmost sheet. Systan Exeter came forward and signed the document as well, dipping the end of their “beak” into a small pot of ink and quickly rendering their name in unown-script.

Soon, Solonn’s turn to sign the document had come. Jal’tai handed him the pen, and Solonn stepped forward, allowing his gaze to fall upon the empty line beneath the sweeping signature that spelled out Jal’tai’s human name. He could feel the first, slightest slick of sweat forming between his fingers and the pen, and the space around him seemed to have gone preternaturally silent save for the strong, persistent rhythm of his pulse pounding in his ears. He hoped that the others in attendance weren’t too aware of his nervousness.

Convergence and its mission for the future of relations among the world’s peoples would present a considerable duty unto him in the years to come. For now, though, all that was being asked of him was a name written on piece of paper. Bearing this in mind in an effort to keep things in perspective, he drew a breath and set the pen to the paper. He did not exhale until his signature was rendered there by his hand, shining back up at him in fresh, still-glistening ink.

He frowned at it slightly; it was not particularly tidy, especially not compared to Jal’tai’s. Solonn didn’t even think it actually resembled the way his name looked in writing. Jal’tai had told him before that it was all right, that many people’s signatures only marginally resembled their written names. Still, the semi-legibility of his own signature bothered Solonn, moreso than usual.

“There you have it,” Jal’tai said softly from Solonn’s side. He took a rubber stamp that sat on his desk, pressed it into an inkpad, and stamped a blank space on the document with the pokéball emblem of the IPL in red ink. To the room at large, the latios said, “Let the records show that on this day, August the 26th, 2022, authority over the city of Convergence was hereby transferred from myself, Rolf Alan Whitley, to Michael Layne.”

The words reached Solonn through a hazy delay, as did the smattering of polite, reserved applause that arose around him. With one simple act on his part, he had signed his life away to this city and the cause for which it stood. In a ceremony that had lasted barely more than an hour, he had been given the reins of an entire community—a duty to a mission that could conceivably bring about reform in societies all over the globe and secure an everlasting place for himself in history.

Was that really it? he couldn’t help but wonder.

After a round of congratulations and farewells from the league representatives as well as from Exeter, the guests departed. Jal’tai resumed his true form, wearing as wide a smile as he could manage.

“I’m more proud of you than I quite know how to express, my boy,” he said, almost breathless with joy.

“You’re proud of the fact that I read a few sheets of paper and then scribbled a name on one?” Solonn joked.

“Oh, you know better than that,” Jal’tai said lightheartedly, gently cuffing the human about the shoulder. “You’ve come a considerable way to get to this point, given years of your life to prepare yourself for this day. Your dedication to our cause is nothing short of wonderful,” he said rather dreamily.

Solonn gave the gushing latios a funny look. “Whatever you say,” he responded, leaning backwards against the desk and staring at his shoes.

“Here,” Jal’tai offered pleasantly, “why don’t you take a seat?” He gestured toward the large chair behind the desk. “It is yours now, after all.”

“Yes,” Solonn acknowledged, feeling oddly weary and excited at the same time, “it is, isn’t it?” Semi-absently, he strode around the desk and sat down in the chair. It wasn’t quite as comfortable as it had looked to him, but it did feel better than just standing. His eyes swept over the desk; it was very tidy, and much of what was there showed at least some sign of belonging to Jal’tai. Solonn distantly wondered what the desk might look like after a few months in his possession.

“So, then. Have you memorized what you’re going to say?” Jal’tai asked then.

“Yes, I have,” Solonn responded promptly, managing to resist the urge to bite his tongue. He tended to memorize things fairly well, and what he’d had to memorize for the occasion that would be upon him very soon was really quite short and simple. Nonetheless, nothing quite struck at his certainty like another person questioning it. He knew it was only meant as a friendly reminder, but it still bred at least some doubt in him about how sure he really was. To try to avoid letting his mind stick on the matter, “How soon until they arrive?” he asked then.

“Probably well within the next hour. They’ll want to get this done fairly soon so that it can be given the post-production treatment it’ll need,” Jal’tai answered.

“And this’ll air tonight?”

“Yes; they’ll be showing it during the evening news, as well as the nightly news. It will also air during commercial breaks in other programming over the next few days,” Jal’tai told him.

“Hm. Terrific,” Solonn said dryly. He noticed that his ponytail had fallen over his shoulder, and he idly fiddled with the hair for a moment before tossing it back behind himself. He had allowed it to grow quite a bit longer in recent months than he had once worn it; it now hung a fair distance between his shoulder blades. He didn’t particularly like having it pulled back as it now was, but wearing it this way was just one of those things that, for whatever reason, was considered more befitting of an authority figure—much like the suit that he was presently wearing, one which he thought looked rather silly. Solonn had come to reckon that the occasional submission to things that he considered absurd and things that he couldn’t care less about was simply one of the costs of being in a position of authority.

He mused on this and other random thoughts as he waited for his next task to be upon him, trying not to overanalyze what he was about to have to do. He was left alone for part of this time after Jal’tai resumed his mirage and excused himself for a few minutes; the latios had only just returned when the next guests to the office arrived.

Entering the large, round room was a small camera crew, consisting of a couple of humans and one pokémon: a blaziken cameraman who wore a rather ratty blue baseball cap backwards. Lights were set up around the desk, where Solonn remained sitting while Jal’tai positioned himself near the door, out of the shot. There was a brief moment of annoyance for Solonn as one of the humans came around the desk and, without warning, attacked his face with a bit of makeup, then scrutinized him for a second before she scampered away. Solonn tried hard not to shoot her a funny look, but he failed in that endeavor.

It was a strange notion to him that an entire city would see what he was about to do, perhaps even seeing it more than once. The thought of it threatened to unnerve him, but he reminded himself that at least the eyes of the city were not actually present there in the office with him. They’re not here, he reminded himself silently. Don’t think about them.

He was grateful for the brevity of the statement that he was about to give; as one of the humans nearby began a countdown, he was able to quickly review it in his head yet again. He was also grateful that Jal’tai had offered to compose those words for him; it definitely helped to take some of the pressure off of him.

The countdown ended, and the camera that was trained on Solonn began filming. Steeling himself imperceptibly, the human looked directly into the lens and spoke his very first words to the city as its leader.

“Hello, Convergence,” he said evenly, congenially. “My name is Michael Layne. On August 26th, I was appointed as your new mayor. In taking on this office, I have pledged myself to the continuing efforts not only to keep this city alive and prospering, but also toward the ultimate goal of bettering the entire world by our example here.

“I swear that I will ensure the maintenance of our city’s unparalleled harmony among all peoples, and I will lead us in our endeavor to promote equality in civilizations beyond Convergence. I am fully dedicated to our local well-being as well as to our city’s purpose on a greater scale.

“Though young and a newcomer to public office, I am ready, willing, and able to serve you. Rest assured that I will do all in my ability to meet your needs and expectations. We now enter a new era in the history of Convergence, and we enter it together. Best wishes to you all and to our future.”

Oh, thank the gods… Solonn breathed a sigh of relief as the crew ceased filming, grateful that he’d managed to avoid tripping on his words. Now he could only hope that he hadn’t unwittingly pulled an odd face, that the makeup artist didn’t decide that he didn’t look right after all, and that anything else that would force him to redo what he had just done wouldn’t happen. To his relief, though, everyone seemed pleased with his performance and left without demanding another take from him.

“See? Now, that wasn’t so bad, was it?” Jal’tai said, appearing as a latios once more.

“Meh,” Solonn responded. “Of course, that isn’t the last TV appearance I’ll have to make.”

“No, it certainly isn’t. I’m afraid many occasions of public speaking lie in your future, televised or otherwise,” Jal’tai said. “But then, you’ve known what came along with the job description for some time now, have you not?”

“I know…” Solonn responded somewhat airily. “I’m just glad I don’t have to do any more such things today.” He sighed and reclined as best as the design of his chair would allow. “I cannot wait for Neleng tonight, let me tell you…”

“Oh… Well… I’m afraid that your appointment with Neleng will have to be canceled for tonight,” Jal’tai informed him.

Solonn frowned worriedly. “What? Why?”

“Something has come up,” Jal’tai answered noncommittally.

Solonn gave Jal’tai a concerned and rather suspicious look. “Why don’t I like the sound of this?”

“I haven’t a clue, but I suspect that like everything else you’ve been through today, it won’t be quite the tribulation you might imagine.” Jal’tai turned and made for the door, taking on his human disguise yet again as he stopped before it. “Don’t worry about it for now, all right? Why don’t we go get some nice lunch, hmm?”

Still a bit wary of what was going on, of whatever it was that the latios was conspicuously omitting from discussion, Solonn didn’t respond to Jal’tai’s offer right away. Finally, “Sure,” he said, then rose from his seat. As he accompanied Jal’tai out of the office, Solonn wondered if he might somehow manage to extract information from the latios over lunch about what had usurped his schedule for the evening.

* * *

It was late afternoon, and Solonn was sitting alone back at his suite with the television on, though not really paying any attention to it. He had had no luck in finding out what had changed his plans for the night; Jal’tai had simply sat there (or rather he appeared to sit there) during lunch, smiling in a knowing manner at Solonn over first his sandwiches and then his parfait, somehow managing to redirect the conversation whenever it tried to turn toward the coming evening.

Jal’tai’s evasiveness had persisted throughout the rest of the day, all the way up to the point when he had brought Solonn back to the Convergence Inn; then, vaguely mentioning that he had very important things to attend to, the latios had departed his company.

Now Solonn found nothing else to do but sit there with a human-made sitcom that he found abysmally boring blaring at him (he had found nothing on any of the three hundred and fifty other stations at the time that he had cared for any more than it, though) and the same host of questions endlessly circling his mind like gnats. He wondered what in the world was going to happen that night. It was apparently so important that he’d had to cancel anything else that he’d wanted to do, yet no one had felt it necessary to let him in on exactly what it was for which he’d had to put everything on hold. He wondered how much longer he would continue living in this hotel suite now that he was the mayor. He wondered why whoever it was that made sitcoms like the one that was presently playing had thought that adding disembodied laughter to the program would make it seem any funnier.

Finally unable to endure any more of it, Solonn turned the television off. Just as soon as he’d done so, he received a peculiar message from the computerized voice of the suite.

“Please stand on the transport tile and wait,” it instructed him.

Perplexed, Solonn was initially unsure about following the instructions, vaguely wondering why he was being asked to do such a thing. He decided fairly quickly that he might as well go along with it, however, and soon came to stand directly on top of the tile just as he was told.

The tile activated, and he found himself in the corridor outside—and not alone. Standing there was a uniformed man with salt-and-pepper hair, one whom Solonn recognized as the chauffeur who was employed to transport him and Jal’tai around town.

“Follow me, sir,” the chauffeur said simply, then turned and made for the nearby elevator with no further instruction or explanation. Though growing more baffled by the second by what was going on, Solonn nonetheless quickly followed the man into the elevator and then out of the hotel to the waiting vehicle.

Solonn found himself driven across town, eventually arriving at a relatively modest but nonetheless stately mansion. Having been brought here several times over the past couple of years, Solonn recognized this place at once. This was where Jal’tai lived.

The chauffeur exited the vehicle and then let Solonn out, as well. He escorted Solonn up the walkway, stepping aside only when they reached the front doors. Almost as soon as they’d stopped there, the doors opened unexpectedly—and Solonn was immediately blasted by an explosion of confetti and the shouted word, “Surprise!”

For a very long moment, Solonn only stared wildly at the mirage-human standing right inside the door. Then he shook off the black and gold flecks of paper covering him (most of them, anyway), spat out a few more of them, and demanded, “What in the world was that for?”

Very slowly, a smile crept across Jal’tai’s presently human face, spreading into a full Cheshire grin. He then burst into uproarious laughter. “You silly boy, it’s for you! Come on in,” he then said, stepping back a bit from the door. Still eying Jal’tai warily, Solonn stepped into the mansion.

He was relieved to find that there were no more startling surprises once he entered Jal’tai’s home. There were surprises of a more pleasant nature about, however. He’d always thought that Jal’tai kept a nice household, but on this night, he was more impressed with it than usual. Everything in sight had been tastefully decorated in black, silver, and gold.

As he was brought further into the house, he saw that there were many other people about, some of whom he knew and recognized either as people whom he knew locally or as league representatives, while others among the crowd were totally unfamiliar. Solonn guessed that these must be friends of Jal’tai whom he hadn’t met before.

He began to hear music, which grew louder as he continued to follow Jal’tai, and he found its source as they entered a spacious living room. At one end of the room, a seven-piece, multispecies band was playing light, easygoing jazz of the sort that Jal’tai liked. The moment Solonn entered the room, however, they stopped playing; the chattering of the guests ceased a split-second after, and soon all eyes were on Jal’tai and Solonn, who had made their way to the center of the room.

“Our guest of honor has arrived!” Jal’tai announced needlessly, beaming at the crowd of surrounding guests. The moment the words left his mouth, the guests all erupted into applause. Solonn winced involuntarily, expecting another confetti attack or some other, equally bizarre surprise from the guests, but luckily they seemed content to merely applaud him—until Jal’tai decided to lead them in a cheer, which Solonn endured with a somewhat forced smile.

At Jal’tai’s cue, the band resumed playing, striking up a somewhat livelier tune than they’d been playing previously, and the guests seemed to go back to milling amongst themselves. Jal’tai took a few moments to systematically hunt down every person to whom Solonn had not yet been introduced and rectify that unfamiliarity, then shepherded Solonn over to a presently unoccupied sofa, asking the person nearest to them to go fetch a couple of drinks as Jal’tai and Solonn took their seats there.

“So. What do you think of this little surprise I put together for you, hmm?” Jal’tai then asked Solonn.

What Solonn thought was that it was kind of an odd surprise. But, it was the thought that counted, after all, so, “It’s nice,” he said, nodding approvingly. “How long were you planning this?”

“Well, I always knew I wanted to do something special for you when this day finally arrived,” Jal’tai answered, smiling. “As for the elements of the party itself, the invitations were sent out just over a week ago, around the time the decorations were purchased, and I booked the band over the weekend. Saved them from having to play another wedding, the lucky souls,” he added with a laugh.

Solonn responded wordlessly in acknowledgment, and the two were silent for a little while after that, watching the band, watching the crowd. The man who’d been sent after drinks returned; Jal’tai and Solonn received them from him and thanked him as he left their side. Jal’tai stared into his drink for a moment, seemingly deep in thought. He took a small sip of it, and then turned to Solonn with an unreadable expression.

“I’ll be leaving town tomorrow morning,” Jal’tai told him, sounding rather hoarse all of a sudden.

It took a moment for those words to sink into Solonn’s mind. When they did, he was somewhat at a loss for how to react. He’d known for quite a while that Jal’tai had planned to leave Convergence once he was no longer its leader, but Solonn hadn’t expected that he would leave quite so soon after stepping down from office.

“After I leave, this will be your home, of course,” Jal’tai went on. “I’ll help you move in tomorrow. It won’t be any real trouble for me—I’ve decided to leave much of what’s here to you, so it’s not as though I’ll really have much in the way of moving myself out to bother with.”

Somewhat overwhelmed, Solonn merely sat silently for moments on end, finding himself unable to respond to what Jal’tai was saying. The way things were unfolding was strangely difficult for him to quite get his head around; after years spent in preparation for the life that he was only just entering, everything suddenly seemed to be happening so fast…

“Are you all right, my boy?” Jal’tai asked concernedly.

“…I’m fine,” Solonn responded after a pause. He hesitated again, then admitted, “Part of me does kind of wish I’d known when you were leaving a little further in advance, though…”

Jal’tai smiled sadly. “I would certainly have told you had I been sure of it myself.” He sighed. “I’ll admit that I’d been procrastinating over the matter for longer than I really should have. I’ve been… quite reluctant to leave my city,” he all but whispered. “In the end, I knew that if I didn’t simply go, then I might not be able to bring myself to do it—hence the last minute decision. I’m terribly sorry if this inconveniences you in any way…”

“No… no, it’s not a problem at all,” Solonn assured him quickly. It was plain enough for him to see that the decision to leave Convergence behind had been a supremely difficult one for Jal’tai; though the human mirage that Jal’tai wore revealed only moderate sadness, Solonn strongly suspected that the latios behind that façade was on the verge of tears. He didn’t want to let Jal’tai feel even remotely guilty for springing this news on him on such short notice; Solonn felt rather sorry for even mentioning that the lack of advance warning had bothered him. He also didn’t have the heart to question why the latios found it necessary to leave, though he certainly did wonder. Knowing as he did how having a resolution questioned could shake it apart, Solonn mindfully kept that question to himself.

Jal’tai held Solonn’s gaze with a look of faint relief, then gave an earnest, albeit weary smile, grateful for Solonn’s understanding. He knew that the human at his side would never realize just how much of his unspoken compassion was being recognized, having been kept ignorant of Jal’tai’s psychic qualities ever since having his memory rewritten. But it was recognized indeed, and greatly appreciated.

“Oh, look at me,” Jal’tai then said, still sounding a bit constrained, “glooming up your nice party like that; shame on me! Come on,” he suggested in a slightly brighter tone as he stood, “why don’t we go mingle a bit more?”

Though still somewhat concerned for Jal’tai, sure that the matter of his departure was still weighing upon him, Solonn nonetheless humored the latios’s pretense of resumed lightheartedness. Throughout the remainder of that evening and well into the night, he chatted with the guests, took in the music, and accepted the gifts that the attendees had brought for him, and he managed to appear to enjoy it all. All the while, though, the better part of his mind was preoccupied with thoughts of what was soon to befall both himself and the latios who had preceded him—what one would gain and what the other would lose.

* * *

The August sun shone brightly, bearing down on Convergence from high in the sky. It was just before noon, but to Solonn it felt like it could have been almost any daylight hour; he had not slept the night before.

He stood there in front of the mansion that was soon to be his own, distantly staring at the lone moving truck that was parked at the end of the driveway and the plain black car parked behind that truck. A pair of movers made trips back and forth between the truck and the house, taking a few of Solonn’s things from the truck, then returning to it with a few of Jal’tai’s things. It wasn’t long at all before the job was done completely; Solonn didn’t own many possessions, and there were very few of Jal’tai’s that the latios had not opted to leave behind.

Shortly after the last of Solonn’s possessions were brought into the mansion, Jal’tai emerged wordlessly alongside the movers. He stopped beside Solonn, remaining silent for several moments, staring pensively into the sky.

“My Goddess, how I’m going to miss this place…” he finally whispered.

Solonn said nothing in response, casting a somber gaze downward. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a very faint shimmering; when he looked toward its source, he saw that Jal’tai had resumed his true form.

“I’ve taken the veil off of your eyes only,” Jal’tai assured Solonn before any concerns could be raised about his decision to drop the mirage. “This is most likely the last we will ever see of one another… I want your final memories of me to be as I truly am.”

He laid his taloned hands upon Solonn’s shoulders and sighed heavily. His eyes shone with unshed tears as he held the human’s gaze, and slowly, a warm, broad smile curved across his face. “You’ve come such a long way from the day when I first met you,” he said wistfully. “You have made me so very proud, my dear boy, prouder than I’ve ever been of anyone in my entire life. I know in my heart that you’ll take good care of my city, that you’ll serve and guide it with as much love and devotion as I always did…”

At these words, Jal’tai could hold back his tears no longer. In a sudden motion, he wrapped his arms around Solonn in a long embrace. Solonn closed his eyes, feeling his own tears escape from them as he held on to the silently weeping latios.

“I will miss my city,” Jal’tai breathed, “but I will miss you even more.”

“I’ll miss you, too,” Solonn responded truthfully, realizing now more than ever just how much he would miss the latios once he was gone.

At length, Jal’tai finally let go of Solonn, drifting slowly back from him. There was sorrow showing plainly through his features, but there was also pride, and it showed stronger still. “Take care, my boy,” he said softly. “You are the heart of this city now.”

Solonn nodded in acknowledgment. “You take care, too,” he said, his voice brittle.

Jal’tai smiled at him. “Farewell,” he said.

“Farewell,” Solonn returned.

Slowly, reluctantly, the latios turned away. He glided silently over the driveway, stopping to hover above the black car, invisible to all but Solonn, as a human mirage was seen to enter the vehicle by all others present at the scene. The engines of the two vehicles hummed to life, and the car and truck began to move out. Jal’tai gave one last, wistful look behind, and then he followed them away.

Through tears, Solonn watched Jal’tai vanish into the horizon. Now, with the latios gone, Convergence had truly fallen into Solonn’s hands, and he felt the weight of that burden more than ever now that he carried it alone. As he turned away and entered his new home, he couldn’t help but disagree with some of Jal’tai’s parting words. Solonn was now the leader of this city, but he felt that, in truth, Jal’tai would always be its heart.

_________________________

Heh, looks like there's still a character limit after all.

Anyway… Systan is not actually part of Exeter's name. It's simply a title akin to Mr. or Ms., but used of a genderless person. The term was actually adopted by porygon from an alakazam language.

And yep, emyril and drathlon are species of fakemon that I invented. Neither of them has any further relevance to the story beyond those passing mentions, though. Here's some information about them in case you're curious (under a spoiler for the sake of those who aren't curious):

Spoiler:
Drathlon (dragon + athlete)
Type: Dragon/fighting
Warrior Pokémon
Height: 5’11’’
Weight: 216 lbs.
Evolution: None
Ability: Pure power
Appearance: Drathlon is a bipedal, humanoid dragon. Its scales are mostly green, with yellow scales covering its throat, chest, and abdomen, and its eyes are also yellow. Its hands and feet are clawed and have five digits each. It has spiky, red-and-black "fins" running down its head and neck, its back, and its tail, as well as along its arms and legs.
Shiny form: Brilliant yellow-orange rather than green, with the red in its “fin” replaced with bright blue, and with all the yellow parts acid green instead.

Emyril (emerald)
Type: Dragon/rock
Guardian Pokemon
Length: 14’10’’
Weight: 1,654 lbs. (I should probably make it heavier...)
Evolution: None
Ability: Diamondscale (Think of pure power, but affecting defense instead.)
Appearance: Emyril is a stocky, wingless, quadrupedal dragon with an almost ceratopian look about it. It has jewel-like, diamond-shaped scales of deep green and bright yellow, with a pale grey belly. Its eyes are tiny and lit from within with a deep red glow. It has a short face with a beaklike mouth, and five wide, flat horns protruding from the back of its head.
Shiny form: The green scales are a dark yellow instead, with the yellow scales becoming paler, almost white, and the eyes are blue rather than red.


Next time: Solonn finds himself in a place that he had not expected to see again—and what transpires there is even less expected. See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
Communication banner by Saffire Persian | TOoS banner by CHeSHiRe-CaT

Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 08:34 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Sike_Saner
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Chapter 12 – Silence in the East


Restlessly, he soared, his weary eyes sweeping the land below as he wandered with no destination. He had done almost nothing else for months now, pausing only to tend to his physical needs, never staying in any one place for long.

Such had been the case ever since the day of his homecoming, the day he’d hoped would bring his redemption. He’d brought himself before the ones who had set upon him the task of doing good to balance against the crime that he’d committed so long ago, and there he had testified to them about all the work that he had done and the fruit that it had yielded.

Of course, he had been very consciously selective of the picture that he’d let them see of his achievements and how they had come about. His censored version of events had nearly fooled them, too. However, he had overestimated his ability to shape the truth in ways that favored him—and had also underestimated the silent, indignant protests that had lain deep within his own conscience, a conscience that had refused to sit quietly in submission to his denial any longer. He had been betrayed before the ones to whom he had made his appeal on that day by his own sense of right and by the love that had empowered it and allowed it to win at last.

Upon learning the whole truth of what he had done, they’d sentenced him to a permanent exile. They had rendered him physically unable to return to his native land. They had also decided to bar him likewise from other places, those where his greatest crimes had been committed and where those to whom he had done the most harm were most likely to reside.

And so, from the day that he was cast out into the world, he did nothing but wander. He was tormented in his every waking moment, as well as in the dreams that came whenever he actually managed to get himself to sleep, by regretful thoughts of how things might have turned out differently. He couldn’t stand to stay in any given place, for it was not where he longed to be. He often found himself drifting in circles, passing over the same areas so often that eventually he became quite aware of and familiar with the kinds of things that went on in those places.

Thus it was that he readily noticed that something was strange in this land on this day. His interest piqued, he descended in order to try and figure out what was going on. The scene that he found there perplexed him deeply and troubled him much more deeply still. He attempted to counteract what he’d found, but not even his most potent and sophisticated methods yielded any success.

With a mind that raced with questions, he left the scene, hoping to find some possible solution or assistance elsewhere. He instead found a scene that was identical to the one that he’d just left behind. A search of the entire region only yielded more of the same, a widespread problem that neither he nor anyone else around could solve.

Driven by a dark suspicion, he departed that part of the world for another, dearly hoping that what he found there would differ what he had just seen in the previous region. To his immense sorrow and fear, this region—fully separated from the one that he had just left behind—was swiftly and steadily going the way of the one before it.

The scope of this phenomenon was all too clear, and he was greatly sickened by the notion that he was powerless to stop or undo it. And yet… it wasn’t that there was truly nothing that he could do. It was just that he could only do very, very little. With only power enough to reach so terribly few, it became a matter of deciding whom he would try to reach.

Immediately, his heart knew without a doubt where he wished to begin. Without another moment’s hesitation, he shattered a bond of power between himself and someone nearly half a world away.

* * *

Months had passed since Solonn’s appointment as the mayor of Convergence and Jal’tai’s subsequent retirement from his position in the International Pokémon League, and the IPL had been pleased with Solonn’s service throughout that time. The city prospered under his guidance just as it had under his predecessor, with the quality of life for its citizens kept high; it seemed that Convergence was capable of thriving under virtually any leadership.

Confident in the abilities and competence of Jal’tai’s successor as well as in the stability of the city that he managed, the IPL had thus decided that the next phase of the Convergence Project could commence. The time had come to begin revealing the existence of the integrated community to the public.

The IPL had decided that knowledge of the city would be given to the league’s members, starting with those in the highest ranks and proceeding downward from there, before being released to the world at large. The Apex League, the highest echelon of the IPL’s organized battle division, had known about the Convergence Project from the start, as had the governing bodies outside of the IPL. The regional champions and elite trainers had been made privy to this information shortly thereafter. The next step would be for the lower IPL members, those who operated at the city level, to be informed.

The various forms of pokémon-based competition over which the International Pokémon League presided were all, as usual, seeing a great deal of action at the time. Gathering all of the league’s members into one place at one time, even those of just a single region, was therefore no easy feat. The IPL had thus determined that it would be easier, more practical, and more convenient to set up these informative meetings around the schedules of the lower-ranking members, letting them in on the Convergence Project one-on-one when they weren’t tangled up in other business.

It was suggested to Solonn that he could introduce his city to them himself if he so wished. He was given a choice of two ways by which he could go about conducting these meetings: he could either convene with the lower IPL members via satellite, or he could go and meet with them in person. The IPL had decided that none of them would actually be allowed into the city itself until they were properly briefed.

Solonn had rather liked the idea of traveling to places that he had never seen before. Being a new member of the IPL as he was, his superiors had kept him busier than his predecessor had been in the same office, wanting to see if he was truly IPL material. Solonn’s service to the Convergence Project generally kept him bound to the city that he led; he only ever left Convergence on IPL business, such as he was doing now. Any chance to step out of town, however briefly, was something that he appreciated, and so he had gladly taken the league’s directors up on the option of speaking with the lower-ranking members in person.

His tour would take him to every city in the area in which the IPL had any presence: any place where there was a gym, a breeding center, a pokémon laboratory—or a contest hall. So it was that on this day, his tour brought him to a place that he’d somehow never really expected to see again: Lilycove.

Ever since the day when he’d been delivered from that place and the dangers therein, his thoughts had often turned toward the people whom he’d known there, wondering what had become of them, wondering what would become of them. However, from the moment that he’d taken on the role of Jal’tai’s successor and the form that came with that role, he had doubted that he would ever have anything to do with any of those people again.

Such thoughts were once more first and foremost on Solonn’s mind as he stood ready for departure to Lilycove, waiting for his personal teleporter to be available to serve him. Solonn knew that he would not be in town long; this was strictly a business trip, and he would be leaving town as soon as he’d concluded his meeting there. He figured that it was therefore very unlikely that he’d see anyone whom he’d known while in town today, not out of a large city that was home to thousands of people.

He considered also that it had been years since he’d had anything to do with any of them. For all he knew, the humans whom he’d known in Lilycove, as well as the pokémon if they had been freed from their abductors, might have gone to live somewhere else during that time. Perhaps Morgan and her family had determined that they, like him, would be safer if they left the city.

“The guy’s sure taking his time, isn’t he?” remarked a voice to his immediate left. Solonn turned slightly to acknowledge Byron, a bodyguard hired to escort him during his travels. He was shorter than Solonn, but much broader; his muscle-bound physique was meant to be intimidating, Solonn figured. However, Byron’s slightly untidy, ash-blond hair and his round, smiling face somewhat softened the stern and serious air that he might otherwise have possessed. The bodyguard held a manila folder containing dossiers filled with information about Convergence that Solonn would use as visual aids in his presentation.

“Cliff will be ready soon enough, I’m sure,” Solonn responded, hoping that that prediction would come true even as he spoke it aloud. He wanted as little delay in getting to Lilycove as possible; whether it was out of interest in seeing it again after so long, getting his business there over with as soon as possible, or both, he wasn’t altogether certain.

Still, he maintained at least some patience through resignation to the fact that the delay in getting to Lilycove would be just as long, if not longer, if he were to rely on a different mode of transportation. Solonn figured that whatever Cliff was doing at the moment could be excused since the convenience that he provided was well worth the wait.

“Sorry about the wait,” said a high-pitched voice, its source being a clefable who wore an acid-green fanny pack strapped around his waist. It was Cliff, who had just entered the lobby from a nearby restroom; neither Solonn nor Byron had even known that that was where he’d been.

The clefable came to stand with Solonn and Byron, motioning for them to draw very close to him to ensure that they were both caught in the teleportation field that he was about to create—an unnecessary action, as both of the humans had gone through this routine several times before and therefore knew what they were supposed to do. They gathered close to Cliff just as soon as he was in their midst.

“Okay, Lilycove, is it?” Cliff asked. Solonn nodded in confirmation. “All right, let’s see… that’s about, oh, two hundred miles south-by-southeast of here, right?”

Solonn gave Cliff a dull stare. The clefable had insisted on joking in the exact same way prior to the past few teleportations. Byron was quite fortunate in his inability to understand Cliff, Solonn thought; it spared the bodyguard from having to suffer the old “I have no idea where we’re supposed to be going” bit.

“Nah, I know where it is; you know I’m just playing with you,” Cliff said, taking a moment to laugh at his own joke before proceeding. He then closed his eyes, and after a moment’s focus, a teleportation field was summoned that swept the three travelers away from the lobby of the Convergence Tower and into the parking lot of their destination.

The very moment Solonn materialized in Lilycove, his gaze traveled upward along the face of the building that filled almost his entire view from so near. The Lilycove Contest Hall was almost exactly as he remembered it, minus only the crisper definition that the stronger eyes of his prior form had given the picture. He stood staring at it for seconds on end, his body and mind transfixed by the feelings and memories that the sight of this place brought back.

“You two just go on in and take care of business while I have a smoke, all right?” Cliff spoke up then, breaking Solonn’s reverie. Without bothering to wait for any sort of reply, the clefable pulled a lighter and a pack of cigarettes out of his fanny pack.

“They’re not going to let you do that…” Solonn muttered, to no response from Cliff. At every single one of the stops on this tour so far, Cliff had tried to take a cigarette break in the vicinity of whatever IPL building Solonn had happened to be visiting, and on each of those occasions, the clefable had been reprimanded by the personnel at those facilities for doing so.

At that moment, the contest hall’s doors opened. Out stepped a red-haired woman in a navy blue pantsuit. She trotted quickly toward Solonn and Byron on her high heels, offering a hand to the former before she had even come to a stop before him.

“Hi, good afternoon! I’m Mrs. Penn, the director of Lilycove’s contest hall, but you can call me Meredith,” she introduced, telling Solonn nothing that the name tag that she wore hadn’t already. Her eyes shifted over toward Cliff, who was leaning against the building, smoking in silence with an odd sort of pensive look on his face. “That clefable should know that this is a no-smoking zone,” Meredith said with a frown.

Cliff cast an annoyed glance at the director. “Just call the office when you’re ready for me to come and get you,” he told Solonn, then left the scene in a golden flash.

“Come on, then, right this way…” Meredith said once the clefable had left, motioning toward the entrance of the contest hall before passing through the automated doors. Solonn followed her in at once, with Byron close at his side.

While the contest hall had looked the same on the outside as it had all those years ago, it seemed very different on the inside from what Solonn remembered. Everything was still in its old place: the receptionist’s desk; the posters on the wall; the large doors leading into the auditorium; and the smaller, more secluded entrance to the backstage area for the performers’ use—but the atmosphere was much more subdued, lacking the noise, excitement, and activity that he recalled from his previous times here. He had simply never seen it so empty before—there was no contest today, no coordinators, performers, or spectators waiting excitedly for the show.

He found the contrast from what he remembered strangely unsettling, making the contest hall seem somehow unfamiliar and even kind of wrong to him. He tried to maintain his focus, to keep his mind on the matter at hand rather than on the past. But in a place like this, where such vivid memories had been forged, he couldn’t help but think of the times that he’d spent here—as well as of the one with whom he’d shared them.

Once again, he wondered if Morgan still lived in this city, and if so, where she was at that very moment and what she was doing. He also wondered once again if she had ever been reunited with her other friends. It pained him to a fair extent that he would leave Lilycove today with those questions still unanswered. It also pained him to know that he had returned here safely, yet they, whom he was sure had been wondering all this time what had become of him, would never know it.

Lost in those thoughts, he almost failed to notice when Meredith had stopped before them, having arrived at her office in the very back of the building. He followed her in without a word, taking the seat provided for him in front of the director’s desk, while Byron stood silently at his side.

The bodyguard handed Solonn the folder. Solonn let his gaze linger upon it for a second, then opened it. As he was doing so, a rather nasty itch overtook his eyes out of nowhere. He set the folder down on the desk quickly and then proceeded to try and relieve the sudden irritation. He managed to calm it fairly quickly, though his eyes still watered a bit afterward.

“Oh, allergies?” Meredith asked. “I sympathize; I get them too around this time of year.”

“Well, normally, I don’t,” he told Meredith, blinking rapidly in an effort to stave off another itch that was threatening to happen. “It could be something in the air around here, I suppose.”

“Mm, could be,” Meredith said with a shrug. “Tissue?” she offered, gesturing toward a box of them that sat on her desk.

“No, but thank you,” Solonn said. He figured that he and his dignity could endure doing without a tissue so long as his nose didn’t decide to get involved. “So,” he then said, “I assume you’ve been given some idea of why I’ve come here today, yes?”

“Mmm-hmm,” Meredith confirmed, nodding. “There was mention of some sort of major project the league’s put together. They didn’t go into details… Are you sure you don’t need a tissue?” she asked again, more concernedly this time, for Solonn’s eyes were clearly bothering him once again.

Solonn gave a noncommittal reply as he rubbed his eyes, harder this time and seemingly in vain.

“Actually, maybe you ought to try and rinse those out,” the director suggested. “The men’s room is up the hall to the right; I’ll wait here while you take care of that.”

“Good idea,” Solonn said, rising from his seat. He left the room with Byron accompanying him, straining to keep his eyes open as their irritation grew steadily worse. He quickly made his way to the restroom, halting Byron as the bodyguard attempted to enter the room along with him.

“You can stay out here,” Solonn told him, wincing and screwing his eyes shut as he did so; they had ceased to merely itch and had begun to burn. “I doubt there’s anyone in there, and I’ll only be a moment.” With that, he stepped into the restroom and shut the door behind him, then forced his eyes open long enough to spot the sinks and rush toward them.

Solonn gritted his teeth as he quickly shoved his hands underneath the motion sensor that activated the tap. He gathered handfuls of the cool water that flowed forth and brought them to his eyes, rinsing them vigorously in hopes of flushing out whatever was irritating them so badly. His efforts yielded no success, however—rather than relenting, the searing pain only grew worse, until it became so intense that it was all he could do not to cry out.

The water shut off as he clutched his forehead, the pain in his eyes stabbing into his skull so brutally that he could not even think to wonder what in the world was wrong with him. But then… just as unexpectedly as it had come, the pain subsided, fading mercifully quickly until it was nothing more than a dull throb.

Not quite daring to trust the relief at first, Solonn opened his eyes very slowly. He had to quell an urge to immediately close them again, for the bright light in the room struck his eyes with a peculiar harshness. He continued to lean over the sink for a few moments, giving himself time to relax after his ordeal, before lifting his head and straightening his posture once more. When he did so, the reflection that greeted him from the mirror above the sink told him just what had been tormenting his eyes.

This time, he could not stifle his scream.

The face before him shook with shock and fear, staring wildly back at him with eyes of a piercing blue—glalie eyes.

How…? No, this can’t be happening now! he tried to convince himself in fearful confusion, but the truth could not be denied. The effects of Jal’tai’s transfigure technique were wearing off—years before they were supposed to do so.

The door burst open as Byron responded swiftly to Solonn’s cry; Solonn immediately turned to prevent the bodyguard from seeing what had happened to his eyes. “What’s going on?” Byron demanded concernedly.

Solonn was considerably hesitant to answer that question. He had kept the fact that he was not truly human a strict secret during his leadership of Convergence. He had never intended for it to ever be revealed, unsure of whether or not it was a fact that the citizens could handle. Jal’tai, as it happened, had already thought of this, and had assured Solonn that he had seen to it that the plan that he’d formulated to deal with this issue could be executed without a hitch.

In a few years, when it drew close to the time when the transfiguration was supposed to wear off, Solonn was supposed to name a local glalie as the one who would one day succeed him in office—the very glalie whom he would happen to become upon his reversion. After Michael “vanished” without a trace, Solonn would “take his place”. By that time, Jal’tai had claimed, the climate of society might be safer and more accepting of a pokémon in a position of leadership.

But with the premature reversal of the transfiguration, things were already not going according to plan. Here Solonn was, cornered, with his secret betraying itself. He hadn’t had the warning that he’d been assured of, and now there was no time to set up a smooth transition of power from the one whom he’d pretended to be to the one whom he actually was.

Solonn had no successor to his office other than himself. The only way that he could think of that would make it at all possible for him to keep his position was if it were known that the pokémon whom he was becoming and the human whom he had been were, in fact, the same person. Someone would have to witness his change, and Solonn knew that that someone would have to be Byron. He could only hope that the bodyguard would not react too adversely to what he was about to see.

“Sir… what’s going on?” Byron asked again. Solonn heard him take a couple of steps closer.

As Solonn resigned and braced himself for the revelation that he was about to give, he saw the skin on his hands begin to turn a dark, flat gray, toughening all the while. The truth could wait no longer.

“Don’t be alarmed,” Solonn said as calmly as he could manage and far moreso than he felt. “I’ll explain everything later… Just please, call Cliff. Now,” he commanded flatly, and then he turned around.

Solonn saw the look on Byron’s face turn in an instant from concern to shock as their eyes met. Byron stared speechlessly as he watched a human being turn gray as graphite right before his eyes, a human being who looked back at him through glowing eyes. He stepped back from Solonn, tension written all over his stance.

“What… what the hell…” the bodyguard stammered, his voice trailing off. His eyes remained locked onto Solonn, holding his employer’s gaze with an alert stare. His arm twitched, his hand moving to his side, where a handgun and a nonlethal stun gun were concealed under his jacket.

Solonn noticed this, but tried not to let his eyes shift conspicuously toward the weapons or to let his focus be broken. He strongly doubted that Byron would shoot him, but reckoned that the bodyguard might well use the stun gun if he thought that Solonn might be losing control of himself and posing a threat. The fact that Byron hadn’t resorted to either weapon upon first sight of him told Solonn that the human seemed to still recognize him, at least, and would probably still listen to him as long as both of their heads were kept level enough.

“No time to explain,” Solonn said. He then gasped in shock and doubled over as a horribly cold sensation suddenly struck deep into his bones. “Just call Cliff,” he urged almost voicelessly. “Please, hurr—ahhhh!” He collapsed to his knees as what felt like hammer blows struck his temples; his hands flew up and clutched his head, feeling the cold, hard surface of the horns that had just erupted there.

Dizzy with pain and shivering violently, Solonn lifted his head with difficulty and looked up at Byron through eyes that streamed with tears. The bodyguard had backed up even further, standing right at the door and still staring warily at Solonn. However, there also seemed to be a hint of genuine concern in his eyes. One of Byron’s hands still hovered near his weapons, but the other now held his cell phone. Come on… Solonn urged him silently, barely able to catch his breath due to the cold. Call… please, for the gods’ sakes, call!

It was then that a strange sensation took hold of Solonn, one that was incredibly potent—and familiar. After years spent outside of it, he had returned to the embrace of the element of ice. In the midst of his agony, the reunion with his mother element was a wonderful escape, one in which he quickly lost himself completely.

He was utterly unaware of the sudden, intensely white flare in his eyes and unaware of the massive, involuntary release of ice-type energy that accompanied it until it rent the air with a sharp, resounding crack.

The sound snapped Solonn out of his elemental ecstasy in an instant. The scene surrounding him returned to his focus and brought with it the sight of a partially ice-glazed man who stood fixed in a startled stance with an expression of sudden terror, no longer moving—or breathing.

“Oh… oh gods…” Solonn said in a brittle voice, staring aghast at the man whom he had just inadvertently flash-frozen. His newly formed heat-vision told him that not even the slightest vestige of the warmth that had once fueled Byron’s life still remained. Solonn’s element had returned to him before he was ready and able to control it, and as a result, someone had just died by his hand.

Shaking in horror as well as in his unrelenting pain, Solonn attempted to rise and get away from the scene, but his body couldn’t respond to that command. His joints were beginning to lock and fuse together. A faint swelling of light crept up into his vision; his eyes sought its source and found that a soft, sea green glow was now emanating from every square inch of his skin. The green light suddenly intensified in an almost blinding surge, and with the sickening sound of crunching bones, Solonn’s arms and legs collapsed in on themselves and were absorbed into his body in a single, violent instant. A split-second later, his spine shortened, a change that was less sudden but no less painful than the loss of his limbs.

Solonn’s reversion continued at an accelerated pace, and the agony of it was greater than any that he had ever known before. As his body expanded, reproportioned, and reconfigured in wrenching, spasmodic bursts, his pain manifested itself through an involuntary display of his command over ice. The ice that glued Byron’s legs to the floor spread rapidly over every surface of the room and formed jagged spires that jutted out all around their maker.

Solonn was almost unable to perceive anything other than the pain that consumed him, barely able to do anything consciously except to wish to the gods that the suffering that came with this change would end soon. As if in answer to his prayers, his mother element sent another surge of power through him, one that rebounded back upon him. With another loud crack, his mind was cast into nothingness.

* * *

The next thing Solonn was aware of was a steady humming, one that grew louder as he reconnected fully to his senses. The pain that he had known prior to losing consciousness awakened along with him, but was far weaker now, barely more than a dull ache throughout his entire body. As his wits returned, he remembered the cause of this pain, which seemed to flare up a bit more at the memory of his reversion.

He also remembered the eyes that had stared emptily back at him after he had stolen the life from behind them.

His eyes flew open, and he sat up in alarm, his heart pounding and his stomach turning as he recalled what he had done. He realized at once that he was not where he had last been and that he was apparently alone here. A soft, off-white light glow filled his entire vision, seeming to come from the surrounding surfaces themselves. He saw dark walls and the flashing indicators of some unidentifiable equipment some distance before him, and as his eyes focused and made out the finer details of these things, he realized that the glow was not coming from those surfaces. The pale light was in the form of a wall of energy that stood between him and the other things in this place—one of many such walls that fully enclosed him, he recognized as he turned to look all around him.

Solonn rose somewhat awkwardly from the floor, lowered his head slightly, and experimentally prodded the energy barrier with one of his horns. He was immediately met with a nasty shock, one that did nothing to calm his nerves. He realized that he had been put in a containment field, imprisoned by it within some place that he didn’t even remotely recognize. He didn’t know where he was, but he had a terrible feeling that he knew why he was there. Someone must have opened that restroom door and found him there along with the man whom he had killed, he figured, and now he was being held captive for the life that he had taken.

With a very heavy heart, Solonn sank to the floor and closed his eyes in deep, solemn thought. He wondered where he would be and what might have transpired if Byron were still alive. He also wondered if he would be kept in this place forever, and if so, what would befall Convergence. If neither “Michael” nor the pokémon whom he truly was were there to lead its citizens, then who could?

Through closed eyelids, Solonn just managed to perceive a brief surge in the lighting around him. It was so quick that he might have easily imagined it, but he opened his eyes in response to it anyway without really thinking about it. What he saw surprised him to no small degree.

Bathed in the soft light of the force field and surrounded by the aura of her own body heat, she glowed like an apparition. Her deep blue eyes were unreadable as she gazed upon him, her mustache drooping in an expression that somewhat resembled a frown but suggested far more.

“It really is you,” she all but whispered. “I’d given up on ever seeing you again… and yet here you are.”

“Sei?” Solonn asked incredulously, his eyes widening; the alakazam nodded in response. “Gods, I thought I’d never see you again, either!” Solonn exclaimed almost breathlessly, a surge of relief managing to rise through him even in the midst of everything else that weighed upon him. “I’m so relieved that you’re safe… but what about the others? Were they also freed from the ones who abducted us?” he asked.

Sei’s brows drew tightly together. “What? Solonn… none of us were never abducted,” she said, sounding concerned.

A look of troubled confusion came over the glalie’s features. “…You were, though,” he insisted. “We all were, more than four years ago.”

“No, Solonn,” Sei said quietly. “No one was taken that day except for you.”

Solonn stared at Sei in disbelief, wondering how in the world she could fail to recall her abduction. Perhaps, he considered, the abductors had damaged her memory in surmounting her psychic abilities… “That can’t be true,” he said. “Morgan told me all that had happened when she found where they were keeping me.”

Sei said nothing in response to that, holding Solonn in a now deeply troubled gaze as she stood in silence. Her eyes narrowed, her stare sharpening. Then, very abruptly, she turned on her heel and sent a brilliant, multicolored wave of psychic energy crashing into the equipment behind her. There was a series of loud popping and hissing noises, and the indicator lights on the devices flickered wildly before failing completely. A small plume of smoke rose from the ruined equipment, and the containment field surrounding Solonn disappeared.

The room was now very dark, but Solonn could still see Sei as she turned to face him, her expression unreadable once more.

“Come here,” she said soberly after a beat.

Growing more worried and confused by the second, Solonn rose from the spot and drifted over to her. “What’s the matter?” he asked softly.

Sei sighed. “I thought I sensed something abnormal about your mental signature,” she said. “Now with that element-suppressing field out of the way, I can be certain of that. Solonn… someone or something has tampered with your mind.”

“…What?” Solonn said almost voicelessly. “But… how? What do you mean by ‘tampering’? What could have possibly been done to me?”

“A number of things,” Sei answered, taking a step closer to Solonn. “If you’ll allow me to investigate your mind, I can find out exactly what has been done to it. I will warn you that it would involve opening your mind to me completely, including giving me access to your thoughts and memories.”

The notion of giving free access of his mind to another was a fairly discomfiting one for Solonn. But the notion that his mind could have been tampered with and that he could have been completely unaware of it up until this point was one that he found far more disturbing still. He could still only barely believe that such a thing could have happened to him and couldn’t even begin to imagine when, where, or how it could have happened. He trusted Sei and her psychic perceptions, though; if she said that something had been done to his mind, then he figured that there was a very good chance that she was right about that.

“Go ahead,” he said.

Sei gave a quick nod of acknowledgment. Indigo light filled her eyes, and she became utterly still, barely even breathing. Solonn noticed a definite something within his mind as Sei projected her consciousness deep into it, something like a nagging, unbidden thought. Whatever it was exactly that she was doing to him was not painful, not even really uncomfortable—just very distracting. Sei moved too quickly through his mindscape for him to discern her exact actions there, but while she was too fast for his mind to ever catch, the foreignness of her presence would not let it abandon the pursuit.

After only a few moments, she ceased her psychic investigation, her eyes losing their glow. “My word… what a strange and incredible experience you’ve had…” she remarked. She looked up into the eyes of the glalie before her with a combination of outrage and pity on her face. “But there is something very wrong with the circumstances as you recall them.”

“What? What do you mean?” Solonn asked, troubled.

Sei sighed and lowered herself onto the floor, sitting cross-legged. “You might want to sit down, too,” she said. The glalie heeded her advice, descending gently to the floor. “You may not believe what I’m about to tell you,” Sei said, “but I may be able to prove it yet. You have known so much deception since we were parted… you deserve to reunite with the truth.” She took a deep breath before proceeding. “Solonn… the evening when you left Lilycove was not as it seemed to be. The one who led you away… that was not Morgan.”

Solonn’s jaws parted, but he was temporarily dumbstruck. He remembered that evening perfectly clearly, remembered the care, sorrow, and sincere love and concern for her pokémon friends that the person who’d bid him farewell then had shown—he couldn’t imagine how that could not have been Morgan. “That can’t be possible!” he finally managed.

“Morgan didn’t leave this city on that evening or at any time during the days that followed, not even for a moment,” Sei informed him. “When I returned to our home, I found her there along with a couple of police officers. She had contacted them the moment she had come home and found that you were gone. She was so concerned for you that she remained waiting by the phone all night after the police had left, as well as through much of the time that followed, waiting for any word on your whereabouts.”

“But… if that wasn’t Morgan, then who in the gods’ names was that?” Solonn demanded, still unable to believe that things might not have transpired as he so clearly recalled them.

“I can think of a possible suspect,” Sei answered quietly. “Someone you know who just so happens to possess the ability to pass flawlessly for a human.”

Solonn fell dead silent as Sei’s statement sank in. “No,” he said. “You can’t honestly accuse that man of such a despicable thing…” Unconsciously, he rose, letting his gaze bear down upon Sei. “If you’ve seen my memories of him, you would know what sort of a man he is. You cannot truly believe that he would do what you’re suggesting he did!”

“No,” Sei responded, unflinching in the glalie’s appalled stare, “I can’t truly believe it; I can only suspect it. However, evidence that may prove or at least support my suspicion might exist within your mind. There are parts of your mind that are artificially separated from the rest. They were so well hidden that I couldn’t have noticed them had I not investigated your mind so thoroughly; as it is, they still nearly eluded my detection. They are very well quarantined, sealed in a way that I may not be able to undo successfully. But I’m willing to try.”

“…Go on, then,” Solonn said after a beat, then set himself back down. He couldn’t abide by the fact that there were aspects of his own mind that had been hidden from him or by the fact that some of what he had known might have been a lie. Solonn still couldn’t bear to think that his last moments with Morgan had been wasted on an impostor, and he refused to accept for even a moment that Jal’tai, who had seemed to him to be so motivated by a sense of justice and fairness, could have been that impostor.

“Whether successful or not, this procedure will not be a pleasant experience for you,” Sei warned.

“I assure you, I’ve experienced far worse,” Solonn told her earnestly, the memories of all that had happened thus far on this day still fresh on his mind. “Please,” he said, “just do whatever you can.”

“Very well, then.” Sei rose to her feet and remained utterly silent and still for a moment after, gathering her strength and bracing herself for the task at hand. She took a couple of steps back from Solonn, then extended her arms forward and slightly upward and crossed her spoons in front of her as if forming crosshairs bearing directly upon Solonn’s forehead. Light bloomed within her eyes once more, but it was deeper in color and more intense than before. The spoons that she held took on the same glow as she focused her psychic power through them. Then, with a cry of effort from its maker, a bolt of psychic energy shot forth from the crossed spoons and struck the glalie’s head with a brutal impact.

Solonn’s vision was swallowed up by the rush of indigo light, and he heard his voice come roaring forth of its own volition. The psychic bolt drove into his brain, seeming to saw against the fabric of his mind as it strove to break through the barrier that stood before it.

Sei snarled in her struggle to break the seals in Solonn’s mind, fearing that she wouldn’t be able to persist much longer. She felt her power beginning to ebb out of her grasp, her mind aching and longing to relent. She was sure that she could succeed if she didn’t let up, however, and so she ignored her brain’s pleas for rest. Knowing fully well how such overexertion could harm her, she nonetheless reached deep into her psychic energy reserves and drove her power onward with all her might.

A piercing cry exploded from the glalie’s throat as his suffering escalated into a sensation that felt like nothing less than his skull being blown apart. But in the next moment, the pain vanished without a trace, and a wave of utter tranquility descended upon his mind in its place.

That peace was broken almost immediately as all at once, the memories of what had truly happened in the wake of Solonn’s departure from Lilycove took their place in his mind alongside their fabricated counterparts. In a single instant, Solonn learned of a version of events that was very different from what he had remembered.

A morning that found him cast into another form without warning, without consent…

An attempted escape from a role into which he was forced…

A terrible punishment for his resistance, worse even than the agony brought by his reversion…


With a jolt, Solonn found himself pulled back into the scene surrounding him as Sei’s violent drive into his mind ended. He saw her crouching before him, panting and sweating heavily. “Are… are you going to be all right?” he asked worriedly in an unsteady voice, left quite shaken by the sudden rush of information that he had just received.

Sei only nodded in response, still fighting to catch her breath. Once she had done so, she looked up at Solonn, trace amounts of indigo light still lingering within her eyes. “Having compared those two chains of memories, I can tell with almost absolute certainty which of them is native to your own mind. It was the truth that had been locked away,” she said. “I think we have just learned a great deal about Jal’tai.”

Solonn looked deep into her eyes and started to respond, but found that words failed him at that moment. He didn’t want to believe that the best friend that he had ever known could have subjected him to the strange and terrible experiences that he now recalled… but at the same time, he couldn’t deny Sei’s findings. On some deep, subconscious level, even he could sense which of his memories were truly his own. He couldn’t pretend that what he had just learned was untrue.

“You now know the lengths that he was willing to go to in order to secure you in his endeavors,” Sei continued. “You should see that it’s therefore quite plausible that he impersonated Morgan so that he could lead you out of Lilycove, so that you would go where he wanted you to go.”

Solonn remained silent, still staring at Sei with eyes whose light was wavering with unease. Sei’s theory made sense to him, as much as it pained him to admit it. As he now recalled, Jal’tai had even admitted to having been at the theater where Solonn had been held by his abductors, saying that he had been prepared to get Solonn out of that place if Morgan hadn’t done so first. The truth, it seemed, was that Jal’tai had delivered him from that theater on that evening. Morgan hadn’t even been there.

Still… while it was true that the memories of Jal’tai doing terrible things to him were real, so were the memories of the years of guidance and friendship that the latios had shown him after. Solonn could not deny the worst of what had been done to him… but he could not deny the best of it, either.

He turned back to Sei. “I honestly don’t know how to feel about all of this…” he said, his voice breaking.

“I would imagine not,” Sei responded somberly. “I can think of few things as overwhelming as it must be to have one’s past undone in a single moment.”

Her eyes still held that faint light, and as she rose back to her feet, it steadied into a strong, even glow once more. “I’m afraid that the recovery of your memories is not yet finished,” she told him then. “I’m sure that you’re aware of a hole that still exists within your memory, are you not?”

Sei was right, Solonn recognized fairly quickly. There was a small frame of time from the morning that he had awakened as a human that was still missing from his mind.

“I suspect I know where that missing memory is hidden,” Sei went on. “There’s another section of your mind that is still sealed, a smaller one, but one that is sealed in a different way. As such, I’ll have to approach this seal somewhat differently, but I should still be able to break through it as long as I give it everything I can.”

Solonn frowned at her concernedly. “I know that it took a lot out of you last time… Maybe you should rest before you attempt such a thing.”

“Maybe so,” Sei concurred. “But as I said before, you deserve to reunite with the truth—the whole truth. You have suffered such injustice at the hands of a psychic being… let another psychic undo this wrong.”

Sei was concerned about the honor of her element, Solonn realized, just as he remembered her being back in the days when he’d lived with her. “Sei… I know that not all psychics use their abilities to do harm,” he assured her. Sei made a noise of acknowledgment, though she still wore an apologetic look. “Go ahead and try to undo that seal,” Solonn said. “But please, don’t push yourself too hard.”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be careful.” Sei once again crossed her spoons in front of her. She stared into Solonn’s eyes for slightly longer than she had the time before as if carefully plotting her course of attack. Then she sent another psychic probe lancing through his mind.

The sensation of it was every bit as unpleasant as it had been the last time, but there was something different about it this time. Sei’s effort to break through the barrier in her way was met with considerably more resistance than the last seal had given her. Solonn could feel the strain of her power within his mind; it was barely making any headway at all against the obstacle before it.

And then, with an alarming abruptness, the barrier gave way, hurtling Solonn into another lost memory…

* * *

Light suddenly filled his vision, unnaturally crisp and white. With a delay, his eyes adjusted to the brightness of his surroundings. Even then, they seemed unable to focus properly; his vision seemed dull and hazy.

Movement in the distance before him caught his attention. There, he saw a silhouette seeming to pace back and forth behind a translucent partition. The barrier in front of the figure was tinted in such a way that not even the harsh light of the space outside it could shine through entirely, making the exact appearance of whatever was behind it impossible for Solonn to determine.

Curious about the figure behind the dark barrier, Solonn tried to move toward it—but immediately found that he couldn’t. Terror rose swiftly within him as he found himself completely paralyzed. He tried to call out for help but found his voice as unresponsive to his commands as his body was.

Solonn stared with wide, fearful eyes at the silhouette before him, which had stopped moving and now seemed to be staring intently at him. He wondered if the silhouette represented someone who could help him—or if it was the one who had rendered him so helpless.

Then something entered his sight that made him forget all about the figure behind the barrier.

Slowly, smoothly, an enormous pair of thin, spindly arms made of glinting metal and glossy, white plastic descended from above with a faint sound of mechanized motion. Solonn was consumed with a desire to scream and bolt at the sight of them as they reached toward him, but he couldn’t even do so much as shudder in his fear as the strange hands prepared to close around him…


* * *

Before it could proceed any further, the unlocked memory playing within Solonn’s mind warped and then seemed to blow apart with a burst of pain within his head and searing red light within his eyes. He shouted involuntarily and heard another voice cry out likewise. His vision returned, and he didn’t understand the dark, blank picture that it was showing him until he realized that he had somehow ended up on his back and was now staring up at the ceiling.

Solonn ascended, his head pounding at the motion. He saw Sei still lying on the ground before him, her eyes wide and bulging as her breath came in pained gasps. “Sei!” he cried as he rushed over to her.

The alakazam looked up at him, her expression changing from agony to sorrow as her pain slowly dulled. “I’m so sorry,” she said very softly once she caught her breath. “There was some sort of anti-psychic mechanism there… it repelled me, forced me out. I’m afraid that I can’t restore your memory entirely.”

“It’s all right,” Solonn said. “You did the best you could.” He lowered his head, offering a horn to Sei in order to help her get up.

“That wasn’t even the memory I was seeking to unlock,” Sei said as she pulled herself upright with an effort. “It bore no relation to the events of the morning when you found yourself changed…” She sighed. “That’s even more of your past being kept from you, then.”

Solonn tried not to let himself look as disturbed as he was by this latest revelation. The memory that Sei had just resurrected within him was indeed unrelated to the morning when he had awakened as a human; its setting bore no resemblance to the Grand Suite, and it didn’t fit within the small frame of time that was missing from his memory of that morning. He didn’t know what the memory of the silhouette and the mechanical arms could represent and got the feeling that he might never know, but after seeing what her last efforts to unlock his memories had done to her, he definitely didn’t want Sei giving it another try anytime soon or perhaps even at all. He feared that if she pushed harder, so might whatever had repelled her last time—he could all too easily imagine it fighting back hard enough to kill her.

“I think all that really matters right now is that we’ve found each other again and know that we’re safe,” Solonn said then. Sei looked at him for a moment, then made a small, wordless noise of agreement, but still looked quite troubled. “How did you find me here, anyway?” he asked then, hoping to ease Sei’s mind somewhat by turning the subject away from his memories.

“Well,” Sei began, “shortly after I arrived here at the pokémon center, I thought I detected your mental signature. I could hardly believe it at first, but I followed it and was led here, to the ward for dangerous pokémon, and to you.”

A fresh pang of guilt swelled within Solonn as he learned the nature of the place where he currently was, realizing that his suspicions about why he had been imprisoned here within a containment field were correct. The reminder of what he had done to Byron sickened him to his core, and he turned away from Sei in deep shame as it finally hit him that in searching his mind so thoroughly as she had done, she had undoubtedly learned that he had taken someone’s life earlier that day.

“Be at peace, Solonn,” Sei said somberly, correctly interpreting his response. “You know that you didn’t mean to kill him.” The troubled look in her eyes deepened. “At any rate,” she added almost voicelessly, “it wouldn’t have made any difference if you hadn’t done so.”

Solonn turned back to face her at once, looking quite appalled. “How can you say that?” he demanded in disbelief. “He shouldn’t have died so young, so senselessly!”

“I’m sure he shouldn’t have, but he would have anyway.” Sei closed her eyes. “Something terrible has happened, Solonn,” she said gravely. “Something impossible… something unnatural.”

“What… what is it? What’s happened?” Solonn asked with a look of deep concern on his face and a chilling dread growing swiftly within his mind. Sei’s tone and the grave sorrow in her expression already told him that the answer would be painful.

Sei seemed unable to reply at first, but finally managed to find the strength to do so. “Earlier today, probably not long after you were brought here… something struck the humans of the city. I was enjoying another day out on the town, observing them, when it happened… I saw some of them fall as they walked, but others were stricken in their vehicles… there was chaos, Solonn. I sought help within their hospital, their police station, everywhere, but in every place I searched, they all simply lay there, fast asleep and fully insensible.”

“…All of them?” Solonn asked incredulously. “You couldn’t find anyone who wasn’t like that?”

“No, I couldn’t,” Sei answered sadly. “They all fell asleep, and we’ve not been able to find any cause for their condition or any means to awaken them. Once I realized that none of them could be reached, I began going around town and releasing pokémon from capture balls and PC storage—that’s actually what I was doing here in the first place. I sent some of the fastest fliers I could find out to other human settlements in hopes of finding some solution there, and I sent some of those who could teleport or otherwise force entry into locked buildings to help let out the rest of Lilycove’s pokémon in case… in case no solution could be found.”

A sorrowful sigh escaped her. “Unfortunately, it seems that no solution will be found. Some of those whom I sent out have already returned, and they tell of the same strange affliction plaguing the humans elsewhere. What’s more… we’ve also learned that this illness is terminal.” Her last statement was barely more than whispered, with what little of her voice that it held breaking on the last word. “The very old and the very young have already succumbed.”

For a long moment, Solonn was silent, an expression of horrified astonishment on his face. “Oh dear gods…” he finally whispered, lowering his gaze. He could never have imagined anything that could so effectively strike down an entire population, and yet it was happening. It was an almost unfathomably terrible notion to him that these humans could all be soon to perish…

Every last one of them.

Solonn’s eyes grew enormously wide, and he inhaled sharply as the personal impact of what was happening hit him. “You’ve got to take me to Morgan,” he urged Sei, his voice strained with panic. “Now, by the gods!”

Without a second’s hesitation, Sei invoked her teleport technique. Solonn’s heart raced as the golden light engulfed him, knowing that he was about to reunite with Morgan at last… but under circumstances for which he would never have wished.

* * *

<Sei! It is fortunate that you—>

Both the telepathic voice and the rattling that accompanied it fell abruptly silent as their owner noticed that it was not Sei alone who had just appeared in their midst. Several of Oth’s many eyes stared at Solonn, as did the eyes of three others, though it was clear from all of their expressions that they all had far more weighing on their minds than the glalie’s return.

There they all were: the other four pokémon whom Solonn had known all those years ago. All of them were safe and sound—but of course they were, Solonn acknowledged. They had been safely together all this time, just as Sei had said.

The four of them were gathered in a small, unfamiliar room; they had apparently moved into a new home since he had last seen them. Oth hovered nearby in the center of the room. The others were all at the far end of the room, gathered around a small sofa with Aaron kneeling in silence at one end and Brett and Raze huddled at the other, the latter crying almost silently as the former held her as well as he could manage with a foreleg around her shoulders. The shock and sorrow emanating from them all was palpable, hanging over the room like fog.

And there was Morgan, lying on the sofa with a little blue blanket draped over her sleeping form. Without a word, with barely even a breath, Solonn glided over to her. Though she was now a grown woman, the face that he saw as he looked down upon her was almost exactly like the one that smiled back at him from his memories. She wore an expression of utmost serenity, her eyes closed and the tiniest ghost of a smile curving her lips. It was hard for him to believe that someone who seemed to be in such blissful peace could be in the hold of something so strange and terrible.

“I don’t believe it… We were all sure that you’d never return,” Brett said in a soft voice as Solonn set himself down with a low, sorrowful hiss. “How did you finally find your way back?”

“That is a very long story,” Sei spoke up at once as she came over to join the others with Oth following at her side and helping to support her, “one that he will tell if and when he feels like it.”

Solonn silently thanked Sei, grateful that he had been spared the matter of his ordeal for the time being. He couldn’t have focused on the subject enough to relate that story to them anyway, not now. He could barely focus on anything other than the woman who lay before him, closer than she had been to him in nearly half a decade and yet so terribly distant in her unnatural sleep. Solonn was sure that she had ached with worry for him to no small degree during the time that they’d been apart. He had vanished from her life without a trace—neither of them had been given any chance to say goodbye to one another. Now history was repeating, in a sense, only he would have no time with her before she was taken away rather than the other way around.

“Nothing can awaken her?” he asked in a pained whisper, his voice carrying a plea that his question would be contradicted. “Nothing at all?”

<Nothing,> Oth confirmed sadly. <She does not respond to any stimuli.> A number of their eyes closed. <Her physical processes are slowing, steadily and irrevocably. Soon… they will cease,> they said quietly.

At the claydol’s words, Raze gave a strangled sob. The skarmory’s entire body shook as she sat there weeping, her head lowered so that it lay beside Morgan’s.

“Shh, it’s all right,” Brett tried to comfort her, but the brittleness of his tone told that he was trying just as hard to comfort himself. “At least she’s not suffering… at least she’s going peacefully.” Raze lifted her head and looked at him over her shoulder for a second, but then turned away, unconsoled.

<It is true that she cannot truly be awakened,> Oth spoke up then with a slight hint of hesitance in their mindvoice. <However… there is a chance that she can still be reached.>

Every eye in the vicinity other than Oth’s own turned toward the claydol. “Oth… what do you mean?” Sei asked.

<There is a method that could allow me to contact her within her subconscious mind,> Oth answered.

The others gained astounded expressions, their eyes wide. “Can you really do this?” Brett asked in a hushed tone.

<Possibly,> Oth replied. They gave a long, low rattle. <I have been attempting it all this time, but to no avail. I did not tell any of you what I was trying to do because I did not want to risk raising your hopes in vain. However, now that Sei is here…> Oth turned to face Sei even though their ring of eyes made such unnecessary. <With your assistance, I may be able to succeed in establishing contact with Morgan,> they told her.

“What do you require of me?” Sei asked.

<You will need only to synchronize yourself with my psychic frequency and provide a moderate boost of power.>

“All right, then.” Sei said. Her eyes closed, and all eight of Oth’s followed suit immediately thereafter.

Solonn and the others watched Oth and Sei with bated breath, wondering what, if anything, the actions of the two psychics would yield. None of the four who watched them were altogether sure of exactly what Oth and Sei were doing, but they all held a wary hope that the claydol’s method would indeed enable some kind of contact with the otherwise unreachable Morgan.

Seconds passed with no clear indication that the two psychics were actually doing anything at all. Then all of Oth’s eyes suddenly opened and emitted a flash of pale light that swallowed up everything in sight.

When the light subsided, the tiny room was gone. Solonn and the others now found themselves in a place that was very different, but also very familiar. A wooden fence enclosed them in a small field of vividly green grass, with clouds drifting through the sky above them. A sitrus tree stood nearby, its branches covered with delicate white blossoms… and beneath that tree sat Morgan, who was very much awake and staring pensively at a sitrus blossom in her hand, picking off a couple of its petals and letting them fly away on the breeze.

How… how is this possible? Solonn wondered silently, staring speechlessly at the sight of Morgan awake and well once more. Aaron, Brett, Raze, and Sei were looking upon her with equal amazement.

<This is a living dream,> Oth privately told the other pokémon using their mindvoice alone, almost as if they had picked up on the glalie’s unspoken question. <I have projected her dreamscape into our minds and stirred her own consciousness within it. Her body still sleeps, but her mind is awake in this place.>

It seemed to be the only good news that the circumstances would allow. Morgan could not be saved, but at least she could spend what little time she had left with the pokémon who cared about her—with all of them. Somewhere between illusion and reality, she would see a face that she’d surely thought lost forever.

Tentatively, Solonn rose and began to approach her. “…Morgan?”

At first, Morgan gave no clear indication that she had heard him, and Solonn feared that this attempt to reach her would be in vain after all. But then, she gave an unmistakable, albeit delayed reaction, a strange look crossing her face. Slowly, she lifted her gaze from the flower in her hand. Her green eyes met the glowing, blue ones before her and widened dramatically before filling with tears.

A smile of amazement spread across her face, and with a cry of joy, she jumped to her feet and rushed over toward Solonn. There was something strange in the way that she moved; she seemed almost to drift more than run, as if she were under less gravity. The moment she reached Solonn, she threw her arms around him as far as they would go, hugging him tightly. Solonn immediately made an effort to keep his coldness away from her, not knowing if it could affect her in this place or not.

Seconds passed before Morgan could find her voice as she stood there holding on to Solonn and crying in relief and happiness. “Oh my God…” she said finally. Her voice, like her movements, was peculiarly altered; she sounded faint, distant. “I thought I’d lost you forever!”

“I thought I’d never be with you again, either,” Solonn said quietly.

“I was so scared,” Morgan said almost breathlessly. “I didn’t know what might be happening to you… Are you all right? Did they hurt you?”

“Yes,” Solonn answered honestly, his tone sober as he recalled just how he had been hurt since leaving Lilycove. “But I’m fine now.”

“Oh, thank God,” Morgan whispered. “Thank God…”

She let go of Solonn then and stepped back from him. Her face was still streaked with tears, but she was smiling radiantly. Her gaze swept over the backyard, finding all of her pokémon gathered there with her. “We’re all together again,” she said happily, gratefully, and made a beckoning motion toward the others.

As they all drew in close to her in as much of a group hug as they could all manage, Solonn noticed the wind starting to pick up. He shifted his gaze away from everyone else and saw the scene surrounding him fade momentarily, very briefly losing color and definition.

Solonn had a terrible feeling about what the ebbing stability of the dreamscape might mean, and he shot a worried, questioning glance toward Oth. The claydol nodded insofar as they could, subtly and silently. Solonn looked away from Oth at once and turned back toward Morgan. He was very soon to part with her once more… but he found that he could not bring himself to say goodbye to her. He had never seen such pure elation on a person’s face before as he saw on hers at that moment, as she stood surrounded by some of her dearest friends. He couldn’t bear to shatter the joy of her reunion with him by telling her that it was not to last.

But there was, at least, something that he felt that he should tell her, something that he felt that she deserved to hear. “Morgan,” he spoke up. The human looked up into his eyes, still beaming brightly, her eyes still shining with tears of joy. “Thank you… for everything,” Solonn said sincerely. “For all the kindness you’ve shown me, all the caring… I never forgot it, and I never will.”

“Oh…” Morgan said, looking up at Solonn with wide eyes. She then embraced him very tightly once more. “You’re so sweet…” she whispered. “I should thank you, too,” she said earnestly, “all of you guys. You’re all such wonderful friends…”

She smiled again at those around her, and before their eyes, she began to literally fade away. “I love you all,” she told them, her voice growing fainter with each word. “I’ll always love you…”
The wind whipped up into a true gale then, pulling the sitrus blossoms from the tree. They alone seemed to keep their definition as the rest of the dreamscape faded into a blur. One final gust swept around Morgan’s vanishing form, and in a swirl of white petals, she was gone.

The room came back into focus as the dreamscape disappeared completely. Six living souls emerged from the illusion and beheld the reality that now surrounded them, the reality that now lay lifeless before them.

A stark, surreal quietness hovered as the full impact sank into them with a delay. Raze’s voice was the first to break the silence, a piercing cry of pure anguish. Her outpouring of grief brought similar reactions from the others, and well into the night, they all remained gathered there in mourning around the friend who had just departed from their midst.

* * *

The sun set over a cluster of pyres on the following evening in Lilycove. Solonn sat and watched them burning from a safe distance, his mind and heart very heavy with thoughts of the recent tragedy that was represented by those flames. Aaron, Raze, Brett, and Oth were all there with him, and hundreds of other pokémon were also gathered in mourning there in the streets.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a brief burst of golden light. “Hello, Sei,” Solonn said to its source in a hoarse, very weary voice.

“I delivered your message,” the alakazam told him, sounding equally drained.

“Thank you,” Solonn said with a sigh. He thought about how the people of Convergence might be reacting to the message that he had sent to them via Sei: that “Michael Layne” had perished along with all of the other humans in Lilycove. Solonn imagined that they would be saddened by the news but also that they would not be surprised by it. The stantler guarding Convergence had only been keeping it hidden from humans; the flying pokémon scouts who had searched in the west for aid had found the humans of the integrated community stricken with the same fate that had befallen those in Lilycove.

During the course of that day, more such scouts had returned with news that the same, terrible phenomenon had occurred in every human settlement that they had searched. The unnatural, fatal sleep seemed to have touched all of Hoenn—and according to the most recent reports, it had reached humans living in nearby regions, as well.

In the wake of these reports, rumors began to spread among the pokémon who had witnessed the phenomenon about its scope. Many of them began to believe that as widespread as the malady had already proven to be, it might very well prove to be a tragedy of global proportions.

Solonn was among those who found themselves possessed of such suspicions, and it was thus that he had decided not to attempt to go back and try to resume his position as the leader of Convergence. If humanity truly was vanishing from the world, then it was no longer necessary for the leader of that or of any other community to be able to speak to them. With such abilities no longer a requirement of the position, anyone with the mind and the spirit to lead the people of Convergence could do so. Solonn reckoned that in such troubled times as these were, they needed the guidance of one of their own number, not that of some unknown glalie who would have just seemed to come into their midst from out of nowhere.

In considering where and how he would carry on from here, Solonn knew that there was still a place in his heart for Convergence and that he might like to return there someday, but as just an ordinary citizen. He also felt a sense of belonging here in Lilycove and knew that he also liked the idea of coming to stay here with his friends. At the present, however, there was one place in particular where he knew that he most wanted to be.

“Just let me know when you’re ready,” Sei told him then. “I’ll take you as soon as you wish.”

“I’m ready,” Solonn said quietly. It had been nearly half a decade since he had last seen his homeland, his people, his family.

He had thought about Morgan’s promise to return him to Virc-Dho once his contest career was over. Even though it had not truly been Morgan herself who had released him from her custody, Solonn knew that the real Morgan would also have ultimately let him go. He felt that she would want him to return to his home now that he could no longer serve the purpose for which he had agreed to stay.

<Please, Sei, let me transport him,> Oth offered. <You have done a great deal for these people during the past two days. You deserve a chance to rest.>

“Very well,” Sei said, then took a seat next to Aaron.

Solonn rose from the ground as Oth came to hover beside him, and then he turned to face the rest of his friends. “Maybe we’ll meet again someday. I hope we will… until then, goodbye,” he said, and a chorus of farewells echoed his own.

He gave one last, very faint smile to his friends, then turned toward the pyres in the distance. “Goodbye,” he whispered to one last friend as he gazed into the flames, holding her in his thoughts as golden light surrounded him. Your promise was kept, my friend.

_____________________

Next time: After nearly half a decade, Solonn is returning to Virc-Dho at last. See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 08:41 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Chapter 13 – The Serpent Denied


Light briefly filled the border cavern just outside Virc-Dho as Solonn and Oth materialized there. For both of them, this part of Shoal Cave was familiar territory. It was where Oth had been employed by Morgan to teleport her back home after she had acquired her new snorunt, and it was the place where Solonn had first encountered beings of another species and where other foreign creatures had later found him and taken him away.

It had been nearly half a decade since Solonn had last laid eyes upon this place. During those years, he at first would have never thought that he would be kept from this place for so long, and then later would never have imagined he’d be back here again so soon, if ever at all. He’d never quite known what to expect to feel when the day came that would finally bring him back home. That time had now arrived, and he still didn’t know what to make of it.

Solonn turned slightly to regard the claydol at his side. “Thank you again for bringing me here,” he said earnestly to them.

<It was the least I could do,> Oth said. <I know that this is something you have long desired… and I truly believe that this is what she would have wanted, as well,> the claydol added, their true voice faltering as it rattled softly alongside those last words.

Solonn nodded silently in agreement. He, too, felt that Morgan would be glad to know that he had ultimately made it back to where he belonged, just as she had intended for him. “Farewell, Oth. Take care of yourself.”

<As must you. Farewell,> Oth said, then teleported away.

Solonn turned from the spot where Oth had been, his gaze sweeping the cavern as he sought the ice barrier that marked the entrance to Virc-Dho itself. He located it shortly and drifted over to it at once. Once there, he looked up over the expanse of the wall, which spread out to nearly twice his width and upward to nearly thrice his height.

Though sizable, the barrier did look smaller and less imposing than it had the last time he’d seen it, back when he was still a snorunt. This was not only because he was much larger than he had been back then but also because he now possessed power over it that he had not before. Now that he was a glalie, he could simply vaporize the ice wall and pass through the entrance that it blocked.

Solonn made to do just that, summoning his elemental power to the task. The barrier submitted at once to his desire to gain entry, dissolving in a wave from the ceiling to the floor. Solonn crossed the threshold and proceeded forward into the entrance tunnel for several yards before realizing that he’d forgotten to close the barrier behind him.

Were he not so drained in spirits after the events of the past couple of days, he might have at least cursed himself silently for his absentmindedness, but as it was, he went ahead and forgave himself. He looked back toward the mouth of the tunnel, restored the ice wall, then turned back away from it and began making his way deeper into the warren.

Though back in his native land, Solonn still had to find his actual home within it once more. Quite swiftly, he realized that this wouldn’t be too easily done due to the fact that he had only traveled the route that led from the surface exit to the cavern in which he had lived once, and that had been over a decade ago.

He had only a faint, sketchy impression of that memory by which to navigate, and that was rendered even more inadequate by the fact that things had plainly changed around here since he’d been gone. As he made his way through the tunnels, he occasionally passed relatively fresh-looking holes in the walls; they appeared to be offshoots of the tunnel that were still under construction. With these new landmarks, the picture that Solonn now received of this place no longer matched the one that he held in his memory.

Before long, Solonn acknowledged that he had no sure idea of where he currently was in the warren or where he was to go from there and resigned himself to the need to ask for directions. The situation seemed less than obliging where that endeavor was concerned, however; he searched throughout the tunnels for a considerable while without running into anyone at all from whom to seek guidance.

Undeterred, he kept searching, until finally he picked up sounds that suggested people out and about. The source of those sounds wasn’t particularly close, but he could identify the direction from whence it was coming. Now, at least, he had a decent sense of which way to go.

Solonn set off toward the noise, which grew louder and more defined as he drew closer. There were definitely people somewhere ahead; those were unmistakably voices, and in considerable numbers. At length, he arrived at the source of the chatter. Through another wall of ice, he could just make out a crowd of shapes moving about.

He removed this barrier as he had done to the one before it, remembering to close this one behind him as soon as he’d passed beyond it. Solonn now found himself in a large chamber, one that was easily the size of the cavern just outside the warren. Glalie were gathered here, dozens of them, appearing to be doing little else other than just milling about and chatting with one another. Solonn had just found his way into a conversation hall, though he did not realize this; the social habits of the glalie were kept from their unevolved counterparts, and Solonn had not evolved until after he’d been taken from Virc-Dho.

Solonn was aware of many pairs of eyes shifting his way and locking onto him as he entered the midst of the people gathered there; whether their stares were due to his being considerably larger than any of them or simply due to the fact that his was an unfamiliar face (or very possibly for both of those reasons), he could not tell, nor did he particularly care. He also couldn’t tell whether those among them who now watched him were doing so out of mere curiosity or out of fear. Solonn hoped that it wasn’t the latter. He really wasn’t in the mood to have to chase one of them into a corner just to get directions.

He approached a small clique and brought himself to a stationary hover before them. The pupils of the three whom he now faced drifted upward to meet his own, and they all held his gaze expectantly and warily.

“Yes?” the centermost of the three spoke up.

“Sorry to bother you,” Solonn said, making a conscious effort to sound as polite and non-threatening as possible, “but I need your assistance in finding someone. Do any of you know where I might find a Ms. Azvida Zgil-Al?”

He had hoped, of course, that one of them would respond in the affirmative, but he had also been prepared for the possibility of having no such luck with these three and thus having to move on. He had not been prepared for the response that he did receive from them: stares that went from warily questioning to unmistakably hostile. One of the three even hissed at him.

“Up to her horntips in hellfire, as far as I care,” the glalie in the center said acidly, her eyes narrowed in a glare that she held upon Solonn for a brief moment more before she turned abruptly and began to move away from him, with her two companions following closely behind her.

Solonn was initially too taken aback by the hostility of the reaction to his question to know quite what to make of it, then found himself battling an urge to cut the three off and demand that they apologize for insulting his mother like that—and perhaps not using his polite and non-threatening tone this time. He managed with an effort to contain his outrage, certain that doing or saying anything that could potentially scare the locals would only make it harder to get any information from them.

He expected that he’d have to ask the same question of others until he learned what he needed to know, but he wasn’t looking forward to giving it another try, not if the mention of Azvida’s name would garner the same response from anyone else here. Solonn wondered what his mother could have possibly done to get herself spoken of in such a way, but he knew better than to ask. He was sure that he couldn’t trust that story coming from the mouths of people who disliked her, that the facts could too easily be distorted by their bias. He reckoned that he would simply have to wait to get that answer from Azvida herself sometime unless she made it clear that she didn’t want to talk about it.

Bracing himself for the possibility of more unfriendly responses, Solonn asked others among the crowd for Azvida’s whereabouts. Only one of those whom he asked responded with anywhere near the venom of the first glalie he’d asked, but they all still plainly displayed some degree of dislike or at least unease at the mention of his mother’s name. Those who gave any answer at all said that they had no clue where to find her, though whether they were honest in that claim or simply didn’t wish to be of any help where she or anyone who was associated with her was concerned, Solonn could not be certain.

Meanwhile, he also kept an eye out as he moved throughout the chamber just in case Azvida was actually there in person. He didn’t spot her, though, and wasn’t surprised that he didn’t; it did seem awfully unlikely to him that she would want to be in a place that would probably not welcome her.

Eventually, Solonn grew weary of asking and searching in vain despite how earnestly he still wished to reunite with his family. It seemed that no one here would be of any help, and he figured that he might be better off just looking for Azvida throughout the warren on his own. True, he might find himself lost more than a few times before having any success, but he was beginning to find that option preferable to staying here with the stares, the unsociable silence, and the dark things that he was sure were being whispered at that very moment regarding someone about whom he cared very much.

“Hey. I overheard you asking about an Azvida Zgil-Al,” a voice sounded from behind him, one whose tone was difficult to read.

Solonn hesitated a moment before turning to face its source, half out of a desire not to startle this person in case he turned out to be friendly, half out of reluctance to possibly have to deal with another person who was not. There, he found a glalie hovering alone, looking up right into his eyes—just looking, not staring; the light of the newcomer’s eyes was soft, not seeming to burn into Solonn as that of many of the other eyes that he’d found upon him in this place had. There was, however, a peculiar look on this glalie’s face, one that Solonn found as hard to interpret as the newcomer’s tone had been.

“Yes, I was,” Solonn confirmed, speaking somewhat slowly and cautiously. “Do you know where I might find her?”

The glalie before Solonn only gave a quick, minimal nod in response, as if feeling the need to be inconspicuous about it. “Follow me,” he said in an undertone, then turned away, making for the exit at once.

It seemed to Solonn like a curiously sudden resolution of what had been a long and draining search for answers among these people, but he was presently disinclined to be picky. Help was help, he figured, and so he followed his newfound guide out of the conversation hall without question or delay.

“All right, just keep following me and you’ll reach your destination just fine,” the guide said once he and Solonn were well away from the conversation hall. “Now, I will warn you: it’s not exactly a short trip from here.”

“That’s fine,” Solonn said. “Better than staying back there, at least.”

“Ugh, I second that,” the guide said. “Gods, you’d think people would let it go already; it’s been months now, for the gods’ sakes.” The guide sighed. “I hate seeing her treated like that. She’s a nice lady; always was.”

Solonn nodded in agreement. It was a relief to him to finally encounter someone here who regarded his mother the same way that he remembered her. “So, how do you know her?” he then asked.

“Old friend of the family,” the guide replied, by which he was indicating himself. “I’ve known her since I was a kid.”

He stopped and turned to face Solonn then, his eyes holding a peculiar, dancing light that suggested barely-contained excitement. “Now, how do you know her?” he asked, his voice reflecting that same strange, sudden brightness.

“Relation,” Solonn answered. “She’s my mother.”

The light in the guide’s eyes surged into full intensity at that response, and he burst into roaring laughter. “Ha!” he cried triumphantly. “Knew it, knew it, knew it!”

Solonn held a rather bewildered stare upon the guide, who had just burst into joyous laughter. When that finally abated, the guide met Solonn’s gaze once more, relatively calm and quiet now but still wearing a massive grin.

“Yeah, I figured it was you,” he said once he’d caught his breath. “Always were a big guy, weren’t you?”

Flags rose within Solonn’s mind, and he found himself possessed of strong suspicions regarding the person with whom he was talking. “…I know you, don’t I?”

The guide grinned even more broadly. “Don’t believe I’ve bothered to introduce myself, Mr. Zgil-Al. Name’s Zilag Shal-Zirath,” he said, inclining his face until it was almost parallel to the floor in an exaggerated bow.

“Ah, of course, of course.” Solonn could not help but smile, even if only faintly. “Apologies for not recognizing you sooner…”

“Psssh, it’s fine,” Zilag said dismissively. “Neither of us are what we used to be, after all. I wouldn’t have expected you to recognize me just because I recognized you; I just happened to find someone your size asking around for Azvida and put the pieces together. Anyway, she is going to be absolutely ecstatic to see you,” he said, then resumed leading Solonn through the tunnels. “She thought you were lost forever—we all did.”

“Does she have any idea at all what happened to me?” Solonn asked. He thoroughly doubted that Azvida or anyone else here could possibly guess just what he had experienced in his time away from Virc-Dho, but he wondered if they did at least recognize that he had been abducted, that he had been taken into the custody of foreign beings. He wondered if they had assumed that he’d been alive all this time and had been wondering how he was doing or if they had eventually just assumed that he’d died.

“Oh yeah,” Zilag said. “She knows because I told her. Soon as I got away from my sister and her gang, I went and told her what they’d done to you. Azvida saw it necessary to bring in the authorities on the matter, but I tried not to get too worried. I was still sure that we’d find you right where Sanaika had left you—that is, until they found that you weren’t there…”

He gave a sudden shake, as if to snap out of a funk. “Whatever,” Zilag said brightly. “You’re here now, right? Looks like there’s a happy ending to all this after all.”

“Hm,” was all Solonn could say to that, in a tone that just managed to convey agreement. Zilag was right, really, he thought—after all that Solonn had gone through in the years that had separated him from this place, things were finally going as he had long hoped that they one day would. The fact that his family would now be made whole once again came across as an undeniable light among the recent sorrows.

As Solonn continued to follow Zilag, he noticed that their path had simplified dramatically. The tunnel sloped gently downward in an almost perfectly straight line at this point; there were no more offshoots branching away along its walls. The ice lining it was duller, its surface more uneven, suggesting that this part of the warren was not as well maintained.

Its neglected feel gave Solonn the impression that this route was not often traveled—perhaps, he could not help but consider, because people were inclined to avoid it. He wondered if Azvida might have encountered so much hostility from the public that she had felt it necessary to take refuge in this place—or if, worse still, this was a place to which those who were rejected by the community were sent, a shunned place for shunned people.

He felt something seem to boil in him at the thought of his family being cast out like that. He still didn’t know what in the world could have turned so many people against his mother; he couldn’t imagine anything that she could have possibly done that would deserve that kind of treatment.

He had known better than to ask the people at the conversation hall about it, but he reckoned that he could trust Zilag to give him a bias-free answer regarding how Azvida had come to be so unpopular. “Just what was it that happened months ago?” he asked. “What could my mother have possibly done?”

“Well, she didn’t actually do anything,” Zilag answered. “What happened was that this… this creature came asking around here for her—something that scared the hell out of the public. Since this thing was here looking specifically for her, everyone blames her for bringing them here.”

“That hardly seems fair,” Solonn said, frowning in disapproval. “Did she even actually ask for this ‘creature’ to come here?”

“Don’t know. She doesn’t really like to talk about that whole situation, so…” Zilag trailed off. Solonn made a wordless noise of understanding; he had suspected that Azvida was not inclined to discuss that topic. “At any rate, I doubt anyone really cares whether she actually summoned the creature here or not,” Zilag went on. “I think the thing freaked them out beyond all logic and reason.”

“And just what sort of creature was this, anyway?”

“Again, don’t know; I didn’t actually see them myself. All I know is what I’ve heard, and what I’ve heard is that they were big—as in, huge—and bright silver. A couple of the people who claimed they got really close said they could see their reflections in the creature’s hide. I don’t know how much of what’s said about them is fact and how much is just exaggeration, though.”

Solonn couldn’t say how accurate or trustworthy the accounts of the mysterious creature were, either, but he went ahead and used the descriptions that he’d been given through Zilag to see if he could identify the being that had shaken up the community. Searching through his memories of the many species that he had encountered while living and working in Convergence and of those he had learned of during the course of his education there, he tried to guess what the creature could have been. He could think of only a couple of species among those of which he knew that could be potential matches. His memories of them weren’t perfect, but he recalled enough to recognize that any of those creatures would certainly have caused a stir among the people here.

“So whatever became of the creature?” Solonn asked.

“As far as anyone knows, they just left. Whether or not they ever did find Azvida is anyone’s guess.”

“If they left, then there’s really no good reason for everyone to keep holding it against her,” Solonn said with a considerable amount of disgust in his tone.

“I know,” Zilag said with a sigh. “But, like I said, they seem to be beyond logic and reason where all that’s concerned.”

Solonn said nothing more from this point, his mind too weighted with thoughts of what had befallen Azvida. At length, the long, monotonous path that he and Zilag traveled split off into numerous directions. Zilag led Solonn into a rightward branch and then to a dead end shortly thereafter.

“We’re here,” Zilag announced. That they were anywhere other than at a wall was questionable; the ice that stood before them was very thick and clouded with pale sediment, offering only a hazy view of nondescript darkness beyond. “Of course, we have to let them know we’re here if we want them to let us in… Hey!” he shouted at the top of his lungs, making Solonn wince.

Several seconds passed with no indication that anyone had even heard Zilag’s call, let alone that anyone was doing anything about it in response. “Maybe no one’s there right now,” Solonn said.

“No, they’re there,” Zilag assured him. “Those two don’t go out very much anymore, as you can imagine.”

Something in what Zilag had just said caught in Solonn’s mind; only now did it seem to register despite it not being the first time that Zilag had used that word. “…Did you say ‘those two’?” Solonn asked; Zilag responded to this with a nod. “Who else is there with her?”

“Just her mate,” Zilag answered. Solonn abruptly turned to face Zilag, his eyes wide with surprise, but before he could say or ask anything about what he had just learned, “Ah, see? They’re letting us in,” Zilag said, and he directed Solonn’s attention toward the wall before them with the dip of a horn.

Slowly, the thick ice obstructing their way peeled away in layers, vanishing into vapor a few inches at a time. The two made their way forward a little bit at a time as the receding barrier gradually allowed until finally the last of it disappeared into the walls and revealed the open space beyond.

From what Solonn could see of it, the chamber at which they had arrived was quite spacious and orderly—it actually looked rather nice, he thought, not at all like the miserable hovel that the condition of the path leading to this residence had led him to expect. First and foremost in his vision and attention, however, was the unfamiliar male hovering right inside the entrance—Azvida’s mate, Solonn presumed.

“Hello again, Zilag… and who’s this?” the man asked as his gaze shifted from Zilag to Solonn and lingered there, raising a single, ice-glazed eyebrow.

“Go get Azvida,” Zilag said, grinning.

The glalie just past the entrance held an odd look upon Zilag for a moment, then turned around and set off into the chamber, disappearing into one of its diverging tunnels. Conversation in hushed voices was briefly audible from deeper within the residence, and then the unfamiliar glalie returned, accompanied now by someone who was very familiar.

Her eyes found Solonn at once and fixed their gaze and their sharp, flickering light there upon him; Solonn could tell that there was something at work behind them. Maybe she, like Zilag before her, had already guessed his identity, but perhaps she didn’t quite dare to believe it. There seemed to be something else in that stare, too, Solonn noted, but he couldn’t even begin to interpret it.

“He’s back,” Zilag told her, his voice quavering slightly with excitement.

Azvida’s eyes widened dramatically, and their light flared brightly. Her mouth opened, working mutely for a moment before she found her words. “Are you really…?” she finally managed almost breathlessly, trailing off as she continued to stare at Solonn.

Solonn found himself having to find his voice as well before he could respond. “Yes, Mother,” he confirmed softly.

“Oh…” Azvida’s voice cracked and trembled, her eyes giving a quivering, powerful glow. “Oh merciful gods, it’s a miracle!” she cried, then surged forward, her head lowered against Solonn’s side, shaking in dry, silent sobs.

“Well, I think I’d better be on my way,” Zilag said then, smiling at the reunited mother and son. “No doubt Hledas is wondering where I got off to. Take care, folks,” he said, then departed.

Azvida remained close to Solonn for a few moments more, giving a string of grateful murmurs unto the gods for his return. She looked up at him before she had quite calmed, her eyes shining with joy as she beamed brightly. “Welcome back, son,” she said warmly. She turned toward the main chamber. “Come on in, sit down and relax,” she said with a backwards glance. “You’ve most certainly earned it.”

Solonn followed Azvida away from the entrance and sat down with her in the main chamber. He noticed that the third among their number had not come to join them there, and glancing back from whence he’d come, Solonn found him still lingering by the entrance, restoring the thick wall that had been there in its entirety before joining the others.

“Here,” Azvida said, and caused a decent-sized chunk of ice to form in front of herself and the other two glalie. Each of them could have just as easily generated their own ice, of course, but it seemed that Azvida was in a rather generous mood at the moment. Solonn felt that he could certainly use some refreshments, and he thanked Azvida for providing the ice before he set about partaking of it, as did Azvida’s mate.

“I suppose you’re wondering who he is, aren’t you?” Azvida spoke up then, indicating her right, where her mate sat giving the occasional, mildly interested nibble of his ice. “This is Jeneth Avasi-Ra. We’ve been together for almost two years now.”

“Ah. Nice to meet you, Mr. Avasi-Ra,” Solonn said, inclining his head respectfully.

“Likewise,” Jeneth said. “Jeneth will do, by the way,” he added amiably. His full attention was now on Solonn; the ice before him lay forgotten for the time being. With a rather appraising look leveled at him, Jeneth said, “I never thought I’d actually meet you in person, you know? I’d always wished that I could—Azvida’s told me all about you.”

“…Thanks,” Solonn responded, doing an admirable job of concealing a sudden unease. The thought that Azvida might have truly told Jeneth all about him wasn’t one that he found particularly comforting.

“I’m sure the two of you will get along very nicely. I’m just beyond grateful that you’ll get the chance to know each other—just grateful beyond words that you’re home again,” Azvida said, and the glow in her eyes began trembling again. “I never stopped wishing that I’d see you again, but after finding out that it was the creatures from above who had you… Gods, I’d never worried so much in my life. I had nightmares about what might be happening to you out there—horrible, horrible things—and I couldn’t help but fear that I’d lost you for good.”

She sighed in what was a very long-due relief. “But the nightmare is over. You’re back where you belong now, thank the gods.”

“Seems everything comes back around in time, doesn’t it?” Jeneth said then, sending an odd, significant glance Azvida’s way. Azvida’s mouth fell open, and then she shot him an alarmed, piercing look that plainly told that he’d crossed some line.

She took a deep breath and turned back toward Solonn, the sudden shock fading from her face as she did so. However, Solonn noticed that there was still something distinctly amiss behind her eyes; though she was clearly trying to conceal it, she could not help but look a bit troubled.

“I shudder to think what you might have endured out there,” Azvida said then, leaving the matter of the peculiar exchange that she’d just had with Jeneth behind without any explanation. “So, how did you finally manage to get back here?”

Solonn had thoroughly expected that Azvida would want to know about that, as well as about what had happened to him during his absence. He was somewhat reluctant to share all the details of his experience away from Virc-Dho, however—some of them were things that he didn’t really expect anyone to digest, after all, and some of them were of the nature that he would prefer not to speak or think of them ever again if he could help it.

He decided that he’d just give a minimal account for now and perhaps elaborate more on the story another time—perhaps. “One of the pokémon I met out there was able to bring me back. They would have been able to do so sooner, but I was dragged away from them and thrown into… someone else’s affairs. Eventually, I got away from all that and back to that pokémon, and… well, here I am.” Some part of his mind silently congratulated him for coming up with that succinct, euphemistic response.

Azvida nodded slowly, absorbing that. “You’re very lucky, Solonn,” she said. “It’s a good thing that there was someone around who could help you out—most of those who are taken by the creatures from above aren’t so fortunate. Gods, imagine if you’d shared their fate… some of the things that those creatures put people through are just horrible…”

Part of Solonn’s mind began to wonder at once how Azvida knew that, but he had another response to her words that was stronger and more immediate. “Not all of them were so terrible,” he said. “The one who took me was actually very nice, very reasonable.”

He paused and inhaled deeply before continuing; he’d known that talking about Morgan would be difficult, but he insisted on defending her character. “She was even willing to let me go once she realized that I wanted to, but I was stolen from her before she could. Stolen by pokémon,” he felt it necessary to emphasize. “I know she always wanted me to be happy, and I know she would have helped me return here… she just never got the chance…” His throat constricted painfully, and he could say no more.

Azvida held a saddened expression in silence for a moment, seeming to recognize the weight of that subject upon her son. “As I said,” she finally responded, “you were very fortunate.”

From that point forward, Azvida didn’t ask anything more of Solonn regarding his abduction, keeping the conversation geared toward things that had happened in Virc-Dho while he had been away. Among other things, she told him of how Sanaika and his gang had escaped punishment for what they had done to Solonn by fleeing up into Shoal Cave somewhere, never to be seen again. She also told of how she had met Jeneth and of how Zilag had been set up with Hledas by his parents, who had wanted to assure that “at least one of our children didn’t end up with a damned fool,” in Ms. Shal-Zirath’s own words.

Curiously, the discussion remained solely between Azvida and Solonn; Jeneth said nothing more in the wake of the comment that he apparently should not have made. He merely sat silently with something clearly working behind his eyes, something that he wanted to say but held back.

Eventually, it reached an hour at which everyone agreed that it was time to call it a night. Solonn was shown by Azvida to a spare chamber in which he could stay for the time being. He bid her goodnight, and she smiled at him as he entered his room for the night.

Azvida then followed Jeneth into the sleeping chamber that they shared on the opposite side of the main cavern, where she immediately set herself down in the soft snow blanketing its floor and sighed blissfully. Something she had long thought hopeless had actually been set right in the end, and she was sure that she’d rest all the better for it from now on.

“The gods have sent you a miracle today, haven’t they?” Jeneth said as he moved over to her side.

“Yes, they certainly have,” Azvida responded. She waited for Jeneth to set himself down beside her as usual, but he did no such thing. Puzzled, she turned to where he remained hovering, giving him a look that asked if something might be the matter.

“They’ve sent your son back, safe and sound—and so soon after the last thing they sent you,” Jeneth said, seemingly musing aloud—yet at the same time, he was looking pointedly right at Azvida, his keen gaze imparting a particular significance to his words. “Maybe they’re trying to tell you something.”

The blissful relief that had enveloped Azvida just moments before retreated at those words. “I’ve already made my decision where that’s concerned,” she said, sounding quite discomfited. “I made it long before you came into the picture; you know that.”

“And you’ve questioned that decision ever since it was made. You know that,” Jeneth countered. “You know you made it for all the wrong reasons; you’ve known it all along, but you just wouldn’t own up to those mistakes.”

Azvida winced and turned away from him, but Jeneth circled around to face her, refusing to let her escape his gaze. “The chance to make this right has practically been lined up and laid out right in front of you. You know you can do this. And you know you should.”

“But… Gods, imagine what he’ll think. He’ll never forgive me for it,” Azvida said, her voice constrained. “I’ve only just gotten him back. I don’t want to lose him again now…” she whispered.

“Maybe he won’t forgive you. But then again, maybe he will. There’s only one way to know. And as I said, you’ve been given the chance to make up for your mistakes. The gods have done their part, as has he. Now all that’s left is for you to do your part. Tell him, Azvida, please,” Jeneth said firmly but not unkindly. “He deserves this, especially after all that he’s surely been through.”

Azvida stared back at him with a very cornered expression, at a loss for words. Some faction of her mind set about searching frantically for a fresh supply of protests, but disobligingly, it could conjure none. This was a matter that Azvida had always feared to share with Solonn or with anyone else; she would never have shared it with Jeneth, but he had insisted on enlightening her mate.

Now, though she could not deny that she agreed with the point that Jeneth had made, she was nonetheless just as terrified as she had ever been of the revelation that he was asking her to make and of the consequences that it might bring. Deep inside, she had always felt that her son should know of this and wished that he could, but had never felt that such was safe.

“…I’m sorry,” she whispered finally. “I just don’t know if I can do this.”

Jeneth didn’t respond to her at first, silently holding her in his solemn gaze. Finally, he let out a sigh of disappointment. “I don’t think you can deny what you know is right forever,” he said quietly, “but I also think that he’s been denied the truth for far too long. I want you to reconsider this, Azvida—I want you to look into your heart and pay heed to what it tells you. Hopefully, you’ll do the right thing by this time tomorrow. If not, I will do it for you,” he told her with a distinct note of finality in his voice, then turned away.

Azvida’s jaw dropped open in the wake of Jeneth’s ultimatum, but all objections failed her. His tone had told plainly that he wouldn’t debate the matter any further. He had made his decision, and he was clearly determined to carry it out.

With a powerful worry now roiling inside her, Azvida rolled onto her back without another word as Jeneth finally settled down at her side. She closed her eyes, but she knew that sleep wouldn’t come. Her dread of the coming day haunted her throughout the night, for she knew that one way or another, the truth that she had been evading for over two decades would catch up with her at last.

* * *

The new day found Solonn sitting alone in the room that he’d been given, watching the ice on the walls shift and transform as he idly manipulated it. Sleep had abandoned him early, leaving him awake throughout much of the morning, and during that time he’d found himself feeling rather bored. There was simply not much of anything to do in this place while no one else was awake with whom to interact. Too many years as a human, he reckoned, considering the lifestyle that he’d had while in that form: when he hadn’t been busy with his education and later with his work, there had been music, books, television, and a number of other things available to keep him occupied.

He began humming to himself as he guided the ice, wordlessly resurrecting one of his old favorite songs. The ice on the walls all around him began shifting in a different way; as if carved by an invisible chisel, swirling patterns etched themselves into it. He began to lose himself in his manipulation of it, and the lines continued snaking through the ice under a less conscious sort of control until they formed an image right before their maker’s eyes.

There was a delay before he realized what he’d just done, but when he finally became aware of it, he fell silent. The once abstract patterns on the walls had taken on a definite shape: they now depicted twisting branches covered in delicate-looking flowers. Sitrus blossoms.

The significance of what he saw did not escape him. The music of the band whose song he’d been humming had been introduced to him by Morgan. She’d come to recognize that it was his favorite, and so they had listened to it together on many occasions. Sitrus branches had given them shade during those listening sessions…and sitrus blossoms had floated on the wind during his last moments with her. Those songs were associated in his mind with his memories of her; he got the feeling that they always would be. A low, mournful sigh escaped him as he let the conjured image vanish back into the ice on the walls.

Solonn was about to go and check yet again to see if someone else was awake now, but the question answered itself before he could even so much as turn around.

“Oh good, you’re awake,” Azvida noted from just outside the room, saying the very thing with which Solonn would have greeted her had he noticed her first. There was a distinct note of trepidation in her voice that Solonn noticed right away, and when he turned to face her, he saw that her behavior matched that tone. She was just hanging there at the entrance, her brows drawn together and the light in her eyes fluttering in clear unease.

“Is something the matter?” Solonn asked concernedly.

There most certainly was, as far as Azvida was concerned; this was something that she’d never thought she would ever do of her own accord. She knew that she couldn’t afford to dwell on that fact, however; what little resolve she had managed to gather would not return if she wasted it this time by hesitating too long, and she couldn’t bear to dread this revelation any longer.

“There’s something I need to talk about with you,” she said, her voice very weak and constrained. “Something that’s long overdue.”

Solonn frowned worriedly at her. Whatever it was that Azvida intended to talk about, her reluctance to do so couldn’t have been plainer. She still hadn’t moved one inch into his room and was now shaking on the spot. Solonn managed with difficulty to present a less troubled façade in an effort to calm her, but he still had a less than comforting feeling about what Azvida was going to say.

“I’m listening,” he told her, then sat down. Azvida gave a nod of acknowledgment and finally managed to get herself to move closer to him. The moment she entered the room, she felt as though the chamber’s exit had just been blocked behind her by a large stone, trapping her in that room with her obligation. She set herself down beside her son, unwilling to face him, and several breaths escaped her before she was able to give word or voice to any of them.

“When you were very young,” she began, feeling an almost irresistible urge to drag each word back into silence as it was spoken, “I told you something that was… not true. I told you that your father had died just after you were born.” She swallowed hard. “He’s still alive, Solonn. He only left us… and I was the one who drove him away.”

Her words registered with a considerable delay, and Solonn’s belief of them lagged further still behind his absorption of them. Once they sank in fully, they struck deep and hard; had Solonn not already been seated, he might well have dropped from the air. He turned a shocked stare at Azvida, or rather he tried to; she avoided his gaze in a swift motion, wincing sharply as if in pain.

“My gods,” Solonn said almost voicelessly, shaking his head in disbelief. “Unbelievable… all this time, and you never said anything… Why did you do it, Mother?” he asked her plaintively, a distinct note of betrayal in his voice.

Azvida shrunk further still from him at the hurt in his voice, but managed to suppress the urge to flee from his presence altogether. “There’s something else you need to know about your father,” she told him. “You can’t understand why I did what I did unless you know the whole truth about him.”

She forced herself to face him; it was all she could do not to turn right back around when she saw the raw, earnest demand for answers in his eyes. “I told you that I never really got to know your father. That wasn’t true, either; I knew him very well. His name is Grosh Argrosh, and he’s… he’s not of our kind. He’s something very different from you or me… Here, let me show you.”

Azvida lowered her gaze to the floor of the cavern, and a second later, ice began rising up through the snow there. At her guidance, it took form, lengthening while crystalline facets shaped its surface. Seconds later, her work was done. Sitting there between the two glalie was a two-foot-long model of a segmented serpent.

Solonn was at a loss for words as he looked upon the sculpture, but his mind was racing. Less than a day before, his thoughts had fallen upon the very creature that was depicted before him—it had been one of the species that he’d considered as the possible identity of the pokémon that had disrupted the community of Virc-Dho months ago. It was astonishing to him to think that he could be related to such a creature, that he was the son of such a being…

“A steelix,” he said almost breathlessly.

“You know of his kind, then?” Azvida said.

“I know of many kinds,” Solonn muttered rather distractedly. He continued to stare at the tiny model steelix, imagining it in its true dimensions—an immense creature, the sort that he reckoned would absolutely terrify people who had likely never even conceived of such a being, let alone actually seen anything like one. “He was here recently, wasn’t he?” he asked then.

“Yes,” Azvida said. “Just months ago… he came back for us, Solonn,” she said, her voice laced with anguish on that statement. “But when he found out that you were gone and that I’m with Jeneth now, he left again.” There was an odd sort of flickering in her eyes then, and she averted her gaze once more, allowing the miniature steelix to disappear back into the floor.

“Ever since he returned, everyone else has resented me very deeply for the fact that I’m the one he came here for,” she said. “His presence surely frightened them, but… well, there’s more to it than just that. I think that enough of them correctly guessed what my connection to Grosh was.”

She hesitated before proceeding. “There are certain attitudes held by much of our society about mating with other species—and those attitudes are not favorable. It’s considered not only immoral, but also very bad luck. And… Gods, I’m ashamed to admit this…” She sighed. “I never really agreed with those old prejudices and superstitions, but I was still very afraid of what people would think of what I had done with Grosh, and it was because of that fear that I pushed him out of my life and yours,” she admitted, her voice cracking in mid-confession.

For moments on end, Solonn sat in silence, stunned by what he’d just heard. That his own mother had lied to him for his entire life and denied him from knowing his father, all in the name of a social taboo with which she didn’t even agree, was a notion that his brain didn’t seem to want to process completely.

“I know it was wrong,” Azvida said, her voice weighted by her shame. “Wrong to cast him away, and wrong to lie to you about him. I’ve always known. I’ve just been too much of a coward to do the right thing, too scared of what people would think and say and do about me, about both of us… and too afraid of how you might react if you ever learned that I had lied to you.” She looked Solonn right in the eyes. “I’ll understand if you never forgive me.”

There was a very long pause as Solonn wondered what in the world to make of this situation. He knew that he would likely never be able to condone Azvida’s cowardice and deceit. At the same time, however, he also recognized that she did seem sincerely remorseful about her actions.

In the end, Solonn finally supposed that if Azvida could find the courage to own up to her mistakes, then he should try to find the grace to forgive her, difficult though that might prove to be. At least she’s finally let go of the lies, he thought wearily. At least she did the right thing in the end.

“I… I will try not to hold the past against you,” he said quietly.

Azvida closed her eyes. She had feared that her son would hate her for what she had just confessed to him, and yet here he was, seemingly willing to forgive her. Silently, she thanked the gods for this chance to make right what she had done wrong and also inwardly thanked Jeneth for giving her the final push she had needed in order to finally tell the truth.

“I know that I’ve kept you from knowing someone you’ve deserved to know all your life, and it shames me more than I can express,” she said. “Nothing can give you back those years you two should have had together, but there is a way that you can have what you’ve been due all this time. I can take you to him, Solonn.”

Solonn’s eyes shifted her way slowly. Their light was still somewhat dampened by weariness, but they were slightly widened in a way that suggested a cautious but nonetheless present hope. “You said that he left when he saw that I wasn’t here,” he reminded her. Azvida nodded, making an affirmative noise. “So you know where he went, then?” Solonn asked.

“Yes,” Azvida said. “Grosh said that he was staying in the caverns above, in a place where he and I once briefly stayed together… he said that he hoped you could come and visit him there if you ever managed to make it back somehow. I will take you to him if you wish, Solonn. It’s the least I could do after how I’ve wronged you.”

Inhaling deeply, Solonn rose from the floor, looking heavily but not unkindly down upon his mother. “I’m still very disappointed in some of the choices you’ve made in the past,” he told her. “But I thank you very much for giving me this chance now.”

Very briefly, the ghost of a smile appeared on Azvida’s face. “Again, it’s the least I could do.” She ascended and made her way toward the chamber’s exit. “Come on, then,” she said, knowing that if there was any time for her to do this, it was now, while her resolve was so strong. “I think he’s waited more than long enough to meet you.”

The two of them drifted into the main chamber, where Jeneth was sitting near the exit of their home. His eyes followed them as they approached the thick barrier separating them from the warren outside, and as they stopped there before him, a proud, knowing smile spread across his face.

“We’re going above,” Azvida informed him. “We’ll be gone for most of today and tonight.”

Jeneth nodded in acknowledgment. “Take care, both of you.”

“We will,” Azvida assured him. The ice barrier began receding at her silent command, and she and Solonn departed home for the warren beyond.

As Azvida and Solonn made their way upward through Virc-Dho to Shoal Cave, they were undisturbed in their travel through minute after minute, yard after yard. Azvida seemed to know just which route to take to avoid being noticed.

“Now, there is something you should keep in mind when you meet Grosh,” Azvida said to Solonn as they traveled. “He doesn’t know of your… talent. You know the one.”

“You’re advising me not to tell him about it?”

“I’m not saying that he’s untrustworthy or anything,” Azvida said. “I just think that it would be best to be extremely careful about revealing that ability… you know, considering what happened last time…”

“Don’t worry,” Solonn said. “I’ve learned my lesson well where that’s concerned. I don’t think I’ll be using that old trick ever again.” With things seeming to be going back to something that was at least similar to how life had been before he had performed that “trick”, he had decided that he would prefer to leave it in the past.

Something else occurred to Solonn then, something of relevance to the topic at hand that had caught his attention the night before. “Jeneth doesn’t know either, does he?”

“Not at all, and I have no intentions of changing that,” Azvida replied.

“Good,” Solonn said in relief, “good.” And with that, both he and his mother fell silent once more as they continued toward the caverns above Virc-Dho. Only once had Solonn ever been taken up to the surface exit via a proper route from the warren, and eventually, he came to recognize the route through which he was being led: this was the part of the warren that Sanaika and his gang had once haunted. Even though they had left their old territory behind, it seemed that people still didn’t dare to come here; there were no signs of recent development here. Nothing had changed from the last time Solonn had laid eyes on these tunnels all those years ago.

Soon, the tunnels that had once belonged to Sanaika merged via a hidden passageway into the path that led to Virc-Dho’s uppermost border. Azvida moved the ice guarding the exit aside, and she and Solonn passed through into the cavern outside.

“We’ve still got a fair way to go,” Azvida told him. “Much of the distance between our home and where we’re going is through the caverns beyond this one.” She proceeded onward, leading Solonn over a vast expanse of ice until they reached the far side of the cavern. There, half-concealed behind a broad, flat stone formation that jutted sharply outward from the wall, a passageway curved inward.

The passageway was short, and it opened up into territory that definitely didn’t belong to any glalie. The stone surfaces of these caverns were entirely bare, no ice glazing the walls, no snow blanketing the floors. Eventually, as the two progressed further, Solonn began to see tiny seashells and other minute remnants of marine life scattered about, evidence of the sea’s proximity to this place.

There were also natives about, the creatures that called these caverns home. The occasional zubat winged by overhead, while less frequently, spheal and sealeo appeared in Solonn’s field of vision. The spheal and sealeo immediately made a shuffling bid for shelter the moment they caught sight of the two passing glalie, and Solonn couldn’t help but feel a pang of guilt for this despite never having done any harm to any of their kind. It seemed a shame to him that these beings were raised to live in fear of his kind, but the fact remained that the rift between his people and theirs was just part of the natural order around here.

Solonn had lost track of time in following Azvida through Shoal Cave when she finally stopped before him and turned to face him. Fleetingly, a sign of some strange discomfort crossed her face, but it was gone so quickly that Solonn wasn’t altogether sure that he’d actually seen it.

“So is this it, then?” he asked of her.

“No,” Azvida answered. There was that unease in her eyes again; Solonn couldn’t dismiss it this time. But before he could ask about it, “Stay here,” Azvida said. “There’s something I need to take care of, but I need to do this alone.”

Azvida departed then without any further explanation, but Solonn gave it little thought. They had been traveling non-stop for quite some time now; the need to take a break was perfectly understandable. He set himself down for the time being, taking advantage of the pause to give himself a bit of rest while awaiting Azvida’s return. Though fairly worn and hungry after the distance to here, Solonn was ready to resume the journey as soon as his mother came back, for he felt that they must surely be getting close to their destination by now.

Several minutes passed before Azvida returned. Once Solonn noticed her moving into the edge of his vision, he rose and began to turn to face her. The moment he fully absorbed her into his sights, however, he abruptly froze in midair with a stunned expression, his thoughts arrested by what he saw.

Silently, Azvida lowered her head, allowing something small and blue to fall from her jaws. There on the floor before her, a zubat now lay motionless… or rather, almost motionless; his chest was rising and falling with deep, serene breaths. He was still alive.

Solonn was immediately sure that he knew why Azvida had brought the zubat to him—Gods, she brought him here for me, he thought with a shudder of revulsion. He fumbled for a moment before he managed to gather his words, and when he found them, they came forth even more forcefully than he’d intended.

“Take him back,” he said. “Take him back and leave him be.”

Azvida’s brows drew together in a worried expression. “You still feel the same way about this.”

“Yes, I do. Now, please… just take him back. Please. I don’t want this.”

“Solonn… how long ago did you evolve?” Azvida asked concernedly.

“Not long after I was taken,” Solonn said. “And yes, I know that this is something that we’re all supposed to do once we’ve evolved, but I’ve never liked it, and I can’t imagine that I ever will.”

“Did you do any hunting at all during all that time?”

“Not really, no.” Solonn vividly recalled the one occasion when he’d nearly made a predatory kill, and he gave another shudder at the memory. He found himself glad that he didn’t also have a memory of actually going through with the act to haunt him. During his time away from Virc-Dho, he had been grateful that he had been given an alternative to feeding on live prey, and later, during his time as a human, he had enjoyed the option of being able to abstain from eating the flesh of other creatures altogether. “Food was always provided—I never had to kill anyone to get it,” he said darkly.

Azvida sighed. “But that was there and then,” she pointed out. “Others may have fed you up until now, and I may have brought food to you today, but the fact is that you won’t always have someone to provide for you. Ultimately, you will have to hunt for yourself. And you’ve known that for a long time, too. This is the way you must live now that you’re a glalie and now that you’re here again. Sooner or later, you will have no choice but to accept it.”

Solonn only stared at her at first, letting his gaze bear down upon her as if some part of him thought that he could somehow silently will her to take back that statement. In reality, though, he knew better than to expect such, for he knew that Azvida was right. He’d always known in the back of his mind that returning to Virc-Dho would require him to become an active predator, but he wondered now if being nearly as far removed from such a lifestyle as was possible for so long had perhaps caused him to lose sight of that eventuality. And such had been far from his mind when he had made the decision to go back to his native land following his reversion and the human tragedy. Now that fact had caught up to him at last, and he found himself all but cornered by it.

“…I know,” he said finally, wearily. “It’s just so hard to accept…”

Azvida closed her eyes and nodded in a way that suggested a sort of knowing sympathy. “I understand, Solonn. Believe me, I really do.” She opened her eyes. “When I first began hunting, I also had some difficulty accepting the fact that I had to take lives to sustain my own. I wished that it wasn’t necessary, but I also knew that I had no other choice and that I would just have to come to terms with that necessity.”

She lowered her gaze to the zubat before her, who still lay there unconscious and completely unaware of the mortal peril that faced him. “We’re all as we must be according to the laws of nature,” she said. “There’s nothing right or wrong about it; it’s just the only way that works. Every one of our kind must accept this aspect of our nature. It’s the only way we can survive.”

There was a small part of Solonn that understood and agreed with these concepts completely, one that had done so ever since his evolution. His eyes remained transfixed upon the zubat, and as he stared at him he tried almost wholeheartedly to convince himself to accept what he was seeing as food, to just give in to the inescapable reality of what he was and get that first step toward full acceptance of it behind him. His predatory instinct approached him from a myriad of angles: At least you didn’t have to go catch him this time. Maybe she’ll kill him for you. He doesn’t have eyes; that makes it a little easier, doesn’t it?

But none of those little details made it any easier for him, not in the slightest. He hungered, and he knew that eventually he would have to attend to that need… but he wanted to put it off as long as he could get away with doing so. “I know what I have to do,” he said softly. “I know I can’t escape this forever, but… just please, not yet. I’m still not ready.”

Azvida drew a very long breath, then released it slowly and heavily. “All right,” she said, sounding troubled but not at all surprised. “I got the feeling that you weren’t. That’s why I kept him alive.”

“Thank you for that,” Solonn responded. “But next time… don’t hesitate to do it, all right? I don’t think I’ll be quite willing to… to take one at first.”

Azvida nodded. The look in her eyes told that a part of her wanted to keep trying to convince her son to accept predation now, but she said nothing more for the time being, instead picking the zubat back up and carrying him away in silence.

You’ll get used to it, Solonn tried to reassure himself silently. Somehow, you’ll get through this. But there was a part of him that still couldn’t help but doubt that he ever would, and the notion that his only choices were to do something that he hated or else to perish was difficult for him to bear.

Azvida returned shortly, this time without the zubat, and immediately began moving onward again. Solonn followed her with an eagerness that belied his weariness of both body and spirit, hoping that he was right in guessing that their journey was near its end. He figured that the prospect of actually meeting his father after having believed him to be dead for all these years would certainly help to take his mind off of his own physical obligations, at least for a while.

It wasn’t much longer before they reached their destination, but the relief that Solonn had anticipated would come at their arrival was dampened somewhat when he actually laid eyes upon the place itself. He and his mother now hovered at the edge of a fairly wide and deep hole. According to Azvida, this was where Grosh lived, meaning that anyone wishing to visit him would apparently have to experience quite a fall.

“All right… so exactly how do we go about getting down there?” Solonn asked, peering cautiously into the dark chasm. His question went unanswered, and when he turned toward Azvida to perhaps find out why, he recognized at once that she was deeply focused on something. Her eyes were nearly closed, letting only a sliver of blue light seep through.

Around the edges of the hole, ice began to form. It spread inward until the chasm was covered completely, and it was only then that Azvida emerged from her apparent trance.

“Move onto the ice,” she said. “I’ll lower you into the chamber that way.”

Solonn did as he was instructed at once. He set himself down upon the platform, making sure to leave enough space on it for Azvida to join him there… but Azvida did no such thing. Puzzled, Solonn turned a questioning gaze upon her, and Azvida’s eyes shifted aside awkwardly.

“I think I’d prefer to wait outside,” she said very quietly. “This time, at least,” she added hastily upon seeing the way her son’s brows drew together in what she fully suspected was disappointment. “I think that maybe this moment should be just for the two of you after all these years apart.”

Solonn saw right through her reasoning, though, and she knew it. “I’m sorry… I just don’t think things have quite healed enough between us yet. I’m not quite ready to face him again,” she admitted, “but, if you really want me to…”

Solonn held a saddened gaze upon her a moment, wishing that she hadn’t put her decision into his figurative hands like that. He rather liked the idea of having both of his parents brought together with him, a complete family once more, even if only for a short time… but at the same time, he didn’t really want to drag Azvida into a situation that might make her uncomfortable, especially after she had already had to battle her fears just to give him this opportunity.

“No, that’s all right,” he said softly. You’ve done enough for me today, he added silently with a weary heart.

Azvida smiled in response, but the expression was somewhat diminished by the sense of guilt that attended her at the moment. Nonetheless, she said nothing more and slipped back into her trance again, and the ice platform on which Solonn sat began to descend with a slithering, scraping noise. Moments later, it reached the floor of the chasm, where it dissipated into vapor just as Solonn resumed his levitation.

The shaft through which he had descended opened into a large cavern that connected to another chamber via an imperfect archway. The room in which Solonn found himself was entirely empty, but he could hear something in the adjacent one: a rushing, rumbling sound with a distinct rhythm. He could also see something stretching clear across that room, something silver that gave off a dim glow of body heat.

Slightly gingerly, Solonn approached the metallic form in the other room. That he was about to meet his father was incredible enough to him, but the exact nature of the creature whose presence he was about to enter impressed itself upon him now more than ever. He knew of Grosh’s kind only from films—he had never encountered anything quite like him live and in person before. As he drew nearer, he began to feel a deep, very primal unease welling up inside him.

With a faint annoyance, he tried to silence the instinct—His element isn’t important, he told himself firmly—but he was only partly successful.

Nonetheless, he got himself to pass through the rough-hewn archway, whereupon his perception was monopolized at once by the presence of the enormous creature occupying the chamber beyond. The steelix almost completely surrounded Solonn, his long, segmented body wrapped in an open ring that went nearly all the way around the stone chamber.

Grosh was fast asleep, oblivious to the presence that had just joined him. Solonn wasn’t altogether certain about the prospect of waking the steelix up, concerned that interrupting a good nap might not be the best first impression to make. At the same time, though, he was certainly eager to make his father’s acquaintance after over two decades…

Solonn remained torn between these two angles for a short time, but then Grosh stirred unexpectedly, his segments rotating lazily with an accompanying grinding noise as he stretched. Grosh’s broad head lifted slowly, and his heavy jaws opened to release a yawn whose volume and pitch made the walls and floor shudder. He opened his eyes halfway, blinking slowly with a seemingly unfocused gaze turned toward the wall.

Now that Grosh was awake, Solonn figured that he didn’t need to hesitate any longer, ignoring the instinct within him that still begged to differ with that idea. His heart racing, he drew closer to Grosh, trying to calm himself with steadying breaths as he approached. He inhaled deeply one last time, and then, “Father?” he said.

His overcharged nerves had weakened his tone somewhat, and he wondered at first if Grosh hadn’t heard him, for the steelix gave no indication that he had. Solonn watched him with bated breath and was about to try to get his attention again, but then he saw Grosh’s head perk up suddenly, rising almost completely to the ceiling in little more than an instant. Solonn looked up toward him and saw his father’s red eyes widen and shift his way in their deep, dark sockets, locking into his gaze.

“Hello, Father,” Solonn spoke up again, more steadily this time.

Silence hovered over the room. Then it was shattered to pieces as thunderous, positively jubilant laughter came roaring forth from Grosh’s mouth, reverberating powerfully within the chamber.

“Well, I’ll be!” Grosh exclaimed heartily in a very deep, metallic-edged voice. “Solonn, right?” he said, at which the glalie nodded. “Ah, I’d hoped to death that I’d get to see you again someday!”

Solonn couldn’t help but smile in the wake of his father’s elation at meeting him. The steelix slithered in a circle around him, looking him over. “By God, look at how you’ve grown since the last time I saw you!” Grosh said as he stopped to face Solonn again, his eyes shining with tears of pride. “To think how long it’s been since then…” He sighed wistfully. “I reckon we’ve got a lot of catching up to do, then,” he said, then gave a slightly growling chuckle.

“I suppose we do,” Solonn agreed, still smiling.

“So. What sorts of things have you been up to all this time, hmm?” Grosh asked.

“Well, not really much,” Solonn replied, “at least, not before I was found by a human.” He proceeded to give Grosh a brief, carefully edited account of events from the day that he was captured by Morgan onward that was similar to the one that he had given Azvida, still less than comfortable with the idea of discussing some of the stranger and more terrible of his experiences, still mindful that there were certain details in that story that he should probably never relate due to their connection to his linguistic abilities.

Still, he did feel a bit guilty about keeping things from someone who had waited so long just to get the chance to talk to him; he figured that Grosh at least deserved some explanation for the withheld information. “I’m sorry,” he said. “I’d like to go into more detail, but… well, I’ve only just gotten away from it all. I don’t feel like I’m quite ready to talk about some of the things that happened.”

“Understandable,” Grosh said in a kindly tone. “You don’t have to tell me anything you don’t feel comfortable with. Well then, I reckon it’s my turn. How about I start by telling you how your mother and I met and where I’ve been all these years?”

“Sure,” Solonn said. He was earnestly curious about those things, particularly regarding how Azvida could have gotten involved with such an unlikely person as Grosh, someone and something that he would have never expected to find in a place like this. He set himself down and looked attentively toward the steelix.

“All right,” Grosh said, settling himself back into a more relaxed position. “Now, I’ll warn you: it’s not the happiest story you’ll ever hear, but it’s the truth. Your mother and I met in an awful place after we’d both ended up in the hands of the same human, who stole us from our original captors.”

“Wait… my mother has actually encountered humans before?” Solonn asked incredulously.

“That’s right,” Grosh said. “She got caught by one when she was about… oh, ten years your junior, I believe.”

There was another thing that Azvida had never told Solonn. He found it incredible to think that she had been taken by humans at one point and had later been taken from the one who had originally caught her, just as he had. As he thought about it, though, he ceased to be surprised that she hadn’t told him of this before, figuring that it was because of that event’s connection to her involvement with Grosh that she had never mentioned it.

“Anyway,” Grosh went on, “the human who kept us made us fight pokémon belonging to the other humans in that place for hours nearly every day, and when I say fight, I mean hard. Those were rough times, and Azvida and I were each all that the other had. I looked after the poor girl, did everything I could for her, and she put all her trust in me.

“We were forced to serve that creep for quite a while, and then one morning, he decided to go and toss us into the ocean while we were in our capture balls for the night. Can you believe it?” he said with a chuckle.

“Hm… yeah, that is pretty strange,” Solonn said. “Do you have any idea why in the world he did that?”

“Well, what I suspect is that someone must have found out that he’d stolen us, and so he ditched us to get rid of the evidence. Ah, I hope that slimebag didn’t get away with it in the end, though…

“So. These grass pokémon found our capture balls out in the water, brought us back to their island, let us out, and told us what had happened. They also mentioned that they knew of a cave to the north where Azvida’s kind was rumored to live. We didn’t know for sure if it was really the place where she’d come from, but after her ordeal, she wanted to go back home badly enough to check this cave out. I decided to go with her just to keep an eye on her and help her stay safe… I’d come to care about her quite a lot by then.” Grosh smiled wistfully in the wake of that last statement.

“Two of the grass pokémon swam to the cave, carrying us in our capture balls, and they let us out once we were there,” he then said. “Azvida and I searched through the cave for some time, looking for signs of her home… and it was during that search that, much to our surprise, along came your egg.

“Well, Azvida had been acting strangely nervous ever since she had been told of this cave, but once the egg was laid, her nervousness easily doubled. It came to a head when we finally found the border of her homeland—that’s when I found out what it was that she was so worried about.”

Solonn averted his gaze, feeling a strange sense of vicarious guilt come over him at the thought of what his mother had done to Grosh and why. “I’m sorry for the way she treated you,” he said sincerely.

“Don’t be,” Grosh said gently. “You know you’re not at fault here, not in the least. I’m not even entirely sure it was her fault, either—the things fear can make people do… Some part of her really seemed to want me to go ahead into her people’s territory with her regardless of what anyone might think, but the rest of her was just too scared of what they might do. In the end, I agreed to leave despite how I wanted to stay—I didn’t want for you and your mother to have to live in fear of others’ hatred.

“We crossed paths again one day while she was out hunting—she said she’d just so happened to come by this way, but I have my doubts. She said she still felt bad about how we&#146d had to part ways, and she told me where she was living at the time and said that maybe I could sneak in sometime and see you after you were born.

“I took her up on that offer, but just once. I was there when you were born, but I left right after.” He drew a long, slow breath. “I was too worried about possibly causing trouble for her… and I thought it would be easier for me to endure giving you two up if I didn’t give myself much of a chance to get too attached to you,” he admitted almost voicelessly. The steelix bowed his head very deeply in shame, his long neck nearly doubling over on itself. He gave a deep, shuddering sigh, and tears began to trace the contours of his armored face as they slid toward the floor.

It was a while before either of them seemed able to speak again. Grosh remained overcome by his tears for moments on end, while Solonn was hushed by the weight of the steelix’s sorrow. Finally, “It’s all right,” Solonn said quietly. His father’s gaze lifted slowly from the floor, his eyes bloodshot and still shedding silent tears. “I don’t blame you for anything you did. I understand… you have nothing to be ashamed of,” Solonn told him.

A low, metallic noise resonated deep within the steelix’s chest, and uncertainty showed through his features. “I don’t know about that,” he said doubtfully. “I think I most definitely ought to be ashamed for not trying to get back into your life even once during all those years—especially considering that I’ve been here all this time.”

Solonn was momentarily stupefied—how in the world had a thirty-foot-long metal serpent been living in the area all this time without anyone noticing? “So… what have you been doing all this time?” Solonn asked once his wits returned.

“Oh, you’re not going to like the answer to that…” Grosh half-sighed.

“Try me,” Solonn said evenly.

“All right… all right. I knew that it was going to be damned hard to resist the urge to come back to you two, so I sent myself into hibernation here. Some desperate part of me actually thought that if I let enough time pass me by, then it’d be easier to live without you two. I should’ve known better.”

He gave a sad smile. “When I finally couldn’t stay dormant any longer, your mother and you were the very first things on my mind, and when I realized how much time must have passed, I just couldn’t stand it anymore. I rushed right into that warren, made a scene looking for her after I found that she no longer lived where she used to—I was so worried once about getting her into trouble, and then look what I went and did.” Grosh shook his head, growling to himself in shame. “I abandoned you both to try and protect you, only to fail you to that end. I don’t think I could ever quite apologize enough.”

“Yes, you can,” Solonn said softly. “As long as you mean it, you only need to apologize once.” He lifted himself from the floor and moved closer to Grosh until he hovered directly under the steelix’s gaze. “You have nothing to worry about,” he assured his father, looking right into his eyes with a steady gaze. “Whatever anyone thinks of you, whatever they try and do about it, I can take care of myself, and I’ll take care of my mother, too. You haven’t ruined things, Father. Your coming back into the picture was the first step in setting everything right again.”

Grosh stared silently into his son’s face for a moment, into the sincerity in those eyes. A broad grin spread slowly across the steelix’s face, and he swallowed back a fresh surge of tears. “You’re right,” he said. “There’ll always be people who’ll hold on to wicked ways no matter what we do. But we still deserve to be happy.”

He sighed peacefully. “Guess this is like starting over, in a sense,” he said. “I made my mistakes, she made hers, and we’ve both paid for them by missing out on the family we could have had all this time. But now… well, now it’s like we’re getting a second chance.”

_____________________

Grosh’s last name… XD Of all the things I could have gone with, I went with that? Well, that was the first surname that popped into my head, and wouldn’t you know it, it stuck. X3

Next time: Virc-Dho faces something that its people have not known for generations. See you then!

- Sike Saner
__________________

CHAPTER 18 POSTED

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Chapter 14 – Speak No Evil


In silent determination, he made his way through a bare-walled, nearly desolate network of stone tunnels, alone. He moved with a swiftness that belied his lack of enthusiasm toward this venture; he knew, as always, that the slightest hesitance could dismantle his willingness to proceed.

Like a passenger within his own mind, he allowed his instinct to guide him, but without losing himself completely to it. This was as conscious an endeavor as it had ever been—he would always acknowledge the impact and cost of it, never allowing himself to trivialize the matter if he could help it.

His senses remained on high alert, trained toward the particular telltales of his quarry—it wasn’t much longer before he found what he was seeking. He followed a faint sound of wings beating the air until he detected a wavering light that confirmed the find even before its source was quite discernible. It was the glow of heat, the light that signified life in nearly every species other than his own.

With a command that was silent save for the echoing crack of its execution, the source of that light was cut from the air. Wings crumpled as their insensible owner dropped to the floor. The sole witness to her fall drifted silently forward to look down upon her for a moment through eyes that held a regretful resignation, then let them close for a long, solemn moment. He gave a sincere, whispered apology to the fallen creature as he sent a silent prayer out unto the heavens, asking the gods for the safe and sure deliverance of the soul that he was about to send their way.

Though he had done this deed countless times since he’d come to accept his need to do so, Solonn was no fonder of it than he had ever been. There was never pleasure in the hunt, no delight in the kill. For him, it was nothing less and nothing more than the obligation that it was, something done because it was demanded, not desired.

He summoned his element to task once more, and the zubat before him was frozen solid. In that single instant, the light of her life was snuffed out. Sometimes Solonn couldn’t help but be stricken by the way that his power responded just as readily to a call for destruction as to a request for a benign, artistic display. To the mother element, it seemed, it was all the same.

Solonn maintained a respectful, conscious silence as he fed, and when nothing remained of the zubat, he lingered at the scene for not a single moment more. He looked forward to returning home and not having to hunt again for at least another day. He did find at least some comfort in knowing that he didn’t have to feed nearly as often as he had when he was human or even quite as often as he’d been fed by Morgan. With the feeding habits of humans and of pokémon kept and pampered by them left largely behind now, his body had relaxed its expectations somewhat, and he was grateful for that.

It had been well over a year since his return to Virc-Dho. Through this time, Solonn had gotten as used to the demands of life as a glalie in the natural setting of his kind as he reckoned that he ever could, and he had grown accustomed to the much slower and less hectic pace of life in the warren. Even now, however, there were still quite a few aspects of the Virc lifestyle that he didn’t quite understand. His friends and family had introduced him to all that they knew of their culture and way of life, and he did as he observed them doing, yet even to this very day, he felt as though there was something more to the ways of his people that he was failing to see.

Beyond the people whom he knew personally, the Virc community in general did nothing to aid in his assimilation to the local culture. Though the commotion caused by the unexpected appearance of a steelix in their midst was hardly recent, some of its effects on the public lingered, for in truth the origins of those reactions traced back much farther than that single event.

By and large, the people seemed to know exactly what Solonn was, exactly how he had come about. They showed him no open hostility; he suspected that they were too intimidated by his stature to do so. Still, nearly every time he found himself in public, at least some of their eyes and faces shifted conspicuously away from him, stealing glances here and there in attempts to watch him without seeming to watch him, and he swore that he could feel the tension in the air.

Solonn had tried for a while to get through to these people, to make them own up to their fears and try to overcome them, but had found that they would not be moved. He had come to realize firsthand just how deeply ingrained their attitudes were, that they were set in their ways and unlikely to change for anyone, let alone for a hybrid.

Though still disappointed to no small degree in their behavior, he no longer tried at this point to get them to endure his company just as they would that of one another. To the best of his ability, he focused instead on just living his life like anyone else, regardless of what others thought of him.

After a few minutes’ traveling through the warren, Solonn arrived at what had been his home for the past several months, a place that had been acquired for him by Jeneth shortly after its previous owner had passed away. It wasn’t the largest of spaces, but since he lived alone, that suited him just fine.

He had been less satisfied with the featureless, ice-glazed walls of this place; it seemed that the preference that he’d picked up as a human toward more visually stimulating surroundings had lingered with him even well after his reversion and departure from a human lifestyle. Thus it was that he had decorated the cavern with patterns and images etched into the walls and sculptures raised from the material of the floor, décor that was changed every now and again to keep things interesting for him.

It was by his passion for ice art that he kept himself occupied much of the time in these days, often by himself, simply enjoying the serene unity with his element. Just as it ever did, that pastime offered an escape from the ordinary that he dearly appreciated—moreso than ever now that his life contained necessities with which he was sure that he’d never quite be comfortable, things that weren’t and would never be pretty in his eyes.

On occasion, his family and Zilag’s watched him work, but he was uninterested in performing for any larger audience. He doubted that many of the locals would be particularly interested in such a display anyway, and not simply because of whom and what the performer would happen to be in this case. Dancing ice wasn’t the exotic spectacle here that it was outside the realm of his kind; here, he was just one more ice controller out of hundreds. He had no doubt that any glalie could pull off his art form with equal or greater skill if they were to practice as long and as diligently as he had.

He was about to conjure up yet another display, musing silently on a number of shapes that he thought he might like to sculpt and carve this time, when he heard the voice of Jeneth calling to him from the entrance of his cavern. Upon unsealing the entrance for him, Solonn was greeted with an announcement that immediately drove those ideas from his mind.

“We think it’s happening,” Jeneth said almost breathlessly, with what little voice he managed tense with excitement.

Solonn’s eyes immediately widened. “Is it really?”

Jeneth nodded. “It started moving just before I left,” he said, “and moving a lot, at that. From the looks of it—” He paused as a momentary thrill seemed to arrest his breathing. “—it might very well hatch tonight.”

“Ah, that’s wonderful news!” Solonn said, a smile overtaking his face. “Well, come on then; let’s not risk missing it!”

The two departed with no further delay, making their way quickly and excitedly toward the cavern that Jeneth and Azvida shared. This was an event that the family had anticipated very enthusiastically, for it was one that had been quite long in the making. For years, Jeneth and Azvida had tried to conceive an egg, but to no avail. They were on the verge of losing hope of ever having a child together when, to their immense joy and relief, their efforts finally achieved success. Now, months later, the baby that they had so dearly wished for would enter their lives at long last.

Upon reaching their destination, Jeneth removed the barrier at the entrance to his home with unprecedented speed. He and Solonn then rushed beyond the main cavern and into a small chamber in which the egg sat, watched by its mother.

Just as Jeneth had described, the egg was much more active than it had been when Solonn had last laid eyes upon it. It was shaking so wildly that were it not for the ring of ice and packed snow that Azvida had mindfully raised around it, it could have easily just rolled away into the nearest wall, resulting in a rather painful entrance into the world for the newborn.

Azvida didn’t lift her gaze from the egg for even one second, but she caught sight of Jeneth and Solonn entering the room in the edge of her vision and smiled in acknowledgment of their arrival.

“Any moment now,” she all but whispered, her eyes bright, “any moment…”

Solonn and Jeneth seated themselves, and together the three glalie waited eagerly for the arrival of the newest member of their family. The egg kept on shaking… but as countless minutes passed, the shell remained intact.

Solonn’s brows drew together in worry as he watched his half-sibling’s continuing efforts to escape the egg. While he’d never witnessed the hatching of an egg before, he was quite certain that the child within shouldn’t be struggling for so long before breaking free. He cast a quick glance at the others, and the troubled looks on their faces only reinforced that concern.

“This isn’t right…” Azvida’s voice was choked with anguish at the sight and sound of her child’s struggle. “This isn’t right at all… Dear gods, I don’t think they can get out!”

Jeneth rose from the floor and came to hover directly above the egg. He swallowed nervously. “We’re going to have to help them out, then,” he said tensely.

Fleeting apprehension crossed Azvida’s features at the thought of what Jeneth seemed to be proposing, but then she gave a quick nod of agreement with his conclusion. “All right,” she said. “Be quick, but please be careful.”

“Don’t worry,” Jeneth assured her. He leaned forward and lowered his face toward the egg, his jaws parting, ready to break the shell and free the child within. Azvida and Solonn watched him with bated breath, hoping that the baby’s ordeal was soon to end.

Before Jeneth could lay a single tooth upon the egg, however, it literally blew apart right in his face.

A cry escaped Azvida as she turned away in an instant; Jeneth was sent reeling backwards, spitting fragments of eggshell from his mouth and shaking them from his face; and Solonn shut his eyes and raised a protect shield. For seconds after, the three remained frozen in shock, unable to think, even seeming to forget to breathe. Finally, fearfully, they dared to look upon the nest of ice and snow where the egg had been before its self-destruction, trembling with dread of what they might see as they turned toward it.

What they found there calmed their initial shock somewhat, but only increased their bewilderment. There, amid the debris of his explosive birth, a newborn male sat completely unscathed, nibbling daintily and serenely at a handful of the surrounding snow as though nothing at all out of the ordinary had just happened.

The three glalie could only stare dumbfounded at him for a long moment, gathering their wits, still rather shaken after what they had just witnessed. Finally, “Gods… what in the hell just happened?” Jeneth managed.

“No idea,” Azvida responded breathlessly, her eyes still wide with disbelief, her brow still knitted in confusion and concern. “None whatsoever… I only hope he’s really going to be all right now…”

The three glalie kept a long watch over the newborn to make sure of just that. By evening’s end, it seemed certain to them that there was no further strangeness in store for the child, and with that reassurance, they were finally able to truly take joy in their new arrival. Before long, a name was chosen for him, and so it was that Jeneth Marasahn Zgil-Al was officially welcomed into the family.

* * *

Through the months and then years that followed, life came to grow richer and easier for the family. Eventually, venturing out into public became notably less of an ordeal for Jeneth and Azvida; the hostility and blame toward the latter for Grosh’s entering the warren all those years ago finally seemed to have faded into the past, the heightened fear and mistrust brought on by that occurrence no longer immediate and fresh. Consequently, young Jeneth, or simply Jen as he liked to be called, was accepted into his place in society readily enough; now old enough to spend time in the snowgrounds, he had met with decent success in making friends among the other snorunt.

As for Solonn, his appearance still inspired something a little short of trust and comfort in many of the people whom he encountered. Not that it upset Solonn too much, however; he was just as content with the companionship of his family and Zilag’s as he had been for years now. As long as he had their support, he felt no real need for the approval of strangers.

Though he usually paid them visits rather than the other way around—their homes, designed for multiple inhabitants, were a bit better suited for entertaining guests—one or more of them did occasionally show up at his figurative door. Such was the case on this day, when the tapping of a horn against the ice warding his home managed to pull his attention from the helix that he had conjured up from the ice in the middle of the floor. He removed the barrier to find Azvida and Jeneth hovering there, with Jen standing in front of them and looking a bit antsy.

“Ah, hi!” Solonn greeted them warmly. “Come on in.” He cleared the floor of sculptures to provide more room for his three visitors, taking a quick mental snapshot of the ice formations in the hopes of being able to replicate them again once his company left, and moved aside to let the couple and their son into his home.

“Oh, that won’t be necessary,” Azvida told him with a hint of guilt in her voice at the trouble that Solonn had already gone to for their sake. “We’re just dropping Jen off here, if that’s all right—he wants to be taken to the snowgrounds later, but he said he wanted to come see you first.”

“We were hoping you could take him there when he’s ready so that your mother and I can go ahead to the temple. We’re wanting to get there as soon as possible so that we can get back and… try again,” Jeneth said, lowering his voice on those last two words.

Solonn knew exactly what Jeneth meant by that, and he did an admirable job of not letting the fact that he suddenly found the conversation to be rather awkward reach his face. Jeneth and Azvida wanted another child, but they had had even less luck in the endeavor thus far than they’d had the first time around. Their trip to the temple was undoubtedly to once again offer prayers for the gods to change those fortunes, Solonn figured.

“Sure, that’s fine by me,” Solonn said, accepting the babysitting job with which he’d just been landed. He’d had plans for that day, having intended to go up beyond the borders of Virc-Dho to spend some time with his father, but that could wait, especially since it didn’t seem like it’d have to wait long. “I suppose you’ll be picking him from there later?”

Azvida nodded. She then looked down toward Jen. “Be good, all right?” she instructed him. “Remember: I’ll know if you don’t.”

Jen gave her a slightly nervous look. “Okay,” he said. “Bye!”

“Bye,” his parents returned in near-unison, smiling, then departed.

Jen entered the living room proper then, and Solonn restored the ice barrier at the entrance behind him. The snorunt made his way to a spot just a little off the center of the room, stopped there and looked for a moment like he was going to take a seat, but then paused in mid-motion and straightened his posture once more.

There was a distinct look of unease on the snorunt’s face, Solonn noticed, which brought a concerned frown to his own. “Is something the matter?” he asked. He wondered if maybe Jen had figured out somehow that his parents were trying to give him a little brother or sister and if perhaps the snorunt was feeling like they were replacing him or something. Maybe he was seeking confirmation from Solonn that getting a younger sibling wouldn’t really mean the end of the world as he knew it after all.

Or perhaps Jen had mentioned the whole topic of little brothers and sisters to his friends at the snowgrounds, the subject of where such things came from had come up, and he was seeking confirmation from Solonn regarding that matter. Solonn sincerely hoped that that wasn’t the case.

“Well… I need you to do something,” Jen said.

Solonn looked at him with a mixture of puzzlement and relief; somehow Jen’s response didn’t seem to him like anything that would lead into having to explain eggs or anything of that nature. Where it was leading, however, he couldn’t guess. “And what might that be?”

Jen took a deep breath, seeming none too keen on elaborating. Not meeting Solonn’s gaze, “I… did something stupid,” he finally admitted, sounding and looking quite embarrassed.

“Oh… Well… I’m sure it can’t have been that bad…” Solonn said, sitting down.

“It is,” Jen insisted. He shook his head. “Why? Why’d I say that?” he muttered to himself, turning and beginning to pace as he spoke.

Solonn’s eyes briefly followed the snorunt moving in a small figure-eight in the middle of the room. “Well, what did you say?” he asked gently. “And to whom?”

Jen let out a loud, annoyed sigh, though Solonn suspected that Jen was directing the sentiment toward himself. The snorunt managed to get himself to hold still. “I told my friends I could make stuff with ice. You know, like you do. And they said ‘prove it’, and I said I would next time I went over there.” He took another deep breath, then forced himself to look Solonn in the eyes as steadily as possible. “So I need you to come with me and do it for me. Like… hide outside and make things made out of ice appear in there so it’ll look like I’m doing it.”

There was a hint of desperation in Jen’s voice that suggested that he didn’t really have much faith in that plan. Solonn had none in it whatsoever. “Jen… sooner or later, they’re going to figure out that you didn’t mean it about being able to do that… I can’t be there every time you see them.”

Jen finally sat down, his face showing only mild disappointment; apparently he had expected an answer like that one. “And you can’t just show me how to do it,” he said, already having been told long ago that that sort of control over ice was simply outside the scope of a snorunt’s abilities.

Solonn gave a faint, sad sort of smile. “I’m afraid not. I’d be glad to if I could, but… well, it’s just something that you have to find for yourself by really connecting to your element. You’ll be able to do that when you evolve. You’ll feel that connection, and you’ll know when you feel it. There’s nothing else like it.”

“What’s it like?” Jen asked, his head tilted slightly in curiosity.

“It’s…” Solonn began, but found himself almost immediately at a near-loss for words. He tried to describe it, thinking upon the sensation, calling on memories of past experiences with it to study within his mind… and as he did so, he found himself falling into the sensation in the present. The ice on the floor before him answered the unintentional call of those straying thoughts, snaking upward and resuming the helical shape that it had held in that very spot before, with little wispy projections emerging from the main body of the sculpture and another, smaller helix rising up through the center of it.

Solonn only realized after the fact that he’d fallen silent and had shut his eyes; when he opened them again, he saw what he had done and gave a faint, apologetic laugh for letting himself get carried away like that. “Whoops,” he said. “Anyway… there’s really no way I could ever explain just how wonderful it is or what it’s quite like,” he admitted. “And that feeling, that connection… that’s where this comes from,” he told Jen, nodding toward the ice sculpture. “Whenever you connect to the element, this is what can happen.” Maybe it was partly because the experience of being one with the element was so difficult to put into words that these manifestations in ice happened, Solonn mused silently. Maybe this was the only way that he or anyone else of his kind could quite adequately express that connection.

Jen leveled a stare at the ice formation in front of him for a moment. Then he screwed his eyes shut, his brow creasing in concentration. A couple of seconds later, his eyes popped open once more. “…Hey, I think it moved!” he said, gesturing toward one of the thin, branchlike structures growing out of the main helix.

It hadn’t moved an inch, but Solonn didn’t quite have the heart to correct him too bluntly. “Well, one day, you won’t just think you made the ice move. You’ll know when you have.”

Jen made a noise of frustration. “I don’t want to have to wait to evolve to do it, though.” His eyes shifted up to Solonn’s again. “Hey…” he began slowly. “Maybe… maybe I could go ahead and evolve right now. And maybe you could help me.”

“Not unless you want to risk losing your mind,” Solonn told him, his tone serious. “And at your age, I think there’s almost no chance that that wouldn’t happen. Evolving brings a kind of power we have to be ready for, and that takes time. If you get it before you’re ready, you could go insane. You wouldn’t even be able to think of making anything out of ice. And if I helped you go insane, Mother and Jeneth would never forgive me. And I would never forgive myself.”

The light in Jen’s eyes flickered, fading slightly. Whether or not he believed Solonn’s claims about what early evolution could lead to, the glalie couldn’t tell for certain, but Jen did at least seem disinclined to take the risk. The snorunt sighed once again. “What am I gonna do, then?” he asked.

“Well… all you really can do is tell the truth. Again, they will figure it out sooner or later—you should really probably just get it over with.”

Jen looked aside, worry showing through his features. “I bet they’re gonna beat me up for lying.”

“They probably won’t,” Solonn tried to assure him. “They’d better not, anyway. If they even so much as look at you like they want to, they’ll have Mother and Jeneth to deal with.”

That they would, and as he thought about it, he wondered if it might be prudent for Jen to get a chance to tell Azvida and Jeneth about the situation that their son had gotten himself into before confronting the other kids so that they could be ready to defuse any potential problems before they arose. He considered the option of not taking Jen to the snowgrounds and just watching him until his parents could return, postponing the trip up into Shoal Cave to visit his father if such proved necessary.

That would mean that Azvida and Jeneth would be returning to his home after failing to find Jen at the snowgrounds, he realized as this course of action occurred to him, and he could already picture Jeneth’s disapproving stare and hear Azvida chewing him out for giving them a scare, however brief, but he figured—or at least hoped—that things would be fine once he got the chance to explain things to them.

So, “Maybe it would be a good idea to talk with Mother and Jeneth about this before you go and face the other kids again,” he suggested. “Would you rather just stay and wait here for them to come back?”

Jen considered this for a few moments. Then he shuddered. “I don’t want Mom and Dad to find out,” he said finally. “I’m more scared of Mom than I am of the other kids.” He stood then, turning toward the exit. “Come on… let’s go,” he said with resignation in his voice.

“All right,” Solonn said. He rose, unblocked the exit, and escorted Jen out, sealing his home off once more as they left it behind. His half-brother kept silent during the entirety of the trip to the snowgrounds; Solonn didn’t try to provoke him into conversation, suspecting that the snorunt needed to focus fully on steeling himself for his confession.

He lingered at the entrance to the snowgrounds after bidding Jen goodbye there, feeling it prudent to make sure that the other children didn’t react too harshly to what Jen had to tell them. He still didn’t really anticipate too much trouble, but he found himself compelled nonetheless to stick around long enough to confirm that things would be all right. At the very least, he figured that he should be there in a show of support for his half-brother.

Fortunately, the other kids seemed to take the news well enough. There were a couple of groans from among the small crowd in response to it, but they only sounded disappointed, not angry. Solonn heard “I knew it!” out of one of the snorunt and found himself inclined to believe that most of Jen’s friends shared a similar sentiment.

He did see a couple of pairs of their eyes find him, regarding him uneasily. He disliked seeing children looking at him with anything at all like fear and frowned in regret; the snorunt watching him turned away quickly, possibly misinterpreting the look on his face as one of stern disapproval.

Jen met his gaze then, and Solonn gave him a reassuring nod. It’ll be all right, he told Jen silently, and as if to confirm that thought, a change of the subject and enthusiastic joining in on the new topic arose from among the snorunt. Smiling at the fact that the situation seemed to have resolved itself just fine, Solonn turned and went on his way.

Rather than head back home, he decided to go ahead and continue on to visit Grosh. Having taken the route that led up to Grosh’s residence countless times since learning that his father was alive and well and living not too far away, Solonn knew nearly all of its features by heart; things rarely changed along that path, and when they did, they were only minor changes.

Therefore it was quite a surprise, to say the very least, to find his usual path blocked by a most unusual obstacle just as he was approaching the passageway out of the border-cavern—one that literally just appeared right out of thin air in front of him with a brilliant flash. Given virtually no time to react to it and momentarily blinded by its accompanying burst of light, Solonn collided face-first with the thing with a dull whumpf, causing whatever it was to be knocked backward and go tumbling awkwardly away with strange groaning noise.

Solonn reclaimed his wits and his vision fairly quickly after the unexpected collision. As he cast his gaze off to the left, following the source of the odd sound, his eyes met something that greatly surprised him: uttering a long string of rattling speech to themself, a claydol pitched and wobbled there in an ungainly fashion as they tried to stabilize themself in midair.

“…Oth?” Solonn said, barely able to believe his eyes.

The claydol finally managed to right themself; once they did, they turned to face Solonn, having long ago taken on that habit of creatures who only have eyes in the front. <Oh, hello, Solonn,> they said, confirming his guess. <I am glad to have found you so quickly; I doubt that I could have tracked you down any more successfully than I had done the times before. My apologies for my rather… awkward arrival,> Oth added.

“No harm done,” Solonn assured them. “…The times before, did you say?” he then asked as the implications of what Oth had said hit him with a delay.

Oth gave one of their pseudo-nods. <I have returned to this cavern many times since our parting. However, you were not in this vicinity on any of those occasions, and I regrettably had to terminate my search each of those times before I could find you… It shames me somewhat to admit this, but I did so because I was unable to tolerate the cold of these caverns for very long.>

“There’s no need to apologize for that; it’s not exactly something you can help, after all. Anyway, since I’m here, I can try to keep the cold from you,” Solonn said.

<There is no need for you to try,> Oth said. <You are actually doing quite a good job of keeping the effects of this environment upon me at bay even as we speak.>

Solonn was momentarily surprised by this finding, but quickly realized that he must certainly have employed this type of control over his element subconsciously on many occasions for the simple purpose of keeping the coldness of his own body from having an adverse effect on anything around him. But even knowing that it was unnecessary to make a conscious effort to protect the claydol in his company, he suspected that he would still catch himself feeling compelled from time to time to make deliberately certain that Oth was adequately guarded against the local environment.

“So, then. How have you been?” Solonn asked amiably. “And what of the others?”

<We have fared well, relatively speaking,> Oth replied, <though largely, we have done so apart.>

“Oh?” Solonn frowned slightly, wondering what might have separated the old friends. “What happened?”

<Ultimately, we all simply had our own paths to take,> Oth said. <Many of those in Lilycove wished to return to where they had lived prior to being acquired by humans, and Brett was among them. Aaron met another of his kind and chose to go with her to her home in the southwest. Only Raze chose to stay in Lilycove—I doubt that she could ever bear to leave that place,> they said, their voice lowering on that statement.

Understanding shone through Solonn’s eyes at this; he figured that Lilycove was surely a place of tremendous sentimental importance to the skarmory. She had been born there, after all, and it had since been the birthplace of countless memories that she’d forged with the human with whom she’d grown up there. In her eyes, he reckoned, that city and those memories were certainly all that she had left to hold on to of Morgan and of the past.

<Brett, Aaron and Raze have all dedicated themselves to founding and raising families since you and I last spoke,> Oth went on. <Aaron and his mate Rhasth have had a young son together, Brett and Fiela have had two litters, and Raze and Eisen are awaiting the hatching of their first clutch of eggs.>

The thought of his old friends with children was one at which Solonn could not help but chuckle. He was glad to know that some kind of joy had befallen their lives since the sorrow that had hung over his last moments with them.

<As for Sei and I,> Oth said, <we were part of a team that served the effort to help people rebuild their lives after the day when the humans were stricken. We freed those trapped in capture and storage devices, relocated those who had need of such, helped those who did not know how to live without humans to fend for themselves capably and peacefully, and did what we could to dispel the chaos wherever they failed.

<Our work continued for quite a long time after the human tragedy, too. It was not only our part of the world that was affected, but every part. Even to the best of our hopes and efforts to find otherwise… the unfortunate truth is that nothing remains of the human species. Nothing at all.>

There was a prolonged, heavy silence in the wake of Oth’s pronouncement of the fate of humanity. Solonn was almost at a loss for thought—he, like many, had feared that the human tragedy might have been enormous and perhaps even global in its scope, but to actually hear it aloud, confirmed… “Did you or anyone else ever find out what really happened to them all?” he managed at length. “Do you know what caused it?”

<Sadly, no,> Oth replied. <Though many have tried, none have succeeded in determining the origin of the Extinction.>

Another somber pause hung over the two before Oth resumed their account of what they, Sei, and the rest of those with whom they had worked to serve a world in need had done over these past years. <Eventually, as things began to stabilize in much of the world, most of us finally went back to our own lives, but Sei… She is still out there, doing anything and everything she can for whomever appears to have need of her. I think she may never consider her work to be done.>

“Hmm,” was all Solonn could say to that, nodding. Knowing Sei as he did, he was not surprised to hear such about her. “And what have you been doing since your work was finished?”

<Not much. In addition to trying to contact you, I have been checking in on the others from time to time, making sure that they were doing well and usually staying with them for a short time before moving on. Other than that… largely, I have simply roamed during these years. I have no single place to stay now, really…>

Oth fell silent, and a strange, faraway look entered their many eyes. The claydol seemed to have arrived at a difficult subject, and Solonn found himself sorry for anything that he might have said to lead them there, averting his gaze self-consciously. Oth seemed to recognize the awkwardness that had fallen over the situation then and moved to remedy it at once. <So, what has been going on in your life?> they asked, changing the subject.

“Well, truth be told, I’ve not really been up to anything of interest,” Solonn admitted lightheartedly. “I also haven’t got any kids of my own yet… but my mother found a new mate, and they’ve had a son together.”

<Oh? How fortunate for them!> Oth said.

Solonn smiled. “Indeed. And also… you might find this hard to believe, but… my father returned.”

All of the claydol’s eyes blinked in unison. <Your father?> they said incredulously. <I did not know that he still lived!>

“Neither did I, for a while,” Solonn said. “But he is indeed very much alive. As a matter of fact, I was on my way to visit him when you arrived.”

A series of peculiar little clicking sounds issued from the claydol, a sound that Solonn had long known to be their form of laughter. <Well, I am certainly glad to learn that he is alive and well,> Oth said warmly. <I wonder…> they then added, <do you suppose that I could accompany you? I am rather interested in meeting your family, and now that I have a chance to spend some time with you after so long, I am… not exactly eager to bid you farewell anytime soon…> There was something in their tone that suggested a bit of embarrassment on their part, as if they were worried that they might be imposing themself on Solonn.

But Solonn had no problem whatsoever with letting Oth come along with him. He was equally interested in prolonging such a long-due reunion, and he certainly didn’t want to leave Oth behind with no other option in the cold caverns but to go back from whence they had come. “Sure, of course you may,” he said.

<Thank you,> Oth said gratefully.

“No problem,” Solonn responded as he set off once again, with the claydol following close behind. “Now, hopefully you won’t be too shocked when you see him…”

<Why would I be?> Oth asked.

“Well, you see…”

* * *

Side by side, Azvida and Jeneth entered the temple together. They closed off the entrance behind them and then descended into the sacred chamber, moving silently through a small crowd as they sought a nice place to stop and commence their prayer and meditation.

Those who were already gathered there seemed to barely notice their arrival. People visited the temple as they pleased or needed; it was hard to find a time when there wasn’t someone coming or going through that entrance, and so no one paid much mind to the flow of visitors. Most of those who were present in the temple were furthermore too engrossed in their meditations to notice much else.

As the temple was presently not very heavily occupied, the couple soon found an empty spot near the front of the chamber and gladly set themselves down there. Before them, three tall, tapering spires of ice rose from the floor in a triangular formation, their intended purpose being to focus prayers unto the heavens and to channel divine energy into the worshipers. A solid, triple-diamond pattern was etched into a flattened facet on the front of each of these spires.

Azvida and Jeneth gazed upon the spires for a moment, then exchanged optimistic smiles before closing their eyes and opening their minds to the realm of the gods, doing nothing more for a while other than dwelling on the sacredness of this place. They then silently offered reverence and praise unto the gods, and they could virtually feel their wordless response. The couple sent their gratitude for their prior blessings and appealed to them for more, dearly hoping that their prayers for another child to come into their lives would be answered at last.

At the opposite end of the temple, the barrier at its entrance vanished and reappeared once again, this time admitting a rather larger group of new arrivals than usual. The people in the temple paid these newcomers no more mind than they had to the couple who had come in just before, not even those among them who were concluding their meditations. The newly arrived glalie moved into the crowd, one of them managing to make it up front to the altar, taking his place next to Azvida and Jeneth. Soon, all of them had gotten themselves situated, melding seamlessly into the tranquility of the scene as if they had always been there.

Then that tranquility met an abrupt end.

There was a sound like an enormous peal of thunder erupting within their midst—the signature of several concentrated bursts of raw elemental power released in unison. The worshipers were snapped violently out of their reveries, and their cries of shock and terror rose to join the echoes of the blasts as they saw that some among their number had been struck down to the floor. Just as quickly, the horrified crowd discovered that their nightmare had only just begun.

The first thing Azvida saw as she cast a panicked glance about in the wake of her shattered trance was Jeneth lying motionless by her side, seemingly unconscious. The next thing she saw, in nearly the same instant, was a gray-and-white blur that smashed into him from out of nowhere. She went reeling backward automatically with a wordless exclamation of surprise as the glalie hurtled past her, driving her insensible mate along with them. There was a sickening crunch as they met the wall, and her eyes darted toward the sound of the impact.

Whoever had just struck her mate was nowhere in sight, but there was Jeneth, propped against the wall at an awkward angle. Oblivious in his unconsciousness to the crushing blow that he’d just been dealt, he wore an expression of peace… but the rapidly spreading pool of nearly colorless, evanescing blood that surrounded him conveyed just the opposite.

A strangled wail of anguish escaped from Azvida as she rushed toward him, desperate to find some sign of hope, of life within him, but before she could reach him, his attacker swung back around to the scene, turning on her this time. She caught sight of the charging glalie in the corner of her eye, and she raised a protect aura and dodged out of the way a split-second before he could strike her, veering wildly toward the center of the chamber—but not into safety.

All at once, Azvida found herself surrounded by chaos. All around her, jaws snapped, horns slashed and stabbed, and bodies collided with brutal force. The sounds of shattering armor and attempted sheer cold strikes filled the air along with hisses of fury and cries of fear and agony.

Azvida regained her bearings and looked back toward where Jeneth lay, her heart catching sickeningly in her throat—she was certain now that he was gone. He wasn’t alone, either; several others had fallen: smashed against walls, gored, or both. Her eyes shielded themselves from the grim scene as a powerful wave of sorrow and confusion welled up within her. In all her time in Virc-Dho, she had never seen such violence among her people, and she couldn’t even begin to imagine why it was happening now. All that she was sure of was that it shouldn’t be. This once sacred place had become a killing field, desecrated with the blood of innocents, and more were still in great danger, herself included.

She was struck the moment her shield fell; she gave a shriek of pain as she felt something gouge a burning path across her back, smashing through the sparse armor there. From some long-dormant corner of her memory, a response came: she abruptly turned toward her assailant in a violent, wrenching motion, her left horn raking across his eyes. A scream exploded from his jaws, only to be silenced as Azvida rammed into him powerfully, knocking the breath out of him as he was shoved away.

Her eyes swept the chamber, anticipating another strike at any moment, from any direction. She saw as she did so just how one-sided the battle seemed to be. There were clear aggressors, glalie who attacked ruthlessly and relentlessly with expert strikes. Most of the rest, while earnestly fighting back the best that they could, were just painfully outclassed by the other side. Others, having realized that they were no real match for the enemy, didn’t fight at all and instead just tried to keep their protect shields up and avoid the onslaught.

The fact of the matter was that most of them had nothing in the way of battle experience beyond the matches conducted for sport and for the purpose of encouraging evolution, and there was quite a significant difference between merely sparring and actually fighting for one’s life. Azvida, on the other hand, knew the face of mortal combat all too well. She had hoped to never use the deadly arts that she had learned so long ago again, but she knew that those skills would be needed here today to help defend the less proficient fighters from these people who seemed to desire nothing less than to slaughter them.

With no further hesitation, she charged into the fray. Wherever she saw someone being overpowered by one of the aggressors, she aided them against the enemy; wherever she saw someone cornered or otherwise helpless against an oncoming threat, she rushed in to intercept the attacker. Knowing that even undiluted sheer cold blasts could not be depended upon in such a chaotic situation, especially against such clearly-skilled opponents, she instead relied upon purely physical strikes, her skull bashing into the enemies like a battering ram, her horns seeking the vulnerable eyes and the gaps in the armor of her targets.

Her enemies’ retaliatory strikes left gashes and punctures all over her hide whenever her protect aura failed, but she paid no mind to her own pain, focusing instead on restoring her armor wherever it took damage, glazing over her wounds with ice, and keeping up her defense of her fellow people as well as she could.

But the fact remained that the other side was composed entirely of fighters whose skill was least equal to her own. She alone could not truly provide an adequate defense against that kind of force; despite her best efforts, her people were still falling.

Still, Azvida was determined to help defend them as well as she could. She hurtled toward another enemy who was bearing down on a vulnerable, seemingly wounded glalie lying near the altar—only to pass right through the attacker. She cursed aloud as she realized that she’d just wasted her attack on a double team illusion, and a damned convincing one at that.

Immediately, she sought out its source, anticipating an ambush from whomever had cast the technique—but much to her shock, that ambush came from the “helpless” glalie whom she had moved to save, who grinned wickedly as she rose from the spot in an instant and fiercely headbutted Azvida. Another glalie, the one responsible for the illusion, struck Azvida from the other side in nearly the same instant, causing her to collide painfully with one of the altar’s spires; Azvida only just managed to recover herself and get away from the spire before a large chunk of it broke off and fell to the floor.

As she hurried away from the broken altar, shoving her way through the crowd, she saw that a couple of glalie had managed to slip away from the fight and had made their way to the exit. A small surge of hope awoke in her at the sight, hope that those people might be able to escape with their lives—and that better still, they might bring back help, reinforcements that might put an end to this attack and bring its perpetrators to justice.

But that hope was dashed almost immediately as the barrier warding the exit didn’t vanish at the unspoken command of those gathered before it. They then tried to simply bash through the wall of ice, but to no avail; as if alive, it automatically repaired any damage dealt to it.

“It won’t open!” one of them shouted. “Why won’t it open?”

Azvida’s heart sank as an answer to that question came to her right away: the enemies must be exercising control over the barrier blocking the only way out, she figured. They now outnumbered the defenders, and so their power to keep it closed was greater than even the defenders’ combined efforts to open it would be.

If more glalie arrived at the other side of the barrier, they might well be able to overpower the enemy and gain access to the temple. Were the lair of the Security Guild not located on virtually the other side of the warren, such help would certainly have come already. They could still be summoned if anyone were to come close enough to the temple to hear the commotion within it, but so far it seemed that no one had.

And then a possibility occurred to Azvida. Among the skills that she’d obtained during her time in human custody lay a potential means to draw that badly needed attention—one unsubtle enough to be noticed not only by those near the temple but quite possibly by the entire warren. It had seemed impractical to her as a weapon in combat due to that very unsubtlety and thus had been pushed to the back of her mind in favor of fighting methods with less risk of collateral damage. Its potential beyond simple offense had not occurred to her; inwardly, she cursed herself for not thinking of this course of action sooner.

There was no real guarantee that her idea would work, she knew. Maybe no one would arrive in time; maybe not enough would. Maybe the wrong people would arrive first, though such might happen anyway. Perhaps, the terrible thought occurred to her, similar or even greater violence had erupted elsewhere in the warren, too, in which case the aid that they needed in the temple might be wrapped up in trouble elsewhere. But Azvida felt that she had to at least give it a try, that it might be the only hope left for the salvation of those trapped with her—or at least for those who had brought this misery upon them to be given what she felt that they deserved for it.

With no further delay, she brought up a protect shield once again so that no one and nothing could disrupt what she was about to do—and just in time, as the two glalie who’d tricked her came back around for another strike at her then, accompanied by a third this time.

“Everyone!” she then shouted as loudly as her partially spent strength would allow, unfazed as each of the three assailants’ attacks struck her shield. She knew that her next actions could potentially wreak serious harm on the already disadvantaged and overwhelmed innocents, and thus she wanted to give them adequate warning. “Protect or get as high off the ground as you can now!”

Before her, she saw deep blue light blossom around nearly every living person within the temple, while others pushed their levitation to the limit, rising as high up off of the floor as their heavy bodies could manage. The enemies also took such protective measures, and their attention was now directed squarely and entirely toward Azvida. It seemed that they knew that she was up to something and weren’t interested in letting her pull it off successfully. In a single moment, the enemies amassed and moved toward her in unison.

But just before they could reach her, she surged up into the air, well above her normal hovering height. She came crashing back down in nearly the same instant, and upon landing, she released a powerful discharge of ground-type energy into the floor beneath her, sending great shockwaves outward from the site of impact. The ice that glazed the walls, floor, and ceiling filled with fissures and then exploded from the stone surfaces in a burst of frozen shrapnel almost immediately; what remained of the altar was brought crashing down; and the barrier shattered, only to be restored in virtually the same instant. Her shield fell a split-second after the earthquake’s release, and as the attackers fell upon her, she could only hope that her call for help would be answered in time.

* * *

(CONTINUED)

Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 08:55 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Old January 27th, 2010, 10:09 PM
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Deep, rattling echoes filled the surrounding space: the sonic companion to Oth’s account of their ultra rank contest experience. Their tale was interrupted here and there by a question or comment from Grosh, but Solonn, having heard the story several times before, kept contentedly silent as he sat there in that chamber with his friend and his father.

As the claydol was nearing the end of their account, Solonn was distracted by something peculiar: a quick and rather small yet undeniable tremor that rippled through the stone floor beneath him. It was gone nearly as quickly as it had come, and it left Solonn a bit surprised; judging from the way it had felt, he wondered if it might have been a small earthquake, something that he had never personally experienced there or elsewhere before.

“Did anyone else feel that?” he asked, turning his gaze toward the others. When it fell upon Grosh, Solonn found the steelix wearing a distinctly troubled expression, and his own changed to match it at once.

<I did not feel anything… What is the matter?> Oth asked as they noticed the looks of worry held by the others.

“There was a small earthquake a moment ago,” Solonn answered.

<Oh… Are earthquakes not a common occurrence in this area?>

“As long as I’ve known this place, no, they aren’t,” Grosh said, powerful tension clear in his tone and the set of his jaw. He looked down toward Solonn. “I think that came from the warren—and I think it was your mother’s doing,” he told him quietly, at which his son’s eyes widened in surprise. “And I don’t imagine she would have used that unless she was in major trouble.”

“Oh dear gods…” Solonn said almost breathlessly, rising from the floor, an immense concern for the well-being of not only Azvida but also Jeneth, who was almost assuredly still with her, instantly awakening within him. He heard an untranslated utterance from the claydol to his right, a possible echo of their sentiments. A number of the dangerous scenarios that Azvida and Jeneth could be facing raced through his mind in rapid sequence, quickening his pulse and causing fear to settle heavily into the pit of his stomach.

“She’s a good fighter,” Grosh went on, “and I’m sure she can hold her own in a lot of situations, but if she’s found it necessary to resort to that…” He shook his head. “I fear she might be overwhelmed,” he worried aloud, and his eyes darted fretfully toward the mouth of his cavern and the long shaft leading up out of it. “We’ve got to try and reach her,” he decided firmly. “We don’t know what’s going on, how much time she has… I can’t stand the thought of not being there for her if she’s in need…”

“Oth can close much of the distance between here and the warren,” Solonn said, trying to think as fast as he could. “They can get us to the border-cavern at the very least—and if they can do what I think they can, they can get us to where we probably need to go.” He knew that some psychics, like Sei, could extract memories of destinations from others’ minds and thus teleport to places that they themselves had never physically been. Oth, however, was not as powerful a psychic as Sei was; there was therefore a chance that they might not be able to do such a thing.

Solonn hoped dearly that they could. There was indeed no telling how much time Azvida and Jeneth had—every second counted, and he was sure that being able to warp instantly to where they wished to go could make all the difference in how Azvida and Jeneth fared.

<I can,> Oth said, correctly interpreting Solonn’s statement about their abilities. <If you will allow me to form a temporary link with your mind, I can be ready to take you immediately to any place you can recall.>

Though ordinarily somewhat averse to letting others into his mind, even friends, such reservations could not have been further from Solonn at the present. “Please do,” he consented readily.

Oth brought themself directly before him. As was typical in the execution of many of Oth’s psychic abilities, all but the foremost of their eyes closed as the claydol focused their power through it. There was no ray or beam of light this time; the manifestation of their power was invisible. It wasn’t intangible, however; in no time, Solonn felt the distinct sensation of some foreign presence entering his mind. At the same time, he felt an equally foreign landscape open up on the outskirts of his perception; Oth was forming a two-way connection, he realized at once, a true link. He hoped not to accidentally pick up on any of the claydol’s thoughts, but such concerns kept to the back of his mind.

To his immense gratitude, the link was very quickly established. <Just think of where you wish to go, and I will transport us there instantly,> Oth told him.

“There’s just one problem,” Grosh pointed out, his frown deepening further. “We don’t know where in the warren she is, exactly. We could lose precious time trying to find her.”

“I think I know where she is,” Solonn said. He suspected that she and Jeneth were still at the temple… either that or they were on their way home. He didn’t think that they’d be en route to the snowgrounds just yet, let alone would they have arrived there—he hoped to all gods that they hadn’t, at least. The thought of any children—and especially of Jen—being involved in whatever trouble had befallen Azvida and Jeneth only increased the chilling, sickening fear that roiled within him.“She’s probably at the temple with Jeneth, but if she’s not… well, I think I know where else they could be. We’re just going to have to move as quickly as possible,” Solonn said, trying with only minimal success to suppress thoughts of what might happen if Jeneth and Azvida failed to get needed help in time. “If we don’t find them in one place, we’ll move on immediately.”

The others gave quick nods of agreement, and with that, Solonn focused as sharply as he could manage on visualizing the temple, hoping that the swarm of other thoughts and worries in his mind wouldn’t impede Oth’s reception of his desired destination.

Luckily, the claydol seemed to receive it without any problem. <Draw as close to me as you can,> they advised Grosh right away. The steelix did so at once, coiling loosely around Solonn and Oth. A teleportation field promptly formed around the three, erasing their presence from Grosh’s home.

In virtually the same instant, they rematerialized within the warren, in a fairly wide corridor that stretched out a fair distance from either side of them and curved away around corners into unseen passages beyond. Before them stood a tall, broad wall of ice, differing slightly in color from that which surrounded it; there was no stone immediately behind it, only open space. This was the barrier that sealed the temple of the Virc.

Upon arrival there, Solonn and the others recognized at once that it was also currently host to the trouble that they sought.

From the other side of the wall of ice separating them from the temple, the shouts and cries of the battle within reached the three, and the thundering dread and urgency that they shared surged higher still. Immediately, Oth teleported themself and the others into the temple, where they were greeted at once by the sight of the violence within, still raging despite the number of combatants who had already fallen in the minutes since the commencement of the attack. It was a far more brutal scene than any of the three who had just arrived had expected to find, drawing gasps and cries of shock from them at once.

Their entrance didn’t go unnoticed; several pairs of eyes shifted immediately toward the sudden flash of golden light that had just occurred at the exit, and those eyes widened enormously at what they found there.

A fearful voice cut through the din, announcing the arrival of the steelix that had just appeared on the scene. “Ler Vhossilliar!” the voice shouted. “Retreat, retreat!”

At this call, a number of the glalie within the chamber broke away from the fight and surged toward the exit as one, many of them summoning protect shields around themselves as they did so. The barrier vanished at once before the small swarm of glalie as they fled the temple as fast as they could go, the three newly arrived pokémon whom they rushed past still in too much shock at what they’d found to even begin to realize why they should intercept them.

Following the departure of those glalie, the scene was instantly changed. The fighting had ceased completely; most of those who were now left in the temple were lying on the floor, unconscious or worse, while the few who remained off the ground hovered warily in place, their darting, fearful glances telling that they did not yet dare to believe that the violence had subsided.

Solonn looked upon the scene laid out before him, almost paralyzed with horror and disbelief—he had never beheld such carnage in his life. With an immense effort, he forced himself forward, shuddering hard as he and the others proceeded into the main chamber of the ruined temple, battling a faintness that threatened to bring him down alongside the victims. A thin, pale, silvery mist hung low in the air, vapors from the blood of the fallen; his stomach lurched hard at the thought that he was actually breathing it.

He spotted a small cluster of relatively unharmed-looking glalie huddling together and moving away from him and the strange, foreign creatures accompanying him. They froze in place when they realized that his eyes, as well as those of the claydol and steelix alongside him, had found them. Solonn noticed at once that Azvida and Jeneth were not among them, as did the others; Grosh broke away and immediately began searching the chamber on his own, a couple of his spiked segments rotating fretfully as he did so.

Solonn ceased his advance in an effort to seem less threatening to the fearful survivors but maintained his gaze directly at them, the troubled question plain in his eyes even before it was spoken aloud.

“Where are they?” he asked of them, his throat dry and constricted with fear. “Where are Azvida Zgil-Al and Jeneth Avasi-Ra; do you know?” He could only hope that one of them knew who they were and could recognize them.

One of the survivors nodded almost imperceptibly. Her eyes shifted off to her right—just as a bloodcurdling howl sounded from that very direction.

Solonn’s heart seized at the sound, and he made to rush toward it right away—only to have his dash arrested as familiar, yellow light briefly filled his vision. When it vanished, he found himself and Oth now directly beside Grosh, with the same sight before their eyes that the steelix had found the moment before… a sight that they found almost unbearable.

Azvida lay face-up before them, trembling uncontrollably and staring sightlessly into space through fluttering, ruined eyes. The degree to which she was suffering was difficult to tell, but that she was indeed in pain was all too clear. Her breathing was ragged, horribly labored. Her armor was deformed, hastily shifted to patch over her many wounds. She seemed to have lost the strength to do so at some point, for some of them were still exposed, still bleeding into the already considerable pool that surrounded her; Solonn mindfully took over the work for her, a wordless, strangled sound of horror escaping him as he glazed over the open wounds as quickly as he could.

“Mother…” he all but whispered, his voice catching in his throat. “Dear gods, what have they done to you?”

Azvida stirred slightly where she lay, trying but failing to turn toward the voice that had just reached her. “…Solonn?” she managed in a brittle, almost breathless tone, all too clearly struggling to speak. “Are you… here?”

“Yes,” he answered. “I’m here… and so is Father.”

Something of a sad, wistful gratitude managed to convey itself through Azvida’s marred features at this. “Thank you…” She gave a frail, shuddering sigh. “Wish I… could see you…”

The failing light in her eyes flickered erratically as she unknowingly met her son’s gaze directly. A wrenching pang seized his heart as he watched the almost colorless rivulets of blood that were flowing from the wounds closest to her eyes… it looked to him as though she were crying, shedding impossible tears.

“Who did this to you?” Grosh asked, anguish and fury plain in his tone. “I won’t let them get away with it, I promise…”

“Don’t know,” Azvida responded very weakly. “There were… so many…”

“Mother… where is Jeneth?” Solonn asked hoarsely. “Is he… ?” He couldn’t bring himself to finish the sentence.

Azvida couldn’t bring herself to answer, at least not in words. Her face contorted, and a frail sob escaped her.

Solonn’s heart sank even further at the way that he interpreted that response, and he drew in his next breath as a shuddering, pained hiss. “Oh… oh gods…” he said near-voicelessly, and he started to tremble. He heard sorrowful sounds from the other two who were gathered there with him and Azvida, and all around them, the ice that had fallen from the walls and ceiling surged back up to surround them, jagged projections erupting from it and beginning to twist and writhe at Solonn’s unconscious command as if in torment. The notion that Jeneth was gone was hard enough for him to endure as it was, and the anguish that was still plain on his mother’s face only made it hurt all the more.

He didn’t want such bereavement to be one of the last things she ever knew—and he had no intentions of letting it be. Her potential salvation hovered right at his side, he knew.

“Oth,” Solonn spoke up. The claydol made a faint noise of acknowledgment. “I know a place where they might be able to save her,” Solonn told them, and he brought thoughts and images of a state-of-the-art medical facility in a city far to the west to the surface of his mind. He could only hope that the pokémon who had been trained to work there still did so, that they had not decided that the skills of the human lifestyle were obsolete and thus abandoned them after the Extinction.

The familiar light of teleportation did not bloom around them, however. Solonn feared that Oth might have somehow failed to receive the image of their destination, and so he tried to focus harder on the Haven. This was far easier said than done, though, with such a terrible scene surrounding him, with one loved one already lost and another bleeding before him.

He noticed then that Oth had circled around Azvida to hover at her opposite side, and at that very instant, he saw a pale red beam project silently from the claydol’s foremost eye and strike the prone figure of his mother, seemingly to no effect.

“What are you doing?” he asked the claydol, urgency peaking within him. “We’ve got to get her to the hospital right away!”

Oth didn’t answer. They wordlessly widened their red beam and swept the ray of light over the wounded glalie before them, passing it over her twice. The beam was then terminated, and a long, low, almost toneless rattling issued forth from its maker, a sigh without breath.

<I am so sorry,> the claydol said somberly.

“What is it?” Solonn asked, dreading the answer.

There was the slightest pause as Oth struggled to deliver their reply. <I am afraid that in her current state, she would not survive rematerialization,> they said regretfully. <She cannot be teleported.> Their head lowered, their many eyes closing in earnest guilt. <I am so sorry…> they said again.

None of the three gathered at Azvida’s side wanted to believe what was happening before them, but with that, the finality of the matter seemed undeniable no matter how dearly and desperately they wished otherwise. Solonn looked upon his mother with a profound apology in his eyes, hating the apparent hopelessness of the situation.

“I just wish I could do something about this,” he lamented quietly, “anything at all…”

Azvida drew as long a breath as she could manage, letting it out on a soft, hoarse note. Her jaws parted and she tried to speak, but a powerful tremor wracked her broken body then, stealing her breath before it could be given words. When it subsided, the lines of her face tightened briefly and a small, pained sound escaped her, almost a whimper.

“Just…” she finally resumed with immense difficulty, her words more exhaled than truly spoken. “Please… just stay safe.”

“We will,” Solonn assured her, swallowing against a fresh surge of anguish at the sight of her latest wave of suffering. “We promise we will. Don’t worry.”

Her only acknowledgment was the slightest nod and something whispered that came short of words. She gave another great shudder, one that seemed unwilling to relent… but then she finally fell still. The light in her eyes faded out, and her life went with it.

There was one last, precious ghost of a moment after in the minds of her observers in which she still lived. Then the truth fell upon them all, and deep within himself, Solonn felt something seem to tear itself wide open. The bereavement already aching badly deep within his bones swelled in him until it finally tore its way out through his throat in a long, raw, piercing cry, joining the anguished roaring and somber lowing of those at his sides. The surrounding ice through which his pain had manifested before shattered, crumbling from the walls and ceiling in tiny pieces that fell like frozen rain.

Moments passed unmarked and uncounted in the wake of Azvida’s passing. Solonn shook as he huddled against the grieving steelix in a futile effort to comfort both his father and himself, his eyes closed, ragged breaths hissing through his teeth. He felt something slightly rough-textured light upon his back, which startled him slightly, but then he realized that it was only Oth’s hand. Opening his eyes, he turned and saw that they had laid their other hand upon Grosh, embracing both him and Solonn insofar as they could.

<I should inspect the others who have fallen,> the claydol finally spoke up, their mindvoice subdued. <Some of them may require medical attention… if I can transport them, I will do so.>

Solonn only nodded in agreement, unable to reach words. As the rest of the temple seemed to slowly reemerge unto his senses, he could hear the lamentations of others of his own kind, survivors facing loss or potentially impending loss of their own. He hoped dearly that as few of them as possible would share an experience like his own.

Oth parted from the group and began to move toward one of the other fallen glalie, but then stopped. <Someone is here…>

There was a very loud, resounding crack. Without even so much as a chance to wonder what could possibly have hit them, the claydol fell to the floor—and in the same instant, Grosh did likewise, his head dropping heavily to the ground, very nearly landing on the glalie at his side. A cry of shock escaped Solonn, and he immediately looked to his father and his friend in turn, staring agape in disbelief at their sudden fall and fearing for their lives. Thankfully, Grosh was still breathing, his exhalations forming glowing clouds of warmth in the surrounding cold. Oth, however, was not breathing… but then again, Solonn remembered, they never were. There was still their rather low but nonetheless present body heat to confirm their survival; an ice-type blast of lethal power would have left them thoroughly frozen.

The moment that he was sure that both of them were still alive, Solonn sought whomever had struck them down, suddenly awash in adrenaline and ready to fight back in the event that the attack on the temple had resumed. He swiftly found nine glalie at the entrance, seemingly newly arrived and wearing expressions that tried but failed to conceal horror at the scene that they’d found.

“Please remain calm,” one of them addressed the survivors, attempting to sound comforting and commanding at the same time despite the tremor that she couldn’t quite keep out of her voice. “No further harm will come to you. You all need to come with us before the Council of Authority for questioning and further aid and instructions.”

Any retaliation that Solonn might have had in store for the new arrivals faltered as he realized just what was going on: they were of the Security Guild, and they had undoubtedly come to investigate the commotion that had occurred here. With horror, he also realized why they had brought Grosh and Oth down, what they must have thought upon finding such strange creatures at a scene of carnage and destruction…

“No, you’ve got it all wrong!” he croaked out. “These two had nothing to do with this!”

The guild members regarded him with doubt, and most of them cast looks at the one who had spoken before. “Secure them and get ready to move them out,” their spokeswoman and apparent leader instructed her squad, nodding toward those gathered at her right. The six there nodded back in acknowledgment and moved in silent unison toward where Grosh and Oth lay unconscious.

“Leave them alone!” Solonn shouted, intercepting the approaching guild members. “What in the gods’ names is wrong with you? I told you, they didn’t do this!”

The approaching glalie made no response to him, gliding around him and splitting into two groups to surround Grosh and Oth separately. Unable to watch idly as they set upon his father and friend, he brought a piercing, white blaze to his eyes. With a hiss of fury, he set off a sheer cold blast in their midst, a warning shot.

No sooner had the elemental discharge been loosed than another one just like it was unleashed—but not of his making. He gave a shout of surprise as the blast went off so close to him that he could feel the shockwave of its birth explode against his back. He turned in an instant to face its source and saw the guild leader there, holding a hard stare upon him.

“Sir, I’m going to ask you not to interfere, and I’m not going to ask you again,” she warned Solonn tensely, her tone telling that she wasn’t bluffing. “You’ll have a chance to speak with the council later, and they can determine the validity of your claims, but first we’re required to subdue all potential threats. If you wish to present yourself as a potential threat, then I’m afraid we will have to respond accordingly.”

Solonn only stared in silent, pained outrage at the leader for a moment, unable to believe his ears. Whatever was or was not required of the guild personnel, he was sure that they held a mistrust for unfamiliar species and that that in turn made it all the easier and more convenient for them to believe that Grosh and Oth must surely have contributed to the desecration of the temple and the loss of life there.

With a tremendous effort, Solonn just barely managed to suppress an urge to try and knock out the leader in one blast, just aware enough through the haze of all that he was feeling at the time that doing so would get him knocked out by the rest of her squad. “Listen,” he pleaded with her. “There are people here who might need help, and you just attacked the only person who can give it to them. You’ve got to give them a chance to help these people!”

The guild leader held his gaze, her brow knitting, a frown that he couldn’t quite interpret forming on her face. She remained silent for a moment’s deliberation. “I’m sorry,” she finally said, “but letting them awaken is not a risk that we can take right now.”

“There’s no risk! They didn’t do this!” Solonn cast a hopeful, pleading glance around him at the survivors of the attack on the temple, who had witnessed what had truly happened and could thus back up his claims… and the conflict on their faces couldn’t have been plainer. Come on, he urged them silently, tell them!

For a fleeting moment, a couple among their number seemed to be considering coming forward, their brows drawn together as they debated their next actions… but to his dismay, none of them spoke up.

“Come on,” the guild leader instructed them quietly. “The council needs to speak with you.”

The survivors made for the exit, some moving more hesitantly than others and throwing glances back at people left lying behind, then waited there to be led away. With a bitter disappointment, feeling that he was defeated for the time being and despising that notion very deeply, Solonn turned away from them to face the guild leader once more, giving her a smoldering, reproachful glare. His attention then shifted toward the guild members who then proceeded to apprehend Grosh and Oth; he wanted to make damned sure that they did no further harm to either of them.

Oth was pushed up onto the head of one of the guild members, held between her horns. Another of the guild members generated a pillar of ice on which he lifted up Oth’s hands, which had become separated from their owner without Oth’s telekinesis active to hold them at their sides, and then deposited them on top of his head; he had apparently correctly guessed that the hands could function while detached and had apparently incorrectly assumed that they could do so while their owner was unconscious. Four of the remaining members of the squad positioned themselves around Grosh, two to each side of his neck, behind his massive head. The six guild members then secured the prisoners (and detached parts thereof) to their bodies with ice, shifted the shattered ice on the floor underneath them into a smooth, even surface on which to more easily drag the steelix, and began moving toward the exit. Solonn worked very mindfully to protect Oth and Grosh, particularly the former, from the coldness of their captors’ bodies as they were carried along.

“All right then,” their leader said, turning toward the survivors at the exit. “Everyone line up behind me and follow me out in an orderly fashion.”

The survivors did as they were told, and grudgingly, miserably, Solonn did likewise. As he followed them into the corridor beyond, he looked back one last time into the ruined temple, the place where Azvida, Jeneth, and gods only knew how many others had drawn their last breaths. He held that anguished gaze upon that place until the guild members carrying Grosh and Oth reached the exit, blocking his view behind and forcing him to move on. His heart ached with the thought that innocent people were being punished for those deaths—he knew that neither Jeneth nor Azvida would have wanted this, and he doubted that the other victims would have wanted the punishment to fall upon the wrong people, either.

The only hope now for things to be set right in his eyes, or as right as they could be after something so terrible had happened, was if the council could be convinced of the innocence of his father and his friend. Silently, he prayed for a chance that the wrong done unto them would be undone.

* * *

The council chamber was fairly large and wider than it was long. The floor was raised slightly in a strip against the far wall, forming a platform just large enough to accommodate the members of the council. The council, however, was not there. The witnesses brought from the temple, a very small, shaken crowd of fearful, mournful faces, had been waiting there for them for uncounted minutes, some having waited longer than others had. There were more people in the chamber than had initially been brought there; a couple more, who had apparently still been unconscious when the rest of the squad had departed the temple, had arrived not terribly long after with the two guild members who had stayed behind.

Waiting for the council to show up was made no easier to endure for Solonn by the fact that the better part of his mind and of his heart still remained back in that temple with the rising vapors and the ruined lives, with them. Some of the rest was casting itself outward every which way in desperate wondering of where Grosh and Oth had been taken. Solonn had not been able to help asking where the two were being taken when the guild members carrying them, along with the guild leader herself, had diverged from the group upon arrival at the council chamber; he had only been given a short, unhelpful answer of “somewhere secure”, leaving him to fret helplessly for them and hope that there was at least someone there guarding them and unwittingly protecting them from freezing.

The rest of his thoughts and worries went toward his half-brother, still back at the snowgrounds and possibly wondering by now when his parents would show up—not knowing yet that they never would. Oh gods… Solonn was sure that he would be the one who’d have to tell Jen what had happened. He could already picture how the snorunt would react, and the image fueled the cold, sick feeling inside him further.

So did his awareness that the snowgrounds might have suffered an attack, as well—that he might not have to break the news to Jen after all, and for the most terrible of reasons.

He had to get out of there. He wished desperately for the council to make their appearance, to start this meeting so that it could end. The need to know if Jen was all right burned desperately within him, just as did the need to do whatever he could for Oth and Grosh.

Finally, the wall to one side of the raised platform opened, and the Security Guild leader emerged through it. She descended from the platform and took her position in front of it, off to the side, facing the small crowd.

“The honorable Council of Authority now arrives,” she announced. “Please bow as they make their entrance.” In less-than-perfect unison, the gathered witnesses lowered their faces. A moment later, “Now please give your attention to the lahain Hagen Ar-Vhannen,” she instructed them.

At the apparent cue, Solonn lifted his gaze and found the platform before him now occupied, seating the most powerful figures in Virc society. The Council of Authority numbered five: two men and three women. Their pale eyes told of considerable age, and of other things, as well: confusion, sorrow, unease, and fear. Whether or not the minds behind those eyes had yet been immovably convinced of Grosh’s and Oth’s guilt remained unclear to Solonn.

The one front and center rose and moved very slightly forward before seating himself again. His eyes swept the crowd slowly, and he inhaled deeply before speaking.

“These are most regrettable circumstances that bring us together today,” the lahain began heavily. “This day has destroyed the sanctity of our holy temple, and has robbed good, honest Virc of their lives. The temple is forever desecrated by the immensely wicked acts committed there, and nothing can bring back those who were lost there. All we can do is to see to it that those responsible are given their due punishment to protect our people from any such threat in future.

“Our Security Guild has brought to us two… individuals… whom they found at the scene and whom they suspect to be responsible for the murders in the temple. However… they also tell us that one among you has proclaimed these two to be innocent.” Here Hagen allowed a pointed gaze to fall upon a face in the crowd that was considerably larger than those around it, and he held it there. “What can you offer us to support your claim?”

Solonn swallowed hard, sending out yet another quick, silent prayer for the council to see the truth in his words. Some tiny voice within him warned of the danger in what he was about to say, that it might implicate him alongside his friend and his father, but he didn’t care. He felt that they were more than worth that risk.

“I know them, Lahain,” he said. His voice was hoarse and carried a distinct, pained plea. “Neither of them would ever do such horrible things. And besides which, they weren’t even there when it all started. They were with me. We picked up on the tremor and went to the temple right away… and when we entered, the fighting stopped.

“We were there to help,” he emphasized, sincerity imparting a sharp edge to his words. “Those two you’ve imprisoned wanted to save people—and their help may still be needed. Please, Lahain… you have to let them go. Some of the people back in the temple may be badly hurt; they’ll need to be taken somewhere far from here for the help they need, and you’re imprisoning the only one who can get them there fast enough.”

Hagen sighed. “I’m afraid that all those left in the temple are beyond salvation,” he said quietly. “The Security Guild reported that all those whom they were unable to wake had perished.” At these words, the somber air that hung over the space grew even heavier, drawing mournful sounds from many of those gathered in the chamber. A sickened dismay dampened the already dim light of Solonn’s eyes further; he was certain that had Oth been allowed to attend to those last victims, at least some of them might have had a chance.

“As for your claims regarding the two prisoners,” Hagen continued, “can anyone else here back up your testimony?” He lifted his gaze from Solonn and let it encompass the entire crowd. “Is there anyone else among you who claims that those two did no harm to the temple and those therein?” he asked of them.

There was a moment of silence that felt terribly long. Solonn expected that this would just be a repeat of the situation in the temple, that now, just as then, no one would speak up and support him.

But then, to Solonn’s grateful surprise, “Yes, Lahain,” said one of the other witnesses. “He’s right. We’d already been fighting for a while before they came. They appeared in the temple—just appeared—and when the other side saw them, they bolted.”

“Other side…” Hagen mused aloud. He cast perplexed glances at the other council members, but it seemed that they didn’t know what to make of the matter, either. “Well then, if it wasn’t the two strange creatures who attacked the temple, then who was it?” he asked, a question directed at any who would answer it.

“As far as I could tell, it was just some other glalie,” Solonn answered.

The reaction elicited by that statement was not what Solonn had expected: scandalized gasps issued from a couple of the council members, and the lahain himself looked greatly appalled.

“How could you even suggest such an abomination?” Hagen hissed, the light in his eyes blazing. “Virc must not and do not take the lives of other Virc!”

“…It’s true,” another of the survivors dared to insist despite the vehemence of Hagen’s objection. “They just came in, and they hit us with no warning… just like that, everything went to hell.” He shook his head. “There were… no idea how many. Don’t know who they were, either. But they were definitely glalie.”

“Now do you see?” Solonn asked of the council, conveying the question as more of a challenge than he’d quite intended. “The ones you’ve imprisoned are not to blame. You’ve got to let them go!”

The lahain only glared at Solonn and the other witnesses with an expression of potent outrage. There was clearly something at work behind those ancient eyes, perhaps actually considering the claims presented to him by the witnesses or perhaps just seething in offense at the notion of Virc glalie showing the same cruelty and disregard for life of which members of any other society were capable. Solonn strongly suspected it to be the latter.

Hagen drew a deep breath with a distinctly disapproving, hissing edge that he either failed or didn’t bother to suppress, and he opened his mouth, seemingly about to give voice to whatever was going on in his mind. But before the lahain could say a single word, the entrance to the council chamber opened unexpectedly, and an unfamiliar face peeked in tentatively, clearly conscious that he was interrupting something but just as plainly urgent to get something out to those who were gathered within the chamber.

“Ms. Skei-Vi!” he hissed, distress very evident in his voice. He made something of a beckoning motion, jerking his head toward the corridor outside.

The guild leader cast a questioning, troubled glance at the glalie at the entrance, then excused herself and went out to join him. The portal sealed, and speech was briefly heard outside before drifting away, the two outside apparently wishing to go and speak somewhere more private. Everyone in the chamber wondered what in the world was going on, but before they had long to ponder it, the leader returned, alone. All of the eyes that turned to her as she entered the chamber and took her position in front of the council once more noticed her grave expression at once, and the crowd watched her attentively, wondering and fearing what she might have just been told.

“What is it?” Hagen asked of her, sounding genuinely concerned, his previous vehemence seeming to have softened considerably.

“I’m afraid I’ve just received some terrible news,” the guild leader announced slowly, somberly. “A member of my guild has just come from the snowgrounds… all the children who were being kept there since this morning have gone missing.”

Immediately, gasps and cries of shock and alarm filled the air. Solonn’s heart froze as the personal significance of the situation struck him at once. “Jen…” His voice cracked as his throat went dry. “Dear gods, my brother was in there!”

“And my children!” another voice in the crowd cried.

“Please, you’ve got to find them!” a third begged of the guild leader.

“Members of my squad have already begun searching,” Ms. Skei-Vi tried to assure her, but the guild leader’s words failed to calm her or anyone else in the room.

“This day has grown darker still…” the lahain remarked quietly. “Ms. Skei-Vi, do you have any clue at all as to where these children might be or who might have taken them?” he asked.

“Presently, no,” the guild leader said regretfully. “The children have vanished without a trace. There’s nothing left behind to even suggest what has become of them.”

“Hmm…” was the lahain’s sole response at first as he stared pensively at a spot on the floor for a moment. “I think I’ll hazard a guess as to who might be responsible for this shameful act,” he then said, at which every eye in the chamber met his gaze. “I believe that this crime may well have been the work of the same ones responsible for the atrocities in the temple—the very ones who are held in our cells at this very moment.”

Solonn had expected that he would hear that sort of suggestion made about them, but having seen it coming did nothing to dampen his hatred of it. “How can you make such a claim?” he demanded, his eyes burning bright once more. “And furthermore, how could they have committed two crimes at the same time?” he added as the thought occurred to him.

“No one said that those crimes were committed at the same time,” Hagen pointed out. “The children may well have been taken and left somewhere before the attack on the temple.”

“Maybe so,” Solonn responded, conceding the point no further than that. “But still, you can’t just accuse them without anything to base it on! There’s nothing to prove that they did this!”

“I see no proof that they didn’t do it,” Hagen countered.

“Oh, so I suppose that the word of these witnesses means absolutely nothing to you, then?” Solonn said acidly.

“Mere words can’t truly be accepted as irrefutable evidence,” the lahain said. “Anyone can say anything, after all.”

Lahain…” one of the other council members then spoke up tentatively. It was the first time since the meeting had begun that anyone of the council other than Hagen had spoken. “Surely the fact that so many report that they were attacked by other glalie has to count for something, does it not?” she asked.

“If my suspicions are correct, then no, it very well may not,” Hagen said.

“And just what are those suspicions, exactly?” Solonn demanded.

“I believe that one of the prisoners, the many-eyed one, is a psychic,” was the lahain’s reply.

This brought a fresh surge of astonished responses from the crowd. “How do you know?” one among them asked. Solonn leveled a demanding gaze at Hagen with the same question and the worry that came along with it tightening his brow—how had the lahain correctly guessed that Oth was a psychic?

“Two among you have each offered a very significant detail where that’s concerned,” Hagen said. “The strange ones were described as simply ‘appearing’… and you,” he said, nodding toward Solonn, “claimed that one of them could quickly and easily transport people outside of our territory, did you not?”

Solonn could only stare wide-eyed at Hagen, horrorstruck by what he was hearing. That he might well have inadvertently given the lahain something to help convince him of the prisoners’ guilt made it feel as though his blood had just frozen in his veins—he had been so desperate to save his friend and his father, but now it seemed that he may well have helped to seal their doom.

“The ability to disappear and reappear elsewhere is one long known to be associated with the psychic element,” the lahain went on. “I feel that the employment of such abilities could explain how the children could be made to vanish so easily and completely. Furthermore… it bears mentioning that this would not be the first time that one among our people’s youth has experienced apparent abduction by a psychic-type… now would it, Mr. Zgil-Al?”

Solonn might otherwise have been surprised or startled to learn that Hagen knew his name, but all that truly got through to him of the lahain’s last words was what Hagen was implying about Oth. “Do not even suggest that they had anything to do with that!” he hissed, thoroughly appalled.

“As I recall, no one ever did determine who took you that day. I also recall that you told the Security Guild leader of that time that you had no memory of your abduction or of anything that took place up until the time that you returned,” Hagen reminded him. “For all you know, that creature may very well have been your abductor.”

“‘Creature’…” Solonn spat distastefully, finding more to dislike in Hagen’s words with every moment. “That person is my friend, Lahain. They’re one of the kindest, most gentle-natured people anyone could ever hope to meet—they would never do anything at all like what you’re accusing them of!”

The look Hagen gave him in response to that was sad—pitying, even. “Mr. Zgil-Al, I fear that you may be a victim of psychic deception. Just as the rest of you who have been brought here may have been tricked into believing that you were under attack by glalie rather than by the strange ones, you may have been made by the psychic to see them in a much more flattering light.”

No,” Solonn said firmly, now positively shaking with astonishment at what he was hearing. “You’re wrong, Lahain. And everyone here knows it. Tell him!” he shouted as he turned to face the crowd.

But to his dismay, the faces he saw around him spoke of no desire to do any such thing. In fact, it looked as though they might have been seriously considering Hagen’s words.

He turned back toward the council. “Well, what about the rights of the prisoners?” he said. “Aren’t you at least going to give them a chance to defend themselves before you just decide that they’re guilty?”

“And just how do you suppose we go about that?” Hagen asked. “If they’re allowed to wake, what’s to stop the psychic from simply disappearing and bringing the steel creature along with them, freeing them to threaten us again in future? It’s a risk I cannot and will not accept.”

“They wouldn’t do that,” Solonn growled. “Gods, you’re speaking of them as if they’re some kind of uncivilized beasts… They were there at the temple today out of concern and love, Lahain. They’re good, decent people, and yet you’re talking about them as if they’re some kind of soulless, heartless monsters!”

“You can say whatever you want about them, but the nature of the day’s events seems all too clear to me now,” the lahain said resolutely. “It just makes far more sense to me that the terrible deeds that were done today could and would be done by such creatures rather than by Virc glalie. Why, anyway, would Virc ever kill their own kind?”

“Maybe they weren’t Virc,” suggested another of the council members, the very same one who had spoken up before.

“Don’t be ridiculous, Zdir,” Hagen said. “You know just as well as I do that there are no other nations of our kind anywhere near here.”

“I was referring to exiles, Lahain,” Zdir elaborated. “Exiles who perhaps desired to get back at their fellow countrymen for their punishment.”

There was a strange sort of flickering in Hagen’s eyes as if Zdir had struck a particular chord with him. It was gone nearly as soon as it had come, however; his expression now solely and strongly suggested that she had crossed some line. The looks on the faces of the other three council members emphasized her apparent mistake further; they looked as though they were deeply worried for her.

“I think it’s time we brought this matter to a conclusion,” Hagen said coldly. “The council and I will go and discuss the day’s events and what we have learned regarding them among ourselves, and we will return with our final decision.”

There was not a second’s delay between his words and the response of his fellow council members; the one closest to the side exit opened it at once, and the five filed through it without a further word. At the back of the line, Zdir stopped for the slightest moment, turning a supportive but not particularly optimistic gaze upon the crowd. Then she, too, was gone, and the portal was sealed shut behind her.

Solonn’s eyes lingered for a long moment upon the wall of ice behind which the council had disappeared. He could only imagine what sort of a discussion was taking place wherever they had gone, but he was all too certain that it was far from balanced. From what he had seen, Hagen had virtually the entire council under his figurative thumb; most of them had come across to Solonn as meek, obedient people who probably never spoke unless it was specifically asked of them by their leader.

He saw Zdir as an exception, as someone clearly having a mind of her own and daring to voice her disagreement with the lahain. But it seemed to him that she was only one questioning voice out of five. Chances were that that wouldn’t be enough to sway or overpower Hagen, not if the rest of the council truly did support their leader unquestioningly. She would probably be made sorry in some way for her dissent, Solonn suspected darkly, and the other four of her peers would likely give her theories and opinions no further thought.

It was a bit longer than he had quite expected before the council returned. Ms. Skei-Vi commanded the crowd to bow again as the council members took their places once more; Solonn refused, earning a disapproving frown from the guild leader.

Ignoring her, he looked toward Zdir, the only member of the council for whom he still bore any respect. Her face told all too plainly that she had lost before even one word was spoken; she looked over the crowd with eyes filled with guilt and an unspoken apology.

“We of the council have arrived at our final judgment,” Hagen announced (a distinct bitterness flickered across Zdir’s features at the lahain’s use of the word “we”). “We have determined that our two prisoners, the steel creature and the psychic, were most certainly responsible for the destruction of our holy temple, the murders of eleven within it, and the abduction of an as yet unknown number of innocent children.”

It was exactly as Solonn had anticipated, no surprise whatsoever. Nonetheless, the judgment seemed to stab right into his heart, flooding him with outrage and despair. It was done—he had failed to save Grosh and Oth.

“The guilty parties will remain subdued in our custody until we have decided upon a more permanent punishment,” Hagen went on. “The public will be informed of today’s tragedy, but also assured that those responsible will pose no further threat. The Security Guild will do all in their power to find and bring back the children who have been taken from us… however, we must all prepare ourselves for whatever the gods may have chosen with regards to their fate,” he added in a somber tone.

“As for you who have found yourselves caught in the center of all this wickedness… you have truly endured a uniquely tragic ordeal,” the lahain said to the crowd, sounding earnestly sympathetic. “It may take some time for you to fully realize and accept the truth of what you experienced at the temple and of those who dealt it unto you. What I now ask of you all is that until that time, you do not tell anyone of the lies the wicked ones showed you.”

“You can’t possibly be serious!” Solonn responded at once, his eyes blazing. “This is absolutely unbelievable… First you convict innocent people based on nothing more than convenient coincidence and your own blatant bias, and now you honestly expect these people to not only deny what they know they saw but to also lie about it from here on out?”

“What we tell you is no lie, Mr. Zgil-Al,” Hagen said firmly. “Your mind, as well as that of everyone present during the attack on the temple, has been wrapped up in the trickery and absolutely abhorrent lies of the psychic, and I’ll not have any of you spreading those horrid ideas among my people. Do you have any idea of what such notions would do to them?” he hissed. “No Virc—or former Virc,” he added with a pointed glare toward Zdir, “has taken the life of their own kind for countless generations. The people could not deal with such an unnatural notion!”

“Will they be able to deal with the real threat when it returns? Because it will; I guarantee it,” Solonn said. “You’ve laid this on the wrong people, Lahain, and more innocents will suffer because of it.”

“Is that a threat, Mr. Zgil-Al?” Hagen asked, his pale eyes narrowing.

“It’s a warning, Lahain,” Solonn said, unflinching. “And for our people’s sake, you’d best heed it. Reconsider your judgment, let those prisoners go, and do not forbid us to tell the people the truth that could save their lives!”

The lahain inhaled deeply, letting it out on something between a hiss and a growl. He then rose from his seat and descended from the raised platform, gliding determinedly forward and coming to a stop right in front of Solonn in a clear move to show that he was not swayed by his words or intimidated by his stature.

“You concern me, Mr. Zgil-Al,” he said, with a cold, hard stare up into the eyes of the larger man. “I fear that perhaps you cannot be trusted to listen to reason and maintain the peace. But I also pity you, and as such, I’m going to give you the chance to prove me wrong where that’s concerned. To err on the side of caution, however, you and the rest of those from the temple will be watched for a short while by a few of Ms. Skei-Vi’s people. If any of you cause any further disruption, they will not hesitate to bring you down and put you into cells alongside the strange ones right away,” he warned the crowd.

Hagen turned then and resumed his place with the rest of the council. “Go,” he said to the crowd. “Remember your duties, all of you. Do not pollute the public’s thoughts with the lies that have corrupted your perceptions. If I come to find out that you’ve failed in this responsibility, you will join the prisoners in their fate.”

“Come on, then,” Ms. Skei-Vi said, then began shepherding the witnesses toward the exit.

Solonn lingered at the scene, maintaining his burning, condemning gaze upon Hagen for as long as he could. “You’re making a dire mistake, Lahain,” he said reproachfully. “The real threat is still out there, and anything that happens to our people from this day forward is on your head.”

With an insistent push and a softly reiterated warning, the guild leader managed at last to get Solonn out of the chamber and lead him away, leaving the council with his final, ominous words.

* * *

“We gather here, in the sight of all gods, for the honor of those who have gone to join them on this day. Eleven souls, good Virc all, have been torn from our midst before their time in a most dreadful act of violence.”

The voice belonged to the leader of the Soul Guild, her words echoing throughout the surrounding space. Assembled there with her within a vast, low-ceilinged cavern were dozens of glalie: survivors of the attack, friends and family of the victims, the other members of the Soul Guild, and several from the Security Guild.

They all formed a ring around a collection of eleven short spires of ice that were arranged in a spiraling pattern in the center of the chamber. Within each of these spires, the lifeless form of one of those who had perished within the temple was encased.

“To you who lie before us: rest well. Though you have departed this life through fear and agony, you will now know only peace forevermore. Though you have fallen by the power of wickedness, take comfort in the knowledge that no wickedness can follow where you have gone.”

With a very heavy heart, Solonn held the spires within his gaze. Though they and their arrangement were lovely in his eyes, a nice tribute of sorts to the fallen ones who were held within them, he could soon bear to look upon them no longer. He was overcome by thoughts of what they represented, of the reason why they had been raised on this day, and of the full impact of the day’s wicked deeds. Eleven lives, forever lost. Two innocent souls, unjustly paying for the sins of others. Children, gods only knew how many, taken from their homes into unknown peril. Part of his family was now gone, while the rest of it, as well as all of Virc-Dho, now faced an uncertain future.

“We of the living world now relinquish custody of your spirits to your new keepers, but we will never let go of our memories of you. One day, we may meet again. Until then… farewell.”

With those final words spoken, the Soul Guild leader then began singing a wordless melody. The voices of her fellow Soul Guild members rose to join her, filling the chamber with music that struck deep into all those who heard it. As the Soul Guild sang, the eleven spires began to sink slowly, descending on a circular platform into a very deep hole in the floor. Their peaks disappeared into it, and ice formed to cover the grave, sealing the fallen within their resting place.

Neither Solonn nor anyone else gathered within that cavern could shed a single tear for the day’s tragedies. But inside, he and all the rest of them were crying their hearts out, their grief manifesting here and there in frail, tormented sobs.

Their sorrow was earnest, but the fact remained that most of them didn’t know the true circumstances surrounding the events that had cost the lives that they now mourned. Most of them knew only what the authorities had told them, believing that the threat to them had been permanently removed from the picture when in reality it had not.

Solonn couldn’t vouch for anyone else among that crowd who knew what had really happened, but he knew one thing for certain: he couldn’t stand to remain silent. In that moment, he couldn’t care about the lahain’s threats and warnings, couldn’t care what speaking out might cost him. It was of far greater importance to him that the people be armed with the truth. He was all too certain that if they were denied it, then chances were that these caverns would likely be hearing the Soul Guild’s song many times in the days to come.

_____________________

Virc language usage:

Ler Vhossilliar (LAIR vo-SEEL-yar): Roughly, “The Steel Menace”. I thought that sounded kind of silly in English and thus decided to leave it “untranslated” there.

Lahain (la-HYNE): Roughly, “Oldest and Wisest”, the title used for the leader of the Council of Authority. Hagen is actually not the oldest member of the Council, however… yeah, Virc timekeeping isn’t exactly perfect.

And a note about Ms. Skei-Vi… you know where that name came from? Well, it’s basically a sort of “Vircanized” version of “Skippy”. Yes, Skippy. The name “Skippy” stuck to her (like peanut butter *is shot*) as a result of a convo with Saffire Persian regarding the then-nameless character. So there’s my little tribute to that—I simply couldn’t resist.

One more thing that I feel it’s prudent to mention: as many times as I’ve sent characters to the great beyond, it was no easier to do the same to this chapter’s casualties. But I’d known what would become of those characters since long ago, even back during the days of writing The Origin of Storms—and I assure you, having them die was a decision that was neither made nor carried out lightly.

Next time: Solonn is most displeased with the Council’s decisions of late, and he’s not the only one with such opinions. See you then!

- Sike Saner
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CHAPTER 18 POSTED

COMPLETE
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Last edited by Sike_Saner; December 10th, 2013 at 08:58 PM. Reason: Revisions.
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Old March 20th, 2010, 09:29 AM
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Sike_Saner
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Join Date: Oct 2006
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Chapter 15 – Strangers


“Just as they have moved on beyond our world, so must we move on in it. Now go, and may the gods give you strength.”

At the Soul Guild leader’s dismissal, the crowd gathered in the burial chamber stirred and began to disperse. Some among them were hesitant to leave, however, reluctant to make that final parting from the ones who had left them behind in life.

Solonn was one of those who lingered, remaining seated on the stone floor and holding the now featureless space in the center of the room in a sorrowful gaze. Mere minutes ago, they had been there, lifeless and encased in ice like the nine others who had perished in the temple with them. Now, with them sealed away deep beneath the floor with the rest of the fallen, the weight of their loss was impressing itself upon him all the more: he would never see them again. In leaving this chamber, he would be leaving them behind for the rest of his life.

He wasn’t left alone to dwell upon such things for long, however; a prod at his side interrupted his thoughts. He rose and turned to identify its source. There, he found a rather familiar female; he recognized her as the one of the Security Guild members. She was looking up at him with an unspoken question—no, a command—in her eyes.

“I’ve been sent by my guild to escort you,” she said, telling Solonn nothing that he hadn’t already guessed. Hagen had said that he could expect such, after all, and the lahain had clearly meant it. Solonn hadn’t had anyone specifically assigned to him prior to that point, and as far as he could tell, none of the other witnesses had, either; he and they seemed to have just been herded into the burial chamber together following the meeting with the council. Now the time had apparently come for the Security Guild members who had gone into the burial chamber with them to split up and follow the witnesses as they dispersed.

Solonn frowned at her, wishing that she weren’t there—and not only for his own sake. “You have better things to do right now,” he told her quietly, “and you know it.”

“I’m afraid that’s not for you to decide,” the guild member responded. She then circled around and took up a position right behind him—or what was behind him before he turned to face her once more. “Get moving, please,” she said. “I don’t know where you live. You’ll have to lead.”

Solonn gave her an odd look. “Who said I was going home?”

“Well, it’s not as though you have anything else to do, now is it?”

He did have something else to do, but he most certainly couldn’t tell her as much. Letting even the slightest hint slip that he still desired to try and warn people of the threat they still faced, the danger that they weren’t allowed to know still existed, would just get him knocked out and thrown in a cell. If that happened, he would be rendered completely useless to the cause—no one would hear his warnings if he got himself shut away.

He furthermore didn’t much like the thought of leading someone who didn’t trust him (or who at the very least answered to someone who didn’t) back to his home. Very briefly, he considered trying to pick Zilag out of the crowd and go with him instead. He hadn’t even been able to spot Zilag among the mourners, but Solonn was certain that he was present. But doing anything to associate Zilag with him in front of the authorities quickly struck him as something to avoid if he could help it; it just seemed to him like the sort of thing that could wrap Zilag—and possibly also Zilag’s family—up in any trouble that the Security Guild might lay upon him.

Then it occurred to him that even if he avoided Zilag, Zilag was unlikely to avoid him—sooner or later, especially in the wake of what had happened, he would probably pay Solonn a visit to try and lend him some support—and either that guild member or another would likely still be hanging around, Solonn suspected. Their being associated with one another in the Security Guild’s eyes seemed inevitable.

Resigned to that notion, he determined that all he could really do was at least try to avoid revealing the whereabouts of Zilag’s home to them. With that in mind, he sighed and nodded to the guild member in acceptance of her suggestion, then turned his back on her and began drifting toward the exit. After moving a short distance forward, he looked back to see if she was indeed following him—she was. She really was going to tail him literally anywhere and everywhere that he went, he suspected thoroughly. Solonn gave one last glance toward the place where Azvida and Jeneth now lay, sending them a silent farewell and apology for having to leave them so soon, then departed the chamber.

The presence that followed him out did nothing to help put his mind at ease. What it represented—the mistrust and incorrect conclusions of a leader who, as far as Solonn could tell, cared more about being right than about the welfare of his own people, as well as the diversion of such an important resource as the lahain’s officers to keeping people quiet instead of keeping people safe—was bad enough, but on top of that there was the discomfiting notion that he was being shadowed by someone who possibly viewed him as an enemy and might well be inclined to act accordingly. The lahain had said that he would give Solonn and the other witnesses of the attack on the temple a chance to live free (or as free as one could be while under constant watch) provided that they could stay quiet, but nonetheless Solonn couldn’t and wouldn’t put it past him to decide—or, the chilling thought occurred to him, to have already decided—to forcibly silence the witnesses after all.

Would she do it? he wondered of his escort. He couldn’t be sure of what she’d do once he was alone with her, but he did feel fairly certain that she wouldn’t just knock him out and drag him to prison while they shared that tunnel with so many others, at least. He reckoned that neither she nor any other guild members in the crowd who were escorting their own witnesses would strike with all these people present; some of them hadn’t been there at the temple or at the subsequent meeting in the council chamber and therefore might not understand why people whose duty it was to protect them had seemingly suddenly turned on them. Such a scenario might require the guild members to take out those innocents as well in order to nip any loaded questions in the bud, an action that they would surely prefer to avoid taking.

At least, Solonn dearly hoped that they would prefer to avoid taking that action.

Fairly soon, the crowd arrived at a point at which the path branched off in multiple directions. There, the crowd began to thin out as individuals and small groups broke away from it to continue down one path or another. Now Solonn’s sense of safety in numbers began to fade quickly. Already, he had seen a coupl