Thread: [Pokémon] Anima Ex Machina [R]
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Old February 8th, 2009 (10:13 AM). Edited March 18th, 2009 by JX Valentine.
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JX Valentine JX Valentine is offline
Your aquatic overlord
    Join Date: May 2004
    Location: Harassing Bill
    Age: 30
    Gender: Female
    Nature: Bold
    Posts: 3,280
    (The affable Archangel had forewarned Adam to beware.)

    The odd thing, as Bill found out, about having metal as skin was that it changed so frequently according to temperature. At night, he felt the water in the air condense and leave tiny droplets on his cold armor. Now, which could only have been the day, he could feel the scorching heat of the plates exposed to the sun. It felt somewhat uncomfortable to be so hot after being so cold, yet he was numbly aware it felt almost natural.

    Opening a dark eye halfway, Bill realized first that he was lying stomach-down on the cement. His entire body felt heavy, and for that reason, the ground felt oddly comfortable in comparison. Squinting, he dragged a hand next to his face to feel the pavement in wonder.

    "You're awake," Jenny said. "Good. That makes this easier."

    Bill turned his head slightly to glance at Jenny's knees beside him. She was bent over him, fiddling with something at the back of his neck. Behind her, he could see the legs of his sister. He tried to crane his neck to get a better look of her, but Jenny placed a firm hand on the side of his head.

    "Hold still," she said. "I've got to get this off you before they come back."

    He closed his eyes and shifted uncomfortably. "What?"

    "They put a collar on you," Jenny explained. "You're chained to the city square again. I tried to convince them it's not necessary, but after what happened at the pokémon center…"

    Her voice trailed off, and Bill froze. A jolt of pain rushed through his head as a flood of memories came back to him. He recalled the image of the dead female, the male towering over him, Joy on the floor…

    "Nurse Joy," he whispered.

    Jenny stopped. "She's dead. Poison."

    Her voice sounded strained. The words she used felt foreign to Bill, yet he understood on a very distant level. Turning his head, he rested his chin on the cement. He felt Jenny's gloved hands touch the back of his neck and fiddle with the band around his neck, something he was conscious of for the first time since he woke up. The images continued to burn through his mind, but now, he felt numb about them, as if they weren't his memories. He closed his eyes and breathed deeply for awhile as his skull throbbed.

    "My head hurts," he murmured.

    Jenny frowned. "I wouldn't be surprised. You slammed into a wall." She hesitated. "What happened in there, anyway?"

    Bill stared at the cement. For a long while, he said nothing as he recalled the night one more time.

    That didn't happen, did it? he thought. It couldn't have.

    "Hey," Jenny said. "Are you okay?"

    He began to tremble under her hands. The image of the dead thing burned through his mind. Although he knew he couldn't have killed her, he couldn't help but feel a mixture of horror and disgust over what he could do. He shut his eyes tightly and felt hot tears trail down his face.

    Immediately, Jenny removed her hands. "Hey! Are you okay?"

    He cringed, moving to curl on his side. "I… I didn't…"

    Jenny frowned. Then, with a sigh and a surprisingly gentle touch, she pulled at the collar until the lock faced her.

    "You can't be all that bad. You saved my life, you know." She patted his shoulder. "Come on. We've gotta get you out of here. The others aren't happy that you're still here."

    She reached down to fiddle with the lock again, but before she could go any further, a voice rose behind her. It was still far off, but it was still loud enough for her to hear.

    "Officer Jenny!"

    "****," she muttered.

    She stood and turned to face the voice. From his angle, Bill couldn't see who was approaching, but what he could see was several pairs of feet. Shutting his eyes tightly, he couldn't help but to start shaking.

    Above him, Thompson approached and pointed a bandaged hand towards Bill.

    "Move aside, officer," he said. "Thanks for keeping an eye on it."

    Jenny stood her ground. "And what do you plan on doing?"

    Thompson lowered his hand slightly. "Kill it. Before you stopped those things in the pokémon center last night, they killed eleven of us. We can't risk leaving one to kill the rest."

    Jenny frowned. "He was with me the whole night. He didn't kill anything."

    Bill raised his eyes. His mind struggled to figure out what she was doing.

    "It didn't kill anything yet. You don't know what it'll do," Thompson replied. He narrowed his eyes. "Why are you defending it?"

    "Why wouldn't I?" Jenny asked.

    She looked past Thompson to glance at the crowd behind him. What literally must have been the rest of the city – all fifteen people besides herself and Rose – stood behind Thompson. Some of them cast glares towards Jenny, as if already, they'd labeled her a traitor. The others stared at Bill with wide, frightened eyes.

    "Did you all agree to this?" Jenny asked with a sharp edge to her voice.

    "Do they need to?" Thompson growled.

    Jenny turned a fierce glance towards Thompson. "I'd say so! You're proposing to execute a living being without a fair trial, with no evidence whatsoever that he's remotely violent! I can name at least three reasons why that's inhumane!"

    "You know what's also inhumane?" Thompson snapped. "Expecting us to live in this city with a thing whose kind wiped out a couple hundred thousand people in a few days! That's what's inhumane, officer, and if I didn't know any better, I'd say you're asking to get that badge revoked!"

    Jenny narrowed her eyes. "You're out of line."

    "No, you're out of line!" Thompson pointed a thick finger at her. "I'm the mayor's son, and you have no right—"

    "You're the mayor's son," Jenny said. "You have no power over the police force!"

    There was a silence over the entire crowd. No one wanted to get involved in the argument, but now, not even Thompson had anything to say. Only a moment later did Jenny realize her mistake in evoking the memory of the dead the way she did, but her expression only softened slightly.

    "Eddie, look, you may not think he deserves to live, but it isn't right to kill him without any evidence that he – this specific ixodida – did anything," Jenny explained calmly. "In fact, it's a felony to kill a pokémon like that, or have you already forgotten that part?"

    "A felony? Even if letting it stay here will give it a chance to kill us all?" Thompson grumbled through clenched teeth.

    "We can't stay here," Jenny replied. "There's less than twenty of us now, and one of the others was killed with the parasite still in it. You know what happens when that happens." She paused. "And, for that matter, you were about to add another one to the heap. Remember what happened a month ago when we shot and killed one of these things without getting rid of the parasite?"

    Thompson looked at his feet. In the ensuing silence, Bill lifted his head. Something felt cold about what she'd just said. He couldn't imagine what kind of significance having the parasite attached to him would have when he died, but Jenny's words sounded foreboding.

    The silence over the crowd was broken by a quiet voice in the back of the crowd.

    "There were two monsters, weren't there? What happened to the other parasite? Is it alive and in the city?"

    Cut open our stomach if you want to find it that badly.

    Bill shuddered. It was that voice again, the one that wasn't his but sounded as if it was him speaking. He could almost feel something smirking in his mind, and he drew a shuddering breath. For a long moment, he could do nothing but shiver as he felt the presence. He wanted to will it away. The longer it was there, the more real the events of the night before became. Soon, he could smell the blood again, taste the parasite melting in his mouth. It was all real, and he didn't want it.

    Pay attention, Bill. Those people are about to ask a very important question.

    "I don't know," Jenny admitted. "That's the least of our concerns right now. The other one has eggs in its body. We have only a few hours left to evacuate the city before we're overrun with parasites again. At our numbers, we'll all be infected if we stay here."

    "But we'll all be infected if we go out there! That's where they are!" a voice protested.

    Another voice cried out, "Leave Mauville? But-but how can we? Where will we go?"

    Ah. There it is.

    "Well, we certainly can't stay here," Jenny responded. "The longer we stay here, the more danger we put ourselves in."

    "We have no place to go from here!" someone else shouted. "They'll kill us either way!"

    "I say we stay here," Thompson said. "We've got nothing to gain by running, and this is our home. It's our duty to protect it!"

    Jenny glared at him. "Protect what? There's nothing left here! Our city is dying!"

    "Only because the people we rely on to protect it failed!" Thompson snapped.

    Immediately, Jenny narrowed her eyes. "What are you implying?"

    "I'm implying the obvious," Thompson replied. "You failed. Your fellow officers are dead. How can we rely on you to lead us out of this city and to someplace safe?"

    "I'm doing the best I can!" Jenny hissed.

    "As anyone can see," Thompson drawled. A hand lazily motioned towards the creature behind her. "You're doing a wonderful job by telling us to leave our homes while you protect that thing. Why don't you just shoot us all right here and feed us to it?"

    There was a chatter among the crowd. Some sided with Jenny in their desperation for safety. Others – a larger group – sided with Thompson and attempted to push forward. The noise pounded through Bill's skull as the crowd closed in around the monument. Jenny and those who sided with her pushed back, trying to drive away the ones who sided with Thompson as their voices rose in the heat of an argument. Lifting his eyes, Bill squinted as his vision blurred. Above him, he saw Rose trying to protect herself from the lumbering crowd. A bulky arm swung around, trying to get at a wiry man next to her but knocked her back instead. She tipped forward with a small cry, and at her angle, she would have smashed into the monument.

    Instead, she found herself caught by a pair of metal arms.

    The crowd stopped and turned to face the two: the girl who shook with shock and the creature that knelt beside her with his arms wrapped around her to keep her from falling. Bill didn't even think about moving. He just recalled lifting himself in a fluid motion to catch her. Now that he did, he wasn't sure what to do after that. Instead, he held her in surprise as a sweet scent floated into his nose. For that single moment, he felt her warmth and her weight, and he drifted into his own thoughts.

    He was snapped back into reality when felt something collide into his shoulder with a loud ping. Blinking, he turned his head to find a member of the crowd stooping to pick up another rock beside the monument.

    "Hey!" he shouted. "Let her go!"

    Unable to think clearly, Bill instinctively held Rose tighter. She cried out sharply, and he turned to her with wide eyes to find her struggling against him.

    "Rosie," he whispered. "Wait…"

    Another rock struck his shoulder, followed by more as other members of the crowd joined in to strike or hold Jenny back. He winced, trying to move himself and Rose away from the pebble storm. Rose planted her hands on his chest and pushed as another cry escaped her throat. Surprised by the feeling of his sister pushing away from him, Bill let go, slipping his clawed hands away from her as she stumbled backwards to be caught by one of the townspeople.

    Slowly, Bill stood. Only then did he feel the weight of the collar and chain around his neck as it jingled and tugged at him. More rocks flew towards him, to which he responded by shielding his head.

    "Stop it!" Jenny screamed as she struggled against the hands that held her back. "Let go of me!"

    Peeking beyond his arm, Bill managed to peek at Rose, who stared at him with wide eyes set into her pale face. Then, with a small cry, she turned and broke out of the crowd to run down the empty street. With a gasp, Bill started forward to go after her, but with a jingle, the chain reminded him of its presence. He choked as he was jerked back, the chain holding him tight against the monolith. The townspeople's voices rose in a loud commotion as the crowd backed away.

    "It's going berserk!" one of them shouted.

    Bill struggled against the chain, digging his claws between it and his neck as he desperately tried to pull it off. "No… Please… My sister…"

    Thompson rounded on Jenny with a glare on his face. "See what I mean?! We can't keep that thing with us! It's better off dead!"

    At Thompson's argument, Bill cried out and pulled on the chain again. "No! Rosie!"

    Suddenly, time seemed to slow. Even though he could see the townspeople shouting, he could no longer hear them. Instead, he felt something warm creep across his chest as the familiar voice entered his brain.

    You can break through the chain if you used Iron Tail.

    Iron Tail?
    he thought. But… these people will catch me again if I try to escape.

    They're afraid of you. They won't touch you.


    Do you wish to save your sister? She'll be infected too if she's alone in the city.

    Bill furrowed his eyebrows and stared in the direction his sister ran. He couldn't argue that he wanted to protect her. She was his sister, after all.

    Before he fully reached a decision, his tail seemed to act without him. He felt it stiffen behind him, and he glanced over his shoulder to watch it rise and take on a white glow. The crowd around him screamed, but for once, it didn't pound through his head. Instead, it sounded muffled, like he was hearing it through cotton.

    Here. Allow me to free you.

    With a snap, his tail cut cleanly through the chain's links. He felt the remaining end hit his back with a tap, sending him stumbling through the crowd and onto a knee in the empty space behind them. His eyes widened as he reached behind him to examine the chain.

    How could I cut through this? he thought.

    Inside his mind, the voice grew impatient. Never mind that now! Run!

    Drawing in a gasp, Bill scrambled to his feet and darted down the street. Behind him, the crowd scrambled to follow him. He could hear their shouts, and for a moment, he winced at the noise. Attempting to shake it off, he narrowed his eyes as he tried to peer into the maze of concrete in front of him. It occurred to him that he didn't know an inch of its layout, and Rose was nowhere to be seen by then.

    A cold feeling rose in his chest.

    This is a city! he thought in panic. Where do I go?

    The voice stirred. Why, Bill, the answer is simple. Go where your sister went.

    Glancing over his shoulder, he could see the townspeople slowing, hesitating in the shadows cast by the buildings. Already, he could see the flashes of light from several poké balls, and he knew from them that he only had a limited amount of time.

    I can't see her. How do I know which way she went?

    The voice sighed. Honestly, are you one of the brightest in the human race? Allow me to give you a hint.

    Bill felt something warm pass across his face, and immediately afterwards, a thousand different scents seemed to punch his nose. He gasped and stumbled to a lamp post for support as a trembling hand covered the lower half of his face.


    With a shuddering breath, Bill obliged. He could smell everything: dirt, asphalt, oil, rust – all the odors of a half-dead city. Closing his eyes, he tried to focus on the scents, searching for something familiar.

    As the shouts of the people behind him grew louder, he finally caught something. It was faint – earthy and sour yet, at the same time, sweet. It was certainly familiar. After all, he'd caught it in the crowd not long ago.

    Ah yes. She smells like that, doesn't she? Pleasant… but nothing I would prefer.

    Bill opened his eyes. Is that so?

    Oh yes. Now. Follow it.

    Slipping his hand from his mouth, Bill took another deep breath to catch the aroma one more time. Then, he launched forward.


    The daylight played across the broken glass and the blood-stained floor in the pokémon center. Nurse Joy and Chansey's bodies had been removed to be prepared for proper burial, but no one dared to touch the purple creatures – one ripped apart and the other shot to death – that lay in the middle of the floor. Still, it was to this place that Rose returned. It was the only thing she knew, the only home she had in that city.

    Slowly, she walked from the door to the side of the room, taking care to keep her distance from the creatures. Neither had the familiar crystals on their bodies, but one oozed a green gel from the wound where its parasite had been. Rose didn't think too much about this substance. Instead, she approached one of the booths to the side of the room and sat down with a heavy thump. With a sniffle, she slipped forward to bury her face in her arms.

    After that, the tears came freely. Her cheeks and eyes felt hot as tears stung her eyes and trickled down her cheeks. Each sob shook her body. Part of her mourned the loss of the woman who had taken care of her for those past months. Another part wept from the sheer terror of the situation. All that was left was a tiny percentage of the city, and she didn't know where she would go next or what she would do. She was lost and, in her heart, incredibly alone.

    Minutes passed like this until finally, she lifted her head. With a hiccup, she wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. Her teeth bit her lower lip, and she tried to quiet herself in case someone happened to be listening. Trembling, she listened to the quiet of the center.
    Something clacked behind her.

    Straightening, she swallowed, the act painful, as if she was forcing down something large and hard. Behind her, the large parasite that had been in the male crept closer, trailing loose tentacles across the back of the seat until one slipped and caressed her shoulder. Slowly, she turned her head to see it perching on the top of the seat as its red glow pulsed.

    Immediately, she scrambled backwards until her back smacked into the wall. A scream tore from her throat as she cringed, unable to move to escape. The parasite clamored forward, its body flashing hungrily as it approached as quickly as it could.

    Before it got halfway across the back of the seat, a set of metal claws came down hard onto it, piercing through its large, red body. Blood trickled down the seat as the parasite's legs flailed for several moments. Finally, it stopped moving before bursting, spraying blood onto both its attacker and its intended victim.

    Rose wrapped her arms around her knees and curled into a tight ball as she lifted her dark eyes. In the meantime, Bill withdrew his claws.

    "Are you all right?" he asked. "It's a good thing I can follow your scent. A second more of trying to find you, and…"

    He trailed off as he offered her a small smile that faded when he glanced at her. She stared at him with wide eyes, the tears still trickling down her cheeks to wash away the droplets of blood. At once, Bill stiffened, then slipped into the booth.

    "Are you all right?" he repeated. "It didn't bite you, did it?"

    When he got no response, he frowned slightly and lifted a hand to touch her face. She flinched away from him and closed her eyes tightly to avoid looking at him. Realizing the problem, Bill turned to face the table and sat down on the end of the seat, keeping a small distance between himself and his sister.

    "You're still afraid of me," he said before glancing at her. "I wish there was a way to convince you I don't intend on harming you."

    He glanced at his own claws. Each one glistened with blood, and only then did he realize what he'd done. He was so focused on protecting his sister that he didn't think twice about killing a living creature.

    Then, he realized how serious that actually was. He knew that in his normal mindset, he would, without a question, avoid something that extreme at all costs. It was against his own principles. So, as he stared at his blood-stained claws, he couldn't help but wonder why he did it then.

    What's happening to me?

    It was a question that echoed through his mind for the past two days, but only then did he get a response.

    Only that which is natural. Normally, the victim's mind submits quickly to a total transformation. Yours… yours is strange. It resists, but regardless…

    In the meantime, Rose pressed herself into the wall. Her dark eyes stared at the creature beside her. A worried look crossed his face, but he did or said nothing more to her. She trembled. In all her time in Hoenn, she'd never seen one of his kind up close. With the others, that would have marked her lucky. The others killed whatever got this close. However, this one hadn't made a move against her yet. Nothing except the attempt to caress her cheek, and even then, he hadn't really touched her.

    Still, she was trapped by him. To escape, she would have to go over or under the table to her left or over the seat to her right. Either way, she knew he'd catch her if she tried. She could only hope that one of the townspeople would come to save her.

    Right then, she realized how much she actually missed Nurse Joy. The nurse had protected her for the past several months, but now…

    Her whimpering snapped Bill out of his thoughts. The voice cleared from his mind, and for that brief moment, he forgot why he was so concerned a moment ago. Turning his head, he saw Rose staring at him with tears running down her cheeks. Jumping, he twisted himself in the seat.

    "Rosie, what is it?" he asked softly. "No, no, don't cry! I promise you, I—"

    Behind him, he heard a crackling. Glancing over his shoulder, he caught sight of the green gel in the dead male moving. Slowly, he reached towards Rose with an arm. She cried out in fear and cringed, to which Bill responded with a soft hush as he kept his eyes on the gel.

    Suddenly, it broke open, and a red wave of parasites flooded out.

    "Oh no," he whispered. Then, he turned back to Rose. "Rosie, listen to me. I know you're afraid of me, but I need to get you to someplace safe. Will you trust me?"

    She cringed in response and shut her eyes tightly. Wincing at her response, Bill looked over his shoulder again at the flood of red that was creeping towards him. Resolving himself, he reached for Rose and grabbed her. Immediately, she screamed, causing Bill to flinch and turn away. It took him several deep breaths for him to reach back, pull her out of the booth, and lifted her in his arms. He nearly dropped her on the way out, and for that, his tail rose and wrapped around her waist, an act that was answered with more screaming. Involuntarily, Bill shuddered at the sound. The sound pounded through his ears, but by some miracle, he managed to steady himself and avoid dropping his sister. Instead, he bit his lip and tried to brace himself against the noise until his teeth drew blood. The pain helped only slightly, and as a result, his first movements away from the booth were actually more of a stumble.

    "Rosie, I'm sorry for this," he said.

    Right then, he felt something on his feet. Looking down, he saw the parasites crowding around him and biting into his clawed toes. With a sharp gasp, he shook them off his feet and started quickly for the door. The red wave hesitated for a moment as if in collective thought, then followed him outside.

    Stumbling into the open, Bill squinted into the sunlight and clutched his sister tighter to his chest. No sooner had he appeared than several howls rose into the air. Raising his head, he turned his eyes to find the townspeople rushing towards him. Several pokémon – mostly manectric and electrike – galloped beside them at their feet.

    "There it is!" one of them cried. "It's got Joy's girl!"

    Thompson shoved himself to the front of the pack and stopped several feet from Bill. The creature took a few steps back, a look of uncertainty crossing his face as he tightened his grip slightly around his sister. She responded with a whimper and a squirm.

    "Let her go! You're not taking her!" Thompson snapped.

    Bill glanced to his side to see the red wave washed from the door to the road. He took a shuddering breath and turned back to the townspeople.

    "Please! Run!" he shouted.

    The parasites pooled around his ankles. He could feel them try to bite him, but none of them seemed interested in him. Taking a few steps back, he no longer heard the crowd shouting at him. Instead, he stared downward at the wave of red pulling away from his feet.

    Useful, isn't it? They know their own kind – and, for that matter, their own predator.

    Blinking, he watched as the wave moved towards the other signs of life: the townspeople. Drawing in a gasp, he found he could do nothing except watch as the parasites surged towards the pokémon first to consume them in blankets of red. Electricity shot in all directions as the creatures howled in surprise and tried to retaliate against a mass. The people shrieked and fled in a confusion, some directly into the wave, some in the opposite direction, and some to the sides. Those who ran directly into the wave were immediately consumed, just like the pokémon. Several parasites bit into their legs at once, and with shouts, they fell into the masses.

    Bill felt something curl around his neck. Looking down, he realized Rose was whimpering helplessly as she clung to him. She closed her eyes and turned her head, pressing her forehead into his chest.

    Resolving himself, Bill went inward to address the voice.

    Tell me. How can I drive away these things?

    For a moment, the voice was silent. Then, he heard its drawl.

    You can't.

    Widening his eyes, he took a step back.

    Then what do I do now?

    What else
    would you do? Run.

    And abandon these people?

    If their fate is hopeless. There are too many of our kind and too few of theirs. They will be consumed, and you cannot save them except for the little one in your arms if you run now.

    Lowering his eyes briefly, Bill contemplated his options. Rose clutched his neck tighter, and he felt her hot tears trickling across his metal skin.

    A sharp cry and several gunshots jolted him back into reality. Looking up, he saw Officer Jenny backing away from the wave with her gun pointed at them. Without thinking, Bill started forward, towards her. Her eyes rose to flash a startled glance towards him as he placed himself between her and the wave. The parasites pooled around him and attempted to bite his ankles for a moment. He crept slightly closer to Jenny, unwrapped his tail from Rose's waist, and twisted it to curl on the ground around Jenny's feet. Immediately, he could feel the parasites biting into his tail, and he winced slightly but kept his back against Jenny's. Feeling him against her, Jenny drew in a gasp.

    "What are you doing?" she hissed.

    "Confusing them," he replied. "Stay close."

    A flash pulsed through the other parasites, and slowly, they crawled away from their feet. None of them seemed to even detect Jenny's presence. Jenny holstered her gun and pressed her back against Bill's.

    "What…?" she murmured.

    "I'll explain later," Bill said as he whipped his tail back and wrapped it around his sister. "Run and don't look back!"

    With that, he held Rose close and darted down the street, away from the wave. Jenny didn't need to be asked twice. She followed him down the street.


    For a long while, neither Bill nor Jenny said a word to each other, and Rose merely whimpered into her brother's chest. Together, they dashed across the city, weaving through rows of empty buildings to place as much space between themselves and the waves of parasites as they possibly could. Overhead, the sun swung across the blue sky indifferently, without any concern for the panic beneath it.

    Only when the buildings began to give way to the open fields beyond the city did Jenny slow down. She stopped, took several steps towards a lamp post, and leaned against it to catch her breath. Bill continued for a few more steps before realizing his companion had lagged behind. He stopped, panting as he glanced over his shoulder towards her.

    "Are you all right?" he asked, his throat burning with each word.

    She nodded and pushed away from the post. "Yeah. Just… Just need to rest for awhile."

    Bill nodded and glanced towards the outskirts. He wondered briefly where the road that trailed out of the city would lead, but before he could speculate any further, he felt a sharp pain rush through his tail. Gasping, he sent a glance downward to find Rose frantically pulling at it. She whimpered as her fingers yanked at segments in an effort to pull the tail off. Drawing in a breath through a wince, Bill held her tighter, which was met with another squeal and more urgent struggles from Rose.

    Jenny cast a glance towards the two of them and frowned.

    "Put her down," she said.

    At her words, Bill stared at her for a beat, then awkwardly leaned down to put Rose on her feet. As soon as he unwrapped his tail from her waist, she yelped and reached up to shove him away. He stumbled backwards in surprise for a few steps and watched with wide eyes as Rose darted behind Officer Jenny.

    "Rose!" Jenny murmured.

    Swallowing hard, Bill looked away, towards the edge of town. A sense of guilt for scaring the child hit him, and he couldn't help but blush with shame. Clenching his teeth, he studied the road intently and tried to push the thought of Rose's reaction out of his mind.

    "Where does this road lead?" he asked. His voice was quiet, nearly a whisper.

    Jenny gazed down the path. "That's the north road. Beyond here's the desert, Mt. Chimney, Lavaridge, Fallarbor, all the mountain towns."

    Bill straightened at the list. One name stuck out for him, just enough to push the guilt completely out of his thoughts.

    "Fallarbor," he echoed. "Lanette…"

    Jenny shot him a strange look. "Huh?"

    Bill ignored her for the moment and quickly ran through a possible plan. He touched his chin in thought as he remembered the red-head.

    "She may provide some help," Bill said, mostly to himself.

    Jenny furrowed her eyebrows. "Who? Are you okay?"

    Staring at the path, Bill moved his claws to cover his mouth. "What if she's infected too? …But there may still be a chance she isn't…"

    "Who?" Jenny asked as she stepped back, herding the girl with her.

    Bill glanced over his shoulder with a slightly startled expression, as if he only just now realized she was standing there. Then, his expression shifted, changing to one of extreme gravity.

    "We should go to Fallarbor Town," he said. "There's someone there that I would like to speak to."

    "Who?" Jenny asked. Then, something else about what he just said struck her. "Wait. We?"

    Bill glanced towards the road. "Her name is Lanette Rousseau. She's a colleague and very good friend of mine. I know she may have some information that could be of use." He paused to give Jenny a small grin. "I assume you'll be coming with me. Someone must help me watch over Rosie, and you were very right in your observation that there may be nothing left here."

    Jenny straightened and shook her head. "Oh no. I can't. I've… I've got to go back!"

    With that, she turned and started for the center of the city again. Before she could take so much as three steps, Bill darted forward and blocked her path. She stopped short and found herself staring into his eyes.

    "Please, officer!" he whispered. "If you go back, you'll be running back into grave danger! I can't allow you!"

    Jenny's hand moved to the gun holstered on her hip. "It's my duty. I've got to protect the city."

    Bill's expression softened slightly. "There were too many of them. We were entirely outnumbered. There's no one left to protect."

    A silence lapsed between the two. For a long moment, Jenny glared at him; his words stabbed her with cold pain. He stood in her way, arms and claws stretched at his sides to keep her from passing him. His face took on a worried shade, and his sharp teeth poked from his mouth to bite his lower lip lightly.

    Suddenly, in the distance, a noise rose. Several eerie shrieks – human with a distinct, animalistic tone – rose and mingled with each other. Somewhere in the middle of the sound echoed a scream that crept into the bones of the three at the end of the city and chilled their bodies. Bill looked over his shoulder, towards the sound. Taking the opportunity, Jenny reached outward and rested a gloved hand on the opposite shoulder with the intent of pushing him out of the way. However, something grabbed her other hand, and she stopped where she was.

    Glancing towards her with wide eyes, Bill found Jenny's hand on his shoulder but her head turned towards something clutching her other hand. On Jenny's other side, Rose kept close, her small hands gripping Jenny's wrist and her eyes lowered. Both of her older companions hesitated, watching the glistening tears trailing down the child's cheeks. Then, slowly, they turned to glance at one another, and without exchanging a word, they came to a truce.

    "Fine," Jenny said. "I'll go. For the both of you."

    Bill relaxed. "Thank you, Officer."

    With a sigh, Jenny took off her badge. She turned and pulled away from Bill to walk towards the road leading away from the city. Her coffee-colored eyes remained on the gold of the emblem in her hand while the other sought Rose's. The girl kept close, her hands clutching the officer's as tears continued trickling down her cheeks. Jenny didn't seem to notice as she dropped the badge and motioned for Bill to follow.

    "I can't be much of a police officer without a precinct," she said.

    Bill fell into step behind her. He wanted to say something to comfort her, but nothing came to mind. Instead, all that came was a question.

    "Then what should I call you?"

    Jenny glanced at him. "My name is Veronica. Veronica Jenny. And you?"

    Bill tilted his head. "I told you already."

    "Humor me."

    Blinking, Bill fumbled with a response. "I… My… Ah." He shook his head. "Bill McKenzie."

    Veronica nodded and lifted Rose's hand. "And Rose McKenzie."

    Quietly, the trio stepped out of the city and continued onward, leaving the deathly silence behind them. After a few beats of silence, Veronica exhaled.

    "God help all three of us," she murmured.
    Professional ninja. May or may not actually be back. Here for the snark and banter at most.

    Need some light reading?
    Anima Ex Machina (Chapter 20 now available)
    The Leaf Green Incident (SWC 2012 winner)
    Braid (Creepypasta apparently)
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