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Old March 1st, 2016 (5:03 PM). Edited August 27th, 2018 by Sike_Saner.
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Sike_Saner Sike_Saner is offline
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    Join Date: Oct 2006
    Location: Earth
    Age: 35
    Gender: Female
    Nature: Timid
    Posts: 162
    Chapter 38 – The Nexus of the Crisis

    When the time came, the five glalie and the claydol filed in, forming a near-circle around DeLeo where he sat waiting for them in his chair. Said chair had been moved forward a bit to allow them to nearly surround him rather than having to bunch up in front of him, presumably to allow him to make eye contact with any one of them just as easily as with any other.

    Grosh, meanwhile, lingered in the hallway with his head hanging over the threshold. There was just no fitting any more of him than that in the room beyond, not unless everyone else traded places with him.

    “Glad you could all make it,” DeLeo said once everyone was settled. “Sorry we haven’t had a chance to just shoot the breeze before now. Last couple of days have been pretty hectic on my end.

    “But enough about me! You guys have the floor this time.”

    There was a moment of awkward silence; then, “So… what do you want to know?” Moriel asked.

    “Oh, lots of things! Where you come from, just for starters. I’m guessing you’re not from the same place, originally speaking, right?”

    <We are not,> Oth confirmed. <They are all from Shoal Cave. Grosh and I have our own separate origins, and we met these glalie separately.>

    DeLeo nodded, absorbing that. “Now, of course, I’ve gotta wonder about the circumstances involved. You know, seeing as Shoal Cave is an island and all, and I don’t take either of you ground-types for swimmers. I’m guessing humans had something to do with your meeting up. Am I right?”

    “…To a degree,” Grosh answered from the doorway. “They weren’t the only ones who had anything to do with it, but..” He rumbled to himself in apparent discomfort; a restless rotating of some of his segments could be heard over it.

    DeLeo raised a hand. “Now, now. If you’re not comfortable going on, you’re free to stop anytime.”

    “…I appreciate that,” Grosh said, relaxing his posture a bit. Solonn couldn’t blame him for not wanting to continue, given the direction the conversation seemed to be taking.

    “I will remind you, though: if it’s talking about the humans that’s hard for you… that might not be the case forever,” DeLeo said.

    “You say that, but—” Viraya broke off. A growing, approaching noise had caught her attention as well as everyone else’s—it sounded like a car headed their way. That noise abated almost as soon as it had arisen, only to be replaced by plodding footsteps, followed by a loud, hollow roar and the sound of something crumbling just outside the room.

    In an instant, the room filled with deep blue light, and DeLeo dove for cover in the space between the now-shielded bodies surrounding him. Solonn moved back, tightening the circle as the rest of the glalie did likewise and Oth joined DeLeo behind them.

    The wall before them blackened and began to disintegrate, as if it were rotting. A huge, gangly, blue creature stepped through it, head slung low, with sharp teeth bared and an arm outstretched—

    —for about a second and a half. Then a crack rang out, and down the intruder went. Solonn stared down at him, trying to make sense of the pokémon who now lay sprawled out and unconscious before them. The thing had four very long legs; he must have stood at least eight feet tall. He had a long neck and tail, too, the latter of which was jet black from end to end. Solonn had never seen such a creature before, neither in person nor during any of Exeter’s lessons.

    But he knew what the pokémon reminded him of. That sort of creature… that, he’d seen within the past few hours.

    Was this a coincidence?

    He felt Oth move up and out of the ring through the air. In nearly the same instant, he heard DeLeo getting back up to his feet.

    The human let out a sigh. “You could’ve just knocked, Esaax.”

    Solonn felt something inside him go deathly cold, even by his standards.

    No. This was no coincidence.

    “…Okay, what the hell was that? What just happened?” Alij demanded. He broke from the ring to circle the insensible pokémon, clearly trying to make sense of him.

    “That right there? That’s a kwazai,” DeLeo said, “and an unsatisfied customer, so to speak. But I’m gonna see what I can do about the latter. Grosh?”

    “Yes?” The steelix’s eyes pulled away from the kwazai and locked onto DeLeo’s with a bit of an effort.

    “Come with me. You and… oh, you.” He pointed at Solonn. “I’m gonna need you to help get this guy to the tube. Can’t carry him myself, and I don’t wanna leave him out of there. And neither do you. These things pack a punch.”

    Solonn didn’t doubt that, not after seeing what the intruder—the same person he’d spoken to mere hours before, who’d seemed utterly harmless then—had done to the walls. Not after seeing those teeth—they paled in comparison to his own, of course, but he still knew the teeth of a predator when he saw them.

    He nudged Esaax closer to Grosh using a small, rolling wave of ice. The steelix carefully scooped the kwazai up in his jaws and dragged him out into the hallway and out of sight. Solonn and DeLeo left the room behind him.

    Once there was enough room to do so, Grosh craned his neck backward and draped Esaax over his back, slowing his pace further as he carried on from there to reduce the risk of catching the kwazai’s long limbs and tail underneath himself.

    To that end, “Father? Would you mind if I used some ice to secure him to you?”

    “Not in the least,” Grosh said. “That’ll give me one less thing to think about.”

    Solonn went to it straight away, pinning the gangly limbs to the steelix’s sides with shackles of ice.

    “…Did you say ’father’?” DeLeo asked him once that was done.


    “Wow.” DeLeo shook his head a little, his eyes wide. “Guess I really do have a lot to learn about you guys.”

    Grosh made an inscrutable noise at that, but no one else had anything to say until they closed the remaining distance to the room with the holding chamber. They stopped before the doors; then, “This is Sylvester DeLeo, requesting entry,” DeLeo said.

    “Voice recognition confirmed,” a computerized voice responded. “Please state password.”

    “Password,” DeLeo said.

    “Password valid. Access granted.”

    Solonn had raised an eyebrow at DeLeo in an unspoken really? every other time he’d presented the password, and this time was no different. “Sir… may I make a suggestion?” he asked as the doors parted.

    “Sure thing.”

    “You… might want to consider something harder to guess. For the password, I mean.”

    “He’s got a point there,” Grosh put in as he slithered into the room beyond with the kwazai still affixed to his back.

    “But see, that’s the beauty of it,” DeLeo countered. “Someone trying to bust in would assume I’d know better. The answer’s hidden in plain sight. Besides, the system only responds to my voice anyway, so.”

    “If you insist…” Solonn couldn’t say he had much confidence in DeLeo’s reasoning where the password was concerned, but let the matter drop for now. There were plenty of other things vying for his attention, and they had no real trouble wresting it from the previous topic.

    “All right, get him on the pad,” DeLeo said, then crossed the room to a terminal awaiting him against the wall. “Make sure none of him’s spilling out or else the field won’t activate.”

    Solonn sublimated the ice restraints. Apart from automatically sprawling out over the steel surface beneath him, Esaax didn’t make a move; he was still down for the count. Grosh carefully brought him over to the pad, rolling over to tip him over onto it, then pushed the head, limbs, and tail onto it with his snout.

    With the click of a button, the terminal’s control board lit up in an array of colors. DeLeo’s hands danced over the keys, faster than Solonn had ever seen anyone type before, and with a steady hum, a column of light flickered into being, trapping Esaax between the two pads.

    “All right,” DeLeo said, “all right.” He sounded short of breath, and his fingers began drumming against the plastic wrist guard as he spoke. “Grosh: I want you to go back and guard that hole in the wall. Tell the others back there to split up and start patrolling in case anybody else decides they can’t wait til business hours to have a word with me. Got it?”

    “I got it,” Grosh said, then slithered away noisily.

    DeLeo watched him leave; then, “You stay here, okay?” he said to Solonn. “Just in case we need to knock him back out in a hurry.”

    “All right,” Solonn said, watching the kwazai who still lay folded in a heap on the chamber’s floor. He doubted Esaax would be getting back up anytime soon, but he put a sheer cold on standby anyway, ready to unleash it at a moment’s notice. He didn’t know what Esaax was capable of now, neither with regards to his techniques nor his temperament. Evolution could do strange and sometimes terrible things to people’s minds.

    So he considered, and he hoped that was the only motive behind the kwazai’s violent break-in. Hopefully Esaax didn’t have a bone to pick with DeLeo or his cause after all.

    Hopefully DeLeo didn’t have it coming.

    “You know… given his current state, I am kinda glad he didn’t wait til we opened back up to drop by,” DeLeo said. “We need to have a talk, him and me. He probably had a lot racing through his brain when he busted in. And I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t in the same boat.”

    The human’s fingers went still, only to flutter back into motion to punch in a few more keystrokes. There was a whirring sound that pulled Solonn’s attention up toward the ceiling—and what he saw there made his thoughts freeze in his head.

    A compartment under the chamber’s lid had slid open. A long, spindly, robotic arm was emerging from within.

    In his mind’s eye, Solonn could see an identical pair descending toward him, and he remembered the utter helplessness he’d felt when he’d seen them coming down.

    He almost didn’t hear the footsteps passing him on the way to the glowing tube, still fixated on the robotic arm as it lowered a revive crystal toward the insensible figure below. Once DeLeo crossed into his field of vision, he automatically tore his gaze from the device and moved to join him in front of the kwazai, just for the sake of reminding himself that he could move.

    Before them, the kwazai finally stirred. He lifted his saurian head, groaning faintly. His long, eyed tail rose with it. Esaax looked up; the arm was retracting with another bout of whirring. Once it disappeared, he turned his attention to the people on the other side of the glowing barrier.

    His reaction was immediate.

    He rose to his full height alarmingly quickly, his eyes and tail locked onto DeLeo. With a snarl, he began snapping at the force field and clawing at it with his long, spidery fingers. The wall of light held, but flashed whenever he struck it. The flashes only got more frequent by the moment.

    Then there was a hiss, one that didn’t come from the furious creature held prisoner before them. Within seconds, Esaax’s posture relaxed, his arms dropping to his sides. Soon after, he dropped to his knees.

    He’d been gassed, Solonn realized. Something had been pumped into the tube to make the kwazai more docile.

    But he still looked angry. Both his eyes and the eyelike organs encircling his tail remained firmly fixed upon the human face beyond his cell. He wasn’t smiling. Not even close.

    “Shh… it’s all right, Esaax,” DeLeo said. “You’re exactly where you need to be right now. I’ll bet you’ve got a lot of questions about what’s happened to you, and I’ve got all the answers.”

    He walked right up to the tube, stopping directly in front of it, and leaned against the glowing wall as if it were ordinary glass. It glowed all the brighter where he pressed against it. “You probably didn’t know you could evolve, did you?” DeLeo asked. “I know most wobbuffet don’t. So I’m gonna tell you a little story, Esaax. One that’ll explain why this has been kept from you—and why you shouldn’t be scared of it. No, you should be anything but scared…”

    There was a distinct note of awed excitement in DeLeo’s voice. Not only did he apparently know more than he’d let on about Esaax’s kind—he seemed legitimately happy about what had befallen the former wobbuffet.

    Why, Solonn wondered, should DeLeo care so much?

    DeLeo took a step back from the containment field and clasped his hands in front of himself. “There’s a legend,” he began, “hundreds of years old, about a king of the Mordial region named Asotura. His reign was glorious but short—he was killed by an assassin who was never found.

    “The king’s body was discovered by his most faithful pokémon friend. And that friend was a kwazai, Esaax. Just like you are.

    “Anyway, according to the legend, this kwazai refused to let the king be taken from him, and so he called on his ‘ultimate inner power’—and actually raised Asotura from the dead.”

    Solonn’s eyes went wide. So… that was why DeLeo was so happy about a kwazai breaking into his building.

    Maybe a little too happy.

    Maybe a little too prepared.

    Solonn’s heart sank, his throat going dry. No…

    “Now, that was the good news for the king. The bad news was that the people decided they didn’t want his reign to continue. They didn’t exactly like the tale of Asotura’s resurrection, you see. They called it unnatural, and they called him an abomination.

    “And the kwazai became demons in their eyes. The ancient Mordialans decided to just slaughter every kwazai they could find. And they did the same thing to wobbuffet and wynaut, too, in order to make sure the kwazai were exterminated completely. Asotura’s own army even sided with the public. They went against the king’s orders to put an end to the killing and instead joined in the effort to eradicate your species. Doesn’t it just make you sick?”

    Whether it did or didn’t was impossible to tell. Esaax neither said nor did anything in response. He just kept staring.

    “Well, anyway…” DeLeo resumed, “as for Asotura himself, there wasn’t anyone around who didn’t want him dead—and permanently this time. But when they stormed the castle, he wasn’t anywhere to be found. Nobody knows how he got away, but he did, and he also managed to rescue a handful of your kind along with himself.

    “After he escaped from Mordial, he looked for a place where your people could continue to be protected for generations to come. Apparently one was provided right here in Hoenn by a legendary pokémon—nobody knows which one. Whoever they were, they gave their home to the refugees. Then they used their legendary powers to hide the refugees’ new sanctuary before taking off for who knows where. You might’ve heard of this sanctuary, Esaax. These days, it’s known as Mirage Island.

    “Anyway, the people of Asotura’s former kingdom tried to keep his story and the secret of your people’s final evolutionary form from surviving the ages. But their efforts ultimately proved useless, because that story was recorded—supposedly by Asotura himself—on a little something called the Tablet of Asotura. The tablet went missing for centuries, but it was eventually found by a human explorer from Pacifidlog. But before he could go public with his discovery, well… you know what happened fourteen years ago,” he said quietly.

    “Luckily, though, one of the explorer’s pokémon bothered to take care of the tablet after the explorer passed away. That pokémon eventually decided he wanted to see kwazai brought back into the world, and ultimately he found us and sought our assistance in that matter. Once he told me the story of Asotura and what his kwazai could do… well, there was no question about it. None. I knew I had to help him.”

    DeLeo stepped back up to the containment field. “Do you remember what I told you earlier, Esaax? About why I founded the Hope Institute? This—” He gestured toward Esaax. “—ties into that. We turned you into this for a very special purpose, Esaax. A very, very important one.”

    The weight inside Solonn sunk further, and his jaws parted in dismay of their own accord. There it was—DeLeo had admitted it. He was responsible for Esaax’s evolution. For forcing him to evolve against his will. To change into something he never asked to be in the name of someone else’s cause without asking for his consent.

    With sympathy and horror all mixed into one, Solonn stared at the imprisoned kwazai. I could’ve stopped this, he realized. I could’ve prevented this if I’d only known…

    DeLeo pressed his hands against the force field once more. “You’ll see,” he half-whispered, sounding slightly crazed, his smile spreading wide across his face. “It’s gonna be just like the old days. Only better.”

    He then turned away from Esaax and headed for the exit, striding past Solonn along the way. The glalie watched him in silence for a moment, still in shock. Then he sent an apologetic glance back at Esaax and turned to catch up with DeLeo, his eyes burning with anger.

    DeLeo opened the doors with his voice command once more, then motioned for Solonn to go on ahead of him. Solonn did so automatically, too preoccupied to question it, but he did at least think to shoot the human a vehement glare as he moved past him.

    That glare stayed fixed on DeLeo as the human began making his way back down the hall, and Solonn remained stuck where he hovered, quivering with outrage.

    “How could you do such a thing?” he finally demanded, sounding equally angry and hurt.

    DeLeo stopped in his tracks and turned to face him. “…What? What are you talking about?”

    “You did this to him,” Solonn said, still shaking as he spoke, “without his consent? Without even so much as his awareness that he could be changed in such a way?”

    DeLeo blinked at him, bemused. “What… what’s it to you?”

    Solonn’s eyes narrowed. “You have no right to inflict a change on someone who doesn’t ask for it first.” He moved forward, causing the human to take a step back. “No one has that right. You disgust me, DeLeo.”

    Fear, or something resembling it, began showing through DeLeo’s expression. “Look… I’m sorry you don’t like how we’ve gone about this whole kwazai business, okay? I really am. But… don’t you understand what we’re trying to do here?” he asked, pained frustration in his voice. “Were you even paying attention to anything I said in there other than the parts you didn’t like? We’re trying to restore lives, Solonn! And let me tell you something: once we’ve restored certain lives in particular, I promise you Esaax is gonna be so happy that he’s not gonna care that he didn’t have a say in whether or not he evolved.”

    “And what if this legend you spoke of is just that—a legend?” Solonn asked. “What if it turns out you’ve just been chasing a damn rumor all this time? Did you consider that possibility for even a second? Did you consider what it might do to Esaax if he were told that he can bring back people he cares about when in reality he can’t, to find out that he was subjected to a change—one that has obviously upset him very much—for nothing?”

    DeLeo only stared at him at first. Then his face twisted in as much of a look of anguish as it could produce. “…It’s more than a legend,” he insisted. “I’m sorry you can’t see that… and I’m not gonna let you get in the way of our proving it!”

    With an inhuman speed, DeLeo’s hands swung out at Solonn, and each of them split down the middle with a faint click. They opened like the covers of a book to expose dark, metallic nozzles. In nearly the same instant, jets of fire came roaring out of the newly-revealed weapons—Solonn only narrowly conjured a protect shield in time to deflect the flames, hissing and recoiling in fear from the attack even as he thwarted it.

    His eyes then blazed a bright white, and the sound of the sheer cold attack he released in retaliation echoed through the hallway. The attack hit its mark—DeLeo immediately passed out and dropped heavily to the floor.

    Solonn looked down at him in lingering disbelief, still shaking in primal fear for a few moments, then called out with the full force of his voice to his co-workers in the Hope Institute, not comfortable with the notion of leaving such a dangerously augmented human unguarded despite DeLeo’s present condition.

    He couldn’t undo what DeLeo had done to Esaax. But he could at least see to it that the human paid for his crimes.

    Alij was the first to arrive. His eyes went huge at the sight of DeLeo lying prone there. “Whoa, hey, what happened here? Who did this?”

    “I did.” Solonn watched the rest of the glalie filter in shortly after Alij’s arrival, with Grosh and Oth taking up the rear.

    “What… but why?” Evane asked.

    The hurt in her voice made Solonn wince slightly. She won’t want to believe this. Gods knew he didn’t, either. “He’s a crook,” he told everyone gathered there. “That pokémon who burned through the wall, that kwazai… DeLeo forced him to evolve. It’s driven him mad.”

    “I…” Evane began hesitantly. Her eyelight wavered as she stared down at DeLeo. “…I don’t know. Are you sure he forced him? Why would he do such a thing?”

    “For his goals,” Solonn answered. “For his plans to revive humanity. He seems to think kwazai can raise the dead.” He couldn’t have sounded or looked more skeptical if he’d tried.

    “Well… what if they can?” Moriel asked quietly.

    Solonn met her gaze with dismay in the color of his eyes. You can’t be siding with him. Please. But… in spite of himself, and with a snarl of disgust turned inward, he realized he couldn’t blame her. Not entirely.

    He sighed, frustrated with a number of things at once. “I don’t know,” he said finally, honestly. “But… ultimately, I think whether or not Esaax uses those powers—if he even has them,” he stressed, “—should be up to him.” His gaze shifted unconsciously, in the general direction of a towering hotel that, as far as he knew, still stood near the edge of town. He swallowed hard. “That much, at least, should be his choice.”

    “We should try to convince him it’s the right thing to do, at least,” Evane said. “If there’s any chance we could see her again…”

    Whether or not there was going to be more to that sentence, Solonn couldn’t say. Once it had been left hanging long enough for him to doubt she’d continue, “You can talk to him. But you can’t force him. Please.”

    “I… would never…” Evane assured him.

    “None of us would,” Viraya said seriously.

    Then something at the floor caught and held her eye. “Sister, look…”

    Evane followed her gaze. So did everyone else. “His hands…” she remarked, bemused.

    “Artificial,” Solonn said. “With flamethrowers hidden inside. He turned them on me, but he wasn’t quick enough.”

    Grosh recoiled slightly, then shook his head. “Well I’m glad you’re all right, more than glad… But this is crazy. Oth… are you sure this guy’s human after all?”

    <All evidence I found during my last scan indicates that he is. There was nothing to suggest otherwise.>

    “Maybe he’d found a way to hide the truth from you,” Viraya said, “just as he kept his weapons hidden.”

    That… wasn’t a comforting thought. At all. Solonn had trusted Oth’s psychic perception for a long time. He’d known it wasn’t infallible; the claydol couldn’t scan dark-types. But now… now he had to wonder what else might be able to deceive them.

    “I’d heard rumors that some humans weren’t typeless,” Viraya went on. “Do you think… is it possible he’s actually a dark-type?”

    <No,> Oth said. <That much, at least, I can confirm. A true dark-type would have ejected me from their mind. Painfully.> They rattled to themself once more. <At this point, I can only suspect he used a device of some kind—an implant, perhaps—to control what I could detect within his mind.>

    Solonn realized he’d begun shaking and stilled himself with an effort. He looked down at DeLeo for signs that he might be coming around sometime soon and found none, but even that much was difficult to trust at this point. He let out a held breath. “Something needs to be done about him. The city’s authorities need to know what they’d been harboring.”

    “I’ll go,” Moriel volunteered. “I think I know how to get to the police station from here, and if I’m wrong…” She gave a quick tilt of her head. “I can find someone, I’m sure.”

    “…All right,” Solonn said, at which Moriel sped off without delay. “And… I think it would be best if we got DeLeo away from here. Away from Esaax.” He didn’t want to give the human—or whatever DeLeo was—an opportunity to turn those flamethrowers or any other secret weapons upon Esaax. DeLeo had done more than enough to the kwazai already.

    “Leave it to me,” Grosh said. “Someone needs to go back and guard that breach anyhow. Might as well be me.”


    “Come on, now. I’m made of sturdier stuff than the lot of you. No offense,” Grosh added quickly.

    Alij grunted irritably, but no one else had any objection.

    “Just… be careful, all right?” Solonn said.

    “Will do,” Grosh assured him, then lowered his head over the unconscious human and plucked him up off the floor by his shirt.

    As soon as Grosh had left the scene, Alij moved past Solonn to the double doors barring access to the holding chamber. “We should have a talk with… Esaax, was it? Just to see if he’s as mad as you say. If he’s not, well… I’d kind of like to find out for sure whether he was duped into this or not. From his own mouth.”

    He looked the doors up and down, then frowned. “…These are some of those voice-doors,” he remembered aloud.

    “Yes,” Solonn confirmed.

    “…All right, then how are we supposed to get Esaax out of there?”

    Solonn knew a way. He could open those doors right there and then. But if it could be avoided… He swallowed audibly. “I’m sure the authorities can get in without any—”


    Four faces instantly turned to face the source of the noise.

    “Moriel…” Evane whispered, and Solonn thought he felt his heart stop for a moment. The sound—the explosion, he was all too sure—had come from precisely the direction she’d gone.

    No one gave the command. No one had to. In an instant, all five of them were off to investigate. Please, let her be all right… Solonn prayed silently as he pushed through the air.

    Even in the worst-case scenario, she might be fine, some other part of his mind dared to point out.

    He hissed at it. I can’t expect that of him.

    To say nothing of the fact that he really didn’t want to find her in the kind of condition that would necessitate that.

    He soon discovered heat signatures up ahead. Varying temperatures. Varying species, though he couldn’t guess which.

    But he didn’t have to. An arbok had just rounded the corner—and looked very sorry to have done so—with a… Solonn squinted at the pokémon striding along behind the arbok, trying to identify her, but couldn’t. But she did look suspiciously like a wobbuffet, he thought; she had the eyes and the blue skin and the black, eye-bearing tail of one. Or four tails, from the looks of things. She was rather taller, though, with twice as many arms, half as many legs, and a more humanoid face. Evolved, he suspected, at which something inside him went sour.

    Was DeLeo responsible for another one?

    The… whatever-she-was set something down on the floor with a heavy thunk, drawing Solonn’s eyes to it. To him. A nosepass, Solonn recognized, albeit barely; several portions of the rock-type were simply missing.

    Solonn had a very unpleasant notion as to why.

    “Stay put,” the unfamiliar pokémon hissed to the plainly-nervous arbok as she stepped up to stand beside him, “and try to stay calm. Please.”

    “What are you people doing here?” Alij demanded as he came to a stop a few feet away from the three strangers; the rest of the team did likewise. He moved a few inches to the side, peering past the arbok, and his eyes narrowed as they found the broken nosepass there. “Actually, never mind that. I think we’ve already got our answer,” he said, and nodded toward the unconscious rock-type.

    “You were responsible for that explosion?” Solonn asked the pokémon who’d been carrying the nosepass.

    “Yes,” the blue pokémon answered evenly, “but we hadn’t intended to cause one. It was all just a misunderstanding. We ran into one of your people unexpectedly; he—” She gestured toward the arbok. “—attacked her out of panic; and things just sort of escalated, unfortunately. Don’t worry—she’s sill alive, although she does need to get some medical attention soon.”

    All of the glalie’s eyes widened at the news, and Alij swore aloud. “Where is she?” he demanded.

    The blue pokémon pointed back toward the room from whence she’d come. Alij and Solonn rushed off in that direction at once, as did Oth.

    A hole in the wall caught Solonn’s attention the moment he entered the room, and he made for it at once. Rushing over the littered floor, with only the occasional bit of rock scraping his belly—bits of a person, he helplessly reminded himself—he hoped dearly that the strange pokémon had been telling the truth about Moriel, and that she wouldn’t be hurt too badly to save…

    “Oh gods,” Alij murmured, already at the breach and looking inside. “No…”

    That… wasn’t promising. With dread, Solonn joined him to see Moriel’s condition for himself. What he found was, thankfully, not quite as bad as Alij’s tone had led him to expect. But it was still rough, seeing her as she was: a horn broken, half her armor missing. And gods, the blood. No more of it was escaping at this point—Alij had already patched up the wound, he guessed, if the fact that the armor was now regenerating by a will other than his own was anything to go by—but the pool that still lingered there and the amount of mist that hung over it still told a grisly tale.

    He heard the sound of something slithering into the room then, something much lighter and less craggy than the serpent he knew personally. Solonn turned to regard Viraya, the arbok, and the latter’s two companions for a moment before drifting forward to meet them. Oth moved forward, as well, and Evane went past the two of them to look in on Moriel herself. Alij and Viraya stayed put.

    “Why did you come here?” Solonn asked of the intruders, his voice heavy.

    “Because someone here desperately needs help,” the blue pokémon said. “I don’t know if you’re aware of this, but there’s a pokémon here who’s been forced to evolve. He’s elementally unstable—he needs a psychic-type of his own kind to serve as a vessel for his excess darkness. Please… you’ve got to give me a chance to balance him out. He won’t survive otherwise.”

    Oh gods… DeLeo’s crimes, it seemed, were worse than he’d realized. A fresh bolt of sickness shot through Solonn at the fact someone’s life could be in danger because he’d failed to see this coming.

    “Do you mean Esaax?” he asked. The question came out of its own accord.

    “Yes, I do. You’ve got to let me see him,” the blue pokémon—another kwazai, apparently—said urgently.

    “She could still be lying,” Alij pointed out.

    Solonn sent a glance back toward Alij and Evane… or only toward the former, he found, and he hoped that was because Evane had gone out for help. He looked away, frowning. He wanted to believe the kwazai. He wanted to just rush to Esaax’s aid then and there.

    But he’d already been fooled once today, with grave consequences.

    He sighed. “Would you consent to a psychic scan in order to prove that you’re telling the truth?” he asked the kwazai. Even as Solonn spoke, however, he remembered how Oth’s last scan had been tricked. He bit back a hiss. Please let me trust this, at least…

    The kwazai didn’t bother to keep herself from scowling. “Will it be quick?”

    <Yes,> Oth assured her, <and it will be painless.>

    “Fine, then,” she said.

    Without hesitation, Oth brought themself to hover right in front of her, lowered their head, and closed all but the foremost of their eyes. Soon afterward, <She is completely truthful in her claims.>

    Solonn hoped to all gods that was the case. Especially since he didn’t have the heart to obstruct her any further. Not when there was a chance that Esaax really was in mortal danger. Not when part of him still blamed himself, and what trust he’d given DeLeo, for the wobbuffet’s forced evolution.

    “All right,” he said quietly. “If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to Esaax.” He made his way past the strangers to the corridor that led back toward the holding chamber. “I hope for his sake that you succeed,” he said earnestly as he heard the sounds of slithering scales and dainty feet following him out. “He’s already been through enough that he didn’t deserve.”

    “I hope I succeed, too,” the kwazai said, her tone subdued.

    Before they’d gotten far, Solonn heard a voice in the distance. A loud, furious voice—a roar, really. He couldn’t make out what, if anything, its maker was saying, but he was sure he knew who it was. The direction it came from made it all too easy to guess.


    The origin of that sound was a lot closer. Solonn turned at once to see what was going on and found the nosepass on the floor, with the kwazai standing unnaturally still, her tails—or rather the branches of a single tail, he realized—fanned out wide.

    “What is it?” the arbok asked.

    “Esaax,” the kwazai said in a voice filled with pain and fear. “He’s returned to my perception—and he’s in pain…”

    What? How bad is it?” the arbok demanded worriedly.

    “It’s horrible… Dear Night, it’s like his own body is rejecting him…”

    Oh gods, not good. Not good at all… “We’re almost there,” Solonn told her. He tried to sound confident, assuring. He fell short of both.

    No sooner had he spoken than the kwazai rushed out in front of him, staggering slightly and clutching her head in obvious pain but still moving very fast. The doors, Solonn recalled, and hastened to join her. Maybe she could open them by force, but maybe she couldn’t. She’d need him in the latter case.

    He caught up with her just in time to see her double over in front of the doors and let out a terrible scream. He rushed to her side to keep her from pitching over, and she took the hint, leaning against him readily. She fixed her posture, for the most part, and her scream died out almost as quickly as it had come. But a hand still gripped her forehead, her sharp teeth bared in a grimace.

    There was no more time to lose. The rest of the pokémon were arriving on the scene now, Viraya helping the arbok carry the nosepass… but Solonn shut them out just as soon as he’d spotted them. How they’d react to what he was about to do… was a concern for another time. Right now, the only thing that mattered was the tormented creature beyond those doors.

    “This is Sylvester DeLeo,” he spoke up, “requesting entry.” The voice wasn’t his own. The language wasn’t his own. But it was just what the computer keeping the room closed off wanted; it prompted him for a password just as it did for its true master. “Password,” Solonn responded, still using the borrowed voice and words.

    The doors slid open. Solonn and the kwazai entered first, with Viraya and the arbok bringing in the nosepass behind them as Oth drifted at their side. And there before them all, still encased in a column of light, Esaax slumped against the barrier, panting and groaning with his tail lashing and his hands gripping his head tightly.

    The female kwazai ran to him at once, pressing all four of her hands against the wall of energy, weeping openly all the while. Without taking her eyes off of Esaax, “How do you get him out of this thing?” she demanded.

    “Over here!” Solonn called, and made for the control panel. She followed him without delay.

    “I don’t know how to use this!” she told him.

    “It’s all right; I do.” At least, he hoped he recalled the sequence correctly. “Just do exactly as I tell you, and we’ll have him out in no time.”

    “You’re… you’re going to be all right,” a soft voice sounded from somewhere behind them as Solonn relayed his instructions to the kwazai beside him. It was the arbok, no doubt, most likely trying to console Esaax.

    But it seemed to be in vain; Esaax cried out again, his voice deep and howling like the wind. At the same instant, the other kwazai convulsed hard, echoing Esaax’s scream. She staggered, and Solonn moved quickly to break her fall.

    “Dear Holy Night, he’s tearing himself apart!” she cried.

    “You’re almost finished!” Solonn told her, trying to assure them both.

    Sure enough, the containment field soon vanished with a faint humming sound. The female kwazai ran back to Esaax, dropping into as much of a kneeling posture as her stiltlike legs would allow and throwing her arms around him.

    “Ntairow…” Esaax said as she cried into his chest, his voice hoarse and quavering. “I’m—” He broke off momentarily, giving a pained groan, at which Ntairow embraced him all the more tightly. “I’m glad you’re here. I’d… given up on us ever finding each other again.” He closed his eyes, lowering his head.

    “I should’ve found you sooner…” Ntairow lamented, her voice barely above a whisper. “Dear Night, look at you… you’re so broken…”

    “I don’t think you can fix me now,” Esaax said quietly. “I’m… I’m not gonna make it.”

    “No,” Ntairow responded, her voice suddenly charged with a fierce resolve. “You will survive this… and your son will finally get to know the father he’s been missing all these years.”

    Esaax just stared at her for a moment, his eyes filled with disbelief and wonder. Then a smile spread across his muzzle in spite of his pain. “…You’re serious?”

    Ntairow nodded. “He is called Zerzekai. And unless I’m mistaken, he’s just begun his life as a wobbuffet.”

    Esaax managed a faint but earnestly joyous laugh, then wrapped his arms around Ntairow, hugging her as hard as his rapidly-waning strength would allow.

    Ntairow, meanwhile, took on a look of deep concentration. She’s doing it, Solonn guessed. She’s balancing him… He willed her to succeed. He prayed for her to succeed, for Esaax to be wrong about his chances.

    Her expression changed right before Solonn’s eyes. Suddenly she looked another sort of troubled altogether—more than anything, she looked confused.

    No one got a chance to wonder why.

    A dark aura flared around Esaax as he roared in a voice as vast and hollow as the depths of space and fired a black beam at the other kwazai, striking her with devastating force. A bright pink aura flashed around her at its impact, an autonomic and completely futile mirror coat response, and she collapsed on the spot, scattered black patches forming on her skin as she hit the ground.

    With a hollow howl, the black aura around Esaax suddenly tore free from him, allowing an erratically-flashing, bright orange aura to surround him instead. The shadow took flight, rushing through the air, leaving the screaming kwazai behind.

    Whether or not the shadow was truly a separate entity, Solonn couldn’t say for sure. But he wasn’t about to chance it. He fired an ice beam at the dark mass, and a hyper beam and a volley of poison sting needles flew forth in an attempt to stop the shadow, as well. But none of them connected, nor did the nhaza set off in the same moment. The disembodied darkness evaded all of the attacks effortlessly, destroying electronic equipment and killing the lights as they dodged every attack. Before anyone could strike again, the shadow smashed into the far wall and promptly burned through it, letting early morning light come pouring in. Once outside, the shadowy mass seemed to dissipate entirely.

    Shaking, with no real idea as to what in the hell just happened, Solonn turned back toward Esaax. The kwazai was crumpled in a heap on the floor, orange sparks flickering all around him for one last moment before ceasing. Esaax then toppled over onto his side, panting arrhythmically, dark blue blood flowing from his eyes and mouth.

    “…Esaax?” the arbok spoke up tentatively in a very faint, cracking voice.

    Solonn felt something nudge his side. “Should we go?” Viraya asked.

    Solonn was at a loss for an answer at first. “…You should,” he said finally. “Go see if the paramedics have arrived. Tell them they’re needed here, too.”

    Viraya nodded, insofar as the nosepass on her head allowed, then lowered the rock-type to the floor and left the room.

    Solonn, meanwhile, went right back to watching the two kwazai, his attention wrenched the rest of the way back toward them by the arbok who continued to call out Esaax’s name. Esaax was still alive, and he’d lifted his head ever so slightly. The arbok tried to get his attention again, but his cries seemed to fall on deaf ears.

    It was easy to guess why. Esaax’s gaze had fallen upon Ntairow, at the sight of whom he gave a very faint, pained sound. She wasn’t breathing, Solonn realized. Esaax had just slain someone he loved… all because of DeLeo’s ambitions. Ambitions that may very well have been in vain.

    But gods, did Solonn ever hope they hadn’t. If DeLeo was correct—Solonn couldn’t think of him as “right”—then at least the worst of this could be undone. Esaax couldn’t have his old form back, but Ntairow could have her life back. Maybe they both could.

    With an immense effort, Esaax rolled over onto his belly and pulled himself up to lie beside Ntairow. He lifted a shaking hand, reached for her, and laid it down upon a still-blue patch on her arm.

    A soft, multicolored glow surrounded him, then spread from the point where he touched her until it radiated from every square inch of her skin, as well.

    Solonn’s jaws parted of their own accord, his eyes bright and flickering and very, very wide. It’s happening… he realized, or decided. He really couldn’t think of anything else it could be. His breath halted inside him, and he watched with a stream of prayers flowing through his mind, begging the phenomenon before him to succeed.

    The glow surrounding the two kwazai suddenly grew to such an intensity that Solonn had to shut his eyes and turn away. Even then, some of the light made it through his eyelids. Once it was gone, he turned back toward Esaax and Ntairow just in time to see their shared aura burst into a cloud of tiny, colorful sparks, which fell in a brief, luminous shower over the two kwazai.

    As the last sparks fell, Esaax looked down upon Ntairow. She was completely restored, at least in appearance; all of the strange burns were gone. He smiled gently, weakly, and kissed her forehead. Then he lay down next to her and quietly exhaled.

    He didn’t breathe in again.

    Ntairow inhaled suddenly and sharply, awake in an instant. She sat up abruptly, then immediately rolled over onto her hands and folded legs, her shoulders heaving as she coughed and sputtered uncontrollably.

    As soon as she caught her breath again, she started looking about frantically, confused. Her eyes fell upon Esaax, who was surrounded now by no colors other than the deep sapphire of his own shed blood.

    Her cry of sorrow rang out for a very long moment.

    Solonn stared in silent disbelief at the scene before him, his heart going leaden. The legend was true… His eyes screwed shut, his teeth bared all the further and quivering, and he shook in midair with the force of his dry sobs. Dear gods, it was true! The kwazai did have the power to raise the dead, just as DeLeo had believed.

    But that power, it seemed, came with a terrible cost.

    “What… What’s going on?” a concerned voice demanded from somewhere behind Solonn as Ntairow’s voice faded out; Evane, he recognized through the fog settling over his mind. “What happened?”

    “He saved her,” Solonn managed weakly, and that’s all he managed. He turned away, moving past Evane and Viraya and a team of chansey who’d just arrived in the corridor. In spite of their efforts, DeLeo’s desperation had cost Esaax his life, and Solonn could bear to look upon the scene of their failure no longer.