*aromatisse noise*

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Posted 3 Weeks Ago
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13.1 Years
Chapter 6 – The Serpents Acknowledged

There was a creak, then a click. With a delay, Syr registered light shining beyond his eyelids.

“This should cover it,” Demi said from somewhere nearby. “Just let me know if it doesn’t.”

Syr raised his head a few moments after, yawning, and found Ren sitting upright on the bed, munching on a granola bar and looking deep in thought. Karo still stood next to the bed and was now leaning back—the mattress had slipped a few inches closer to the wall as a result—and looking up at Demi, who stood in the open doorway with a stuffed cloth sack hanging off one shoulder.

“Hrm,” Ren eventually said, with an acknowledging nod toward Demi. He soon finished eating and got up off the bed, crumpling the now-empty wrapper and tossing it in the trash on his way to the adjacent bathroom. The sound and smell of a running shower soon followed.

“Poor guy’s wasting his time,” Karo said. “His clothes still smell.”

“They don’t have to.” Demi set the bag on the floor, then carefully stepped over Syr and knocked on the bathroom door. “Ren?” She stood there listening for a moment, then knocked louder. “Hey, Ren!”

“What?” he shouted over the running water.

“They’ve still got the laundry room up and running. Mind if I go wash your things?”

“No. Just a moment…”

The faucet stopped, and Syr heard the human’s wet footsteps slapping across linoleum. A moment later, the door opened just a crack and a human arm emerged, clutching a wad of clothing.

“I’ll be back as fast as I can,” Demi assured him, then left for the laundry room.

The shower cycled on once more. Syr turned his attention to Karo, who was now nosing through the sack Demi had left behind. “Oh man!” the nosepass said. “Dude, she found belues!”

Syr watched as Karo tipped the bag over, pulling it away from its contents with a featureless hand. The nosepass began greedily sorting the bulbous blue berries from the rest of the food. “I don’t think those were all for you, Syr said.

“Oh, yes they are,” Karo said. “Demi knows I love these things. Besides, look: there’s plenty of other stuff, and it’s mostly just Ren that needs it, right?” Without giving Syr a chance to answer, “Right.”

Supposing he couldn’t argue, Syr mindfully looked away. The noises Karo made while eating were bad enough. He didn’t need to watch it again.

A few minutes later, the bathroom door swung partway open. Remembering that Demi still had Ren’s clothes, Syr averted his gaze a second time.

Karo snorted in amusement. “Relax, man. He’s got a robe on.”

Cautiously, Syr turned to confirm it. Yes, Ren was wearing a bathrobe. Syr was thankful, though much more for Ren’s sake than for his own. Syr had never known a human who’d liked to be seen naked.

Before long, Demi was back with Ren’s clothes. The human dressed in the bathroom, returned to pack up the supplies, and then recalled Karo. It would be kind of odd, Syr acknowledged, if a pokémon left the room who hadn’t walked in in the first place. “Onward, then,” Ren said, pulling his hood back up over his bald head.

The three of them emerged into the lobby to a view of the setting sun through the glass doors. Not long after they’d checked out, there was an odd sound, like something smacking against flesh.

“Very funny,” Demi said.

A backward glance told Syr that she’d caught a poké ball of all things, the distinctive colors peeking through her long fingers. In the middle of the lobby stood a chansey who was looking more than a little guilty.

“…Sorry.” That wasn’t the chansey, but rather the blissey behind the receptionist counter. Her paw was as close to her face as it could get, embarrassment all over her expression. “She just… wanted to be sure.”

“It wouldn’t have worked,” Ren said hollowly, without looking back. He was already stepping through the doors. “I still have my poké ball.”

Demi still had the one the chansey had thrown, meanwhile, and was examining it between two fingers. “Hmm. I wonder if this thing’s unregistered.”

“Unlikely,” Ren said. But he held out a hand all the same, collecting the ball from her and stuffing it into the pack as he passed through the front doors. Once they’d left the pokémon center well and truly behind, Demi returned to her dusk ball, and out came Acheron.

The streets were a little busier this time around, though still devoid of any moving vehicles. As Syr had expected, it was mostly electric-types running about; he counted more electrike and manectric in particular than anything else. Some of them stopped what they were doing to watch the strangers go past, but none engaged them directly.

Soon the sun dropped completely out of sight, and the streetlights began shining down on them. After days of traveling through near total darkness, it was a nice change, at least as far as Syr was concerned. That luxury would likely be left behind in Mauville, though. Then it’d be back to the tethers.

“Hm,” Ren spoke up. “Sounds like the fountain’s still running.”

Sure enough, Syr picked out the sound of running water over the songs of bug-types and the crackling of electric-types at play. He could smell the water, too, very fresh and inviting. River water and puddles of muddy rain were fine and all, but the fact of the matter was that the clean sort tasted better.

We’re not stopping for a drink until we need to, he chided himself.

And then stopped anyway.

There was another scent on the air. A familiar scent.


His own kind, moreover.

The others noticed he’d stopped and did likewise. “What…” Ren began, but fell silent once he’d followed Syr’s gaze.

Across the expanse of grass between the fountain and the three of them, a dark shape was slithering closer. Another arbok was staring at the three of them now, her brow furrowed with uncertainty as she approached. Then her eyes widened.


Syr searched the face before him, trying to put a name to it, to no avail. She must have evolved after I left. “I’m sorry, but…” he began awkwardly.

Thankfully, she seemed to pick up on his unspoken question. “I’m Iph,” she told him. “Do you remember me? I remember you.”

Ah. Syr had never known her all that well. She’d been one of the younger ekans; as such, she’d mostly kept to those her own age. “Yeah,” he said anyway. “I remember.”

“I’m surprised to see you again,” Iph said. “We saw you head north, but…” She shook her head, perhaps trying to clear it of something unwelcome from the past. “I’m just thankful you’re all right.”

A laugh escaped Syr, surprising even himself. “You’re glad I’m all right? I could say the same thing about you!” It was as if a dam had broken. All at once, the relief and gratitude and realization of just how much he’d missed his old charges came rushing in. Tearing up, he moved forward, bowing his head. He felt another scaly forehead join it after a beat.

“I’m just so, so glad you’re all right,” Syr said, feeling tears slide down his snout. Then something fell into place within his mind, something heavy and cold. This was only one arbok. He lifted his head once more. “Wait… where’s everyone else?”

Iph sighed. The relief Syr had seen on her face all but drained out. “They’re with Basath,” she answered, “watching the kids and the nest. Syr… only four of us made it out of there alive.”

The weight in his mind fell into his stomach, hard. Only four. There’d been more than twice that many when he’d left them. There might still be if he’d gone back south sooner.

Sick with guilt, he averted his gaze. “I’m sorry,” he said, his voice shaking. The tears kept falling, running down his chest and into the grass. “God, this is all my fault; I shouldn’t have—”

“It wasn’t you,” Iph insisted.

Hesitantly, Syr met her gaze again. She was looking at him with more pity than sorrow now.

“It wasn’t you,” she repeated. “It was the deranics.”

“Of course it was.”

Ren’s voice immediately grabbed Iph’s attention. It honestly seemed as though she’d only just properly noticed the unfamiliar faces flanking Syr. More to the point, she’d finally noticed the uncannily human figure in her midst.

She gawked for a moment, her mouth hanging open. She shut it again with an effort, then leaned in toward Ren; Acheron responded with a warning growl. Iph flinched, but didn’t pull back, merely flicking her tongue out a few times, all but licking Ren at that distance. If the human was bothered by this, he gave no indication.

She finally withdrew, her eyes flitting about as if seeking an explanation. Finally she relaxed, resigned. “Vela always said there had to be at least some of you left,” she said.

“You mentioned the deranics,” Ren pressed on. “Have you seen them? Have you fought them?”

Iph twitched in surprise again at the sound of the human voice, the human language, but composed herself more quickly this time. “Not directly. Their koffing and weezing tracked us down, swarmed us, tried to take us by force. They didn’t take any of us alive. We didn’t let them.”

More leaden guilt. They’d stood their ground, same as Syr once had… before the enemy’d had his friend’s faces. Laid down their lives, when he hadn’t even been able to raise a fang against Faurur and her people.

“We’re going to deal with them,” Ren said. “We’re going to make them pay.”

Iph smiled at him, however weakly. “That’s very noble of you. Mad, maybe, but noble.”

“If there’s anything you can tell us about them,” Ren said, “anything that’ll prepare us for what’s to come…”

Iph inhaled deeply, flexing her hood. “Right, of course… Follow me.”

Off she went, deeper into the park, leading them past benches and bicycle racks that were covered in leaves and vines and a few stubborn flakes of paint. Soon, they reached a large playground. Apart from the fountain, this was the only part of the park Syr had seen so far that wasn’t overgrown. Monkey bars and twisted swings and a multi-tiered metal cage in the shape of a rocketship stood in an island of gravel, free from ivy…

And there, coiled around or draped over the playground equipment, were three other arbok, none of whom Syr recognized. There was also a pair of very young-looking ekans, who were peeking out from inside a crawl tube, plus a lone seviper.

The seviper was the first to notice they had company. She rose to attention at once; the rest of the serpents followed her gaze, and one of them gasped as the arbok all hurried to the seviper’s sides. The two ekans tried to join them; a fretful hiss from one of the arbok sent the hatchlings back into hiding.

“You’re Syr, aren’t you,” the seviper said.

Syr blinked stupidly for a moment, wondering how she knew his name; as far as he could recall, he’d never spoken to a seviper even once in his life. But his ignorance extinguished itself before he could ask. The other ek—the other arbok must’ve told her about me.

Imagining their talk of him must have been unfavorable, “…Yes,” he admitted.

“Hm.” The seviper craned her neck, trying to meet Acheron’s gaze. “And you…” There was a note of amazement in her voice. “…Esaax?”

“Nope,” Acheron said.

Meanwhile Syr’s mouth had gone dry. He could explain how the stranger knew him just fine, but how in the hell

Basath. With everything else on his mind, he’d almost failed to register the fact that Iph had used that name. Now it clicked firmly into place, raising a cloud of recent memories.

“You never got to meet her, though, did you?”

One of the old crew, Esaax had called her. One of Jessie’s pokémon, then, or James’s, caught after Syr and Faurur’s departure. Esaax hadn’t said much else about Basath…

…Other than the fact that she apparently hated him.

That sick feeling intensified, dread joining the guilt. Syr dearly hoped that Basath wouldn’t delve any deeper into the Esaax topic than she already had. If she goes off on him…

“Excuse me,” one of the arbok next to Basath said, “but am I the only one who notices there’s a human over here?”

“No, you’re not.” One of the other arbok was staring at Ren with tension written all over her posture. “Basath, we need to go,” she said.

“Vela, don’t.” Iph’s tone suggested that she had to say that often. She mindfully put herself between Ren and Vela. “He’s not like the ones who caged us, all right? He wants to help us.”

Basath finally pried her eyes off of Syr, locking onto Ren as Iph moved out of the way once more. “Help us,” the seviper repeated. “How so?”

“The deranics need to pay,” Ren said. “For what they’ve done to my people and to yours.”

Two of the arbok exchanged glances. Vela was busy shooing the ekans away. (“But I wanna see the human!” one of them protested.) She hastily shepherded the children toward a large, fake tire lying on its side; once they disappeared into the middle of it, she went right back to eyeing the unexpected guests with clear distrust.

“Is that really what this is about?” Vela asked. She looked Syr right in the eye with such fierceness that he momentarily feared she was trying to paralyze him. “Or are you headed down there to join forces with him?”

“Vela…” Iph groaned.

“He was never willing to stand up to that nasty old weezing before,” Vela went on. “If he makes it down there and tells Farrer where we are, he’s going to come up here with the rest of his gasbags and—”

“Faurur is dead,” Syr blurted out. Vela’s mouth closed with a delay. Syr’s own words rang in his mind and settled thickly in his throat, making it hard to continue.“She had a xatu bring her up—” Iph and another of the arbok visibly shuddered at the mention of the psychic-type. “—to say goodbye to me.” And Esaax, he almost said, but caught himself short.

“She also came to warn us about the deranics,” he said, at which Vela openly scoffed.

“Enough,” Basath said, glaring pointedly at Vela; the latter drew back a bit, very slightly embarrassed. “Now. Let me get this straight: Faurur turned tail and deserted the deranics?”

“Yes,” Syr said. The end of his tail flicked about irritably; it was all he could do not to launch into an earnest tirade about his late friend’s trustworthiness. “She found out they’ve been lying to her colony. Hiding something… something big. Something that’s already affected the entire world.”

“Something that happened about a decade and a half ago,” Ren said. “I should hope I don’t need to spell it out for you.”

Basath and her friends kept silent for a few moments. “You’re going to take on a bunch of creatures who destroyed almost an entire species.” She went back to staring at Syr as she spoke. “And the living bombs who serve them. You.”

“They do have a psychic-type on their side,” the small male to Vela’s left said.

One psychic-type,” Vela countered. “Singular.”

“Look,” Ren said. “We’re not planning to rush in, guns blazing. We know we’re outnumbered. We know we still have no idea what deranics actually are, let alone every single kind of technology they might have at their disposal. What we do know is they’ve developed some kind of superweapon, or something similar. That’s our target. We need to get whatever it is out of their hands before they can use it again. If we’re successful…” His voice trembled with something barely restrained. “Maybe we can turn it against them.”

“And then destroy it,” Acheron put in quickly, before anyone could jump to conclusions about their further intentions for the thing.

Basath shook her head. “Look. I don’t like to say this to anyone, but. Honestly?” She shook her head again. “You don’t have a chance in hell.”

“Basath. What about Verdanturf?” Iph said. “If the rumors are true…”

Vela snorted. “Good luck with that,” she muttered.

“Rumors? What rumors?” Ren asked.

“Talk of weird things happening in those parts,” Basath answered. “Possibly psychic things. We don’t know for sure—we’ve given the area a very wide berth, just to be safe. We can’t risk the eggs and children.”

“If there are psychics there,” Iph said, “and if these guys can get them on board…”

“Two ifs,” Basath said. She looked to be deep in thought. “At least.”

“It’s worth investigating,” Acheron said, folding his arms. “More psychics on our side would tip the odds a little more in our favor. And if they turn out hostile, well.” Black vorteces whirled around his fists for a moment. “We can handle them. I can handle them.”

“And you said they were around Verdanturf, right?” Syr asked. There was hope in his voice and his eyes despite the fact that if Iph was right, he’d be crawling right into a den of creatures whose mere presence could be sickening, depending on the species. Verdanturf was right there on the route they’d planned to take. If the psychics were willing to join them…

“Right,” Basath answered him. Then she sighed. “Syr?”

Syr flinched; was she about to lecture him on how awful another of his dead friends was? “Yes?”

“I wasn’t there when you bailed on these guys before,” she said. “Maybe I’ve had no right to judge you for it… but that hasn’t stopped me from doing so.” She leveled another hard stare into his eyes. “I just couldn’t stand the fact that not only one but two of her pokémon turned out to be such cowards. She deserved so much better…”

“I…” Syr faltered. He bowed his head. “…Yeah. Maybe you’re right about me. But Esaax wasn’t a coward.”

“He abandoned us when she died,” Basath went on, and there were tears at the corners of her eyes. “Right when we all needed each other the most, he just… ran away.” Another shake of her head. “But… look, this isn’t about him. It’s about you. I wish you’d had the guts you have now back before you left these guys. Back before the koffing started breeding out of control. But… well.” She gave him a rueful expression that was almost a smile. “Better late than never, I guess.”

She moved back a few feet, then inclined her head toward the southwest. “Go check ’em out,” she said. “We’d join you ourselves if we didn’t have a nest to look after.” Another jerk of her head, toward the tire this time, where the ekans sat watching the adults; Syr supposed the eggs were hidden there. “After that…”

Basath trailed off, apparently uncomfortable with sharing their plans beyond that. She looked to Ren again. “I don’t suppose there’s anything I can say or do to convince you to stay with us, is there.”

“I can think of a couple of things,” Ren said. He nodded toward her long, red-tinged fangs, then toward her bladed tail. “My friends would make you regret it, though.”

“Damn right, we would,” Acheron said.

The seviper gave another of those sad near-smiles. “I wouldn’t even consider it. Just… watch your back, would you? All of you, but especially you, human. Best of luck to you,” she said. “You’re gonna need it.”

“Thank you,” Ren said, followed by, “Come on.” He turned away from the seviper and her friends, waving for his teammates to follow. Syr glanced back at the serpents in the playground more than once as he complied, Basath’s somewhat backhanded endorsement still echoing in his head. Some part of him couldn’t help but think that maybe she’d have had just a little more faith in his party if it hadn’t included him.