Chapter 19: Close to The Edge
“So, I take it you haven't had a word about all this with Murphy yet.” Melinda said, walking up to me as I looked sleepily at her. The hammock I was in was very comfortable – far more comfortable than it would have been if I was still a human – as it rocked me slightly as the ship passed over the gentle waves of the ocean. Sadly, Melinda seemed intent of ruining this blissful relaxation.
“Nah, and I'm not going to. Look, if you're dead set on getting him to stay with us, then go ahead – pressure him into being miserable and scared then.” I replied, sounding sour.
“You know why I'm doing this, let's not get petty.” She said as I scoffed.
“Trying to get him to stay or abandon this dangerous lifestyle is hardly petty Mel'.” I said, rolling over to look at her. “I get it, the world's under threat and stuff, which is why I'll just stay out of this. I get both sides here, hence why I'm staying out of this. Just don't be mean to the guy, ok?”
“I was hoping you'd back me up with this...” She said, shaking her head with disapproval.
“Look, do you think he'll be all that useful to the mission if he's being forced into it? You of all people should know that people or pokemon who's hearts aren't into something won't be very useful when trying to do said thing. How many pokemon have you cycled through on your team as a result...seven, I think.” I said, counting them in my head.
“Well, it'll be my job to motivate him.” She replied.
“Good luck Mel'.” I said, not sure how sincere I was being as she walked off. Couldn't say I felt relaxed any more, as I wondered how the conversation would go. Given we were supposed to keep the whole thing rather quiet to avoid mass panic spreading across the world, I didn't think she'd try to talk to Murphy while on the ship. Hopefully I could at least eavesdrop on them when it happens, but I doubt it'd happen now. I saw her chatting to Audrey about something, though they were too far away for me to hear what they were saying as I drifted off back into an uneasy snooze.
A sudden shout from somewhere on the ship suddenly sounded as I heard something splash into the water. I quickly rolled out of the hammock to see what caused it, wondering if something or someone fell off the side. I hardly expected any of my friends to be involved and as I joined the others in looking over, I saw a samurott wrestling with a lapras. The samurott, who I recognized as one of the sailors on the ship, seemed to be winning and quickly subdued it.
“Everything's all right, there's no damage to the ship!” He called out as another pokemon dived into join them and started dragging the lapras alongside the ship.
“Ah, one of those terrorists...” I heard Nisbeth say. “Not the first time a lapras has tried to sink a ship. The advent of these vessels totally sank their sea-fearing business, no pun intended, so it's their way of trying to reclaim it.”
“So, yet another brush with death then. How delightful.” I grumbled, feeling more annoyed than scared by now. I gave a hollow laugh to myself, noticing that I was slowly but surely starting to take all of this in my stride rather than letting fear run rampant throughout my entire body and mind. Still, can't ever afford to get too relaxed here, as I knew that even without The Devourer and the Pale Communion, this world could still eat me alive. Why, it almost literally did in the form of that swampert!
“Might seem like a strange thing to say, but I wish your introduction to this world could have been better. Really, Broussard's a real nice place, I swear. Well, better than Mistet Ørkenen at least. Trust me, you don't ever want to go there. Lots of bad...hey, Basil, I'll look out for you, I promise.” He said, looking a little shifty for some reason. He smiled down at me, though there were lines of uncomfortableness within that large mouth of his. Nisbeth suddenly seemed to be distracted by something and quickly wandered off before I could ask him about it. I was certainly curious, but I didn't think anything good would come from pressuring him about it.
The rest of the journey would prove to be rather uneventful, the weather never shifting from a mostly cloudy sky. On the bright side, Murphy looked happy to see the buildings of Newer Orleans creeping over the horizon in the distance as he leaned over the bow of the ship slightly with a huge grin on his face. Seems like he was just happy to see familiar lands, and I couldn't help but agree, as I too wanted to return to a slightly less alien environment. Maybe some of that shitty, yet perfectly functional beer could help relax me a little too. Besides, I earned it after stopping that mienshao.
There was no time to be wasted as soon as we arrived upon the shore as we made our way immediately to the Excursion Club headquarters. I never felt at complete ease moving through a bustling street, given my small body, though Nisbeth seemed to make sure that no one would end up kicking me by accident as he stayed close to my side. Seeing the rather flamboyant building ahead of us, we entered and saw that the others were also here, so, naturally there was a lot to discuss. Seems like they had started without us however, as their loud and rather frantic voices echoed throughout the entire building, culminating in Charlie silencing everyone with a bellow so loud I flinched and covered my ears, at least, more than they were already covered.
“...I think the others have returned.” Charlie said after everyone remained quiet for a few seconds. Audrey decided to take the initiative as we followed her into the dining room, where it seemed like they were just finishing off a meal. Was talking with your mouth full commonplace here? Regardless, it didn't seem like a party; Charlie didn't even have any visible drinks with him.
“So...who goes first?” Audrey said after an awkward pause. “...Ok, I'll start.” She went on to explain our findings in Conviction, including the details about Bibarel's contact with Serge, what the statues were, what happened with Neerav and the enigmatic statue creators and their possible link to The Devourer. Over time, the atmosphere around us seemed to become frozen with fear as the ones at the table slowly stopped chewing their food. Charlie let some of the mash potato he was digging into fall out of his mouth and even Jirachi looked afraid. What did they find out that lead to their reactions? Charlie slowly stood up, his mouth still open in shock, trembling slightly.
“So...these statues...they're people...and they're effectively dead...and this has something to do with The Devourer...well, it seems like The Devourer has, uh, made some moves then. We decided to have a word with Landorus. Being several hundred years old, maybe he knew of something.” He said and gulped. He kept pausing, his voice being far quieter and more subdued than normal. “Normally, he doesn't, well, take too kindly to visitors, but now I see that he didn't mind us at all...he's, well, uh, dead now.”
“Turned into a black statue?” Audrey asked, looking rather sorrowful.
“Yeah...would explain why all of them look surprised or afraid now.” He replied, looking like he was itching for a drink to calm his nerves.
“Seems like there's more than one of these pokemon going around turning victims into black statues.” Audrey said, keeping oddly cool about the whole thing.
“Maybe it's The Devourer itself. If Landorus is as ancient and as powerful as I've heard, then maybe it won't go down to one of those pokemon in league with this monstrosity.” Nisbeth speculated, though I wasn't entirely convinced.
“I've seen how the process works, and I don't think being big and powerful slows that down at all.” I said, though I had no idea. “Still, if it's going after powerful entities, then it must be getting bolder now.” As I said those words, I inhaled through my teeth. Sure, it was only isolated people getting attacked here for the most part, but that could be changing as of this very moment. Looking around, it seemed like everyone else was thinking the same thing. We may have made progress, but time wasn't on our side at this rate. It came for Landorus, it came for a human, and, sooner or later, it would surely come for us. Nobody was talking, clearly still taking in all of this uneasiness as I saw Murphy drumming his fingers against his leg uncomfortably, clearly wishing to be elsewhere.
“Well, Bibarel said he'd direct Serge here if he sees him. So, uh, think we should just hucker down here and hope he shows up?” I suggested. After all this nonsense I went through, I'm not sure how I would react to seeing him. I still hated him to the point I'd be glad to see him die, but I needed him to eventually send my sister and I home, and he needed me to stop The Devourer.
“It's the best we can do.” Melinda said, sounding a little less shaken about all this, looking more focused on finding a solution to this.
“But what if The Devourer or any of its associates come here?” Murphy said, his voice being a little higher than usual.
“If you have a better idea, Murphy, let's hear it, and no, running away home doesn't count.” She said sternly as Murphy lowered his head slightly in sadness. “You can run, hide and do nothing, but we both know that The Devourer will catch up to you one way or another.”
“Melinda, quit scaring him!” I said, raising my voice.
“I'm only telling him the truth Basil.” She said, looking at me with narrowed eyes. “You clearly want to be friendly towards him, but I don't think it's kind telling him that he can just hide from all this.”
“Now's not the time Mel'!” I said angrily at her. As much as I loved her, I didn't want her walking all over my friends like this. “...That being said, Murphy, The Devourer could also find us if we start wandering around like nomads. Even if it's becoming more confident, there's been no attacks in a town yet, so we should be fine for now I'd imagine.”
“I'd say Basil's right.” Charlie said, stuffing the last of the food in his mouth. “Like Audrey said, if The Guardian of Forever ever loses The Devourer for a while, he'll likely go see Bibarel and quickly make his way here. Then we can see where things go from there.”
“I remember Bibarel guessing he might be in Fremdesland though.” Audrey said, though I saw Charlie shake his head at this.
“He'll probably be gone when we arrive there. Besides, he said it was just a guess. Maybe he's here in State Broussard, we don't know that.” Charlie replied as he started gathering up the plates.
“Murphy could also be right though. Why should we be sitting ducks? What if The Devourer can tell who's human? I'm assuming it must know that humans are being summoned here, and we don't know what it's capable of, so could it possibly know about Melinda and Basil?” She said as I shuddered at the thought of it.
Slowly, but surely, we descended into bickering about what to do, but it seemed like a consensus couldn't be reached. Some wanted to stay put, some wanted to go to Fremdesland, others wanted to go back to Conviction to see Bibarel. Jirachi had the ballsy idea of sealing us inside the building, blocking off any and all visitors and advertising Melinda's existence as well as my own across the lands, hopefully getting Serge's attention. Nisbeth seemed to really hate that idea, though Melinda seemed to quite like it, claiming it'd be the best way to reach out to Serge while making sure that no one unwelcome gets in. I tried this sort of thing before, and it failed horribly, so I was siding with Nisbeth here.
This was going absolutely nowhere. We'd really stand no chance of trying to find Serge or do a thing about our otherworldly foe if we were all split like this. How could I help get everyone on board with the same idea? To be honest, I wasn't completely sure about how to take things from here. Was staying put here really the best option? Regardless, probably best if everyone just goes with one plan and sticks with it. We had some talented people here with us, so they could improvise something if it all goes to shit I guess. There was also Murphy, however. Guess he'd want to return home or at least stay away from all this one way or another. Best have a word with him soon, preferably without Melinda. Although, there was someone else who I wanted a word with first.
“Hey, Charlie, mind if I have a word with you quickly? Preferably alone.” I said quietly to him as people started leaving. No one seemed to overhear me thankfully as he quietly nodded and lead me into his shambles of an office. Books lies about all over the place in a disorderly fashion, yet it looked like they had been barely read. He reached for something behind his desk which, of course, turned out to be a bottle of booze.
“Want some?” He asked as I accepted. He poured me a small glass and took a swig from the bottle. “Sorry, this has been helping me recently, especially with Layla's death. Crazy, isn't it? Audrey and I had no idea when we were kids that this planet and everything beyond almost died. Then comes along The Guardian of Forever and tells us all what happened, and well, that was that. Heard stories that pieces of Temporal Tower, y'know, where Dialga lives, were hidden in parts of Conviction and that The Sound of Perseverance helped sort that mess out, To think something else has come along and is wanting us all dead, or something like that...” He took a very large swig, taking several gulps of the stuff. Smelling it, I wasn't sure what sort of alcoholic drink this even was. I think it might have had an American-style whisky base, but it was mixed with some fruit that could have been native only to this planet, since I couldn't recognize it at all.
“It's whiskey and chesto berry juice. Lovely stuff, can't live without it. Eases me real good, yet it keeps me awake, and as I'm sure you can imagine, I've needed both of that ever since that typhlosion told me about The Devourer.” He said as I took a sip. Damn, did it taste sharp! Those chesto berries really packed a punch, tasting rather like blueberries with the zingy sourness of a lemon. Seemed to not go well with the whisky at all, but I wanted him to be warm to me, so I kept drinking, accepting his hospitality with a forced smile.
“I mean, to think the two of them might have only bought this planet thirty-five more years...” Charlie said, taking a large swig before clearing his throat. “Oh, sorry, you were wanting to say something to me?”
“Yes, it's to do with how we're going to take things from here in regards to Serge and The Devourer. As you can see, we've had no real consensus on what to do now, with barely anyone agreeing with one another.” I said, taking another drink. Maybe my tongue was being numbed, but it didn't taste quite as bad anymore. “Well, you're the owner of this place, the boss, the leader. I'd say it's time you really acted like one.”
“...What do you mean?” He said, slowly resting the bottle on the desk and looked down at me.
“I'm saying that you should put your foot down Charlie. You've all heard our opinions, but the final decision rests with you. It'd be nice for this to be democratic, but it's simply not working right now! Look, where I come from, some conflicts can grow to huge scales, where entire nations throw their collective might against one another in a battle for survival. When a country's existence is on the line, it sometimes becomes necessary to make sure everyone is in line and working towards preserving the nation, personal feelings and opinions be damned. It's ugly, sure, but sadly, it can occasionally be a necessity.” I explained, thinking back towards the wars that ripped Europe to pieces.
“Your world sounds strange.” Charlie said as I decided to not dwell on it for much longer.
“Your world would probably know this too if there was ever a continent that had more than one nation in it. Besides, what I'm saying is that if you truly believed that everyone on this planet could fall victim to The Devourer, then you should really like this iron fist method. Again, forced unity isn't pretty, but I see no other choice here. Unless, of course, you think we can succeed by running around like headless chickens, praying that everything turns out for the best.” I replied, looking firmly into his eyes. I wasn't sure whether Charlie would be an effective leader, but, ultimately, he was probably the most qualified out of all of us. I'd likely have said the same thing to Melinda, but as well-adapted to this world as she was, she still didn't know this world nearly as well as the natives.
“Ah, well, I've never done anything like that. I've always been lax with the way I own this place. I hire some really good people who know what they were doing, so there was never any need for me to bark orders.” Charlie said, looking uncomfortable as he slowly sipped his strange brew, clearly thinking about this. “What if they don't listen to me?”
“Planet's on the line, and we don't want another Layla to happen, now do we?” I said back to him, going straight for blatant emotional manipulation. “We need a strong firm leader, whether we like one or not, and just so you know, if you don't step up, I'll convince Melinda to do so instead. She probably has the best mindset for being a leader out of all of us, but I don't think having someone who doesn't know this world well would be a good idea. You've got a lot of connections in this planet as well, so you're in a great position to really lead us. All you need to do is to grow a pair, stand up and take command. Don't worry, I'll back you up on everything you do.”
“I'll run it by Audrey and Jirachi.” He said, his voice sounding a little mopey. He clearly didn't want to do this, but if he wanted to defeat The Devourer, it's a step he'd have to take.
“You should still take our opinions into consideration however, and if those two don't like it, then just order them to step in line. If they've worked with you since I was born, roughly, then they'll understand.” I said before finishing off my rather sickly drink. Man, this stuff was strong! Not enough to significantly affect me however, though seeing Charlie tank multiple bottles of the stuff a day lead me to believe he had a liver of iron. Hopefully he'd remember our little talk by the morning. Right, now time to make sure Murphy is doing ok. I just hope that Melinda and Audrey are staying away from him.
“Murphy, I really don't think you're thinking this through.” I heard Audrey say. Shit, maybe I should have tried to sort Murphy's issues out first. “If you try to go home, you'll be completely alone. Don't you remember? The Devourer and its agents, if they are, that is, tend to go after solitary targets. Are you sure it's worth that risk?”
“I can stay in Newer Orleans and take more acting roles. I'll save up enough money to be flown home and see how things go from there.” Murphy said firmly, breathing somewhat deeply.
“Now, this is just speculation, but what if The Devourer can see through the pokemon that are working for it? I'd be likely the mienshao saw you at some point.” She said, but I wasn't sure if that was entirely true. That being said, I'd be a hypocrite if I criticized her for that. “It may know or at least suspect you were part of a movement to try and kill it. If it does, then you'll obviously be safer with us.”
“Unlikely.” I said as I walked round the corner as Audrey looked at me, seeming frustrated for a second before casually smiling again.
“Ah, Basil, I had no idea you were there! I suppose you overheard our discussion.” She said as I nodded. Figured there was no reason to lie about this.
“Give it a rest Audrey: Murphy simply does not want to be here. What's the point in dragging him along? If he's being forced into all this, then I can hardly call him an effective member of the team. When was the last time you did something you really didn't want to do? I hardly expected you gave it your all. Besides, if Murphy's going to be moping about this, then he'll just bring our spirits down.” I said quickly, wanting to get everything out there on the open before anyone had a chance to speak. I didn't want to insult Murphy like that, but if it convinced Audrey to stop pressuring him to stay, then it'd be worth it.
“Ok, then I'll put it another way: Murphy can't stay here if he leaves our movement.” Audrey said firmly as I glared at her.
“Hold on, remember that deal you made with Murphy? That Murphy could stay here if he did the odd job for you guys? Whatever happened to that? He travelled all the way to Conviction and back for you! You know, why should I have any confidence in you if you break agreements like that? Wait a minute, you made that deal before either of us even knew about The Devourer or what you people were even planning!” I said sharply before walking towards Audrey, stopping right in front of her. She was only slightly taller than me, but I figured she could still beat me shitless in seconds if it came to blows. But I didn't care, I had to take a stand for Murphy. “You planned to con Murphy into this from the very beginning, didn't you!?” Audrey looked very uncomfortable and didn't come close to making eye contact with me for an awkward ten seconds. She drummed her fingers against her legs and tapped her left foot on the ground a few times before sighing.
“...Ok, ok, fine, I admit it. I was just taking a stressful break from my work in trying to find a way to stop The Devourer, so I went to the theatre for the evening...I suppose I should really tell you this directly Murphy.” She said and slowly turned to face him. “I was taking an evening off work since I had been working round the clock all week trying to investigate The Devourer. I saw you perform on stage and figured you were extremely talented, so I thought that the Excursion Club might have had a use for you, so I convinced you to join us. I'm very, very sorry about this Murphy. Please, try to understand, we need people like you to help stop The Devourer!”
“...I should have known it was too good to be true. I'm out of here. Good luck with your quest.” He said very simply, looking like he was about to cry before running off. I saw that he dashed into his room, and a few seconds later, coupled with some confusion from Nisbeth, he ran out again and sprinted past me without saying a word. Can't blame him for this really. He's been used and exploited by many people now, including myself. Regardless, I'd better try and catch up somehow, just to make sure he's ok.
Using the weapon, I teleported across the flat rooftops, keeping a close eye on where Murphy was running off to, attracting some strange looks as I did so. When I warped for the third time, I started feeling disoriented, almost losing my footing. I couldn't do this for much longer, so as soon as I saw the crowds in the street start to thin out, I teleported to the ground below and loudly called out Murphy's name.
“Hey, wait up!” I said, coughing and stumbling as he turned around and waited for me. My vision blurred as I started feeling a bit queasy as I saw Murphy run over to me and helped me stay on my feet. “Thanks...oh, just wanting to make sure that you had somewhere to stay and stuff.”
“You're not planning on exploiting me for something else, are you? Did Audrey put you up to this?” Murphy said, frowning at me slightly as I started to become more stable on my feet.
“Fuck no, I could never do that to you now!” I said, trying to ease his suspicions.
“Sorry, it's just that everyone's been using me like some kind of tool or asset. I reckon you've figured out why I need to go home for the time being.” Murphy said, looking sick of it all.
“Say, Murphy, I have an odd question for you.” I said, not looking at him. “See all this Devourer stuff...do you even believe it's a planet-wide threat?” Of course, I believed it, but I was wondering to what extent Murphy was buying this. I'd never admit it, but Melinda may have a point regarding the heliolisk: He did seem like he was in a state of disbelief about all this, even if he saw for himself someone getting turned into a black statue.
“...Uh...” He said as he seemed to sweat slightly, though it was probably just me subconsciously anthropomorphizing him. After all, reptiles don't sweat. “...I really don't know Basil. I think I just want to talk to Mom and Pop. I really miss them you know. Maybe I wasn't ready to be an adult after all...”
“Well, you'd need to wait one more year until you're regarded as one where I come from. It's been royally hectic for all of us you know. So, just to refresh my memory, you're going to work for a short while to raise funds and go home?” I asked as he nodded. “Right...staying in one of the hostels?”
“Yeah, Mardi Hostel.” Murphy said, pointing to it at the end of the road.
“Right, just making sure you had a place to stay. I, uh, really hope you'll be ok.” I said, though I couldn't hide my uncertainty. How could I be sure that Murphy would remain safe with The Devourer and its associates on the prowl? Would he be safer here, where he'd not be standing in its way, or with us? Sure, we might even have to take The Devourer head on at some point, but at least we'd have safety in numbers, relatively speaking at least.
“Yeah, you too...” He said, sounding a little sad. “I, eh, in a way, I was hoping we could stick together. It'd be nice if you could get away from The Devourer, but I see why you're staying with them.”
“Yeah, gotta find The Guardian of Forever. Say, Murphy, if I find him and if I can talk him into sending all the humans back, would you want to come with us? That's if I can get him to send you to the human world. You might not like it too much, but better that than dead, right?”
“I dunno Basil...I just want to think about this.” He said, still looking rather down.
“Hey, if that acting club really liked having you around before, then I'm sure they'll take you back. You seemed to really enjoy that, so maybe that'll help you take your mind off things.” I said, trying to cheer him up a bit. It seemed to work, as I saw his glum frown slowly start to fade.
“Hey, Basil, promise you'll see me some time soon, won't you?” He said, taking a couple of steps closer to me. I gulped slightly upon hearing this. I never considered that I might never see the guy again once we go our separate ways. I knew I'd never forget Murphy. How could I when he saved my life?
“Uh...I'm not going to make a promise I might not be able to keep buddy. I said I'd be honest with you, Murphy, even if it's an ugly truth. See, I'm not sure what's happening with the rest of us, though I have pushed Charlie to use his position as the boss to make quick and firm decisions, but he doesn't seem that into it.” I said as his body slumped in sadness again. It tore me apart seeing him like this most of the time. When I first met him, his cheeriness and optimism was so prominent that it became flat out contagious. Maybe I could at least hear Serge out with this Devourer business if I can't find a way to talk him into getting him off this planet. I'd feel terrible if I just left him here, where he could be at The Devourer's mercy, which I assumed was in very short supply.
“B-but that doesn't mean I won't try to see you again!” I said, trying desperately to perk him up a bit. “I can't promise I'll be able to, but I can promise I'll do everything I can to try and make sure you're doing well. It's the best I can do.”
“I understand Basil.” He said before looking away from me. “I'll be honest with you too: There's a part of me that really hates how you got me wrapped up with coming to Newer Orleans and learning about The Devourer. I'd have been happier if I just stayed at home, but...well, it's been an unforgettable experience, and I'm glad to have met you.”
“Hugs?” Murphy said, opening his arms to me.
“How could I possibly turn down?” I said as we embraced each other gently. The larger pokemon gave me a quick squeeze and a pat on the back before letting me go. “Well, take care of yourself Murphy: That's an order!”
“Yes sir!” He said, grinning slightly as I saw him slowly walk into the hostel. All I can really do no is just hope that things turn out well for the best for him. However, on the way back, I was plagued by thoughts of what he and Melinda said about his choice to retreat to a more ordinary life. Melinda would surely chastise me for pacifying him and indirectly encouraging him to bury his head in the sand, and she could be right. Looking back over my shoulder at the street I just walked along, I knew I just didn't have the heart to try and convince him to stay with us. He should be fine for a few weeks as long as he keeps his head down I guess, but...
It was impossible to gauge the level of threat. Sure, The Devourer was supposedly threatening the entire planet, but how long would it take? It seemed to be taking its time, but I hardly wanted to dilly dally when trying to find Serge so he can tell us clearly exactly what's happening, or even what The Devourer is. Regardless, if Murphy's heart wasn't in it, then there'd be no point in trying to force him back to the Excursion Club.
“So, is that Murphy gone now?” Nisbeth asked me not long after I arrived 'home.' I sadly nodded and sat down next to him, slouching on the rather uncomfortable stool.
“Starting to think Melinda could be right about him. I mean, when I asked him if he really believed the world was under real threat and that there soon might not be anywhere to hide, he gave a really wishy-washy answer.” I said, still wondering if I really made the right choice.
“Well, I find it a little hard to believe either. The whole tale of The Sound of Perseverance seems a little silly to me as well, but whether I'm right or wrong, the threat of isolated pokemon getting picked off by these statue creators is very real. Where's he staying at anyway? I'm concerned about the poor guy as well.” He asked as I told him. “It's near the town centre, so he'll be fine I'm sure.”
“But for how long though...eh, nothing we can really do about that now I guess.” I said, wondering if there would be a good way into talking Murphy back to joining us, though I could think of nothing.
“Oh, almost forgot; you missed an announcement from Charlie. He's taking command now, though Audrey and Jirachi don't seem too keen on it since it was supposedly all democratic before now. I actually think Charlie took is as a challenge when they objected.” Nisbeth told me as I smiled. At least that part ended well for me, and possibly everyone else involved.
“It'll be for the best, since we don't know how much longer we have. Better going all in on a bad decision than half-heartedly following a good one.” I said, deciding to keep my involvement in this to myself. It was dark outside by now when I looked out of the window, the primitive street lighting making the town feel darker than the towns I was used to back in England. Given the rather shitty sleep I've been having the past few days, I decided to climb back into the basement lie face first on the bed, barely even noticing Melinda was reading a book on the other bed, using a primitive lantern to read it. I guess lighting up the bone was a fire hazard.
“Hey Basil. I assume that's Murphy gone now.” She said, sounding a little disappointed, but thankfully didn't seem in the mood to lecture me.
“Yeah, probably a bad choice and stuff...” I said sleepily as I rolled onto my side to look at her.
“Anyway, there's something else I thought of a while ago, and it's not good. Anything but good.” She said, putting the lantern and book down. “Decided to keep this between us, and before we know what's going on, I'd rather just keep this between the two of us.”
“Spill the beans Mel'.” I said as I sat up, paying full attention to her,
“Well, I'm only telling you since you're the only one who I know for sure isn't in league with The Devourer. You're my brother, I've known you since you were born, and from spending just over twenty-three years of my life with you, I'm preeeeeety confident you wouldn't side with it.” She said in a lowered voice while constantly glancing at the door at the top of the stairs.
“What the fuck are you on about? Mind speaking English?” I replied, having no idea what to make of this.
“That mienshao didn't look any different from a typical one. So, Basil, how can you tell who's in league with The Devourer?” She asked me as I scratched my head, being too tired to concentrate well.
“Uh...when they're trying to turn others into black statues?” I guessed, shrugging slightly.
“Well, yes, but the point I'm saying is this: If its servants look like your average pokemon, then can we really know who we can trust here?” She asked as I felt a familiar discomfort, though a discomfort I had previously conquered.
“Ah, it's the Pale Communion all over again. I dealt with those fools before, and besides, that mienshao sure didn't act like a normal person. Didn't even say a word until the moment where he died...say, think that was because The Devourer didn't want him leaking any information?” I said, wanting to divert the subject away from raw paranoia, but Melinda seemed to want to stay on track with this train of thought she was having.
“How can we be sure that none of the people we're working in are in league with that alien?” She said, her voice becoming a whisper, yet somehow managed to retain most of its volume.
“Mel', please, calm down and think rationally. If The Devourer thinks that humans are a threat and that one of its soldiers were amongst us, they'd have probably killed us by now. You were with these guys for about two weeks before I arrived in this town, so they'd have plenty of chances, so I highly doubt there's a mole among us.” I said, trying to quell any paranoia she was having.
“You're right Basil. Sorry, I was getting a little carried away.” She said and slumped down on her bed. “Have I been grouchy lately? I'm not really feeling myself over the past few days.”
“Eh? I was expecting you to say since you arrived in this world since you're in a completely different body.” I said, laughing to myself a bit, though Melinda didn't seem in the mood to be cheered up as she sighed and looked up at the ceiling. “Ok, I know what you actually mean...probably due to the looming dread we all feel really. It's, like, you know its out there, but you just don't know what to do about it. A puzzle where you can't even begin to try and solve. Really, it could drive a man to madness. Trust me Mel', you're doing just fine.”
“Really missing home lately as well. Nothing much we can do about that though...” She said, rolling on her side to look at me. “I know this might be a bit irresponsible, but if we visit another foreign town, I think we should just have fun for a day.”
“Something gotten into you Mel'?” I asked, smiling slightly.
“This little posse clearly won't last much longer at this rate, especially with Murphy calling it quits. I mean, you saw me get suspicious over them for a minute or so. We really need to take a break before we all get driven to madness; something you should have learned during your brief career as a trainer.” She said to me as I reluctantly agreed. Must she always remind me of my failures?
“Lesson learned Mel'...still, I can agree to that. We do hold the cards, and if we both stand by this, there's not much else the others can do.” She said as she carefully turned off the lantern. “Well, best get some sleep. Goodnight Basil.”
“Yeah, you too.” I replied, feeling a little happier there'd be something to look forward to. I really needed a happy little distraction to keep me going given the ever present threat out there, not to mention Murphy bailing on us.
With a long night's sleep, the two of us were more than ready to receive Charlie's announcement. Notably, we were the first two awake and ready, though it didn't take long for the others to show up thankfully. It was impossible to tell when Jirachi was going to show up given his alien sleeping patterns, but this time, he came just after us.
“Morning you two. Want to hear my findings?” He said in a friendly voice as he floated towards us. It's funny, really. I should still be in awe at his existence, but seeing a jirachi felt almost mundane given everything else that's happened recently.
“Sure.” Melinda said as Jirachi sighed.
“Literally nothing. Still, it proves that The Devourer hasn't done anything to the stars or anything like that, so it's something.” He said as I saw Audrey enter the hall with Nisbeth, the two of them chatting away to each other. “Oh, by the way, did either of you two have anything to do with Charlie's sudden desire to take command with an iron fist?” Jirachi continued as I smiled slightly.
“Just doing my part to save the world.” I said as Melinda slapped her hand against her forehead. “Hey, action had to be taken, and as you'll see, it will be worth it!”
“Good morning everybody!” Charlie said, his voice booming rather loudly as he took large strides into the hall to meet us. “As many of you have probably already found out, I am officially taking command, and before you say anything, I have decided what we're doing! Remember how some of you suggested that we just lock ourselves up here until The Guardian of Forever hopefully shows up? Well, that's what we're doing! You have until three o'clock to go outside, buy whatever you like or do whatever you want until we lock the doors. Right, meeting over!” Charlie finished, walking off as soon as he said 'over', not missing a single beat.
“Well, that was something...I'm off to check in with the museum to study and bring back some artifacts from the old civilization. Jirachi, mind sorting out a huge order of food.” Melinda said, looking like she was still trying to figure out what was happening.
“It's fine, I'm onto that!” Charlie shouted from around the corner, clearly overhearing her.
“Well, you'll know where to find me.” Jirachi said as he floated back up to the tower.
“We could be here for quite a while...” Melinda said, looking rather cross at Charlie's decision. “I swear just going out there and trying to find him while constantly being on the move is the best choice we could have done.”
“Better this than no decision though.” I said as Melinda sighed quietly.
“Maybe we didn't find the best people to lead us to Serge...regardless, we should probably try to find some entertainment to bring back to the headquarters, and in this world, that translates to some really awful literature. Seriously, I could write better than the book I tried to read last night!” She said, laughing to herself with a bitter streak in her chuckle. “I suppose it's better than nothing. Want to help me find something that might reach the lofty heights of mediocre?”
“With pleasure!” I said, smiling as I followed her into town, leaving Nisbeth to himself. What a scorcher of a day! My mouth felt rather dry from the oppressive heat, and my blue and white fur wasn't doing me any favours either. The bottle of water I bought wasn't even cool, and given air conditioning was way ahead of these guys, the heat was inescapable. Melinda seemed to be enjoying the weather just fine however, so it wasn't all bad I guess.
The sun couldn't attack us in the library however, so it was a mild improvement. Given their fictional writings tended to be sub-par at best, we made our way swiftly to the non-fiction section. Perhaps we could learn more about the strange world here, though if we weren't allowed to borrow them, then we wouldn't have much of a chance.
“This one looks like it might be decent.” Melinda said quietly, gesturing to the book in her hand after reading the first few pages.
“'A history of New Australia?' Seems very to-the-point.” I muttered back to her. “Go ask about borrowing policy, I'll keep looking here.” Scanning the books, a lot of them seemed to be in rather poor condition, though they were still functional. The shelves towered high above me, so reaching the ones on the top half was impossible for a little pokemon like me. As soon as I thought that, I saw a cheeky aipom to my left climbing the shelves to get the book he wanted. Wish I could be as agile as him.
“No borrowing here.” Melinda said to me as I grumbled in disappointment.
“Listen, Mel'...up for just taking these?” I whispered quietly. “These four books will fit in my bag easily.”
“Stealing?!” She whispered very quietly as I looked up and down the isle. No one here, no one there.
“Want to be bored to tears for weeks?” I said in a hushed voice to her as she slowly smiled deviously at me.
“Can't argue with that.” She said and slipped all four books in with one fluid movement and closed my bag, using her larger body to block the view of anyone who could be behind us. With a nod and a wink to each other we made our way out of the library, though a gruff voice suddenly called out to us.
“Hey, you two!” I heard him say and saw an incineroar staring at us from about five meters away. Did he see us through the bookshelves or something?! I did my best to look relaxed and content as I looked back at him, refusing to let my fur stand on end in worry. “You have a great day!” Phew, false alarm.
“You held your poker face, right?” Melinda asked shortly after we left.
“Oh, obviously.” I said, grinning at her. I guess crime paid after all! The crowds surrounding the newspaper stands seemed to be bigger than normal. The large, loud newspaper sellers had to yell at the top of their voices to be heard and keep a semblance of order. Behind the intimidating garchomp was a scared looking lilligant, and while it was only a guess, I imagined the garchomp taking over since the excited crowd might crush her. A cinccino was dipping and diving between the restless feet of the larger pokemon, and I was wondering how many pokemon in this town have been trampled to death.
“I think we owe it to ourselves to get one of these papers.” Melinda said as we moved to the back of the 'line', though it soon proved to be unnecessary as I felt myself being tapped on the shoulder by a familiar friend.
“I've got a copy, you can read mine.” I heard Nisbeth say as he handed me a copy of the newspaper with a smile. “Although...you probably won't like it.” After merely seeing the headline, I could see exactly what he meant.
“'Black statue of Ho-oh found in Fremdesland'...” Melinda said as we continued to read the paper. It was hard to tell what she was thinking with her marowak face, but I could still tell that she was trying to hide how horrified she actually was, and as I continued to read it, I could see exactly why.
“In more local news, seven more victims were discovered yesterday in State Broussard, though incidents have still been contained to isolated and rural areas. The rate of these mysterious attacks have been steadily increasing, and if you have yet to hear of the police announcements, all citizens are strongly recommend to not leave their towns and villages unless it is for essential travel and you have at least three other people with you. Report any suspicious individuals and activities to your local authorities. An incident from Conviction has told us that the source of these attacks come from certain individuals who have the power to turn anyone into a dark statue. Considering that Ho-oh has fallen to one of these individuals, we urge you to not engage anyone you suspect may be one of these criminals.”
“I, uh, I should really show this to Murphy.” I said, wondering if he heard about the warnings.
“It'll be closing time soon Basil, you should come with me and return to the headquarters.” Nisbeth said, sounding a little stern.
“They won't shut us out, it'll be fine if we end up a little late.” I said, wondering whether he'd be at the hostel or that cheap looking theatre.
“Fine, I'll come with you.” Nisbeth replied, grumbling as I dragged the two of them around Newer Orleans towards the places where he might be. Given it probably wouldn't be a good idea to annoy Charlie, I moved at a quick pace, dipping and dodging around the taller pokemon on the street. Thankfully, it wasn't quite as hot as it used to be, and I had gotten used to the town by now, so I easily found my way to the Mardi Hostel.
“Murphy...the heliolisk, right? Well, he handed in his key this morning, but its policy to not allow keys to be brought outside the hostel.” The hypno behind the counter said, who looked rather bored of his job and made little attempt to hide it.
“Give this to him when he returns, ok?” I asked the receptionist as he grumbled slightly.
“Fine...is that everything? Great, have a good day y'all.” He said as we left and quickly made our way to the theatre district.
“Ah, I remember you.” The gardevoir said upon seeing me enter the building as I made my way around a cleaner, who seemed oddly content to try and win the battle against dirt and grime in this grubby room. “If you're looking for Murphy, he's not here right now. None of the actors are now, they're on break until the evening performance. I'll tell them you were here though.”
“...Read my god damn mind.” I replied, smiling. “Thank you.”
On the way back, I started noticing things that I didn't previously. The population here seemed less talkative than usual, as the sound of loud chatter was mostly replaced by busy footsteps, treading up and down the stone streets. Their eyes seemed to gaze shiftily from one pokemon to another, as if scouting out for things these strangers had to hide. When Melinda spoke to me along the way home, she in particular attracted suspicious looks, her English accent making her seem more out of place. They seemed rather welcoming beforehand, but now, they seemed to be wary of even the more local strangers.
“Would you look at that Basil...I'm guessing this is why Charlie wanted us to keep quiet about The Devourer.” Melinda said quietly as I nodded back at her. Still, we wouldn't be hanging around here for some time if we were going to be locked inside the headquarters until Serge finds us, so it wasn't much of an issue.
“The cat was going to come out of the bag sooner or later though, nothing we could have done about it.” I said, though perhaps I spoke a little too loudly as a quilava that walked by me seemed intent on turning me into a pariah.
“The what now?! Don't say that you're one of those freaks turning us into black statues!” He said, sounding extremely grouchy as he got in my face. Nisbeth looked flat out ready to beat him into a bloody pulp if the quilava did anything funny, so I tried to defuse the situation.
“Sir, you're being ridiculous! Look, if I wanted to turn you into a black statue, I'd be doing so. Right. Now. But, of course, I can't do that, since I'm not one of those superpowered thugs, so how about you piss of and bother someone else. I'd strongly advise you follow my suggestion, since these two people here will not take kindly if you decide to hurt me.” I said, staring into his eyes. I didn't blink once, and a few seconds later, he decided to back down and walked on without another word.
“This will only help The Devourer...” Melinda said as I scoffed slightly, though, given Nisbeth was nearby, I decided to keep it to myself. Couldn't deny she was being a bit of a hypocrite here, given our conversation last night.
“You're late you three, get in, now!” Audrey ordered from the doorway. I didn't particularly care that she was frustrated as I saw her lock up behind us. Five locks for the door was laughably overkill, especially considering I doubted The Devourer would be stopped by a mere locked door, but whatever made them sleep at night I guess.
“Well, I'm actually as happy as can be right now: none of them paranoid townsfolk are gonna be hunting us in here. We'll be as safe as houses as long as The Devourer doesn't show its ugly face.” Nisbeth said, sounding oddly chipper as Melinda and I both gave him funny looks. “Ah, forgive me, I've never been much of a people person.”
“You've been wonderful to me Nisbeth, I'm not getting mad at you any time soon.” I said, smiling slightly.
“Now don't do anything reckless.” He said as I grunted at him.
“If I can survive being hunted by the Pale Communion, I can surely survive in this building.” I said, telling him to relax.
“Since we're not doing much else, you should really practice using your psionic abilities.” Melinda said to me after Nisbeth wandered off to his room.
“Talking down to me too, huh? Nah, you're right though.” I said as I took the weapon out of my bag. “Then again, the weapon has provided me with all my protection needs so far, so shouldn't I develop-” Melinda then suddenly knocked it out of my hand as I saw it land on the floor.
“Then, I start burning you alive before smashing your head in with my bone.” Melinda said, smirking at me.
“Point taken Mel'.” I said as I picked it up and put it safely in my bag. “Mind helping me? Kitchen will be empty for a couple of hours at least.”
“Of course.” She said as we walked inside. Sadly, the whole session proved to be rather fruitless, as I just couldn't quite get a good grip on the basics. Melinda was slowly looking annoyed at me as she kept trying to get me to repeat a technique I simply had no idea how to do.
“Sorry Basil, this is really hard for me. I'm just used to training pokemon that are actually good at fighting and using any abilities they might have.” She said as I frowned and smirked at her.
“And I'm not used to being a meowstic, so go figure.” I said, trying my best to levitate a dirty spoon that someone didn't clear up from breakfast time. “Care to tell me how you got so used to being a marowak? Is it just raw instinct or something I'm guessing Floyd got a hang of being a snivy really quickly too when he was here.”
“That's kind of like asking how to walk...uh...” Melinda said, sitting down on one of the stools. “I can't use the excuse that I one time trained a marowak myself since the ones here are very different...maybe you just need to practice more with your ears up.”
“I'd rather not fling myself across the room with my own power thank you very much.” I replied as Melinda got up.
“I can maybe help with that.” She said and walked over to me. Standing behind me, she picked me up and held me firmly. If this were anyone else doing this to me, I might just explode on purpose, but I trusted she knew what she was doing. She took a few steps back and braced herself against the wall. “Ok, Basil, give it a try now.”
“I may hurt you Melinda, but if you're completely sure about this...” I said and opened them up. My whole body shuddered and heaved as I felt the psionic energy course through my body. My vision was forced into the psionic plane as I tried my best to make sense of everything I saw.
“Right, levitate the spoon, but focus on trying to keep your ears open without exploding on me.” She said as I did I was told. My body continued to spasm slightly, though given I was more focused on stabilizing the energy that seemed to wrap around every vein and artery as opposed to do anything else, I could keep it mostly under control.
“Levitating the spoon, now.” I said as my mind reached out to try and lift it. Surprisingly, it didn't take too much effort as I was able to keep it there, though a headache was slowly starting to creep its way into my brain.
“Ok, I'll try something fun. I might be getting the hang of it.” I said, noticing that my voice had this strange tone to it with my ears, almost as if each syllable had a tiny bit of sustain and reverb going through it. Reaching out, I carefully lifted four more spoons. It felt rather painful lifting up so many, but I wanted to do this, since I had a funny idea that would surely amuse my sister. I slowly drew the five of them towards us until they were just above my head.
“Look at me Mel', I'm a mega alakazam!” I said, though I felt the spoons start to slip from my grasp as I laughed slightly.
“Ah, you've got to separate them first and put them in formation!” She said as I saw her with a huge grin out of the corner of my eye.
“I dunno if I can do that...” I said, though my answer came very quickly, since as soon as I tried to separate them, I dropped three of them as they landed on the floor, clanging loudly. “Shit...” I muttered as I closed my ears to stop the headache and my body from getting overloaded.
“Well, that's a welcome improvement! See, I knew you wouldn't explode there! You'd never want to hurt me, so...” She said, grinning even wider.
“Oh, so that's why you did that! You cheeky sod!” I replied as we both laughed and made our way back to our rooms.
“What was going on in there by the way?” Audrey asked us, carrying some archaeological sample of something.
“Practising how to defend myself. Don't worry, we didn't break anything.” I said, barely looking at her as Melinda and I returned to our room. The place was always dark without the lantern since it was a basement, and by now, it felt a little dusty. The books we stole came in handy to pass the time until dinner was served, as we learned that Fremdesland was founded by some Swiss guy about a hundred and forty years ago. Makes sense, since the capital's called 'New Zurich.'
Nobody spoke much throughout dinner, though it seemed that no one was trying to object to Charlie's authority. Charlie himself was clearly trying to act bigger and tougher to try and get the others to stand in line, though he wasn't doing a great job of it. I had to hold myself back from laughing a couple of times when he slammed his tankard down on the table, splashing a bit of beer on himself. Well, I guess this would be life now for the foreseeable future. Gotta keep all strangers out, since you never know who could be one of The Devourer's agents.
Melinda didn't say much as we soon climbed into bed. I have to confess, I really missed good old English entertainment. Some films, some music, and so on. Seemed like none of that existed here, and what I wouldn't do to listen to a good Genesis album right now. Yeah, Wind and Wuthering: That would be lovely.
I soon fell asleep, and I must have been out for a good few hours when I swore I heard some kind of low droning from somewhere. I couldn't tell whether it was from within the room, the building, outside or even in my own head, though as soon as I woke up properly, it was gone. Thank goodness for that, since it seemed to etch itself on my mind while it was there. I couldn't make out much of it, but it sounded like it simply did not belong here. Regardless, it shook me awake, and I was thirsty.
I quietly walked upstairs and out of the basement, being careful not to disturb Melinda. I had no idea what time it was, but it was clearly still completely dark outside, so it couldn't be close to morning yet. I grabbed a bottle of water from the storage and started swiftly drinking it. Given the bottle was designed for larger pokemon, some of it leaked round my mouth and onto my fur, which was a little annoying. Shaking some of the wet patches off, I started walking back towards my room, but I suddenly heard some frantic banging on the main entrance door door. Boom, boom, bang it sounded as I suddenly froze.
“...Who goes there?” I muttered quietly, knowing full well that no one would. The knocks didn't seem that loud, so it couldn't have been by someone big. I stared at the door for a moment as the knocks and bangs started becoming more frantic. I started breathing deeply, looking at the locks on the door. They'd hold whoever was trying to get in, right? Instinctively, I reached round where my bag would be to grab hold of the weapon, but, of course, it was still in my room. Panic started to fill my mind and body as my jaw trembled, as each knock started to sound louder and louder. Should I scream and wake up the others? Yes: If Charlie's in charge, then he needs to take responsibility! He'd save me from whatever...that is. Was it the source of that unearthly droning? Quite likely. Maybe I should wake everyone up, just to be safe.
“Please, someone, anyone, let me in!” A voice suddenly cried out from behind the door, and it was a voice that was all too familiar to me.
“Murphy?!” I said, slowly approaching the door, my body still tense with fear, getting ready to leap to safety at the slightest provocation
“B-Basil, is that you? You've gotta let me in, please, I'm begging you!” I heard him say as he contained wailing on the thick wooden doors.
“...And you're sure you're Murphy?” I asked slowly.
“Of course I'm Murphy! I need inside before it finds me! I don't know if it followed me here or not, but I really don't want to find out!” He said as I threw fear to the wind and looked between the crack in the door. It was Murphy all right, practically bouncing with stress. I couldn't abandon him like this, regardless of what the others thought. I quickly dragged a stool over to the door so I could reach up for the higher locks. Four locks to go, three, two...
“What is it that's after you Murphy?” I asked as I pushed the stool aside to deal with the last two locks.
“I heard someone walk around the hostel, and I saw that some of the guests had been turned into black statues! There was someone...something there! Maybe it's one of The Devourer's henchmen, or maybe...oh, no, nonono! Let me in, LET ME IN!” He screamed as I swore I heard him crying out of sheer terror.
“Can you see anything?!” I said, finally removing the second lock that got jammed.
“...No, not yet.” He said after calming down a bit, though it didn't seem to comfort him any more. The last, rusty lock. It was almost like it was staring back at me, taunting me. It looked almost broken, and I remember Audrey struggling with it earlier today, and she's a lot stronger than I am.
“I...I think they might be becoming bolder now, if they're attacking within towns.” Murphy said, his voice still trembling. I pushed and pulled at the latch, but to no avail. Only one thing for it: I opened up my ears and combining psychic and physical strength, I flat out punched the bolt on the lock. My hand got cut rather badly for it as I felt blood slowly leak onto my fur, but I didn't care right now. Only one thing for it now: Open this door. I leapt up to the handle and held on tightly to it and pushed off the other half of the door as I felt this half start to swing open. Dropping down I looked at the fearful Murphy as he suddenly leapt at me without a moments hesitation.