Solonn followed Jal’tai to a set of doors, which opened automatically for them a couple of seconds after the two had stopped before them. They entered the restaurant, which was warmly lit by a large number of hanging, stained-glass lamps, and were immediately greeted by a hitmonchan in a tuxedo.
“Ah! You grace our presence in person yet again!” the hitmonchan exclaimed. “And this gentleman is your guest?” he asked, at which Jal’tai nodded in response. “Very well, then! Please, let me show you to your usual table!”
The hitmonchan beckoned the two of them toward the back of the restaurant. They passed a table where a female human sat feeding small morsels of meat to a baby makuhita in a high chair that barely accommodated him. Solonn spotted an area in one corner of the restaurant that was enclosed by slightly tinted, soft plastic walls with a zippered door flap, in which an assembly of koffing and grimer laughed around a pile of something slimy and rotten-looking beneath a large exhaust fan. In another corner, two magnemite contently orbited a peculiar, seven-foot-tall, towerlike structure that hummed faintly with electricity. It appeared to be feeding energy into them through wires connected to the magnet-like appendages at their sides.
Jal’tai’s “usual table” was located in a private room in the very back of the restaurant. The room was decorated with paintings of landscapes on every wall and a potted shrub in every corner. A modest chandelier hung above the table in the center of the room, bearing the light of a number of small light bulbs rather than actual, burning candles.
Jal’tai seated himself at the table, or rather perched atop his seat, his talons gripping the back of his chair while his tail feathers draped over it toward the floor. Solonn, being quite large, quite heavy, and generally just not equipped for setting himself down on chairs without breaking them, merely pushed the one at the opposite end of the table aside and sat down in its place, grateful to be out of the air once more after all the traveling that he’d done lately.
“Your orders, then, sirs?” the hitmonchan prompted.
“Oh, it’ll be the Cerulean fish platter for me. Yes, again,” Jal’tai said with another of his chuckles. “And for him… oh, just give him the Specialty of the House to start with. And you know where to send the bill, of course.”
“Yes, sir!” the hitmonchan confirmed enthusiastically, then departed their table and the room.
“Isn’t it refreshing to see pokémon holding occupations other than ‘gladiator’?” Jal’tai said wistfully. He sighed. “Alas, the indignities we suffer at the hands of humans… Which reminds me, Mr. Zgil-Al: what of those humans from whom you escaped? Have you any idea what their motives might have been?”
Solonn was taken a bit by surprise by that question even though he hadn’t exactly expected that the subject of his pursuers wouldn’t come up again; he had just rather strongly hoped that it wouldn’t. Recovering quickly enough, he untruthfully replied, “No idea whatsoever. Frankly, I’m glad I never got the chance to find out.”
“Indeed,” Jal’tai said. “You’ve certainly been spared a most degrading fate.”
You don’t know the half of it…
Solonn held Jal’tai’s gaze for a moment more, then let his eyes flit about from one painting on the wall to another in the awkward silence that hung in the air until Jal’tai spoke again.
“You mentioned fleeing from Lilycove… I’ve not heard of an ice-type colony anywhere in that vicinity—believe me, as a flying-type I would make sure to know of such!” Jal’tai said with a laugh. “No offense, of course,” he added quickly but coolly.
“Meh,” Solonn responded unconcernedly.
“Anyhow, you were brought into Lilycove by these humans from someplace else, then, correct?” the swellow asked.
“Well…” Solonn hesitated for a moment, but then supposed that there was no real harm in speaking of Morgan, though he opted against mentioning her by name. “Not by those humans, but yes, I was brought to Lilycove by a human.” He mindfully chose the word “brought” rather than “taken”; he had deduced that Jal’tai had a less than favorable attitude toward humans, especially those who kept pokémon, and so Solonn decided that it was probably prudent to choose his words carefully so as to give the swellow as little provocation to speak ill of Morgan as possible. “I lived with her for several months. She really was a decent person. I won’t lie about it—I do miss her…” He sighed, feeling a strange sensation that he couldn’t quite discern spreading through his nerves in the wake of this admission. “She must be horribly worried about me…”
“Do you think you’ll ever return to her?” Jal’tai asked quietly.
“I don’t know,” Solonn answered truthfully. “I mean, I’d like to, sure. I just don’t know if Lilycove will ever be safe for me again… those people are still out there, and I don’t know if they’ll ever be caught.”
“Let us hope they will be, at any rate,” Jal’tai said soberly. Solonn nodded in agreement.
Their food arrived then, carried in on a wide tray that was balanced deftly upon the large hands of the hitmonchan waiter as he pushed the door to the private room open with his hip. Several smoked fish fillets on a ceramic platter were placed before Jal’tai. Before Solonn, the waiter placed an odd, wooden pedestal on which there sat a rather large steak. The hitmonchan then provided each of them with a saucer of water.
“I’ll be back shortly,” the waiter said merrily. “When I return, you just let me know if you need anything else, okay?” With that, he departed Jal’tai and Solonn’s company.
Solonn eyed the pedestal on which his meal sat, puzzled. “What is this thing?”
“Hmm?” was Jal’tai’s muffled response; he already had a large chunk of fish in his beak. He swallowed it, then said, “Oh yes, that. It’s just something to make it a little easier for those without limbs to enjoy their meal, particularly someone like yourself—I can see where you would experience some difficulty in attempting to pluck meat off a plate as I am doing.”
Solonn’s eyes shifted the tiny distance upward from the pedestal to the steak itself. “So… this is meat, then?”
“Mmm-hmm,” the swellow confirmed through another bite of fish. “I imagine you’re unused to it being cut and processed in such a manner, but I assure you, it is meat.”
Solonn made a small, wordless noise of acknowledgment. So… this thing before him had once been a part of a living creature
… He felt a sense of trepidation fluttering about the vicinity of his heart as he continued to stare at the steak.
Once again, his internal advocate for predation chose to speak up. It’s what’s right for you, you know.
Solonn continued to eye the steak uneasily. There was a part of his mind that couldn’t help but try and picture what the former owner of this flesh had once looked like before it was slaughtered…
Come on—it’s not like
you killed it,
was the internal argument.
That angle fell just short of mollifying Solonn. He cast a quick glance at Jal’tai and found that the swellow was temporarily neglecting his fish fillets to gaze back at him concernedly.
“Are you quite all right?” he asked. “You haven’t touched your Specialty there.”
“Er…” Solonn began, pausing as he swallowed nervously. “…I was just trying to figure out what’s so ‘special’ about it…” he half-muttered, inwardly cursing himself a bit for not coming up with a better response. Still, he found it rather preferable to telling the truth. It shamed him somewhat to admit it to himself, but the fact was that he was disinclined to confess—and perhaps have to justify—his reservations about carnivorousness.
“Well, taste it and you’ll find out!” Jal’tai said, giving the swellow equivalent of a beaming grin.
Solonn shut his eyes briefly as he battled an urge to grimace. It seemed that until he partook of the food that Jal’tai had ordered for him, the swellow would continue to press the issue. He was not enthusiastic about accepting the steak, but he was all too aware of the swellow’s eyes upon him.
it hasn’t got eyes,
the other faction of his mind told him. At least
it can’t look back at you.
Solonn sighed heavily. It seemed that there were two in his company who would not relent until he accepted the meat, a fact made more difficult to abide by due to the fact that one of those persistent voices was actually a part of him.
Gods forgive me,
he said silently, then rose from the floor, and looked down upon the steak. With a flash of light in his eyes, it was instantly frozen. Closing his eyes involuntarily, he lowered his opened jaws toward it and took it into his mouth.
The taste of it was not as he had anticipated. He had expected it to have the sharpest, most foul flavor imaginable, but found it instead to be rather bland. Vaguely, he wondered if his brain had done him a merciful favor and had temporarily weakened his sense of taste. As he began to chew the steak, he tried very hard not to think about what it was that he was grinding between his teeth. It’s just ice,
he tried to convince himself, that’s all…
He wanted to rush it down his throat as quickly as he could, but his gullet seemed possessed of contrary urges. It took nine attempts just to force some of the meat down and three more to swallow the rest.
Solonn opened his eyes again, realizing only then that he’d kept them closed all the while that he’d been consuming the steak. He rapidly and repeatedly flicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth, trying to scrape off what remained of its taste.
Jal’tai smiled at him, looking satisfied. “Was it to your liking?” he asked.
Solonn gave a quick nod, wondering if anything in his expression was contradicting the gesture even as it was made. His eyes traveled downward to where the saucer of water lay. He rather liked the thought of some good, fresh ice right about then; perhaps crunching on it for a while might help to loosen and remove any stray bits of the frozen meat that might be caught between his teeth, still haunting him with their flavor. It was convenient that water had been provided for him to freeze, too; it would mean a bit less effort than spontaneously generating ice would require. He was about to freeze it, but then he hesitated as he realized something.
“Er, Jal’tai? If I freeze this water, I won’t be able to get it out of that dish there. And… well, I don’t exactly want to eat the dish…”
Jal’tai gave him a blank, unblinking stare for a moment. Then he slapped his wing against his forehead and burst into laughter. “Oh dear!” he cried in between laughs. “Oh heavens, I don’t know why we didn’t think of that… Is there any particular reason why you must freeze it first?”
Solonn gave Jal’tai a brief, mild glare. Then he lowered his face toward the saucer of water and dipped his tongue into the water in an exaggeratedly delicate manner. A second later, he lifted his face to look back up at Jal’tai, wearing a deadpan expression. The saucer of water was dangling from his tongue, to which it had frozen.
Jal’tai stared at Solonn, his beak agape, as the glalie, glaring dully, set the saucer back down onto the table, unfreezing the water within the saucer and thereby freeing his tongue. The swellow was able to hold in his laughter for—at most—five seconds more before it came exploding out.
“Oh…” Jal’tai said, fighting to catch his breath. “I’m sorry, but…” He was stricken by another fit of chuckles; it took him easily half a minute to calm down again. Suddenly, his eyes widened. “I do believe I’ve just thought of a solution. Freeze that again, would you? Without encasing a part of yourself in it this time,” he added, then cracked up laughing yet again.
Solonn grumbled to himself under his breath, wondering why he had thought it was a good idea to demonstrate this issue in such a way. He complied with Jal’tai’s request quickly, once again solidifying the water in the saucer.
“All right, then, if you’ll just excuse me…” The swellow suddenly sprang from his perch on top the chair, opened his wings, and fluttered to the opposite side of the table. His beak took on a white glow as he positioned himself before the saucer. With a flurry of sudden motion, he took his beak to the ice. Barely more than a second later, he relented, and it was revealed that he had chipped the ice into frozen grit while not even putting a dent in the saucer that held it.
Jal’tai then picked up the saucer in his beak and carefully tipped its contents onto the pedestal where the steak had sat minutes before. “There you go,” he said, then fluttered back to his seat.
Slightly stupefied by Jal’tai’s frenzied feat, Solonn seemed not to notice the ice piled before him for several moments. Once he finally did notice it, he descended upon it quickly. He ground it in his teeth for quite a bit longer than was necessary; it was virtually reduced to a powder by the time he finally swallowed it. “Thanks,” he said to the swellow, then sank back down to the floor, feeling suddenly quite weary.
Jal’tai smiled. “You’re most welcome,” he responded, bowing his head slightly, before finishing off the rest of his fish.
The hitmonchan returned then and immediately set about removing the used plate and pedestal as well as Solonn’s saucer, leaving Jal’tai’s still largely ignored saucer where it sat. “Is there anything else I can get for you gentlemen?” he asked.
“Nothing more for me,” Jal’tai said, shaking his head gently. “What about you, Mr. Zgil-Al? Care for another Specialty?”
There were very few things in the world that Solonn would have cared for less at that moment. “No thanks,” he said—or tried to say, at least. His words were almost completely engulfed in a massive yawn.
“‘No’, did you say?” the hitmonchan asked.
“Hm? Yeah, that’s right,” Solonn confirmed.
“Very well then, sirs. I hope you have enjoyed your day here!” the hitmonchan said cheerfully, then left.
Jal’tai took a moment to stretch his wings, then jumped down from the chair. “So, Mr. Zgil-Al. Would you like for me to give you a nice tour of the city?”
“Ugh… that’d be nice, but…” He unleashed another yawn. “I don’t know… I’m just really tired all of a sudden.” Solonn had found himself quite suddenly stricken by a powerful lethargy. “I feel like I need to get to sleep.”
Jal’tai frowned concernedly at him. “Hmm. Well, in that case, I think we’d better seek out a place where you can rest. I think your recent tribulations must have finally taken their toll on you.”
Solonn nodded listlessly, suspecting that the swellow was right. It seemed that his body had taken all that it could and was demanding a temporary exemption from any possible excitement.
“Come, Mr. Zgil-Al. The Convergence Inn is not terribly far from here at all. I should be able to get a room for you there without any trouble.” The swellow made for the door leading out of the private room and beckoned Solonn to follow.
* * *