Chapter 17 – Safe
Pale eyes turned his way, and Solonn thought he detected a hint of weariness about them as though their owner were dealing with a tiresome child.
“Zdir… what if they hadn’t been Sinaji?”
No response, or at least none spoken. Her expression became harder to read.
“What then?” Solonn’s voice lowered of its own accord. “What would we have done?”
A pause. Then, “They could have joined with us if Oth had found them to be inclined and able to do so. If not…”
The lines of Solonn’s face sharpened, his eyes narrowing. Something turned to lead inside of him.
“If not,” she resumed, but then sighed. “I think you already know the answer, whatever you feel about it—and for what it’s worth, no
, Solonn, I don’t like it, either. I would hope that any Virc who might find their way to us in future would prove to be no liability to us, but if not…”
She let it hang. Maybe it was that she couldn’t seem to bring herself to speak of it that stopped him from going off on her any further; maybe it made it easier for him to believe that she really did hate it as much as he did, or at least close enough to suit him.
He turned away, closing his eyes against the orange glow of the beams that were working to vaporize the lifeless intruders in the adjacent chamber, wishing that he could block out the accompanying sound and taste on the air likewise.
* * *
The days were starting to shorten again. The forest behind was beginning to change its colors, and the river far below was hosting a different set of creatures than before.
All of these changes to his surroundings served as reminders to the large, silver figure loosely coiled on the cliff of one constant that had persisted the entire time that he had been here in southern Mordial: throughout every day since, he had waited for the burst of golden light that would bring news of what had become of his family. That light still hadn’t come.
Grosh had feared for Solonn and Jen from the start, but had tried to maintain some measure of faith, some hope that the rescue effort had a chance in hell despite Zdir’s projection that their enemies outnumbered the search party several to one. He had known that they would largely be operating blind, scouring a network of tunnels that Grosh knew from personal experience to be vast and sometimes confusing, and that as such it could take quite a while for the party to return even if things worked out all right in the end.
But even given that, Grosh hadn’t expected for quite this much time to pass without seeing any of them again. And he had by no means forgotten what he had seen back in the Virc temple. Things could all too easily have gone horribly wrong, and he had no way of knowing for sure if they had.
He hated not knowing. He hated being kept across the sea while God only knew what was happening to the last surviving people in the world who meant anything to him. Grosh had never stopped wishing that there had been no reason why he couldn’t have gone with them. But he had, with no small degree of effort and despite recurring internal questions as to whether or not he was really making the best choice, nonetheless stayed more or less in the same area where they’d left him, not wanting to give them a scare with his absence should they return.
But his last drops of belief that they still could were starting to dry up. His waking thoughts were now very nearly as certain that something terrible had befallen them as his dreams had been ever since he had been brought to Mordial. His restlessness had grown as his faith had waned, and so had his hatred of the ones who had murdered Azvida and stolen one of her sons.
That they could have taken the life of the other—and by this time, Grosh couldn’t help but suspect to the point of near-assumption, they surely had—sickened him to his core. The notion that Azvida’s dying wish for her children to stay safe could have been shot down tormented him, and there came a point at which he just couldn’t wait around with that torment any longer. He had to act
. Maybe it was too late to bring Solonn and Jen back to safety, but perhaps, somehow, he could make the ones responsible for that answer for what they had done.
He knew, though, despite the fact that his agitation was rising by the minute and threatening to fill his mind with haze, that he couldn’t do it alone. He couldn’t even reach Virc-Dho without aid, let alone attempt any sort of assault against what might very well amount to a miniature nation of glalie and snorunt.
Rising, he turned his back on the river and entered the forest, silently and occasionally not-so-silently cursing the noise he made as he twisted and crawled among the trees. He could hear the sounds of native pokémon fleeing as he made his highly conspicuous way through their territory, no more keen on interacting with the massive metal serpent than they had been when he’d simply been hanging around the outskirts of the forest. Just stopping someone long enough to hear him out about his need for transportation and support in mounting an offense against his enemies was going to be a challenge.
After some time, and with no real luck on his part in flagging down anyone who might be able to help him thus far, the forest thinned before him. Not far ahead, a dilapidated highway stretched across his path. He drew closer to it, sweeping a glance from left to right over its cracked, faded surface and the weeds sprouting up through its fissures. Where the road led, Grosh couldn’t exactly tell; it extended all the way to the horizon in both directions with no clear destinations in sight.
Before he had any real chance to decide whether or not he wanted to try following the road, a piqued instinct took hold of his attention. An elemental telltale was setting off a familiar warning that fanned out across his nerves in an instant, and it was accompanied by a light rumbling in the ground whose source was several yards off in front of him and approaching rather quickly.
Someone was coming, someone who might be of some use to his cause… or who might already be aware of his presence, unhappy about it, and intending to try and drive him off the hard way. Grosh moved a short distance backward from the disturbance, his eyes trained on it and following it as it moved despite being unable to actually see it at the moment, the end of his tail held up off the ground and shining even brighter than usual as he held an iron tail attack at the ready.
Once it was just a couple of feet away from him, whatever was approaching from underground decided to make a proper entrance. There was an upward eruption of soil, following which three fuzzy, brown heads popped out into the open air, blinking and twitching their noses under the sunlight. Almost immediately afterward, a section of the street behind the newly surfaced creature burst apart, scattering chunks of asphalt as a pokémon identical to the one who’d just appeared emerged.
“Oh, so that’s
what that was!” said the second of the dugtrio.
“Certainly wasn’t what I was expecting,” said the first.
“Or, well, not the silveriness, at least. That I wasn’t expecting. But I knew he’d be big.”
“Oh, same here, same here.”
“But he’s not big; he’s huge!”
“Could probably snap one of us up in two bites, I’ll bet.”
Grosh had no such intentions—he had even decided against bringing the iron tail he’d readied to bear against them, letting the steel-type energy dissipate—but as the two rattled on, he did find himself tempted to speak a bit less kindly to them than he might have otherwise, his segments twisting in impatience and a touch of lingering anxiety at the presence of the two ground-types.
He held down the outburst trying to shove its way out of his mouth, however, not wanting to scare away the only creatures he’d encountered in the area thus far who seemed at all willing to share his company. Instead, he merely cleared his throat to try and get the two dugtrio’s attention, though that still resulted in a deep, grating rumble that could easily be misinterpreted as a growl.
Thankfully, the noise didn’t appear to register as anything threatening to the dugtrio; all twelve of their eyes locked onto his in unison, and neither of the dugtrio looked terribly worried despite having been discussing the possibility of being eaten by the steelix mere moments ago.
“Hm?” the first of them said, cocking one of her heads. “Something you’re wanting from us?”
Grosh opened his mouth, but then: “Now come on, surely he can tell we don’t have anything on us,” the other dugtrio countered, his rightmost head turning to face the first dugtrio as he spoke, his other two faces still turned up toward Grosh. “Have you ever tried digging and carrying things at the same time? It’s not easy! I’ll bet Silvery here understands what I’m talking about; just look at him. Looks like a burrower himself, doesn’t he? Like a great big worm, don’t y—”
“My family and I need help,” Grosh cut in, his voice easily overpowering those of the dugtrio, who quickly fell silent at his interruption. “I’m wondering if you know of anyone who can get me to where our enemies are and help me fight them.” He didn’t imagine that they would be of much help themselves—however swift they were, he had his doubts that they could last long against a horde of well-trained ice-types and was prepared to dissuade them if they expressed interest in joining the fight themselves.
“Oh. You’ll want Valdrey, then,” the second dugtrio said.
“Oh yes, she’d be absolutely elated to help you out. Poor dear’s probably not seen a really
good fight in years,” said the first dugtrio. “And she’s got friends all over; perhaps some of them’d be willing to pitch in, too.”
Grosh’s eyes widened and his head rose a bit further, but he made an effort to stop himself from getting too optimistic too soon. The dugtrio’s response seemed fairly promising, but there was no way of knowing just yet whether nor not this Valdrey person would really be as enthusiastic about joining his cause as the dugtrio had claimed she would be. There also wasn’t any way to know if she would have enough interested friends—if indeed the dugtrio were right about whoever they were referring to even being Valdrey’s friends—to stand any sort of chance against the exiles. His search for aid wasn’t guaranteed to end with this lead.
“Where is she?” he asked of them before they could get into another conversation amongst one another.
Both of the dugtrio jerked one or more of their heads back and to their right, toward the old highway. “That way,” they said in near unison.
“Just follow that path to Wisteria,” said the first dugtrio. “You’ll know it when you see it; humans used to live there.”
“Oh, now don’t assume Silvery knows what humans were,” said the second. “Doesn’t seem to be from around here; who knows what he has and hasn’t seen.”
“No, I’m perfectly well aware of what humans were,” Grosh assured them. “Thank you both kindly for your help,” he added, then made his way around and past the two dugtrio and set off down the road.
“Don’t mention it!” the first of them called out to the departing steelix.
Stone walls began cropping up to either side as Grosh made his way toward Wisteria. They soon rose high, higher than his line of sight; along with the way the road was now curving, this prevented him from being able to see where the path he had chosen was actually taking him.
Grosh hoped that the dugtrio hadn’t in fact sent him off in some useless direction—or worse, had pointed him toward trouble. It was only now, with the faint glimmer of hope that the dugtrio had put in front of him taking just enough of the edge off to clear some of the haze from his mind, that it occurred to him that the two ground-types might have been feigning their lack of mistrust for him in order to guide him into a trap.
He started to berate himself silently for trusting them so readily when no one else in Mordial had seemed friendly toward him prior to that point, but caught himself short. Come on now, don’t beat yourself up over it too much,
he tried to placate himself. This might still work out. And you had to give it a try. You
know you did.
The steelix carried on in the direction he’d been shown, trying to focus on the name of the person to whom he was being sent in case he needed to ask someone else for an audience with her. Eventually the stone walls shrunk back into the ground, and a cluster of buildings soon came into view.
It was then that Grosh realized that he’d left the dugtrio’s company before giving either of them a chance to perhaps tell him just where in Wisteria Valdrey was to be found.
Grumbling in annoyance at himself, Grosh slithered along the downward slope that the road took toward the city below. Now he had more asking around to do—he could only hope that it would go better than it had back in the forest.
Inauspiciously, the first few pokémon that caught his eye darted away as soon as they were sure his attention had fallen upon them, while others, remaining unseen altogether, could be heard scuttling away from him, evading him among largely empty and decrepit shops and houses and down slowly darkening alleyways whenever he tried to follow those sounds.
At some point, he faintly heard what sounded like a whole crowd of people gathered and chatting somewhere neither too near nor too far. Before very much longer, he pinpointed the source of the noise: there was a large, circular building up ahead, and as he got closer to it he could see a faded sign with a symbol on it that he recognized from his time as a trainer’s pokémon as a symbol of the IPL. He was looking at an old gym, he reckoned.
Grosh figured that if there really were as many people hanging around in there as it sounded like there were, then at least someone among them might hear what he had to say before they could get a chance to flee the building.
Granted, they were sure to know that he was headed their way before he got there, but he still hoped that being all cooped up in a large building as they were would impede their escape long enough for him to get a chance to make someone among them hear him out.
As he continued to approach the gym, trying not to move too fast in an effort to at least minimize the noise he made as he dragged himself along, he saw a sawsbuck emerge from it, using his red-leaf-covered antlers to push his way out through the large double doors warding the building’s arched entrance. The moment that the sawsbuck raised his head once more, his eyes met Grosh’s across the remaining distance between them, and he immediately turned tail and went right back in through those doors.
“Damn it!” Grosh spat, not quite under his breath. He was sure that now they’d have even more of a warning and more motivation to get the hell out of there, what with their apparent lookout letting them know exactly what was coming for them.
Nonetheless, he decided not to give up on asking about Valdrey at the gym. It could still work
, he willed himself to believe as he kept on moving toward it. Hell, maybe this Valdrey’s in there herself. She doesn’t sound like the type who’ll run—not if those two were right about her, anyway…
Just as Grosh was about to reach the doors, they opened again. This time, three pokémon stepped out into the parking lot. There was the sawsbuck from earlier, accompanied by a rapidash and a golden-armored centaur pokémon that Grosh didn’t recognize: an aurrade.
Both the rapidash and the aurrade awoke little threads of elemental unease in Grosh, and the look on the former’s face suggested that the feeling was mutual between him and the steelix. The aurrade’s expression was a little harder to read; there were hinged plates of her armor covering most of her face, leaving only her eyes visible.
“Hi,” she spoke up crisply then, her voice resonating a bit oddly from within her armor. She clasped her hands in front of her waist. “Care to share what brings you to these parts?”
There was a faint sense of relief at the fact that these three seemed sufficiently uninterested in running from him, but Grosh maintained a degree of wariness; they also seemed like they might be well-trained, much moreso than the dugtrio had, and he wasn’t so sure that he could take them all on if they decided that they didn’t like what he had to say for whatever reason.
“I’m looking for someone named Valdrey,” he responded.
“Well, mission accomplished,” the aurrade said; Grosh saw the dark gray skin around her eyes crinkle in a way that made him wonder if she were smiling behind those faceplates. “Any particular reason you were looking for me?”
“I need help,” Grosh said. “Me and my son, and his brother, and their whole nation. They’ve got enemies, horrible ones. They…” He suddenly felt like a stone was lodged in his throat. “They took the love of my life from me,” he said, his gaze lowered. “They’ve taken many lives. And I don’t doubt for a second that they’ll take more.”
Valdrey cocked her head slightly. She cast a quick glance to each of the creatures at her sides; both of them looked somewhat less apprehensive toward the situation than they had before, but neither’s expression had quite softened completely.
“Sounds like they need to be taught a lesson,” she then said as she looked up at Grosh once more and folded her arms across her chest. Her tone was notably softer, more sober than before.
“Yes,” Grosh said, nodding. “But I can’t do it alone. I can’t even get back to where they are on my own—there’s an ocean and God knows how much distance in the way. Please… if there’s anything that you or anyone you know can do to help…”
Valdrey stepped forward, then made her way around the sawsbuck to the doors and pushed one of them open. “Come on in,” she said. “Let’s see what we can come up with for you.”
* * *