Chapter 6 – Hope
The door opened for Syr and Esaax thanks to the dutiful snorunt standing right inside. Jen had been waiting on full alert for the slightest sign of anyone approaching since the arbok and wobbuffet had left.
“There was no one to bite while you were away,” he said.
“That’s good,” Syr said in a low, very drained-sounding voice. He slithered into the house with all the liveliness of a zombie. He was practically carrying Esaax, who was even less animate in his bereavement.
Syr placed the listless psychic on the sofa and made his way into the kitchen, fully aware that Jen was following him. Without turning, he said, “I’m about to need you and your car. Esaax is going right back to the Haven.”
“Going back?” There was a constant clicking as Jen’s tiny, gray feet hopped and skittered across the linoleum. He was apparently having a very hard time holding still.
Syr sighed heavily. “We’ve just experienced… something difficult. I’m worried that Esaax might not be well enough to handle it.”
Syr told Jen about what had happened in the alley with Faurur. He also told him about the strange aura that had appeared around Esaax before they had gone to see her.
“They must have made some kind of mistake at the Haven. I think he’s still suffering from some kind of psychic disturbance,” he said.
“I see… Maybe what he needs can’t be found in any hospital,” Jen suggested.
Though the weight of Syr’s account of Faurur’s passing had forced the snorunt to grow still, it was still obvious that something was gnawing at him. “Are you all right?” Syr asked of him.
Jen gave Syr a quick glance with preoccupied eyes and swallowed hard. “I’m fine,” he answered. “I think
I am, anyway.”
“I hope you are; I’d hate for you to get sick, too. Now, what were you saying?”
“About the Haven? I said that maybe they can’t help him there. He might do better to come to Hope with me tonight. Maybe he just needs the support of a commiserating audience.”
“I’m not quite sure you really understand the nature of this situation, Jen,” Syr said.
“Yes, I do,” Jen said. “Everyone at the Hope Institute does. People go there because they’ve experienced loss. They go there to find inner peace. That’s what it was built for. I know they’ve done a world of good for me. Especially before you came along—they were a family
for me. They were always there for me.
“Look, the Haven has obviously failed Esaax, right? I know he’s a major friend of yours. So if you respect him so much, why give him back to that place and those people and let them have another chance to fail him when there might just be a better way?”
Jen’s words hit their mark. Syr couldn’t help but believe that if there was any chance that something could still be awry within Esaax—and Syr had seen things firsthand that were strange enough to convince him that something was
—then the Haven should have recognized it and not released him. It seemed to Syr that there was a degree of incompetence—or something
—at work within the Haven, and he found himself wanting to give them a piece of his mind if not his fangs about it.
“I think you might be right, Jen,” Syr said finally. “Maybe it’s about time someone took a different approach to this. For his sake.”
Jen nodded insofar as he could. “Maybe you should go, too. I couldn’t help noticing your tears…”
Syr hadn’t noticed them. He quickly turned his head. “I can’t go to that place, Jen, and you know why.” He forced himself to meet Jen’s gaze once more. “Don’t worry. I think all I need is some quiet time alone to remember. Then I’ll be fine.”
“Okay. I’m going to try and talk to him, if that’s all right.”
Jen fetched the nomel cookies and a tall glass of water and carried them to the living room and the spiritless wobbuffet therein.
Esaax was still lying on the sofa. Mentally, however, he was quite absent. He seemed not to notice or care that his head and arms had come to dangle over the armrest, his face steadily turning a much deeper shade of blue.
Jen placed the cookies and water on the little coffee table in front of Esaax. Esaax paid no mind.
“I brought you some refreshments,” the snorunt said brightly, but he may as well have spoken to a big, blue brick. He frowned concernedly at the wobbuffet. “You shouldn’t be hanging upside-down like that. You’re going to get a head rush.”
He tried pushing Esaax’s head back up over the armrest, but it was too large and heavy for him to hoist up. So Jen decided to take a different approach. He hopped up onto the other end of the sofa and grabbed Esaax by the pods. With a tremendous effort, Jen managed to pull the wobbuffet back up into a more proper resting position.
Jen sat down on the armrest opposite Esaax, panting as he did so. “Phew… you may not be quite
as heavy as you look, but still!” As soon as he caught his breath, he made his move. “I heard all about what happened today, Esaax,” he said in a kindly voice. “I understand what you’re going through. That’s why I offer the best thing in the world for you right now.”
If Esaax was listening, if he was even hearing Jen’s words, he gave no indication of it. He was still enveloped in his reverie, feeling as though he were disembodied and drifting.
Jen went on in spite of Esaax’s lack of responsiveness. “I invite… I request
your presence at the Hope Institute tonight. We’ll all be there for you, Esaax. You’ll get whatever you need to ease your pain. If you want to talk about it with others who’ve also lost someone they love, you can. If you don’t want to talk about it, well, that’s fine, too. I know you’ll find comfort just by being there. They’ll support you, just like they’ve supported me. So what do you say, Esaax? Would you like to come along with me tonight?”
Jen’s speech seemed to have been in vain. Esaax just continued his zombielike stare into nothingness with glazed eyes and sagging lips, completely unresponsive.
Jen sighed. How in the world could I—could
anyone—possibly get through to him?
he wondered. It was imperative that Esaax be brought to the Hope Institute. How then, Jen wondered, could he get the wobbuffet to agree to it when it seemed impossible to get a response of any kind out of him?
“Can’t respond” means “can’t refuse”,
the snorunt considered.
Jen dismissed that notion at once. He was sure that Syr wouldn’t allow one of his best friends to be taken involuntarily into something that he’d initially doubted himself, at least not without making things more difficult than they needed to be. And being just in the next room, he’d have overheard the whole scene, so there was no use lying to him about Esaax’s compliance. What do I
Jen stared like a bird of prey at the untouched glass of water as he mulled over this problem. As he did, the liquid began a curious transformation. It shimmered and gave a slight quiver, and then with a tiny crack
, it instantly froze thoroughly. It then began sprouting upward, spreading out into intricate, crystalline branches as it rose up from within the glass.
Strangely, this tree made of ice seemed to be just what it took to coax Esaax out of his reverie. The moment it caught his eye, he was enthralled by it, finding the shapes that the enchanted ice was forming soothing and mesmerizing in an odd way.
Esaax noticed the snorunt out of the corner of his eye. Is
he doing this?
he wondered. Wait… is he
Esaax turned his sights fully toward Jen… but it seemed that there was no glow about him after all.
Huh. Must have imagined that,
Esaax thought idly. Back to the tree… pretty…
Still spellbound by the moving ice, he asked, “Where did you say this was?” in a voice that was devoid of inflection.
That utterance snapped Jen out of his own altered state. He saw the cryokinetic manifestation on the coffee table, and he gasped in shock as he realized what had been happening. I almost let it go that time…
It was getting harder and harder for him to resist the urges of a body that wanted desperately to evolve.
He was about to revert the ice sculpture to water once more… but then he realized something. “Oh, um, it’s called the Hope Institute. It’s just on the other side of town,” he replied hurriedly. “Are you saying you wish to go?” As he spoke, he melted the ice tree, but not all at once. The branches curled in on themselves and liquefied gracefully but nonetheless quickly.
Esaax was wearing a smile that looked both contented and intoxicated. “Yeah,” he answered, “sure…”
The ice sculpture was soon gone, and Jen was satisfied that it had successfully cast whatever strange, hypnotic spell it had carried—and that he had gotten rid of it before it could be noticed by anyone else.
Sighing with relief, Jen hopped off of the sofa. Before he went to confirm his successful persuasion to Syr, he stopped to clasp one of Esaax’s hands in both of his own. “Good choice, friend,” he said with a smile.
Better than you know,
he added silently.
* * *
Mid-evening, Jen’s convertible pulled up to the curb across the street from the sprawling, single-story structure that was the Hope Institute. It had no identifying characteristics other than a simple wooden sign on which the word “HOPE” was painted in black unown-characters. The sign was crudely lit from beneath with a single lightbulb.
As Jen led Esaax (who was now once again independently mobile, albeit still seeming a bit spellbound) through the entrance, a sceptile at the door stopped and bowed in front of them.
“Blessings,” she said, her tone very warm and inviting.
“Blessings to you, too,” Jen replied, bowing in turn.
“Is the wobbuffet new here?” the sceptile asked.
“Yes, ma’am. I trust he’ll be welcomed?”
“Of course.” The sceptile turned to Esaax. “Blessings,” she repeated, bowing to him and offering her clawed hands, which Esaax took as he returned what seemed to be the ritual greeting in this place.
“May your spirit be ever light,” the sceptile said in farewell, as Jen and Esaax left her behind to proceed further into the Hope Institute.
Esaax found himself led into an assembly space of some sort: a vast, well-lit room whose walls were plastered with posters bearing various uplifting slogans in unown-script. Looking around, he saw a diverse collection of pokémon species gathering in this place. A few of the attendees were milling about, while others were conversing with one another in small cliques. Most of them, however, were already forming a nice and orderly audience. Standing, sitting, coiled, grounded, or perched in semi-loose rows, they all had their eyes or equivalent sensory organs trained straight forward at a presently unoccupied, scarlet-curtained stage.
Clearly something was about to take place upon that stage, and so Esaax turned his attention forward, too. It wasn’t long before the stage was no longer empty.
A hitmonlee stepped out from behind the curtain, carrying a microphone and a clipboard. He scanned the audience briefly, and for a moment he looked like he was ready to speak. But then he glanced at his clipboard and gave the mouthless equivalent of a frown.
The hitmonlee turned and shouted something to someone offstage, though Esaax was too far away to hear exactly what was said. At the hitmonlee’s call, an especially large glalie drifted across the stage toward him.
“Hey, Jen,” Esaax said, continuing to sound only partially present. “That glalie up there… is that someone you know?”
“Huh? Oh, you mean him? Not really, no. He works here, that’s all I know. I think most of them in Convergence do—the glalie, I mean.”
“You’re sure you don’t know him? Cause he’s acting like he knows you
. He’s looking this way right now.”
Indeed he was. As the glalie was being consulted by the hitmonlee, he was also casting an eye into the audience every other second. He had apparently become fixated on Jen and Esaax’s general location.
“Why does he keep looking at us like that?” Esaax asked, nervousness beginning to break through his previously dazed tone.
The glalie hesitantly broke eye contact with Esaax and Jen as he finished his conversation with the hitmonlee. Then he went right back to giving the two of them the laser-eye. His stare unbreaking, the glalie descended from the stage and started making his way into the audience.
“Why is he coming this way?” Esaax asked in a small, slightly panicked voice.
“Relax,” Jen said. “I’m sure he’s just curious because he’s never seen you here before. He probably just wants to say hello.”
As the glalie came to a halt before the two of them, Esaax strongly hoped that Jen was right.
“Blessings,” the glalie said.
“Blessings,” Esaax and Jen returned in unison.
“Pardon me, but I can’t help noticing an unfamiliar face,” said the glalie.
“Yeah… I’m new here,” Esaax said awkwardly. “Uh… nice to meet you…”
The glalie responded with a friendly smile that did next to nothing to soften his expression in Esaax’s eyes. “Could you come with me, please?”
“…What for?” Esaax asked uneasily. He found himself starting to shiver and wished that he could stop, but his steadily building unease wouldn’t let him do so. He was beginning to realize in earnest that he didn’t really have any idea what was going on here, and the current face of his uncertainty was just too large and too close for comfort.
“I’m sorry, but this is the youth assembly,” the glalie answered. “You’ll want our adult group.”
Esaax took another look around and finally recognized that the audience was indeed comprised entirely of children and adolescents. He looked to Jen, but the snorunt made no move to contradict the glalie.
With a nod and a vaguely affirmative noise, Esaax agreed to follow the glalie to this “adult group”. But just as they were about to leave, the glalie hesitated and turned back around. He was staring again, but only at Jen this time, and the glalie looked distinctly conflicted as he did so.
However, the action terminated without explanation, the same way as it had begun. The glalie abandoned whatever that pause might have led to in something of a hurry, leaving Esaax scrambling to catch up.
Esaax followed behind the glalie for minute after minute, through corridor after corridor. He might have been more fascinated by how swiftly such a creature was able to move in spite of having no legs and looking to be very heavy were it not for the fact that he was growing more confused and anxious by the second.
What is this place… and why did I come here?
He honestly could not remember. His mind offered only blankness whenever he tried to present it with those questions.
He had other questions, too: Where are we going, exactly? How big is this place, anyway? The youth assembly looked like it was about to start when we left; wouldn’t the adult meeting have started by now, too? Shouldn’t we already be there?
Unless that’s not really where we’re going…
That thought was truly unsettling. What if I really
am in some kind of trouble… Oh crap, am I?!
Esaax almost tried seeing if the glalie would shed some light on things, but he found that asking questions to his back wasn’t much easier than asking them to his face.
He couldn’t just stay quiet, though; as it ever did, his nervousness forbade it. So rather than just come out with what he really wanted to say, Esaax opted to start out with small talk, hoping that it would help him to bring about more important questions and their answers with greater ease and grace.
“Excuse me, uh, sir?” Esaax began tentatively.
“Yes, I’m a ‘sir’,” the glalie said lightheartedly, at which Esaax returned a forced, nervous laugh. “What is it?”
“What’s your name?” Esaax asked.
“Solonn,” the glalie answered, “and you?”
“Ah, all right, then. Pleasure to meet you, Esaax,” Solonn said.
The glalie’s last few words didn’t quite reach Esaax. Whatever the ice tree had set upon Esaax’s mind was continuing to dissolve at an increasing rate, and it was now being replaced just as quickly by a growing, unrelenting feeling that he had forgotten something crucially important, the sort of thing that should be utterly impossible to forget.
“I’m afraid we’re already a little late,” Solonn then said, “but the good news is that I know a shortcut through the building that’ll keep you from missing too much more of the assembly. We’ll just go right around here, and—”
Solonn halted all of a sudden, neither executing his turn nor finishing his sentence. A pair of doors to his right had just slid open unexpectedly. A second later, there emerged the most peculiar creature…
Next chapter: Find out what on Earth just stepped out of that door! Plus, Esaax confesses suspicions about himself, and a solution to the problems they’ve wrought is offered. See you next time!
- Sike Saner