Chapter 12 – Hunter of the Shadows
As silently as he could, Esaax staggered through the forested area outside of Convergence. He’d put a considerable distance between himself and the Haven in quite a short time, having run at full speed the entire way, but now he was slowed by exhaustion and impeded further by the rain-induced softness of the ground, as well as by the maze of surrounding trees.
Though lightheaded and aching everywhere, Esaax nonetheless fought to keep his breathing calm and inaudible in spite of his lungs’ demands for more air. He would not allow himself to be heard if he could help it. He didn’t want to be noticed by any living thing.
He knew what he would do if anything did show up. Thoughts of it—desires
of it—were taking over his mind. The simple, undeniable fact was that he had never known a hunger as savagely strong as that which he now felt, and Esaax knew that the next living creature to cross his path would be fatally obliged to stop it.
Going into the forest had been a wise move on his part, he reckoned. There were pokémon here, but they were fewer in number and more scattered than the pokémon back in the city, where Esaax could effortlessly seek out his prey door-to-door…
He shook his head fiercely to once again clear it of the notion of running back to an easy feast. In his growing desperation, he silently called out, Stay away!
Many pokémon feared psychic-types, he knew, and so he figured that a mindvoice would likely keep most of his potential victims at a safe distance.
But, as Esaax quickly realized, his new form was no more telepathically gifted than his prior form. His silent message might have reached the mind of another psychic, but it was completely undetected by the hoothoot who appeared then from the branches above, oblivious to Esaax’s desperate warning.
The bird was quite small, quite young. Possibly he was out on his very first hunt, but rather than spotting some relatively harmless and tasty prey creature, he had instead found Esaax. Puzzled and curious, the hoothoot began flapping his way closer to the kwazai.
“No, no!” Esaax urged under his breath, but it was really himself that he was trying to stop. And he was failing.
His heart raced as the hoothoot approached. The overwhelming power of his instincts flooded his brain, driving his mind beneath their currents. His senses lit up, and his muscles tensed—he was ready to strike. The hoothoot drew closer and closer—and then Esaax’s arm lashed out suddenly, his huge hand snatching the hoothoot right out of the air, his desire to avoid doing any further harm having become completely unreachable in an instant.
The hoothoot struggled in the kwazai’s strong grip, scattering feathers and screaming. The commotion brought another presence into Esaax’s company: that of the father noctowl.
Without a second’s hesitation, the noctowl attempted hypnosis, but Esaax had already raised his safeguard on the chance that the hoothoot might try the same thing. The kwazai merely stared into the pulsing, red light in the noctowl’s eyes with an utterly unconcerned expression.
“Let him go
!” the noctowl cried, then surged forward in a take down attack, not caring about the pain that he knew that the attack’s recoil would deal unto him in the process. His strike ended up hurting him much more than he’d expected, however; an orange counter aura flared up around the kwazai a split-second before the take down could connect, and the noctowl was thrown violently backward with a scream of both pain and surprise.
With the noctowl now writhing on the ground, seemingly incapacitated for the moment, Esaax decided that he could finally eat in peace. His fingers closed around the hoothoot within his grip with all their strength. One last, piercing squawk escaped the beak of the hoothoot, and then warm, thick streams of blood flowed freely downward over Esaax’s wrist and forearm as he squeezed the life out of his prey. The kwazai then opened his mouth as wide as it would go. He shoved the bloody remnant of his victim into the back of his throat and swallowed it whole.
Esaax relocated his jaws and sighed happily. Then he caught sight of the furious father noctowl, who shrieked wordlessly in grief and rage as he managed to get back onto his feet and then leapt into flight. The noctowl’s wings shimmered and transformed into gleaming, metallic blades as he wheeled around in midair, ready to strike with steel wing.
Esaax was more than ready for him. His predatory eyes, which focused sharply on anything that lived and breathed, kept an unbreakable gaze upon the noctowl. His multisensory tail, meanwhile, guided his target acquisition with deadly precision. Just as the now razor-sharp edge of one of the noctowl’s wings was about to slice into his neck, Esaax blasted the noctowl with a reflux attack. The noctowl was sent crashing into a tree several yards away, knocked out cold.
Though Esaax had not given the slightest concern to the drawback of his dark-type attack prior to using it, he now found himself vaguely surprised that he felt so little painful recoil upon using reflux this time, particularly considering that he’d blasted the noctowl almost head-on and at very close range. While the price that he’d just paid for using it was nothing to scoff at, it was nowhere near as terrible as what the reflux that had killed Madeline had earned him.
The shock to his body from blasting the noctowl unconscious was gone fairly quickly, whereas the shock to his mind that he’d experienced the last time that he’d used reflux was absent altogether this time. As for his hunger, the young hoothoot whom he had just devoured was too small to satisfy it. Quite eagerly, Esaax made his way forward to feed upon the noctowl, as well.
* * *
Ntairow had followed Esaax’s trail into the forest, with the arbok and nosepass close behind. The terrain had become more difficult upon entering the woods; there were patches of mud everywhere, some of them being somewhat deep, in which the three pokémon had to try and avoid getting stuck. Within a matter of minutes, however, Karo failed in this endeavor.
“Move, you guys. I’m gonna try and blast my way out,” Karo announced. He began charging up his nose with an ominous hum.
“I get the feeling that you should save your electricity, Karo,” Syr advised.
“Not to mention that you should consider the noise that might make,” Ntairow added.
Ntairow and Syr then got as good a hold on the nosepass as was possible. Fortunately, they were both quite strong, so once they had a good grip on him, the going was easy enough.
“You can still stay behind,” Ntairow pointed out to Karo as she worked to free him. The nosepass only scowled at her as he was pulled out from the mud.
“He doesn’t need to stay behind. He just needs to watch his step,” Syr countered. “Are you all right now?” he asked of Karo.
Karo just grunted inconclusively in reply. “Stupid mud,” he griped to himself. “I hate
“Well, on the bright side, it did cover up the rest of that smeargle graffiti,” Syr said.
The three then got moving once again, picking their way through the trees and minding the scattered puddles of mud all the more carefully.
“Are we still on the right track?” Syr asked.
“We are,” Ntairow said, “but…”
“‘But’…?” Syr prompted her.
Ntairow sighed. “His spirit has closed itself off to me. I no longer share any of his sensations… it’s like the greater part of his being has died…” The thought of what this could mean brought tears to her eyes that immediately began flowing down her face in steady streams. “I can still sense his physical presence—his body, that’s all
—meaning I know where he is but not what he’s experiencing or doing—though I do have some idea,” she said darkly. “Very recent death hovers nearby…”
For quite a while in the wake of those words, the three continued after Esaax in total silence. As the quiet persisted, something crossed Syr’s mind and ultimately compelled him to ask about it.
“So…” he spoke up. “Ntairow, was it?”
The kwazai merely made a vague, affirmative noise at this.
“There’s something I’ve been wondering…” Syr said.
“And that is…? Ntairow prompted.
“Well… you’ve known Esaax for a long time, right?”
“If you consider roughly a fifth of a century a long time, then yes,” Ntairow answered.
“I do,” Syr said, though what really struck him about the length of time that she’d just described was that it meant that she actually hadn’t known Esaax for much longer than he had, which surprised him a bit. While Syr and Esaax had encountered others of the latter’s kind during their previous time together, they’d never really gotten the chance to get to know any of them under the circumstances; as such, Syr had assumed that Ntairow had come from wherever Esaax had, that the two kwazai had grown up together.
Since that was apparently not the case, he reckoned that Ntairow wouldn’t have gotten as many chances to have perhaps witnessed what it was that he wanted to ask her about, but he figured that it was worth a shot anyway.
“Anyway…” the arbok went on, “well, when you knew him… did you ever see any signs of it? Of his illness, I mean?”
Ntairow sent an odd look back at him. “What he’s going through right now was caused by his evolution. He only just evolved tonight.”
“No, not that… I’m talking about something else,” Syr said. “Something I saw earlier today. We… we lost an old friend today.” His voice cracked on those words, and he had to struggle a bit to continue. “Before we went to see her… and during… I saw this strange, multicolored aura try to form around him a couple of times.”
Ntairow didn’t stop walking, but she did tense up noticeably. “You’re certain it had many colors?” she asked, sounding somewhat awed and alarmed at the same time.
“Yes,” Syr confirmed. “And… I think it has something to do with grief. When I went to meet him at the Haven, they told me why he was in there. They said it was some kind of psychic illness, and they described something that happened… right after we lost one of our other friends.” Thinking about her
brought out the tears that had been welling up in Syr’s eyes ever since he had spoken of what had happened to Faurur; he shook them away as best as he could, which wasn’t terribly well at all.
“They said that he’d apparently seen a multicolored aura appear around himself then,” he continued, “and then he couldn’t tell whether he was alive or dead or what. It broke
him, Ntairow. It took the people at the Haven years before they got him back to anywhere near normal… but it looks as though he needed more time.”
“Dear Night…” Ntairow said, half-whispering. “We were right about him all along…”
“What?” Syr asked. “Did you see that aura, too?”
“No,” Ntairow responded, “but I did see something just as important, something in his psychic signature that apparently none of his people recognized—or believed us about. Even Esaax himself couldn’t quite believe what we told him about what we saw. Some of us took their word for it—just assumed that there genuinely weren’t any among the Evergray and that we must have been mistaken in our perception of him somehow—but others weren’t so quick to dismiss it, including me…”
“Ntairow… what are you talking about?” Syr asked, trying not to sound as confused as he felt or as frustrated as he was beginning to feel. “They assumed that there genuinely weren’t any what
among the Evergray?”
“Healers,” Ntairow clarified. “Esaax is a healer. Most of our kind can only share our pain. Those like Esaax can share their lifeforce, as well. They use this ability to help others, to strengthen and heal them.”
“Wow…” Syr said, astonished at the notion that his friend could have been harboring such a secret all this time and vaguely wondering why he had been keeping it a secret. “That’s amazing if it’s true… but I don’t know. It didn’t sound or look like he was really helping anyone—just hurting himself.”
“That’s part of how it’s supposed to work,” Ntairow told him. “Like I said, it involves sharing one’s lifeforce—giving of one’s self. But it’s not supposed to hurt the healer in the ways you described.
“And if it really wasn’t helping anyone… well, I’m not surprised. It sounds as though no one among his kind or anyone else he’s lived with over the years has known for sure that he was what he was any more than he’s known it. And his healer abilities have been compelling him to use them—and since he had no proper guidance, no way of really knowing what he was doing… of course he’s made mistakes. Of course things went wrong.” She sighed. “Dear Night, do I ever wish I had reunited with him sooner…”
“Yeah… I wish I had, too,” Syr said, finding himself at a loss for anything else to say. “Not that I could have really helped him, but…”
Ntairow lowered her head slightly in acknowledgment of his words, but said nothing else for a moment. Then, “So how long have you
known him, then?” she asked Syr.
“Not quite as long as you have,” Syr answered. “Only since just a few years before the Extinction. We… hadn’t been in touch for a while before today,” he found himself admitting. “Me and… and another of our friends had to take care of something important—someone was threatening some of her kind and mine—and, well… He couldn’t come with us, and we couldn’t go with him.”
“Hmm,” was apparently all that Ntairow had to say to that.
Syr didn’t attempt to get anything more out of her for the time being, not on that subject or any other. He had a lot on his mind now, even more than before… and among those thoughts was something that had made its way back toward the forefront of his mind as someone who had so recently departed his life once and for all had been brought up more than once in the conversation that he’d just had.
He felt fresh pangs of grief as his mind lingered on the subject of Faurur, and he tried but failed to hold back a fresh surge of tears as well as the sobs that accompanied them. Ntairow cast a concerned, sympathetic-looking glance over her shoulder at this but said nothing.
Karo, however, hastily waddled up to the arbok, fighting to stay alongside him. “You all right there, big guy?” he asked. “…Is this about that friend you said you lost earlier?”
Syr found that he could only nod in response.
“Well—” Karo broke off into a swear as he nearly tripped on a branch. “…Whoops, sorry about that. Anyway… uh… crap. I kinda suck at this… I wish you’d been able to tell me about this sooner, like back at the house, maybe. I could’ve had Breanna bring us over some pie or something, and we could’ve talked about all this… Maybe she’d have had a better idea on what to say than I do.”
“It’s okay. I appreciate what you’re doing just fine,” Syr said, and he meant it. Still, he did have to agree with Karo’s wish that they’d had more of a chance to discuss what had happened with Faurur earlier—especially since the nosepass might have been in a position to help him carry out some of Faurur’s last wishes. Syr knew very little about what she had asked him to start warning people about, but Karo, with the wealth of information that he had lying around at his home, might have been a little more knowledgeable about the things in question.
Even without ready access to those stores of information, Karo might still know something useful offhand, Syr considered. Deciding to find out if indeed Karo did, “Hey, Karo… have you ever heard of deranics?” he asked the nosepass. “And something to do with them called—oh, what was it? …Oh yes. ‘Seterhath Zulo-Denvenda
’. Are you familiar with these things at all?”
“Hmm… I’m not, but Ren might be. When he gets back, I’ll ask him,” Karo said.
Syr sighed. “I really wish you’d stop talking about your trainer like that.”
“Like what?” Karo asked.
“Like… well, like he’s still alive,” Syr answered quietly.
“And why wouldn’t he be?” Karo asked.
“Well… because he’s human, Karo,” Syr said.
Karo snorted. “Whatever you say…”
Syr looked at him pityingly for a moment, as he usually did whenever Karo insisted on entertaining the notion that Ren was still alive, but the weight of his own recent loss on his figurative shoulders led him to let the subject drop early this time. Let him believe, if that’s the only way he can deal with it,
he told himself, with some small part of him wishing that he had been given the luxury of doing likewise.
* * *
(CONTINUED NEXT PAGE)