Fiiiiinally. This is a long one. xD
Chapter Twenty two: Interrogations
A knock rang throughout Zhol’s home, nearly startling me as I flicked my head towards the door, my tuft bouncing as a result. The sneasel beside me answered and nearly moved to someone’s “Open up,” but I replaced her with a glace and held up a paw to plop into a hole to the left side of the door. I pulled back, staring that annoying altaria in the face. I was tempted to close the door once again, but she quickly screwed her face up and pushed past, narrowly making it through the entrance to address Zhol. She seemed minimally concerned with the sneasel’s medical state, and looked to disregard it before moving on.
“Habib is asking for the flareon,” she started, turning to me for a split second. “If you want her, I’ll send her back after.”
“I always knew you’d be fit as a delivery bird,” I snarled, raising an eyebrow sharply at her. She only returned the gesture with amplified immaturity.
She seemed to forget about Zhol’s reply and turned to exit instead. As she wedged through the doorway, she mumbled, “Hurry up,” and continued down Den Row.
“It’s the Poultry Police,” I remarked sarcastically. Zhol was marginally amused. “I’ll...see you later.” I exited her house and was about to bound off when I stopped myself and stuck my head back in through the doorway. “Thanks.” I shoved the door closed and rushed off, following the obnoxious blue and white cloud with feet. Once I matched her pace, I questioned, “What does he want me for?”
She merely glared flatly at me before uttering, “You’ll find out when you get there.”
“Why can’t you just tell me now?” I asked, rolling my eyes.
The altaria was reluctant to respond, but submitted and replied, “Interrogation.”
I displayed my surprise as I ran through reasons in my head. “What did I do this time?”
“Not you, you fluffy twit,” she uttered, “the togepi.”
I squinted my eyes. “...Huh?”
With a huff and a puff, the flying and dragon pokémon whirled around to block my path, and shouted, “You! You’re going to interrogate that togepi because he refuses to talk to anyone else!” I remained with my head withdrawn and my brow pressing on my eyes. “Get it?” She pulled herself around and led me once more.
“Now that you’ve explained so clearly.”
Blowing a snort through my nose, I picked up my pace and overtook her, listening as she quickened hers in an attempt to catch up. I held my position in front of her for as long as I could before she began to dash, at which point I narrowed my eyes and worked my legs harder. We stayed neck and neck until I was racing and she was soaring; however, the wind favoured her cloud-like wings as it carried her faster, and she arrived well before I did. Panting, I finished behind her, containing a frown and the urge to call her out for somehow cheating. I resisted, however, pushing past her and through the open entrance to Habib’s lair.
My eyes uncovered nothing I didn’t expect until a towering green figure invaded my peripherals, and I shrieked with silent subtlety. A burst of guilt zapped through my blood as Shard’s form took a valid shape. His cold, sharp eyes speared my own as I hurried to avoid him by scampering to the other side of the flying fluff. Warily, my gaze switched back to an oblivious lickitung standing with his arms behind his back and a weak smile pressed quietly into his face.
“Please, take a seat,” he offered, nodding with grace to the stump accompanying my toes. Awkwardly I stepped on, nearly slipped off, and sat down. I assumed his bipedal figure was more suitably built for seats such as stumps. Once I settled in, he began. “I assume Tarla has briefed you.”
I narrowed my eyes as they fell to the altaria. “As best she could.”
Amusingly she stiffened and looked about to retaliate, but her respect for the colony leader won her over and her beak remained shut. Her fury attempted to rake through the leaves between us as I flaunted my half-tail in my devilish smirk.
“Very good,” he continued, seemingly oblivious to the silent rivalry sparking at the other end of his table. “The togepi wishes to speak only to you, and therefore it is imperative that you see him as soon as you are able. I’m afraid we must rely on you to extract the information needed: why he came here and who he is working for. It is unfortunate that I must burden you so early into your stay here with us.”
I wasn’t entirely sure if I wanted to comply or not, but it appeared I had no choice. Shard shifted enough to catch my attention, and suddenly I remembered the secret I swore to reveal. If I wasn’t obedient in a time when I was needed, the scyther would surely not be as forgiving as I may hope.
“Tarla has managed to push the prisoner to confess his hideout’s whereabouts,” he explained, resting his arms on the edge of the table. “The expedition party moved out not half an hour ago, and hope to achieve the goal of confirming the lair’s exact location so that we may pass the information on to a more able-bodied clan or colony to handle. They will also assess the security and estimate as best they can a number we – and any other clan that will be willing to band together to defeat them – can prepare for.” His attention settled onto the flying and dragon type nearby, and he added, “Tarla will set out very shortly in an effort to meet up with the party.”
“I...can go as well,” I offered, rather enticed by the prospect of an adventure where possible danger awaited me. I leaned forward as an unconscious action. Tarla’s subtle snort and feather ruffling didn’t escape my notice.
“We hope that, in the event of the togepi revealing all the details we hope you can extract, you may catch up with the party and aid them in carrying out the task.” He blinked with an unnecessary lack in speed, and produced a comforting smile. “The mountains are snowy and best suited for fire types who can keep their bodies heated with running consistency—besides ice types, of course. Having said that, your flamethrower will prove to be quite a useful tool, especially if the case happens to be that you encounter unfriendly ice pokémon.”
I felt my head tilt. “Why would there be unfriendly ice pokémon?”
“Because they live
there,” muttered Tarla, louder than she should have. I eyed her side as she perched a few metres from me along the side of the table to where she had waddled. “Pokémon are naturally cautious of territory invasions.”
Habib appeared to disregard her comment and readdressed me. “The pokémon surrounding these parts of our land have of late erected constant barriers to prevent contact from the Rokont Organisation, and have been reportedly very hostile. The hunting trip you, Shardclaw and Zhol went on the other day, for instance, was an example of pokémon that attacked out of fear in a desperate attempt to protect themselves in case you were a threat. By killing some of the pokémon nearby – for hunting or not – you disturbed their peace and caution.”
“...But they didn’t even ask us if we were these Rokont pokémon or not. They just...attacked,” I replied with flat confusion.
“That is why we must adhere to precautions and be more alert than ever before.” He spoke wisely, choosing each word quickly but not without grace or thought. My questions still hung, and, presumably after unearthing them from beneath the surface of my mind, his eyes wondered for a moment as he thought to elaborate. “Reports of attacks and deception have spread through Santoh, and on more than a few occasions has the Rokont Organisation been responsible for them. Many of the syndicate’s minions do not care for stranger safety, and therefore, they take what they want, igniting damage or harm during the process whilst leaving behind no trace of remorse. The pokémon in these parts have begun living in fear, and some, such as the pokémon I heard about from Shardclaw, go to extreme measures to ensure their safety or fortify their defences.”
Brimming with frustrated curiosity, I questioned, “What is
the Rokont Organisation?” To me it sounded as if someone had played with Team Rocket’s name and replaced a couple of sounds with new ones.
The aging lickitung connected gazes with Shard, and it was as if they shared a few seconds of telepathic communication. I followed his eyes as they returned to mine. “The Rokont Organisation is said to be partnered with Team Rocket.” I expelled a contemptuous snort, feeling a twinge of fear and sickness in the form of disgust twist in my gut. “Yet it consists solely of pokémon.” He burrowed into the foundations of his mind and my line of sight wandered to the fluffy bird pokémon. Her beak was tightly compressed. “Unfortunately we do not know much more than this. Any information you can gather from this togepi will be highly regarded and welcomed.”
“Where is he?” I asked, out of questions and hardly thinking it necessary to speak my acceptance of the task.
Silence wavered casually before Shard’s movements caught my eye once more. “Come with me,” he uttered.
Habib nodded casually, a smile painting gratitude on the sign his face held for me to read.
We arrived following the minutes between the journey from the colony grounds to a known tree which concealed its trunk with many drooping limbs. The thick leaves and branches provided perfect cover for what it protected: a space of a few metres in each direction from the middle trunk, and in the centre, close to the ground was a small hollow holding the togepi. He was bound by a strong spinarak web which was sticky enough to glue his body against the walls of the hollow, but that didn’t restrict his facial movements any more than his thoughts.
Shard released the branches he had lifted with a straightened scythe to allow me passage, and slipped away after he instructed me to talk with this togepi to seek the required answers. I felt little use in protest, so I nodded my head gravely and watched his stony glare before it was no longer in view. The light suddenly dimmed and I tossed my head about, feeling my tuft jump and settle again as my eyes searched for the specks of sunlight I yearned for to encourage and comfort me.
“And the Sun finally fades,” the togepi hissed with sudden tones of contempt. “Night is the better time, anyway.”
The fur on my spine bristled, and as I stared ceaselessly into the hollow depths of his red eyes, I remembered the incident haunting my thoughts he was so actively involved in. Although he had inflicted no pain himself, he had enjoyed
my suffering to the extent of mockery. Clenching my fangs, I felt my jaw pound as the repercussions of Wynore’s paw-mark seared through my cheek. I convinced myself to release the pressure, switching my attention back to what stipulated it.
“Who are you?” I demanded, finding difficulty in a resistance to averting my eyes. I was less than intimidating as I stood without a specific stance, and my voice shook at a level that told my opposition that fearing me would be, if anything, pathetic. It was hardly comforting.
“I would think you’d’ve thought more highly of me than that.” The togepi’s eyes only seemed to skim my untidy and loosening bandages. “What happened there?” He probed, flashing his pupils at my right leg. He looked to another bandage. “And there?”
I was momentarily taken aback, unsure how to respond. This togepi was not easily read, and he knew exactly how to play me, it seemed. An insistent fear crept on its hind legs in circles around us, suddenly bursting from behind the togepi and the tree, proceeding to prowl in unpredictable movements behind me. I had to swallow hard and brush my tail against the ground to suppress my panic.
To my dismay, he next caught site of my half-tail. He smiled with toxic intentions. “I wonder if that’s a battle outcome.”
“Shut up,” I snapped, unaware of my own sensitivity on the matter. I blinked in succession, angling my tail so its invisible missing half was obscured by my body.
He didn’t seem fazed in the slightest. His smile had faded, but his sinister composure didn’t lessen. Without another word passing from within his mouth, I decided to continue.
“How did a togepi like you...get mixed up in business like this?”
The normal type’s face returned to an indifferent glare. “You’re wrong if you think I didn’t want this life,” he responded casually, inhaling to the best of his ability in his constricted condition. “It’s such a...” He trailed of as his eyes wandered, something I hadn’t witnessed them do until then. He switched back to me in a moment, however, continuing, “...satisfying
I suddenly wanted to vomit. An unmentioned sickness bled from my head to my heart, poisoning every cell it passed with the prickle of deadly toxins. A shred of distain divided and dispersed to course through the many pathways of my body. “You make me sick.”
“I don’t care,” he simply replied, shrugging as if he tossed the concept aside like a floppy slab of meat. “My master has taught me to enjoy my work. They say that if you enjoy what you do, you never work in your lifetime.”
“What the hell is wrong with you?” I snarled irritably, staring without motivation to shift my weight.
I only fuelled his gratification as he influenced a wicked ambiance. “I don’t care much for my teammates – more so that crazy ivysaur – but if you were lost to the syndicate...I think that would be a big waste of talent and use.”
My ears pricked and I was instantly alert. My eyes shot like bullets of a human gun into the averted ones of the togepi’s. “What syndicate?” I began. “Who are they?” Shivers skimmed my fur. ‘And why did he speak as if I was a part of it?’
He seemed to show signs of amusement or excitement – I wasn’t sure which – and I could tell he feasted on the curiosity that clawed at my mind. “Who I work for, of course,” he proclaimed proudly. “I’m sure you’ll have a lot to do with them sooner than you would like.” To that I frowned, losing my focused stance as dread crawled through my skin. “But don’t worry. You’ll learn to like it just as I have,” the togepi smirked, his voice gliding down a steep slant and grating my nerves. His menacing glare sparked in conjunction with his tone, slashing through my gaze as it challenged my courage.
“You don’t know me,” I responded, less confident than I would have liked. I gave him a quick vertical assessment. “You’re not a psychic type, either. How can you possibly know the future?”
The togepi chuckled without hesitation. “Clearly age isn’t one of our players,” he provoked, teasing my naiveté.
“...What’s that supposed to mean?” I growled, momentarily forgetting the unspoken hierarchy previously enforced.
“Whether you like it now or not, you’re going to join us.” His eyes were closed and he seemed to be musing. “You don’t have a choice when it comes to accepting your place there.”
For a second I imagined he was referring to personal experience, and all at once his hold of intimidation on me slipped from his grasp, knocked against the packed soil and dulled until its glow subsided. My confidence returned as I overcame his barrier, and I shook any doubt in myself that lurked in the catacombs of my thoughts, testing another part of the pond.
“Now it’s my turn to talk,” I demanded, adopting a dominant pose as I neared him with as much offense as defence. He hardly altered his expression. “Now, tell me: where is your hideout in the mountains? We already know it’s there, so don’t try your malicious games with me to try to convince me otherwise.” I jerked my belly and flexed my muscles, warmth steadily generating in the depths of my chest. I kept a consistent breathing pattern and held my body in place.
He showed his teeth once again, and in all honesty, it was beginning to creep me out. A young togepi with as much inexperience with life as he had should not be boasting about the accomplishments that involved the lives he’s tampered with or even extinguished completely. Each time his lips parted in an imperfect curve, I was reminded of the hideous experience he had forced upon me in the company of his accomplices. Sed, presumably just as young and as hastily forced into the malevolent business as this togepi, was, only weeks ago, a pokémon I could freely call a friend. But with little time and an influence clearly strong enough to change his cognition – through whatever means they screwed him over with – he had transformed into a deadly machine capable of overcoming type disadvantages and relatively experienced battlers with the simple exploit of his bottled-up and apparently useful hate. This normal type, tainted by the coercion he would have experienced in the form of punishment or simple persuasion, was forever contaminated with greed for self-satisfaction and the suffering of others.
Before I could digress into an emotional flare-up, the togepi intervened with, “What’s your name?”
I was caught off guard by the generally casual question, and I wasn’t sure if I should openly reveal my identity. However, what was there to lose? He already knew my species and probably had a grasp of my personality. My name was only a fragment of my character. “Tell me yours first.” I had to be dominant, at least.
As if he anticipated this, the normal type willingly answered, “Tooloo.”
“Can I call you ‘Toodleoo’?” I blurted, hardly noticing such a stupid question was hanging from the tip of my tongue.
He seemed oddly stunned and stared before almost stuttering in bewilderment. “As in...the...goodbye word?”
Embarrassed, I scrunched my muzzle and quickly blinked in succession. “It’s Dusty,” I explained. “My name. But you address me as Miss Flareon. Got it?”
My temper seized its chance to show off its jerk-like qualities and I expelled a row of flames to ensure the egg pokémon would abide by my petty restriction. He attempted to twist to avoid facial contact, only managing to move a smidge and grimace at the heat of the fire. Turning back, he looked unsure of what to think.
“...Just tell me where your hideout is!” I roared, watching the pokémon’s full-body flinch and his suddenly unquestioning expression. His mouth was a small gap, and his eyes became marbles with a hue of crimson which watched an older pokémon decide on torture techniques.
The moment struck me unexpectedly, and for a while I was unsure what to do or how to think. This togepi was suddenly a baby pokémon in the hands of an enraged fire type unable to tame her whip of flames. I wasn’t sure if it was a trick, or if I had actually frightened the wretched soul. The boulders had turned with such abruption that a reaction was not one way or another, but I stuck with a fairly familiar solution: waiting for the reply.
“Earlier, I told your altaria friend that you won’t find it alive,” he responded plainly. His eyes had reverted back to menacing orbs, but no longer did he embody such an overbearing radiation of malice. He was a fire who had been reduced to a few flickering embers after my powers of watery suppression separated the flame from its fuel.
“We’ll find it,” I retorted, minimally surprised at the decline of my doubt.
“Not alive,” he repeated, staring aimlessly before he pulled his clouded eyes up to meet with mine.
(Continued in next post...)