For a moment, Solonn could do nothing but gawk at the sight. Then, “Father!” he greeted him.
The steelix turned his head immediately, as did most of those who accompanied him. His face lit up like the sun. “Oh my God, you’re all right!”
The pokémon accompanying him parted as he turned and began making his way toward his son as fast as his coils could carry him. Solonn had begun rushing toward him in nearly the same instant and soon reached him. He buried his face against the steelix’s chest, shaking with joy and relief, and as Grosh gently brought his coils around him in an embrace, he felt tears fall upon his head from above.
“Father… how did you get here?” Solonn asked.
“That’s how,” Grosh answered, nodding toward a lanky, red-furred biped with a long, skull-like face and a black mane. “Quiul here was kind enough to help round up these people for us and bring us here.”
Solonn met the gaze of the mercirance to whom Grosh had referred. “I can’t thank you enough,” he said sincerely, the light in his eyes wavering. He’d had legitimate reason to wonder if he would ever see Grosh again, and now here the steelix was. And Solonn recognized that now he could perhaps also be reunited with some other loved ones from whom he’d been separated…
“Oh, it was nothing,” Quiul responded with as much of a warm smile as her face could manage.
“I do hope one of you will consent to a scan,” Zdir spoke up. Solonn looked up in initial disbelief… but then he followed her line of sight. There was a pack of unfamiliar glalie there. None of them looked particularly hostile, but that didn’t mean anything.
“I… what?” one of them responded.
“We’ve been under threat of attack from not only our own kind but collaborators of an unknown kind for months now,” Zdir said.
“Those guys are from Sinnoh,” the aurrade who stood next to Quiul said. “They’re here for the same reason we are: to make your enemies wish they were never born.”
“Valdrey’s telling the truth,” Grosh said. “She and Quiul spent most of the past couple of days getting these people together. I was with them the entire time.”
“I don’t personally suspect them,” Zdir said, “or you. But it would be irresponsible of me to not seek confirmation.”
“That’s fine,” said another of the newly-arrived glalie, drifting forward a bit. “I’ll volunteer.”
“Very well,” Zdir said. She turned an expectant look toward Solonn, who followed her back to the hole in the floor and descended with her.
“So what’s the situation?” Narzen asked them once they reached the bottom.
“We may have just received reinforcements,” Zdir answered him, “as well as access to teleportation and a safer place to stay.”
“Ha, excellent!” Narzen responded. Several of the others mirrored his enthusiasm in some way, particularly among the defectors.
“So it’s really happening, then?” Moriel asked. “We’re really gonna take them on?”
“So it would appear,” Zdir said. “But we do need to have one of them scanned first, just to be certain of what we’re dealing with.”
Wordlessly, Oth moved forward, accompanying Zdir and Solonn as they returned to the cavern above. Zdir indicated the glalie who had offered himself up for scanning, and the claydol went to work at once. <This is Roskharha Nharitas,> it eventually reported. <He is not of this region, nor has he ever been here before, and the same is true of the rest of the glalie who are with him. They are soldiers of the Hirashka people.
<These are allies,> it said, and there was distinct hope and wonder in the tone of its mindvoice. <All of these people—> It indicated the entire crowd of various pokémon gathered there. <—are here to try and deal with the Sinaji.>
Zdir looked back toward Valdrey and Quiul. “We’ll aid you in your endeavor,” she told her. “We and our new associates. They were formerly involved with the enemy and have already yielded useful information about them. They may have more to offer us all.”
Valdrey tilted her head back, making a faint, intrigued-sounding noise. “Sounds like your people and mine could do with a good chat.”
“Yes, we could,” Grosh agreed. “I’d like to know how you all have been holding up these past few months.” He cast a look down toward Solonn as he said this, one that told that he hoped for the best.
And not only for himself and for Zdir and Oth, Solonn was sure, but for Jen, as well. He tried to put on a face that suggested good news on that front—they had, after all, indeed successfully delivered him from the Sinaji, and he was, as far as anyone was aware, still someplace very safe. But he didn’t imagine that Grosh would be altogether happy about Jen having been left behind, and he suspected that the steelix was hoping to be able to see him tonight.
It’s all right, Father. We might still have him back very soon.
With a teleporter available, they could indeed possibly retrieve Jen that very night.
Valdrey swept a glance over the room. “This doesn’t seem like the best place for that though. Mind coming back to my place? It’s safe and spacious.”
“That sounds fine,” Zdir said.
<I will go inform the others,> Oth said, at which Zdir nodded in assent. It drifted down into the chasm, and soon after, glalie began filing up to join the pokémon gathered above them a few at a time.
Once they were all up, “All right now, gather together, everyone,” Valdrey instructed them. When it looked as though everyone had, “Are we all ready to go?” Valdrey asked, at which everyone gave some form of confirmation that they were. “All right then, let's go!” And with those words and a burst of light, the small crowd vanished from Shoal Cave.
* * *
The fugitives and their new allies all reappeared under a night sky, but there was a degree of somewhat harsh, artificial light shining upon them from nearby, at which Solonn initially winced. Once he had adjusted sufficiently, he took in his new surroundings as best as he could given the fact that he was partially surrounded by other pokémon, some of whom were taller than he was.
But he didn’t have to see much before he realized that he recognized this place as the Wisteria gym in Mordial. He had been here before, back when he was traveling the world to spread word of the Convergence project. The gym had been lit by sunlight back then rather than by the few among its lights that still functioned, and there had been humans dotting the bleachers, watching as the gym leader’s pokémon raced each other for fun on the track that ran around the actual battle platform.
“Welcome to Wisteria,” Valdrey said as the rather tightly packed crowd began dispersing a bit, the eyes of some of its constituents sweeping the alien environment in curiosity or wonder or mild wariness. She stepped out in front of Zdir. “This is my home, and for as long as you have need of it, it can be your home, too.”
“Thank you for your hospitality,” Zdir said. She settled herself at the edge of the racetrack, and the rest of the Virc fugitives, along with Oth and Grosh, joined her there. Many of the other pokémon clustered off into little groups, as well. “Of course, I do have to wonder what inspired you to come to our former nation’s aid.”
Valdrey shrugged, spreading her arms wide. “It’s just the kind of thing we do. Me and most of these guys here used to do this kind of work all the time back in the days after the Extinction. I guess we just never tired of being able to lend a hand. Or, well. A figurative hand, in some cases.”
What the aurrade was describing sounded awfully familiar… “You wouldn’t happen to know an alakazam by the name of Sei Salma, would you?” Solonn asked her.
“Hmm… no, I can’t say I do. What about you?” she asked Quiul.
“I’m afraid not,” the mercirance replied. “Sorry.”
“That’s fine,” Solonn said, supposing that he shouldn’t be too surprised. It wasn’t as though Sei and her group of psychics were the only ones capable of deciding to come together and aid people in the wake of humanity’s end.
“So I take it you—” Zdir nodded up toward Grosh. “—found her, or the other way around, and she took it from there,” she surmised aloud.
“Some locals directed me toward her,” Grosh said. “But yes.” He drew in a breath and let it out on something of a sigh. “I… do regret not seeking help sooner than I did. I was just worried about not being there if you came back to where you left me.”
“It’s all right,” she assured him. “No real harm came to us or to the Virc as a result of your timing. They’ve been lucky these past few months.”
No sooner were the words out of her mouth than her eyes darted almost imperceptibly toward where the defectors were gathered together, and there was a hint of guilt in her expression. Solonn remembered Moriel mentioning one of their own apparently not making it away from the Sinaji. He could only wonder if indeed that person could have fared better had help arrived sooner.
<I would nonetheless have liked to have been able to have come back for you sooner,> Oth said. <Unfortunately, I lost my ability to teleport shortly after we rescued the abducted snorunt. We have yet to determine what caused this, and I have yet to regain the technique.>
“Hmm…” Quiul approached the claydol. “What you’re describing sounds rather like a case of spontaneous move deletion.”
Solonn’s eyes widened. That was a phrase he hadn’t heard for many years, not since the days of his involvement with the IPL. He’d heard of humans inducing the loss of techniques via artificial means for various reasons, and he supposed then that he must have been taught of it happening on its own at some point but had merely forgotten it.
“Can it be cured?” Zereth asked.
“I can’t say for certain,” Quiul said. “All I know is that it’s not within my capability to heal.”
“It might be within the capability of the people at the Haven,” Solonn pointed out. “And… we might be able to get Jen back while we’re at it.”
Grosh frowned. “You didn’t get them back?”
“We did,” Zdir said, “but Oth’s teleportation misfired and then failed altogether before the mind-tampering that Jen was dealt could be undone. He was left behind at the Haven.”
“Well then we’ve got to get him back!” Grosh said, throwing a glance at Quiul.
Solonn sighed. “It… might not be that simple,” he said. “Considering how long it’s been since he was left there, they might have come to figure that we abandoned him. Even if they haven’t, they’re not necessarily keeping him there. And even if we knew where they were keeping him, it might not be a simple matter to get him returned to our custody.”
Grosh stared down at Solonn all the while as the latter spoke, and Solonn knew that whatever was going on behind those red eyes, it probably wasn’t acceptance. Solonn wasn’t fond of the way things were, either, nor was he especially fond of the way Zdir had told him to approach these complications back when he’d first recognized and spoken of them. But ultimately, he had come to understand with and agree to them.
“If it is, it is,” Zdir said, addressing them both and holding the two of them in her gaze as best she could. “We’ll bring Jen here. He’ll be safe. If not… he is, as Solonn has said, safe there, too. Safer than the Virc are in their own homes. We should tend to doing what we can for them first. We mustn’t delay them that help for too much longer, and we mustn’t squander the time and generosity of our new allies.”
“I’m ready anytime,” Quiul said. “Just say the word.”
“Would it be all right if we could bring Zilag’s family here as well?” Solonn asked. “It would in all likelihood be a single trip.”
“Sure,” Quiul answered.
“See if they’re ready to go first,” Zdir instructed Oth.
Oth nodded in its fashion. A couple of minutes passed, during which a couple of the groups of gathered pokémon began conversing among themselves; then, <They are.>
“Very well,” Zdir said, and nodded toward Quiul.
The mercirance made beckoning gestures toward all those who had spoken on the matter of retrieving Zilag’s family and Jen. Only Solonn and Oth moved toward her, however.
“I… think I ought to stay here,” Grosh said, though he sounded somewhat regretful about it. “Jen’s obviously been through a lot since he was taken, and even though he knows about me, it might be a good idea for you to let him know well in advance that I’m gonna be here before he sees me. And… I don’t need to be in Virc-Dho again. Not even briefly.”
Solonn almost tried to reassure him on the first point, at least, but decided against it just as quickly. It made sense, he realized, especially if, gods forbid, Jen’s memories still hadn’t been restored and he had to learn about the massive steel-type all over again. As for the second point, he didn’t even think of arguing against it. Grosh would probably never be safe in Virc-Dho after what had happened, nor would he likely ever be comfortable there again.
“I’m going to stay behind, as well,” Zdir said. “There are a few things I wish to discuss with Valdrey; I might as well get to them.”
“I guess everyone’s ready, then,” Quiul said. “I assume at least one of you has been to the places we need to go?”
<Yes,> Oth answered. <I will transfer the memories to you at once if you wish.>
“Please do,” Quiul said.
As soon as the memories were transferred, “We’ll see you all later, then,” Quiul said, and then teleported away, taking Solonn and Oth with her.
* * *