A half-feral luxio finds the body of a clay pokémon buried under a tree. It's wearing an ancient mail satchel.
A cute story about an expedited same-century delivery.
This oneshot was originally written in 2018, and was the first piece of writing to ever feature Brisa Escarpa. It has since been revised to better reflect lore and characterisation developed in the Blacklight Eternal rp campaign of 2020/21, and I'm very proud of it.
Many thanks to @Dragonfree for her excellent beta reading.
Partial art credit to @Chibi Pika for Brisa's lineart, and credit to my dear friend Hap for the stinger pic at the end.
Mud clung to her paws, wet grass dampened her belly, and petrichor assaulted her nose with every breath. Morning patrols were an essential routine but at times like these, Brisa envied bipeds. Being a mountain luxio was a fine thing, but she seemed to spend half her life wishing she had her forepaws free and not stepping in muck. It had always bugged her that Ma never could relate.
Brisa intended her post-storm patrol to scout the ravine near her home, checking for changes in the terrain, opportunistic intruders or hapless wanderers, anything at all of note. There was always something to know, even just that all remained well. It paid to be vigilant. The skies had cleared and the winds subsided from their recent gale-force to their usual petty boisterousness, but the storm had left its mark on Brisa’s territory. Parts of her house needed repair, her scent-marks would need renewing, and her water filter had finally given out.
She’d contend with all that later, though. The ravine came first because the ravine held the most danger for passers-through, and her duty was to them. Now that she could see the fissure in the earth, though, she noticed that the peculiar, solitary berry tree on the ravine’s edge had finally begun tipping over. No other trees could be found for a couple miles out – something about the local soil permitted only scrub, grass and bushes to grow upon it. Brisa often used it for shade when on patrol. This had been coming for a while; each storm eroded just a little bit more of the ground beneath it. At last, its fate drew near. Sooner than later, it would topple down the sheer slope, knock a few sun-burnished stones down with it, and crash in the clear river-water at the bottom. As she approached for a closer look, Brisa noticed something glinting between the exposed roots.
She leaned close to the tangle and, yes, there was definitely an object stuck inside. It was difficult to make out exactly what, under so much damp earth, but the exposed part gently reflected the morning sunlight. Brisa put her paw to it and pressed; it didn’t budge. Most of its mass was presumably still buried. She tapped it experimentally with a claw, and it gave a dull clink, much like a ceramic pot. It could easily be artificial. Maybe even a dungeon relic.
There was no time like the present, and Brisa had precisely zero interest in letting someone beat her to the dig. She shook off her satchel bag and found her protective gear, rope, and other tools. Trowel. Brush. Handsaw. She laid everything out and selected fresh cloth wraps for her paws, not that she needed the protection. Townsfolk could whisper their comments to one another about Brisa being ‘half-feral’ all they liked, but her tools, expertise, and dexterous paws proved she was like them in every way that counted. She was civilised, damn it, no matter how many nights she spent alone under the stars.
She began to clear away rocks and earth, and soon found an efficient rhythm. It was soggy, dirty work, but nobody had ever died from getting their forepaws muddy. Ugh, she sounded like her goddamn pa. Aphorisms aside, she could tolerate the discomfort for the sake of her prize. Her next task was to cut away obtrusive tree roots. Then came lifting up the larger rocks. A few sore muscles and some red cuts to her paws later, and she’d uncovered the upper surface. She wiped off the muck with a small towel to inspect her handiwork.
The early light fell upon a blocky slab etched with some kind of symbol – the thing that had glinted in the sun. Ancient leather straps fastened it to a central bulk of some kind. A solid, uneven spheroid, slate-grey in colour. Careful prodding of the surrounding earth with a spiked metal peg revealed five connected masses, still buried. After clearing the ground a little further, one of those masses turned out to be a stubby arm ending in a clenched fist. Brisa levered it up, concern growing in her chest. The fist’s jointed digits were fully articulated. Not a statue, then. Not exactly a relic. More likely: a pokémon. Maybe a rock-type?
A dead rock-type.
She stared, the seed of concern blooming into a forest of dread. Dead bodies were an unusual discovery for Brisa, but they usually had the decency to be made of real flesh and bone, and her heart reminded her of this by drumming in her skull as she resumed clearing debris from the – crust? shell? – of the... the thing. How long had it been here? Surely what she’d found had lain buried for at least the age of the tree. The roots formed a kind of cocoon – or cage – for the body. That would have taken decades. If it was a pokémon, it was almost certainly a corpse, and she was digging up a grave.
The thought made her stomach clench, but what was done was done, and she hadn't realised the possibility until it had already been well-disturbed by the storm. Besides, if she didn't retrieve it now, it would soon inevitably tumble into the ravine along with the tree, come the next strong wind. So she kept working. Another arm emerged, then an equally stubby leg.
What was that symbol, anyway? That could be a clue. Brisa scoured the ancient filth that lay beneath with a rough cloth. A long crack ran across the surface of the ‘body’, long-since filled with soil. She couldn’t help but growl as she worked. Despite the trappings of archaeological excavation, she felt more like a mortician. She tried to flatten her hackles. Ridiculous. It wasn’t even flesh and bone!
Flakes of ancient paint clung to the grooves, barely detectable beneath the grime. The fully uncovered symbol consisted of undulating curves. Nothing like paw runes, trail scratch, or even unown glyphs. Did it represent waves? Wind? A question for later, perhaps.
Eventually, her shoulders aching and her paws cold and bloodied, she unearthed the final limb and the squat, lumpy head. Two empty, irregularly carved eye sockets. A faceplate with not so much as a mouth, let alone anything else. Its construction looked slap-dash, made in haste or by an amateur. At least now it could be taken out of its pit. Right. Ropes, spiked pegs, the principles of leverage, and some physical effort: there was little you couldn’t achieve with that. Brisa heaved the lifeless creature up and out of its grave without too much trouble. With the absent ceramic weight no longer keeping it anchored, the tree lost yet more grip and lurched again, dangling into the ravine with only the bravest, deepest roots holding it up. There would be no more shade on hot days for Brisa.
She placed an inquisitive paw on the inert body.
"What kind of being were you?" she asked aloud, half-expecting a reaction.
Brisa ended up making a trip home to fetch a harness and trolley. It didn't take long for a luxio in excellent health with a loping gait. With new equipment, she was able to pull her discovery away with little difficulty. Sure, she could have bought a favour from a larger pokémon in town, and it was unlikely that anyone would steal her hundred-kilo ‘treasure’ in the meantime, but she took pride in doing a job wholly by herself. Even if her hunter's body wasn’t made for hauling.
She avoided the shortest route, since that would risk meeting early risers heading across the outskirts. Instead, she took a circuitous route that would put her in town right near the junkshop. After all, if anyone could tell her what this thing really was, it would be the sketchy old spider who ran it. She passed the western ridge, eyeing with distaste the rooftops of those absurdly characterful buildings which urban pokémon liked to construct. Such vanity. What sane person built a shop that looked like their own head? It was bad enough to build cities in the first place.
Soon enough, she was at the south side of Frontier Town, where the ‘specialist’ merchants made their living. The noise of the town centre irritated her even from here. She turned a corner and found her way to Al's Odds 'n' Ends, a certifiable shack with blue and yellow awnings over the shopfront threaded to resemble galvantula legs. She could make out the workshop behind the front counter, filled with tools, scrap, gadgets and other nonsense befitting an ‘inventor’.
"Alejandro," she called out, "you in today?"
Al’s arachnoid head and forelegs poked out of the shopfront, upside-down from the shop’s ceiling. "What'd'ya need, youngster?" he rasped back, pedipalps quivering. He enjoyed remaining upside-down to ‘increase blood-flow to the brain’, an off-putting habit to most ‘mon. Brisa wasn’t bothered. She made sure she didn’t look bothered by licking down her raised hackles.
"I might’ve got somethin’ for ya," she said, unfastening her discovery and rolling it over with her muzzle.
Al dropped to the ground and climbed over his counter to examine the thing. He prodded at it carefully with his pedipalps and gently brushed dirt from its surface. Brisa watched wordlessly as he worked, trying to glean a hint of recognition in the galvantula’s several eyes.
"Looks like a golett t’me," he said at last, in his breathy, ear-scraping spider-voice. "’S’a living being like you or me, though this one looks like it passed on long ago. Who’s t’say? I’ve never seen a pokémon like this up close, after all."
Brisa rolled her head to one side and regarded the golett again, this time as an expertly-confirmed corpse. ‘Golett’. Not a word she knew. It sounded earthy. Diminutive. Maybe this was a pokémon meant to evolve into something much larger. Maybe it was rare.
"So... d’you want it?" she asked.
"Alejandro, I'm tryin’ t’sell you this thing."
"A trade? Hrrm."
Al always took a great deal more time than necessary to consider trades. Brisa had always wondered if this was just for show, but interrupting him invariably led to a refusal to deal, so she waited, shifting her weight impatiently from paw to paw.
"I guess so," he concluded, tapping the golett's body. "I kinda want to see if I can get the darned thing up ‘n’ at it again. Golett are ghost-types, you never know when scoundrels like that are gonna spring to life ‘n’ surprise you. But it's as likely as anything to wander off afterwards, so I can’t be certain it’ll be of any value. Still, it’ll be interesting! Say, Brisa, I'll give you a doohickey for it."
"I'll take a new water filter, if’n y’please. Mine broke in the damn storm."
Al consented to this trade; Brisa left his shop with the part in her satchel. Only once she got home and thumped it into place did she wonder if she'd see the golett again, and what it might think of her for selling it, should it wake.
Brisa paced off like the town’s air itself was out to get her. She always did.
Al took no offence; anyone who paid him proper for his goods and services was worth forgiving a few quirks, even a clan ‘mon like her. He had quirks of his own, after all. He absentmindedly put a thin roll-up between his palps and lit it with a spark of electricity from his foot-tip fur. Then he put it to his left breathing slit, near the front of his abdomen, and let his lungs work. A terrible habit, but good for soothing the nerves. Mammals gave him funny looks if he did it in their company, so he was always ready to shove his smokes in his mouth if a customer walked by, even though he couldn’t mouth-breathe. Somehow, it just bothered ‘em less. That was mammals for you.
He looked at the golett from every angle. Sure wasn’t showing any signs of life now, but that could change. Certain pokémon could live thousands of years, so who knew? But if a critter wanted waking up, a critter needed the right stimulus. What did a golett need to come back from a slumber like this, if there was still a spark left in there? Maybe some bookish feller in the Guild would have some old tome with the answers. Or maybe Al’s ol’ reliable electrical shock was worth a try. It couldn’t hurt! He rolled the golett indoors, wheezing through his abdominal slits. He was getting old. Now to see if a boost would revive the little guy.
Al rubbed his legs together until they sparked.
Well, maybe it could hurt, actually. The golett for one – he wasn’t sure if they were ground-types or not – but also himself if it had some fancy energy redirection ability. Probably not. But maybe. To hell with it, it was worth a shot all the same! Zap!
This new environment was unexpected for Gil. They had lost consciousness near the river, far from any settlement, yet this was an indoor location. A pokémon was tending to them, though not a species they recognised. Possibly a medic? Gil peered at their caretaker. Squat body, bristly fur, arthropod limbs, multiple eyes: an arachnid. His energy signature was type seven – ‘bug’ – which would seem to match up well. There was something else in the signature, too, maybe type five, ‘electr—
The spider's ‘fur’ lit up and jolted Gil with a powerful surge of electrical energy. They sat straight up as their vision spun out of focus and their head crackled. When the shock ended, they could detect smoke caused by light singing on their straps. Oh dear, yes. An electric type for certain, and apparently defending itself from them.
"Do not be alarmed!" recited Gil. "I am a courier golett and I mean you no harm!"
The standard greeting rarely failed.
"Oh, begging your pardon!" replied the spider. It was an odd sound, like a sharp whisper. "I'm Alejandro, but you can call me ‘Al’. I was just testing a theory o’ mine that you'd wake up with the right... stimulus. My apologies if I hurt you at all, feller!"
Al made a pacifying gesture with his pedipalps. He seemed sincere.
“I am Gil! It is a pleasure to meet you, Mister Al. Do not worry, I am hurt very little by electric type attacks, especially when inactive. You have done me no harm.”
There was a silence lasting several seconds before Al replied.
“Well, you’re an odd critter, ain’t’cha?”
“Yes, sir,” said Gil. They patted around for their satchel. Gone. “Excuse me, sir, but are you the one who brought me here?”
“Huh, no. That’d be Luxio Brisa. She dug you up from a hole in the ground a ways nor’east o’ here. She didn’t find any belongings with you if that’s what you’re fussin’ about. ”
“Thank you, sir. Still, I would like to thank Ms Brisa for her role in reviving me.”
“Ah, you can find her west o’ town, not far from the ravine. Don’t worry, she’ll find you soon enough if you hang out around there!”
Gil considered this.
“I shall do this once my task is complete, Mister Al. My purpose is to make deliveries, and I wish very much to make no further delay of my priority package. I must take it to the residence of someone in a nearby village, Desert Knot. The intended recipient is one Turtwig Esther. Could you give me directions, sir?"
Al’s expression was unreadable, and Gil didn’t have any training in reading arachnid faces, but something gave them the impression that they’d said something wrong.
“Turtwig Esther, was it?” Al said, eventually.
Gil nodded effusively. “Yes, sir.”
“Not a Torterra Esther?”
Gil shook their head. “No sir.”
Nod. “Yes, sir.”
Al rubbed his pedipalps over his face. Maybe that was like scratching your head thoughtfully for a spider.
“Say, kid… do you remember how you came to be inactive in the first place?”
Wind howled over the hills. Thin scrubland stretched around for miles, the little village of Desert Knot barely visible in the distance. If a storm picked up, it would lift enough sand and dirt to throw a person off any trail. There were no landmarks, not even so much as a tree, save for a ravine ready to swallow lost wanderers with weak vision. This was truly a wretched country. Tamuk wanted to be rid of it, and he would be as soon as he’d collected the funds he needed.
Looking up at him was the courier he’d been expecting. It barely reached his knees.
“Don’t run, messenger,” he growled. “I’ll take your money either way.”
He drew himself up to his full height, letting the shadow of his armour’s spiked pauldrons fall over his pint-sized target. This would be easy however it shook out. Easier if intimidation saved him the trouble of a fight.
“Sir, I am a sworn courier and can make no surrender of any package entrusted to my care,” said the little golem, looking up at Tamuk without a hint of fear. Clearly a fool, the variety of which mattered not.
“Don’t misunderstand me. I want your valuables, and if you won’t give them to me, I’ll beat you senseless without hesitation.”
“You are at liberty to do as much,” came the reply.
“I’m a chesnaught,” tried Tamuk. “Don’t you have any sense of self-preservation?”
“I have a duty, sir.”
Tamuk sighed, raised a gauntlet-clad paw and bludgeoned the golett into the ground with a hammer blow. Grass-type energy collided with a ground-type body. It crumpled to the ground with a wince-inducing crunch, and sunk into the earth several inches, a fresh crack visible on its torso like a wound. It was over before Tamuk had taken a breath.
He plucked the golett’s satchel between two massive digits and pulled, breaking the straps and eliciting some feeble utterances of protest from the owner. Tamuk upended it and shook out the contents. Nothing. Nothing valuable, rather, which was equally disappointing. Just some seeds held in a tiny pouch, a one-page newsletter from the only town for miles, and a few envelopes. None bore a wax seal marking them as significant. He searched them anyway, and found only correspondence between friends and family. Worthless. He hawked and spat on the ground.
“You should have saved me the trouble of wasting my energy,” he growled. “If you had just shown me you weren’t carrying anything valuable, I might have let you be.”
“All messages are valuable,” squeaked the golett, who was even now pushing itself to its feet and charging a tiny, pulsing spark of energy in its fist to fight back. How insulting.
“Not to me,” said Tamuk. Then he hit the golett again.
This time, it didn’t get back up.
“A century ago?”
Gil sounded as if they might cry.
“Aye, lad. Tamuk was a notorious bandit ‘round these parts, extracting a toll from any and all travellers ‘n’ traders. He’s the only chesnaught I ever heard of, he fits your description, and he died before my time. Besides, Desert Knot is what this place was called before the Guild was founded, and that was a generation back.”
“But how can you be sure? Perhaps there’s been some confusion?” pleaded Gil, their voice breaking on half the words they choked out. Their eyes flashed blue and their little hands clenched and unclenched on loop.
Al sighed, shook his palps, and reached for another smoke. He offered Gil one, but they just gravely shook their head. Of course a clay automaton wouldn’t breathe. Darn.
“No, lad. You were found buried under a tree next to a ravine like the one you described, widened by a hundred years o’ weatherin’. You’ll find your Esther alright, but she’s a wizened old torterra now. She placed that order for delivery generations ago, and tha’s a fact. It’s too late now. But look, if there’s anythin’ at all I can do for ya…”
Gil lowered their head and closed their eyes.
“I appreciate your kindness, Mister Al, but I really must be going. I have to make my delivery all the same. I will simply be unforgivably late, and there’s nothing to be done about it. My thanks to you, sir.”
“If that’s the way it is,” said Al, gently. He reached to place a reassuring pat on Gil’s shoulder, but they turned and walked straight out of his shop without a backward glance. What a strange pokémon.
Well, the story was worth the price of a water purifier, he supposed.
She felt her hackles rise before she even spotted the golett jogging along the hillside, little clay feet carrying them at surprising speed. She didn’t bother flattening them. She had, after all, seen a ghost.
She took her time intercepting them, studying them all the while. It was comical, the way they looked around, stopping and posing with one hand shading their eyes and the other outstretched behind them, like a child actor in a stage play. How to approach this resurrected being? She drew closer from behind, and settled on a greeting.
“Good day,” she tried.
“Good day!” The golett’s head spun around to face her, their body following a moment later. Brisa very nearly jumped in fright, but dug her claws into the damp soil instead. Damn the thing.
"Do not be alarmed!" they said. "I am a courier golett and I mean you no harm!"
“I know,” said Brisa, a little more coldly than she’d meant to.
“Ah, you must be Ms Brisa! I am Gil, and it is a pleasure to meet you.”
She nodded. Feeling something more was expected of her, she added “Yeah. I s’pose Alejandro sent you my way?”
“That’s right. I’m here to thank you, and to ask for your help finding my missing package for delivery!”
They couldn’t possibly be serious. Yet, their eager, bright-eyed expression of hope was evident even without a mouth. She tried to tell Gil to get lost, but what came out of her mouth was “Of course, that’d be no trouble at all.”
As Gil thanked her effusively, she padded off in the direction of their onetime grave. With any luck, this was the only favour they’d ask of her.
It wasn’t far, but with Gil’s miniature stride, it took half a lifetime. All the while, they asked her how the town had been renamed, what the Guild was and so on, and she did her best to answer in as few words as possible. It wasn’t like Gil knew many people who could answer their questions about the century they’d missed out on, and they clearly didn’t get the hint that she didn’t care for conversation. Besides, she didn’t have the heart to tell them to keep their mouth shut, if they even had one.
Eventually, it clicked for her what was bothering her about Gil’s spirited interrogation.
“Wouldn’t you rather ask a townie about all this?”
“What’s a townie, Ms Brisa?”
“Just ‘Brisa’ is fine. A townie is someone who lives in, y’know. The town? Like a civilised pokémon.”
Gil shook their head. “Where I came from, nobody lived packed that closely together. It’s too noisy in such places for me to think. It’s much better to be around one person at a time, then I don’t have to concentrate so hard.”
Brisa considered this.
“No, miss. I mean no, sir! I see no reason why civilisation should mean living in a town. The clan nomads certainly don’t need towns, after all.”
They continued. “I myself have a modest home in Little Scriven, many days’ travel from here. It is only small, but it serves my needs well.” Gil put a finger to their faceplate, and narrowed their eyes thoughtfully. “Of course, it might no longer be there, when I return.” Their shoulders sagged as soon as they uttered the words.
Oh. Brisa wasn’t any good at this. Nothing she thought of to comfort them seemed appropriate. Instead, she said “Can y’see up on that crest? That’s the spot.”
She described her discovery of their body and her recovery efforts, which seemed to distract Gil from thinking about what their home would look like after a century of abandonment. They were an attentive listener. Brisa couldn’t remember being listened to like this before by another ‘mon. It wasn’t unpleasant.
When they got to the dig site, Gil pottered around, examining it from every angle, even clambering into it and patting around as if they would find something Brisa hadn’t. She waited soundlessly from the rim of the grave. It was disturbing, seeing Gil where they had been a corpse only earlier that day, but now animate and purposeful.
“There’s nothing here!” they cried.
They climbed out, and gazed around at the landscape. “Brisa, sir, how can I know without a doubt that this is the same spot where Tamuk the chesnaught physically assaulted me?”
“Ravine,” she said, flatly. “Erodes with every year. That long ago, it would’ve been much narrower, and further in that direction.”
She gestured with a paw towards the drop in the earth.
“Oh,” said Gil.
Recognition dawned in their ghostly green eyes.
“Oh, and Desert Knot… was that way. It’s Frontier Town now.”
“Yeah. Didn’t Alejandro tell you?”
“Mister Al told me, I just… preferred to believe otherwise.”
Gil sat down on the edge of their grave, and looked as if they might fall backwards into it at any moment. Brisa positioned herself to catch them. They tore up a handful of grass and rubbed it between their fingers.
“It was very nearly barren here, when I first arrived,” they said. “Which means it really has been a lifetime. My letters must all have decomposed, of course. I’ll never be able to deliver those. And the seeds…”
They turned and looked at the tree.
“That’s my package,” said Gil, firmly. “Please help me dig it up.”
Gil began before Brisa could reply, trying desperately to uproot a tree much larger than themself. They grunted and strained, their fists glowing as they summoned paltry elemental energy to lift their ‘package’. Brisa hesitated, but joined in anyway. She had a strength that Gil did not. She ought to help. The final roots snapped or tore loose, and they hefted the tree overhead. They were triumphant for only a moment. Then they lost their footing, wobbled, and fell heavily onto the far side of the crater. The tree slipped from their grasp, and tumbled over the edge.
There were sounds of crashing branches and whooshing leaves from the ravine.
“Gods, what a fuck-up,” said Brisa. She instantly regretted it.
“It was an accident,” said Gil, very quietly.
Brisa looked away from them, down towards the township.
“It don’t matter. It’s just a tree. The ‘mon those seeds were meant fer is either dead or ain’t expectin’ their package anyway. It’s fine.”
Gil shook their head mutely.
“It’s fine,” repeated Brisa. “Don’t get upset about it, this ain’t important no more. It all happened a century ago!”
Gil thumped the ground, not getting up from their knees.
“It is important!” they said, barely raising their voice even now. “It’s my life! That was the only thing left from it! My home, my friends, even my colleagues will all be gone now. I don’t know what happened to them, or if they looked for me when I went missing… I don’t even know if Little Scriven exists any more. The whole country is different now, from every patch of soil to every person in it. This was…”
They paused to wring their ceramic hands.
“This was going to be the one delivery I could make. If I could only deliver my priority package, it would have been the smallest bit worth it. Now I’ve messed it up, and even the tree is gone. I can’t get it back alone. I have nothing left, and I may as well still be buried in the ground!”
Brisa bit her tongue. Why did she always say the wrong thing?
Gil wasn’t moving. Say something, Brisa.
“Uh, you’re sure there’s someone to deliver it to? ‘Cause it might’ve survived the fall, y’know.”
“Yes, Mister Al says Esther still lives here,” said Gil. “It would go to next-of-kin should she have passed away, or to the local government if there was no will to execute. I do not know how I might recover it, especially if the river has carried it away, but I must try to make the delivery all the same. There is nobody else who would carry out my duty.”
Duty, huh? Brisa frowned, looking down at her forepaws, still bandaged from her excavation. It was duty that kept her patrolling the county borders, looking out for travellers in need of aid, or outlaws in need of an electrified blow to the jaw. Frontier Town hadn’t had a sworn sheriff in years, only Brisa. There was nobody else.
“You really ain’t gonna let this one go, huh?” she asked, distantly.
“No, miss. Not when someone could be depending on me. No matter how difficult the task ahead may seem.”
Brisa swore under her breath. She could still walk away.
“I reckon it could still be salvageable, with the right tools,” she mused. “And if’n ya know a safe way down.”
Gil looked up, hopeful.
Brisa sighed, and said those words she never could hold back.
“I’ll help you.”
Gil’s turquoise eyes widened in surprise and silent gratitude, and Brisa had to look away. She’d accept thanks when the job was done.
Brisa had the agility to bound from the precipice to water level. Gil needed her to sink some pegs into the ground and run a rope down from above to cling to. Gil descended the sheer slope according to Brisa’s guidance, gripping the rope hand over hand, avoiding loose scree and listening to Brisa call out firm footholds. As it turned out, the fall had been merciful to the tree. It had merely rolled for most of the descent before it hit the river, then been carried downstream until it came to rest against a jutting rock. Besides some snapped branches and a coating of silt, it remained intact.
Once they’d located the ‘package’, Brisa directed Gil in assembling a raft from riverside trees and the last of her rope, and they carried out the task with brisk efficiency. The river passed through Frontier Town further downstream, Brisa explained, and after strapping the tree down they could transport it straight into town, with her walking along one riverbank and Gil on the other, each clutching a rope to guide it along. Brisa couldn’t talk with rope between her teeth, so she listened to Gil’s recollections of a century ago with weary patience. By the time they exited the ravine and were heading along the eastern bends – from which the view of the area’s golden plains and the distant mountains beyond was truly peerless – Gil’s babbling had become somehow soothing, and she was almost sorry to hear it stop when they finally reached town.
Frontier Town. Brisa’s unofficial jurisdiction. Not that she spent any appreciable amount of time there, amongst its fully-clothed artisans and bureaucrats and business ‘mon. She eyed the multi-storey stone-and-timber buildings with distrust.
They found Esther’s house by means of Brisa interrogating passers-by, keen to avoid anyone taking too great an interest in Gil, who would surely be only too happy to tell their life story to anyone who asked. They soon learnt that the torterra kept a riverfront property near the edge of town, barely any distance at all from them. It was a bungalow with well-kept flower baskets and a broad garden patio along the riverside. To Brisa’s great relief, they’d be able to get the tree directly from the river onto Esther’s property. Brisa hadn’t come up with a real plan for transporting a fully-grown tree through the main thoroughfare. She might have even had to ask someone for help.
Gil stood at the doorstep, their fist raised to knock on the (frankly enormous) double doors. They were motionless, a miniature figure against the height and breadth of an entrance meant for a torterra.
“Somethin’ wrong, partner?” called Brisa from the riverbank, the raft’s ropes secured beneath her paws.
“What if she’s mad at me?” replied Gil, turning to look over their shoulder. “What if she doesn’t want the package?”
Brisa closed her eyes to avoid visibly rolling them. “What if she ain’t mad, what if she does want it?”
“Fuckin’ knock, already!”
Gil knocked once, very quietly. Then they rapped the door a few times, much harder. They waited.
“Maybe she’s not home?”
Brisa growled under her breath. “She’s older’n the town itself and the size of a building. Have some patience.”
Gil nodded and stood demurely in stoic silence.
At length, the left-hand door creaked open and a craggy, beaked head poked out.
“Who’s there?” asked Esther, in a voice with enough bass that Brisa felt it in her bones.
"Do not be alarmed," said Gil, haltingly. "I am Gil the courier, and I have a package for you!"
“Oh? I’m not expecting any deliveries,” murmured Esther, nudging the other door open with her massive flank. Someone could build a house on that back. Presently, there was only an unassuming rock garden and some small shrubs atop her shell.
“I’m terribly sorry for the delay,” said Gil, their voice starting to quake, “but this package comes… ninety-seven years late. It used to be a pouch containing several seeds but as you can see…”
They stepped to one side and gestured to Brisa, the raft, and the tree.
“I’m afraid it’s been… altered in transit. It’s a tree now. That tree. Um.”
They clasped their hands together in a silent plea for forgiveness.
Esther’s brow furrowed for several seconds. Then her beak widened in a grin. Then she laughed.
“Oh my!” she cried. “It’s a perrin berry tree! How marvellous. I sent for a perrin seed delivery when I was just a little one! Oh my.”
She plodded down from her house to the riverbank, still grinning, murmuring “simply marvellous,” and “bless the day.”
Brisa offered Esther the ropes, somewhat awkwardly. After a minute’s subdued inquiry from the torterra, she agreed to cut the tree free from the raft. Esther herself lowered her considerable mass into the river. With a bit of creative shoving from the luxio and golett pair, the tree was levered onto Esther’s back, whereupon the tree’s roots and the shell beneath Esther’s mobile shrubbery began first to glow, then fuse together. Soon enough, the tree joined firmly to her body, growing quite happily on one flank of the shell-top garden.
Gil clasped their hands together again. “Is everything suitable?” they asked.
Esther turned to give an indulgent smile. “This is ever such a lovely tree,” she said, in a soft rumble. “My great aunt used to grow one when I was just a hatchling. The berries were a real treat; I’ve wanted to cultivate one ever since.”
“You don’t seem disappointed by the wait, Ma’am,” ventured Gil.
“Certainly not!” she boomed, climbing steadily out of the river. “I’m very grateful to you. They take ever such a long time to mature, you know, and they’re dashedly prone to withering when young. It must have found the perfect spot to grow. Remarkable. Thank you so much, little one. I’ll be able to have the grandchildren round and share some with them in the spring…”
As Esther headed back up to her house, water pouring off her shell, Gil slowly sat down on the paved part of riverbank. A moment passed in which they seemed fixated on nothing whatsoever. For the first time since their stint in a coma, they were still.
“You doin’ okay there, pal?” asked Brisa.
“Yes, sir. I’m glad the delivery turned out alright. Only, I’m not sure what to do next.”
Brisa put out a paw and patted their shoulder. Her claws clinked gently on their clay.
“You can do what you like, Gil. But if y’don’t care fer the noise of the town, and you wanna stick around awhile…”
“I got a spare room fer emergencies. It’s yours. If you need it.”
“Oh! Thank you, many many thanks! I’ll do chores, I’ll take messages, I’ll—!”
“Woah, there. It’s okay. I jus’ reckon you deserve a second chance at… livin’ a life.”
Brisa shook herself dry, spattering the patio with river drops, and loped off towards home. She looked back at Gil, who still had a hand to their faceplate in apparent embarrassment.
“You comin’?” she called.
“Yes, Brisa!” Gil nodded fervently and jogged after her.
Brisa huffed, but allowed herself the slightest grin.
“Let’s go home.”