Chapter 1: Cold Open
the gay agenda
From the Vast
In a remote corner of Unova, a village of Pokémon hides from the omnipresent humanity and the barbarity it brings with itself, flourishing through cooperation and rising above the uncaring brutality of the natural order. Which works remarkably well...
...until a half dead human shows up on their doorstep.
Will this hidden pocket of Pokémon civilization remain a secret once other humans come looking? Are its denizens prepared to learn just who exactly this unwelcome stranger is and how much of an impact they've already left on their village, and act accordingly?
Drama-focused mystery thriller with a heavy focus on humanity being "the other", trauma, and trust.
Tags: Hurt/Comfort, Mystery, Thriller, Humans as "the other"
Content Warnings: Child Abuse, occasional Gore
Cover art by the wonderful @anthrodyniacoms on Twitter!
Chapter 1: Cold Open
“There is a human at the clinic.”
The unthinkable fact reverberated through the gathered minds as the gentle glow of the earliest dawn filled the clinic’s tiny side chamber.
Everything that needed to be said had already been exchanged, leaving the three figures shrouded in expectant silence as they awaited the last person they were waiting for. The only sounds piercing through the quiet were an occasional held-in yawn from the pair of diurnal scouts, and the bustle in the room beside theirs.
Bustle of their medics tending to the sole reason behind all this commotion.
Even if most present wished they had gotten another hour of sleep instead—or four—they all agreed that said reason was… important enough to warrant being here. Even if begrudgingly.
If only Aria could finally show up to let them discuss the mess that they were in—
“^Apologies for the delay. I had a hard time putting Bell back to sleep, but I’m here now. Anyone care to fill me in beyond ‘oh no, human’?^”
The crystal-clear words filled the minds of everyone gathered as a pale, tall figure stepped into the room. Her dimly glowing, red eyes immediately squinted as they tried to make out a large object in the corner. Before she could work out what the item was, another voice finally responded.
“So far, there’s not much beyond that, really. Sprout found it crashed and dying in the ravine east of the village, and carried it over here. Then she woke us up while the medics got to work to watch over it, and went back to clean all the blood up.” - Lumi spoke up with quiet, rough woofs, his black fur arcing as he picked himself up from the carpeted floor.
“^The ravine? Isn’t it ways off their path? Rather close, considering.^”
“That’s what we ended up at, yes. Though, even if they had been spying on us, Sprout would’ve found them in that spot, eventually. And in that case, they probably wouldn’t have just fallen like that.” - The faint golden sparkle on Ruby’s forehead was the only sign of her being there, the rest of the Weavile entirely obscured in the shadow.
“Perhaps their contraption malfunctioned on them. That possibility does not explain their presence there in the first place, however.” - The loud, harsh voice was no easier to overlook than its source. Ori’s towering exoskeleton of red metal stuck out from its surroundings as he investigated the nondescript object in the far corner.
It was very narrow and split between metal for its center, and an unknown black material for the pair of attached wheels and a T-shaped segment at the front. Aria’s attempt to figure out its purpose failed so utterly it threatened to give her a headache.
Since it had wheels, it might have been meant for carrying objects? With how little room it had to carry anything, that sounded very unlikely. Whatever that human had used it for, its front wheel now being bent at a harsh angle rendered it unusable.
At least the object beside the metal contraption was much more self-explanatory. A colorful, closed bag with a pair of straps on it, obviously meant for carrying items.
“^No, it doesn’t indeed. Hopefully Sprout has enough experience with human watching to know what... this is, and help us figure out a plan for this mess.^”
“Plan? Not sure what there is to plan Aria, at least beyond ‘we help it not die in here and then dump it off back at the human village’.” - Lumi said dismissively, flicking his paw off to the side.
“What if another human comes searching for them? What if they had found what they were looking for before falling down the ravine, and we’re at risk of our cover being blown now? What if they wake up and start fighting?” - Ruby cut back in, eyeing the Luxray down.
“Are you implying that all of us couldn’t take on a single half-dead human without all its silly objects?”
“Hopefully not. Either way, we have to know why they were there before deciding what to do with them next.”
As the tall psychic kept trying to make sense of the damaged contraption, she felt attention being drawn back to her. She groaned inwardly at being expected to dig into the subconscious of a human, of all things. Her coworkers were right, though. There wasn’t much else they could do right now.
“^I can take a look once the medics are done with them. How long have they been tending to them?^”
“Couple hours, give or take. Their injuries must be nasty; the crash site had blood all over. Covered it all before any wilding could get too good of a sniff, thankfully.” - Ruby shuddered as she spoke, the gruesome scene still fresh in her memory.
“I don’t get it. Why move it here in the first place? Why not have human medics deal with their own injured and save us this mess?” - The annoyance in Lumi’s voice grew with each word.
“Sprout wasn’t sure whether they’d survive long enough for her to carry them to the human town. Better to have a bit more of a hassle on our paws than condemn someone possibly innocent to death, don’t you think, Lumi? Besides, as I said, we don’t yet know what they had seen. Better to be safe on that front as well.” - Ruby shot him right down, eyes narrowing ever more at his complaints. The Luxray sighed before relenting and laying back down on the cold floor.
“What if they indeed had seen too much. What is your contingency for that outcome, Ruby?” - Ori’s question wasn’t intended as a gotcha. Merely, it was the tallest, most metal speaker in the room wanting everyone to be on the same page.
“Well—” - The Weavile looked up at the green-haired psychic as she stepped out of the shadows - “—from what I know, targeted memory removal is an option. And we’re certainly not lacking in skilled psychics.”
“^I appreciate the flattery, but it won’t make what you’re describing any less difficult. Or messy. Not that I won’t try my best should the worst come to it. But it’s something that can go wrong in more ways than one, and I don’t even want to consider it until we’re absolutely sure it’s necessary.^”
“But it’s always an option, got it. Hopefully, we won’t need it. Either way, let’s not preemptively antagonize them any more than we need to. They’ve already been through a lot.”
Everyone nodded with various levels of reluctance. Nobody looked forward to having to deal with a human, even if an incapacitated one, but they understood that fate didn’t leave them with any other choice.
Or at least, any other choice that wouldn’t make them worse than the very beings they were hiding from.
As the sun rose further, pushing through the snowy, white sky, the commotion in the human’s room gradually died down. Eventually, Aria walked over to take a peek, the sight hard to make anything out of.
Most of the human either laid under a thick blanket, or was covered in bandages. Their left arm was entirely enveloped in a bulky, blocky cast, and under the effects of paralytic venoms to numb the pain. The only part that was clearly visible was their head, remarkable in how unremarkable it was. Pale skin, two small eyes, a mouth, a pointy, comically shaped nose, a pair of ears. A decent bit of long, brown hair.
And maybe, in some other world, in some other time, they might have very well been.
“^How are they doing?^” - Aria cautiously approached the human’s bed as she addressed the Leavanny reinforcing their cast.
“About as well as possible for someone with their injuries. Their left arm was shattered, must’ve landed on it. Took a while to put the bones back into place. Plenty of bruising and trauma elsewhere as well. The recovery won’t be quick. Though, judging by some of their scars, it’s hardly their first scuffle.”
As if Aria needed even more reasons to dread all this.
“^What do you mean?^”
“Wish I had a better idea of what I was looking at myself. A few burn scars like I’ve never seen before. All the same size, small and rounded. Signs of past bone bruising.” - Maple wrapped up her work with a light pat before pulling the blanket over the human’s arm.
Aria didn’t want to think about what all that implied.
She just hoped they would figure out how to move this human back to their world before they woke up and started making trouble. With the Leavanny’s words in mind, the idea of digging into their unconscious suddenly became even less attractive.
“^Thank you for your work, Maple. Hopefully, you won’t have to put any more effort into them before we hand them over to their own medics to deal with.^”
“Eh, unsure how much they’re ready to be carried, unless you’re intending to hover them all the way over there yourself. Too much pressure on the injuries and they’re likely to reopen. Human or not, I do not appreciate my effort being wasted.”
Aria nodded, acknowledging the Leavanny’s concern. She spared one last glance at the bedful of trouble on their hands and paws before heading back to the other room, interrupting the idle chatter by speaking up.
“^So, turns out our... ‘guest’ might be something of a troublemaker. Have you all had a sweep through their things to make sure there’s nothing dangerous in there?^”
The other three glanced at each other before slowly shaking their heads. Nobody was exactly eager to go digging through human creations, the horror tales of what they were capable of far from alien to them.
Aria didn’t even have to inspect their thoughts to realize that the expectation was being silently placed on her. After all, why should anyone have to physically touch it if she could handle it all at a safe distance?
Which—yeah, they were right.
The realization didn’t make her eyes roll any less as they lit up, surrounding the beg in a bright blue shimmer. As the Gardevoir moved the bag to the opposite corner of the room, Lumi and Ruby scooted over towards her, giving the potential threat as wide of a berth as they could. All the while, Ori remained focused, bracing himself to Protect them all should the need arise.
Before they could investigate any further, though, the group of scouts ran into a… conundrum.
“^Does—does anyone know how to open this thing?^”
At a closer inspection, the bag did not appear to have any visible openings. The fabric was connected to what looked like a metal seam, but was otherwise uninterrupted.
Humans were dedicated to making sure nothing they ever did or created made sense, weren’t they?
“Wait, maybe there’s... no, no wait, how’s this thing even work?” - Ruby was no less confounded after her own attempt to investigate the one object they all expected to be relatively self explanatory.
As the scouts were about to start arguing about how this ‘bag’ even worked, the shuffling behind them caught the attention of the two that weren’t busy either holding up a potential danger or safeguarding against it. They turned around to see the one who’d found the human in the first place step in, her exhaustion mixing with bafflement at the scene in front of her.
“What... are you all doing?”
“^Trying to see if the human was carrying anything dangerous with themselves without getting ourselves killed.^” - Aria responded without budging her vise-like mental grip on the hovering bag.
“In the immediate moment, attempting to open this bag they had brought.” - Ori looked flatly at the Decidueye, hoping she might crack the mystery of the human’s hole-less bag.
Sprout let out a tired, drawn-out sigh as she buried her face in her wing. After getting that out of her system, she stepped forward and grabbed one of the small dangling bits at the end of the largest metal seam before giving it a solid yank. Before anyone could react, the seam came undone, showing off the bag’s insides.
“That’s how ya do it. And that’s not how... these work, nothing’s gonna blow up in your faces, heh. Besides, I really doubt this human was carrying anything dangerous with them. How are they doing, by the way?”
Aria could only blink, dumbfounded at Sprout’s apparent recklessness as she lowered the bag down closer to the floor.
“^The medics finished patching the human up for now. I’ve heard them mention they found some scars of past fighting on their body, so if anything, I’d be even more suspicious of them. What makes you so doubtful, Sprout?^”
The news woke the owl up from her morning exhaustion, sleepy expression turning concerned as she looked back at the psychic.
“I certainly wouldn’t expect a child to have anything too dangerous on themselves, Aria dear. Or to be the aggressor in any fighting they might have been a part of.”
The bag landed on the carpeted floor with a faint thud as everyone stared at the owl in astonishment. Her revelation painted every single detail in a whole new light—a much more unsettling one.
“S-Sprout, are you sure of that? What if it’s j-just a small one—”
“I sure haven’t seen a grown human this tiny in all my time scouting, Lumi. Adults are easily my height if not taller, and this lil’ one would fit snugly under my wing.” - The owl lifted the brown limb up for emphasis, accentuating the size difference.
As much as the Luxray was unsettled by the news, his yellow, piercing eyes staring with unease at the sleeping human behind a nearby wall, the Weavile was deep in thought. Her sharp claws rhythmically tapped against the damaged contraption’s metal frame before she spoke up, asking for clarification.
“Humans are diurnal, correct?”
Sprout answered with a nod and a chuckle. Being nocturnal teaches one to not assume on that front, after all.
“A diurnal child getting into a lethal accident, on their own, at night, away from their settlement... something’s off about all this.”
It was hard to disagree with Ruby’s assessment, even if the conclusions the scouts’ minds went to couldn’t be further apart. They ranged from assessing the situation as a deliberate subterfuge, knowing that a child in distress would be helped and taken in no matter what... somehow, to an even more disturbing possibility of said child having tried to run away from a danger that had already claimed its family.
...the latter more so than the former.
“Undoubtedly. With any luck, an inspection of this bag’s contents will let us establish what led them here.” - Ori’s voice gained the smallest hint of excitement. The Scizor was just about ready to go inspect all the mysterious items by himself, if needed.
“I hope you’re not seriously considering the idea that this is all some nefarious action, Ori.”
“Certainly not Sprout. That sounds... incredibly foolish. Disregarding that, I still think we can glean much from the items they have brought with themselves.”
With everyone else nodding and Lumi innocently looking away from the rest of the party, their attention once more shifted to the inert bag. Its open seam was enveloped in a bright aura before being parted wider. The entire bag was then lifted and flipped upside down, pouring all its contents.
Which, to everyone’s relief, featured an absence of those round, wretched things.
And a marked presence of... a whole lot of cloth.
Which, at a closer inspection—namely, Ori walking a couple steps closer and picking the topmost item up—turned out to be clothing. It was obviously tailored for a human, with a particularly perplexing make. Simultaneously, of higher quality than any craftsmanship their village could produce, and in an objectively rough state. Full of holes at the seams, discolored yellow in places, and creased all over from the haphazard packing.
As much cloth as there was in there, though, the other loose items were even more interesting.
A small metal object, thin and about as long as one of Ruby’s claws, pointed at one end. A larger, tubular… thing, black and flaring out towards one end, its material an enigma to everyone gathered. A simple and undecorated, if high-quality knife, sized for a human hand.
And last... a Fennekin doll, a really well made one at that.
“That is an unreasonable amount of clothes for one person.”
“Well Ori... yes, but humans do wear lots of clothes constantly, so it’s only appropriate, I suppose, ha. This one was wearing three layers in places when I found it, sure baffled the medics!”
As confused as the others were to hear that, the revelation could just be swept under ‘Humans are weird’. It didn’t tell them much if apparently all humans each wore about as many clothes as a dozen denizens of their village combined—
“Though, I can’t say I’ve ever seen them carry that many spare clothes. Not without setting camp somewhere for the night, at least.”
Or maybe it did?
“Well, what then could it mean, do you think?” - Ruby tried to cut to the point, the entire mystery unnerving her more and more by the moment.
The Decidueye could only sigh and shrug as her expression grew increasingly tired. The sun continued with its late, but unrelenting ascent, and thinking got harder and harder by the moment.
“I only keep watch of them, not their thoughts. Though, taking a gander at these would probably help as well—“
“^After we’re done with these.^”
As much as their guest being a youngling changed how she felt about them, Aria was still far from eager to dive under a human’s skullcap for no reason.
“That’s a remarkably well made knife, but why would they need one?” - The Weavile inspected the knife from all around, taken aback at how flawless it looked. She had heard plenty about the human mastery of metal despite them being neither Fire nor Steel typed, but never had a chance to see it for herself until now. Hell, she’d even managed to sharpen a claw on this thing’s edge, and effortlessly at that.
“No clue about that, either. I’ve never seen a human with a knife on them, not one this large, at least. I guess it’d be helpful in food preparation on the go—though why would they even bring one instead of just preparing a meal beforehand is beyond me, *yawn*...”
This was even more confusing than the clothes’ sheer quantity.
They figured humans would use knives without either claws, blades or Psycho Cut in their stead—but even then, why would this child bring once with themselves? Maybe they were a cook of some sort, though they still wouldn’t get any use out of it unless they went foraging. It couldn’t have been a weapon, because if humans most definitely weren’t something, it was hunters.
“^Guess it’s just one more unknown in the end.^”
“Now, this item.”
The black cylinder was by far the most obviously human item on the pile. It was made of a smooth, yet ever so slightly bendy material. Its wider end had a large opening with what appeared to be like glass inside it, and something too small to tell behind said glass.
“To have access to so much pristine glass and use it for what appears to be decoration. I do not understand it.”
The barely noticeable confusion in Ori’s voice caught the others’ attention. Aria took the risk and stepped closer to investigate, reaching over towards the Scizor with an unspoken request. The seemingly perfectly clear glass fascinated her in particular. It was so unlike the dirty, colored beads the village’s own craftspeople made, to where—if not for hearing tales of humans knowing how to manufacture clear glass in abundance—she wouldn’t have been able to connect the two as being the same material—
As Aria inspected the item, her hands shifted along the smooth material. One finger eventually landed on a softer part that gave in when pressed, until an unexpected click made the glassy end of the device explode with light.
The sudden, blinding glare aimed at her face made the Gardevoir psychically toss the item away out of reflex. It bounced off the floor and rolled for a bit before coming to a stop; the light still shone out of the glass-tipped end.
After a few moments for everyone to calm down after the abrupt action, and for Aria to blink the glare away, Ruby cautiously picked the device up. The cone of light moved along with it, making its purpose clear.
“Guess that’s quite handy if you can’t see in the dark. You alright there, Aria?”
“^Y-yeah, just caught me off guard all wide eyed. Ugh, that stung.^”
Even if it was much too weak to be a Dazzling Gleam on a stick, Ruby still handled the item carefully. She kept the light away from everyone before spotting a differently looking spot on the handle—
—and turning the sudden Flasher off.
“Mikiri will have an incredible field day with this item.”
“Will she now?”
Sprout’s tone made it clear that the only correct answer was ‘no, she will not’. The tinkerer in Ori let out a tiny, metallic sigh of disappointment as the owl continued.
“One thing to find some abandoned scrap out there and pick it apart to see what makes it tick, another to destroy something that belongs to someone under our collective care.”
“An unconscious human—” - Lumi attempted to cut in, but Sprout had none of it.
“Someone under our collective care. A child, no less.”
“Even then—if you’re not planning on keeping all their junk in here, taking up a clinic room, maybe handing it off to someone who knows what they’re doing so that they can watch over isn’t the worst of ideas?” - The Luxray persisted, his point more agreeable now.
“The best of ideas would be stashing it all for nobody to touch until the human’s awake and can decide for themselves. Though... *sigh*, there isn’t exactly anywhere else appropriate or with as much free space as her workshop now, is there.”
It was way too late in the morning for her to be dealing with any of this.
“Just—just tell her not to touch anything once you move it over.”
As much as the extent of her knowledge was helping the ongoing investigation, Sprout more than deserved some shut eye. Aria’s green hand laying on her shoulder combined with a caring expression wordlessly got the Gardevoir’s suggestion across, the Decidueye nodding deeply in response.
“Yeah, just move all the human things over there, tell Mikiri to contain herself, and I suppose any further decisions can wait for now...”
“If it is a child, what happens when their parents come looking for them?” - The eventuality in Ruby’s question gave everyone a pause. Sprout sighed again and muttered the best plan she could come up with on the spot.
“I told Lucere to contact you all if some human does come looking, and I trust your combined judgment to think of an appropriate response when that happens, as much as I hope it does not come to it.”
The other scouts were torn between appreciating Sprout’s trust and dreading the exact situation she’d just described. Whether they liked it or not, it was as good of an answer as they’d get. With that in mind, they all gently urged Sprout out—even experienced scouts have bedtimes, and she was way past hers.
“Rest easy, Sprout, we’ll figure it out.”
As everyone else bid the owl goodbye, the Fennekin doll in the corner, overlooked until now with all the other, more eye-catching trinkets around, caught Aria’s attention.
Upon a closer inspection, that certainly wasn’t a fabric she was familiar with, simultaneously slicker and rougher to the touch than any she’d ever felt. It made for a poor imitation of fur, even though the actual craftsmanship was once again finer than any doll she’s ever seen. So much detail, such a cute expression, even got little fabric paw pads—
Aria’s glance at the doll’s underside revealed a newly familiar—if utterly unexpected—element. A metal seam ran down the length of its tummy, with a small metal element hanging off one of its ends.
“It appears humans enjoy using this kind of metal seam.”
Aria could only shrug at Ori’s comment as she recalled the trick Sprout used to open the bag. She carefully grabbing the dangling bit and gave it a firm pull—
Well, at least it worked.
The immediate result of that action, though, was a handful of small metal disks falling out of the opening, bouncing off one another as they scattered across the carpeted floor.
Even if it was nowhere near as abrupt or blinding as the black device from earlier, everyone still needed a moment to process what had just happened. And, naturally, leaned in to get a closer look at the metal disks afterwards.
“Would they forget what they are if they didn’t have these... reminder circles?”
“It wouldn’t hurt you to try and be less snarky sometimes, Lumi. They’re too well made not to be decorative, maybe some kind of charm?” - Ruby rolled her eyes as she inspected the tiny disk in her claws. The intricacy of its etchings was stunning—especially the Serperior motif wrapping around the outer rim—even if its function was nowhere near clear.
“^Why would you carry several identical charms, and keep them so hidden while at it?^” - Despite Aria’s counter-argument, she’d be lying to say she had any better ideas.
With a bit of focus and her psychics, the Gardevoir picked up all the disks littering the floor all at once. Ruby flicked the one she was holding up for Aria’s mental reach to grasp as well. If there’s anything the item seemed to be made for, it was that.
“A human custom, perhaps? The more charms the better, or something.” - Ruby suggested offhandedly as her paw itched to flick one of those disks again.
“Sure wouldn’t be out of character for them...” - Lumi mumbled under his breath.
As Aria was about to slide the disks back into their hiding spot, she spotted something else in the small pocket. Her gentle tugging slid several rectangular pieces of a canvas-like material out of it. The artwork on them was incredibly detailed, though seemed to be identical on all the smaller rectangles.
“More charms I suppose?”
The Gardevoir ignored Lumi’s sarcastic comment as she focused on the one rectangular object that stood out. It was larger, stiffer, and much smoother to the touch. Its artwork was also incredibly detailed, but… in an entirely different way.
Whereas the metal disks and canvas rectangles bore art that was as detailed as it was abstract, this stiffer item featured a scene so realistic it looked as if Aria was observing it with her own eyes.
It pictured a human—seemingly the same human that ended up here—looking up directly at the viewer with a smile as they held an actual Fennekin in their arms. The little mon seemed no less happy than the human as they followed their gaze, staring motionlessly at the Gardevoir.
It looked so much like a window to a real place that Aria tried moving it around just to see if the perspective would shift. To her slight disappointment, it did not. Suppose it was just a painting after all, even if an apparently infinitely detailed one. The backside was blank aside from a few symbols of what must’ve been the fabled human writing, contents as inscrutable as ever.
The depicted scene was so quaint that the Gardevoir had a hard time not smiling at it, even despite the seriousness of their current situation. The human was clearly happy, the Fennekin also looked content—though, was there something wrong with their eye—
“Did you find something interesting, Aria?”
The psychic wordlessly passed the realistic artwork over to Ori, sliding all the disks and other rectangles back into the doll. The Steel-type brought the rectangle right in front of his eyes, seemingly no less baffled by all the detail.
“I have no idea how one would create a painting like this. There does not appear to even be a visible paint texture anywhere. It’s as if a piece of reality was directly etched into thin wood.”
Such an interesting curio couldn’t resist being passed between all the scouts. The red pincer soon handed it off to a white, clawed paw, the attached face forming a small smile.
“That’s cute. Wonder how long they had to hold the pose for the artist to finish painting it.”
“^Do you think it was made after an actual scene?^” - Aria asked, wholly dumbfounded by the tiny painting.
“Sure can’t imagine it not being. Creativity’s one thing, but making all this detail up from scratch doesn’t exactly sound feasible.”
The Gardevoir couldn’t help but agree, at a second thought. She wondered what connection there was between the doll she was holding and the real firefox that the human apparently knew and had an affection for. Meanwhile, the picture was shown to the least handed scout in the room.
“Wonder how much the little one was actually enjoying it, hmph...”
“It wouldn’t hurt you to not assume the worst of people for once.” - Ruby jabbed in, not appreciating Lumi’s snark any.
“Humans sure ain’t people—”
“Let me guess, they’re just some mindless beasts that only want to harm and prey on ‘us’, the enlightened species?”
Silence fell over the chamber as the Weavile leered at the Luxray. Despite her best efforts, exhaustion eventually tempered her glare, prompting her to take the picture away and wordlessly pass it back to Aria.
While Lumi attempted to shrink or preferably collapse underground under the ice-type’s scalding gaze, Ori took it upon himself to diffuse the tension by redirecting everyone’s attention towards something more productive. He peeked out of the room, glancing over at the sleeping human. To the scouts’ relief, the unexpected guest was still right where they’d last seen them.
“How difficult is it to investigate a person’s memories, Aria?”
With the detailed image slid back into the doll, the Gardevoir closed its metal seam and looked up at the Steel-type. She shuddered at the begrudging reminder of her upcoming duty, but knew all well there was no other way through but forward.
“^Harder than it would be if they were awake to cooperate. Though, ultimately, not too difficult either way. Not waking them up will be the trickier part.^”
“All four of us could easily restrain a half dead, juvenile human even if that were to happen.” - Lumi gathered the courage to quip once more, before it was swiftly dashed again.
“Either of us could probably pacify them with a stern look in their current state. The point is to not put them through any unnecessary fright and pain, Lumi.” - The quadruped took his clue to shut up at the Weavile’s half-gritted words.
“Do you need us to do anything while you are in the middle of that process, Aria?”
“^Not wake them up, preferably.^”
With a deep breath, the Gardevoir entered the chamber with the sleeping human and approached them once more. Her hands shook slightly as she examined the unconscious child.
“What if it ends up being too much?” - Ruby chimed in with tired concern in her voice as Aria took her position beside the bed. A bright, pale shimmer enveloped her eyes and hand alike while she concentrated on the task ahead.
“^What do you mean?^”
“Well, you’re the expert here. I don’t know the specifics, but I’d imagine some memories could be a bit too much to bear, especially ones as... potentially traumatic as in this case.”
Aria paused for a moment, not paying the possibility much mind before proceeding.
“^In theory, yes, though I heavily doubt it will be anything I can’t snap myself out of.^”
“And what if it will?”
The question came through too late. Aria’s shimmering hand was already resting on the human’s forehead, their minds melding together as the psychic descended into the child’s subconscious.
Traversing through an unconscious mind was just similar enough to the usual awake existence to lead those who had accomplished it to describe it with regular, commonplace terms—but also just different enough for these same terms to fall far short.
The analogy Aria opted for most of the time was a walk through a sparse forest or an orchard. Each tree was an individual memory, and related memories were physically bundled together.
Of course, this analogy too was woefully flawed.
Trees—most trees at least—didn’t move or change shape in real time, had reasonable minimum and maximum sizes, and couldn’t conjoin themselves with other trees on a whim. The latter process was always particularly gruesome to imagine with actual trees, but only made sense in the quasi-dreamscape Aria was now wading through.
A headspace that even knowing the underlying truth of what she’d have to do, stripped of the layers of abstraction inherent in an analogy, couldn’t have prepared Aria for.
It was far from her first time diving into an unconscious mind. Even if their owners weren’t awake to help guide her towards what she needed to see, she usually had no issue finding her way towards the specific events or knowledge she was interested in.
This one was different. Darker, murkier. The usual mist that shrouded asleep minds was so thick in here she could barely see even a few feet in front of herself.
This must’ve been what a comatose mind was like.
With a bit more focus, Aria attempted to clear the way ahead of her. She’d pushed the fog just back enough to give her some breathing room, before steeling further into the murky realm. She examined every “tree” she passed by, looking around rather blindly for the child’s recent memories.
In most circumstances, they’d be the first thing she saw in here. But, as it was growing increasingly clear, these were not most circumstances she or the other scouts were dealing with.
Her own unease at what she would find in here wasn’t helping one bit. Doubly so, with it being steadily fueled by the scattered noises, bits of human speech, and especially distant screams she occasionally heard echoing through the desolate mindscape.
Fortunately for Aria’s resolve, they weren’t too common, lest the whole thing devolved into a haunted cacophony. Each time they reached her, though—sometimes painful, sometimes wrathful—Aria couldn’t help but feel a shiver run through her fin.
The sooner she found her answer and got out of here, the better.
As murky as this place was, it was only a temporary setback. Her dislike of empty flattery aside, Aria was good at this, quickly honing onto and following along whatever traces of awareness she could sense. Each step brought her closer to where the child’s consciousness had last faded.
Or, more realistically, was abruptly snuffed.
The closer she got, the louder and more frequent the surrounding shrieks became. At times, she could just barely glimpse shadowy outlines at the edges of her vision.
She knew she had nothing to fear. They weren’t real, merely a reflection of how the beings that had cast them haunted the poor mind she was wading through. She might’ve only been caught in the crossfire of the child’s subconscious torturing itself, but hell if it didn’t provide further motivation to up her pace and get through all this sooner.
And, considering the hour of the day and the emptiness of her stomach, get some breakfast afterwards.
It was hard to estimate just how long it took for her to find what she was looking for. It could’ve been anywhere from minutes to hours. All that Aria knew was that she was becoming desensitized to the unnerving stimuli around her at a pace her aware mind would’ve found disturbing.
And then, one final step later, she finally saw it.
The sapling of a memory looked paradoxical, dead and alive in equal measure. Most of its trunk was wilting away even as the branches and leaves continued to grow.
Traumatic start, with an indeterminate conclusion.
Aria would do everything in her power to make the latter a good one, but first, she needed to see how it had begun...