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Pokémon Hunter, Haunted

Author's Notes & Prologues
  • canisaries

    voted most likely to be edgy
    Location
    the middle of nowhere
    Pronouns
    she/her
    It has arrived. The subject of many a meme. The story the author would not shut up about. Her magnum opus.

    Hunter, Haunted is a story very dear to my heart, as anyone who's heard me talk on the Discord has probably witnessed by now. It was the second multiparter fic I'd ever written, and still remains the longest story I have written to date. Its start dates back two years (or now closer to three? oh boy this year's been such a mess i haven't even realized how far into it we are), but it's been through a major revision since, and I'm going to be revising it again as I post it here, though much more lightly this time... at least I hope so, for the sake of my own sanity.

    So what's Hunter, Haunted about? Well, it's another story in my TPP (aka Twitch Plays Pokémon - don't worry, though, you don't need knowledge of that to read this) fic series, which follows my... unique version of Red and the very bad and awful things he does. This time, Red finds out his latest murder victim has returned from the dead as a yamask, and so he must figure out how to eliminate this witness before she can rat him out. Paranormal and psychological horror ensues.

    In the series' timeline, HH comes after the oneshot Metanoia, which in turn comes after Seiren. In fact, Metanoia is the story that bridges these two multiparter fics together, and if you've finished Seiren, I strongly recommend you read Metanoia before this. If you're only now jumping in to the series, though, you can start either directly from this story or read Metanoia before it.

    Before continuing to the story, it's important that I warn sufficiently about the content featured in this story. Hunter, Haunted contains:
    - explicit, detailed depictions of violence and gore
    - disturbing/disgusting concepts and imagery such as intense body horror, cultism, torture and cannibalism, as well as depictions of vomiting
    - psychological (and perhaps in places existential) horror
    - themes of mental illness and suicide, especially towards the end
    - strong language, mild misogyny
    - no explicit and rather little implicit sexual content, but some non-sexual scenes can be vaguely reminiscent of sexually charged ones
    - spiders.
    Due to all this, Hunter, Haunted is rated mature.

    Alright, I think that's all! If you're alright with all this, I hope you enjoy the story. Feedback is encouraged and appreciated - I really want this story to be the best it can be. Thank you, and here we go.

    ---

    hh2020cover.png

    H U N T E R , H A U N T E D

    Synopsis:
    Red, after a successful sacrifice, is shocked to find his victim reincarnated as a ghost. He must kill her again before she can expose him - but can ghosts even be killed?

    Genre:
    Drama, Horror

    Started:
    18 Sep 2017

    Status:
    Initially finished 17 April 2018
    Revision finished 15 June 2019
    New revision ongoing, started 1 July 2020

    Length:
    82 000~ words with both prologues and extra included
    (measured 8 July 2019)

    ---

    There are two different Prologues - Original and Alternate.

    These two differ from each other by featuring a different scenario with different levels of graphic/disturbing content, but they fulfil the same narrative purposes. Either one can be read, as the events of both are canon. Reading both is permitted, but do not be surprised to see information repeated between the two.

    The recommended version is Original, but Alternate is for those who'd prefer a less gruesome entry to the story.
    PROLOGUE (Original)

    ---

    Breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out, breath in, breath out…

    Air, warm. Soft. Sweet. Fills lungs, squeezes out. Kind of hurts, breathing this fast, but have to, have to or choke...

    So hot. Hot and wet, sticky skin. Sweaty. Heart pounds in ears, in chest, right above stomach, stomach is heavy, full, satisfied… too much? Bloated? Not sure, maybe if I move…

    Ah, sharp, hard, something on back… move, move to floor, oh, tired, tired arms and legs, body sticky and bare -- red? Red smears? Blood! Am I hurt?

    ...No, nothing hurts. Only smears. Can move rest of way. Ugh, sweat glues to floor, wet hair on neck, gross. Foot uncomfortable, move --

    Hot! Take foot away! What's so hot there? It glows, bright. Orange, crackles - fire. Above it, shining - metal. Bubbling. Water inside? Why…? Where am I?

    It's blurry. Can't tell. Just grays, browns, blacks outside that big light and other lights, smaller, scattered around.

    Depth. Sharpen. See shapes. Recognize. Room of basement, the hidden room. My room, should be safe.

    But it’s not clean. White floor has stains, red and orange. And there are shreds, lumps of something...

    Human! Human shape to the left! Who?

    ...Not moving. Not a threat?

    Lots of red on it. Glistening middle. Blotches of color. Matches the lumps, kind of. Behind the human, there’s a board. Wooden. Belts. I made that. I… put her on that.

    Her. I remember. I brought her here, unconscious. Strapped her to the board. Lit the candles - the little lights are candles. Set up the fire and water bowl - big light and metal - like I always do. Always do when I… bring an offering for...

    HIM.

    Behind the fire. The rock on the altar. Its spiral. No longer speaking. HE has left - or was HE ever here?

    HE was, right. I started the ritual, HE was there. HE approved of my offering. But then… I can't remember. How did I go from that moment to this? Who killed the woman? Was it me, or…

    ...could it be? Could it be that HE…

    Yes.

    Yes!

    The corners of my mouth pull towards my ears. I can't help but laugh, even if it strains my lungs.

    HE took over! HE took over my body! HE entered it, HE used it, used it to kill her. Accept the offering. Eat her flesh. Beautiful, wonderful, yes! This means the time is near. The time of ascension. Soon, very soon, HE will merge with me fully, and then everything’s gonna be --

    Ah. Soon, but not yet. I shouldn’t get ahead of myself. I’m still mortal for now, and I have a mortal’s obligations. Like cleaning all this up before it starts reeking. So I should get up…

    With tired limbs and the grace of a newborn fawn, I struggle to upright myself. I use the bookshelf - apparently the hard object I’d woken up leaning against - for support, though regret it soon after noticing the red stains left on the wood by my palms. There really is a lot of blood on my body… HE must have really enjoyed HIMSELF. Maybe part of this elation I’m feeling is a high HE got my body on. An absolutely welcome gift.

    As my surroundings sharpen further, I can make out the details of the lumps on the floor. As one could have guessed, they’re parts of her. Muscle, skin, fat, all sorts of tissue. Wildly and savagely thrown about. Just like you’d expect from the god of predators. Oh, I have to take a closer look at her body now. Cleaning up can wait just a few minutes.

    Careful not to step on anything slippery, I stagger over to the body. After five or so slaps of my soles against the floor tiles, I can grab the board's edge and lean on it. Now I can survey her.

    Oh, what a sight she is.

    Red, pink, yellow, gray, purple, dark green. A flesh-tinted rainbow nested in her ventral cavity. Her organs - the ones that still remain - glisten in the fires’ light, eager to show off their beauty after two decades of darkness. Many of them, though, have lost large chunks of themselves, the lungs especially. They still leak blood and other fluids. It looks sad in a way, as if they were crying. But they're at rest now, just like all the others. Enslaved no more by the brain.

    The digestive tract, though, took little to no damage. With the greater omentum mostly torn off, I can see the loops of the intestines, their surfaces smooth and unscathed. HE probably avoided them because of the smell. For that, I'm grateful.

    The middle of the small intestine, though, seems oddly parted. Looking closer, there seems to be something pooled on the mesentery, something viscous… oh.

    Moving on. I decide to inspect the intact parts of her for a change. Her skin is quite pale, understandably, though small, red crescents encircle the sections torn off, becoming sparser the further away they get. I check my fingernails to find bloody gunk underneath them. Matches up. Though I can't imagine these weak simian nails doing that much damage by themselves… HE must have brought some of HIS own strength along. That explains the missing anterior of the ribcage, too. I suppose HE just… ripped it off. Gods. Did HE even use the knife? Where is the knife, anyway?

    Oh, there it is, on the floor near the altar. Clean. Next to… the bowl of boiling water… which is also clean.

    The gentle mush filling my stomach hardens into a rock and becomes just as heavy.

    Did HE not… cook the flesh?

    I rush to the bowl and look around for any stains to prove me wrong. No, nothing. Where's the smaller bowl, the porcelain one I gather the flesh in --

    There it is. Spotless, of course. Dammit!

    Ngh, what do I do now? Is this a hazard? I know eating flesh raw is something HE discourages, but is it something HE would want me to try and empty my entire stomach for? I know the offering's blood was clean, thanks to HIS pre-ritual check, but does that translate to the flesh? Ugh, I really don't want to have to vomit, it burns my throat and leaves an awful taste in there for the whole day, but...

    ...you know what, it's probably fine if I don't. It wouldn't make sense for HIM to eat something HE considered a risk. HE just confirmed this body is the one HE wants. HE wouldn't go and spoil it now. HE must have checked the flesh was good to eat or made it good by force. If HE can enhance the human genome, I'm sure HE can take care of a few microbes. And if HE didn't… well, they're unlikely to cause severe harm if I seek help in time. I'll probably just feel shitty for a few days and then go back to normal. Right now, I should only worry about this mess…

    I catch myself scratching my forearms. The blood has started to harden. Is there even some in my hair?

    A touch confirms my guess. Hm. Maybe I should take a quick shower first. I can't imagine dried blood coming off too easily.

    For safety, I decide to extinguish the fire before leaving. Using the porcelain bowl, I cast some of the boiling water on the flames. The room darkens considerably as they reduce to plumes of smoke. That ought to do it.

    Now to freshen up...

    ---

    Gods, did the room smell this bad the whole time? It's like something died in here. Oh, wait!

    Now wearing a raincoat, rubber gloves and boots - even a shower cap in case of sudden squirts - I return to the crime scene. I grab myself a garbage bag and begin gathering the various pieces of the victim off the floor. To have something more to listen to than just the crinkling of my coat, I hum a directionless tune.

    With the floor rid of the largest clumps of flesh, it's time for the body. I spread a tarp beneath the board and then, one by one, undo the belts that keep her body fastened to the board. Ankles, wrists, forehead - grab her neck for support - and finally, arms. She comes free, and I lower her onto the tarp.

    Sure, having a tarp set up in advance for the whole ritual would make cleaning easier, but I'm just not a fan of how it looks. Brings down the atmosphere. And if the Helixians didn't need tarps all those millennia ago, neither do I.

    Alright. I think I'll chop the head off first. I fetch my trusted axe from the wall it leans against, along with a plank of wood. I slip the plank under her neck to make sure I won’t accidentally shatter the floor and begin to hack away. Eventually, I cleave through the spine. I sever the remaining skin with the sharper knife, and so her head comes free. I grab it by the hair and, to humor myself, lift it up high like a Kalosian revolutionary.

    Her face now level with mine, I stare deep into her eyes. No life gazes back from the darkness. They resemble my own, really. Uncannily much. I choose to move on to the rest of her face.

    Ignoring the missing flesh around the mouth, she's rather good-looking. Symmetrical, aesthetically pleasing proportions rather typical for a Tohjoan female. Smoothly curved bridge of nose, deep-set eyes, widow’s peak. Pure and healthy skin, although discolored now by loss of blood. Thin, neatly shaped eyebrows. They feel silky to the touch. As much as I can tell with gloves on, anyway.

    Odd that she didn't seem to have any company with features like these. Maybe she just wasn't interested in dating. Or maybe that friend she had was more than a friend. Fuck if I know what love is like. Not that I care. It's worthless.

    Her teeth look healthy, with a regular shade of yellow-white - but also red stains from the blood, of course. Hard not to bleed on your teeth with your lips torn off. Why did HE go for those, anyway?

    Oh! Speaking of her mouth, almost forgot…

    I separate the corpse’s jaws. To my disappointment, the tongue is missing.

    But I also didn’t come across it on the floor…?

    The realization disturbs my gut. Oh, it’s in there then. Unwashed tongue, that’s a little disgusting… though I suppose regular people exchange spit voluntarily all the time. Would this count as first base, then?

    Either way, this means I won't get to keep a trophy for this one. I suppose it makes sense, as I didn't get to be the one to kill her either…

    No, don't think like that. You're overjoyed to have been taken over. It's way better than to have killed her yourself. This means ascension is near, after all, and once that happens, you'll get to kill to your heart's content. No fear of getting caught, no worries about disease. Only carnage. And you'll love it.

    Anyway… even if I don't have a tongue to store, I'll still add a jar among the rest. It'll be empty, but a jar doesn't need to contain anything to mark a kill. That's what the label is for. A number and a name.

    Name. Hm. What was hers, again?

    I pause to take in her features once again. Her eyes, her nose, her mouth - or lack thereof…

    Ah, now I remember.

    Her name was Joanna.

    ---

    PROLOGUE (Alternate)

    ---

    A gentle breeze blows through the streets of the neighborhood.

    The trees and bushes sway gently in this wind, showing off their emerging leaves or the needles that braved through the winter. Simple little houses flank the asphalt roads, their pastel walls near blinding in the strong sunlight. Only a few puffy clouds here and there obscure the wide, azure sky. A faraway pidgey twitters - judging by its familiar song, a yellow-breasted one.

    The streets and yards seem devoid of people. No humans, no mon. Makes sense - most have work or school at this hour. That means the only one out on this sunny April morning is me.

    I love getting away with murder.

    Alright, that's enough for a break. I lift up the handles of the wheelbarrow and continue pushing. The smell from the garbage bag nested within is starting to leak… but luckily the outdoor air is fresh and fast to circulate.

    I take a turn, and there it is, the entrance to the woods. The escape from all prying eyes. Not that there are any. And not that I wouldn't have an explanation ready. What's in the bag? Why, green waste, of course. I'm dumping it in the woods, returning it to nature. Don’t want to pile it all on the yard to be an eyesore and bug hive. For the good of the neighborhood, you know? The community. My fellow men. And mon. I’m socially conscious, you see.

    And if they still remained suspicious, I’d just make them socially unconscious. Ha! No, it wasn’t that funny.

    I clear my throat and enter the woods. Blotches of light, filtered through the branches of spruces and pines above, dance on the floor of dirt and detritus. More and more birds join the choir of chirps and whistles, proclaiming their territory or wishes for a mate. I can't possibly see how someone could live without immediate access to a place like this. But, well, it's become apparent over the years that there's a lot of things I don't understand about people.

    My arms are starting to get tired again… but the spot isn't that far anymore. I can make it there without another break. After that, all I have to do is make the evidence disappear, and then I can make the trip back at my own pace. So just hang in there…

    "Kraw!"

    Oh, not a murkrow.

    With a shuffling of feathers, a black bird lands in my path. It stares at the bag with hungry eyes.

    Yes, yes, I know you can smell it and it’s probably a fantastic fragrance for a scavenger like you. I have no ideological opposition to giving you a piece, but in practice, it’d mean opening up this stinky thing and exposing myself to all kinds of risks. What if a little civilized growlithe was roaming around in these woods, caught the stench and decided to follow it? Then I’d have a witness to worry about. I probably wouldn’t even be able to kill it, being a fragile, flammable human. And then I’d be caught because of a little puppy. A little puppy would be the one to cancel Judgment Day. I’m not letting that happen.

    “Kraw!”

    What's Judgment Day, you ask? Well, when an ancient god of chaos likes a priest of HIS very much, HE leaves HIS stony fossil home and incarnates in the body of the priest, morphing him into a being above all others. The god-imbued priest, with his new omnipotence, will then rebuild the Helixian kingdom and reshape the world into its rightful state, where the strong roam and hunt the weak as they please, no longer shackled by a civilization built by cowards.

    Now, as it happens, I've had the great honor and joy of being chosen as that priest. I'm only waiting for the moment HE declares HE has gathered enough strength for the transition proper. HE already took my body on a test run today, you know. It may have led to at least a kilo of raw flesh being stuffed into my stomach, but I'm not that bothered about it. HE wouldn't let any microbes ruin my body now after three years of training me.

    Not that any of it concerns you. Get out of the way.

    The murkrow flits off the path to avoid the approaching wheel of the cart, but to my annoyance, the bird sticks around. In fact, it seems to be following me.

    I set down the wheelbarrow and leap at the murkrow. It scrambles into flight. Good riddance.

    I resume my pushing -- oh for fuck's sake! The crafty corvid only flew a circle. Now it's landed on the cart itself. I shoo it with my hands... which is of course pointless, as the bird only flies back each time. Dammit. I should just hurry to the dropoff spot…

    I speed up my pace. This makes for a bumpier ride for the bird, but it doesn't seem deterred - it keeps pecking and tugging at the bag, rustling the plastic. Until finally… pop.

    That lights a fire under my feet. Unfortunately, I'm already going as fast as I can while making sure any stray roots can't tip the cart over, so all I can do is suffer the heat under my soles. But the place is close now, only a little more, I can already see it. The stench of the corpse reaches my nostrils, fuck, now it's out there, but now I enter the opening and here I go!

    I shove the cart forwards at a right-leaning angle, startling the murkrow into flight. As planned, the cart tips over and stops at the center of the gravelly opening. The garbage bag falls out.

    I scan the area for any fallen branches and soon find one not far off. I snatch it into my hands and begin dragging its tip across the ground. The murkrow watches from its perch as I draw the circle, until it realizes I’m too busy to bother with it and dives into the center to rip a new hole in the bag and bob for scraps of meat. Let it. I’m almost done.

    The base circle is complete, now for the details. Line there, curve there, circle there. Is it done? I analyze the pattern once more. Yes, it’s finished.

    I leap to the wheelbarrow and heave it out of the circle. It scares away the bird, but only for a moment, as it returns immediately once I rush back to front of the pattern. Okay, the cart’s out. Only the activation remains.

    I unsheathe my knife. The murkrow pulls its head out of the bag to give a quick, suspicious glance. No, it's not for you. You'll see.

    I take the blade to my little finger and slide it across the skin. I flinch and I hate that I flinch, I shouldn't feel a thing from cuts this small anymore after what I've been through… but I suppose it doesn't matter as long as I can take the pain without fear. Either way, I've drawn blood as needed, and the red fluid is gathering, dripping… and with a small flick, a droplet detaches from the finger. It falls right where it's supposed to - inside the little circle at the edge of the ring.

    The new stain on the gravel glitters. Then its red begins to glow. Then the light expands.

    I step back for safety, watching the light creep along the edges of the circle and trace the grooves of each detail on the way. The murkrow throws glances at the glowing pattern, perplexed. Is it going to flee? Is it smart enough to realize this is something it should get away from? Is it greedy enough to ignore it?

    Just before the advancing lights meet at the other end of the circle, something clicks in the bird's brain. It flaps its wings frantically, stumbling into the air, the circle's edge as its destination. Another red glow envelops everything within the circle, murkrow included. It brightens, and...

    Flash.

    The lights are gone. The bag is gone. The pattern in the gravel has returned to being a simple drawing. The wheelbarrow rests next to it, tipped over. There's nothing else in the opening but me.

    And the murkrow, of course, staring at its newly trimmed tail.

    "You're lucky you're alive, you know," I remark.

    It glares at me, caws with spite and flies off into the trees. Oh well. Some folks just can't appreciate their luck. Hope it isn’t getting its friends on me… I’m not so good with those kinds of murders.

    With the needled end of the branch, I sweep at the gravel, erasing the grooves little by little. While no one who happened to find this would know what it was for, it's still better to keep the pattern a secret. Someone might try to replicate it and accidentally set it off with a papercut or something - and then the whole world would be sniffing for tracks to learn more about this strange new kind of magic. I couldn't use it anymore in fear of getting caught, and that would make these murders a lot riskier to pull off unnoticed.

    I finish erasing the pattern. The gravel looks disturbed where the circle used to lie, but it’s nothing that couldn’t have been caused by just a group of children playing. I toss away the branch, upright the wheelbarrow and begin pushing it back the way I came, not a speck of worry on my mind.

    My tracks are clear. There's nothing left of the victim outside of the blood washed down the drain and the flesh within my digestive tract, and I doubt they’re going to look through my sewage or cut my belly open to get what’s inside. And, well, even if they catch on to me… who’s to say they can do it before I ascend?

    Though I suppose there’s still a third piece of evidence. Myself. While I do have the means to wipe my own memories of this incident, I shouldn’t go messing around with my brain. It needs to be in mint condition for HIM. Not to mention the though of my own brain malfunctioning is… terrifying.

    Besides, these memories are ones I’d really like to keep. I want to remember how it felt realizing HE had taken over my body, and I want to remember the preparation that had led to that wonderful moment. Perhaps at the time it had been just like any previous hunt, but in retrospect, it seems so much more special. Walking the streets of Viridian, looking for a suitable target. Finding and choosing her. Stalking to find out her daily rhythm, her name. Striking at the precise right moment. Transporting her to my basement with the help of another spell. Washing her, fastening her to the board, waiting for her to wake up and then seeing that terror on her face...

    She is the one that gave me all this satisfaction. Maybe I should thank her.

    I smirk. Nah. She’s dead.

    Joanna is dead.

    ---
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter One
  • canisaries

    voted most likely to be edgy
    Location
    the middle of nowhere
    Pronouns
    she/her
    Here we are, the first chapter proper! Rated mature for violent imagery and strong language. Enjoy!

    ---

    CHAPTER ONE
    Just Another Day


    ---​

    Beep. Beep. Beep.

    Ah.

    Morning.

    My room. Gray walls. Light leaking in from the crevice between the curtain and the bottom of the window. Pale light. You know what that means - another cloudy day.

    Beep. Beep. Beep.

    I suppose I should get up. Or at least turn that thing off.

    Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep. Beep.

    Alright.

    I roll over and tap the button on the clock. Its buzzing gone, the quieter soundscape of the outside reaches my brain. Winds. Distant traffic. Birdsong. Nothing new there.

    I draw my hand back to myself and tuck it near my chest. It’s cold out there. Again.

    I sigh and stare at the digits of the alarm. 9:00. The prime time to rise and shine. To get out of bed, do your morning chores and then set off for school to learn about all the wonders of the world. Or for work, to earn the bread to eat, to give a share to the government for all the nice services they provide.

    But I don’t do either. I can’t do either. Because to do those human things, you'd have to be human.

    Instead, I spend my days at home, trying my best to pass the time. Exercising. Watching TV. Doing crosswords. Going on walks. Cooking. Hunting. I like the last one best, but it's also the most difficult and illegal, so it's more of a rare treat.

    And so, time after time, I drag myself through the hours and reach the prize at the end - sleep. That well-deserved escape from reality. Not that I remember any dreams, save for the occasional nightmare. I just like the idea of being able to skip eight hours of further boredom.

    All of this is of course funded by my dear mother who cares just enough to give me food and shelter. And then, I suppose, some money comes indirectly from her husband, whose son is the only family that dares to share a house with me. And then whatever Fonz earns from his short time jobs to live here and provide for -- it.

    Anyway... it's alright, actually, all of this. Because it's all temporary. Everything will change once HE is ready, and that time will be soon. The ascension is right behind the corner. HIS taking me over proves that. HE just needs to… wait a little longer, to gather HIS strength. I just need to wait a little longer.

    Of course, I’ve been telling myself that for a few weeks now…

    Steps downstairs. Sounds like Abe. I guess I should get up too.

    Or should I? There's nothing to do, remember?

    No, that's not true. Daily exercise is required to keep this body in proper shape. To skip that would be betraying HIM. You don't want to do that, do you?

    I get up without delay. Gods, it's cold without the blanket… more reason to get through the routine sooner, I suppose. I'll get to put on some proper clothes.

    With a sigh, I leave my room behind.

    ---​

    I stare at the towel I've just hung on the drying rack. Strands of damp black hair dangle before my eyes, ever so slightly trembling.

    The last part of my morning routine has finished, and now I've entered the wasteland once again.

    Should I even go upstairs? Should I challenge myself to spend all day in the basement instead? Could be fun, in some kind of way. I could use that time to work more on that Helixian textbook. Even if I know it's completely useless, as I can't show it to anyone pre-ascension, and post-ascension I'd be able to just will the information into the brains of anyone I wanted…

    Maybe I should pay HIM a visit instead.

    No! No, I shouldn't. I shouldn't interrupt HIM - HE must be hard at work, making preparations and gathering strength. And if I saw HIM, HE might ask for another offering, and I wouldn't be able to say no even if it's only been a few weeks and I should wait longer to let the trail cool down… and lastly, I don't want to come to HIM while I still don't have that… one thing under control.

    Speaking of… the two mon are probably up by now, getting ready for school and work. I should go upstairs and see them. Not going would be avoiding them, and avoiding is a sign of cowardice. I need to face them, face my weakness. It's the only way to overcome it.

    Determined, I climb the stairs. I grab the handle of the door at the end…

    They're talking. Fonz is walking around, his claws clacking against the wooden floor.

    Stop hesitating. You have to do this.

    I force the handle down and step through the door. Before anything else, I decide to sit down at the kitchen table. I should at least get to do this in a well-supported position.

    Okay. Time to take the plunge. I pry my gaze off the table and finally direct it at the nidoking in the living room.

    As expected, the omanyte lies in his arms. Big bright eyes, little tentacles. Patiently waiting as the nidoking gathers all the things needed for His day at school.

    No, its!

    Oh Gods, another mistake. I thought of Him as a Him again. It!

    I slip a mental hand inside my ribcage and squeeze my heart. No feeling. No feeling of joy or affection or anything of the sort. You’re not allowed to see Him -- it in that light anymore. As far as you’re concerned, the omanyte is just an omanyte. An animal, a pile of flesh and organs. Not your lord, not your master. That role belongs only to HIM.

    Having gathered his and the omanyte’s bags, Fonz heads for the door. Almost over, thank the Gods. He looks over here and so does… the omanyte, and they wave and say goodbye. With the strength of a mindless reflex, I manage to raise my hand back. And then - they’re gone.

    Oh Gods. I let go of my breath and lean onto my elbows. I release my heart from its chokehold. That was worse than usual… again. And here I thought I was actually making progress.

    Is it the pronouns? Did I have it right the first time? Are they just a needless song and dance that in the end don’t affect anything, or are they really steering my psyche in the right direction?

    A door opens. Abe comes out of the bathroom. I straighten my back as I don’t want him to start saying anything. Though now he’s looking straight at me. Is he gonna bring it up?

    “Oh, Red!” he says, raising a finger. “I wanted to remind you earlier, but I forgot...”

    Remind… huh?

    “Today’s your psych appointment.”

    ...Oh.

    “Remember?” he continues. “The one we reserved two weeks --”

    “Yeah, I remember.”

    “I’m gonna come pick you up with a taxi at ten to three. Be at home and ready then, okay?”

    Well… I’m not head over heels about getting my sanity questioned by some quack, but agreeing to see a shrink was clearly the only way to get Abe to shut up about it. Not to mention, giving a good performance will get me listed in the system as a completely normal and non-dangerous human being. And, of course, anything out of the ordinary is exciting by now, so gods damn it, sign me the fuck up.

    “Yeah, I’ll be here,” I say.

    Abe’s eyes adopt a rare sternness. “Do you promise? You have to go.”

    “Yes, yes, I’ll go.” Gods, it’s like he’s calling me a ticking time bomb to my face. I guess that at least means he’s grown some guts.

    “Good,” he says, like a parent. Then the tone changes back to a sibling’s. “Oh, by the way, can you get some groceries if you’re not doing anything else by then?”

    Two things to do today? Oh boy, I’m being spoiled. “Sure.”

    He nods with a smile and hoists up his backpack, becoming the striking image of a bipedal bulbasaur. He opens the front door. “Ten to three, alright? Be here then.”

    “Yep.”

    He slips through, and so I’m left alone.

    Sighing, I get up. Might as well take that grocery trip right away.

    I gather everything I need - grocery list off the microwave, my old backpack from its corner in the living room, house keys from the hall and my trusty knife from my room upstairs. Well, I guess I don’t need the knife, this town being the idyllic little paradise it is and wild ursas being a rarity, but it’s the only part of my true self I can actually show in public. The airholes in my mareepskin disguise.

    And with that, I leave the house. Welcoming me to the outside is a cold, gray sky. Right.

    I forgot this was just another day.

    What a waste of the late spring season. These days should have warm sunshine while the air is still cool and dry. Nature should be shaking its grogginess from March and April, fully awakening to blossom and celebrating life in all its forms - plants, animals, wild mon. But here I walk under a sheet of hazy clouds too thin to bring rain, but too thick to let the warmth of the sun through. What a leech. What a disgrace.

    A gust of cold wind dives down my collar. Shuddering, I zip my hoodie rest of the way up. It seems this weather hates me back as well.

    Under its mocking gaze, I march on. Past the high school, library, hospital, graveyard, each at a glacial pace… until finally, I see a familiar yellow peek over the roadside pines - the supermarket’s sign. A little way more, and there’s the parking lot, not much longer now…

    Laughter. Two men next to one of the cars. They’re smiling, they’re talking about their families. They’re doing great. Yeah, I bet they’re doing great. Doing great is so easy for everyone else, so easy when you’re just like everyone else. Gods. I force my eyes onto the automatic doors and don’t let myself blink until I’ve slipped through.

    Alright. Finally, some warmth. Color, even, though unnatural. Hundreds of cans, cartons, boxes and other packages nest in the shelves across the gates and checkouts. Like birds of artificial feather, the products proudly present their plumages in hopes of enticing buyers. If they could squawk as well, it’d be a cacophany.

    Not that it’s very far from one as is. Dozens of voices, beeps, shuffles and taps echo around the spacious hall to assault any lovers of solitude. It reminds the listener that yes, humans really are just ants scaled up, just as busy and erratic and unable to think for themselves...

    Let’s get this over with. I walk through the gates, grab a basket and begin to hunt down the items of the grocery list. By now I know where to find them all, but the sections I don’t visit are still a mystery to me. They can remain as such. I don’t really care.

    With each addition, the basket becomes heavier, until there’s only one item left. It’s written in a much shakier, scrawlier way. Given that and what it says, I know who wrote it.

    It’s a request from m- the omanyte. He -- it would like some shrimp. I walk to the aquatic aisle, the shelf stacked with cans of the product in question. There’s the brand He -- it, it likes. Then there’s the brand it hates.

    Should I pick the bad brand? Would that be a good way to show I don’t care about the mon? No - wouldn’t that mean I do care, if I care enough to pick the wrong one on purpose? But if I pick the good brand, I’d feel like I did it because I didn’t have the heart to pick the bad one, that I was weak. But is it really weakness? It’s what I’m used to doing, it’s normal. And it’s not like the good brand even costs any more than the bad one.

    No, it is weakness. If I make the omanyte happy, I’ll just want to make it happy again and again. I’ll lapse back to my old ways and fail to do as HE ordered, and then...

    But imagine it. Imagine His disappointment, heartbreak, when the can’s pulled out of the bag and He --

    It. It. It!

    How many times does it need to be repeated? When will you get it through your skull?

    The Bringer cannot love.

    Shut up! I’ve had enough of this. I don’t want to waste time thinking about anything related to that mon anymore. I’ll take a third, new brand. It costs more, but fuck it. It’s only money. I shove can into the basket and head for the checkouts.

    Gods damn it, it seems all the lines are just as long. I guess I’ll just pick the closest. Though now I see that the tired, graying woman in front of me seems to have a full cart. Great.

    At a snorlax’s pace, the line slouches onward. Products get dumped on the conveyor belt, picked up by the cashier, read for their bar codes, the reader beeps, the cashier places the item on the other side, then she grabs the next, so on, yawn…

    A wailing noise pierces the air. What? What is that, a siren? No - it’s a baby, a few checkouts over. And it is loud. Gods, my ears…!

    I glance at the other people around me. They, too, wince every time the screaming surges in volume. But nothing more. They just stand and take it. And it just keeps going! I really can’t stress enough how horrible this is. This screech could put a victreebel to shame!

    Isn’t the mother doing anything? No, she isn’t. How can she bear this? If this was my kid, I’d have chucked it out the window a long time ago.

    No, it’s okay. My turn is coming up. I can already start placing my items onto the conveyor. Look, look, there they go. Maybe I have to wait a few seconds every now and then so that more space clears up, but I’m advancing. Time is passing. And now the woman in front of me is already paying. She leaves to pack, it’s my turn. See, everything’s okay. All I have to do now is to wait for my items to scroll past…

    But how could I?

    How could I let this go?

    These people… they so clearly want that screaming to stop, and yet they refuse to act. Why? Because they’re worried they’ll make a scene. Be part of the scene already happening. Get disapproving glances thrown their way. Stick out from the group. Show some kind of individuality, free thought, free action! It’s terrifying to them to look bad for just a moment!

    What worthlessness! What thanklessness towards their ancestors! The ones that built their own shelters, hunted their own food, made their own rules, all for these meek mareep to take it for granted and worry about the utterly pointless instead! Humans used to struggle for survival, and now these overgrown infants take it on a silver platter. They’re domesticated. Inbred by good times to be harmless, lazy and stupid!

    They should be taught to fear again. And I… I should be the one to teach them.

    No, I have to teach them. It’s my duty. I’m the only one who understands. The only one with a knife, the only one with the power. Yes, I should be the predator to rid the ecosystem of these pathetic slobs. The fearow to dive into this swarm of fat rattata and impale them with its beak and talons.

    My fingers have already gotten the message. They stroke the smooth, wooden hilt of my excellent knife, caress it. These people might all think I have this for self-defense alone, but oh, no, no, no. This is my fang, my claw, and it’s itching for flesh to wrap around its blade.

    I know what I have to do, and I know how I’ll do it. I’ll unsheathe my knife in the blink of an eye and slash it across as many throats as I can. Blood will spray on my face, mark me as the danger. They’ll all see it, and they’ll all run. Run and scream. In blind panic, some will flee deeper into the store and doom themselves merely by shortsightedness. Those will become my prey. Prey I’ll chase into the aisles, prey I’ll catch and tear apart, consume. Inhale their fear, taste their agony as my as my claw makes outsides of their insides. Their blood will soak me, splash onto the shelves. Paint the rainbow red. Brilliant, authentic red to break up the phony, lifeless hues of capitalism. Warmth for this cold day.

    Yes. Yes. This is what I was meant to do. I was meant to cease these maggots’ lives, turn their mundane into massacre, strike when they thought they were safe. I’ll kill and keep killing until only two remain. That accursed infant and its mother. I’ll trap them into a corner. The woman will cry, scream, clutch her child and beg for mercy. ‘Please! At least spare my baby!’ She’ll pray for me to feel pity. I’ll only smile, approaching. Tears and snot will stream down her distorted, bawling face. Oh, Gods, why? she thinks. Why did it have to be me, today, in a supermarket, in such a gruesome, terrifying way? Why did my child have to be with me? How does something as awful as this happen? The only thing I’ll be wondering is if an infant’s flesh will taste any different from an adult’s.

    “Ninety-seven, forty-nine.”

    Hm? It’s the cashier, blonde, deep green uniform, looking at me with her big blue eyes. Shit. How will I kill her? I don’t have the element of surprise anymore. Do I just go for it? Pull out my knife and stab her in the throat?

    “Is there a problem?”



    “No. How much was it?”

    “$97.49.”

    I draw out my card and stick it in the reader. After inputting the code - 2778 - and submitting, the screen confirms my purchase. I take back the card, and the cashier hands me a receipt. I nod and move on to load the items in my backpack one by one.

    The baby's wailing is gone. It probably stopped a while ago. All that remains is the normal background noise of the store. It's like nothing else had been there at all.

    Items packed, I zip the bag and walk away from the checkout. Some steps later, I finally allow my brain to process what happened.

    That was close. Way too close. I was millimeters away from making that fantasy real. Had it not been for that miraculous moment of sensibility, I would've thrown away my entire future... if it wasn't theologically incorrect, I'd say HE was looking out for me.

    Gods, just… how could I lose all my rational thought like that? How did I not play that scenario to the end? Obviously I would've been shot, put down like a rabid animal, and then I would've been dead! Dead, dead, life over. No body for my soul, no brain to think with. Only the void. What is the void like? No one knows. Not even HE knows. Perhaps not even the creator. Terrifying. And that's why it's important I don't let that happen to myself, why I should become the Bringer and ascend to divinity. Don't forget that.

    Alright, enough scolding. I take a deep breath. With the exhale, I force out as much stress from my body as I can. Unfortunately, it's not much. But at least I get to go home now…

    Wait. There's a commotion by the exit. Seems like a bunch of people are showing all passersby some pieces of paper… dammit, I bet they're activists or something. I guess the other people share my annoyance given none seem to stick around for longer than a second before shaking their heads and moving on.

    I don't want to risk snapping for real, so the secondary exit it is. I walk across the store to reach it and slip out. No one seems to be around, good --

    "Excuse me, sir?"

    Shit! I couldn't see that guy behind the pillar, and now he's stepped out to block my path. But this is also a free country, so I can just tell him to fuck off and be on my…

    He raises the paper in his hand. What's on it freezes me.

    "Have you seen this woman?"

    Against all odds - yes, yes I have.

    In fact, I was the last person to ever see her.

    I compare her face to the man's. There's an undeniable resemblance. Were you to stretch her out a bit, strengthen her jawline and stamp a permanent dopey expression on her face, you'd get this guy.

    Before I've realized the importance of self-preservation over curiosity, I've let a question fly. "Who is she?"

    "Oh, she's, um, my sister," he says. "Joanna. Sh-she's been missing for the past few weeks… almost two months…" He sounds like a combusken learning to crow.

    I almost ask why they're looking here and not in Viridian where she lived, but remember swiftly that I don't want to go to jail. They probably have looked in Viridian, anyway, but why come to Pallet? Does the family live here? Will the investigation take place in this town? Shit…

    "So, um, have you seen her?" he asks.

    It's time to cut this confrontation here. "Sorry, no." Wow, both words were lies.

    Something breaks in the man's dark eyes. It lights a little something in mine. Not expected, but not surprising.

    "Alright, well, if you do, please call the police and let them know, okay?"

    "Yeah, I will."

    "Thanks."

    With a nod, I step past him and resume my journey back home.

    Huh. That was unexpected. I'd killed seven people before this, but I never bumped into any relatives of theirs. Should I consider this a momentous occasion? Should I have reveled in it more? It was a pretty great setup - such dramatic irony. Oh, please, mister Houndoom, won't you tell me where my seven little kids went…

    A freezing wind snatches away my warmth, both physical and mental. Right. Can't let that darn Red have any merriment, that's against the rules.

    I slip between the spruces at the edge of the parking lot and enter the forested path beside the graveyard. The wind stops. Finally, shelter… from both weather and people.

    Walking onwards, my eyes stay stuck to the bench next to the graveyard's gates. The closer I get, the more I want to sit down. But I'd just get home later...

    Eh, you know what, I'm not in a hurry, and I could use the improvement to my mood. I pace faster to reach the bench, take off my backpack and sit down.

    I sigh from the relief in my shoulders and legs and lean back. The old dark wood of the bench is cool, but comfortable enough. I look over my shoulder to let my eyes rest on the sight of the graveyard itself.

    Graveyards are always nice. Everything about them is designed to be tranquil. Sturdy stone monuments plant to the ground in rows and columns, some simpler and less ornate than others. Engraved on their surfaces are names and the occasional aphorism. Flowers at the graves dot the scene's otherwise mild palette with vivid reds, yellows, purples and whites. The natural vegetation is much more modest - soft moss and short, prickly grass grow at the edges of the tombs and cobblestone paths.

    To think this silent, beautiful yard conceals the ashes and bones of dozens of burnt corpses within…

    This is where they all end up. Well, not in this particular graveyard, but dead nonetheless. They'll all perish - maybe of old age, maybe of disease, maybe in an accident, maybe in the hands of someone like me.

    They won't make a difference, and even if they do, they'll still die. And what matters to the person after that? Nothing. They're dead, like everyone else will end up being.

    Everyone except me.

    I have a reason to keep going. I can reach immortality, endless bliss. They can’t... or they could, but they’re not aware of that option.

    Either way, they’re still okay with it. How? Is it ignorance? Apathy? Have they not fully realized it? I know how weak they are - they wouldn't be strong enough to feign peace of mind in face of inevitable doom. Yet I’ve never seen anyone on the street break down into tears, cry at the heavens, curse their gods for creating this stage of never-ending anguish.

    If life is such pain, how can they be happy?

    A rustling pulls me out of my thoughts. A mon?

    It comes from the row of bushes at the edge of the graveyard. As soon as I pinpoint the leaves that move, the creature slips back into hiding. I only got a glimpse, but what I saw was… golden?

    My first guess is a meowth, but it doesn't seem to fit. The shape and size of the golden object was wrong. What else could it be… oh! A golden magnemite? That'd be a sight! Hell, anything would be a sight after these weeks of nothing...

    Quietly but wasting no time, I stand up and get my backpack. I enter the graveyard gates and sneak along the fence, then the bushes. A meter or two away from the spot I saw the creature in, I slow down.

    Whatever it ends up being, it might get startled and attack. I unsheathe my knife and hold it in front of me, then slowly, slowly circle the bush to see…

    Nothing. Oh. That's disappointing.

    Wait, at the edge of my sight! Another glint - and it's immediately gone. Disappeared behind that pine tree.

    This thing is quick… and it makes no noise when it moves. It has to be a magnemite. Nothing else around here could be golden and float. Except maybe staryu, but why would one come out so far from the sea…?

    I cross from the yard into the forest proper and hide behind a tree of my own. After a few eventless seconds, I sneak to a tree even closer to the creature's presumed hiding spot. Motionless, I stay in wait, keeping my eyes out for anything golden. Or anything at all moving independently from the wind.

    Something. Something's emerging.

    A golden edge peeks out from behind the pine’s trunk. Come on, come out. More floats out. Wait… that's not a sphere. It's a… it's like a concave oval. With eye holes. A mask from behind?

    It floats in midair, supported by no limbs or wings. It seems to move with conscious intent, but no clear destination. It seems confused. That makes two of us.

    Just what is it? Where did it come from? What's its purpose? Is it dangerous?

    I might get somewhat closer to knowing the answers if I saw its other side. But it doesn't want to turn on its own, it seems. Some encouragement is in order…

    Slowly, I crouch to pick up a piece of gravel. I pick a direction - towards the bushes, they'll make more noise - and chuck the little rock. It lands in the bush, shuffling the leaves sharply. The mask quickly turns around --

    No.

    There's no way.

    ---​
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Two
  • canisaries

    voted most likely to be edgy
    Location
    the middle of nowhere
    Pronouns
    she/her
    I'm so glad that I've gotten new readers here! Makes the revision worth it. Now, here's the second chapter and the introduction of a character you may have seen me talk about a bunch of times on the Discord. Nothing gruesome happens this time around, so this chapter's rating is teen for just strong language. Enjoy!

    ---

    CHAPTER TWO
    The Forest


    ---​

    Smoothly curved bridge of nose, deep-set eyes, everything else. It’s Joanna. That’s Joanna’s face on that mask.

    Why? How? Of all possible faces, why hers? She wasn’t anyone special, was she? She was just a regular college student. Kind of an introvert, even. Why would she… matter?

    Maybe it’s me. Maybe I’m hallucinating. Or dreaming. Maybe I fell asleep on that bench. Maybe I never got up in the morning to begin with. This feels real, but inside a dream, you can never really tell…

    The mask is moving. Stay focused. It’s heading for the bushes, curious about the rustle. Its way of moving is strange - graciously yet uncannily, it bobs slightly as it hovers onward. It’s like how a lot of ghost mon move.

    Actually, wait, ghost mon being related to this would make a lot of sense. They like to make all sorts of strange and unsettling things happen. This could be one of them - an illusory prank by some gastly or so.

    But how would that ghost know about Joanna? Her significance to me? Has it read my mind?

    My heart freezes. Oh Gods, have I already been caught?

    “Hello?”

    Who was that? It doesn’t seem to be whatever’s controlling the mask, given that thing flinched at the voice as well. Now the mask hides behind a tree of its own.

    “Hello?” the voice calls again. A child’s voice. It’s coming from somewhere beyond the trees in the mask’s direction.

    Rustling steps enter the soundscape. At least it’s something organic, then.

    “There’s no need to hide,” the child calls. Something appears between the trees in the distance, something brown, pale, pink. Ah, a young girl with earthy clothes and pink hair. As far as I can tell from this far away with all these branches in the way.

    She begins to approach my area directly. “I know you’re there behind that tree. Just come on out, I wanna help.”

    Shit. How does she know? Or… is she talking to me or the mask-puppeteer? I have no idea what kind of help she would have to give me, so...

    The mask shifts within its hiding spot. It’s considering whether to come out or not, I bet. Regardless of what it decides, I’m staying here. I’d rather observe this situation from afar than interfere directly.

    After seconds of hesitation, the mask floats into the open. The girl spots it. She stops and smiles.

    “Hi,” she says. “You’re new here, aren’t you?”

    The mask shyly nods.

    “Oh, you can turn yourself visible if you want," the girl says, then pauses. "Do you know how to do that?"

    The mask shakes its head.

    "Oh, well, it's like… you imagine your body turning to stone," she says. "That's how the others say how it works, anyway."

    The mask freezes. Moments later, something dark forms above it. The air becomes murky and opaque, like thick smoke. It forms into an odd shape - like a head with two arms and a tail gripping the mask. Two eyes, like large, maroon plates, open at its sides. They leak a substance of the same red hue. As it emerges, it looks like blood… but once it drips away, it evaporates into nothing halfway through its fall to the ground.

    I might not know all that much about ghosts, but I'm certain when I say that's one right there.

    Well, that’s not good. Whatever this thing is, I can tell it’s not a good idea to let it parade that mask around. Joanna needs to fade away just like all my previous victims - the fewer questions people ask, the safer I am. But a ghost… how am I supposed to get rid of a ghost?

    The girl chuckles. "This is so cool. I've never met a yamask before."

    Yamask. Is that what that thing is? I better remember that, then.

    The girl steps towards the yamask, but it jerks back, becoming a bit translucent.

    "No, no, it's okay," says the girl. "I couldn't hurt you even if I wanted to. Anything I tried would go right through."

    The yamask looks down at its mask and grips it harder with its shadowy hands. "Maaaa…" it wails quietly. The voice feels human, but isn't quite there… yet there’s a familiarity to it.

    Oh Gods. Don’t tell me this ghost… is Joanna?

    "Well, I guess that part I could touch… but I won't. I promise not to." The girl slips her hands in the pockets of her hoodie and gives another encouraging smile.

    This gives the yamask the courage to approach again. It weaves through some low-hanging branches, its mask catching on the needles a few times.

    "So, what's your name?" asks the girl.

    The ghost pauses in thought, but doesn't respond. Can it even talk to begin with?

    "...It's okay, not everyone has one."

    Relief. It didn’t say it was Joanna. I don’t think it would have any reason to lie here, so this means it either isn’t Joanna… or doesn’t remember being Joanna. Both work for me, though I still need to make it disappear somehow. Its existence might lead to new evidence surfacing. Or it could start remembering its past life and tell all about it, all about the one that killed her…

    I can’t let that happen.

    The girl reignites her weakening smile. "My name's Michi. I'm friends with a lot of ghosts round these parts. They told me they'd seen someone new floating about, a yamask. That must be you."

    "Maa? Maa, maa..."

    “Yeah, that must’ve been Gabby! She’s the one that told me about you. Sorry about her, she can be kind of prickly… but she’s a good girl once you get to know her.”

    Wait, those wails have meaning? And she can understand them? I guess this Michi isn't just any ordinary girl.

    “M-maa...” mumbles the ghost.

    "Oh, no, you don't have to meet them all right away. Actually, they're used to leaving me alone with any new one for a while so I can make them feel more comfortable."

    Well, that’s good news for me, I guess. Fewer obstacles in my way to destroy this thing.

    The girl’s eyes dart in my direction, freezing me mid-breath. Does she see me? Did she hear me? She's not a mind reader, is she?

    She glances elsewhere, then returns her gaze to the mask. I let my breath escape my lungs. Guess she didn't notice me after all. At least I hope so. While there's nothing for me to physically fear from a child of… twelve years or so, a witness is a witness. It's always better to stay as low profile as one can. Who knows what crimes might end up being necessary.

    "Say…" starts Michi, grasping her arms, "it's pretty cold and windy out here. There's an abandoned cabin nearby I like to hang out at. Do you wanna come?"

    The ghost shyly nods - now with its true head instead of the mask.

    "Alright, cool! This way."

    The two head back the way Michi came. As they get further, I begin to follow, careful not to rustle the vegetation too much. Soon, though, I reach the trail they're walking and thank my luck that it's a winding one. Were it a straight stretch, they'd spot me in an instant.

    From the glimpses I see through the slivers between tree trunks and branches, I analyze the girl's appearance further. Hoodie, worn jeans, beanie, fingerless gloves. All shades of gray and brown, starkly contrasted by her chin-length pink hair and bright blue eyes. Her clothing seems shabby at first glance, but a longer look reveals it's still in good condition, only a bit dirty. Likely from all this forest trekking. So she's no princess, but she's no street rattata, either. Just a wild spirit. A bit like me?

    No, nothing like me. She's helping someone, for one. Someone like me would never do that. The difference between us is the difference between a pichu and a houndoom.

    “So,” the girl begins after her long silence, “what brought you to these woods? Where did you come from?”

    "Aa, maa. Mah, maah, maah…"

    "Ah, I see."

    What was it, what did she say? Dammit, why does this thing need to talk in wails only? I know some ghosts can speak human language just fine… but this must not be one of them.

    I continue to follow the two on their trail. With the ghost's backstory apparently not having much to ask about it - good for me, I suppose - the girl chooses to share her own. I ready myself for mental notes in case anything relevant is revealed, but not much is. She's just some orphan from Viridian that likes to screw around in nature. Used to live closer to these woods but was moved due to her orphanage getting too full. No human friends, but many ghost ones thanks to her rare ability to communicate with them. A bit predictable, honestly. I could've deduced this myself.

    “Anyway," Michi continues, "I come back here a lot and stay at the cabin if the nights are warm enough. My friends would probably understand if I didn't come here anymore, but I couldn't leave them. They’re kinda like orphans in their own way… no parents, lonely and scared, people usually don't want much to do with them…”

    “M-ma…?”

    “Oh, no, sorry, I mean… you're gonna be fine, that's what we're here for.”

    “Ma…”

    The two fall silent. It makes my steps seem louder again. I try my best to sync them up with the girl's, but it proves more difficult than expected due to her being a whole head shorter than me.

    The branches seem sparser up ahead. Are we headed to a clearing?

    "Okay, we're here," announces the girl. Oh, good.

    I creep along the next stretch, keeping myself out of sight, and then stop. I can see the opening from here while the razz bushes still keep me hidden. A perfect spot for stalking.

    Stalking a little girl. Doesn't sound very good when I put it like that, does it.

    Nevertheless, the girl and the ghost make their way through the opening to the cabin near its edge. It's clear the shack's been long abandoned by its legal owners - its red paint is peeling off, and splotches of mint green lichen cover some of the exposed planks. Dust and smudges coat the back window and surely any other windows as well. I'm rather surprised the glass is intact. If time doesn't get those, primeape-brained teens usually do.

    Michi leads the ghost into the cabin and closes the door. Keeping myself out of the window’s view, I sneak to the side of the building. This should be a safe enough spot to eavesdrop.

    “Yeah, as I said, it’s not much,” says Michi, stretching. “Still, it’s cozy when you get used to it. Those blankets in the corner help.”

    “...Mma?”

    “I -- well, places. People throw old stuff out. Even though it’s good. Like this cabin. Whoever lived in it left it long ago, but I still think it’s neat.”

    Resourceful, this girl. Clearly she’s more capable than most of her snot-nosed peers - and even a good amount of adults.

    “This mirror, too”, she continues. “Just because it’s cracked doesn’t mean it’s worthless. You can still see yourself just fine.”

    “Haah...”

    “...Do you know her?”

    I lean forward.

    “...Maa.”

    “Oh... well, maybe with time.”

    Time… time is of the essence, then, if the ghost’s supposed to remember something Joanna-related.

    “Anyway, I’m gonna go gather some firewood. I’m gonna be back soon, just stay here. And make yourself at home.”

    The front door creaks open. I crouch. Do I need to sneak past the back window? Will the ghost spot me if I try? Wait, wait, the girl is going the other way. Return to the side wall, calmly, calmly…

    Michi’s footsteps head to the start of another path leaving the opening and fade there. Seconds later, I dare to peek around the corner. No sign of her. I can let myself think.

    Alright. What should I do next? I want to know more about this ghost and this yamask species, and the girl clearly knows things… but just waiting to pick up information from casual conversation feels rather slow. Not to mention I can only understand one side.

    This girl, though, must have learned what she knows from somewhere else, and most likely that’s a source accessible to everyone. Books. Or the internet… but that’s something I decided to never bother with again after the disastrous consequences of last time. I grit my teeth. Traumas sure are wonderful.

    The library it is, then. Not only will it describe this species to me, it’ll likely tell me how to kill it, too - and that’s something I can’t expect the girl to explain.

    But… ugh, I still have these groceries to deal with, don’t I. I need to go home first. But then again, I’d have to go there anyway to get some supplies for keeping the girl out of my hair. Spores and duct tape come to mind. Yes, a home visit is imperative.

    I sneak back the way I came and adopt a more casual gait as I reach the forest path. Skulking would only make me more suspicious. From now on, I’m just somebody out for a walk. Enjoying nature.

    And why wouldn’t I? Now that I don’t have a target to tail, I can take in the little wonders in my surroundings. Tiny white buds line the edge of the path - rawstberry plants that have yet to properly bloom. Above them sway branches of shrubs and evergreen trees alike, casting shadows in chaotic patterns. Between them hang stray strings of spiderweb… okay, that's not so nice, not a fan of spiders… but dry leaves and needles crunch beneath my sneakers, their blanket broken up by the occasional root slithering across the path. Outside the path, I can spot mounds of moss on the forest floor. They look soft enough to lie down on. Ah, nature… I’m glad there’s at least something that can cheer me up on these gloomy days --

    “Stop where you are.”

    ...Hm.

    It appears the girl has spotted me.

    I turn around. It’s Michi, alright. I guess she repaid my sneaking by walking silently herself.

    “Who are you, and what do you want?” she demands with an icy stare.

    “I’m just passing by,” I say and continue walking - but she follows me.

    “No, you’re not,” she says. “You were following us.”

    How did she know? Did I not hide myself well enough? No, play it cool. She might be bluffing.

    I keep my expression neutral. “You must be mistaken.”

    “Your aura didn’t lie.”

    "Aura?" She has aura powers, too?

    She nods. "I can sense them. And yours was behind us the whole time. I thought that maybe some ursa had a thorn stuck in its paw… but clearly you're not here to ask for help. So what is it that you want?"

    I suppose her aura sense can't read minds if she has to ask. Hopefully that means I can still lie.

    "Well, there was a yamask," I say. "You don't see those everyday. I was just curious."

    "There's more to it than that. I can tell."

    I stop and narrow my eyes. She's persistent. "Shouldn't you be at school or something?"

    "Shouldn't you?"

    Ouch. She's got me there.

    She steps closer, still confident. "Just cut the shit and tell me what you're after."

    "Language," I mutter.

    "You're not my mom."

    "Yeah. I'm alive."

    Her face flushes up. I smirk. Now we're even.

    "Fine," she grumbles, "be like that, then. But I better not see you around here anymore."

    I snort. "Or what? What's a little girl gonna do to me?"

    She reaches into her pocket and pulls out something plastic --

    Click! A blade springs out. Thin, sharp. That would hurt. That would hurt to get stabbed with. She's going to stab me if I get any closer. No, I don't want to get stabbed --

    Wait. Wait. Something's off. She's just a kid. And that knife is pretty small. She probably wouldn't even dare to actually use it. Why did I get so startled?

    ...I get it. Aura. She must have tried to influence mine, pushing for a fight or flight response to make her little weapon seem more intimidating.

    Well, unfortunately for her, my lord has shown me things much more terrifying, and I've returned to serve HIM each time. I'm not about to back away from a toddler wielding cutlery. Especially not when I have a blade of my own.

    Well, she's in for a shock, then. Predator's pride burning in my chest, I reach for my…

    Wait.

    Think about what you're doing. If you take out your knife, she'll see what you're capable of, physically and mentally. Faced with that danger, she might decide to gather some of her friends for security or even take the new ghost somewhere else. And then it'll be a lot harder, if not impossible, for you to get rid of the ghost.

    You need to yield. You need to falter. You need to give her the illusion that you're just another mareep. Hide your fangs.

    I douse my heart with freezing humility and step back. "Whatever," I mutter. Just before I turn around, I can see triumph in her eyes. It's a triumph for me as well, even if this shame makes me shudder. But I'll get to show my true colors yet.

    I resume my journey back to the graveyard. A few seconds in, a glance over my shoulder confirms Michi has gone her own way as well.

    Aura powers, huh. Those could be a problem… were I not a Helixian. I'm rather sure that the psychic nullification seal will make me invisible to that sense of hers, and if not, there'll be some other seal for it. Once I get home, I can read up on the specifics. May as well look for anything on ghosts, too, while I'm at it. I'll gladly make use of any knowledge HE gifts me. Or HIS texts, to be more exact. HIM I shouldn't bother in vain. And I don't want HIM to see me with that… task unfinished.

    I'll just settle this on my own. After all, it's just one ghost. With good luck, it'll be dead by tonight, and that girl will have no memory of it.

    Soon enough, I return home. Having unpacked the groceries, I pay my hidden room a visit and check the Helixian texts - psychic nullification works against aura as far as I can understand the description, yes… but there are no instructions on dealing with ghosts that I could easily read with my level of linguistic knowledge. Maybe I could decipher the pages given a day or two, but it's more likely I'll get what I'm after faster and more accurately from the library.

    After carving the psychic nullifier into my wrist and patching up the wounds, I copy the memory-eraser's pattern to my notebook to make sure I don't get it wrong. Then I gather the supplies I think I'll need in my backpack… vial of spores, rag, duct tape, scissors, naturally the notebook… anything else?

    I don't think there's anything else. I should be ready to go. I should hurry up, too - these things ended up taking longer than I initially expected. The clock of the kitchen’s microwave tells me it’s ten to three already.

    Ten… to… three.

    Shit.

    The front door opens, and in steps Abe.

    “Red! Are you ready to go?”

    ---​
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Three New
  • canisaries

    voted most likely to be edgy
    Location
    the middle of nowhere
    Pronouns
    she/her
    it's been over a month since the last chapter, it seems. whoops! either way, chapter 3 is finally revised and ready to be read. an entire scene was removed and yet this is still only about 100 words shorter than the previous version. double whoops! either way, rating is teen for this one for the same reasons as the second chapter, those being strong language and not much else. enjoy!

    ---

    CHAPTER THREE
    Analysis


    ---​

    The mental health clinic towers over me.

    One would think that a place focused on aiding the mentally troubled would try to appear as welcoming and unintimidating as possible, but clearly the architect didn't agree. Instead, the building is a soulless, washed-beige block of concrete with featureless windows.

    However, that's nothing compared to the entrance, which has a low, protruding roof held up by cuboid pillars that seem far too few and slim to support the thick mass above. The comforting fact that it's a modern building keeping up to modern standards is hard to internalize with the red-green vines spiraling up the pillars and hanging from the ceiling. It almost looks overgrown, abandoned.

    Oh, how I'd love to just walk away. To avoid all the invasive questions about my life and sanity. To get right back to my ghost hunt before any secrets get spilled...

    But I can't. The reason why is two meters tall, reeks of musk and stands right behind me.

    Yes, Abe had thought ahead. He knew he was small and dainty, that he would have no chance of forcing me out of the house and into a cab by himself. But he knew a slaking would, and what do you know, his friend happened to know one.

    Naturally, I considered pulling out my knife and threatening the mon… but as I weighed my options a little more, I decided against it. While it would be best to exterminate the ghost as soon as possible, it wouldn't help me much if my brother was convinced I was too dangerous to reason with. He'd begin to try his best to get me locked up, and I'm sure he'd eventually find the hidden room - and then I'd be exposed anyway.

    On the other hand, actually going to this stupid shrink and getting a professional's opinion that I'm perfectly normal would shut him right up. Probably put me in the files as clean as well. Undoubtedly a worthwhile investment. It was therefore that I decided to comply with my brother's demands - though not before leaving my backpack at home. Wouldn't be good if they checked it here and saw all that equipment suspiciously fitting for a kidnapping.

    As for the ghost, I imagine there's more time to spare than my anxieties would insist. The ghost didn't actually seem to know or remember that much when Michi spoke to it. If it had been wandering around for some time before that, the pace at which memories return should be slow, provided any would return at all. Given this, an hour at a shrink really shouldn't matter… but obviously I'll still keep a brisk pace. The sooner I get out of this loony bin, the better.

    Abe finishes paying the cab driver further behind and scurries over to me. My sight accidentally veers to the left and meets the slaking's eyes. The mon snorts. I quickly look back to Abe, who answers my stare with an innocent, pup-like smile.

    "Okay, let's go," he says, then turns to the slaking. "Thanks a lot for your help. Do you think you could still stay here until twenty past and make sure he doesn't try slipping away?"

    The slaking grins. "You got it, kid."

    "Thanks so much, Joe. I owe you one."

    We leave the mon behind and enter the clinic. The very first room is a spacious white-and-viridian hall - a dramatic change from the thin crevice of the entrance. Outside us and a receptionist in his glass-encased desk, the hall is void of people.

    Abe walks up to the desk and rests his fingers on the counter. “Hi,” he begins quietly. “My brother has an appointment.”

    “Name?” asks the receptionist, his eyes locked on mine as I sluggishly approach. I can tell exactly what he’s thinking. What’s the matter with this one? Nothing. But I bet that’s what they all say.

    Abe saves me the trouble of answering. “Red Akai.”

    “Alright. Let me see...” The man swivels to his computer and begins to click and type. Even amidst his search, his eyes flick back to me. “15.20, Dr Jordan Marsh?”

    “Yes.”

    “Third floor, hallway E. You can wait there.”

    “Thanks.” Abe nods and heads for the stairway at the side of the hall. I'm about to follow, but then...

    “Sir, is that a knife?"

    I turn to the receptionist.

    "You’ll have to give it up for the duration of your appointment.”

    I return to the desk, steps disdainfully unhurried. With the same enthusiasm, I unstrap the scabbard from my belt and place it on the counter.

    As the receptionist drags the decorated leather case through the sliver in the glass, I make sure to keep my eyes pinned to his. Once his gaze strays to meet mine, I speak three slow words, moving only my lips.

    "Don't lose it."

    He averts his eyes and stashes the knife in a drawer.

    I return to Abe. "Third floor, hallway E?"

    He nods, and so we begin our journey through the floors. The stairway, encased by concrete walls, coils around an elevator shaft as it ascends. On the second floor, an open door's frame shows a glimpse into a waiting room with minimal decor. On the third floor… the exact same view unfolds. Am I sure Celebi didn't just throw me back fifteen seconds?

    My pondering of false gods fades quickly as the room comes fully to view. Three people sit on the rough-textured couches of the central area, none of them paying much attention to the quiet noises of the TV near the ceiling. One is a skinny, bony man fidgeting with his watch and twitching his leg all the while. The other man is heavier and older, slouching back while staring deeply into the blank wall opposite him. The third is a woman so reserved and tiny that I may have missed her presence entirely were it not for the tapping of her fingers on her smartphone.

    I can smell the crazy off them.

    "Over there," my brother whispers and points to one of the many hallways leading out of the room. The sign above does indeed say E.

    After entering and turning a corner, the hallway boasts a long line of doors. Opposite them rest a few chairs and a tiny table. Abe escorts me to sit down, finally, but… he still stands there.

    I sigh and lean back. "You can just leave. You know I wouldn't run off without my knife."

    He rubs his arm.

    “Just go. Your job is done,” I say, this time with eye contact.

    "Alright," he exhales and finally walks off. "Remember, bus 20," he adds over his shoulder.

    "Yep." The bus that goes from here to the high school. Abe even gave me the necessary cash for a ticket. I could’ve told him I had enough on me already, but I’m not gonna say no to free money and exact change at that.

    I watch Abe disappear behind the corner, then sigh and take a lengthy blink. My arms cross themselves and my finger begins to tap. The shrink better call me in soon.

    I wonder what Michi and the yamask are doing right now. Are they talking? Who knows what kind of conversation they're having. Oh, what’s that, my yamask friend? You just remembered how the woman whose face you’re carrying died? Oh, she was murdered in an occult ritual? By that man that was following us earlier? Well, that’s not very nice! We should go and tell the nice men at the police station right away!

    Oh Gods, what if that’s actually what’s happening? What if they already told the police? What if they’re coming for me right now?

    No, no, think about this logically. Calm down your pounding heart. They don’t have any proof. And in this country, you’re innocent until proven guilty, right? They can’t get me arrested - only questioned at best. And the cops can’t just go ahead and ransack my place based on something a ghost and a little girl said, can they? As long as no one finds out about my secret room, I’m safe. And Joanna never even knew where the room was.

    Yeah, the worst they can do is get me interrogated. And that's basically what I'm about to go through here, anyway. So, with all that considered, I should just get this over with as quickly as possible while appearing as normal as possible and then rush for the library.

    Alright, that's settled. Now back to waiting impatiently. I let my eyes wander around my boring surroundings and what the hell is that?

    On the table. Black smudge with legs. That's a spider. Where did it come from? Are there others nearby? No, don't move!

    My body squeezes itself against the far armrest. Stop walking this way, you bastard! I don't want anything to do with you, you disgusting, unpredictable stain of a creature. You don't even look alive. You're a machine, created only to crawl into places you shouldn't be in and repulse anyone who spots your ugly silhouette.

    How does it do it? How does a tiny, harmless critter set off a blaring alarm in my brain, when its cousin ariados are perfectly fine for me to look at?

    That's it. I'm sick of this. I’m sounding like common prey here. I'm a predator, apex no less, and this spider will know it. No matter how repugnant you are, you're fifty steps below me in the food chain. Die.

    My hand is raised, ready to squish, but it only trembles in place. I really, really don't want to feel its shell or innards on my skin. Should I use my shoe instead? It'd be far easier on my heart…

    No, this is ridiculous. Red, aren't you the Bringer? Isn't it your fate to merge with the god of chaos and usher forth a new age?

    You've killed eight human beings in a slow and painful way. You've drunk their blood and eaten their flesh. And now suddenly killing a spider by hand is off limits because the touch of one is a bit icky?

    It's almost like you weren't suitable to be the Bringer after all…

    Slam.

    Th-there. It's done. It's dead. It's dead, right? I don't think it's moving. I just feel its broken body, its gross body. It's done, so now I can get it off. Quickly, in case it isn't dead after all.

    I yank the hand off the table and swipe the palm on the knee of my jeans. Spider corpse on jeans, okay, get off, I flick it off and it drops to the floor. I'm safe. Not that I wasn't ever safe. I can just be at ease now.

    “Red Akai?”

    Who said that? Who said that? Oh, the psych! She's standing in the frame of one of the doors, freshly opened. She?

    I get up. "Yes, that's me."

    “I'm Dr Jordan Marsh. Please, come in." Jordan, huh. I guess it's unisex. But more surprising is her outfit...

    I make my way to the door. Before entering, I steal one last glance at the dead spider on the floor one more time. Still there. It really is dead.

    I continue into the room, analyzing all I see. Big window taking up a lot of the back wall. Desk in one corner, two armchairs in the other. Small table between the chairs. On the table sit a clock, a vase of flowers - plastic… and a box of tissues. Seriously?

    Dr Marsh closes the door. "Please, have a seat."

    I choose the far chair. Its dark green leather is comfortable enough. Well, faux leather, I'm sure.

    The woman seats herself in the other armchair and begins to search for a blank page in her notebook. I take the pause in conversation to study her appearance more closely.

    Red cat-eye glasses, jet black bowl cut, mascara, clothes black and white with the exception of a striking red scarf. Half secretary, half rebellious teen who'd tell me giratinism is the way to go. And I'd tell them to fuck off because I already have a cult.

    Her gaze flicks up with no warning, freezing me for an instant.

    "So," she begins, "how are you?"

    I blink. "Right now?"

    "Right now."

    "Fine, I guess."

    "You guess?"

    I suppress a frown. "I know." Is the whole thing going to be this slow?

    “Alright, then...” She scribbles something in her notebook. Was… was that important?

    “So, what is it that you're here for?” she asks.

    I feign an innocent expression. "Not sure, to be honest," I say. "My brother set this up for me. Did he say why?"

    "I think he told me that you seemed unhappy and on-edge. He also mentioned something about violent tendencies. Do you recognize that in yourself?"

    Violent tendencies. I guess word of my reputation reached him at high school… but it's not like this lady's gonna know. "Not really. I'm just not someone who shows their cheer that much."

    “So you’d consider yourself a mentally healthy person?”

    “Yes.” Probably more than most.

    “Have you had any previous diagnoses?”

    “No."

    "What about the Twitch?"

    I flinch. So Abe told her… maybe that's why he wanted me looked at. Thought he was doing me a favor by having me open up about that to a professional.

    "Right," I say, "that didn't even come to mind… I guess it shows I'm pretty much over it."

    "Over it?"

    Oh, please don't sound so incredulous. I don't want that experience to mark me. Sure, I still have nightmares about those days, and sure, I still can't use modern technology without terrifying flashbacks, and sure, it somehow caused me to develop an obsession towards a little marine mon, an obsession that I now desperately need to destroy for the sake of ascension… but I need the world to see me as normal despite that. Somehow. Gods, this might not be as simple as I'd previously thought. Gotta think of a reply to acknowledge this, but still downplay it enough...

    “Well, I get some nightmares now and then about those times… but I know it's over now, and that calms me down each time I have one.”

    She writes something in her notebook again, then returns to more mundane questions. She asks me about how well I've slept, if I'm on any medication, whether or not I use any substances… couldn't I just have filled out some form? This is taking annoyingly long. My finger starts to tap again, but I stop it.

    “Alright then, moving on. Tell me, how is school for you?” Dr Marsh asks, eyes on her notes.

    “It’s okay. I don’t get the highest grades, but I don’t need them.”

    “That’s funny...”

    Wait. Wait, I may have fucked up. Still, I have to try… “Why’s that?”

    Her eyes meet mine. “Because I know you quit high school two years ago.”

    I freeze. Shit, I got caught lying. How does she know I quit?

    “Why did you quit?” she asks, leaning back in her chair. She has a more… relaxed air to her now. It’s like she was waiting for me to slip up.

    Okay, why did I quit, why did I quit. Quitting isn’t normal. What’s normal for quitters? What’s normal for a person in my situation? I quit because the people pissed me off way too much and I needed time to hunt down sacrifices for HIM. And take care of the omanyte, but... that’s history now. But could that work as a reason here? If I let her know I cared for someone - and from others’ perspective, still do - she’s less likely to consider me a potential danger to society.

    “I needed time off to care for my elderly... friend.” I guess that’s the best word to use here, since ‘master’ and ‘lord’ are definitely out of the question.

    “Helix, right? An omanyte?”

    The name sounds so wrong coming from her mouth. “How do you know all these things?”

    “Your brother told me, as background information,” she says. Of course. “He told me you hold Him in very high regard… even that you considered Him a ‘god’. How accurate is this?”

    I force a laugh. “Well, that’s an exaggeration. Some people say they ‘worship’ the people they love, you know?”

    “I believe this is usually reserved for romantic interests. Are You two --”

    “N-no.” That’s just… uncomfortable to think about. “Just friends. With a strong bond.”

    “Can you further describe this bond between You two? How did it form?”

    Memories flood my mind. The timid eyes of a newly-hatched omanyte, the touch of its cautiously reaching arm, these sensations muffling the voices screaming inside my skull. Then an older omanyte playfully swimming in loops and circles. The sound of its ‘good morning’ as I come downstairs. The pattern of its shell, the captivating spiral. The slit pupils of perceptive, yellow eyes and the coiling of tentacles upon tentacles. The deep blue blood on Mt Silver’s snow. The pain in His voice. The pain in my chest. I feel the same pain now. My heart wrapped in coarse rope, the loops chafing the organ and getting tighter. It hurts, but it shouldn’t hurt, there shouldn't be any kind of reaction. You can’t care… no - you don’t care. You got that? You keep H- it safe and healthy for HIS benefit, but you don’t talk to it, touch it or even look at it any more than you have to, alright?

    That’s how you’ll move on. By realizing it’s just an… object, a tool. A lowly organism whose breath and beating heart just happen to allow HIS powers to grow much faster. It’s not HIM. It doesn’t even know about HIM. Aside from its spirit link, it’s worthless. A distraction. And if you want to be the Bringer, you can’t let anything hold you back. HE told you so. Sever that attachment, or you have no chance - HE was very, very clear about that. Either that connection dies… or you do.

    “Are you alright?”

    I'm in the room again. It's weirdly quiet. Was it always this quiet?

    “Yeah, just got lost in thought,” I answer, fixing my sight on my hands to keep any more images from surfacing. They’ve curled into fists. I pry them open.

    Oh Gods, I just want to get out of here and get on with my plans. This isn’t worth it anymore. How could I cut this short, but do so politely and normally…? Ah, got it! Why didn't I think of this before?

    “Actually, though…” I interrupt the psych's writing. “I'm sorta getting a pretty bad headache right now.”

    “Oh.” She lowers her pen. “Can you not go on?”

    “I don't think I can, no… I'm sorry.” I rub my forehead, as if to alleviate a pain. “I get migraines from time to time, and this feels like one…”

    “How bad is it? Do you need help?”

    “Nah, no, I… I think I should just go home and sleep it off. That usually does it.”

    I get up and she makes no motions to stop me. I take that as a sign of success.

    “Shall we reschedule?” she asks. Dammit, she isn't done with me yet.

    “Yeah, we should… I don't have a phone right now, so please call my brother.” I wobble to the door. “Thanks… goodbye.”

    “Goodbye,” she replies as I walk out and close the door.

    Phew. Won't have to worry about that for a while. Hopefully not before I manage to get rid of the mask.

    I backtrack the route I walked with Abe, though nearly get lost on the way, as some hallways are pretty much identical. The blueprints of this place must have been just an elaborate squiggle. Nevertheless, I arrive at the main hall and resume feigning a headache, just in case. After waiting through a short line at the reception desk, I ask for my knife back and receive it. I swear I could’ve seen a hint of malicious joy in the receptionist’s eyes. Should that kind of person really be in such a social profession? I’d never put myself in a job like that.

    As I exit the building, I glance around, but see no Slaking. He must have left by now, good. I search for and quickly spot a bus stop a bit further down the road, sprint over and make sure I still have the cash Abe gave me in my pocket. I do. Great. There’s plenty, too - I suppose in case of the price being more than anticipated. At least that little dork thinks ahead.

    Alright, bus 20. You better come soon.

    ---​

    I step off the bus at the stop next to the high school, knowing the library is only a short walk away. I’m doubly glad about it now after having to sit next to some human-snorlax hybrid who probably hadn’t showered since his puberty began. Compared to that and the general stuffy air of public transportation, the outside’s cold gusts are refreshing - but much better is to come.

    Oh, the library. While on the outside, you may look like a secret government containment unit for extraterrestrial life with your shape of octagonal dome and colors of chessboard, I know the beauty that hides inside you.

    The shelves of dark, carefully lacquered wood. The books of infinite colors and patterns, like flowers in bloom. The scent of freshly baked pastries from the café in the same building, and the sound of… nothing. Nothing but a few lone steps and the swish of a turned page every now and then. No babbling, no traffic. Only serenity.

    I wonder now… why haven’t I come here in such a long time? I came here all the time in high school - well, the one year I managed to spend there. I would read about biology, about anatomy, learning how exactly those organs I’d seen and handled worked… and suddenly, chemistry was interesting, physics was interesting. So many things were. I wanted to learn even more…

    But then I quit. I stopped going to school. I stopped going places in general, not that there were many. I guess it all lost its meaning somehow…

    Oh, whatever. I’m on a mission here. I shouldn’t be thinking of the past with the present being such a mess. A mess only I can fix - but the tools I require lie within this building.

    I sprint to the doors and slip inside. It's warm, as always, and… wait, what?

    Where are the wooden shelves? Where is the café? And what is that smell? It's like a rabid rattata had busted into the kitchen and knocked over everything on the spice rack! This isn't mellow and relaxing, this is an assault on the senses!

    And what is going on with the library itself? It's like it's going for the opposite effect, sensory deprivation! Where are the colors? Where are the textures? Everything's grayscale, everything's plastic! Even the books look like they're wilting…

    Who would do this? Who would like this? Is it so important for those modernist snobs to shove their so-called art in people's faces that they've begun defacing public property?

    Gods… my hand draws itself to my forehead. I feel weak. The scent… it's not just spices - which seem to come from a deli that stands where the café used to - I can even pick up rubber and new paint. A sure recipe for a headache… is this karma for lying about having one before?

    Forget it, it's not important. What's important is finding out how to get rid of that ghost. I can lament the state of our society some other time.

    Alright. I calm my nerves and head to the Fact section. From there, Biology, Pokémon, Ghost. One shelf. A shelf not made of sturdy wood with elegant striping, but a long metal sheet bent into a squiggle to constrict the books within… no, don’t let your thoughts wander, get back on track. I pick a book that looks comprehensive enough - The Complete Guide to Ghosts - and sit down on the closest chair I find.

    Skimming the book, it seems most of this information is either already familiar to me or completely irrelevant. Everyone knows dark beats ghost by first grade, and I doubt knowing the exact density and composition of a gastly's smoke is going to help with my current situation. Are yamask gone over in this book? I skip to the glossary and look under Y - nope. To hell with this book, then. I return it to the shelf and look for the next…

    Unfortunately, the same repeats with that book. And the third. Fourth. Fifth. Or, well, not quite. Some of them mentioned yamask. One even included an illustration… but that was all. No new information gained.

    Is there no book specifically on yamask? There has to be. Though there's no guarantee there would be one in this library. That thought takes my heart in its hand and bounces it like a basketball. What if I can't find the information on my own? I'll have to ask somebody, and that'll leave a trace, a big stinking one at that. I can't have that… but the alternative is to try and search the internet, and I… I can't…

    No, focus! Don't give up yet! There are still plenty of books to go through.

    I scan the backs of each yet again. Generic, generic, gastly line, misdreavus line, generic… hold on. Some of these have been pushed in back first. I flip around a few. Generic, Ghosts of Hoenn, Faces of the Past: The Unovan Ya-

    Yamask.

    The golden mask on the cover stares deep into my eyes with its empty sockets. It whispers congratulations on finding it.

    I open the book right away. Tell me, what is a yamask?

    Yamask, specifically the Unovan variant, are ghost-type pokémon with shadow-like bodies and large red eyes that seem to drip a viscous liquid. With their arms or prehensile tail, they carry a golden mask that resembles a human face . . . Okay, all of that I already knew. Skipping a bit further…

    As with many other ghost pokémon, it has long been believed that these creatures are reincarnations of humans that have perished in the past. In the case of the Unovan yamask and its Galarian cousin, however, there has been significantly more evidence in favor of this theory than for other ghost species. There exist numerous records of Unovan yamask remembering experiences of the person whose face they appear to carry as well as retaining attitudes and behaviors the deceased was reported to have possessed . . .

    Shit. It’s as I feared. The ghost is either Joanna herself or an imitation functionally equivalent to the real thing…

    But I suppose it makes little difference. I’d already decided to kill the thing, no matter what it was. And speaking of killing, let’s try to find something on that next...

    I continue my skimming. It seems that these yamask are most numerous near the ruins of an ancient desert civilization in Unova, but also appear elsewhere around the world, seemingly at random. They can also evolve - they can, now?

    I flip the page to meet a fierce gaze. Red eyes filled with malice stare from the darkness inside of a sarcophagus. Four arms of shadow reach at the camera, seeking to grasp the viewer into a cold embrace and… eat them, maybe, I don’t know, haven’t gotten that far. But it’s also not relevant for me as long as I’m fast enough not to let Joanna evolve, so I skip to the glossary for clues on how to eliminate a yamask specimen.

    Some jumping between pages lets me know the gist. With ghosts, the most obvious answer is always an exorcism. There are two kinds: fatal and non-fatal, and the names refer to what happens to the ghost as a result. Fatal destroys the ghost, ‘banishing’ it from reality, while non-fatal exorcisms are used to simply force a ghost out of a person, object or location without necessarily harming the spirit. They’re also apparently harder to pull off.

    Well, then it’s a good thing I want this thing wiped off the earth! Fatal is the obvious choice. But then again… exorcisms can’t be that simple. And if they require actual faith to work, they definitely won’t be my thing. Were I not serving a god I’ve witnessed with my own two eyes, I’d dismiss religion entirely.

    Oh, there appears to be another way of handling things. It involves taking the creature’s mask and wearing it, which will cause one to be possessed. This will make the ghost tangible within the host’s reality, allowing the human to land a deadly strike to destroy the yamask once and for all. However, this technique only tends to work with new ghosts and with the element of surprise at hand as the ghost can easily escape from reach soon after the possession's beginning...

    Well, aren't I lucky to be dealing with a first-time ghost, then! Sounds like all I have to do is be quick and cunning, and that's what HE has trained me to be. This'll be a piece of cake.

    Still, I should look into that exorcism business. It'd be foolish not to have a back-up plan. Back to the shelf it is…

    ---​

    I fold the napkin and tuck it in my pocket. I really should’ve brought my notebook along.

    I stop to stare at the ballpoint pen I’d borrowed to scribble down the instructions to one exorcism I found. Should I return it, or accept it as compensation for the horrible renovation of this place? Eh, I guess I’ll return it. I have enough enemies as is.

    I walk up to the librarian and return the pen with a smile and a thank you - just to see if I was still capable of performing such actions, I suppose. I exit the library and --

    Sunlight! Sweet, golden sunlight, unobstructed by clouds, oh, this is wonderful. I guess the sky is clearing up after all! And the fresh air… I breathe my lungs full of it. Oh, Gods, yes, this is what it’s all about.

    I lean on a lightpost for a brief moment of deeper relaxation - but an unexpected texture against my hoodie's arm scatters my thoughts. Plastic among metal. I glance for an answer.

    ARCEUS SAVES, reads a tacky blue sticker. Oh, so those morons are loose in this neighborhood…

    But my frown melts away as fast as it came. Such trivialities can't bring me down now. I finally have the answers I need. The road onward is clear, and at the end of that road… I have the privilege of another kill. It's only fair, really. I wasn't there to see her die the first time. This time is another story.

    What flickered back at the supermarket earlier today will soon get to blaze.

    Tonight, the predator is on the hunt.

    ---​
     
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