• Welcome to Thousand Roads! You're welcome to view discussions or read our stories without registering, but you'll need an account to join in our events, interact with other members, or post one of your own fics. Why not become a member of our community? We'd love to have you!

    Join now!

canisaries

you should've known the price of evil
Location
Stovokor
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. custom/inkay-shirlee
  2. custom/houndoom-elliot
  3. custom/yamask-joanna
Finally! After over a year in the making, this oneshot is finished and ready to be uploaded. Huge thanks to @NebulaDreams and @Dragonfree for their highly valuable feedback as betareaders.

This story shares a universe with Hunter, Haunted and features the side character Samson, an Arcean priest, as protagonist. This story is a standalone, however, so no knowledge of Hunter, Haunted is required nor is any specific reading order necessary.

While this story contains no particularly shocking material (in contrast to Hunter, Haunted), it deals with some heavy subject matters. Judgment contains:
- state-mandated execution
- systemic discrimination
- death
- discussion of good and evil
- religious themes
- some metaphors with violent imagery
- reference to miscarriage (hypothetical)

Any and all feedback is appreciated. With that said, this is Judgment. Thank you for reading.

NOTE FOR CATNIP READERS:
As this oneshot is longer than 10k words, you are not required to read all of it - only up to 10k words. If you choose to do this, you can stop at this point of the story:

"It's time to go."

The door swung shut, and Samson heard nothing after.

The story up to and including this point is 9 958 words, very close to 10k, and it happens to be at a natural place to stop. If you choose to stop reading here, please mention it in your review. You can, of course, read the whole thing too. If you do not specify in your review, I will assume that you read the whole story and read your feedback in that light. Thanks!

- - -

judgmentcover.png

JUDGMENT

Synopsis:
Arcean priest Mark Samson is requested to perform a blessing for a death row inmate at the Pewter Spectral Penitentiary.

Genre:
Drama

Status:
Complete oneshot.

Length:
15 000~ words

- - -​

Dear Mr Samson

The Pewter Spectral Penitentiary requests your services. An inmate set to be exorcised on the 16th of April has requested an Arcean blessing as their last wish.

Please respond before the 16th of April so we may discuss this issue further.

Sincerely,
The Pewter Spectral Penitentiary


On the sixteenth of April, he opened his email and read that message.

Hastily, he typed a response and sent it.

I will come. Please wait.

He grabbed his Book of Arceus and his copy of Rituals and returned to the car he’d arrived home with just minutes ago. His wife asked him what was going on.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “Something came up. I’ll be back within an hour or two. I’ll explain then.”

She understood, or perhaps she didn’t - but that could be mended at a later time.

Right now, he had to go.

- - -​

Samson drove fifteen over the speed limit. He had never speeded before. He had hoped that he would never have to speed - speeding was dangerous for the driver and everyone around them for a multitude of reasons. Generally speaking, speeding was simply selfish.

Generally. But there were cases, cases like this, where it was more selfish not to speed.

He was prepared to pay any fine he needed afterwards were he caught on any camera, but he prayed that he'd come across no police during this trip. Being stopped would only slow him down more, and the police could make no exceptions. Not that they’d likely make one for an Arcean priest racing to bless some ghost anyway.

He glanced at the clock. 11:02. He didn’t know what it meant. Human prisoners were executed near midnight, he’d heard, but ghosts preferred the dark. Would it be near midday? Or had it already happened? Would he be able to bear it - to see a guard shake their head and to know it was his fault?

His head swam with thoughts, only interrupted by quick observations of new speed limits, crossings, stantler warning signs, cars driving considerably above or below the speed limit - any changes on the road. Unfortunately, Route 2 was a highway, rendering even those brief moments of respite few and far between.

He sighed. Why couldn’t he have checked his email on the vacation? Why had he thought it wouldn’t matter that much? Why had he let Laura convince him of that? ”A vacation is a vacation.” But a servant of Arceus was a servant always - what sort of servant would he otherwise be?

Well, at least he was better than some. For a prison in Pewter to contact a priest from Viridian, there had to be a number of priests closer by that had refused the request. He wondered how exactly they had responded. Did they stutter and make up an excuse, or did they simply say ‘we don’t bless ghosts’ and hang up? Maybe one of them saw it as their duty to explain in depth why they did not bless ghosts. Because they had no souls, right? Or perhaps because they were beings of evil, servants of the Renegade?

All lies, and ugly ones at that. None of these notions were anywhere in the Book or elsewhere in the canon - Celestican canon, anyway, but that was the only one that mattered. There weren’t even any exorcisms that would have suggested that ghosts were inherently evil. Sure, many of them weren’t necessarily positive towards ghosts, but… it was basically the same for houndoom. Houndoom were a symbol for ravenous predators in several allegories, and yet no one was arguing that houndoom were evil or that they had no souls. People understood that the Book’s message of respecting and having compassion towards all creatures overruled any negativity towards an individual species. So why couldn’t they apply that to ghosts?

Well, Samson knew why. They simply didn’t want to let go of their hatred.

A sign appeared on the left side of the road, finally slowing down Samson’s thoughts. Pewter Spectral Penitentiary, 500m, and an arrow curving to the left. This was what he’d been waiting for for the past agonizing twenty minutes.

Heart pounding, Samson switched to the left lane and slowed down. In five hundred meters, he took the turn, downgrading from two lanes to one. The trees grew much closer to the road now. At least the fence of nets still continued. The last thing he needed now was to crash into an unsuspecting stantler.

Eventually, the prison building came into view. A large, pale block of concrete with two rows of awfully homogenous square windows and a smaller block attached to its side, it was about as pretty a sight as Samson had expected. Still, he supposed that was better than something cheerful or serene - something that intended to deceive the onlooker about the nature of the place.

He took the turn to the parking lot and sought out a free space close to the entrance. Having parked, he grabbed the two books he'd brought with him off the front seat, exited the car and hurried towards the entrance. Two guards stood by the door: a burly man in a dark gray uniform and a mightyena with a matching vest. Both had their eyes pinned on Samson, who quickly realized that the human guard had his hand on his holster. He stopped in his tracks.

"Easy," the guard said, voice loud and clear. "What's your business here?"

"Sorry, I'm --" Samson tried, but realized he was far too out of breath to speak. He forced himself to take deeper breaths until he felt he was able to continue.

He looked into the guard's eyes. "I'm Mark Samson, an Arcean priest. I-I was requested to perform a blessing for an inmate that-that's set to be executed today." He swallowed. "Please, tell me, is there still time?"

Part of the sternness on the guard's face was replaced by bewilderment. "...I gotta ask someone," he eventually replied. "Hold on."

Eyes still on Samson, the guard opened the door for the mightyena, who slipped inside. The two men waited some seconds in silence until another human, a stocky woman, emerged from the door.

"Mark Samson, the Arcean priest?" she asked.

Samson nodded.

"Come on over," she said. "Slowly."

Samson did as ordered. Once he reached the entrance, he was prompted to hand over his books while he was checked. "Be gentle with them," he said to the guard while another guard came out. This new guard, who was thinner and had a shaved head, patted Samson down, but nothing strange was found - aside from the books, he only had his wallet and keys with him. The mightyena gave all these items a sniff and confirmed they were clean.

Samson's heart still pounded. While being recognized and checked suggested that he'd made it in time, he couldn't be sure. His anxiety was in no way lessened by the guard disregarding his plea to be gentle with the books as he checked them. Or maybe his definition of gentle was simply different.

"All clear," the guard finally said, handing Samson back his books. "You can go inside."

Samson nodded. The other guard reopened the door, and Samson followed the woman inside.

The reception room was… well, it was clear this place did not get many visitors. The walls were more concrete painted white, and the floor was a dark gray. There had been some attempts to add more color to the room, such as a multicolored carpet on the floor, a painting of a mountainscape on the wall and a potted fern in the corner, but all looked either cheap, old or both. There were only two chairs, which looked neither sturdy nor comfortable. The desk, at least, looked well managed, but that was the one thing in the room that was actually used.

The woman turned to Samson. "Alright, you came just in the nick of time. The execution is scheduled for noon."

A boulder rolled off Samson's heart. Finally, confirmation. He glanced at the clock on the wall - twenty-five minutes left.

"You think you'll have enough time?" she asked.

Samson nodded. "I would've preferred more, but I'll manage."

"Alright. If you don't need anything else, Noguchi and Gin will take you to the chandelure's cell," she said, looking to the guard with the shaved head and the mightyena as she spoke their names. Both walked up to the door waiting ahead.

“I’m good, thanks,” Samson replied, heading for the door himself.

The woman nodded and gave a polite smile. “Good luck.”

For a fraction of a second, Samson felt more at ease - he now knew someone in the staff was friendly.

Then he remembered where he was and his heart froze solid.

No friendliness from these people could mean anything while living beings were still murdered within these walls.

He remained quiet as the guard and mightyena escorted him through the door and further into the building. Two rooms later, they entered a long, wide hallway with eight doors, each spaced a few meters apart, on both sides. The doors, made of metal, had windows through which the rooms could be clearly seen. Above the doors were identifiers of the rooms - A103, A104, A105… the odd-numbered rooms were on the right while the even-numbered ones were on the left.

The rooms themselves were not the cells, but contained them. A glass wall sectioned off most of the room for the use of the inmate, leaving the remaining space for whoever was checking in. Besides the inmate, the cell area always contained a bed, a mirror and a couple of potted plants, partly wilted - ethical food for ghosts.

The prisoners themselves, though, were a lot more diverse than the decor. Samson saw a haunter, a mismagius, a gengar, more haunters, a dusclops, a drifblim and a… hovering teacup? Oh, the dark liquid within moved. A sinistea.

A sinistea… a tiny, little sinistea. How old were they? Were they even mature? There was no juvy for ghosts, Samson knew that much, so it really could have been a mere child for all he knew. Deplorable. They'd lock up a child in this prison, confine it to a glass cell all alone. There had to be some opportunities for refreshment and socialization here - Samson couldn't believe it would be allowed not to have any - but was this any environment for a child? No. Oh, that poor sinistea. Samson could only hope their sentence was at least short. Still, there was no doubt in his mind that this experience would scar a child for life. He would pray for them later that day. He would pray for every prisoner in this building. All imprisoned ghosts across the world.

He wanted to ask the guard about that sinistea, to hopefully hear anything good, but realized quickly that someone else took priority. He felt guilty for losing focus like that.

“So, um,” Samson started, clearing his throat. “Could you tell me a little about this prisoner? The email had very little about them in it.”

“Oh, sure,” the guard replied, though not with much enthusiasm. “She’s a Chandelure, L-chiral - so, female - and no name.”

“No name?”

“Yeah.”

Samson raised an eyebrow. “Did you ask for it?”

“Of course we did,” the guard replied, a little offended. “But no name. We just call her Chandelure. She’s the only one of them here.”

She... Samson wondered whether the chandelure actually felt female or the pronoun was simply assigned to her based on her aura signature.

“I see,” he replied nonetheless. He could ask her about it later.

“She’s been here for three months, first in containment and then on death row after the verdict was given. She’s in for -- oh, wait.”

The guard stopped and turned to Samson. “Do you want to know, or would you rather not know?”

Samson frowned - it was his turn to be offended. “Of course I want to know.”

“Alright,” the guard replied. “She’s in for double homicide.”

He knew to expect homicide - it was only one type of crime that could possibly get a person executed in the free world, after all. He did not expect the ‘double’ part.

Still, Samson knew there would be more to the story. “What were the circumstances like?”

“Well, it happened in an Arcean church, for one.”

Samson flinched, having thought of West Viridian and someone in his congregation having lost their life - but he knew it couldn’t be his own church. He would’ve undoubtedly heard about it if that were the case.

“Which one?” he asked.

“Some church in Pewter, don’t remember its name. But it had an antique chandelier hanging from the ceiling. That’s where the chandelure formed.”

So it wasn’t only that the crimes had been committed in the Arcean church - the ghost had been born there. Was that why she wanted an Arcean blessing?

“I see,” Samson said. “So what happened there?”

“Well, it was discovered that she’d been draining life from the congregation when one member died. Her flames flared up in purple from absorbing the rest of the life force, and some other members noticed this. There was a hoothoot among them who used his gaze to reveal the ghost, and the authorities were called to the scene. The ghost was fairly cooperative during her arrest, though she probably didn’t have a choice, being chained to the ceiling and all. She was brought here for containment and, like I said, she’s been here ever since."

Samson barely found his words. “Chained to the ceiling?”

The guard gave him a suspicious look. “As chandeliers tend to be, yes.”

“Doesn’t that mean she was trapped?”

The guard looked annoyed. Samson didn’t like that, not at all. Maybe the guard had repeated the story many times and grown tired of clarifying whatever reason supposedly made her not trapped, but Samson’s concern was a very understandable one!

“The court determined that she would have been able to request to be freed at any time,“ the guard answered, ”and she agreed that it was true.”

…That did make her seem less trapped.

But what if she had simply been too afraid? Most humans shunned ghosts. She might have thought that the humans would have hurt her if she had shown herself.

Samson was about to voice this point, but realized something else was off.

“Didn’t you say it was a double homicide?” he asked.

"Oh, right. I did," the guard replied, sighing. "One member of the congregation suggested the sudden death of her relative some weeks prior to the incident was also caused by the ghost. The court decided it was."

Samson's steps slowed. "And what did she say?"

The guard sighed again. "She said she couldn't rule out that possibility."

"So it was an accident."

The guard stopped in his tracks. He turned to Samson, crossing his arms.

“Look, I’m not the one who gave her the verdict, alright?” he said. “I’m not gonna debate you on the court’s decision. This is just how things are. I can’t do anything about it, so don’t complain to me.”

The guard’s tone, word, behavior - everything - had Samson seeing red.

How things are. Can’t do anything about it. What a cowardly defense. Any one of these guards could choose not to follow orders and protest these decisions. It could cost them their job, but surely staying here would cost them their conscience!

The guard harshened his stare. “If you’re going to start trouble, I’m going to have to escort you out.”

Samson’s heart jumped. No, no, he couldn’t be escorted out. The ghost would never receive her blessing. And it’d be his fault.

“I-I’m sorry,” Samson said. “I won’t be trouble.”

The guard’s glare relented, showing a hint of surprise. Surprised that Samson had backed out so easily. Without a word, the guard turned around and began walking again. Samson followed in silence.

He felt like a coward. He knew it didn’t make sense and that he’d made the right choice, but it did little to help. As he seemed to be the only one here that understood how horrible this facility and everything around it was, it felt as if he had a duty to do something about it. But what could he possibly have done that wouldn’t simply get him kicked out and leave the ghost without her blessing?

His thoughts halted as they arrived at the door at the end of the hallway, but it only seemed to connect to another hallway just like the previous. Samson was ready to sink back into his rumination, but the guard spoke up.

"I should probably describe the setup you'll be facing," he said. "You'll be talking to the ghost through the glass wall of her cell. The glass has special lining that prevents aura from passing through, so you'll be safe from any attacks. There is also an automatic aura translator which you'll need to use since this species isn't capable of human speech."

Aura translator. The last time Samson had seen one had been during his spectral studies. He wondered if they'd gotten better since then. He definitely hoped so.

"The exorcism is scheduled for noon," the guard continued, "so you'll have to finish up at least ten minutes before that. I or someone else will give you a heads up when you have five minutes left. Does that all sound good?"

Samson nodded. It was everything he needed. "Yeah."

They continued walking in silence, the end of this new hallway slowly approaching. It looked different from the previous, though - the door at the end had no windows. Samson guessed this was the hallway the chandelure’s cell was situated in.

After passing many doors, they eventually reached the last one on the right, stopping just a few meters short of the hallway’s end. There was a sign above the windowless door that read…

EXORCISM ROOM.

"Alright, here we are,” the guard said, gesturing to the cell they stood next to. "You'll find her in here.”

“Got it,” Samson replied. He realized how tensed up his shoulders had become. He forced them to relax.

“Remember to turn on the aura translator before you start talking,” the guard continued. “If you have any problems with it, or problems with anything else, let us know. I’ll be standing behind the door the whole time, and there’s video surveillance in the cell. Do you have any questions left you want to ask before I let you in?”

Samson stopped to think. “Nothing that comes to mind,” he finally said.

“Alright.”

Samson watched as the guard opened the door for him. After a quiet sigh, he stepped in.

The door closed behind him. Once the echo of it slamming shut had dissipated, silence reigned unquestioned. With the barren concrete walls, the glass-walled cell and the unmoving chandelier within, all bathed in cold white light pouring in from the little window on the far wall, came a melancholy so grave that Samson dreaded disrespecting it with his voice.

The chandelier appeared to be made of iron. The bed it lay on was bigger and squarer than the ones meant for humans, and the mattress seemed to have fireproof covering. The chandelier's candles were lit, but they burned unnaturally still, and just as motionless was the chandelier's reflection in the mirror on the right wall. Next to it stood some potted plants, all withered except for one that was a perfectly healthy green. Perhaps the ghost had no appetite. Samson knew he wouldn't have any if put in the same situation.

There was a strange structure on the right side of the glass wall facing him. It was like a glass box attached to the wall, its front end attached with a hinge and secured with a lock. Inside, on a little shaped pedestal, sat a black pokéball. It must have been how ghosts were transported between cells and other secure spaces. He’d probably see it in action once their time ran out and --

He moved on to examining his side of the room. On his left stood a wheeled table which carried a black device resembling an old, bulky laptop with a screen much wider than it was tall. On the upper frame of the screen read the product's name: Silph Spectre 4. If he recalled right, the aura translator he’d seen during his studies was the Silph Spectre 3. The external design was clearly different, but how much better it actually was at its job was something he’d soon find out for himself.

Further left from the table was a stool. He moved it near the aura translator, making sure to lift it so that it would not screech against the floor. Once he’d set it down, he took his seat and placed his books in his lap.

Despite what he feared, he found the power button of the translator quickly. He pressed it, and the screen lit up. For a moment, it was pure white. Then it showed an animated hourglass, flipping upside down next to a text that said Loading. Then it displayed a list of languages, all using their native word and character system for their names. Underneath the list was an instruction for the user to use the arrow and enter keys to navigate.

While Galarish was Samson’s native language, he chose Tohjoan, guessing it would be the best supported language in a machine made by a Kantoan company. Tohjoan was closer to the original language of the Book, anyway.

The menu changed into a new one.

Choose Mode of Communication

Speech to Aura & Only Speech to Aura Only Aura to Speech
Aura to Speech


Not knowing whether the prisoner understood human speech, Samson went with the first option. The screen then cleared, loaded for a while, and finally showed a new message - You may now begin communicating.

Quietly, Samson sighed. He took a deep breath. As much as he didn’t want to bother the ghost as she brooded - or perhaps slept - he had a service to provide.

“Hello,” he said. “My name is Mark Samson.” An orange light on the side of the machine lit up as he spoke, and his words appeared on the screen with a slight delay, highlighted in orange.

He waited for a response, but none came.

Samson's heart beat faster. Was the ghost upset by him being so late? Would she not take a blessing anymore?

“I was requested by the prison staff to provide an Arcean blessing,” Samson continued. “Do you still wish to receive it?”

Three dots appeared on the screen, their background purple, and a blue light lit up on the device - it seems she was responding. Samson held his breath. The dots were soon replaced by words which a robotic female voice then spoke aloud.

"You are the one who will give the blessing?"

Samson sighed in relief. “Yes, I am."

The flames of the candles flared up suddenly, startling Samson. Another flame ignited in the middle of the chandelier’s cage-like base, floating on its own like a wisp. The chandelier slowly floated off the bed and rotated around. A pair of round holes tore up in the columns of the cage and lit up with a yellow glow. Eyes.

"I am sorry," said the text-to-speech. "I did not think you were coming. The guards told me no one had accepted my plea."

Samson's heart ached. What a devastating feeling that must have been.

"Well, just an hour ago, that was still true," he said. "I'd been away on a trip, and I only checked my email when I came back. I came here as fast as I could when I saw your plea."

"Thank you."

Thank you. I am sorry. This ghost was so polite, and under such frightening circumstances no less.

She couldn't be a murderer. It had to have been an accident or a misunderstanding, just like Samson had suspected. She had to be innocent. And still, she would die. They would kill her. The heartless, soulless --

"Is something wrong?"

That snapped Samson out of his thoughts. "No, no, everything is alright. I just…" He sighed. "I'm sorry no one else took you up on your plea. There are some… unfortunate attitudes towards ghosts among a lot of Arceans." He looked into her eyes. "But I don't share those attitudes. I believe ghosts are children of Arceus just as much as humans are."

"That's good," the chandelure said, though her eyes were downcast. She paused for a moment, then spoke again. "Could you turn off your aura translation? I can understand your language. The translation to aura is only an inconvenience."

"Oh. Sure." Samson searched for and changed the setting on the translator. "Is this better?"

"Yes." The chandelure bobbed, as if to nod. "Better."

Samson nodded back and dragged his chair a bit closer. "So..." he started, "would you like me to give the blessing right away, or would you like to tell me a little about yourself first so I can make it a little more personalized?"

The chandelure paused in thought. "Right away," she finally said. "Please."

Please.

Samson shook the thought. The blessing came first.

He opened his copy of Rituals and headed for the section on blessings. In most other situations, he would've managed just fine without the book - he'd performed enough blessings to both remember the most common ones by heart and to be able to cook one up on the spot if needed - but this was territory he'd never set foot in before, and he wanted to do this well.

Well, it wasn't as if he'd never imagined a scenario where he would be required to serve a death row inmate. On sleepless nights, his mind would come up with all kinds of hypothetical scenarios to torment him with. Sometimes they followed him to his dreams when they finally came. But that inmate had never been a ghost.

Should it have been?

He reached the page he was looking for. He was lucky that there was an example blessing for those sentenced to death in this book. With such little time and such pressure, he couldn't possibly have made a proper blessing from scratch. He hoped that he'd be able to adapt this existing one well enough. Not that he knew much to use. But there was something he wanted to find out...

Using his thumb as a bookmark, he shut the book, and looked back at the chandelure.

“Do you have a name?" he asked.

The ghost was silent for a moment. "Flicker," she then said.

Samson's muscles tensed. So she did have a name.

"Did you tell the guards your name?" Samson asked, heart pounding.

"I did not have one when they first asked," she replied. "When I named myself, it had already been weeks. I did not think telling them was worth the trouble."

Oh. Hm. "Well, it's nice to meet you, Flicker."

He was about to return to his book when the text-to-speech interrupted him.

“Do you really think that?”

Samson raised his head to look at her, then smiled. “Yes, I do.”

Flicker tilted, as if putting her weight on another foot. “Do you know why I am here?”

“I do,” Samson replied. “The guards told me. I asked them, in fact.”

Flicker looked at the floor. “Alright.”

"It doesn't matter what happened before you came here," Samson continued. "Everyone has the right to a blessing."

Flicker stayed silent. Samson wondered what she was thinking, but soon remembered their time was limited.

“Just one more thing,” he said, and Flicker raised her gaze again. “The staff seems to refer to you as a ‘she’. Do you feel comfortable with this pronoun, or would you prefer another?”

“What?” The chandelier tilted. “Oh, that. I do not mind. Use that one.”

“Alright.”

Samson reopened the book. He felt a shiver as he looked at the text. The time of the blessing was here. This was it. He’d better do it right.

He cleared his throat. “I’m ready to begin,” he lied. “Are you?”

“I suppose I am. Go ahead.”

Samson nodded and looked back down at the book.

He moved his seat closer to the glass wall and placed his hand against the glass. It was the closest thing to holding his palm above her head. Not that he could do it even if there was nothing between them - he’d probably singe his hand.

Well, there was nothing else to do now.

He took a deep breath, bowed his head and began.

“Arceus, our Lord, hear us as we call.

“Before you kneels a troubled soul. Long has she walked on paths heavy to tread. The road she has traveled has led her into badlands, and now, that road is to be cut short. It is not by natural means, but the hand of the law: it has decided this soul should no longer tread this earth. Her time to leave is soon approaching; soon she shall come knocking at Your door.

“We plead, Arceus, that you open the door to Your heavenly abode and lead her in. Give her a bed so that she may rest, and let her sleep soundly until the dawn of the final day, when she shall begin her new life in paradise.

“But for her final moments in this realm, Arceus, let her already feel Your love. Take away her pain and fear; bestow upon her peace and faith. Let her depart with clear mind and grateful heart, knowing all her sins shall be forgiven.

“Truly.”


It was over. He’d done it.

He sighed discreetly and glanced at the ghost. Her eyes were still on the floor. That was alright. He’d give her time to process.

He took his hand off the glass. It had left a stain of grease. He winced, but he supposed it didn’t really matter.

He wiped his hand on his jeans to get rid of the worst sweat and placed it on top of the books in his lap. For a while, he simply breathed - but after thirty seconds or so, he spoke the question he suspected Flicker wanted to hear.

“How do you feel?”

Flicker lifted her head. She held a silent stare for several seconds before responding.

“I am thankful for your blessing.”

Samson hid a sigh. “You’re welcome, but that’s not what I meant. I want to know how you’re feeling.”

Flicker’s altitude lowered. She looked down in thought.

“Afraid,” she finally said.

Samson gave a solemn nod. "Do you want to talk about it?"

She stayed still. Samson waited.

She lowered herself to the ground with a quiet, metallic thunk. “Yes. Please.”

Samson leaned forward in his seat, resting his elbows on his knees, while the chandelure gathered up her courage.

“I do not know how they will kill me,” she said, “and I do not know what will happen to me afterwards.”

Kill.

“Well,” Samson forced out of himself, “I might be able to tell you something about both of those.”

He made himself meet her eyes and continued. “For the first… I can’t claim to know any specifics, but I know it will be through an exorcism. While I am a licenced exorcist myself --”

Flicker jolted up off the floor. “You are a banisher, too?”

Samson flinched. “No -- I mean, yes, but I never perform exorcisms like this. Only non-lethal ones. They repel ghosts or cast them out of the target of their possession, but do not harm them.” He gave Flicker the most honest look he could and spoke the following words from his heart. “I would never kill anyone.”

Even saying the word was painful. It felt like some kind of approval. Acceptance of the act’s existence.

Flicker briefly glanced away, then back. “Do you know about the kinds of banishings used here?”

“Well, like I said, I’ve never performed a lethal exorcism on a ghost myself - and I never will - but I was taught about them during my training. We had to mock-perform them a few times in practice. They tended to be shorter and…”

‘More crude’ is what Samson was going to say, but he quickly realized that no one sentenced to death would want to hear their method of execution described that way.

“...well, they don’t take as much skill as a non-lethal exorcism,” he continued. “Their words are typically harsher, too. But what it’s like to be on the receiving end of one…” He sighed. “Unfortunately, I can’t say for sure. I don’t think anyone can. The ghost can’t exactly be asked after it’s done.” He clasped his hands together. “But I do know accounts from ghosts that have experienced a non-lethal exorcism don’t describe them as painful. Only as… something forcing them away from their host and location. A lethal exorcism may very well be painless, too.”

He smiled, but the smile required more and more force as the seconds passed with the chandelure still silent.

“So it may be painful,” she finally said.

A tense breath squeezed through Samson’s nostrils. “I can’t deny that, but…” He searched for something comforting. “I do know that they can be very short, especially if you don’t resist. At their shortest, only one utterance of the words will be enough. After that, it’s over.”

“And then what will happen to me?”

Samson sat up straighter. This was the part he was better at. Especially now that he had good news.

He looked into her eyes with a gentle smile. “I’m certain that you’ll never have to be in pain again.”

Her flames squirmed. It was an odd motion - Samson had never seen flames move like that before. What did it mean?

“Why would you say that?” Flicker said. “You said you knew why I was here. You should know what I have done. Would I not be punished for my actions?”

“Well, Arceus is forgiving,” Samson explained - assuming by now that she was interested in an Arcean perspective. “He would not punish anyone that felt regretful of their actions.”

Flicker's flames became dead still.

“What if I don't feel bad about it?”

What?

Oh. Right, of course. "Well, if it was an accident or you felt like you didn't have a choice --"

"No."

Samson froze.

Did she mean…

Flicker looked away. "Well… it was an accident in the sense that I did not intend for it to happen…"

His heartbeat slowed with relief. “So it was an accident, then,” he said. “You don’t need to feel bad about something that was an accident. While a lot of people do that, in the end, there’s nothing morally superior about --”

"No, you don’t understand."

Her flames were squirming again. Samson furrowed his brow. “How so?”

"I did not plan to kill anyone," she said, “but I stayed and drained life from humans even though I could have left. I knew it was possible that someone could die, and I still continued to do it.” She locked eyes with Samson. “But I do not feel bad about it.”

She believed that she had caused a death… but she did not feel bad about it.

A shiver crept up Samson’s back. He looked away from her eyes.

No, wait. He looked back, but Flicker had lowered her gaze again.

He sighed. He’d gotten the situation all wrong. This wasn’t about innocence or guilt. This was about ghosts and humans.

"Well," he started, "the fact that you're a ghost can't be ignored. You can't be expected to feel all the same emotions or have the same perspective as humans or even other pokémon."

Flicker gave him a quick glance, her flames now calmer. Samson leaned forward.

"As I understand it, most ghosts in the wild don't have many hang-ups about eating other ghosts," he continued. "This necessitates ghosts to have an eat-or-be-eaten kind of attitude towards the world. Since that type of thinking leaves no room for trust, compassion or a conscience, those ideas can seem strange and alien to a ghost. And that unfamiliarity can falsely appear to humans as lack of emotion or even malice."

"But what does that mean for me?" asked Flicker. Her flames squirmed again, though with a slower rhythm - more uncertain than distressed. "If I cannot be judged the same way as a human, how can I be judged?"

"It's not an easy question to answer," Samson said, "but I believe ghosts can learn to think outside their natural instincts. And when they learn this, they can learn to tell right from wrong the way humans can."

"They would learn to feel bad?"

"Maybe not, but they would see why evil acts are evil and should be avoided."

The squirming of her flames slowed until their motions became natural again. Her eyes looked directly into Samson’s.

"Why is that?"

Samson could’ve imagined it, but he felt like he saw a spark ignite in her eyes. A spark of hope. She wanted to learn, to understand, and he could teach her. Her world would expand, things would finally make sense, and she would feel Arceus beside her. She would no longer have to fear death. She would move on from this world to the next with a peaceful heart.

If he could teach her in time, that was.

This realization twisted Samson’s gut. He glanced around the room for a clock, finding one behind him. He had less than ten minutes left.

He forced a deep breath in and out. Panicking would do no good. He would simply have to try.

“Alright,” he said, leaning in. “Time is short, so I'll go straight to the thing that brought you here. You said that you didn’t intend to kill anyone, but you did something you knew might result in deaths, right?”

“Yes,” she said. “While nothing forced me to do it.”

Samson nodded. “And you… understand that humans and other creatures don’t want to die?”

“Yes.”

“And you yourself don’t want to die?”

There was a pause before she answered. “No.”

“So if someone wanted to do something that could result in your death, you wouldn’t want them to do it, would you?”

“No.”

Samson tried to gauge her reactions to see if she’d caught on or not, but there was nothing to read. The motion of her flames had not changed, and her body had not moved. As the text-to-speech was always neutral, there was no way to detect emotion through her answers.

He continued. “Well, that’s the thing. You wouldn’t want someone else to do to you what you did, so you shouldn’t do it to other people. It would hurt them the way it would hurt you, and that’s what makes it bad.”

She stayed still, saying nothing.

Was she realizing it? Was she reevaluating her actions based on it? Taking her time to view everything in this new light?

If she didn’t get it, surely she would say it. They had little time left, so communication would be crucial. Since she wasn’t begging him to say more, she had to be realizing it. She was realizing it!

The blue light on the aura translator lit up again, and an ellipsis appeared on the screen. A heartbeat later, her next words were spoken.

“Is that it?”

Samson smiled, warmth spreading through his chest. “Yes. It’s that simple.”

A violet flash nearly threw him off his chair. Dumbstruck, he regained his balance and looked back at Flicker.

The chandelure's flames raged. They were no longer orange but a pale, ghostly violet. Her eyes glowed brighter, brightly enough to make Samson squint, yet he could not look away.

“Do you think I am stupid?”

His heart pounded in his chest. Blood drained from his face and rushed through his ears.

“Do you think I am so stupid that I would not have known that?”

She was upset. Very upset. How had he made her so upset?

“I know other beings can suffer like me. I understand that. I am not stupid.”

She held her stare. For some seconds, her flames burned with the same intensity, but as the silence continued, they gradually waned. Streaks of orange mixed into the flames, eventually overtaking the violet. The inferno had calmed, shrunken back into regular candleflames.

Samson stayed frozen, waiting for her next words. When they didn’t come, he was forced to process what she had said.

If she really understood the suffering of others and still didn’t think she should avoid acts that brought others pain…

…no, he didn’t know that yet. And he shouldn’t assume so. Too many people already assumed so. He’d give her the benefit of the doubt as long as he reasonably could. And he’d keep trying. Somehow.

He cleared his throat. “I’m sorry if I offended you,” he said. “That wasn’t my intention.”

No response. Samson supposed it was alright for him to continue.

“So… pardon me, but I have to ask…” He rubbed the palm of his hand. “If you know other people can suffer like you… why does making them suffer not seem bad to you?”

“Because it is not me.”

Her bluntness was chilling.

“They can suffer, yes, but it does not bring me any suffering,” she continued. “So if I can gain something through actions that hurt others, and I know I can get away with it, I do not see why I should not take the opportunity.”

She lowered herself onto the floor again. “This is how I think,” she said. “Does it not make me evil?”

Well…

It did.

But this scenario simply didn't make sense. One couldn't be both concerned about their actions being evil and guiltlessly committing them anyway. If they were worried, they simply wouldn't commit those evil acts, or they'd at least regret them afterwards or acknowledge that they should have chosen differently.

No, it still had to be down to a lack of understanding. She claimed to understand and believed that she did, but she did not. He’d have to keep trying.

Samson sighed. “No… no, you’re not evil. You just… well, you’re a ghost, so it’s harder for you to understand, but if we talk a little more --”

A violet plume slashed against the glass. Once it cleared, Samson saw Flicker’s flames squirming once again.

“No,” said the text-to-speech in the same calm manner it had said everything in, but Samson was sure that she had yelled the word. “No, it is not about understanding. There is nothing to understand. It is only your instinct that makes you think this way. There is no reason for me to follow your rules, human rules. I cannot follow them - I can only obey them. I will never want to do the right thing. I am simply an evil creature.”

“Th-that’s not true,” Samson replied, though his stutter betrayed his doubts. Still, he continued, not to convince just her but himself as well. “You’re not evil. Lacking a conscience is not evil. You can still learn what is good and bad and you can learn why you should do the right thing. It’s only hard because ghosts have a natural tendency to think a certain way --”

“Stop telling me what ghosts are like. How would you know that?”

Samson froze.

“How many ghosts have you actually talked to? How many of them learned to think like humans like you say they can?”

He had encountered several ghosts through his exorcist services, but he'd never had any device with him that could have translated aura. The only times he'd spoken to a ghost before had been during his studies, and even then, he'd never had the opportunity for a full conversation…

"I knew it," said Flicker. "You do not care about ghosts at all. You only say you do to show off how good of a person you are, how much better you are than everyone else."

Samson flinched. "No, that's not true. I really do care about --"

"Maybe you do care about them," she interrupted, "when they are friendly and innocent and just like humans! But when they show their true selves --"

"No, I still --"

"Then why do you try, over and over again, to make me out to be free of fault, saying it must have been an accident or that I did not understand what I was doing - as if I was some kind of stupid animal?"

I just want to assume the best of people, he thought, but by now he’d realized that wasn’t true.

He wanted to be the one in the right.

He wanted to be the one that would stand in support of a ghost against a rotten system that had wrongfully imprisoned her. To show himself and everyone else how brave he could be. How compassionate. How morally superior. How devoted an Arcean.

But what he’d done here only proved the opposite.

He’d taken every opportunity to speak over her, to disagree, so that he could tell her how things really are. He really had treated her like some kind of child, someone with too little knowledge or intellect to make moral decisions on their own. And he’d spoken on and on about ghosts and what they were like… when, in reality, he had never even sat down to have a talk with one before this.

Of course he couldn’t have done that in preparation for this meeting in particular, but if he really claimed to care about ghosts, wouldn’t he have already done so before?

He had been interested in doing so, he knew that. But he'd told himself he couldn't. He couldn't come here to see these prisoners because he wanted nothing to do with these factories of misery and death. He couldn't call up any ghost trainers because he opposed the whole training system. And he couldn't go look elsewhere because…

He was busy, or it was simply too inconvenient.

Flicker moved, catching Samson’s attention again, but she only floated back to her bed and lowered herself onto the mattress. She had nothing more to say, it seemed. Samson could understand why.

He looked down at the books in his lap. Rituals and Book of Arceus. The two books most important to an Arcean priest. Yes, he was an Arcean priest. Supposed to be one, anyway - but today, he’d really done that title dirty.

A priest of Arceus was supposed to practice what he preached. Help those in need, always listen, never turn anyone away. Lead the rest of the world by example. Speak for Arceus in the mortal realm, teach everyone how He meant for humans to act and behave.

It was a great honor, but it was a great responsibility as well. If a priest were to stray from the right path but continue preaching in the Creator’s name, the consequences could be horrific - hatred, bigotry, war, even genocide. Of course nothing like that was going to result from Samson’s blunder today, but he’d been so convinced that he’d never make any blunders like this to begin with…

I’m sorry, he thought to Arceus. I’ve failed you. Please forgive me, and give me the strength and wisdom to do better from n-

A static buzz shattered the silence, rudely interrupting his prayer. It came from a speaker at the corner of the ceiling.

“Sorry to interrupt,” a voice said, “but I’m just lettin’ you know that your time will be up in five minutes. That’s all. Over.”

Another buzz ended the message.

Five minutes. Right. There was a time limit. Whatever he still wanted to do, he should do it now.

But what did he want to do? Did he still want to keep trying to get her to understand why evil was evil? He couldn’t see that ending any differently than the previous tries. And if he really wanted to do better in terms of listening, he would have to consider the possibility of her being right - that she already understood it all and still chose the selfish route.

But why would she do that if she was trying to avoid divine punishment? It made no sense…

Samson looked back to Flicker again. She hadn’t moved since last time, still resting on the mattress. Her flames were calm, but given the context, it was more likely to be out of apathy rather than any kind of peace.

He realized that they’d both been quiet for a rather long time. Was she deep in her own thoughts as well, or did she simply not want to talk to him anymore? She seemed quite upset with him…

Wait - he hadn’t even apologized yet!

Samson quickly cleared his throat. “I’m sorry,” he said. “You’re right. I’m no expert on ghosts, and I shouldn’t pretend to be.”

Her flames fluttered briefly, but she said nothing in response.

“I got too caught up in the idea of defending someone others wouldn’t that I failed to actually listen to you,” Samson continued. “But listening is precisely what I should have been doing.”

Another flutter, though this one lasted longer.

Samson sat up. “I wanna make it up to you, though. I want to treat you the way you want to be treated while it’s still possible. So tell me…” He hid a sigh. ”Do you still want to talk?”

The flames burned still. But then… the chandelier rose up. It rotated to face him.

“It would be foolish to pass up the opportunity.”

A quick smile came upon Samson’s face. He could still help her.

“So…” she began. “What do you believe now? Do you still believe I am free of fault? That I cannot be evil?”

Samson took a deep breath. “I can’t lie that it’s something I’d like to believe,” he said, “but I want to trust your judgment, too. It’s just that… I don’t quite understand how you could both be consciously evil and still worry about it.”

“Simple. I am afraid of being punished in the afterlife. There is nothing noble about it.”

“I figured that, but…” Samson grabbed his chin. “Why would you continue to commit acts you knew would get you in trouble? Or… I can get loss of control, but why wouldn’t you denounce the acts afterwards? Arceus is forgiving - I certainly hope they brought that up in the church you were in.”

Flicker’s flames whipped. “I do not view my actions as evil. I cannot claim they are.”

Samson paused. “Do you mean that, if you claimed your actions were evil, Arceus would know you did not agree in your heart?”

Flicker tilted. As she didn’t seem to be responding, Samson continued.

“If you can’t change the way you feel about your actions, that means you don’t have a choice, and evil can only be evil if there is a choice - so, no, I don’t believe that not feeling bad about things makes you evil. But even if you don’t feel guilt, you can still denounce your actions to Arceus. It means you accept the rules of His world and respect His --”

“I cannot do that.”

Samson paused again, for much longer this time. “I-I only mean that you speak to Arceus and --”

“No,” she said. “I cannot do that.”

“Why… not?”

“I cannot claim my actions are evil. I do not see them as evil, nor do I think I should see them as evil. Or anyone.”

Samson clasped his hands together. “You… don’t think anyone should adhere to moral rules?”

“It is beneficial to me for other people to adhere to moral rules while I do not,” Flicker said, “but if I was not present and it did not affect me, I would not want these rules to exist.”

Samson frowned. “Even if that would mean a world of suffering?”

“If they are not me, their suffering does not matter.”

For the first time, Samson thought it.

She really is evil.

He felt shame immediately after. He should not call her evil. Not when so many already branded all her kin as such for little to no reason. He had to give her the benefit of the doubt…

But he’d given it time and time again.

He’d always found some excuse.

Was it time for him to simply believe her word?

“Now you believe me,” she said. “I am…”

Her flames began to squirm, harder and harder.

She dropped onto the mattress. She didn’t lower herself - she dropped.

“I am evil,” she said, flames whipping. “And I am going to be punished.”

“Hey, hey, it’s alright,” Samson rushed to say. “Take it easy…”

“What difference does it make?” she asked. “I am going to a place of great suffering, and nothing I do now will make any difference.”

“But…” Samson dug his nails into his palms. “I’m sorry, I just don’t understand. You act as if you have no choice, but from my point of view, nothing prevents you from simply agreeing to accept the Creator’s rules.”

“No. I simply cannot do it.”

Samson clenched his fists. “Is it out of pride? Or do you believe it goes against your own moral code?”

“Perhaps. I am not sure. All I know is that I cannot do it.”

“Have you tried?”

Her flames flared up, streaks of purple appearing. Samson flinched. The flames gradually shrank, but their motions remained just as restless.

She was in pain. It was obvious. He could not be misinterpreting or making false assumptions here - it was clear as day to any onlooker of any species.

While his brain came up with all the reasons why she was in the wrong, his stomach tied itself into knots as he watched the chandelure suffer.

She was, in the end, only another one of the Creator’s children, lost and afraid in a world of choices and consequences.

He wanted to help her. But she wouldn’t let him. Or he didn’t know how to. He didn’t know whose fault it was anymore. Was he missing something? Was she missing something? Was there fault on both sides?

Her getting so upset about being asked about trying… it could have been down to either his tone, which had become awfully harsh, or the fact that she had tried her best… or she didn’t know how to try. Either way, she seemed to feel as if she was facing a wall while he kept telling her to walk through. Somehow, she could not do what was so obvious to him. She could not… make the choice he could. She could not…

“Hey,” he said.

Flicker looked back, flames calming by just a bit.

“Do you know the Lake Guardians?” he asked. “Did they ever come up in any sermons during your time at the church?”

Her flames began to slow down more. “Do you mean… those creatures of the mind? Emotion, knowledge, willpower?”

Samson nodded. “Precisely those.”

“What relevance… do they have?”

He sat up straight. “I just realized something that may explain what’s going on here.”

She stared at him, puzzled, flames nearly still.

“Well,” Samson began, “there is a somewhat popular Arcean theory of culpability that ties into the Lake Guardians. It posits that the Lake Guardians’ blessings - emotion, knowledge and willpower - are what make a being capable of moral actions. Emotion is necessary to be able to feel suffering, knowledge is necessary to understand that other beings can feel suffering like you and that your choices may cause them suffering, and willpower is necessary for making the choice not to cause others suffering even when it might not be beneficial for yourself.”

Eyes locked to Flicker’s, he continued. “Seeing as you’re afraid, it’s clear that you have emotion and the capacity for suffering, and I never doubted that, but what I doubted was your knowledge. I thought you had to be lacking information or understanding to think the way you do, but you claim you have a full understanding of the situation, and I can believe now that you do. But the fact that you don’t seem to be able to choose what seems so obvious and easy to me… it could be down to a lack of will.”

Flicker’s flames whipped once. “Are you saying I am simply not trying hard enough?”

“No, no,” he said, raising his palms. “I mean that it may not be a choice you can make to begin with. And that means your evil is not a choice… which, in turn, means that you can’t be evil.”

Her flames stopped. “Then… I would not be punished?”

Samson nodded, a small smile forming on his lips. “If you have never chosen evil, there is nothing to punish.”

“But can I know that?”

His smile faltered. “Well… to tell the truth, you can’t. And I can’t. The only one who truly knows is the Creator. You will only know for sure once you meet Him.”

Her flames flickered. She did not answer, and they kept flickering.

Samson sighed quietly. He had hoped his theory would have given her more hope. At least she seemed calmer now, her previous breakdown defused. Perhaps that was a service of some worth.

Was there anything else he could still --

The door opened, shattering the silence.

Samson’s heart stopped.

“Alright,” a man said, and Samson knew the exact words that would come next - “your time is up.”

His stomach sank through the floor. This was it. Not just the end of their time together, no, that he could bear - but the beginning of a state-mandated slaughter.

“Sir?”

The guard wanted him to get up, but he didn’t want to. He didn’t want to allow this. Not after all he’d said to her, all she’d said to him. He didn’t want any part in it.

And yet… wouldn’t it be selfish?

Would he really leave her on her own in her last moments?

“Sir,” the guard repeated.

He had to speak fast. “A-am…” he started, throat hoarse. “Am I allowed to… be there?”

“Be there? For the exorcism?”

Samson nodded with the smoothness of a rusted door hinge.

“That depends on the inmate.” The guard paused, no doubt turning to the chandelure. “Do you want him there?”

Samson raised his head to meet Flicker. Her eyes were directly on him. Her flames were quivering.

“Please,” she said.

It locked him into the situation. He would not be able to say no.

“Alright, then,” the guard said, and Samson felt a hand on his shoulder. “Let’s go.”

He had to get up, he had to follow their orders. If he made himself any kind of an obstacle, they might forbid him his request - her request.

He forced himself to stand. Standing had never felt so unnatural. He turned around despite the irrational fear of never seeing Flicker again if he looked away. He proved it wrong by glancing at her over his shoulder on his way out. She was still there, and she would be there in the exorcism room. These people could not be cruel enough to deceive him about that. That's what he told himself, anyway.

After exiting the room, another guard slipped in. Samson heard the sounds of some mechanism opening, then the voice of the guard, no identifiable emotion to it.

"It's time to go."

The door swung shut, and Samson heard nothing after.

It took only a few steps for the two to reach the door at the end of the hallway, though Samson would have preferred it to take longer. As the guard opened the door and led him through, the air seemed to quickly change.

The space he'd entered felt like some kind of combination of a laboratory and a recording studio. A wall divided the room in two, but large windows gave a good view from one half to the other. Judging by the electronic machinery and seats, this half was for the staff and witnesses, while the other was… for the exorcist and inmate.

More specifically, the wide, cylindrical glass chamber reaching from the floor to the ceiling was for the inmate, and what was left of the room was for the exorcist. It seemed that this architecture was designed to allow for the placement of candles, salt or any other items required by the exorcism around the prisoner.

“You can have a seat.”

The guard’s words snapped Samson out of his thoughts. He looked to the guard to see him offering one of the chairs.

“...Thanks,” Samson said, sitting down. He could as well sit while he waited - but once Flicker came in, he would stand.

“You look like you could use a glass of water,” the guard remarked. “Would you like one?”

Samson didn’t want to accept anything more from these people, but he was parched, and he knew he’d do a better service to Flicker if he was properly refreshed. “Yes, please.”

The guard walked out of sight. Samson sank back into his thoughts, but nothing coherent could form anymore now that he had realized just how thirsty he was. Fortunately, the guard returned soon, a plastic cup in his hands.

“Here,” the guard said, handing the cup of water - wasn’t really a glass, was it - to Samson.

Samson nodded in thanks, or acknowledgement, and downed most of the water in one go. That
hit the spot. He lowered the cup, relaxed his shoulders and sighed. He shut his eyes and rested in the darkness until a brand new question came to him.

He opened his eyes and sought out the guard, who now sat on a chair by the window to the other room. His tongue was hesitant to pose the question as it was quite morbid… but it really wasn’t anything compared to the actual situation at hand.

“So…” Samson started, grasping a knee. “After this is… done, what do you plan to do with… what is left behind?”

“The chandelier?”

Of course the guard would have no trouble saying it. No trouble seeing her corpse as just an object.

The guard - Noguchi had been his name, if Samson recalled correctly - leaned back in his seat, looking at the ceiling. “Well, we’re probably gonna ask the church if they want it back, but I doubt they will.”

Samson’s jaw tightened. “And if they don’t want it, what will you do?”

“Dispose of it through some means.”

Samson glared daggers at the guard, sitting up straight. “You’d just throw it away, like trash?”

Noguchi lowered his brow as he met Samson’s gaze. “What else would we do?”

Samson pouted. He actually didn’t know. “Something with a bit more dignity, I suppose,” he said.

Noguchi looked away, muttering. “Why don’t you take it, then?”

The fire in Samson's heart flared.

"I’d love to," he said, emphasizing each word.

Noguchi froze.

Before the guard could form any kind of reply, however, the door to the room opened again. In walked another guard, the guard that had come to take Flicker, that black pokéball in his hand. After him followed the mightyena from before, followed yet by another human guard. This one was pale like Samson instead of Tohjoan like the other two.

The guard with the pokéball walked to the door to the exorcism chamber and opened it for the mightyena, who slunk through and began pacing around the room. Samson guessed that he was inspecting the place for any strange energies or something else mightyena could sense while humans could not. The human guard, on the other hand, made his way to one of the drawers and opened it. From within, he produced a plastic container of something - Samson couldn’t quite see what - and returned to join the mightyena in the exorcism chamber. He then placed the black ball in a similar glass box attached to the glass cylinder as the one in Flicker’s cell, shut it and locked it.

In the meantime, the pale guard - the card attached to his pocket showed his surname was Taylor - moved to the bookcases and fetched a book with a black cover. Samson guessed it contained the instructions for the exorcism they would perform, but nothing prevented him from asking.

“Say,” he said, catching Taylor’s attention, “what exactly is that book?”

Taylor looked up briefly. "It's a compilation of exorcisms meant for spectral penitentiaries like this one."

While it made sense from the perspective of convenience, Samson had to frown at the notion of coldly extracting passages from important religious literature, removing them from their context entirely. And wouldn't a priest be expected to bring their own material with them, in any case?

Samson crossed his arms. Why wasn't the priest already here, anyway? Did they not care enough to show up on time?

"When is the priest coming?" Samson asked.

The guard looked up again, holding a confused stare.

"Well?" Samson pressed.

"...There's no priest."

There's no --

"What do you mean," Samson slowly began, "'there is no priest'?"

Taylor looked to Noguchi, and Samson followed his gaze. Noguchi sighed, irritated, then spoke directly to Samson.

"There is no priest. We perform the exorcism on our own."

Once the meaning of the guard's words had sunken in, Samson stood up, fist crumpling the plastic cup in his hand.

All of this. All of this confinement, abuse, humiliation - and they would not even perform the exorcism right. It was a beheading with a dull axe.

"Do you people have no shame?" he snapped. "Do you people have no kind of conscience whatsoever?"

The guards had flinched at his sudden motion. Samson could see their hands on their holsters. But he was speaking only words. Words were not illegal. He was doing nothing wrong. And they, they were the ones committing the crimes! They were the ones that should be locked up!

Noguchi seemed to realize Samson wasn’t going to be violent and lifted his palms instead. "Let's just take it easy, alright?"

Take it easy. As if Samson had no right to react like this. But he knew what to say.

"I will not take it easy before a real exorcist is called here," Samson growled.

Now the other guard spoke. "Sir, I assure you, I have been trained --"

"Oh, you have?" Samson turned to him, glaring into his eyes. This would be the one to murder her, huh? "Show your exorcist license. Right now."

Taylor glanced away. "I have received the appropriate training to --"

"You don't have a license."

"My training gives me the full legal right --"

"I don't give a damn about your legal right!" Samson shouted - there went his no-swearing rule… "What about morals?" he continued. "Is it really too much to ask to perform even their execution properly?"

“Sir,” interjected Noguchi, drawing Samson’s glare onto him. “If you don’t calm down, I’m gonna have to…”

The guard trailed off as he saw Samson’s scowl falter.

Fury now gone, pain rose to Samson’s face. He had to listen to them. He couldn’t protest. He still had a duty to fulfil, and he couldn’t go getting himself kicked out before he was done.

But couldn’t he at least bargain?

He looked to Taylor with pleading eyes. “Please,” he said, “let me call a real exorcist here. A priest. I’ll pay for any expenses.”

Taylor’s eyes glanced to the side. Samson turned his head to see what he’d looked at - a clock. Oh, no…

Taylor sighed through his nose. “If there was more time, we could take you up on that offer, but we have to stay on schedule. It’s the law.”

Samson clenched his teeth. The law. The law was supposed to protect and serve. What good was a law that did neither? How was following a law like that anything but cowardice?

But he couldn’t protest. He couldn’t demand that they wait. He’d slipped up enough times. There was nothing he could do now. There was nothing he could do but sit and watch a common guard stumble his way through an exorcism, slowly and crudely rending Flicker’s life away.

And she’d stare back. She’d stare at him, helpless, while that man tortured her to death, but Samson could only watch, there was nothing Samson could --

A horrible, horrible thought came to him.

There was something he could do.

No. No, there wasn’t. He could not do it. He couldn’t possibly be expected to do it. Under no circumstance was it justified to demand a man to murder someone. Under no circumstance could a man be faulted for refusing to execute a person.

He would not do it. It would not be right. He would not do it.

And she would suffer because of it.

Samson’s stomach lurched. No, it was… it was not something he could do! He was a priest! It was more important for him than anyone else to adhere to Arcean principles. He would not kill, no. He would contribute nothing to this crime.

That really was the easier choice, wasn’t it?

It was easier to hide behind his title of priest. It was easier to hide behind words in scripture. It was easier to wash his hands clean of this and remain the untarnished moral paragon.

It was easier not to face the truth. The truth that he could not sacrifice his own purity to help another in their most desperate hour.

The truth that he was a coward.

"Alright," started Taylor, slowly, taking steps towards the chamber. "We should get started."

"Wait."

Taylor turned to Samson with a troubled sigh. “What?”

The words ‘never mind’ rested on Samson’s tongue, eager to launch and release him from the burden of choice, but he could not let them out. It would only prove what he thought. That he really did put his own needs before those of others. That he was selfish.

Instead, he discarded the phrase and replaced it with another. One that burned his mouth - but that was only further reason to let it out.

"I'll do it."

Taylor’s eyes widened. In shock, he was silent for a second, but frowned quickly after.

“Seriously?” Taylor scoffed. “You can’t do it. You’re not…”

Samson forced his hand to his pocket and plucked out his wallet. He opened it and pulled out a white card with violet highlights. EXORCIST LICENSE, it read, with SAMSON, MARK underneath. Next to the words, Samson’s own face stared back at him, expressionless. It had always peeved him how he wasn’t allowed to smile in it. He wanted everyone that needed his services to know he was a friendly guy, someone who wanted the situation to be resolved in the most peaceful way possible. He was someone who wouldn’t hurt a fly, and certainly would never perform a lethal…

He pushed back his bile. He didn’t want to perform a lethal exorcism as he did not like the idea of murder - no sane person did - but this was not about him. This was about Flicker. He had to stop thinking about himself so much. He should think about Flicker. He’d already failed to do it before. He shouldn’t do it again.

Samson let out a tense breath, then raised the card to show it to Taylor.

The guard stared at the card in silence, reading its text over and over, no doubt. But it was genuine, and he had to know it. If the police had to know, these people had to know, too. Though if they didn’t, and they didn’t believe him, didn’t let him do it in the first place, that would…

No. He shouldn’t even consider those things. He had to keep to his decision, for Flicker’s sake. If they ended up not letting him perform the exorcism, that’d be that, but it’d be then. No sooner.

Taylor shot a glance at Noguchi. "Look him up."

Noguchi, with a little hesitation, sat by the computer in the room. "What was his name?"

"Mark Samson."

Noguchi began clicking and typing. Some seconds later, the confirmation came.

"He's listed."

Taylor looked back to Samson. "Why'd you only say this now?"

Samson lowered his license, but kept his gaze fixed on it. “I didn’t ever want to have to do this.”

“Well, you don’t have to do it…”

“No, no,” Samson rushed to say, partly to himself. “I have to do it. Please.”

Taylor seemed to think for a moment. “For free?” he then asked.

What a stupid question. “Yes, of course.”

“And you take responsibility if it goes wrong?”

A horrid mental image of a twisted-up, screeching chandelure momentarily gagged Samson, but he shooed it away. Exorcisms didn’t ‘go wrong’ like that. And he was a professional. He’d performed countless exorcisms, and they had all been non-lethal, which were supposed to be more difficult than the lethal ones. If the exorcism was going to ‘go wrong’ with anyone, it would be with these people.

“Of course,” he said nevertheless, pocketing his wallet now that his license no longer seemed relevant.

“We’re taking him up on it?” asked Noguchi.

Taylor gave a half-shrug. “I mean… professional, for free.”

“Does he know an exorcism compatible with…” Noguchi gestured to the exorcism chamber, which Samson now noticed had gained a near-complete ring of dried up white leaves that the third guard was scattering down from the plastic container he’d fetched before. “This setup?”

“You’re using a Celebian exorcism, right?” Samson asked. The guard flinched in surprise. What did he take him for?

“Yes, this one,” said Taylor, showing the open book to Samson. The words written down on the page were immediately familiar. It only made sense that they’d use an exorcism that was also widely practiced in exorcist training - of all known lethal exorcisms, it was among the quickest and simplest. That’s probably why they thought they could have just anyone do it and it’d be good enough.

Samson nodded. “I know this one well.”

Noguchi crossed his arms. “And you’re not just saying all this to delay or prolong the execution?”

Samson threw him a rotten glare. “I would not lie about something like this.”

“Well, we’re gonna find out real soon,” said Taylor, handing the book to Samson and walking to the window. “Let’s say that if you don’t make visible progress by the third repetition, we’ll step in instead. And later have a word with whoever’s in charge of your license.”

Samson’s nose wrinkled. Visible progress by the third repetition. It was like giving him three tries at a beheading. How incompetent were these people?

“That’s perfectly fine by me,” he muttered. “Although…”

He stepped up to the window and fixed his eyes on the black pokéball sitting in the glass box. “I’ll only do it if Flicker wants it.”

“Flicker?” Taylor repeated.

Samson’s gaze didn’t move. “Her name.”

“She didn’t have a name the last time we asked.”

“Well, she does now.” He looked to Taylor. “Will you ask her?”

Taylor didn’t respond in words, but pushed some buttons on the machinery in front of them. He then leaned towards the microphone and tapped it twice to make sure it was on. The guard and mightyena on the other side flinched. It looked like they were just about done with the pecha leaf ring.

“Osaki,” Taylor called, and the other guard stood up straight.

“Yeah?”

“Unlock the ball. We need to ask the inmate something.”

Osaki nodded and pulled out a small, black device from his pocket. He pushed some buttons, probably entering a code, then aimed it at the ball. There was a faint beep. “It’s open,” Osaki confirmed.

Taylor stood up straight while Osaki and the mightyena left the chamber and joined the others in the witness room. “Chandelure,” Taylor then started, “the lock on your pokéball has been opened. Please come out.”

Nothing happened.

"Please come out, Chandelure," the guard repeated. "Otherwise we will have to expel you by force."

No change.

Taylor looked to Osaki, but Samson stepped in, closing the book in his hands with his finger as a bookmark.

"She's probably afraid," Samson said. "I can try to convince her out."

Taylor shrugged and let Samson take the microphone.

"It's okay, Flicker,” Samson said. “They just need to ask you a question for now."

A few seconds of silence passed, but the ball then lit up with a violet light and snapped open. The light released into the cylindrical chamber and took the form of Flicker. She soon found Samson behind the window and stared back. Samson smiled, but his smile waned quickly. While he’d coaxed her out to answer a question, it was unlikely she’d be allowed to return to the ball again before the exorcism. In that way, Samson had tricked her into leaving the comfort of her pokéball and into the cramped chamber in which she would die.

Taylor pushed another button, then returned to the mic. “The aura translator is on now. You can speak, and we will understand you.”

Flicker paused, then answered. “Alright.”

Hearing that text-to-speech now felt like hearing someone long dead speaking again.

“Alright. Now, regarding that question…” Taylor cleared his throat and gestured to Samson. “Mr Samson here has offered to be the one to perform the exorcism. Usually, the exorcism is done by a trained guard - in this case, that would be me - but Mr Samson is a licenced exorcist, which makes him also qualified to perform the exorcism. Did you get all that?”

Flicker had turned back to Samson at the mention of his name, flames slowly swaying. At the end of the guard’s message, she seemed to snap out of her thoughts. “Yes,” she said. “I understand.”

“Then, would you rather have Mr Samson perform the exorcism?”

Flicker stared at Samson again. “I thought you told me you did not perform these kinds of banishings.”

Samson’s throat tightened. “Yes,” he said, leaning into the mic. “I have never wanted to do them, but… I am perfectly capable of them. And in this situation…” He tightened his fist as he forced himself to continue. “I feel that you deserve an exorcism performed by a professional.”

Flicker kept silent, but her flames showed no change. She looked far more peaceful than she must have actually felt. Samson doubted the same could be said about him. His heart had pounded so hard and so long now that he was getting exhausted. His skin was cold and clammy, and his hands were constantly shaking, even when holding on to the book.

“We would like to have your answer soon,” Taylor spoke to the mic, snapping Samson out of his thoughts. True, Flicker still hadn’t answered. He wondered if the decision really was that difficult or whether she was just taking all the time she could get. Just answer so we can get this over with, he found himself thinking, and felt immediate shame.

“I want the priest,” came from the speakers.

The words cut through the air and into Samson’s skin, but in some way, it felt good. Now that the last uncertainty had been cleared, the tracks ahead were unobstructed. He no longer had to worry about veering off the rails. He still retained the ability to slam on the brakes, but that would require a conscious effort to change the events about to transpire - from this point on, he only had to do as he was told, and everything would go as it should.

“Alright,” said Taylor. “In that case, we can move on.”

Samson froze up. It was time already?

“Now, before we begin the exorcism…“

Samson sighed. Thank the Creator, there was still something.

Taylor briefly looked to Noguchi, who seemed to know just what to do. He fetched a notebook and a pen. Noguchi nodded, and Taylor nodded in response.

“Are there any final words you’d like to say?”

Flicker looked to Samson again. “I want to thank the priest. For what he has done, and what he is going to do.”

She was thanking him for the exorcism.

It should have been a sign that this was the right thing to do, but it twisted Samson’s gut more than anything else before.

Because this wasn’t how things should be going. She shouldn’t be set to die to begin with. No one should. But Samson was going to kill her. Samson was going to execute her. Samson was going to put her down. And it was made out to be a good thing. It should never be a good thing. There was nothing good about any of this. How could he be so okay with it all?

“Anything else?” asked Taylor. He was so calm. So used to it. It was just another day for him. How many ghosts had he killed? Did he feel any guilt? Samson doubted it - he seemed to hide behind the law, just like Noguchi did.

The longer Samson stared at guard, the more his anger grew. This man was a murderer. A serial murderer. And the law did nothing - no, the law allowed it. Encouraged it. Ordered it! It was sick!

“If you don’t say anything in the next thirty seconds, we’re gonna move on.”

Of course Flicker wouldn’t say anything. Why would anyone want to make their unjust murder come sooner? Even if they wanted to be free of the dread, their instincts still told them to survive. But Taylor wouldn’t know that. Taylor didn’t care. He didn’t lose any sleep over the horrors that happened here every day. He didn’t think there was anything wrong. It wasn’t him being executed, was it? It wasn’t his family or friends in that chamber. Just some ghosts. What did their suffering matter? They weren’t human.

Somebody had to let him know. Somebody had to teach him a lesson. Somebody had to show to him that what he did was not something that he could just continue to do without consequence.

But the only one that could was Samson.

He had a moral duty that he was avoiding.

Taylor stood only a meter away. He had his guard down. It’d be very easy to land a sucker punch. He’d understand immediately what it was for. He’d actually see that the people against him weren’t harmless. That their patience was limited. He’d have to think about the things he had gone so long without thinking. The others would, too. The entire staff. Perhaps the entire system. Perhaps a discussion would spark. Perhaps the masses would be forced to reconsider their views. Perhaps, just perhaps, it would be the wake-up call this world needed to end this unquestionably barbaric practice. Breaking news: A violent incident surrounding the exorcism of a ghost inmate in the Pewter Spectral Penitentiary has led to --

One death.

Samson gasped for air, as if he’d been drowning and just reached the surface.

That was something the news report could very well say.

These guards had guns and there was a good chance they’d use them. If Samson attacked out of the blue, the other guards could mistake the intent as deadly and fire away. Then he’d be shot. He could die from it. He would be dead. Laura would get a call. Your husband is dead. She would be devastated. The baby would grow up without a father. Or the shock could be so great that --

Just the thought of it nearly made him vomit.

“Are you okay?” Noguchi’s voice asked.

He wasn’t. He really wasn’t. But he couldn’t say that or they’d just kill Flicker on their own with their gruesome, inhumane incompetence.

“I just need…” Samson started. “A glass of water.”

“Right.”

He heard steps. He looked up to see Noguchi heading for the tap again. He saw Taylor staring at him, too. There was concern in his eyes. It almost made him human.

Seconds passed, and Noguchi returned with another plastic cup of water. Samson took it with a trembling hand and downed it. It was cold. He needed that. He needed the sensation of anything new in his body to shut up his brain for even just a second.

It did better than that. Samson stood upright and blinked a few times. His inner voice was quiet. He heard only the hum of the machinery and his own breath.

Then, his understanding of the situation rebuilt itself.

He was supposed to perform a lethal exorcism on Flicker because the alternative was to have a non-professional do it. He didn’t like the idea, but he had to do it for Flicker’s sake.

But then she’d thanked him, and… he’d just gotten so, so angry.

So angry that he'd nearly attacked that guard.

His stomach turned. This place… he had to get out of here. It was doing things to him.

"Feeling any better?" asked Noguchi's voice.

But he wasn't done. He still had his duty. His promise to Flicker.

Even if resorting to violence here would somehow change the world for the better, Flicker would die. That was something he could not change. The only thing he could do for Flicker was to let her leave in peace - and since it was the only thing, he had to do it.

He could never look at her and tell her that her suffering was for the greater good.

Samson nodded. "Yeah," he said. "I'm ready."

His sudden willingness - or lack of protest - must have surprised the guards, as there was a brief silence before Taylor continued again.

"Thirty seconds have passed," the guard said to the mic. "Or… a bit more than that, but same thing. Communications will now be cut, and the exorcism will begin."

Samson couldn't even bring himself to care about Flicker being muted anymore. It's not like he'd hear her in the chamber anyway. And if he did… he didn't know if he'd be able to go through with the exorcism that way.

Samson felt a hand on his shoulder. It was Noguchi. Samson knew it meant that it was time to go.

In his mind, he briefly pleaded to Arceus for strength, then straightened his back and followed the guard into the exorcism room. He was escorted to the front of the cylinder, but he kept his eye on the book in his hands instead. He opened it and silently read the words on the page. Any excuse not to look at the ghost in front of him for as long as he could.

As the guards had not left yet after several seconds of him standing still, Samson looked back to them again. "I'm fine," he said. "I'm ready."

They bought his lie and left, though not without concern on their faces. Concern for Samson's conduct or his feelings? Neither mattered, really. They had no concern for Flicker.

Once the door had closed after the last guard, there was nothing more to do.

Samson turned to Flicker. She had sat down on the floor. Her flames were burning still.

Samson wanted to say something, but nothing came to mind.

He looked down at his book, took a deep breath, and began.

- - -​

Samson's hands were eerily steady as he pulled up into his driveway.

Mind and face both blank, he stopped the car and shifted gears to neutral. As he raised the handbrake, the front door of the house opened. Out stepped Laura, her wavy, brown hair catching the outside wind. The strong sunlight on her face made her squint her eyes. It made her expression hard to read, but Samson was fairly sure that there was no anger.

She approached the car with brisk yet cautious steps. Samson pulled out the key and pocketed it, then opened the door, but remained seated.

Laura stood still for a while, saying nothing. Then she moved, circling around the car, and climbed into the passenger seat.

“I saw the email on the computer,” she quietly said.

Right. He’d left it open. She knew why Samson had left so quickly, then, and what for.

That made things a little easier. Probably.

“Are you alright?”

Samson turned to Laura, briefly meeting her hazel eyes, but couldn’t hold the gaze. He let it fall down onto her lap where she rested her hands.

She looked to the backseat. Samson’s breath briefly halted.

She had to be wondering about the metal chandelier lying there, seatbelt wrapping around it to keep it steady.

She froze.

She’d figured it out.

She turned to him again.

What was he supposed to say?

Her hand hesitantly raised, moving towards his shoulder. He made no motions one way or the other.

As soon as it touched him, though, his body became ten times heavier.

He was tired. He was exhausted.

“Honey…” she breathed.

What he’d kept inside for so long now surfaced on his face. He squeezed his eyes shut. He felt the wrinkles forming on his forehead.

He didn’t want it. He didn’t want her to see it, he didn’t want her to worry - but he knew he couldn’t stop it.

She leaned over and embraced him as best as she could from the passenger seat. Her warmth was welcome, but Samson just couldn’t feel like he deserved it.

He knew what she was thinking, more or less. That he’d spoken to a person, a very scared person, and then seen that person be hauled away to be killed. Perhaps he’d tried to argue with the guards only to be faced with cold indifference. Perhaps the blessing had gone wrong somehow, too.

There were many things she could assume to be the cause of his pain. Most of them were true, but the worst pain came from a place she’d never imagine he’d go.

For the rest of his life, he’d remember the day he committed murder.

- - -

END

- - -​
 
Last edited:

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Partners
  1. custom/mew-adam
  2. custom/celebi-shiny
  3. custom/roserade-adam
Okay, so I checked out this oneshot of yours today and these are my thoughts about it.

First off, I want to point out that this is my first time knowing of Samson outside of him being brought up in passing conversation, so I can only speak on his portrayal here. That being said, I like how he was written here over the course of the Oneshot. His motivations and beliefs were all conveyed well in the story and I think even readers that know little about him will be able to understand him.

As for the ghost jails, I’m curious about how prevalent ghost type related crimes are, and how far back exorcism as a concept goes. I’m not entirely sure what the worldbuilding surrounding ghost types are in this universe, though they appear to be capable of spontaneously coming into existence. It makes me wonder if there’s other pokemon here that work in the same way. Like Geodude being literal rocks that become self-aware, or even pokemon like Milcrem that canonically are just fairy dust or something that gains sentience. It’s pretty amusing.

Anyhow, In the first portion of the story we are shown how diligent Samson is about his Arcean religion. And not only that, but he was willing to perform the blessing for Flicker despite many other priests refusing to honor the request. This shows us that Samson has a fair bit of compassion too. Even when he met Flicker, we see him try to express this side of himself, though the story doesn’t shy away from showing us some of his shortcomings as well. His worldview is based around his religion, so he was trying to make Flicker understand her actions through that angle even though there’s an irreconcilable difference in their ways of thinking. Though I feel this flaw extends beyond that and to their law system as well. These ghosts are judged based on human standards, even though they’re about as inhuman as it gets. With humans being the ones dominant, everyone else is kind of forced to play by their rules as unfair or unreasonable it may be.

The last part of the story showed us that Samson was willing to make sacrifices for what he believed was right. What started as him seeing Flicker off during her final moments ended with him being her executioner instead. I think you did a good job here at showing us just how much this decision ate away at him inside. It was absolutely something he didn’t want to do, but felt that he must. Flicker feeling nothing over the fact that she’s taken two lives, and Samson’s pain at having to take someone else’s life even with their permission draws a nice contrast between them. One can’t help but wonder if Flicker did end up finding peace in the beyond or not. As for Samson coming to peace with the execution? Only time will tell.
 
Top Bottom