Elegy For Humanity
Centuries after humans disappeared without explanation, the events that led to their extinction are threatening to repeat themselves. Can the inheritors of the planet learn from history quickly enough to prevent it from repeating itself?
Though I was planning to build up more of a backlog before starting publishing, I’ve decided to make an exception for TR and publish here early. If there’s any stray asterisks, please let me know because it means I messed up my little formatting trick.
Content warnings for mild blood, abuse, death and carnivory.
—Chapter 1: Ashes to Ashes
An Absol lay on a hillside in the village of Rainbow Valley, resting in a spot where the sun pooled.
“Celeste, you goof, get up. It’s midafternoon and you still haven’t done anything productive yet today.”
He tried to ignore the voice, until he found himself being poked over and over with a stick. He got up and turned to address the Braixen poking him with a branch. “C’mon, Salac. I was just getting comfortable.”
“You’ve been lying there for hours now. Did you fall asleep?”
Celeste yawned. “Oh… I guess I did.”
Salac rolled her eyes. “Come back to the shrine and get something to eat at least. I won’t have my brother going off and starving himself for a sun nap.”
Celeste’s stomach rumbled its agreement. He nodded, and the two began the walk back to the shrine that was their home. Salac walked with a nervous energy to her, a nervousness Celeste had noticed more often recently.
“Are you still worried about the Ho-Oh situation? C’mon, Salac, cut yourself a break. It’s not your fault, and the townsfolk have agreed to let you act as shrinekeeper until it’s resolved.”
Salac sighed. “It’s been a month. A month, Celeste! We still don’t know what’s happened to Ho-Oh! Even if I weren’t waiting for them to officialize my keeperhood, I’d still be nervous. Ho-Oh doesn’t just disappear like this! Even when Ho-Oh wants to reject someone, they at least do in person!”
Celeste stepped closer and brushed up against her. “I know. I also know that you worrying about it for hours on end won’t do anything but drive you mad. You have enough to worry about with the whole leadership matter. You can’t worry yourself about this on top of everything else.”
Salac laughed, and gave Celeste a squeeze. “Well, I don’t have to worry too much about my shrinekeeper duties, seeing as you offer to do the better half of them for me. Can I not get away with a bit of worrying?”
Celeste rolled his eyes. “Fi-i-ine, you have my permission to worry a bit, but only a little bit!”
At that moment, a chilling sensation overtook Celeste’s horn. He froze in place.
“Celeste? Is everything okay?”
The feeling spread from his horn out to the rest of his body. His heart was beating like a drum, his fur stood on end. He’d sensed disasters before, but the sensation had never spread beyond his horn like this before. This was different.
“Earth to Celeste? What’s wrong?”
He found it hard to speak. The sensation had begun to hurt, making it hard to focus on the words he wanted to say. “Disaster… sense…”
Salac placed a paw on his chin, then lifted his head until she could see into his eyes. Salac’s eyes were warm, full of concern and compassion. Celeste’s own eyes were wide open, but his pupils had dilated. He looked like a cornered feral.
Salac knelt down and drew him up into a hug. “Are you still with me? Celeste? Are you okay?”
Celeste blinked back tears. “Not… okay…”
“Celeste. Celeste? You need to get out of here. I’ll handle whatever comes next. You’re in no fit condition to do anything more until you’re clear of this disaster. Okay? You hear me? I’ve got it from here.”
Celeste pulled back from the hug and nodded. Before turning to flee the clearing into the woods around, he took one last look back home. Just in case.
He ran with no direction. None at least, other than away, deeper and deeper into the woods. He felt as if his legs were possessed by a force beyond his will. He wanted to stop, to curl up and cry, but raw self-preservation kept his legs in motion.
The rhythmic sound of his footsteps began to overtake his focus, luring him into a trance, where instinct controlled his body as his mind slowly turned off.
He stayed in that trance until his muscles began to burn, the soreness pulling him back to reality. He wanted the foreboding feeling of the disaster sense to fall away, so that he could collapse to the ground and rest.
How far must he have run by now? Why did he still sense impending disaster? Even if he couldn’t escape, why hadn’t the disaster arrived already? It was unlike his previous experience with the sense for it to leave him in suspense for so long.
He heard a terrible screech. The sound of a massive beast, crying out from either pain or bloodlust. Either meant danger. Had he managed to run himself toward the disaster, instead of away?
Darkness fell over the spot Celeste was standing. Looking up toward the sky above him, he saw the creature casting the shadow. Parts of it appeared to be a bird with rainbow feathers. The feathers of Ho-Oh.
Other parts bore no such resemblance. The deity Celeste was so familiar with had become covered in ebony crystal growths, like an obsidian parasite. Ho-Oh’s entire head was buried beneath the substance, and yet they seemed to be able to see well enough to fly.
Ho-Oh began to circle, as though they sensed Celeste below. The crystal covering their beak parted to allow Ho-Oh to emit a tortured cry. A geyser of flame escaped their maw, clinging unnaturally to the lush woods Celeste ran through as if it were dry grass.
Ignoring the protests of his body, Celeste redoubled his pace, until the pain in his horn finally faded. He spared a moment to turn and look back at the skies above. Ho-Oh had moved on from circling Celeste’s position, flying in the opposite direction. The way Celeste had come.
Towards his home.
Without his disaster sense forcing him forward, the adrenaline faded. All the feelings of fatigue and loss it had been repressing welled up inside him.
As the light from the burning trees flickered around him, he broke down and cried.
Though no longer did the spectre of approaching disaster haunt him, the flames still crept along until the trees surrounding him were left as unrecognizable pillars of flame. Once the gathering heat began to hurt, he forced himself back up. He began to run further through the woods, fleeing the flickering flames. As he progressed, the flames thinned. The trees, which had been fully consumed by the fire further back, were now only beginning to take.
Celeste began to hear a new sound, mingling with the crackling flames. The sound of running water. Forcing himself into one last sprint, he pushed himself towards the source.
The river came into view. He plunged himself into it, letting the cold water sap the heat from his body and fatigue from his muscles. Though the memory of the loss he felt still lingered in the corners of his mind, he began to laugh.
He was alive. Alive!
He kneeled down until he was neck deep in the water, then splashed water up onto his face. There would be time to mourn what he had lost later, for now, Celeste simply reveled in the fact that he had evaded what he had thought would be his end.
Eventually, Celeste noticed the shadows growing longer. He had to find somewhere to sleep soon, unless he wished to sleep in the open. He crossed the river, shaking what water he could from his fur.
He could see the smoke from the fire rising on the other side of the river, coming close to where he was, but he was relatively confident the river’s breadth would keep it from spreading any further.
He turned his focus back to the space in front of him. The woods showed no sign of stopping. Should he just keep wandering, hoping to find someone or someplace? If only there was a path, or something else that would guide him to civilization.
Like the river. For water types, it may as well have been a path. If he followed the riverbank, he should come to civilization… or to a lake or ocean. Still, the riverbank was the best shot he had. With any luck, he’d find something.
Eventually, a young Oshawott popped out of the river. Celeste jumped back in surprise, but the Oshawott seemed friendly. “Hey, there! I ain’t seen any Absol around here before! It’s nice to meet you!”
Celeste was a bit taken aback by the sudden friendliness, but he put on a polite smile and nodded. This was his shot at finding civilization. “Y-Yes, nice to meet you, too. I’ve been displaced from my home and I’m a bit lost. Do you know where the nearest town is?”
Oshawott pointed further downstream. “You’re going the right way, it’s not much farther! Also, what does ‘displaced’ mean, sir?”
Celeste sighed in relief. He’d gone a decent way already, and was glad he didn’t have to backtrack. In the worry, he’d almost forgotten he was talking to a kid. “Oh, yes. It means I had to leave… because of a fire.”
“Oh! That’s not good.”
Celeste let out a hollow laugh. “No. Indeed it isn’t.”
“Are you gonna come live with us in our town?”
“I think so… I’m not entirely sure.”
“I hope I see you around, Mister Absol! Bye!” Oshawott smiled, dove back into the river, and returned to swimming upstream.
“Thank you for your help,” Celeste said, though he doubted the kid could still hear him. He took a moment to compose himself. Though he wasn’t sure what would happen once he reached the village; he had to get there before he could figure that out.
He resumed his journey. He hoped the kid had been right in saying it wasn’t much farther. The sun had been making good progress towards the horizon, and it wouldn’t be much longer before nightfall.
It wasn’t long before he saw a few plumes of chimney smoke rising above the treeline.
He entered the village. At first, the streets were just packed dirt, but as he explored, he eventually found roads paved with stone. He got some looks as he wandered, and a few locals greeted him, but he was largely ignored. It seemed foreigners weren’t too out of place here. It felt unusual to him that he didn’t look out of place in somewhere so new to him, but river towns saw more traffic than the Rainbow Valley, where few travellers came.
On the cobbled streets of the town’s heart, he found a building with an inn’s sign. He took a deep breath, then entered. Seeing as he didn’t have money, this was going to be an awkward conversation.
He pushed through the door flap and saw a Florges behind a desk. He made eye contact with her before speaking. “Hello. Do you have work in exchange for room and board?”
Florges glared at him. “If you can’t pay, get out. We’re no charity. Go skulk in the burrows like some kind of feral. They’re on the outskirts of town, opposite side from the waterway. You’ll fit right in there.”
Celeste flinched at being called feral. He was aware he didn’t look his best right now, but he really wasn’t in the mood for insults. He managed to keep his irritation off his face, after all, losing his composure would do him no favours.
“Very well,” he murmured. Despite his frustration, he tried to at least take solace in the fact that it was over quickly.
As he turned to leave, a little Floette bounded up to him. “Hey, mister! Mister! You should go take me to the ruins so we can explore and find all kinds of ancient treasures and we can sell them and you’ll have money and you’ll not have to worry about paying momma anymore!”
The scoul trying to force itself onto his face melted away, and he smiled. “Oh? You want to be a ruins explorer?”
Florges cleared her throat loudly and glared at her kid. “Excuse me. Begging this ruffian won’t change the fact you aren’t allowed to poke around in the human ruins! They’re dangerous.”
“But momma! How can I be an explorer if I can’t explore?”
The two of them began to argue. “I’ll see myself out…” Celeste murmured, slipping back out through the door.
He took a moment to recollect his thoughts. He hadn’t gotten a place, but he’d learned two things: There were burrows on the edge of town, if he was desperate, and there were human ruins nearby. Human relics could be valuable, so it was worth checking out.
Taking note of the sun setting over the horizon, he decided the first order of business was to find a cave. He sighed. Burrow-dwelling wasn’t exactly an appealing way to spend the day, but he was exhausted after hours of running. The idea of finding somewhere to collapse was plenty appealing.
From the cobbled streets in the heart of the town, Celeste worked his way back out to streets of packed dirt, winding his way back towards the outskirts. Eventually, the streets gave out entirely. He found his way towards the wall of what seemed to be a ravine carved out long ago, before the nearby river wore its way to its current location.
The ravine wall was littered with burrows. Most clustered at the bottom, but a few higher up on the wall. Though the ones at the bottom were occupied to no exception, some of the burrows higher up were empty, inaccessible as they were to those without the climbing skill to reach them.
Though Celeste had little experience in climbing, Absol were built for the mountains. He took a deep breath to clear his mind of thoughts, so instinct could bubble up to the surface. Though deceptively soft earth lured him some missteps, he made it up.
The burrow was indeed as empty as it had seemed from the outside. Coals of an old campfire sat near the back, but Celeste didn’t waste time trying to ignite it. He curled up into a ball on the floor. Moments later, he was asleep.
The sun’s rays crept into the burrow, stirring Celeste from his sleep. He stretched his muscles. Unsurprisingly, he found himself sore. After all the stress he put on his body running yesterday, followed by sleeping on hard earth, he had expected the soreness to be worse.
Today, he wanted to track down the ruins and haul back whatever was the most valuable thing he could find… Though he would have to find them first.
The best way to do that would be to ask around, and if he wanted to do that, the first order of business was presentability. He took a solid half hour grooming out the evidence of yesterday’s events from his coat. Once he was satisfied that he looked civilized once again, he struck back out for the village. Hopefully, he’d find some kind of explorer-looking type who could tell him there the ruins were.
After a few rejections, he stumbled on a scrappy-looking Mienfoo who could answer his question. She pulled out a map and showed him the location. She tried to make smalltalk during the exchange, but she was no good at it herself. Celeste was more than happy to take over the conversation, and despite being the one to start the forced-feeling smalltalk, she seemed more than happy to let him take over.
Once the awkward exchange of information came to a close, he nodded politely, thanked her for her time, and made his way to the ruins. The path ended up seeing him retrace his footsteps along the riverbank he’d come along, going in the opposite direction. To his surprise, the treeline on both sides of the river wasn’t burned. The fire hadn’t spread as far as Celeste had expected it to.
In the end, the ruins were visible from the riverbank. A sign bore runes of unreadable humanscript, labeling the entrance. Instead of a proper flap, the ruins had a solid plate of metal with a handle for a door, and though the metal had a small cutout with a miniature flap, it wouldn’t accommodate a full grown Absol.
Instead, he placed the base of his horn beneath one of the rusted hinges and pried at it until it broke. After a bit more abuse, the door fell free, centuries of neglect having left it unable to stand up to his attack. It fell to the floor, kicking up a cloud of dust.
He walked into the ruins, each step stirring a small cloud of dust from the long-neglected floor. From the ceiling, glass bulbs hung from strings. When he stepped far enough into the ruins, the bulbs flickered and began to emit a dim light.
Salac had been interested in old human things. He’d heard her talk about the things she read about them, and he remembered her mentioning these glass bulbs… but no one had known what their purpose was. Now, Celeste was seeing these bulbs for himself… and they were full of light.
She would’ve loved to see this, if she were here. What a shame, Celeste thought, that she stayed behind… Stayed home, when their home had burned…
He shook off the thought. He didn’t have time to worry about his sister. Nor did he have time to worry about the bulbs of light. He took a deep breath and forced himself to continue. He had entered a hallway, lined with more metal doors. Unlike the door to the outside, these ones were protected from the elements, and had no rusted weaknesses for Celeste to exploit.
He walked further down the hall, hoping to find a room he could enter. He noticed one door had a small flap cut into the metal door, but like the flap on the outer door, it was too small for him to enter. He continued past it.
One door was slightly ajar, far enough that Celeste could pull it open. The room inside was… barren. The one and only noticeable point of interest was a machine that looked like a bed with a domed cover made from green glass. That, and the dust on the floor, if one counted it as interesting on the merits of sheer quantity.
The machine was too big to carry, and it didn’t have any seemingly salvageable parts. Celeste prepared to move on. Hopefully this wasn’t what every other room was like…
Why did this machine get a room all to itself anyways? The heavy steel door, if closed, could’ve kept out anything short of a Tyrantrum. Perhaps the room existed to stop anything from getting in? If the machine was fragile, it would make sense to want to keep anything feral from trying to nest in there.
Whatever the case, Celeste saw nothing of value to salvage. He sighed. Of course there wasn’t, finding treasure in human ruins was a childish fantasy, suggested to him by a child. He’d let his desperation lure him into a ridiculous plan…
But now that he was here… It couldn’t hurt to finish checking the place out. After all, he’d already solved the mystery of the glass bulbs, which were supposed to be bulbs of light, so perhaps this ruin was special in some way. A place with other mysterious things to be found within.
None of the other doors were left ajar, but when he came to the end of the hallway, Celeste found a tank. It was a medium-sized metal tank sitting on a plastic receptacle. The tank had an image of a triangle with a lightning bolt on it, with a humanscript label written beneath it. It had a big plastic string attached to it, though the string was slack, the tank was not dangling from it. The other end of the string disappeared into the roof.
Celeste stopped to think for a moment, trying to puzzle out what it was in front of him. He came to a conclusion: The rubber string was not, in reality, a string. It was a tube. The tank contained lightning, as per its label, which flowed through the tube into the roof. The strings that the bulbs of light hung from were also tubes, and the lightning flowed from the tubes into the bulbs. Lightning glows, so the bulbs light up then they have lightning inside.
His heart rate picked up. That tank would be a valuable discovery! He pulled it loose from the receptacle. In order to take it with him, he would have to cut the tube. Cutting the tube would probably let the lightning leak out of the tank, but it was of no use to him bound to the ruins. Looking inside to see the structure of the tank itself would still be incredibly valuable.
With the sharp end of his horn, he cut the tube. When he did so, the bulbs flickered out. He was correct! The bulbs were fueled by the lightning in the tank. To his surprise, the tube was plugged with metal, keeping the lightning inside.
Oh. Right. Of course the tube was filled with metal, it would be a better conductor of electricity than air. For a moment there, he’d been expecting the humans to be channeling raw lighting.
He began to roll the tank back down the hall, making his way towards the exit. After a few minutes, he began to hear noises coming from a few of the rooms. A muted thunk… thunk… thunk…
He left the tank behind to return to the room with the open door. If he wanted to know what those noises were, that room was his best shot. He wanted to get there before it stopped, and the lightning tank was slowing him down.
Once he entered the room, he heard the strange device from before letting out the same noise that had been coming from some of the other rooms. He went up to inspect the glass case… It was almost as if something was moving inside it.
His horn was hit with a tickling sensation. Reacting on instinct to his disaster sense, he lept back as the case exploded into shards of glass and an outpour of liquid. A creature twice Celeste’s size emerged from inside the tank.
Its head was buried beneath a thick metal helmet. It held its head low so that the liquid from the tank could drain out the eyeholes. From beneath the helmet, soggy silver feathers poked out. The feathers were long, covering the neck, and further down to the shoulders. It was quadrupedal, but had green talons where its forelegs should have been. The rest of its body was covered in pale fur, with the exception of its scaled, piscine tail.
Once the liquid had finished draining from the helmet, its head lurched upwards to stare at Celeste, eyes full of fury visible through the holes in the helmet.
“Ho-Oh redeem my soul,” Celeste murmured at the sight of it. He had assumed the steel doors were to keep ferals out, but now he realized he was mistaken.
The doors were to keep these in.
But he’d just had to go straight to the one door that had been left open. The one place where this failsafe hadn’t been in place. Now, he had to face this creature.
As it reared up onto its hind legs, Celeste’s horn alerted him of the incoming attack. He sidestepped out of the creature’s path. It sent the crushing weight of its helmet and body down on the spot he’d been a moment ago, shaking the ground and sending a cloud of dust and pulverized concrete into the air.
Under the cover of the cloud, Celeste swung his horn onto the creature’s underbelly. It bounced off… scales? The creature had had fur on its underbelly. Could it possibly have scales beneath the fur?
It noticed the blow, and turned to face him again. He retreated further into the dust cloud. It was beginning to disperse, so he needed to act quickly. Remembering a special technique he’d learned, he gathered static in his fur, sending it standing on end, then discharged it in a wave. Most never expected an Absol to gather a thunder wave, and this beast was no exception. Its limbs failed it, and it fell onto its side.
A coarse voice came from beneath the helmet.
Celeste slowly blinked. He’d assumed the creature was feral. “You… You tried to crush me. I had to defend myself.”
“Why… here? Why am I?”
It seemed the creature wasn’t quite thinking straight. “I don’t know, I… I just found you here. Do you know why you were put here?”
They shivered, and let out a little whimper. “I… I don’t work. I didn’t do… what I was supposed to.”
Celeste sat down beside them. He may not be in the Rainbow Valley, and there may not even be a Ho-Oh for him to be beholden to anymore, but helping those in need was a principal that had been drilled into him since he was a pup. He couldn’t just leave this confused, scared thing here… Even if they did frighten him.
“Listen, the paralysis should wear off soon. How about this: once you feel better, I’ll take you back to the place I’m staying. We can figure out what to do from there.”
The creature was confused. “Why? Why would you do that?”
Celeste let out a single laugh. “Well, you seem like you could use some help… A lot of help, really. It’s my duty to give help to those who need it. Understand?”
“Understood,” they responded, though their tone of voice implied they didn’t quite understand as clearly as they claimed.
They sat in silence for a moment before Celeste revived the conversation. “My name is Celeste. Do you have a name? I could use something to call you.”
The chimera grumbled. “My name is Metheus. I don’t like it. It is a silly name.”
“Oh, I see. Is there something else you’d rather be called?”
“No. I have no other name.”
Celeste nodded. “Very well. You can always pick out another one if you like, Maytheus.”
Metheus grumbled further. “Metheus. Me-the-us.”
“Oh, I apologize, Metheus. I’ve never heard a name quite like that before.”
“I’m fine... It’s fine.”
Once Metheus could walk, the pair of them returned to the burrows. By the time they made it back to the ravine, the sun was beginning to set. Celeste had thought it best to avoid cutting through town with Metheus to avoid drawing attention, and the detour had cost them a large chunk of the day.
Fortunately, a lower burrow was empty. Celeste had been worried that, since Metheus couldn’t climb like he could, that they’d be unable to find a burrow for the night. Though they were starting to fill up, it seemed they were early enough to claim one.
Metheus’ appearance would probably be enough to dissuade anyone from trying to join them. They’d have this place to themselves for tonight. Tomorrow would be… another day. Maybe even a good one, if they were lucky.
Edit: Fixed the grammar errors listed in Kintsugi’s review.
Edit Edit: Also Adam and Phoenix’s