Anima Ex Machina: Eleven
In life, unlike chess, the game continues after checkmate.
A young woman stood on the edge of a cliff enveloped in fog. The fog wasn't so much the byproduct of the area as it was the result of her presence: fog emitted in wisps from her indigo skin while dark purple clouds shrouded most of her body. Her eyes glowed with a soft, blue light as she gazed through the mist.
Suddenly, she gasped and shivered, and the glow faded from her eyes.
Behind her something stirred. "My lady?"
Looking over her shoulder, she made out the silhouette of a second ixodida standing a few feet away.
"I sense a rogue on this island," she said.
"Does that worry you?" the male replied. "It is not wise to concern yourself so much with something like that. We have identified multiple rogues on this planet, and all of them are weak. It is the mind of this world's dominant species, my lady. While it may be intelligent, it lacks the ability to adapt to the transitional process. Many of them will die shortly after creation, and those few that survive will either lack the power to be considered a threat or be killed by their own follies."
"You underestimate the earthlings," she replied. "Besides, this may not be any ordinary rogue. I feel its presence already. Whatever it is, I sense that it may be powerful and clever. It killed two of Venom Clan's drones and disappeared..." She narrowed her eyes. "...as if it was mocking me."
The other ixodida straightened. "My lady, the likelihood that we fell to the same planet as--"
"Nonetheless," the woman interrupted, "please investigate it. I will not rest well until I know for sure what this rogue is."
Without further questioning, the other ixodida bowed. "Yes, my lady. It will be done."
Straightening, he turned and walked away from her. She waited for awhile until she heard the buzz of his departure. Then, she lifted a hand and glanced at the pink silk lotus she held in her palm.
"If you did indeed follow us to this planet--" She gripped the flower in her hand. "--then for the sake of our kind, I will not allow you to live."
Adam entered the gray forest easily. For its kind, it wasn't difficult at all to access a host's mind. After all, the ixodida and their hosts were one being. Everything that was part of the host was also a part of the parasite. So, everything that Bill's brain contained was just a casual thought away for Adam, even the parts that Bill himself had long forgotten.
Technically, the same relationship existed in reverse. Everything that was contained within Adam's mind could just as easily be accessible to its hosts as their mind was to it; the host just needed to be willing to explore. This openness was most of the reason why Adam's kind typically overwhelmed and trapped the host's mind within itself upon infection, but there were certain advantages, as Adam had discovered long before coming to Earth, to having multiple minds in one body. Amusement, for one. Although Adam hoped that Bill would never discover that the link between them went both ways, the parasite was already making a game out of seeing how long it would take for one of the brightest minds humanity could offer to figure the ixodida out.
However, humanity had its weak points, and Bill's were beginning to test his parasite's patience.
Adam found its host sitting against a tree. His arms were resting on his knees, and his face was buried in them. He didn't say anything. He didn't even move.
"It would be a problem if you have already broken after witnessing your first real battle," Adam drawled. "I would need to find a new host, and I have no doubt you would die wherever I left you, either from the gaping wound in your chest I would leave behind or the fact that the tentacles I have planted all over your body would secrete acids to liquify all your internal organs in a matter of hours."
Still, there was no response.
"Get up," Adam said.
"Bill. Get up."
After awhile, Bill shook his head and whispered, "That girl... I don't understand..."
It wasn't a question, but Adam knew from their bond what Bill was trying to say. The most unfortunate side to humanity was, quite simply, the fact that the human brain frequently failed to process whatever was well outside of their normal understanding of the world. For example, on Earth, getting shot multiple times in the head killed a person. The dead did not get up and walk. People were not normally dismembered in broad daylight. A rational human who previously claimed to be a pacifist did not rip another living being apart with his own bare hands. All four facts combined left Bill, despite all his intellectual abilities, overwhelmed to the point where his brain shut down. He was no more useful, therefore, than a mumbling idiot.
Knowing this, Adam's answer was quick.
"I did nothing that was not necessary for our survival."
Bill clenched his fists. Evidently to Adam, that wasn't what he wanted to hear. "Did you kill her?"
The question didn't surprise Adam. In fact, it knew Bill would eventually ask, just because he was human. What surprised Adam was the fact that the question came clearly, even though Bill could barely process a thing just a few seconds ago. The human was recovering -- or had decided to recover a long time ago. A part of Adam felt relieved, if only because Bill's ability to grab onto whatever sounded like sanity and climb back up made things easier. Not much easier, but at least Adam didn't have to explain the basics again.
"It was necessary, Bill," it said. "She intended to kill us."
"A-and the other one?"
"Necessary as well."
Bill turned his head and covered his eyes with a hand. For a while, Adam simply watched him, waiting for him to look at it. When that never happened, Adam flexed its fingers, each joint clacking with irritation.
"You cannot face my kind with the fear you displayed before our battle," Adam said. "The second you hesitate, our enemies will rip you apart, and I mean that literally. That female may have been weak against us, but she still possessed the ability to tear us limb from limb if we did not defend ourselves. Imagine what will happen if a stronger member of my kind encountered us."
Still, Bill said nothing. After a moment of this silence, Adam lashed one of its hands downward. Bill felt a metal hand grab his hair and yank it, pulling his head backwards. With another hand, Adam grabbed its host by the neck, pulled him to his feet, and pinned him to the tree behind him.
"Human, are you listening to me?" it asked.
Bill glared at Adam. His eyes were red and wet.
Flicking its tail, Adam tilted its head. "Are you mourning the deaths of our enemies?"
"I don't want to be a murderer," Bill mumbled.
Adam's tail flicked again, this time kicking up dirt behind the parasite as it leaned close to Bill. "What was that, human?"
"They're just like me, aren't they?" Bill said. "They're... they're just victims. We need to help them, not kill them."
"Even if they wish to kill us?"
"No. That's you... isn't it? That's why that girl could get back up, and that's why she attacked us. The ixodida. They're controlling us, ar--"
Adam threw him across the clearing. He slammed into the ground, yelping as pain shot up the arm he had landed on. Unfortunately for him, he had no time to think about it. Adam was on top of him a second later, hands pinning Bill's shoulders to the ground and tail wrapped around his legs.
"Perhaps they are, but not one of those hosts have the power to reject my kind. More importantly, most of my brethren would try to kill us instantly if they knew what we were. Did you hear that female call you a rogue? Do you know what a rogue is? It is nothing more than an ixodida who defies the natural order of our species. They are anomalies, and if they threaten to disrupt our survival as a whole, then every member of our species will do everything they can to eradicate us. You are no friend to the ixodida, Bill, just because you exist."
Although Bill's expression faltered, revealing a flash of uncertainty, it was erased in seconds by a glare of determination.
"So, you want me to be a traitor as well as a murderer?" he snapped.
"No," Adam replied. "I want you to fight."
"I'm sorry, but I can't. I can't kill another living being, and I certainly don't want to have anything to do with threatening the existence of an entire species."
"Our contract, Bill. The consequence of violating it is death."
"Kill me, if it means that much to you!"
The words echoed throughout the forest. Bill was shocked he had even said them, and because of that, he stared at Adam with a blank expression. Of course he was terrified of the thing pinning him to the ground -- or whatever it might be doing to make him feel as if he was being pinned -- but right then, for the first time in his life, he felt enough motivation to fail at caring. He knew he was most likely about to die, but he took a certain pleasure in the idea that if he did, he would at least go out with as clean a conscience as he could get.
So, when Adam lifted a hand, Bill did nothing to stop it. Just as the claws on the parasite's fingers began to glow silver, he closed his eyes and waited. Any second, he knew everything would be over.
The blow never came.
Opening one eye, Bill realized that the glow had dissipated. The claws lowered, and Adam carefully pulled away.
"In all my travels across this galaxy, I have never met a creature with such open audacity," it said as it stood. "You humans may be weak, but you are at least... interesting."
Bill sat up. "I... uh. Thank you?"
Adam scoffed and turned away. "If you will not fight to defend yourself, fight for the sake of humanity, then."
Any confusion Bill had over what just transpired immediately vanished. Keeping his eyes on Adam, he furrowed his eyebrows. "What do you mean?"
"This city is empty for a reason," Adam replied. "Something is compelling the ixodida to attack humans. I feel that the purpose of this goes far beyond just survival. I can sense it, but I cannot pinpoint its source." It looked over its shoulder. "That was your area of expertise, was it not? Deciphering why a pokémon acts the way it does? I can only wonder how long it will take you to figure it out -- how many people will die while you stand by and simply observe."
Hastily, Bill scrambled to his feet. He held his sore arm with one hand as he stared at Adam's back. For the second time in their conversation, Bill remained silent, waiting for Adam to continue. This time, it wasn't out of defiance. Rather, it was out of the fact that he had no idea what to say.
Meanwhile, Adam began walking away, into the forest. "I have given you the power to protect your kind. Everything you could ever need is now within you. You simply need the will to use it. Think about it, Bill."
With that, Adam disappeared beyond the trees, leaving Bill alone in the clearing. Backing up, Bill found the nearest trunk and leaned against the bark. He closed his eyes, his mind sifting through everything Adam had just told him. Him? Defend humanity? He couldn't possibly... could he? As far as he was concerned, his only purpose in life was to stand back and observe. He was a researcher, a source of information -- someone to help the plot along at the very most, if he compared his life to a story. Naturally, he would be more than happy to help a hero, but to be cast into that role himself? He just didn't think he was born for that kind of duty.
With this in mind, he opened his eyes, expecting to see more of the gray forest.
What he saw instead was the sideways view of an empty room. Blinking, it took him a moment to realize he was actually lying flat on his stomach on a hard floor. He groaned and flipped over, bringing a hand to his head. The sharp scent of blood filled the air, and he gasped and pulled his hand away from his face.
His vision was monochrome. At first, he couldn't tell why, but after a second, the dark background and the sharpness of every light tone around him -- namely, the tones of his hand -- caused something to click in his head. Night vision. It had to be.
Of course, at that moment, he didn't bother searching for Adam to get a confirmation. That was the least of his concerns, after all.
Evidently, Adam was kind enough to lick most of the blood off his claws before he awoke, but despite that and the fact that Bill could only see in a limited spectrum of colors, he still caught dark patches on his joints and at the tip of each claw. His hand shook as he stared. The patches were dry and crusty, with some parts flaking off each time he moved a finger. As a result, his joints felt stiff and dirty.
He couldn't remember most of the battle, but one image kept coming to mind: the girl. Her brains exposed. Her body rising up and lurching towards him. Her expression blank. Her mouth open. Her eyes dead...
Bill closed his hand. Don't think about that.
Breathing in, he meditated. The girl was dead. There was nothing he could do about it. Yes, it was alarming, but he had to maintain his composure. He knew it wouldn't be the last time he would see a zombie-alien-girl getting--
Don't think about that!
Sitting up, Bill shook his head and buried his face in his palms. His entire body was trembling.
I can't do this. I just can't. There's no possible way I can.
Moving his hands from his face, Bill pushed off the floor and stood.
I'm not a fighter. I'm not a killer. What do I do now? ...What is that smell?
His tail whipped back and forth behind his legs. Each joint along it felt just as stiff as the ones in his hands, and he smelled blood every time he moved it. It even crackled with dried blood flaking off its surface. Wrapping one of his arms with a hand, Bill shifted a foot and placed it gently on the arrowhead tip of his tail to get himself to stop moving it. The entire appendage tingled, and a sharp pain radiated from its base. Yelping, he let go, and his tail went back to wagging behind him.
"Water," he murmured as he held his head. "I need to clean myself up. Then, maybe I'll be able to think straight. Where can I get water?"
Looking around, he took in more of the room. It was, for the most part, empty. A bench sat on one side, and along the walls, a balcony hung. Other than that, there was nothing interesting about the space except the markings on the floor: a large rectangle with boxes attached to the shorter ends.
A battlefield, Bill thought. Why on Earth did you bring me here, Adam?
As expected, he got no response. Sighing, Bill gave up on trying to contact the parasite and started for a door in the corner of the room. He figured that it was probably better that no conversation happened, given what he had experienced in his dream. Besides, he didn't particularly want to know what Adam was expecting him to do on a battlefield.
Approaching the door, he placed a hand on it. It occurred to him that the door seemed a little unusual. It was made of metal, and by the sound it made when he knocked on it, it was thick. Yet, to make matters even more interesting for him, there was no doorknob or door handle, and it didn't budge when he pushed it. Looking up, he tried to find a window large enough for him to fit through or another door, but there was nothing around him except that single entrance.
He furrowed his eyebrows as a single thought entered his mind. How did I get in here if I can't get out?
Briefly, the idea of shouting for help crossed his mind, but then, two problems occurred to him. First, he had no idea if anyone was actually within earshot. Second, he didn't want to know what would happen if someone found him like that, what with the way that his body looked at that moment and the fact that he was covered in blood. Backing up, he fixed his eyes on the door. If calling for help wasn't an option, he had no other choice.
What attacks do I know? he asked himself.
Raising his claws, he concentrated. One of the attacks in his head had to do with them. That much he knew. But how was he supposed to use it?
Breathing out, he pulled back his hand. He supposed he had nothing to lose when it came to experimenting. As far as he could tell, after all, he wasn't about to use Explosion or something like it, so what was the worst that could happen?
Swinging his arm, he brought his claws across the metal door. Scratch. It was a basic attack for most pokémon, so it didn't surprise him that much to learn that this was what he had in his arsenal so far. What actually surprised him, though, was the fact that the second his claws scraped across the door, the metal underneath them screamed. Crying out, he pulled his hand away, covered his ears, and dropped to his knees. There was still a ringing in his head long after the cause of it stopped.
Scratching metal on metal. Brilliant idea, Bill, he thought.
As if he didn't endure enough pain, the lights suddenly blasted on. Flinching, he felt a wave of pain rush through his head as his eyes struggled to adjust to the sudden light. Even after his vision cleared and his eyes finally picked up color, his head ached from the double assault. Shaking it, he stood and blinked until the pain subsided. Then, he looked up at the source of the lights, the rows of fluorescent lamps in the ceiling.
"Hello?" he called. "Who's there?"
Silence answered him. A cold feeling crept through his body, and he turned back to the door. The sooner he was out, the better, he figured. Reaching for the door, he intended on prying it open, but before he could touch it, it slid apart with a whir. Behind it stood a tall, yellow and white creature. It bared its long fangs as it stared at Bill with glowing, red eyes. Electricity crackled off its muscular body as a tiger's growl rumbled from its maw.
One of the more noteworthy aspects of Johto was the fact that, because the region held a deeper and darker connection to its own folklore than most of the other regions barring maybe Sinnoh, every person who came from there was by default something of an expert in the matter of the regional legendary pokémon. As such, Bill could easily recognize a raikou when he saw one, not because he was a researcher but instead because he had spent a little over half of his life being told the stories about how encountering one would mean the thundering wrath of the gods would be inflicted upon the unwitting traveler shortly afterwards.
Knowing this, Bill immediately took the bravest course of action he could think of: dropping to the floor and screaming.