Art: SpaceSmilodon (http://www.furaffinity.net/user/spacesmilodon/) and Vexxblack (http://vexxblack.deviantart.com/)
Characters (c) of Space and Vexx
Story: BRNQuil (https://brnquil.sofurry.com/) and myself. (https://arcane-reno.sofurry.com/)
Make sure to check out other work done by Space and Vexx, at http://pmdbtad.deviantart.com/
Disclaimer: All publicly recognizable characters, settings, etc. are the property of their respective owners. The original characters and plot are the property of the author. The author is in no way associated with the owners, creators, or producers of any media franchise. No copyright infringement is intended.
Author's Chapter Notes:
The ache in Stuart’s paws felt like needles of ice stabbing into the tender pads. Even the lower slopes of mount Frostbite were cold enough that hours of walking had stiffened his muscles and joints, and he swore that dratted butterfree had led them down the mountain via the longest route possible, purely out of spite. All those winding switchbacks down steep, icy slopes…
He shuddered at the memory. Stuart wished they could have found a way to take the butterfree and the rest of that brutal mightyena’s cronies in to the Kenogami jail, but, time was their enemy.
It doesn’t matter, he reminded himself, glancing up at the precious flower delicately fixed to his leaf once more. As long as we’re not too late, it was worthwhile.
An image of Dusty popped into his mind, the stricken zebstrika wracked by fever and chills. Stuart’s muzzle set in a grim line. His lagging step turned to a stride, forcing his protesting body onward through the pain, outpacing Thomas’ own weary trudge. The persian looked up, his own features a mask of exhaustion, and without a word, sped up his own stride to match.
As long as we’re not too late.
Along the dusty path before them, their shadows stretched long and dark, distorted by the late afternoon sun. The forest of Kenogami rose from the landscape ahead like the shell of a colossal torterra. This path lead them towards the South forest, away from their team headquarters, but towards their next destination.
“Thomas, whe-” Stuart tried to say. His voice came out a harsh croak. He swallowed, working moisture into his mouth, and tried again. “Where did Boris say the vileplume lived, exactly?”
“Near thorny gulch, the southwestern end,” Thomas said, his tail flicking spastically. “You know, the place that lives up to its name?”
Stuart grimaced. The prospect of hunting down a hermit’s residence through a maze of thistles wouldn’t have been appealing on the best of days.
As long as we’re not too late.
“Fine. I don’t have much left, but I can at least nudge some of the plants aside.”
“And I can cut what you can’t nudge.”
Stuart’s muzzle twitched. Funny. Before this nearly disastrous trip, all he would’ve gotten in response from Thomas was a snide remark or subtle put down. If nothing else, surviving the cold slopes of Frostbite had thawed the layer of ice between the two of them.
They walked on, chasing their shadows into the larger shadow of Kenogami’s lush forest. The normally calming scent of loam and pine failed to warm the chill in Stuart’s belly. Dusty would be okay. He had to be. They would make it. They needed only to find this ‘Saint’, and all of this would be a bitter memory.
Thomas’ deadpan statement drew a start from Stuart.
“I can hear your teeth clenching. Bad habit, that. Worrying won’t help anything.” The feline turned forward once more, his ears flat against his skull. “And tensing up like that will only slow us down. Come on.”
The weight between Stuart’s shoulders lessened. Not enough to vanish, but enough to add a hint of bounce back into his step. Brusque as Thomas may have been, it didn’t grate on his nerves the way it used to. The burden wasn’t his alone anymore.
We’ll make it.
Stuart broke into a run.
“That has to be the place.”
In front of them, wedged between two towering trees and an imposing growth of brambles, the curved side of a mud structure rose from the grasping flora. Stuart thought he could see a wisp of smoke trailing through a hole in the roof, though the bare trickle of light which managed to filter through the dense forest canopy made it difficult to be sure. He sniffed, trying to catch a scent. Sharp pine, water from the creek they’d splashed through moments earlier, decomposing leaves and needles, and a hint of sweet thistle blooms. No woodsmoke.
“It had better be,” Thomas muttered, slashing irritably at a long-limbed thornbush.
Stuart felt inclined to agree.Their pelts were a horrendous snarl covered in enough debris to leave them looking more like part of the local foliage than pokémon. They’d added to their ever-growing score of scratches too, and though he refused to admit it, Thomas was favouring his right forepaw, betraying the nasty thorn he’d had the misfortune to step on.
Stuart winced in sympathy. “Let’s go check it out.”
They picked their way gingerly around the brambles, Thomas leading with his superior low-light vision. The front of the hut held two roughly hewn windows and a doorway, each covered by a dangling screen of braided willow fronds.
“In the future,” Thomas growled, “Let’s not make a habit of taking missions that require us to go to such irritating places.”
“We didn’t exactly have a lot of choice.”
“Point. Fine, next time ditzy donkey gets sick, it needs to be an illness cured by lying on the beach.”
Stuart chuckled, the absurdity of the statement chasing away a trickle of his exhaustion. Raising his voice, he called, “Hello? Anyone in there?”
Silence. Stuart glanced up. Yes, that was definitely smoke seeping out through the hole in the roof. He tried again. “I’m sorry to bother you unexpectedly, but we’re with a rescue team, and-”
“Forget it,” Thomas interrupted, stalking toward the door. His foreleg twitched when he placed weight on it, but that was the feline’s only concession to pain. “I’m not waiting on his convenience.”
“Tom, wa-” Stuart started to say. His ears perked.
Ting, ting, tin-kle.
The willow frond curtain parted, a wide, stubby form imposing itself inside the threshold before Thomas, stopping the persian in his tracks. At first glance in the dimness, it appeared to be two creatures, one riding on the back of the other. Then, Stuart realized it was merely the oversized bloom resting atop the pokémon’s head. Several stripes and odd patterns glowed phosphorescent green down its left side, while the right remained in shadow, lending it an otherworldly appearance. The left petals of the flower drooped, weighed down by several dangling orbs.
Ting, tin-kle. Ding.
What in the world…
“A visit from the forest folk?” the vileplume said, peering first at Thomas, and then at Stuart. “No letter, no appointment, best not be a joke!” It tilted its head this way and that while speaking, causing more of the chimes to ring out. The voice was deep, distinctly male, yet the sing-song tone made Stuart wonder.
“Umm,” Stuart said.
Thomas recovered first. “Are you Saint?” he demanded.
The vileplume shifted its weight back and forth. “The one he’s looking for is home? Yes. But what dire need does he have, to ask for he who is not well known?”
Thomas shot a glance back at Stuart, the feline’s gleaming eyes conveying as much confusion as Stuart felt. Stuart stepped forward, catching the vileplume’s attention.
“Umm, one of our teammates is extremely ill with the creeping fever, and a large number of the mamoswine herd are suffering from it as well. We were told by Boris to bring this to you for the cure.” He gestured with a paw towards the flower pinned to his leaf. “He said you would know what to do with it.”
"Is that a Frostbite Flora?” The vileplume hopped from one foot to the other, jangling madly, his antics forcing Thomas to draw back onto his haunches. “No, you must be mistaken. But, it looks like the Flora. Should they come in and explain? It seems their reasons are sound. Lets take a look at what they've found." Spinning, he half walked, half bounced back into the hut.
Stuart stared after him, unsure whether they’d been granted an invitation to follow or not. “That is Saint, right?” he asked.
“I… suppose?” For once, Thomas sounded equally flabbergasted. “Insane, more like, but I think he’s who we’re looking for. And I think he wants us to come in.” He rose and padded through the willow screen, his tail flicking.
First a blizzard, then a possibly hostile tribe of abomasnow, a gang of thugs, and now a mad vileplume. What else will we need to go through before this is over?
Stuart huffed, checked that the flora remained secure in the safety of his leaf, and walked after Thomas.
The moment he poked his head through the screen, a storm of pungent herbal scents assaulted his nose --too many to pick out and define any singular source. Stuart sneezed, sniffed, sneezed again, and managed to control the next tickle, reaching a dubious truce with the wild plethora of smells. More sneezing, the explosive sound loud in the small space. Thomas was bent double, looking almost as though he had a hairball.
The vileplume appeared oblivious to the plight of his guests. He stood beside a large cauldron set over a pile of smouldering coals in the center of the room, humming softly to himself and rocking back and forth. Tendrils of steam rose from the cauldron, drifting up through the hole in the ceiling --the ‘smoke’ Stuart had spotted. The source of the jangling resolved itself as several bells wound onto a braided string, tied to the left side of the vileplume’s head flower. Streaks of green in seemingly random patterns decorated the grass type’s left side, lending him a primal appearance.
“You okay, Tom?”
The persian nodded, still sneezing, though less violently than before.
Along the walls, wooden shelves held roughly carved bowls piled high with powders, roots, leaves, and blossoms. Clay braziers lay tucked into hollowed out nooks between the shelves, glowing with the light of embers. One shelf held a neat row of glass bottles, each filled with a different mysterious liquid. Glass, wherever had he gotten that? Two chests stood side by side against the right wall, completing the furnishings alongside a small mattress of straw and fresh grasses.
Thomas finally managed to control his sneezing, sniffing and rubbing his nose with a paw. As if on cue, the vileplume abruptly halted his humming. “They said that their friend is ill,” he said. “If the creeping fever is about, we had best start brewing enough cure to share! They should give us the Flora, if they care.”
“You do know how to make a cure for the fever then?” Stuart asked. Arceus, the creature truly was mad. It was like he and Thomas weren’t there at all. But, if he could cure Dusty and the others...
“That sickness is a tricky beast,” the vileplume --presumably Saint-- said. “If left unchecked, it will have a feast.” Using a pair of long sticks, he removed the cauldron from its rest over the fire, showing surprising strength, and tipped its contents into a bucket. He replaced the now empty cauldron, hopped over to one of the chests, flipped the lid up and pulled out a large fern frond and some dark coals. “A pinch of Flora in the proper brew, and it will stop in its tracks. This they probably already know, or they would not have braved the ice and snow.” He began to fan the embers beneath the cauldron, flaring their glow into a cheery orange, and steadily adding coals until they too began to smoke.
“You can make enough, right?” Thomas asked, still rubbing his nose, his eyes red-rimmed and watering. “We need enough for a herd of mamoswine as well as our zebstrika team mate. I don’t want to go back to that mountain.”
Saint giggled, his bells jingling while he pulled bowls from shelves and set them by the cauldron. “He knows only a little. He doesn’t realize that a pinch in the right place is worth a pound of the stuff straight.” One of the glass bottles joined the growing supply of ingredients, deep green liquid sloshing. “He should be told that the Flora is the key, unlocking potential even we can’t see.”
He twirled, coming to a stop in front of Stuart, holding out his hand. “If they please, the key is needed to proceed.”
Stuart hesitated. They’d come so far for this flower, and now this mad ‘mon wanted it? What if the cure didn’t work? Couldn’t he just have Dusty eat the flower? But, then what about the mamoswine herd? What about any others that might have fallen ill? Swallowing hard, he bent his head forward, offering the flora. The vileplume moved closer, filling Stuart’s nose with a cloying, sweet scent. Something brushed his forehead. A brief tug on his leaf. Then, Saint stepped away, the delicate bloom in his hands.
“I hope you know what you’re doing,” Stuart said. His leaf felt too light without the weight of the flower.
Saint grinned, hopping back to the cauldron. He threw the flora unceremoniously into an empty bowl, poured a bucket of water into the cauldron to boil, and began to grind the flora with a pestle, crushing the delicate petals and stem into fine powder.
Stuart winced. Too late to go back now.
The vileplume added herbs and roots to the bubbling water, seemingly at random. His hand waved merrily, swishing the fern to fan the coals. A rich, spicy scent cut through all the others. Both Stuart and Thomas sneezed.
“They should sit and rest, perhaps drink an extract of sitrus.” Saint said, gesturing to a glass bottle that held pale yellow liquid. “Their wait will not be long, and soon their friend will be healthy and strong.” His bells tinkled while he worked, the glow of the coals casting the upper half of his face in shadow.
The cauldron hissed like an angry ekans, a puff of blue smoke temporarily obscuring Saint from view. Stuart half expected the vileplume to have vanished when the smoke cleared, yet the other grass type remained, humming softly as though soothing the bubbling concoction. Saint picked up the bowl with the now powdered flora, stroking it and mumbling to himself --or perhaps to the flora.
Stuart exchanged a glance with Thomas, who had seated himself, holding his nose. So long as this worked…
Hang on, Dusty.