Chapter Seventeen: Apotheosis
Torok walks down the halls of the Kuroi household as if he were its first-born master. Every scale was cleaned to a degree that even Saji would appreciate. His clothes proudly announced his allegiance to House Kuroi. Saji was waiting for him. As he proudly walked forward, her psychic hands deftly corrected the multifarious errors with his clothes and cleanliness that he had failed to notice. Soon he was about as clean as Saji could make him given the amount of time she had. Her calm, knowing smile and soft voice were well known to Torok. She moved and acted as she always did, presenting her clear caring and love for the Charmeleon that she saw as nothing less than her adoptive little brother. It did well to overshadow the air of superiority that was ever present in her attitude, despite her best efforts to conceal it. While Saji was relatively incapable of treating someone wholly as her equal, she was however excellent at disguising her other emotions. In this case it was her annoyance, irritation and resentment as to the current situation. Torok smiled back up at her as she led him into Madam Kuroi’s room. The leader of the Kuroi household was laying in bed. She had not been feeling well as of late, and Saji had not left her side during that time.
“Come here, child.” Madam Kuroi said softly. Torok wasted no time crawling onto the bed and sitting beside her. “Saj. My pipe please…” Madam Kuroi says. The Alakazam can not keep her disapproval from her face this time, but obediently, she collects an ebony wooden box and brings it to Madam Kuroi. “Ma’am, I feel that Torok won’t-” Saji starts to say, but Madam Kuroi interrupts her. “You have your instructions Saji.” She says. And with that Saji’s protests end. She clearly is unhappy with the situation, but she bows and leaves obediently.
“We are doing something important today, Torok.” Madam Kuroi says calmly. She opens up the ebony box and pulls out a long bone pipe. The pip if soon filled with a substance that mostly resembles ash that has been mixed with some liquid to give it a gritty, pasty texture. It reminds Torok of making sand castles on the beach. Though he later realizes that he has never been to a beach, he has never touched sand or made a castle out of it. Yet still he knows that the grey ashy paste in the pipe feels just like wet sand. He recognizes the smell but he can’t name it. There is an odd taste in the air that he can’t quite place.
Madam Kuroi gently pulls off the clothes that Torok had so carefully cleaned, ironed, and worn. The float to the side, folding themselves neatly along the way. Torok didn’t care overly much. He found he suddenly realizes the many mistakes that he had made, which Saji had done her best to correct. He knew how important neatness and perfection was to her, and could recall so many times where she refused to leave the home unless everything was in order. This was especially bad when she was a Kadabra.
Madam Kuroi gently takes hold of Torok’s tail. He notices it in only the vaguest of ways. He knows why she is doing it and doesn’t care. Gently, she holds his tail flame over the end of the pipe and breaths in. The flame flows into the pipe like water into an opened drain. Then the smoke pours out. It flies through the air, always and endlessly curling upwards, fixed in its trajectory yet unpredictable in the ways that it curves and dances along the way. The smell was one of rot and decay, yet Torok found it so familiar, so wonderful, so horrible. Candles lined the room, placed specifically at indefinite intervals. There was an unbalanced balance in the way they were arranged, one that Torok knew well but could not recall. They were unlit. They were unlit when they should be lit. Torok knew the mechanics of fire expertly, having lived his whole life near one. With a thought, the purest understanding of the nature of the candles being lit, he found they were… Pyromancy… No. Pyrokinesis. There was an important distinction between the two that Torok knew all too well. Pyromancy was the act of divining the future or other such information by using fire, usually by burning sacred text or other religious iconography, and either staring into the flames or inhaling the fumes. It was cheap, superstitious, dribble that the uneducated clairvoyant would use to unlock their gifts. Now Pyrokinesis, on the other hand, was the control and manipulation of fire using the mind. The understanding of its underlying behavior, as well as the forces that control it. Understanding and manipulating those forces to in-turn manipulate the flame itself was an act of intelligence and will. This was an application of psychic power in a pure and proper form.
Torok wondered how he knew all of this. The word ‘conduit’ was readily springing to his mind, but when he thought on it, he found that his newfound wellspring of knowledge had little to say on the matter, aside from the strict definition of the word itself. The pertinant knowledge was being held from him, fed to him in small amounts, as one would feed a child.
“This is the world as it really is.” Madam Kuroi said. Her voice came from everywhere and, most importantly, from within Torok. It was her voice that had explained these things to him, unbidden and instinctively. “I have wanted to show it to you some time, when you were ready. You are not a natural psychic, but your past...” And with that images of Sebastian Cypres appeared in his mind, before Madam Kuroi banished him away, “Your past has left your mind sensitive to these things. The horrors that you had to endure tested your mind’s rigidity, and it was not found wanting...”
Torok looked around the room. A number of items were scattered about in an order that only he could fully understand and appreciate. Though they seemed to have nothing to do with each other, they were connected in his… Her. They were connected in the fact that they were part of Madam Kuroi’s past. A collection of three knifes, designed for ceremony rather than function. A silver coated sphere rested on top of a dresser. Its outer surface was polished to a mirror sheen. An acoustic bass guitar rested on a stand in the corner. He knew that it hadn’t been touched in years. A brass bowl sat on the nightstand. Inside was a bundle of herbs and sticks. Along the windowsill was a curved wooden plate with a stylized sun on it. There was a set of oddly shaped dice on the plate. Torok remembered carving them from knuckle bones. He remembered Kerra. Kerra Kuroi. Madam Kuroi. He remembered her life in its sprawling totality. So wonderfully long and yet so terribly short. And so close to the end.
“We start by finding a distraction. Something to take you away from the flesh world.” Kerra says. “Find your center. Find yourself in the real, then leave it to drift into the ethereal…”
Torok looked around the room again. He found himself drifting back to the guitar. It was pristine, despite its venerable age. He knew how to hold it, how to touch it, how to play it. Even though his sharp claws and small frame would not lend themselves to the task, he knew every piece of the instrument, and every facet of its operation. His body could not play the instrument, but that did not matter. His mind could.
E... A... D... G...
E Standard. The notes rang out happily. Torok hated it. The world was not so harmonious and happy. one of the keys on the head of the bass rotated slowly.
D... A... D... G...
Drop D. It was a small change. But it carried with it a different sound and a different emotion. It was heavier, grittier, and in his mind better reflected the world around him. That was it. That was the world that he knew. More notes followed, one by one by one by one by two by four. Soon the room rang out with a deep lament that contained all the pain and fear that the Charmeleon had inside him. His thoughts drifted back to his sister, the first thought in this room that was purely his own.
“That is it. Now let the song take you from this world and into the world of the mind.” Madam Kuroi says. The song continues, and soon, Torok feels himself lifting up from the bed, from the room, and from the house itself. He feels a stabbing pain in his arm, like the bite of an Ekans. He didn’t like the experience overmuch. In truth he didn’t want to do this. He didn’t want to employ Torok like… Kerra didn’t want to be here again. Despite wanting to know, Torok didn’t know why she was doing this. What was so important that she must do this.
The heat of the candles seems to encourage Torok forward, even though he felt like he was floating far above the house, away from their tiny lights. Looking out to the sky, he suddenly felt how small the world was, and by extension how small he was within it. The grand scheme of his life seemed so short and so pointless in the face of the machinations of the universe, even as images of Kin’iro put the lie to that thought. Did he have reason to stay on this planet without here? The thought was stamped down the moment he thought it. The air was cold as he floated above the house. He breathed in. He breathed out. He breathed in. He breathed out.
“That is it. Now, we have somewhere to be…” Madam Kuroi says. She is so far away.
Torok flew across the sky, heading to the west. The clouds were hazy. Rain fell on his face as he flew through them. A town loomed into view. He recognized it. Pewter City. His mind was suddenly filled with the empty voices of people and Pokémon. He wanted to drift above the clouds to hug the moon. He wanted to get away from the empty voices that clouded his thoughts. He needed clarity. “Focus” Madam Kuroi instructed. Torok Focused… He felt the sleep of demons. He felt the power of old monsters that have plagued this world since their birth. The demon thing was running. He was hiding. He was confident and prideful, even as he was also cautious and careful. His thoughts were so unclear, like he was dreaming. “Where is he?” Madam Kuroi asked. Torok didn’t have to answer her. She could feel the demon screaming.
Torok felt the others. Although they were so far away. There was the powerful mind of Saji, the veiled secrets of Obsidian, and the reverberating thoughts of Noctua. The three were chasing after the demon. They were not far away. He was hiding down in an alley. And they followed him down that way. The demon was screaming. Torok breathed in. Torok breathed out. He breathed in. He breathed out. The demon had something. He had a pure something he was going to defile with his demon flames. That is what they were there for, to steal it and bring it far away.
Soon the image faded. The room was muted and still.
“That is it.” Madam Kuroi says. “The last song I will play. I hope that you enjoyed it. And I hope that you learn to play yourself someday.”
Torok looks up at her. Her eyes are closed. “It is time, Fate.” She says softly, and with those words the room grows cold. The candles go out and the colored recedes to somewhere dull and grey. “I love you Torok. You are my son. Never forget that, and never forget who you are. I have given you the only gift that I can still bestow on you. Your mind is open to the world beyond the flesh. With time and training, you may become a psychic like Saji, Obsidian, and I.” She says. Torok doesn’t understand. He doesn’t think on it overly much. The notes are still plucking themselves from the guitar, even though they are starting to fade. “Take it with you and become the strong man that I have raised you to be.” Madam Kuroi says. Her shadow creeps up along the wall. It grows and contorts, growing a mouth and eyes as it does so. Fate stares down at them, grinning wide. Torok looks up at the ghost. He looks down at his Trainer… at his mother. Light starts to fill the room. Fate starts to laugh.
* * *
Saji walks into Madam Kuroi’s room. She is holding the Pokéball that they rescued from Father Marron, one of the few known members of the Shiners. He had escaped capture, as he usually did, but the Pokémon was rescued. Saji contented herself with that partial victory.
Madam Kuroi lay in her bed, reposed and perfect. Torok was laying out on the floor alongside the crushed and charred remains of Madam Kuroi’s bass guitar. The clouds of Ghoul’s Dust were almost completely dissipated. Torok’s wings were held tightly to his back. His tail swayed back and forth. He was not conscious, his mind taxed to its limit by acting as Madam Kuroi’s psychic conduit, allowing her to project her mind across the continent. Her mental overwatch had made finding Father Marron possible, as he was more than used to running from whatever authority figure had decided to take exception to his horrendous pastime. “Charrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr” Torok said as he breathed in. “Zarrrrrrrrrrrrrrrd” He said as he breathed out.
Saji took all of this in and understood it all in an instant. She saw every detail and knew instantly what had happened. But none of it mattered. The why and the how did not matter, because the result was undeniable.
Madam Kuroi was dead.