1. This site uses cookies. By continuing to use this site, you are agreeing to our use of cookies. Learn More.

RUN BOY RUN: Ch.3: Different Lives

by NonAnalogue

NonAnalogue Robin and Starlight make new allies, but the woman in white looms large over their journey to the town of Sedre.
“You okay back there, kid?”

Robin didn’t look up from the thick book in his lap until Starlight nudged his shoulder. “Huh? Sorry?” he asked, then the words actually filtered into his head. “Oh. Yes. I’m okay, thank you.” The two of them were surrounded by tidy stacks of crates, with only a thin cushion of hay providing any comfort. The cart they were in trundled slowly down the path, the Mudsdale pulling it trotting at a laconic pace, its hooves drumming a rhythmic pattern against the stone.

“Good. Lemme know if you need anything, you hear? Sabri told me to treat you right, so if you get hungry or something, I got some ‘food’ in the back there.”

“I’ll let you know.” The crate next to him bore the label ‘FOOD’, quotation marks included, which didn’t fill Robin with confidence. He was pretty sure it had started growling, too. “Um…”

“Oh, don’t mind that. The jerky can sense fear. Just smack the crate a few times and it’ll shut up.”

Robin adamantly did not smack the crate, and instead just scooted away from it.

“Anyway, we still got a ways to go,” said the horseman, a middle-aged man whose hair, with its copious amounts of grease, should have been on the head of someone much younger. He was smaller than Robin, and, when standing, gave the impression that he’d once been average height before a Snorlax sat on him. His name was Kuzman Dragov, and Robin still wasn’t entirely clear how he and Sabri knew each other, but Sabri had called in a favor to let Robin hitch a ride to the closest town, where he figured the woman in white and Arcana both were probably headed. “Make yourself comfortable,” Dragov continued, taking a bite of a piece of jerky that was, mercifully, not moving, “and make sure to keep that sunhat on. It’s a long path over the lake, and even this time of year, the sun can burn if you’re not careful.”

Robin tugged the borrowed hat low over his eyes as Starlight lurked in the shade provided by the crates. The book he held, The Collected Journals of Quintina Syre, he’d found inside Dragov’s satchel, alongside a handful of gold coins that he’d pocketed without a second thought. The Collected Journals was thicker than any book Robin had ever seen before, and it had contained within its pages information on, well, almost everything. According to the forward, the author had spent her entire life traveling and writing things down; upon her death, her family compiled all of her essays and published them ‘for the greater good’, though a hefty amount of money had also exchanged hands.

The first article that Robin had looked up was ‘Divine Favors’. “‘A Divine Favor, note the capitalization, is a temporary boon granted to a mortal by one of the many deities that watch over the world of Ennen,’” he read under his breath. “‘Whether or not this is a good thing depends entirely on the deity in question.’” Robin turned the page over, then flipped back. “That’s it? That doesn’t tell me anything more than Sabri did…”

“Is it really that weird to think that there’s not much information available on mystical stuff like that?” Starlight chirped. She wasn’t floating, choosing instead to rest in the cart; direct sunlight could be tricky for her in high doses, since her shell, not to put too fine a point on it, could act like an oven sometimes. “How common do you think the deities dropping some power on someone really is?”

“It’s just…” The words weren’t coming together in Robin’s head right, but he and Starlight had been together long enough that she could read his gesticulations.

“I know,” Starlight said, “it must be frustrating. But we’ll learn more about it soon, I’m certain of it! Imagine if one of the deities really did give you a gift… I wonder which one? I hope it was Asanema of the Awakening...!”

“Are you sure you’re not just saying that since she’s the goddess of the night sky?” Robin asked with a gentle smile. He flipped to the section on prophecies, but once again Syre had nothing more to say than what Robin had already gleaned from Sabri. Shaking his head, he opened the book’s centerfold – a world map the size of three full pages. He’d never seen a map like it before – only maps of Erdric, the region Penth was in – and he had to scan it for several minutes before he saw anything that looked remotely familiar.

Robin traced his finger along a line between two towns in the northeastern corner of the map. “Started in Penth,” he muttered, “and headed to Sedre.” The route passed over Lake Resolution, the hole in the center of the donut that was Erdric. Robin turned his head up and watched as the scenery of the lake passed him by: a glittering span of cerulean water bounded by expanses of red and gold trees. The bridge that connected the two sides of the lake was known formally as the Bridge of the Resolute and informally as ‘that bridge, you know, the big one’. Erdric was a small region, with only five towns making it up, but even then Robin had never before passed beyond the bridge to the town that rested at its terminus.

There had been plans, of course.

After Robin’s father had passed, Dulce had always said that when they saved up enough money, they’d move away from Penth to Sedre. Too many memories, too many people who knew their faces. Better, Dulce said, for them to disappear to another town, where they could start fresh and build different lives.

Of course, it never happened. They only ever made enough money to eke out a living, never enough for saving.

“We don’t need gold, though, do we?” Dulce said, her voice whispering into Robin’s ears.

His head snapped up. The sun was lower in the sky, and the bridge had passed behind them.

“I said, look, Binny!” Starlight said, spinning around him. “You can see Sedre up ahead! You napped almost the whole way there!”

Robin twisted around in place and squinted, looking past Kuzman Dragov and his enormous mount. Stone ramparts rose ahead of them, an imposing silhouette that looked out of place against the idyllic forest.

Quintina Syre had more to say on the topic of Sedre than on either of the subjects Robin had looked up earlier. “Erdric, on the whole, has never been much of a player on the world stage,” she wrote, “largely due to its small size and unassuming populace. Nevertheless, this loose coalition of self-governed towns at one point had a standing military, as evidenced by the town of Sedre, built inside what used to be the Fort of the Resolute. Residents of Sedre like to say that they’re some of the safest citizens in the world, but that’s mostly because nobody really pays Erdric a second glance.”

The fort’s gate was already lowered as they approached, and Dragov gave the two guards a friendly wave. The road was evidently well-used, with humans and Pokemon alike passing them by in both directions. “Evening, Dragov,” said the taller of the guards. “Setting up shop here again?”

“You know me, boys,” Dragov replied, taking a theatrical bow that almost had him falling off of his seat. “Can’t stay in one place too long. Got lots of premiere ‘food’ to sell this time, though, and just wait until you get a load of my ‘ale’!”

And that was that. Nobody asked about Dragov’s two passengers. “Do they not care that I’m coming in with you?” Robin asked.

Dragov shrugged. “This place looks real locked up, kid, but it’s all for show. Lotsa people go in and outta here, all hours of the day. I mean, they got some small farms inside the walls, but not enough to keep this place fed, so they got food coming in from Port Yarcia and Penth all the time.” He pursed his lips. “Hey, about that. I took my same route up to a farm near Penth that I always do, and I musta got turned around or something because I didn’t ever hit Penth. Like the entire place was gone. Did the path there get messed up?”

Robin didn’t meet his eyes. “…Something like that, I guess.”

“Whatever.” Dragov slowed the Mudsdale to a stop, climbed down, and fed it a carrot from his satchel. “Sabri was real cagey about it too. Something about not wanting to cause a panic, not that I know what he meant by it.” He slung his satchel over his shoulder, stumbling as if he’d been expecting it to be heavier. “Where did… oh, you’ve got my book, kid. Eh, you know what, keep it. I’ve read it back to front already.”

Robin set the borrowed hat on one of the crates and carefully lowered himself from the cart, hay clinging to his tunic. “Thank you, sir.” He stepped back, placing a protective arm in front of Starlight, as another cart, this one drawn one-clawed by a Kingler, passed by them. They stood in the heart of… well, it was a market, but Robin hesitated to compare it to the one in Penth – even if the one back home doubled in size, it still would be beat.

“Can’t say I know what business you have here,” Dragov said, reaching a hand up to slap Robin on the upper arm, “but if you run into trouble, just come on back to your old pal Dragov. My consultation rates are reasonable.” He shook Robin’s hand with a grip that would have cowed a Machamp, then led the Mudsdale to an empty stall and began unloading crates.

Letting out a slow breath, Robin tapped one boot against the ground, and then the other. The road was cobblestone, but smoother than the cobblestones back home. The air carried a rich mix of aromas: fresh fruit, smoke, Pokemon, humans… The walls of the fort ran behind him off into the distance and looped back around far ahead, further up the rolling foothills of the mountains that imposed upon the sky. Most of the buildings he could see were cob, but the ones near the tops of the hills graduated into stone, culminating in a massive structure at the far end of the fort that loomed over the rest of the town.

“Well, Binny?” Starlight chirped, hovering at his side. “Where do we start?”

Robin fidgeted with the gold coins in his pocket and watched the sun cast long shadows across the town. “I want to see if I can find something real quick…”

Starlight floated above Robin’s head and looked out over the marketplace. “Okay, but then we should find the inn, don’t you think? It’s getting late.”

***

The inn nearest to the town’s eastern entrance was the Mindful Mareep, run by a young woman who called herself Ms. Mabelle. Robin had, when he was at home, thought he had a pretty good idea of what an innkeeper looked like. Both inns in Penth were run by unrelated old men with leathery skin and permanent squints who nevertheless had hearts of gold once you got to know them. When one of them had passed on, a different old man, who nevertheless still had leathery skin and the squint, took over. Robin wasn’t sure where they all came from.

It had quickly become apparent to Robin that this was not the case in Sedre.

Ms. Mabelle was tall, broad of shoulder, and always stood up stock-straight; she wore a tunic with no sleeves so that she could, at least as far as Robin could tell, show off her prodigious amounts of tattoos.

Robin had to admit that it was a nice change of pace. If nothing else, Ms. Mabelle made a mean omelet.

The next morning found Robin and Starlight well-fed and well-rested with none of Dragov’s money remaining. After the purchase he’d made in the market – a satchel too big for him to swipe – the night at the inn wiped him out. The satchel was necessary for Dragov’s copy of the Collected Journals, which had started giving Robin an ache in his arm after carrying it for only an hour. He’d also found a small linen ribbon, dyed indigo blue, that he tied around one of Starlight’s spikes.

“So the building at the top of the hill…” Robin tilted his head. “That’s a church?”

Ms. Mabelle nodded, her hands a blur as she slid breakfast orders onto plates. “Sure as sure can be. That’s the Church of Alpani, though if you got someone else you like to pray to they’ll take you in all the same. The disciple who manages it, that’s Indra Alba, she’s good people. If you’re looking for someone, she’ll know where to get you started. Sorry I can’t help you more. You and Mr. Dragov are the only visitors I’ve seen from Penth in the last couple of days.”

“That’s all right. Thank you for breakfast.” Robin pushed his chair in and left the inn, squinting at the bright morning light.

The church in Penth, devoted to the deity Alagi of the Evolution, had been a modest affair. Though any denomination could pray within its wattle and daub walls, the lecturer on loan from the capital-C Church in Vezretti across the sea always tailored his sermons towards followers of Alagi. Robin and Dulce didn’t attend services often, but the lecturer always had a kind word for them when he saw them in town, and he always palmed them a few coins before Dulce could steal them herself.

Sitting at the peak of the town, the church of Alpani of the Emotion was the antithesis. Its stone walls, shrunken versions of the walls surrounding Sedre, bore elaborate stained glass windows that sparkled in the sun, each one representing the goddess Alpani. On their own, the three buildings within the church walls took up the entirety of the hilltop and easily dwarfed the already ostentatious homes that led up to it. Above the doors was the sigil of the goddess – a vertical line crossed with two diagonal ones – and even that etching was Robin’s size.

Robin looked up at the towering structure. It was almost a castle, and it was only one of three. “I don’t like this, Starlight.”

“What’s the matter?” Starlight had floated up to a stained glass window, one showing what was purported to be the white-and-green horned face of Alpani, and was watching her reflection bob and weave. “I think this place is nice. So much stone!”

“It’s…” The words wouldn’t come out of his mouth, and he wrapped his arms around himself. “It’s too big. It feels… cold.” He shook his head. “Not cold, but…”

Starlight spun down to him and rubbed against his head. “I understand. Then maybe we should find Miss Indra quickly, so you can get out of here. Do you know what you need to ask her?”

“Yeah. If she’s seen the woman in white… and where to find her.”

“There you go.” Starlight trilled happily. “We’ll be in and out.”

They were not in and out.

One acolyte had pointed them in the direction of Indra’s living quarters, but neglected to tell them that they were in the wrong building. Another had insisted that Indra was leading a group study session at the moment, and that she was actually in the building Robin and Starlight had come from. A third swore up and down that Indra had gone into town to buy some groceries. The last one was certain that Indra wasn’t even the person in charge of the church and that she was an impostor.

“You know, I’m not entirely certain that last man was actually an acolyte,” Starlight said as they made their way down a torch-lit stone hall. “His vestments looked a little…”

“Like a green potato sack?” asked Robin.

Starlight giggled. “I was going to say ‘thrown together’, but I think your description works too. Oh! Eyes up, Binny! I think we’re there!”

A wooden door ended the hallway, with a smaller wooden sign hung on it bearing the inscription ‘Quarters of Indra Alba.’ Robin took a deep breath and knocked on the door.

“Who is it?” The voice that answered was wispy, like it might drift away in the wind.

Robin froze. He knew that voice.

The door creaked open, and…

“Ah… oh my. How… delightful to see you, child.”

A woman in white.
PrincessPika~chan likes this.