It was a Dark and Stormy…

It was dark on the asteroid that Nettle and Morality Gradient called home. It was never dark there, for the system had two suns, and it never truly faced away from both, for its strange orbit pulled it back and forth between the two. All the same, it was dark. On one side, the sun was blocked in the sky by a lone planet, one of the gas giants that circled that sun so lazily. On the other side, a cosmic dust storm raged, the sun’s light barely able to get through a million miles of tiny rocks flowing through space. It was dark, and Nettle was scared. She did not know she was scared, having never really known the emotion before. She had been depressed, horrified, grief stricken, surprised, and once or twice, even happy, but never had she known fear. Always the asteroid was what it was, her companion was what he was, and the light of the twin suns shown down upon the rock she called home. With the light gone, something was wrong, and Nettle was scared.

This fear manifested itself in several ways. Nettle paced nervously, seemingly unable to sit still or stay at her terminal. Whenever she heard a noise she turned her head immediately, the bizarre sick feeling of fear clenching at her each time this happened. These feelings, and her general state made Nettle nervous. Not only was something wrong with the suns and the sky, but something was wrong with her, more than normal at least. She was sick, she was dying. After giving up on trying to complete the day’s lesson, she began moving through the asteroid carefully, making sure to stare at each shadow until she was sure it contained nothing surprising, and again, whirling at every small noise of the place. To be fair, there was little in the asteroid that made noise, and she was usually so absorbed in her works she never heard the ones that occurred. With her senses on high alert, it felt like the asteroid was a symphony of creaks and groans. She wanted company. She wanted to be in the same room as Morality Gradient, to make sure he was OK, and to have him make sure she was. So it was that she crept her way through the asteroid, searching for her friend.

She almost jumped out the airlock when she finally found him. She had entered the large central chamber that the pair occasionally used for jetpack practice, and she was staring intently at a shadow on the far wall, knowing for sure she had seen it move. She watched it intently. Then, she felt something touch her back, and heard a loud beeping. She threw herself forward, twisting in the air as she did, trying to see what horror had managed to sneak up on her. For a moment she could not make out the strange shape through the unusual gloom. It was some kind of three pronged beast, like nothing she had ever seen. Then it beeped again, and her brain managed to interpret the strange sight in a new way. It was Morality Gradient, carrying two large canisters of hydrogen with his magnetic powers. The tubes were almost as big as he was, and in the dark it looked like they were part of him.

“Great Arceus you scared me!” whispered Nettle, somehow unwilling to raise her voice. MG beeped back at her, and then she reflected on her words. “Oh, that’s whats going on. I am scared. I have never been scared before. What an awful feeling. At least I am not sick. I thought I was going madder.” The beldum beeped again, as it traveled to the center of the big room and put down the two canisters. “You knew I was scared? I suppose I did display all the classic symptoms. I guess I am better now.” Another strange creaking sound in the foundation of the asteroid. Nettle jumped. “Maybe not. This darkness is downright unsettling. We barely have any lights in this place since the suns always light everything up for us. I have to encase myself in a thick pod to get to sleep. Darkness is something that should be in small places, not loose all over the world like this.” More beeps. “Yes, I know many planet dwellers deal with something like this once a day. Doesn’t mean I have to think its a good idea.”

The little beldum had flown away as it continued to beep at her, and was now returning with more bits of metal, apparently random bars and mesh. “What are you doing Gradient?” Beeps. “Yes, but what are you building?” Boops. “I guess we have plenty of spare oxygen after we nabbed that comet last month. A fire won’t be completely irresponsible. Still, I don’t understand the point? Is this something for Chemistry? I am supposed to learn the theory before I start doing any of the experiments.” A particularly long and exasperated series of beeps. “I have never heard of that. Its something organics do when its dark and they are scared? I guess we might as well try it. Might not get a chance like this again. Calculations say the planet will move out of the way of Agi 1 in just under 3 hours, and the dust storm should be clearing up not long after that. We might never be scared in the dark again.” Beeps. “Excuse me. I might never be scared in the dark again.”

Nettle helped Morality Gradient set up the fire. It could not really be described as a camp fire, as the fuel source was hydrogen, it burned blue instead of orange, and their was no wood involved at all, as well as the fact that no one was camping, but it was a fair attempt from someone who had only ever heard of the theory. The pair worked with what they had, and soon they were both sitting around a fire. “What now?” Beep. “A story? OK, you first.”

It was a dark time in the journey of the Hero Cleff. The great war was over, and the invincible ship Arkengyr was destroyed, as well as all its crew. Only Cleff had survived, and even though the war was won, and the future saved, victory was hollow. Too much had been lost. Cleff had been named a hero then, when the war was over, but at no time before had Cleff felt less like one. All the grand adventures seemed for not, and the quest for a home seemed hopeless, the moonstone map that had been leading the way having been destroyed when Arkengyr burned.

So it came to pass that Cleff lived amongst the Puff people, teaching little Igglybuff and debating with the elderly Wigglytuff. It was a calm place, a safe place, so divorced from the majesty and horror of space that Cleff felt perhaps the journey was over. Maybe the Moon was not what was needed, but rather the simple companionship of those much alike in form and thought. It was in that place, in that time that Cleff first came upon the Other.

Cleff, know you of balms and healing ways?” asked one day Jagger the Jigglypuff, a local tribal leader, young but both strong and smart.

Yes. I learned the art of healing from the Chansey, and none surpasses their art. Who is sick? I shall go at once. None shall here die whilst I might stop it.”

Listen first Cleff, before you go. Our greatest healers went at once, and they too are bedridden. We need you as a doctor now, not another patient.”

Truly you are wise Jagger. I shall head your words. Speak of this illness which has taken your healers from you.”

And Jagger did speak, telling all that he knew of this strange new illness. It had come, they thought, from the sky. A star fell from the heavens, burning with a light like the sun, and fell upon the fields far too the north. It was well known that the metal taken from a fallen star was unlike any other, unsurpassed in strength and durability. It was thought that the people must have flocked to this fallen star. Little was known, for all of the people of that land were now afflicted, unable to speak or move. Some had fled, and it was thanks to these that the world knew of the problem, but all still became afflicted. None now could tell the story. Doctors and healers went to the northern plains, but they did not return. Even worse, the affliction was spreading, moving onwards, even as its victims were unable to. A fallen star, then a great affliction. That was all that was known.

Can you help us Cleff?” The answer came slower than Jagger had thought it would. He knew Cleff would help, for none were moved to compassion like Cleff. When Cleff’s face darkened and his expression grew grim, Jagger knew fear. What could shake this traveler from the endless sky?

I will help you and your people Jagger. I can do no less. But first I must gather what I wished would remain buried.” Jagger shivered. When the Hero Cleff had fallen upon the surface of the Puff world, the first thing done had been digging. Cleff had been clad in strange clothes, carrying strange tools, and all had been buried beneath the ground that Cleff had landed upon. Cleff had declared the intent to help and to live among the people of Puff, but even as this was said, so too was a warning given, that those things buried now must never again be loosed from the earth.

Despite this dire warning, Cleff went then to the place of burial. With hands alone, no tools at all, the Hero dug deep into the earth and retrieved the garments that had been cast aside, the tools that had been buried. Donning that which had been unearthed, Cleff looked no longer looked like the kind teacher that had lived so long on Puff. Instead, the alien garments gave the visage of a warrior, a killer from the star strewn sea of sky.

Stay with your people Jagger. I must go alone. These tools will protect me, but if you should travel by my side, then you too will fall prey to the affliction that has fallen upon the people of Puff.”

Jagger nodded, not sure if he would have wanted to travel with a Cleff that looked like this even given the chance. He watched as Cleff walked slowly northward towards the affliction. The Hero seemed then to be very tired, perhaps carrying something of great weight. Something about the sight seemed unbearably sad to the Jigglypuff leader, who had to turn away from the trudging Cleff.

When Cleff was certain that none would see, this slow gait changed. Cleff activated one of the many functions of the garments, and no longer walked, but flew. The air sizzled around the hero, and the town left behind heard a deafening bang. In short moments Cleff had arrived at the edge of plague stricken territory. A scorched line, in some places still burning, stretched out behind the Hero. Engaging the suits tracking capabilities, Cleff scanned for lifeforms. Pale blue lights winked into existence, overlaid across Cleff’s vision. All but one were the dim light of the unconscious. The one that still glimmered was barely brighter. Walking quickly, Cleff entered into the round doors of the house containing the still conscious lifeform.

Cleff entered the room where the conscious Jigglypuff was. It was set up as a hospital. All members of the Puff family lay upon the ground of the room, some on cots and beds, but most upon the ground alone. There were so many that the moving Jigglypuff had to jump from empty spot to empty spot to cross the room. It was a long moment before the Jigglypuff noticed Cleff’s entrance, the Hero simply observing in silence. It was obvious that this was a doctor hard at work, hoping to do what was possible before falling too to the illness. When at last the medic saw Cleff, she shouted.

Get out of here! I don’t know who you are or why you have come, but you too will be afflicted. This disease cannot be stopped. Everything has been tried, and now there are no longer any triers. It might not be too later for you!”

Cleff made a gesture, and an invisible film that had surrounded the Hero’s body became opaque.

I shall not contract this illness. I am protected from all toxins and pathogens. Nothing can travel through the air to get inside my body. I was trained by the Chansey. If anyone can save the people struck by this illness, it is me. You can help. I need information. Tell me what you have learned.”

The Jigglypuff nodded, and Cleff noticed tears in the poor things eyes.

If you say you will try and stop this, then I thank you. I had thought it hopeless, but I had not thought of the strange arts from beyond the sky. I will help how I can. What do you need to know?”

Everything related to the illness. How it came about, how it spreads, theories on its origins, symptoms.”

Very well, I will tell you what I kn-” the Jigglypuff’s voice is cut off by a sudden hacking cough. This turns into something of a fit, and the doctor has hold onto the edge of a bed to keep from rolling onto the ground. After a bit the coughing subsides and the Jigglypuff continues on. “It came from the star strewn sea of sky. It burned as bright as the sun, and fell upon our lands. I was away, but when I returned I heard the tale from one who had witnessed it before they fell to the affliction. The people went to gather the metal of the fallen star, to turn it into useful things. They came back with a great bounty of treasure. They rejoiced at this gift from the sea of sky. But then, starting with the smallest Igglybuff, they began to sicken. First a cough, then weakness, then an endless sleep.” As if on cue, Cleff watched the Jigglypuff start to roll over, its arms having fallen limply away from the bed it had been using to hold itself steady. Cleff rushed over, and held the stricken doctor. She looked up at Cleff, and smiled a sad smile, continuing the story in a much quieter voice.

We think it is airborn. Many who simply lived nearby were afflicted, even if they did not meet with or touch those who had gathered the stones. It must be able to live in the air even far from its hosts. It travels much faster and is much stronger if touch or close proximity occurs, but even if you simply live within ten miles of an afflicted puff, you will soon begin to show symptoms.” Another coughing fit wracked the fallen healers body, the coughs liquid sounding, but weak, as though the body could not handle the movement required to cough.

The symptoms are few, but pronounced. Their are four stages. First, the victim begins to cough uncontrollably. This is always in fits, groups of coughs, almost never single lone coughs. Then, in twelve to twenty hours, the coughing lessens a bit, but the body loses strength. Standing becomes a chore, walking becomes torture. These things are possible, but the pain and willpower required to do them is intense. About four hours after the weakness sets in, the victim loses consciousness. They stop responding to stimuli of any kind, and are completely unable to be resuscitated. Lastly, the worst stage…” The voice trails off, the eyes of the medic begging to close in something like slow motion. Cleff can’t let this happen yet.

I’m sorry,” says Cleff, then a burst of electricity shoots from the Hero’s gloved hands, and the failing doctor is shocked into alertness. The eyes start to close again, and the voltage goes up. The Jigglypuff’s body writhes as the energy pulses through them. But, it seems to have worked. The doctor manages to keep their eyes open and their mouth begins to move. Cleff has to move close indeed to hear the doctor’s whispers.

In the final stage, approximately forty hours after unconsciousness, the body begins to move again. Strange growths erupt from under the skin, and the victim moves under the control of the affliction. Shuffling movement and congregation seem to be the pattern in the bodies movements. Goals or motivations unknown.” The eyes close, and this time Cleff lets them. The Hero sets the fallen doctor down among her many patients. This final knowledge was disturbing enough, but it did put into context something that Cleff had dismissed as a visual anomaly. Even as the doctor had been talking, the grey-blue lights of unconscious bodies had seemed to be moving closer, surrounding the building. It would seem this illness wanted to meet with the Hero. Cleff stepped out of the room and went out to oblige.

To Be Continued…

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