Chapter 11: The Altar of Dead Flowers
Walking through the crowded city was an annoyance Eva could have done without. The people evacuated from the powerless buildings now took up valuable space on the sidewalk, leaving her to occasionally step down onto the road to dodge the most stubborn groups. The gridlocked cars were in no danger of moving anytime soon at least. However, it was difficult finding her way back to the laboratory with all the pushing and heat rising from the stalled traffic.
A walk which was supposed to only take an hour pushed itself out to a full two hours instead. By the time the crowds finally thinned out, Eva was already well past the point of irritation and into the realms of wanting to kick a signpost. She stopped herself short of indulging that particular feeling though, knowing she would be the only one to come worst off if she tried. The heat of the people and cars she’d absorbed along the way finally began to subside as she turned down the backstreets and into (slightly) quieter surroundings. The distant honking of horns and low grumbling of disgruntled citizens was still present, but the tall apartment and office buildings she passed muffled the majority of it. If there was at least one good thing about the location of the professor’s lab, it was that it was further away from the bustle of the inner city and towards the outer limits. Despite the wall limiting space, there were quite a few pockets around the city where people weren’t squashed in next to one another.
A tree-lined footpath welcomed Eva to the right street. It wasn’t quite the same as she remembered, but the last time she had been here there hadn’t been a blackout. Residents that had been sent home by the blackout in the city returned home to find they hadn’t escaped the problem. Many had left their cars out on the street due to being unable to open their garage doors without power, whilst many others had decided to distract themselves with other activities. A couple walking their perfectly groomed Furfrou averted their eyes when they met Eva’s own gaze. Eva glanced down at their obviously expensive and designer brand activewear, feeling rather out of place in comparison with her hiking clothes and tattered coat.
She was out of place with the entire neighbourhood once she thought about it. The houses were meticulously cared for with lawns all clipped to the same height and windows without a smudge on them. She hadn’t really taken much notice the first time around due to how busy she had been trying to read the map, but now that she was here a second time, it actually made her resent the professor a little. It wasn't exactly resentment aimed at his circumstances, but rather that his choice to put the lab here meant she had to walk through a place that made her uncomfortable in order to get there.
She frowned to herself and focused on the trees instead. The vegetation was finally budding with the spring weather now in motion. Had she been a few weeks later she probably would have seen a prettier sight, but she wasn’t going to wait for something like that. The laboratory came into view as she followed the curve in the street – though it looked less like a laboratory and more like a mansion or hotel with its provincial style architecture. Eva presumed it had been converted rather than built from scratch. However, what interested her the most was whether the power here was on or not. The small carpark within the gates was full, so the employees hadn't been sent home yet.
Walking closer, she noticed two men standing out the front talking to one another. One was instantly recognisable as Professor Augustine Sycamore – a rather gangly, slightly scruffy, and yet handsome-faced man with a curly mop of black hair that she couldn't quite decide was stylish or not. The best summary she could really use to describe him was ‘shabby chic', but she wasn't going to admit that she found that appealing about him. He had tricked her into enough things since coming here that just seeing his face made her brow furrow.
The other man was unfamiliar to her, though she felt like she'd seen him before. Unlike the professor, he had broad shoulders and knew how to dress to make sure everyone knew. His suit was impeccably tailored to his frame and spoke of money. Lots of it. The only thing that didn't quite suit was his mane of shockingly red hair – and it certainly was a mane. Eva wasn't sure if the man was intentionally trying to invoke the image of a Pyroar in people's minds when they looked upon him, but if he was he had succeeded.
Spotting Eva closing in, Sycamore nodded her way to alert his conversational partner to her approach. The man glanced over his shoulder momentarily before turning back to finish his sentence, seemingly unimpressed with the coming interruption to his discussion.
Eva frowned to herself, starting to wonder if she had seen him before.
Before she could even start to answer that question, her thoughts were abruptly cut short by the man who reminded her of a shaggy Furfrou which desperately needed to be checked for worms.
“Evangeline! Oh, so lovely to see you! How was your trip back? How about the children? I hope they weren't too much of a handful for you!”
She stepped back as Sycamore tried to plant air kisses around her face, giving him a look of irritation. The man gave a nervous smile: it seemed that he had been hoping for a better reception. Eva sensed his over-the-top niceties weren’t simply to do with her return, though she did feel some amount of smugness at the awkwardness she had caused him to feel.
Sycamore withdrew from his attempt at a greeting and let the questions drop. He sighed, quietly trying to recompose himself. “Still feeling the same way as when we last saw each other …”
Eva glanced back at the Pyroar-looking man behind him, conscious of how he had been silently judging her the second Sycamore had greeted her.
The sound of crinkling plastic from the man’s hands alerted her to the bouquet of flowers cradled in the crook of one of his arms. For the briefest of moments, Eva worried he was going to present them to her.
Instead, he extended his free hand.
“Lysandre Voclain,” he introduced himself with a well-practiced and professional smile that wasn’t too friendly or too stern. “President of Lysandre Labs.”
Eva clasped the offered hand firmly, immediately glad that she wasn’t able to feel pain very well. The pressure she felt was intimidating – as if she had dared to put her hand into the jaws of a bear trap.
“Evangeline Hollows,” she replied, trying not to show her wariness of him. It hadn’t been the inappropriately strong handshake that set her alarm bells ringing, but rather his name: the Lysandre of Lysandre Labs. It wasn’t that she disliked big business-types like him, but she was definitely distrusting of them.
A glimmer of interest finally entered Lysandre’s eyes, possibly due to her unflinching reaction to his grip. The smile on his face became more personable. “I admit, I was quite intrigued to meet the person Augustine had tricked into doing his dirty work for him.”
“I wouldn’t use the word ‘tricked’ exactly…” Sycamore replied, pulling a slight face at the wording of it.
“I would,” Eva interjected, though she disliked how the word was used too. It seemed to imply she had been a sucker for falling for it. She glanced over at Lysandre, seeing the tiniest twitch of a smile on his face. He must have realised how she really felt about it.
“Of course, I trusted Augustine wouldn’t just send anyone,” he added. “He’s always had excellent sense when it comes to picking his assistants.”
The professor perked up at the praise, reminding Eva once again at how he seemed like an overly-eager Furfrou. “I was disappointed at not being able to attend myself due to how these blackouts have been affecting our work process for the past few months, but Evangeline’s timing was fortunate,” he explained. “It’s rare that an assistant of Professor Oak’s would come all the way to Kalos.”
Eva restrained herself from mumbling ‘liar’ under her breath when he stated he’d been ‘disappointed’ at not being able to teach the kids himself. No doubt he quite enjoyed himself while she was stuck in the middle of nowhere.
Lysandre raised an eyebrow at her. “Is that so? I wouldn’t have taken you for a lab assistant. What areas do you specialise in then, Evangeline?”
She didn’t really enjoy answering these sorts of questions, but Sycamore’s look at her was quite desperate. It hadn’t escaped her that Lysandre Labs was obviously involved with the professor’s research to some degree; the job originally meant for Sycamore had been part of a scheme set up by Lysandre Labs after all. “I’m currently a warden for the professor’s estate overseeing the Pokemon there, so I work in a number of fields: conservation, observation, rehabilitation, and occasionally anti-poaching.”
Sycamore gave a quiet sigh of relief. In truth, Eva had never completely told him what is was she did and never wanted him to know either. All he’d been privy to so far was that she worked for Oak in some capacity and was overseeing the delivery of the package on behalf of Silph Co due to her past connections with them.
“I can’t say I have much personal experience in those fields,” Lysandre remarked curiously. The tense air around him seemed to lift slightly as he gave a less polished smile at Sycamore – the first truly friendly expression Eva had seen from him. “I usually leave the Pokemon-related research to Augustine so I can focus on the human side of things.”
“And I do a damn good job of it,” Sycamore reminded him with a rather smug grin. He seemed to have relaxed quite considerable with Lysandre’s gesture. It appeared to Eva that his nervousness had stemmed more from her being there rather than it being how he normally acted around the other man. She could only speculate that Sycamore was somehow afraid of betraying Lysandre’s trust or pride in him.
Before Lysandre could confirm or deny the professor’s statement, a strange chiming noise began to sound. Sycamore jumped slightly, pulling his hand level to his chest and pressing on a device wrapped around his wrist. A holographic image of a girl appeared, obviously flustered from the strain in her voice.
“Where are you?!” she demanded. “I’ve been searching all over the lab!”
The professor turned towards the gate to peer up at the windows. “I’m outside – what happened?”
The girl growled with frustration. “It’s that blasted generator! It broke down and now there are people trapped in the elevator. We’re going to have to call for help again!”
Sycamore gave an annoyed sigh. “Call them. I’ll finish up here and be right in.” He hung up, the holograph vanishing as he let his arm down. “We only just brought it a few months ago and we’ve already had it break down three times since then. I won’t bother repairing it this time. Better off getting a whole new one…”
Lysandre brushed his hand against his beard thoughtfully. “Perhaps you should contact Clemont? I’m sure he could whip you up a new generator in no time.”
“I’d rather set the lab on fire and be over and done with it than risk one of his contraptions,” Sycamore replied. After a moment of silence the professor exchanged glances with the other man, both giving a tired chuckle as though it was a well-known joke between the two of them. He turned towards Eva, an awkward expression on his face as he realised the new predicament he was in. “I’m afraid things haven’t progressed much further… as you can see.”
It wasn’t as though she hadn’t expected it, but it was still disappointing. She crossed her arms firmly to make sure the man got the point that she wasn’t happy. Really not happy.
Sycamore knew he was in trouble and it wasn’t just with Eva. He had to remember that it wasn’t but her but Silph Co that was expecting him to cough up the goods. “If you’re willing to come back tonight we can discuss it… I’d be happy to explain where we’re up to, but with the fire department arriving soon…”
Eva held up a hand to calm him down. “I won’t say it’s fine, but I will be back. I’ll find something to do in the meantime.”
“Perhaps you would be interested in visiting the Grand Cathedral with me then?”
The offer caught her off guard. She turned towards Lysandre, somewhat suspicious of his intent. However, she was quick to notice he wasn't the only one acting suspiciously at the moment. She could almost hear the gears turning in the professor's head as he thought the offer over on her own behalf. A frown came across Eva’s face – she’d seen that same face before he’d blackmailed her into taking the teaching job.
“A visit to the Grand Cathedral would be right up your alley,” Sycamore suggested with a little more enthusiasm than she wished. “Since you’re from Kanto I believe you’d find it a rather… interesting experience.”
Eva narrowed her eye at him. She could see Lysandre stroking his beard with an unfortunately agreeable look on his face.
“You should know you owe a lot to Lysandre for the Mega Stones,” Sycamore quickly whispered to her, his breath hot against her ear. “Least you can do is humour him and go.”
She ran her hand through her hair in frustration. She didn't like this. At the same time, however, there was something curious about the location he was offering to show her. Sycamore had said that it would be of interest to her since she was from Kanto… and she did have a rather morbid curiosity when it came to old places of worship. She hadn't been able to go inside the one at Santalune so maybe this one was different? The fact that both the men had mentioned the place so casually like nothing was wrong hadn’t helped sate her interest.
Resettling her bag on her shoulders, she walked forward.
“Coffee at the usual place next week, Augustine?” she heard Lysandre ask as she passed.
“Only if you bring a new generator with you,” Sycamore joked. He paused for a second before adding, “A reliable one preferably!”
Eva glanced back to see the professor wave his goodbye, obviously pleased with himself. She held back on her sigh so he neither he nor Lysandre would be able to pick up on her frustration with herself. Turning her attention forward again she immediately noticed something a little different about Lysandre. She couldn’t quite pin it exactly but it was as though his demeanour had changed ever so slightly.
She averted her eye away, not wanting to be seen as staring at him. However, she knew the dreaded small talk would come eventually.
They turned off the professor’s street and began the trek towards the city. The sound of a siren in the distance wailed – it seemed the professor’s help wasn’t too far off.
“How have you found Kalos so far, Evangeline? I imagine it must be quite a different experience from Kanto.”
There it was at last. She would have preferred not to answer, but it would have only made things more awkward. “I can’t say I’ve experienced much of it. It’s… pleasant. The food has been a nice change.”
The man nodded at her reply thoughtfully. “I would imagine so after the years of rationing by your government.”
The conversation petered back into nothingness. The city quickly bore down on them and offered the same obstacles Eva had encountered previously. However, this time was different. It was as though the crowds were parting for them – and perhaps they were. Lysandre’s presence split through the chaos like a hot knife through butter and carved a path.
The convenience of it all pissed Eva off.
They paused at a street corner waiting for a gap in the traffic to appear. It turned out even the Great Lysandre couldn’t make bumper-to-bumper traffic part.
The man glanced down at the bouquet he was carrying. “I understand the Mega Stones I’m donating will be going to worthy trainers in Kanto?”
Eva pursed her lips at the question, letting a little time slip past before answering it. “As far as I am aware, yes.”
“Would you happen to be one of them?”
Another uncomfortable question. She let time pass once more, giving Lysandre the obvious hint that it wasn’t up for discussion.
The traffic moved up slightly leaving a gap wide enough for them to squeeze through and cross to the other side. Eva almost wished she could have made a run for it back down the street, but she doubted she would be able to get very far before getting stuck – and with Lysandre’s crowd-parting superpower he would likely catch up to her in no time.
Her failure to answer him had shifted the mood. Lysandre’s gait had sped up slightly, eager to reach their destination. Perhaps he had changed his mind about her and wanted the visit over and done with? Eva had stopped caring about trying to make it up to him for the Mega Stones. The deal was already done anyway.
The western facade of the cathedral at last came into view in the distance. A large park spanned the area before it full of budding trees with vibrant pink petals. Eva recognised them as a species of plum blossom from Johto, the same which had covered the grounds of the shrine where her mother was a priestess. Lysandre gripped the bouquet in his hands harder as they approached. The overbearing crowds from the surrounding streets instantly transformed here, more content to lay on the grass or sit on the benches lining the cobbled path and stare up at blossoms in wonder. The problems of the powerless city were non-existent here.
Unfortunately, Eva couldn’t stay. She looked up at the cathedral as the trees and grass faded away. Although the rest of the city towered above it there was a quiet and sombre power displayed in its design. The twin bell towers felt like guardians… ones which had been abandoned.
The closer she looked the more she could see that people had raged against its symbolism as well. Statues of people and Pokemon, faceless smashed and chipped away at, leered over the doors at anyone that drew near. Graffiti covered anywhere a human hand could reach, although most of it was illegible due to how many layers had accumulated. Some people had obviously used their Pokemon to attack or gain the upper ground, however. Scorch marks travelled up the side of one column whilst a collection of gargoyles higher up seemed to have been the victim of a particular nasty explosion. Despite this, the building was still standing.
It seemed the only reason it had escaped was because it was just too solid and too big. By the time the fear of reprisal and the taboo nature of even mentioning the Legendaries kicked in, the building had endured it enough to stay. It continued to stand as a wretched testament to history.
“I’m in the middle of talks with the city to repurpose the cathedral,” Lysandre stated proudly. He straightened his posture as he pushed the groaning oak door open. “The city wanted a memorial, but personally, I’d rather it serve a different purpose closer to its original.”
Eva stepped in behind him and came to an abrupt halt. Lysandre continued to walk before her down the aisle. The stone pews had been upturned and smashed long ago, leaving the man to step over the remains. Like the outside, the inside had too only escaped because it had been built to last. However, the atmosphere in here was foreboding and eerie. It was a space which commanded silence and threatened to suck the very air out of your lungs into the void if you dared defy it. It felt… oppressive.
As Eva looked towards Lysandre at the far end she noticed a towering hunk of marble before him. It seemed that there had been something which was unable to escape the wrath of the demolishers and it was whatever that had once been. She doubted anyone would ever tell her what had been there too. A dazzling red light shone into her eye as she started forward. She walked towards the front so she could leave its trajectory and look up. Sun filtered through a large, stained glass window behind where the statue stood. Somehow it had managed to escape being shattered, but only perhaps due to the graffiti which had been written across it and the surrounding wall. Eva squinted to read the letters through the sunlight and frowned. She had a bad feeling about this.
She strode forward, picking her way over the destroyed pews. Lysandre had come to a stop before the altar, kneeling down in an almost prayer-like form to touch his bouquet of flowers to his forehead before placing them on the pile. Bouquets from weeks… months… perhaps even years made up the mass, rotting and stinking with nobody here to clean them up. She had to wonder if they were all from him.
The altar was little better in condition. It had been split in two by some unknown force, a dirty silhouette scorched onto its surface. Lysandre glanced across at her noticing the direction of her gaze.
“It was the priest…” he told her solemnly. “When the Declaration of Fire happened he was in the middle of a ceremony. He burst into flames before the rest of the clergy and died right there on the altar. If this place wasn’t made of stone, he probably would have taken it with him.”
The sight took on a macabre and gruesome twist. Eva didn’t want to admit it, but she had already guessed at what the mark was before Lysandre had provided the answer. She had simply avoided thinking about it directly because it was also a reminder to the fate of her own mother. She too had been one of the first casualties as the priests and priestesses of the world were burnt alive by Arceus’ descent to declare war on the world.
Eva crossed her arms. “I’m guessing your flowers aren’t for the priest.”
Lysandre slowly rose to his feet, his prayer over. “Tell me, Evangeline… What do you make of this new age? We’ve been forced to live godless and abandoned. Doesn’t it frustrate you to have to live this way? With nothing to put your faith in?”
She furrowed her brow at his question in suspicion. “What are you getting at, Lysandre?”
Without warning, the man gestured grandly up at the graffiti on the wall Eva had read earlier, fingers curling in with a pronounced flourish. The words ‘Trespasser deliver us’ stared down at them, splashed across stone and glass in red paint.
“The Legendaries dragged us into a new era: one without fairy tales, one without fantasy, and one where we were forced to doubt everything we knew about our world,” Lysandre proclaimed in a booming voice that even the cathedral couldn’t contain. “We thought the Legendaries loved us. Every day we prayed, for them to respond, to grant us blessings… but when they descended unto us the only answer we received was one of destruction and flames. We were meant to despair, we were meant to burn. Instead we took their hatred as our own and responded as such.”
Eva glared up at the writing, light continuing to spill in and make the stained glass and paint glow. Despite the importance of the message and plea it contained, it looked just like ordinary graffiti to her. The unpleasant smell of rotting plants seeped out from under the mass of bouquets piled at the foot of the broken and scorch-covered altar and pierced her nose. She turned away slightly, glancing back at the older man only so she could gage his reaction. “So…? What’s your point?”
The man stayed motionless for a second before lowering his raised arm slowly. The edges of his lips twitched – either he was holding back a smile or he was suppressing a frown at her nonchalance. He allowed a brief moment of silence to pass between them; a deliberate pause that allowed him to recompose. The faintest wave of dread rose up from Eva’s stomach when a thin smile finally spread across his mouth. He reached his arms our wide, swinging towards the graffiti as though he was in praise of it. “The point is, Evangeline… the gods are dead and we have killed them! So who do we turn to now to put our faith into? I believe it should be the one who held the knife – the Trespasser! With such a person like that to lead us, we will be free of all doubt!”
Eva’s nose wrinkled with disgust, though it wasn’t from the smell of the rotten flowers filling her nose. She had gravely mistook this man’s personality from when she had first met him only an hour earlier. The way he talked, his smile, the way he gestured – it stunk of obsessiveness. Was this his true nature? Perhaps it was a side of him nobody really knew about? Why he had chosen to show her this side was the curious part, but she wasn’t going to ask.
She was ending this. She’d had enough of this grandeur and disturbing display.
“You lied when you said there were no more fairy tales,” she told him flatly, “but you’re telling me one right here at this moment. The Trespasser is as much of a fairy tale as any before it.”
The thin smile faded from Lysandre’s face. If he had been trying to sway her to his way of thinking, he had obviously failed. The contempt in his eyes was apparent, however. “The one who broke the boundary between mortal and immortal is no fairy tale!” he growled at her. “You’re from Kanto, you should understand! He made the gods bow at his feet… he saved you and your region!”
Eva’s question about why he had shown her this side of himself was starting to answer itself. She even began to think that the reason he had donated the Mega Stones in the first place was because of the thought that the Trespasser would possibly use one. Just how obsessed was this man?
“Even if he did exist at one stage, he’s likely already dead,” Eva responded bluntly. She could hardly keep the disdain from showing through her voice. “The fairy tale is that people like you are keeping an imaginary version of him alive in order to give naive people hope. If you want to turn to someone now that the gods are ‘dead’, you should just look in the mirror and call yourself a god. You’d be much better off fooling yourself that way.”
She went to turn away so she could leave the cathedral but paused when she saw a woman standing in the doorway. For how long she had been there, Eva had no idea, but her presence made her feel uncomfortable.
“You’re late, Lysandre,” her voice called out with a tone of amusement. Although the woman’s face was partly hidden by her oversized sunglasses, both her voice and the elegant way she held her fingers to her lips to hide her smile seemed familiar.
The embittered expression on Lysandre’s face had already melted away. He straightened his jacket, tugging down at his collar with a quick movement that seemed to also straighten out his attitude. “The time simply flew by before I realised it,” he explained with that practiced smile from earlier. Without even a single look back at Eva, he strode back down the aisle and to the woman’s side to offer her the crook of his arm.
She accepted, placing a hand on his arm. It was as though they had entered their own little world and Eva’s presence no longer existed to them. The only one that noticed her now was the Gardevoir that appeared in the doorway when Lysandre pushed it open. Were they standing guard? Eva wasn’t sure. However, the Pokemon’s quick observance of her before the door closed was one which regarded her as a threat.