The dust really is the worst part, Dustin thought, smiling bitterly at the irony despite himself.
He adjusted his helmet.
The built-in flashlight atop it wavered, throwing shadows across the paved tunnel deep beneath Turkana. One dark curl escaped the confines of the helmet, and he pushed it back with a grunt. He coughed as the dust swirled in the air around him, ceaseless, constant, confining.
Dustin was not claustrophobic by nature. But he’d gotten into a fight with Rory last week, and now home life was a bit strained. The tunnels were supposed to be an escape, a way for him to sort out his thoughts. Instead he just felt walled in, unable to escape the darkness he felt within amidst the darkness that surrounded him without.
Day after day, week after week, digging deeper and farther beneath this desert wasteland had become a metaphor for his heart. Chip, blame, excavate, guilt, clear away, shame. At least if there was a hint of something exciting to come, it might have been easier. But they weren’t even told why they were digging, except that it was a secret project approved by the Champion. That sounded cool at first, but now it felt like one big waste of time, energy and resources.
To be fair, Dustin thought it odd that they had found paved tunnels beneath some temple that was practically crumbling from disuse and lack of repair. A lot of the tunnels were impassable which was why Dustin’s crew had been brought in. Their job was both to clear the passages and maintain as much integrity to the tunnels, in case they happened upon something – anything – that was out of the ordinary. But aside from the sheer ridiculousness of paved tunnels that no one had used for who knows how long beneath a desert that nobody cared about, there was no indication that some shocking discovery was to come.
They were nearly a mile out of Turkana by now. Was this some ancient civilisation’s idea of a joke? Dig tunnels beneath the earth that led nowhere and laugh from the afterlife as he searched in vain for answers and clues? The one saving grace was Burrow, his Drilbur. By law it was required of every archaeologist and digging team member to have one Pokémon with them at all times while underground. While many people understood the safety concerns and risks that were averted by this, most were simply happy to have some kind of company deep below, where sometimes it felt like the walls and the deep spoke back.
“What do you think, Burrow?” Dustin asked his partner for what felt like the hundredth time this week. “Will we find something today?”
Burrow raised both his arms in imitation of a shrug. “Dril?”
“No need to be so optimistic, buddy,” Dustin replied, shaking his head.
His attention was drawn back to the passageway they had finished clearing. Amidst the ever-moving dust, he thought he’d seen something glint. It was dark save for the light shining from his helmet, but something solid moved back there. For a split-second it seemed to be a pair of eyes that blinked away into the darkness. Burrow should have sensed it if it was another Pokémon, and no one else on the crew was supposed to be covering this path today. There were strict security measures above them so no one unwanted wandered in and got lost.
So he had to have imagined it, right?
Dustin walked in the direction of the glint he’d seen – he’d thought he’d seen, he reminded himself – and followed the tunnel’s dark passage, Burrow silently by his side. The labyrinthine passage stretched on, and the further he went, the less sure he was; the only illumination was that of his electronic torch, no glimmer or glint to be found. He was about to give up and turn around when the beam of light, focused on a split in the path, landed on something white which seemed to slink away to the left.
Was that…a tail?
Dustin wasn’t sure if that thought scared or excited him. He turned to see what Burrow thought of it, and realised Burrow was no longer next to him. He had moved backwards several steps, a look of deep wariness on his face.
“You didn’t like the look of that thing, did you?”
Burrow only shook his head.
“Well, good thing I’m brave enough for the both of us,” Dustin said, and chose the left path. Burrow followed reluctantly, but the look of worry on his face only deepened. It was replaced by surprise, however, when Burrow walked straight into Dustin’s legs as he rounded the corner.
“Come see for yourself, Burr,” he answered, his voice little more than a quiet murmur.
They had stumbled onto an opening – no, that wasn’t right. It was a door, and an open one at that, leading into a small round antechamber. The interior was made of stone, though there were grooves in the wall directly across from them. Dustin was no architect, but he’d excavated enough ruins to know that meant there was something beyond. Shining his flashlight, he could see a small container-like platform jutting out of the wall, with what looked like many small blocks inside. It was hard to make out properly because there was a thick film of dust covering everything.
He walked inside, taking care to tread slowly. One step too quick and he’d send up clouds of dust everywhere. He shone his flashlight around, trying to find anything to give him a clue what this room was for, or why it was in this state. How many years had this room remained hidden beneath the earth to get like this? When was the last time this room had even seen human life?
“What do you reckon, Burr?” Dustin asked. He turned around but his Drilbur wasn’t with him. “Burr? You there?”
He stepped back into the corridor, where he saw Burrow at the far end of the passage.
“You don’t want to have a look?”
Burrow just shook his head, and Dustin could tell something had spooked his little friend. He decided he’d do a quick once-over and then leave. If Burrow was worried, there was probably good reason. He’d call in the big guns after. He didn’t think this room was what he was hired to find, but it had to be close.
Back inside the mysterious chamber, he reached out to investigate the container on the wall. He had hardly touched it when he heard a grinding sound from behind him followed by a booming noise that shook the room. The door had closed on him.
With the door shut, his surprised shout bounced around the room before being snuffed out, as if some force had grabbed it from the air and swallowed it whole.
Suddenly dragged down into darkness, Dustin realised there were new depths to being lost and alone he’d never imagined.
Rory paced back and forth in the living room. The hour was late and the feeling of anxiety grew by the minute. Dustin should have been home by now. He always called if he was running late, so something must have happened at the dig site.
Trying to distract himself from those thoughts wasn’t helping, since Rory’s mind kept coming back to the argument they’d had last week. After seven years together, Dustin had expressed his desire to adopt. Rory…wasn’t as thrilled. That wasn’t to say he didn’t want kids, but he didn’t feel it was the right time.
“Well, when will be the right time?” Dustin had asked, and when Rory didn’t have a ready answer, Dustin had stormed out. They hadn’t exchanged more than a few words since. And now it was late and Dustin still wasn’t home. Rory couldn’t get the thought out of his mind that something had happened to his husband underground and he would never see him again.
And suddenly everything in Rory’s life felt colorless, as if someone had flipped a switch and muted the vibrancy of it all. He couldn’t live without Dustin – not anything meaningful or happy, that much was clear. Life would go on and leave Rory behind in the dust.
The irony of that thought wasn’t lost on him.
Rory slumped on the couch, realising exactly what he wanted. But was it too late?
At that same moment, Dustin slumped onto the cold, hard stone. What felt like hours must have gone by, and he was still stuck here. The stone door wouldn’t budge no matter how hard he pushed. He had yelled for Burrow to run and get help but the room swallowed up all sound when sealed, so he wasn’t sure if help was even on the way.
The antechamber he was trapped in seemed to be some kind of terminal or access point to something much bigger, though for the life of him Dustin couldn’t figure out how to get to the other side. His only hint was in the little container filled with thin stone tiles - the blocks he had seen earlier. Above the container were empty slots and supposedly this was what the tiles were for.
Inspecting them closer he noticed each stone tile was etched with a picture of differently shaped Unown. There were more than a hundred of the tiles, but how was he even supposed to guess the password? A sequence of random letters? A name? A secret phrase? He tried a few random tiles but nothing happened. Unless there was another hint somewhere, this would be futile.
He’d taken the time to arrange the tiles in groups but after a while realised his flashlight would run out of battery and he might need it later, so he simply slumped down against the wall and let the darkness take over.
The only thoughts that stayed with him in the dark were those of Rory.
He shouldn’t have stormed out. He shouldn’t have expected Rory to feel the exact same way as him. He should have talked it out and tried to understand Rory. Dustin knew what he should and shouldn’t have done. But there seemed to always be such a huge divide between knowing what’s good for you and actually doing it.
Would he even have another chance to redo their last conversation?
Two spheres appeared in front of him as if in response to this, green on the outside, red within, like bright crimson pupils. The eyes moved across the room and back, staring at him, like a predator prowling its prey. Then the creature spoke – it had to be some kind of creature, Dustin assumed, because eyes must belong to something – and he jumped halfway to the ceiling.
The words had appeared in his mind.
The creature didn’t speak normally, it thought and it felt like a stranger had entered the innermost sanctum of his brain and screamed. The voice sounded like lightning shattering glass. It felt like molten tar and jagged edges had pierced his mind.
ALL RESIDE, CONFINED EVERMORE, UNTIL STIRRED.
There was a moment of the kind of pure shock and fear that comes with having something impossible and inexplicable happen, like a disembodied voice coming from two eyes attached to some invisible creature or Pokémon. And then that fear was replaced by confusion when Dustin finally processed what it was the voice had said.
“What – what does that mean? What are you?” Dustin asked, nervously looking around, trying to spot any clue that’d help him understand what was going on.
WHO I AM IS NOT GOING TO HELP YOU. YOU DO WANT TO ESCAPE, DON’T YOU?
“Yes, but –”
THEN GO TO THE WALL AND SPELL ‘ALL RESIDE, CONFINED EVERMORE, UNTIL STIRRED’ WITH THE TILES. OR YOU CAN STAY HERE AND MOPE IN THE DARK.
“But what does it mean?”
The eyes remained silent.
“Fine…” he mumbled, but his curiosity was piqued.
He walked to the wall, located the correct tiles and put them in place. Immediately, the entire wall split open, revealing a deeper compartment within. He shone his flashlight around, illuminating a grand chamber filled with shelves, desks and books. So many books. Much like the smaller antechamber, dust covered everything, giving the impression that no one had been here for a very long time.
“What is this place?” he asked in wonder. His eyes opened wide, trying to take everything in.
How has this been buried here all these years? And how long has it been since anyone was here?
THIS ONCE USED TO BE A RESEARCH CENTRE, THEN A LIBRARY. IT HASN’T SEEN HUMAN LIFE IN A VERY LONG TIME.
Dustin turned back towards the voice but there was no need. The floating eyes, like a Cheshire cat without the smile, were following him.
“What happened to the people who built this place?”
MOST OF THEM WERE WIPED OUT BY NATURAL DISASTERS AND OUTBREAKS OF PLAGUES AND DISEASES. ONLY A FEW SURVIVED, AND THEY WENT INTO HIDING. THEY FORGOT THIS PLACE EXISTED. THEY FORGOT A GOOD MANY THINGS, FOR THEIR SINS.
“I don’t understand,” Dustin said, crinkling his eyebrows. He couldn’t recall anything like this in his school studies, but he had never paid much attention to history. “What do you mean by ‘sins’? How long ago did this happen?”
IT DOESN’T MATTER. HOPEFULLY YOU CAN DO BETTER THAN THEM WITH THIS KNOWLEDGE.
Why was this creature being so vague? Every statement was like a half-answer that made less sense the more he thought about it. Dustin wanted to keep asking questions but the creature chose to disappear then, its eyes fading away into the gloom. The voice that had occupied his mind up until now vanished and he could feel the void that was suddenly in his head, an empty, ominous silence.
Dustin shuddered, alone again. He reached out and picked up a tome at random from one of the shelves, blowing the dust off the top. The binding was made of thick leather, the paper smooth to the touch. Embossed on the cover in charcoal-colored calligraphy were the words The Aggron Anomaly.
He flipped it open in one hand, the other shining a light onto the pages, and read a few lines. If indeed this place had been here for as long as this creature claimed, the book was in extremely good condition. Almost as if new. And the more he read, the wider his eyes grew.
Aggron and its lower base forms Aron and Lairon, being part Bug type, are constantly hunted by Noctowl and Staraptor* who wish to feed their young. When not searching for shiny objects or dead leaves for food, they take to hiding underground where they have lairs filled with collected treasures.
*See ‘The Staraptor Spectacle’ for reference on this avian’s evolution.
But that wasn’t right…Aggron was Steel and Rock type, not Bug. He leafed through the book a bit more but was distracted when he heard a familiar grinding sound from behind him.
The door leading back out into the passageway was opening!
The book was back on the shelf before the door was halfway open and Dustin practically galloped his way across both chambers and out before the door had second thoughts. He was running so fast he nearly flattened Burrow in his haste.
“Come on, Burr,” Dustin said in between breaths. “Let’s go home.”
He needed to see Rory. He could report his findings after.
Rory was passed out on the couch, halfway swallowed up by pillows, when he heard the door creak open. He was halfway across the room before Dustin managed to close the door. Dustin turned around and was immediately enveloped in an embrace that knocked the breath out of him.
“I missed you too,” Dustin managed between strained gasps of air.
Pulling out of the embrace, Rory put his hands on Dustin’s shoulders. “We need to talk about last week.”
“It wasn’t fair of me to storm out like that –” Dustin started to say, but Rory didn’t let him finish.
“I want to adopt.”
“You – what?”
“It took me thinking I’d lost you forever to realise it…but I’m ready. I’m ready to be a father.”
Dustin grinned mischievously and said, “Hi ready to be a father. I’m dad.”
“This. Is. Not. The. Time. To. Make. Jokes!” Rory said, punctuating each word with a light punch on Dustin’s chest, but Dustin’s grin was infectious and he couldn’t help but laugh.
Dustin pulled Rory closer gently. “Let’s talk about it more tomorrow? I think we’ve both exhausted ourselves. I’ll tell you what happened at the dig site, too. I’m still not sure I didn’t just imagine it all, because it really was the weirdest and scariest experience I’ve ever had…”
As his mind tried to collect all the events together, Dustin’s words drifted off. He would call the Champion tomorrow, she’d know what to make of all this. But the strange creature’s words kept coming back to him, and they haunted his dreams that night.
Only a few survived.
They forgot a good many things, for their sins.
Hopefully you can do better than them with this knowledge.