“Are you really going to go down without a fight? Sheesh!”
Rhodes and Udon alike turned their attention to the right, where the voice seemed to have originated. From the top of the nearest tree in that direction, a strange figure lowered itself. It was a Banette! All the way down from the branches to the ground, it fell at a feather’s pace, posing as though it was lying on its side and propping its head up on its elbow for dramatic effect.
“Uhm...” Rhodes began, not at all knowing where this was going. He’d never seen this Pokemon before. From the looks of it, neither had his two friends, or Udon. “Who are you?”
“I think the better question is, who’re you?” the Banette asked in retaliation. As though lifted with some sort of unseen strings, he was pulled from side-laying position to stand up, placing his arms behind himself and pacing directly toward Rhodes.
This seemed to make Udon uneasy. “Hey, no funny business!” she demanded, swinging herself around once more to face the approaching Banette. Unfortunately for the Sneasel she was still holding, this turned out to be a bit of an uncomfortable ride for him.
“It ain’t funny business, doll. It’s just business,” the Banette responded. He now stood before Rhodes. Like the Sneasel currently in Udon’s grasp, he was somewhat taller, so he looked down upon the scar-faced pathfinder. That zipper-like mouth of his contorted into an unsettling grin. “Take a look at this guy,” he said, gesturing toward the Sneasel that was now hanging in Udon’s grasp without any struggle whatsoever. In fact, he looked a little dazed. “He doesn’t respect you, and he ain’t gonna start now just because you had somebody else beat him up, right?”
This didn’t add up. Rhodes didn’t trust this guy one bit. In fact, a certain feature made him rather uneasy. This Banette’s face was bearing a patch, probably to hide some sort of rip in his cloth-like body. However, the patch looked remarkably similar to a facial scar on his left cheek. Needless to say, it made Rhodes nervous. “I don’t think it’s really your business...”
The strange Banette leaned his head in closer, which forced Rhodes to take a step back. His uneasy feelings became rather obvious. “Didn’t you kids always settle this with one of your little canopy duels in the gang? Seemed like there was no question on who to listen to after one of those...”
Immediately, Rhodes went wide-eyed with shock. “How do you know about that?!” he yelled. Even his two bound friends seemed surprised. That was an activity they never spread outside of the gang, for fear of being caught unaware while doing it. The fact that this Banette they’d never seen before knew it... and that scar... it was enough for an uncertain fear to begin building within Rhodes.
The Sneasel in Udon’s claw didn’t seem fazed at all, however. In fact, a bit of a smirk came over his face. “You’re nothin’! I’m gonna tell everybody you had to have one of Merlot’s stooges help you!” he threatened.
Udon herself didn’t take to this very well. “Stooge?!” she exclaimed, lifting the smart-mouthed Sneasel up and rearing back with all of her might. It looked as though she was going to spike him to the ground like a football.
“Miss Udon!” Rhodes interjected, immediately running to her side while the strange puppet-ghost watched with amusement. Thankfully, it caused her to pause her motion, not immediately going through with forcibly planting the now-terrified Sneasel in the ground. Rhodes gazed up at the lifted Sneasel, and their eyes met for that moment. He knew it had to be this way.
“... I’ll do it... let him down, please.”
A minor glare gave way to the idea that Udon didn’t like this. Still, after a moment of contemplation, she sighed, and reluctantly released the Sneasel, letting him drop into the grass with an unceremonious thud. “Fine...” she agreed, crossing her arms and turning her head away with a huff, “I just hope you know what you’re doing!”
The now-freed Sneasel gave a brief rub to the back of his own neck, perhaps feeling the strain from being held in such a brutish manner. Still, all things considered, he looked no worse than he started out. He acted no worse either, given that he immediately reared back and hopped to his feet in an agile display.
“Um... miss dragon lady?” a meek voice called out. It caught Udon’s attention, bringing her out of her sulking as she averted her gaze to one of the two Sneasels that were bound to a tree before. It would seem that they had managed to wiggle free, just from the one cut in the loop made prior. Rather than run in terror like their antagonizing brethren, they stuck around. “... Thank you!” he said after a moment of fidgeting.
Slasher’s gang members were generally aware of Merlot’s distaste for them. This would be a first, in which any of them actually felt grateful toward one of her servants. It would seem that some were following the example Rhodes was setting. Tickled by the very idea, this lightened Udon’s expression right up! “Oh... how sweet!” she exclaimed, pressing her own plump claws together pleasantly. “I’ll have to tell Lady Merlot that you’ve developed manners, she’ll be very impressed!”
The display made the more antagonistic Sneasel scoff. “See? You’re already ruinin’ our reputation!” he accused. Both he and Rhodes had begun making distance between each other, each approaching a different standing tree. “If I win, all three of you gotta do what I say, got it? No more of this bein’ buddy-buddy with Merlot crap!”
This was risky... what if he did lose? No, he couldn’t think that way. It was distracting. Rhodes placed one of his claws up against the trunk of the nearest tree, gazing toward his adversary. He was doing the same, ready to partake in their gang’s so-called decision-making process. There was something else that was distracting, though.
That Banette. Rhodes shot a glance over to him. Ever since he’d instigated this, he was silent. He just watched like a quiet spectator, always with a grin of interest.
No! Another distraction. Answers would have to wait. The other Sneasel was already clawing his way up one of the trees, prompting Rhodes to do the same. Both of them watched each other for the few moments they still could, until they disappeared into the leafy canopy above, leaving nothing but sound and smell to guide them to each other.
“How does this work..?” Udon asked, peeking up at the leaves above. She was the only one among them who honestly had no idea what was going on, it would seem.
“It’s pretty simple,” the Banette replied, perhaps the only other pokemon present who shouldn’t know what was happening. He turned his gaze to Udon, outstretching his arms in a casual, disdainful shrug, “First one to hit the ground loses. That’s it.”
Part 3 of "The Pulled String" by