Shortly after, Rhodes fell as well, landing much more gracefully at the other Sneasel’s side, on his feet. His scarf was still in his claw. Having outlived its usefulness as bait, it was thrown back over his own neck and tightened. Rhodes turned to see the surprise on his comrades’ faces become excited joy... and then he turned to the Banette. It was staring at him. That smile, it was even more unsettling now. Did he want this to happen? Rhodes shot the puppet-like ghost a brief glare as their red eyes met each other, before turning back to the grounded Sneasel.
The scarred pathfinder extended his claw to the downed Sneasel, who looked up to him, defeated. Rhodes took a turn for the cheerful, flashing him a smile. “I didn't wanna do that just to beat you up, ya know. We should all work together instead of fightin',” he explained. His extended claw was like an olive branch, of sorts. It seemed to confuse the other Sneasel, making him look away.
“Why should I do anything you say? Yer just disrespectin' the boss, sidin' us with the villagers...” the downed Sneasel defied, refusing to look Rhodes in the eye.
“It's... it's not about whether or not we respect the boss,” Rhodes replied. It was a bit tougher than he thought to say such a thing. Bitterness overflowed within him toward Slasher, but... that was his own problem. It wouldn't help to dwell on it here, if he wanted to get through to this Sneasel. “Nobody will ever respect us if we just keep tryin' to bully people just because we can. He's gone, but we still have to live here, and we gotta do it our own way.”
With that statement, Rhodes reached his claw out a little more, as if to offer it further. “We've got a chance to get respect by helpin' everyone, instead of just helpin' ourselves. Do you really wanna keep robbin' the villagers when we get so much more outta helpin' 'em out? Come on...”
The grounded Sneasel was clearly confused. It was a new way of thinking to a lot of the old gang members. Eventually, he began pulling himself to his feet before Rhodes. It wasn't certain what he thought about the speech he was given as their gazes met... until his claw met the one offered to him, cupping the two together in a handshake of sorts.
“I still dunno about this... but you make a lotta sense. It might be better than sittin' out here bein' hungry every night...” the Sneasel surrendered, bringing a smile to Rhodes's face. The other present Sneasels cheered with happiness from behind Udon, having stuck around for the entire duel.
As expected, so did that Banette. After the resolution, he approached behind Rhodes, seeming to float as he moved, and put one of his soft, stuffed hands upon the boy's shoulder. It startled him momentarily, causing him to drop the handshake he was performing.
“Touching. Now that you've got all that squared away, I need you to take me somewhere,” the Banette revealed.
It was shady at best. Rhodes peered at the red-eyed ghost for a moment, then averted his gaze back to the Sneasel he'd just recruited to his cause. “You and my other friends should go meet the rest of the villagers at Merlot's castle. They're staying there for now,” he instructed, before turning and approaching Udon, who had been onlooking with amusement, interest, or both. He couldn't be sure. He did, however, miss the part where the Sneasel, who was now behind him, became quite worried at the mention of going to Merlot's castle. “Can you please make sure they get there, Miss Udon?”
For once, Udon looked a little troubled. “Well... we still have to go to Tao to extend Lady Merlot's invitation to the rest...”
“Ah! That's right! ...” Rhodes responded. He had almost forgotten about that in all the commotion... especially when there was something very troubling nagging at the back of his mind, due to that Banette.
One of the friendlier Sneasels stepped out from behind Udon to speak up, “We can go on ahead, I think... there's prolly so much goin' on there, they won't notice us join up with the rest of the villagers, right?”
“Now hang on!” The 'new recruit' stomped forward in a fuss, quickly gaining the attention of everyone else. “I don't remember agreein' to go to Merlot!” he exclaimed. His eyes then wandered to Udon once more, who looked just a little bit ticked-off. That was enough to settle him down a bit, clasping his claws together as he peeked away with sheepish nervousness. “I uh... I mean, she's kinda scary, is all...”
Fortunately, this admittance was enough to appease Udon. “Oh, is that all that’s bothering you?” she asked in a bubbly, cheerful voice. “Lady Merlot is very busy. Though she’s graciously extended her castle as a temporary home to all Tao villagers, you’ll still be far beneath her notice!”
This seemed to calm the worried Sneasel down, at least a little. “So uh... no maid stuff?”
The question caused Udon to stare at the one who asked it for a moment, only to burst into laughter. “Goodness, no! Lady Merlot outright despises the idea of Sneasel servants. Your figures and body colors don’t make her favorite outfits stand out well enough for her tastes. You’re still welcome to a room, though.”
Every Sneasel present felt a moment of mild awkwardness, learning this fact. Still, it was... good news? More or less, anyway. Relations between Merlot and the Sneasels of the forest were shaky at best, though at least with Slasher out of the way, there was room for improvement. … Hopefully not in any way that would make them appealing as servants, but still.
“Well...” the Sneasel pondered, thinking it over momentarily, “... okay. I’m boltin’ if it ain’t how you say it is, though!” With that, he and the two more agreeable Sneasels congregated, and began heading off in the direction of the castle.
However, one did stop and turn to Rhodes briefly. “Um... thanks for helpin’ us out,” he said, before flashing a glance to the ever-present Banette, then back to Rhodes, “... be careful, okay?”
Though there was impending worry in Rhodes’s heart, he returned a smile to his concerned friend. “Don’t worry, I’ll be there soon. Make sure to try the food there; it’s really good, and they have lots of it!”
With that, the other Sneasel parted on pleasant terms, leaving only Rhodes, Udon, and the strange Banette together.
Part 6 of "The Pulled String" by