PK trailed slowly behind Malt as he made his way over the footbridge and to the ranch portion of the village. It was, in truth, a mile or so away from the village still, and that was pushing the limits of her comfort zone. As they got closer, her heart started to pick up the pace. She felt a little faint upon reaching the main entrance. A good look at the setup should have put her at ease, but it did not.
Malt tried to push back his thoughts for the duration of their trip, but it seemed he’d had enough of the silence... and apparently also of whatever expression PK didn’t realize she was making. “Come on... You look like we just arrived at a, a torture camp or something. PK... you can’t be grimacing like that the whole time, you’ll make a really bad first impression on these guys... We’re supposed to be a whole unit now, and you haven’t even met
a good nine-tenths of the ranch populace! You need to--”
“Yeah yeah, save the spiel. I’ll smile or whatever.” She grinned. Malt cringed and shook his head. Well, so much for that.
Along the way to the first building, they passed several rows of tiny trees. PK recognized them as the berry saplings they were. That was nice, at least. She even saw the Payapa berry bushes she specifically requested. Even better. Past that, she saw a little pond with a few Ducklett and Psyduck lazily floating about. Did those guys do anything for the place? Were they workers? Maybe they provided eggs? She wasn’t all too sure. Maybe they were freeloaders, for all she knew.
It was exactly for that reason, for her lack of knowledge, that Malt had continually urged PK to check on the ranch, meet its inhabitants. She really did know next to nothing about how it was run! Only the bare essentials had been gleaned from all of her business with Malt before they joined forces. It was probably a really lousy decision on her part, but it was her resolute decision for over a couple of years nonetheless.
It was looking to have been a poor decision on all accounts, though. Even if the ranch stressed her out for no real reason of its own, she was starting to really, actually see that it was just a normal place where Pokemon lived and worked. The houses were mostly the Pokemon-head motif, but there were some more practically shaped buildings, which she guessed held most of the supplies. The two Merchants were making their way toward a plain brown and tan building, so there was no telling who or what lay inside.
Malt pushed open the door, bringing about a little tinkle from the bell. PK followed suit. There was a long table, fully set with dishes and napkins and plain glasses, enough to seat a couple dozen Pokemon at least. She was sure there were more staff than that, but supposed they didn’t all eat together. At first, it seemed that it was merely for show until PK actually took a good whiff. Someone was cooking! Now that she was fully inside and the door was shut, she heard sizzling coming from the other room. Moments after they had stepped in, a Combusken had emerged from a far room.
“Oh! You guys made it a little early, I wasn’t expectin’ you guys for another... hm, I dunno. You’re early anyway. Everyone’ll show up on time if you give ‘em a few minutes,” she said. She seemed genuinely cheerful and pleased to see them both. “I hate to be rude, but I gotta get back to cookin’. It’s good to see you again Malt, and to meet you, Miss PK, but, you know how it is. These eggs can’t cook themselves!” she said with a laugh. She returned to what PK presumed was the kitchen.
“Well, why don’t we sit down?” Malt suggested. “Everyone usually shows up right as the cooking’s finished, so you can meet them as they enter.” He took a seat closest to the entrance door, looking at PK expectantly. She ignored him for a brief moment further, choosing to look around at the austere decor of the place. There was really not much to be seen at all in the plain, white room. No pictures, no china, nothing that a normal dining room might contain... A sad thought overcame her. Why didn’t the place have decoration? It should have; it’s not like Sorbet personally had smashed the previous ranch and all of everyone’s belongings up. Perhaps they had been robbed when they fled? She decided she would ask.
“Why’s this place so uh... modestly... decorated? Do they just not have the money, or...” she asked, trailing off at the possibilities. Best to let Malt just answer.
“Er, this? This is the same sort of room we used to eat together at in the previous place. We kind of like it that way here.” With half-lidded eyes, he placed his elbow on the table and leaned forward a bit, propping his cheek up with his hoof. “You’d have known that if you’d ever visited yourself, you know,” he said flatly. This grated on her nerves.
“Maybe you guys were poor then too! It’s not like I gave a crap what your finances were!” She spun around to face him. “And where are all the suckers, anyway? Why are we even here so early? I could have slept in longer, and you just go and bring me here early. Great!” She pulled out a chair suddenly with enough force to make it scrape loudly against the wood. She took her seat and imitated his semi-bored look, propped cheek and all.
Malt rolled his eyes and was about to speak when PK’s eyes moved to the door. Someone was about to come in, she could hear the commotion. Malt turned to look at their visitor as well. The door opened to reveal a Flygon with a great, big ribbon around her neck, carrying a couple of giant eggs with tiny painted ribbons on the shells to match. For an instant, a spec in time, PK and this visitor locked eyes, leaving PK to feel a very drastic, very distinct pang of intense sadness. She had no idea if the Flygon felt anything in return, only catching the slightest twitch at her mouth. Their strange encounter lasted for such a minute period of time that Malt completely missed the moment of silent grief felt by PK. “Hey Ruben!” he greeted, obviously pleased to see her. “You look well!”
“Oh Malt!” she said, laughing. “You always say that! I’ll talk to you in a bit, Puzelle told me we needed these. They’re special, you know!” she told him before twirling off to the kitchen.
Malt smiled sadly when she left. He turned to PK and whispered once he was sure Ruben was out of earshot. “She’s... got some issues, but we don’t really talk about those. Please, please be polite to her. Don’t ask about her eggs if she says anything funny. She’s really nice though.”
This caused PK to feel a pit form in her stomach. For some reason, she couldn’t imagine ever being very grumpy toward that particular Flygon. It was rare, but something she was sure was the absolute truth. It made her upset to think that Malt was telling her to not act up around someone she had already decided she liked and felt for, but she let it slide. She had one of those rare moments of understanding someone else’s point of view, and knew Malt must have cared about Ruben as much as she suddenly decided that she did, too. This made him a little less detestable. For the time, anyway.
Part 2 of "The Question"