Moments later, that familiar masked face showed itself from behind one of those very shelves. “Shroomsworth?” the Roserade asked with calm surprise. “I'd heard you were already back to sales! You really don't need to push yourself...”
“I'm quite fine,” Shroomsworth asserted. With a few steps forward, he cleared his throat and reached up to adjust his monocle, though the act was more of a minor stall for time than anything. He wished to choose his next words carefully. “... I noticed that you've kept the Elder's Quarters sealed off, despite my return.”
Arianna's expression settled into one of seriousness and concern. Her eyes averted, as though she felt a small amount of shame. Even still, she stepped out from behind the shelf into the open. “... I have been studying our literature on the matter. Our tradition is as such that through the years, the next-eldest member of our village, both aged and wise, takes the position as Elder... as it should be, given the title.”
There was a moment of tense silence as Shroomsworth processed what had just been said to him. “But... but you know he favored me, Miss Arianna...” he challenged, albeit in a low, unhappy tone. Something about that news gave him such a terrible sinking feeling in his chest, to know that anything stood between him and filling the role that his mentor prepared him for.
The librarian gave but a single nod, keeping her eyes to the ground. It was clear that she was no happier with what she'd just said. “I've been looking through our records of birth dates. Elder Shroom, despite his untimely departure, was very long-lived... very few of our current villagers are of even a comparable age. Such is the nature of his kind, I suppose. There is one who was not far behind, however...”
Try as he might, Shroomsworth couldn't imagine who it was. There were elderly Pokemon in the village, sure, but none of them stood out in his mind as particularly wise compared to the late Elder. “... Who?”
With a sigh, Arianna turned away, pacing along the many shelves of assorted books. “The position would now fall to me, as one of the eldest and most studied.”
What a strange thought. Shroomsworth boggled at the news and brought one of his claws to his chin. By that time, the young boy accompanying him had already become bored enough to begin wandering around the lobby behind him, though he suddenly had larger concerns than keeping company entertained. “You..? Ah... in charge of everything?”
“You needn't sound so surprised...” Arianna responded, unamused. Her pacing came to a halt next to a certain shelf, from which her vines plucked a single book. As though she knew just what to look for, she opened it to the exact page she desired and gazed down at it. Suddenly, she took a somber tone, “It sounds like a fantastic idea, to have a descendent of the original healer lead us all, doesn't it?”
It was hard to grasp all of this at once. Shroomsworth had never been told that it would work this way. Why didn't anyone tell him? It didn't make sense. Frustration began to well up within him as he recalled all the time spent learning, listening and growing. It didn't become him, though. He held back. “I... I suppose...”
However, Arianna shook her head. “It is my desire to carry on as the resident scholar... if it were up to me, foreigners would not sleep in our holdings daily. They've brought me nothing but trouble,” she paused, only to calm herself with a sigh and continue, “... but Elder Shroom saw things differently from me. He had talent and experience that I cannot simply learn through a night of reading.”
“Then why not allow me? I've bloody well lived his talent and experience through his teaching!” The distinct feeling of unfairness drove Shroomsworth to pace in a circle as he began to rant, “I've given my all for this guild of Merchants. I've endured ridicule, unspeakable things, threats to my livelihood and even attempts on my life.” At that moment, he stopped and lifted his gaze to the Roserade once more. “Do you think I would not have the same dedication here, Miss Arianna?”
Those words seemed to hit home. Not only with Arianna, but even Rhodes. He stepped up to Shroomsworth's side and finally spoke up, “It's true! Mr. Shroomsworth helped me out!”
Though she was being ganged up on in this case, Arianna couldn't help but chuckle briefly. “If it were that easy, I believe you would have swayed me right there. But...” she suddenly took a much more serious tone, “... This is a very important decision. It goes against our usual traditions for leadership to be passed without infirm or death, much less to one who was happily traveling abroad before this incident. It does not sit well with me to put this responsibility on you without some time and thought.”
Visibly displeased, Shroomsworth grumbled under his breath. Given a few moments though, it did make sense. Perhaps he shouldn't have been so eager to jump into the position... even if he felt correct for it. “... Very well. What of our coffers in the meantime?”
“I will manage what I can... the foreign traders are on their own for management, however.”
Not the most pleasing news. There was little Shroomsworth could do to hide his disappointment as he turned away. “I suppose there is nothing more for us to discuss then. Thank you for your time, Miss Arianna.”
The Breloom stepped past Rhodes silently on his way out of the library, only to have the boy catch up within the mildly-moonlit village square and stop him.
“Mr. Shroomsworth..?” Rhodes asked after a light tap at the larger Pokemon's side. He hesitated with his next words, but eventually, out they came, “... I think I need to go back to Tao now.”
It wasn't that the news was surprising. It wasn't at all, really – Tao was the boy's new home, after all. Something about it hit Shroomsworth hard, just to look down at Rhodes and realize he would have to leave. They might not even see each other often once that happened. Such thoughts drove him to stumble over his words, “Ah, I... I see. I suppose that uh, would be best...”
Rhodes stood staring up at Shroomsworth, hesitating for a few seconds before he leaned forward and wrapped his arms around the Breloom's lower neck in a soft hug. “I'll come back when everything's all rebuilt and stuff, okay? Maybe then you'll be the leader!”
Just like that, with a kind gesture and some kind words, Shroomsworth felt at least a little relieved. His arms extended to wrap over Rhodes's back in a brief embrace. Just like that though, it was over, and the boy was waving his goodbye.
“See you soon!” Rhodes called out. Oddly, he didn't quickly take to the trees as he usually did, lingering and trudging a few unnecessary steps first.
With the last reminder of his life in Tao having left him, the relieved feeling Shroomsworth had quickly dissipated. The only thing he could think to do was tread to his quarters in the hub once more. Once again, everyone had already taken to bed, and he did the same. At the very least, it wouldn't be such a despairing slumber as the night before, but he found himself lying awake for a time, and he couldn't blame any one particular train of thought for it.
Part 8 of "Successor" by