“It’s frankly a miracle that anyone survived at all,” said the cat, looking a little worse for wear and embittered. Even his cheshire grin was turned down at the edges in an unhappy snarl. Pablo was in okay shape for a feline who met the wide end of a baseball bat more than once. He licked delicately at blood matted in his fur. He had come upon the end of all things and returned, melancholy and displeased with the merchant. Zacharie may have been a little bit sorry but probably not for the reasons the Judge would like.
“All of the pillars which were in place to sustain this land are gone now,” Pablo spoke as if Zacharie didn’t already know. He had halted his grooming and sat gazing elsewhere, his right hind leg still sticking forgotten in the air. “Hours or days or years from now, all things will cease to exist, bleach into nothing at all. Just breezes and whiteness that’s hard on the eyes.”
We’ve got a little time, a little voice in Zacharie’s mind welled up, although he wasn’t sure what it wanted to console him about. He couldn’t do a whole lot without the world itself around him. There was only one lonely Elsen wandering around Zone 3 that he could squeeze some credits out of if he needed things, but there were no more prophets or puppets to run around for him, to farm cash to line Zacharie’s pockets. All there was left was to wait.
“What occurs to me as a funny little happenstance,” Pablo said, rising to his four paws and giving an enthusiastic shiver, “is that you made no attempt to stop him at all, did you?”
Zacharie tipped his chin down to line up the cat in the eye holes of his mask. Pablo stared back up at him, small, feline and adorable - except with far too many teeth.
“Were you scared? I wouldn’t blame you. I would be too, if I had no authority over this world.” Pablo’s tail curled and flicked behind him, a little bit agitated. Zacharie knew enough to intuit that. “But did you think you’d be safe if you just stayed out of his way? He nearly destroyed everything, I hope you’re aware. I hope you didn’t think you were special.”
“Me?” Zacharie responded, with a chuckle and a shrug. “I’m just the RPG merchant, hardly remarkable.” Not an Elsen, not a Guardian, not a Spectre and not a talking feline. Just a man with hungry pockets like he stepped into the world from somewhere else. A necessary evil in any video game. Lo and behold, someone like that might just have a sense of self-preservation.
But the Batter. He had been special. How he walked with such confidence and aggression, with the spotlight of the puppeteer over his shoulder. It was hard to tell what she could possibly want with a single-minded arbiter of violence like that. All Zacharie knew was that he could set the rules if he wanted and the Batter and the puppeteer would abide by them. They would exchange credits for goods at whatever price he asked. The two of them would do whatever he suggested, all assuming that it was an inlaid part of the game. They proved it in the tramway tunnel that neither of them had any sense of the crimes they were committing. He just followed in the Batter’s shadow as he even murdered Sugar, safe as could be as long as he never crossed them. They trusted him, so all he had to do was point his finger to the Room and make a firing sound with his mouth, miming recoil.
Zacharie wondered when Pablo had come around, really. When he decided to embark out into the purified lands and see what they had done. But even then the cat had no idea what his objectives had been.
“You’re lucky you came out of that alive,” Pablo said, standing and stretching, his spine arched before padding over to lean his little body against Zacharie’s leg. “Never do that again.”