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canisaries

you should've known the price of evil
Location
Stovokor
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. custom/inkay-shirlee
Hello! I'm here because of Review Roulette. I was initially planning to read both the prologue and the first chapter, but the day turned out hectic and the prologue turned out to be longer than expected.

So I notice that the classic PMD introduction is quite short. I think this is a good call, as most readers will know the gist of it going in already due to it being in every game (as far as I recall) and a lot of the fanfics. Not having the shock of the bodily transformation come fully right at the start also feels like it's a little more subversive.

On the subject of prose, I noticed some things that hinder the story a little. One thing is semicolon usage. While I never fully understood semicolons, they seem strangely used here and in places, incorrect, as some clauses they linked weren't full but more like fragments, and I believe that's only valid when using lists where the items contain commas themselves. This looks like a pretty good guide so I recommend a look at it.

Another is the usage of "sudden" or "suddenly". This is usually a word that has the opposite effect than intended when it comes to prose - if something is said to be sudden, it works like a forewarning in a way, which in itself makes the event seem much less sudden. The word was also used in the beginnings of two consecutive paragraphs ("There was suddenly a loud thump! in the distance" and "Suddenly, Audino saw the silhouette of a small pokemon running straight in her direction through the fog") which comes off as a little repetitive.

Then some additional comments:

The forest seemed much more ominous than it had before, almost foreboding in nature.

As far as I know, ominous and foreboding are synonymous.

An audino quietly picked the herbs and weeds from around a ground-bound bush in the forest,

It makes for a fun rhyme, but I think all bushes are more or less ground-bound?

It took all of four seconds to find them.
1
Approaching from behind

Accidental 1 slipped in there?

If the dungeon locals were all in hiding… then what were they hiding from?

obligatory corona joke

It's kind of hard to give any more feedback as not much did happen in the prologue and so there isn't much to comment on plot or character wise. In the face of something that reduces people to their primal instincts, such as a chase like this, characterization also understandably takes a back seat. I can say, though, that I agree with a lot of OldschoolJohto's points.

Anyway, I apologize for not being able to say much of substance. This seems like a pretty snappy start to a story. And I admire the tight schedule you've managed to upload in! You've been hard at work. Good luck with this in the future.
 
Chapter 16 - The Clubhouse

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter16Art.png
"Without the supplies, support, and law enforcement that the Rescuer's Guild provides, the Air Continent is in a state of national crisis. The burden of support has since been moved to Baram Town, which finds itself reeling and severely understaffed. This has led to widespread shortages and uncontrolled crime all across the continent."

~ Cloud Nine News Network


~\({O})/~

16.

The Clubhouse

~\({O})/~

Serenity Village ~ Morning

~Espurr~

It was morning. So early in the morning, Kecleon hadn’t even properly set up shop yet. He had just finished putting everything on the shelves when the bell placed just outside his stall rang. He opened the shutters of his stall and quickly looked out the front window to see who was ringing it.

“Oh! Ha…” Kecleon quickly cleared his throat, discreetly setting a wayward jar of peachberries back on the stall shelves. “First customer of the day! Welcome to th—oh.” He glanced over the stall counter, down at Espurr and Tricky. They were barely tall enough to see over the counter.

Had they been waiting there all morning?

“I don’t normally sell to kids,” he said, clearing his throat once more. Then he looked at Tricky. His eyes narrowed. “Hey… aren’t you the one who st—“

Espurr set a bag of poke on the stall counter. “We want the lumber.”

Walking up next in line, Fletchinder and Eevee glanced at the two pokemon in front of them uneasily.

Kecleon looked at the bag of poke thoughtfully. “…Well, all is forgiven, then! Still, lumber is very expensive—“

Espurr set another, equally sized sack of poke on the counter. “This should cover it.”

Kecleon almost looked like he didn’t want to know where all the poke had come from.

“…How much lumber are we talking?” he asked.

“How much do you have?” Espurr replied, nonchalant.

Moments later, Eevee and Fletchinder watched dumbfounded as Espurr and Tricky loaded up all the lumber onto a wagon and began to haul it off. Then Eevee came to her senses and began to pursue the pair of children.

“Hey—HEY! We’ll buy some of that off you! It’s for your classroom!”

Tricky immediately started pushing the wagon faster.

~\({O})/~

~Deerling~

Deerling usually wasn’t up this early in… ever. Even if this was a schoolday, which it wasn’t, because it was summer, she would have woken up about an hour later anyway. But today a sudden commotion from outside had jerked Deerling out of her beauty sleep, and she lazily trudged over to the window like a spinda to see what time it was and what was going on outside.

What she saw confused her: Espurr and Tricky running off with a wagon full of what looked like wood, followed by an eevee who was yelling all sorts of profane things at them as it chased them down the path. For a moment, Deerling stared at the entire scenario out her window as her brain tried to wake up. Then the absurdity of what she had just seen finally clicked into place.







What the m—

~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts

The wagon was hidden behind a tree. Espurr and Tricky waited in the underbrush, concealed beneath the forest’s ferns. They both stayed as silent as they could while Eevee’s distant shouts and pleas reverberated through the woods. Slowly, they became more and more distant, until finally Espurr and Tricky couldn’t hear her cries at all. And only then did they sit up, both struggling to contain their laughter. Espurr fought it off much easier than Tricky could. Tricky was still trying not to laugh by the time that they began to move the wagon again.

“That was awesome,” Tricky gasped, giving in completely to the laughter. As much as she tried to deny it, even Espurr was giddy on the same stuff she had been on in Wooloo Plains, and she even struggled to sit still as she coordinated the direction back to the treehouse site.

“I think—“ she gasped, trying to calm down “—I think it’s this way.”

Tricky was too busy recovering from her spell of laughter to respond properly.

The cart of lumber went right next to the other odds and ends that Espurr and Tricky had collected from the missions they’d been taking (Which included the cart). A woobat had even given them a large tarp to cover all their supplies with in exchange for going gemstone-foraging in Glittering Mountain. It was almost enough supplies to start building their team base, bar a few things they still needed.

Espurr collapsed against the cart, catching her breath for the first time since they’d run off from Kecleon’s stall with that crazy eevee nipping at their paws. “What do we still have to get?” she asked between breaths.

Tricky pinned a list down to the ground, looking at the contents. “We still need… nails… shingles… and that’s it!” she looked up.

“And a manual to build the treehouse,” Espurr replied. “We were lucky to get that list of supplies from Kangaskhan as is. I don’t think she’ll help us build it.”

“That too.” Tricky clutched the list in her mouth and brought it over to Espurr, who rolled it up and stuck it in the lumber cart. “So where do we start?”

Espurr looked up at the sun, which was still not quite high in the sky. They had gotten up very early just to reach Kecleon after they had overheard he was getting a shipment of lumber from a couple of pokemon in the square, and the entire day was still ahead of them.

“We split up,” Espurr finally decided. “If you get the nails and shingles then I can get the manual.”

“Sure!” Tricky hopped up, looking excited. A moment later, the two of them had booted up the expedition gadget and set it to project onto the tree trunk. Espurr and Tricky took turns hovering their paws over the connection orb, zooming in on missions that looked promising and had rewards including the things they needed. A few of the missions were offering shingles among all the other things they had dug out of their storage areas and offered as rewards (there were some ridiculous things being offered as bounties. One pokemon had even posted a cart full of rotting fruit as their reward, something that Espurr felt queasy just thinking about), but there were no missions with nails listed in the reward section. Let alone any that offered both. It seemed even for the pokemon of Serenity Village, nails were a bit too out there for rescue mission awards.

“Do you think we can get nails from Kecleon’s?” Tricky asked after five straight minutes of searching. Espurr didn’t know.

“Why don’t we just ask?” she pointed out.

“What if we run into that crazy eevee again?” Tricky asked.

“We’ll prosecute her, obviously,” Espurr answered like it was a matter-of-fact thing. “We bought the lumber fair and square.” Espurr had read the word ‘prosecute’ in one of Audino’s book a few days ago and had been waiting forever to use it.

“Oh! You’re back.” Kecleon dusted off his apron methodically, looking down at Espurr and Tricky. He cleared his throat, this time just from habit. “Welcome to the Kecleon Sh—“

“Do you have nails?” Tricky interrupted. Kecleon stopped mid-sentence, his eyes veering over to Tricky. “Ah… not anymore,” he said. “They were in stock this morning, but then a fletchinder and an eevee bought them all. Just between you and me…” Kecleon looked slightly uncomfortable all of the sudden, like he didn’t gossip on his clients very often. His voice hushed. “What they wanted with so many nails, I’ll never know, but Eevee was very adamant that they buy them all.”

“This is bad.” The three words were uttered by Espurr, who was – for once – at a loss for what to do. They stood in the middle of the Village Square, pondering their next line of action. “If we can’t find nails, how are we going to build the treehouse?”

There was silence between Espurr and Tricky for a minute, as both pokemon thought on it.

“Maybe we’ll find them tomorrow,” Tricky helpfully offered. “Let’s just get the other stuff and then we’ll worry about nails.”

That was fair.

Espurr and Tricky decided to split up. Tricky would be taking a mission solo to retrieve something for a diggersby who was offering roof shingles as a reward, while Espurr would go up to the library to pick out a manual and then see if anymon around was willing to sell nails. It was only after they split up and Espurr was left all alone in the square that she realized she had no idea where to find Watchog.

Kangaskhan at the Café Connection had overheard Watchog complaining about guard duty on Sundays and Thursdays. And today was Thursday, which meant that Watchog would be at the school. Espurr spent the next five minutes hiking up there.

“Don’t think this is going to happen every day,” Watchog grumbled, as he led Espurr up to the school grounds grumpily. “’Cause it’s not. My job is to guard the school on Sundays and Thursdays, not play kit-sitter for children.” He stopped outside the library, jerkily holding open the door for Espurr. “Go on. Pick your book. And then get out. Five minutes.”

Espurr ducked under Watchog’s looming figure, and then she entered the dusty environment of the library once more.

“I’ll be counting!” Watchog yelled after her. Espurr did her best to ignore Watchog’s cynical comments.

Now that she could read the signs on the shelves, Espurr could see that despite its messiness, the library had been perfectly arranged in alphabetical order, from ‘A: “AAAAAGH!” to Z: “Zebstrika’s Zealots”. Espurr wasn’t concerned with screaming at the top of one’s lungs, zebstrika, or zealots, so she ignored those sections completely. She quickly made her way to T: “Targets and Training – the Proper Way to Battle”. If Espurr was going to find it in five minutes, then she was going to find it under ‘T’, for ‘Treehouse’.

“Time!” Watchog called out five minutes later. Espurr looked back from the shelf hurriedly- she still hadn’t found the book! It clearly wasn’t in this section—if it existed at all—but then where was it?! Maybe… May… M. M. Maybe it was under ‘M’, for ‘Manual’!

“Don’t make me come in there!” Watchog yelled once more, and then Espurr knew her time was up.

“Coming!” she called out. Watchog wasn’t flexible, she knew. He wasn’t going to give her another minute. But M came before T, so she’d pass the ‘M’ section before she walked out. It wouldn’t hurt to give the shelves a quick check. Her eyes quickly skimmed the titles of all the books as she walked past it, and she spotted it at the very top of the shelf—‘Manual for Treehouse Building’. Except she wasn’t reaching that without a ladder. And the ladder was between her and Watchog; parked just around the ‘G’ section.

“Alright, I’m coming in!” Watchog yelled, and Espurr quickly hurried all the way back to the library entrance empty-pawed. Watchog marched her all the way down back to the village, and after sparing her a single annoyed glare he began the trudge back up towards the school. Espurr just dusted her fur off and began to walk back towards the square. There had to be some way to get that manual.

Maybe Tricky was faring better than her.

A small pebble flew by Espurr’s ear, missing it by about an inch. Espurr’s head snapped in the direction that the stone had come from, quickly scanning the environment to see who had shot it. Her eyes detected movement above the Café Connection—was that…

…It was Pancham. And Shelmet too, if Espurr’s eyes didn’t betray her. And then, an idea began to brew in her head.

~\({O})/~

~Pancham~

“You bored?” Pancham idly strung another rock up in his slingshot, laying on his belly on the roof of the Café Connection. He briefly glanced at Shelmet, who was lazily watching all the passing ‘mon below. The sling shot and the pebble flew, flying over the head of a passerby pokemon. Pancham grunted in annoyance.

It was a moment before Shelmet answered: “Yeah.”

“I’ve got something you two can do.”

Both Pancham and Shelmet jumped. They looked behind themselves, where Espurr stood.

“Argh don’t do that!” Pancham cried, quickly edging himself up near the edge of the roof. “How did you get up here?!”

Espurr looked back towards the other end of the roof. “The same way you did,” she replied matter-of-factly. “I climbed the ladder around the back.”

“That’s not how I got up…” Shelmet grumbled under his breath, but he went ignored. Pancham quickly tried to look less startled out of his wits, relaxing against the café logo’s backside instead of backing up against it. He folded his arms behind his head.

“Alright, we’re bored anyway. Watchu got?”

“How would you fancy a trip back up to the library?” Espurr asked.

Pancham raised an eyebrow. He and Shelmet traded looks. Then he sat up and leaned forward.

“Go on.”

~\({O})/~

~Tricky~

“…And here’s the shingles. Pristine quality, none of them cracked. I checked.” The diggersby held out the large cases of shingles in his large ears. “You, uh…. You have some kind of cart I can put this thing on, right?”

“We have a wagon.” Tricky had to stare up at the diggersby just to see his face.

Diggersby looked around. “…Where’s the wagon?” he asked. Tricky’s ears suddenly shot up.

‘Berry crackers,’ she mouthed.

“I’ll be back in just a sec.” And before Diggersby knew it, Tricky had vanished down the path. “I’ll be baaaaack!!” she called out.

Diggersby watched her go with an open mouth, silent from having the words stolen away by the wind. He waited a minute, surrounded by silence. When Tricky still didn’t show up, he sighed and then placed the shingles on the ground. She’d find them there when she got back for them.

~\({O})/~

~Goomy~

It was hot.

Goomy slimed into the village square, where many of the ‘mon passing through parted for or walked around him as usual. Most everymon in Serenity Village knew how slow he was, so he didn’t bother many ‘mon at all.

That all changed when what could be best described as a very fast blur of orange and yellow sped through the village gate and into the square, accidently bumping into and knocking over a swadloon on the way in.

“Sorry!” Tricky yelled in apology, stumbling back to her paws and shaking the dust out of her fur.

“Watch it…” the swadloon muttered annoyedly as it righted itself. There was no change in its facial features (swadloon were very dull).

“Sorry!” Tricky apologized once again, and then started to run off towards the south entrance. Interested, Goomy quickly began to follow, but he just couldn’t keep up with her and she was already a speck in the distance by the time that he had made it to the entrance. Goomy sighed. He was so slow. How would he ever catch up with anymon else?

He ended up milling around the square for the next five minutes, until suddenly he caught notice of Tricky running back towards the square from where she had come, dragging what looked like a large empty wagon along with her. She galloped on into the square and was about to pass him when Goomy decided he wasn’t going to keep getting left behind like that anymore. He took a deep breath and spoke:

“H-hey! Can I c-come along?”

Tricky slowed to a stop in the middle of the square, looking at Goomy.

“Goomy?” she asked, backtracking. Goomy nodded. Tricky tilted her head, mostly out of confusion. “I… guess you can come along,” she said. “You can ride in the wagon!”

Tricky helped Goomy climb up on into the wagon, and then she bit down onto the handle again and they were off so fast that for once Goomy was happy that his slime stuck to things.

~\({O})/~

~Espurr~

Espurr hated to do this to Watchog, but she needed that book. And if he wouldn’t budge far enough for her to get it, then she was going pry a hole open into that library and collect it herself.

It was late into the afternoon, so the square was temporarily empty as everymon made an attempt to avoid the worst of the harsh summer heat. That was perfect for Espurr. No witnesses. She followed Pancham and Shelmet up towards the school on the hill in the distance.

Pancham and Shelmet made their way up the hill at a much faster pace than Espurr, making sure to put some distance between her and them before they started to talk.

“What do you think she wants out of this?” Shelmet asked.

“Don’t know, don’t care,” Pancham said dismissively. “I’m just bored out of my mind. And hot. Doing something is better than nothing.”

Shelmet looked reluctant to agree with that, but he didn’t object. Then Espurr caught up with them, and there was no more secret conversation between them even though everymon was thinking it.

“Hey, Teach!” Pancham called out as Espurr darted into the underbrush outside the classroom. She glanced into the open yard where the desk and all the seats had once been. That fletchinder from last week had done a good job of cleaning out the yard. There was nothing to hide behind. Berry crackers. That meant she’d have to make a run for it. She cast a look back towards Pancham and Shelmet.

“What is it now?” Watchog asked, walking towards them. “Don’t tell me you want to go to the library too.”

Pancham and Shelmet traded a look. “Yeah, we wanna go to the library,” Pancham said.

Espurr watched, concealed in a bush. Al part of the plan. She looked at the underbrush at Pancham, who followed Watchog up to the library. The coast was clear now. She quickly slipped in once they were out of sight, hiding behind the path that led up to the school clinic. She watched Watchog march Pancham and Shelmet up towards the library, lying in wait for her moment to strike.

A couple of moments later (Espurr wasn’t keeping an exact count), Pancham and Shelmet emerged from the building, carrying a couple of books with them. They quickly walked ahead of Watchog, lugging the books along with them.

“See?” Pancham said in a hushed voice. “Look at our loot!”

“I get it, but…” Shelmet grimaced. “Books?”

“Wanna go back to crowd-watching?” Pancham asked. Shelmet went silent.

Pancham caught Espurr’s eye as they walked down the path. He looked back up at Watchog, and for a moment Espurr’s breath caught: Was he going to rat her out?

But instead, Pancham waved back up at him. “Thanks for the books, Teach!” he called out. Then he sent Espurr a hasty thumbs-up, and then they both began to walk out of the square.

“I better see you return them in good condition!” Watchog shouted after them, and he began to march down the stairs as well. Espurr quickly hid where Watchog couldn’t see her. He marched down the steps, his feet dislodging some soil near where Espurr hid, and then he was back to patrolling the outside of the classroom. Espurr released her breath silently. That had been close.

Now for getting all the way up to the library. Espurr spent the next few minutes observing Watchog’s guarding patterns: It seemed he was making a perimeter check of the school, looping around once and then heading up to the school clinic on the rooftop every once in a while to investigate. Espurr waited until he began to take his next loop of the school, and then she quickly scurried up the path to the school clinic.

The library was to the right of the deserted clinic, and the door had been left wide open (Apparently, Pancham and Shelmet didn’t think much of closing doors behind them). Espurr ducked in through the door and wasted no time locating the ladder over by the G section like it had always been. She quickly began to move it as fast as she could, ignoring the heart-wrenching sound the squeaking of the ladder was making. What if Watchog heard?

Slowly but surely, the ladder slid all the way to the ‘M’ section without any impromptu interruptions from Watchog. Espurr quickly climbed up the rungs (which wasn’t easy when each rung was placed up almost half Espurr’s height), scanning the bookshelf for the book she wanted. Ah, there it was. ‘Manual to Treehouse Building’. It was thin, and Espurr was able to pull it off the shelf and slowly climb down the ladder with it with no large difficulty.

She let out a sigh of relief after climbing down from the ladder. She had the book now. All she had to do was check the coast for Watchog and make sure it was clear—

—Footsteps.

Berry crackers. She was going to be caught! Espurr quickly dashed for a more obscure part of the library, but she didn’t catch sight of all the books on the floor and accidently tripped on a few on her way behind the ‘C’ section. The pile of books clattered to the floor very loudly.

Espurr froze once she had gotten into place behind the shelves, barely daring to breathe.

“Hey! Is somemon in there?!” Watchog shouted from outside. Espurr stood stone-still with the book clutched tightly in her paws as Watchog entered the library.

“I don’t know who you are but I know you’re in here,” he said, slowly stalking through the bookshelves. “best you come out before I find you.”

There were a few shelves in front of where Espurr was standing. She could feel Watchog’s presence on the other side of the bookshelf; she could sense his emotions. She wasn’t going to fare well if he found her.

Then Espurr realized she was standing next to a source of light—A window! That was her ticket out of here.

The window was paned, so Espurr scanned it for a latch. There was one, at the very top where Espurr would never be able to reach. She instead channeled her mental power into throwing it open cleanly. She needed to make sure it was completely silent, and it almost was. It made a slight creaking noise upon finally being thrown, but Espurr didn’t think that Watchog had noticed. She waited a moment in silence just in case he had, but then she realized he was still looking further into the library.

“Come on out,” Watchog trilled. “Or it’ll be a world of hurt for you.”

He was still too close to the bookshelves. If she tried to climb out now, he’d catch her. She needed to make a distraction… Espurr turned her head over to the other bookcase, focusing her mental powers onto the top shelf. A random book—she didn’t care which book—began to tremble. Slowly, it pulled itself out as if dragged by an invisible paw. Espurr watched it carefully through a crack in the bookshelf. And then gravity did its work, and the book toppled all the way to the floor. Espurr saw the way it had landed and she was sure the binding was history, but she didn’t particularly care as long as it drew Watchog’s attention away from her.

Watchog spun in place, glancing towards the area where the shelf had fallen, and that was when Espurr took her opening to flee. Using the unshelved books on the floor like a staircase, she hastily climbed out the window as silently as she could with the manual in hand. Watchog didn’t notice a thing, until the window slammed shut behind her. Loudly.

Once Espurr landed firmly in the grass outside the library. She quickly scanned her surroundings for a possible way out. The path was right in front of her. She could quickly run down and be out of there—but no, she didn’t have time for that. There had to be another way out. What she went around the back—

—Espurr suddenly dove behind the backside of the library’s wall as Watchog stormed out of the library. She didn’t see him, but she heard a paw push the swinging windowpane shut. No footsteps walking away, just complete silence.

He was waiting for her.

Espurr wanted to freeze, but she didn’t. Watchog would catch her if she did that. Slowly, quietly, she began to edge towards the other end of the wall—the one that lead to the backside of the library.

Something went off in Espurr’s head that told her to hide, and she quickly took cover in a bush right before Watchog’s head suddenly whipped around the side of the wall and scanned the area for trespassers.

“Aha!” Watchog cried. “Found you, thie— …Oh.”

To him, the place was empty. Espurr didn’t dare breath. Watchog cleared his throat. He stood up straight.

“Stupid ghosts again,” he muttered to himself. Then he quickly marched off. Espurr could feel the embarrassment off him. But now that he was gone, she wasted no time scurrying around the back of the library and rushing off towards the village.

~\({O})/~

Village Square

“Props to you, that was pretty sick,” Pancham said from his seat next to the pile of still discarded logs in the Village Square. “You should hang with us more.”

“No thank you,” Espurr said, keeping that treehouse manual tucked firmly under her arm. “I’ve got other things to do.”

She began to walk off, leaving Pancham and Shelmet in .

“Hey, actually,” Shelmet began loudly. “Whatever you’re doing, we want in.”

“Wha—we do?” Pancham glanced up from the book he was lazily flipping through, looking at Shelmet.

“Yeah,” Shelmet said casually. “Yeah, we do.” Pancham shut his book with a snap, but didn’t say anything.

“And what makes you think I’d do that?” Espurr asked. “The last time we talked you led me and Tricky into a death trap.”

“Because otherwise we’ll go up to the school and tell the teach that you just snuck in to steal that book,” said Shelmet.

Espurr hissed under her breath, only loud enough for her to hear. Berry crackers. There was no way out of that! At least, not one that didn’t involve trying to scare the two of them and hoping they would back down (and somehow, she didn’t think they would). Better to just go along with it and hope they got bored, she thought.

“…Fine,” she said, trying to keep up appearances and keep the conversation polite. “It’s right this way.”

~\({O})/~

~Deerling~

For the second time that day, Espurr walked by Deerling’s house. Doing something weird. Deerling walked up to the living room window and squinted at Espurr through the windowpanes. This time she had a book in her paws, and… was that Pancham and Shelmet following her? And did they have books too?

Now Deerling was curious. Her distaste of Pancham’s advances made her think twice about calling out and asking what they were doing, but that didn’t mean she didn’t intend to find out anyway.

“Hey Mom!“ she called. “I’m going out!”

“It’s about time,” Mother called from another room of the house. “I don’t know what you’ve been doing in here, holed up all da—“

The front door of Deerling’s house closed behind Deerling, cutting Mother off. Deerling twitched her ears, then slowly began to follow the three pokemon as they continued south.

~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts

~Goomy~

“W-where’s this going?” Goomy asked, riding in the wagon that Tricky was nonchalantly pulling along with her mouth. He was so light that she almost didn’t even feel his added weight to the trolley.

“Goinff to pick uph fingles,” Tricky said, her mouth full with the wagon’s pull-along handle. “why foo ‘ere?”

“I-I wanted something to do,” Goomy said. Tricky hummed in acknowledgement, and then the next minute or so was silent in between them. Tricky couldn’t talk much with the handle in her mouth.

Eventually, they reached the spot where the shingles lay next to the bush, and Tricky quickly spat out the handle of the cart and looked around for Diggersby. She only saw the cases of shingles on the ground.

“Huh…” Tricky muttered to herself. “I guess he left it.” She picked up the cases of shingles one by one and stacked them on the cart next to Goomy. “Can you make sure those don’t fall off?” she asked. Goomy nodded.

“What are a-all these for?” Goomy asked before Tricky could pick up the cart handle again.

“Oh right!!” Tricky exclaimed. “You don’t know! We’re building a treehouse! Me and Espurr! You wanna join us?”

Goomy thought on it for a moment. He knew Deerling had said never to talk or play with Tricky, but a treehouse sounded fun and he had already gone out with Tricky all this way… how much more could it hurt? And so he nodded.

“Alright then!” Tricky exclaimed gleefully. “We’re going straight there!”

She picked up the handle of the trolley in her mouth and began to sprint through the trees once again.

It was already almost sundown by the time that Tricky finally rolled the wagon back up to the wagons of other supplies that lay around the clearing. She finally spat out the handle, dramatically spitting the rest of her slobber into the soil beside her. Goomy slowly slimed himself off the wagon, looking around at all the tarped supplies.

“A-are we there?” he asked.

“Yep,” Tricky replied. She yawned. “We’re just waiting for Espurr now—“

“Present.”

Both Tricky and Goomy looked towards the underbrush to their right. Espurr pushed a couple of ferns aside as she walked into the clearing. Tricky noticed the book that Espurr was holding under her arm. Her eyes bugged out, but not because of the book- but at Pancham and Shelmet, who stepped out from behind Espurr.

“What are you guys doing here?” she asked, glaring at them.

Pancham leaned against a tree. “We’re bored,” he said. “What are you doing here?”

“They helped us get this,” said Espurr, showing Tricky the treehouse manual.

“Some pretty neat stuff you’ve got here,” Pancham said, peeking under the tarps that Espurr and Tricky had used to cover all their supplies. “What’re you building with all this stuff—a treehouse?”

Silent nods and glares all directed at him accompanied the silence in the room.

“Alright,” Pancham said, slapping the lumber he was next to idly. “Sick.”

“What’s all this about?” All five of the kids in the clearing looked in the same direction. Deerling brushed the ferns out of her face as she trotted into the clearing.

Tricky was fuming by now. “Why are you here?!” she half-asked, half-yelled. “This was supposed to be our place! Our team base! Not yours!”

Deerling scoffed. “I couldn’t care less about your stupid team base. I just wanted to know what you were all up to.” She looked at Goomy. “And you shouldn’t be playing with them. Don’t you know it’s dangerous?”

Goomy said nothing. Deerling began to walk away. “Come on,” she said. “I don’t want you playing with them. You shouldn’t be here.”

And that was the point where Goomy decided: he didn’t want to be pushed around by Deerling anymore.

“N-no,” he said. “I-I don’t want to.”

“What?” Deerling stopped in her tracks, genuinely surprised. She turned around. “Goomy, it’s dangerous. You’re going to get hurt.”

“N-no I won’t,” Goomy said.

“Yeah!” Tricky shouted after Deerling. “He can play with who he wants!”

Deerling scoffed. “He can, but he shouldn’t. Not if it’s dangerous for him. That’s something you could stand to learn, ‘Tricky’.”

“You just can’t move on from that, can you?!” Tricky yelled at Deerling.

“You killed a ‘mon!” Deerling screamed back. “How could you expect anymon to trust you ever again?”

“Espurr does,” Tricky retorted.

“Espurr doesn’t count!”

No-mon knew what to say to that. There was a brief moment of silence between everymon in the area as they remembered Budew. Deerling fumed silently.

“I-I don’t want to play with you,” said Goomy, swallowing his stutter. “I want to play with Tricky. And you can’t make me leave.”

That was the last straw. Something in Deerling snapped. She took a deep breath, and then silently marched all the way back to Tricky, looking the most angered that Espurr had ever seen her in her life. “Alright, fine,” she said, in a voice that sounded like it was barely keeping itself reigned in. “Artemis ‘Tricky’ Carracosta, I challenge you to a duel.”

“I accept,” Tricky said. “Bring it.”

The next half-hour was spent clearing all the supplies back into the woods so that it wouldn’t get destroyed.

“What’s a duel?” Espurr asked Pancham as the two of them moved the lumber back into a safe spot behind some ferns.

“It’s when a townymon battles another townymon,” Pancham said. “First ‘mon to faint or get pushed out of the ring loses. And the loser has to do whatever the winner says they do before the battle.” He set the lumber down without warning, causing Espurr to struggle under the weight for a moment before she managed to set her end down. “Them’s street rules. This’ll be fun.”

Espurr just kept her eyes trained on what was now the battlefield, as the four not-participating pokemon gathered outside the ring to watch. Deerling and Tricky slowly approached each other from opposite sides of the clearing, until they were so close to each other that they could have touched noses.

“If I win,” Deerling said, keeping her voice level. “You’ll never talk to me or Goomy ever again.”

“And if I win,” Tricky said. “Then… then…” for a moment she struggled to come up with any kind of victory claim. But then an idea occurred to her, and her eyes settled straight on Deerling’s. “…If I win, then you have to be friends with both of us.”

Deerling looked a bit surprised by Tricky’s proposal, but she didn’t comment on it. “Then it’s settled. I hope you were paying attention in Dungeon Class.”

And then she turned and walked to the other side of the battlefield. Tricky did the same. They began to circle each other slowly, each keeping a close eye on the other.

Tricky moved first. She dashed towards Deerling, her mouth alight with flame—

—But Deerling kicked her straight in the face. Tricky stumbled back. Immediately she got up again, leaping for Deering and making the same mistake that she had made just a few seconds earlier- Deerling spun around with an agility that didn’t seem possible for a creature of her stature, using her hind legs to send Tricky flying back across the ring.

It took a moment for Tricky to gather her bearings after having been knocked against a tree. She tried to get up as quickly as possible—she was an explorer! She had fought dozens of dungeon ‘mon off and lived to tell the tale! She couldn’t lose to Deerling!

Tricky came to her senses just in time to avoid another kick from Deerling; this time to the face. Deerling ended up slashing the bark off the tree with her hind legs, while Tricky ducked under her and spit an ember in Deerling’s face once she emerged out the other end. For a moment, Tricky felt like celebrating- that must have been it! Deerling had never been in a real battle, after al—

—Deerling headbutted Tricky right in the face like nothing had happened. Tricky fell on her back in the ground. She rolled over before Deerling could charge into her, getting to her feet and desperately looking for a place to hide so she could recuperate, but there were none. None that didn’t involve her running off the battlefield and forfeiting. For the first time in her life, Tricky felt trapped—

—She narrowly avoided another kick from Deerling, who had somehow snuck up beside her without her noticing.

“You can’t keep running!” Deerling yelled as Tricky ran. “This is going to end eventually!”

Tricky thought she could. Maybe Deerling would get tired! And then she could—

—Kick. Deerling galloped full force towards Tricky and managed to cut her off just as she swerved to avoid running off the battlefield. Tricky flew clean across the battlefield and landed in a heap on the other side. She wheezed. She didn’t think she was going to get back up…

Espurr watched the entire thing, wincing. Several times she had contemplated intervening, but she wasn’t stupid. Intervening probably meant that Tricky forfeited the duel. Besides, this was Tricky’s fight, not hers.

Tricky panted. Her vision was blurry, either from the dust or because she felt like fainting. Maybe both. Even without perfect vision, she could tell that Deerling was walking towards her. How long did she have before Deerling finished her off?

Not long. Tricky was beginning to tremble all over. She was getting her tail kicked! How would Espurr win this! By… by…

…By thinking calmly and figuring out the best way to tackle the situation.

The clopping of hooves. Berry crackers—That was Deerling! She was going to—

“Are you down?” Deerling asked. Tricky didn’t respond. Maybe…

“I can see you blinking,” Deerling spat. “Are you down?”

Tricky suddenly rushed up, diving under Deerling and summoning an ember in her mouth. Before Deerling could move she spat it up into the air, searing the bottom of Deerling’s chest. Deerling let out a loud cry, quickly moving away from where Tricky was laying. “You—“ she started angrily. “You—“

Tricky released another ember that hit Deerling in the face. Enraged, Deerling screamed and began to charge straight at her. Tricky ran backwards all the way across the ring, and then jumped out of the way at the last second. Deerling headbutted a tree.

Both pokemon quickly returned to the opposite side of the battlefield. Deerling was glaring daggers at Tricky, but Tricky could see a new wariness in her eyes—it was a fair fight now.

Deerling made the next move. She charged forward, and Tricky prepared to sidestep her, but at the last moment, she opened her mouth, and a beam of bright green light shot out and clipped a largish branch off the tree above Tricky. It fell fast – When Tricky noticed she was barely able to dart out from under it in time – and Deerling met her with a painful kick to the face once she got out of it.

Tricky flew to the side, but managed to regain her bearings mid-air and land on her feet. Deerling was on the other side of the battlefield, looking almost as beat-up as Tricky was. Completely through with each other, both pokemon charged and met in the middle of the battlefield.

In the end, it never was clear who won the duel. By the time that Espurr and Pancham and the rest of them pulled the two apart, they were weakly batting at each other and not even using proper Moves anymore. Neither of them had the energy to object when they were pulled off each other.

~\({O})/~

“So who won?” Tricky limped alongside Espurr as the six of them continued on the path home. It was sundown already, and at the pace they were going it would likely be dark by the time all of them entered the village square.

“I don’t know,” Espurr replied. She honestly didn’t. “What if neither of you did?”

“Well, then it’s a draw,” Tricky said. “And that means… both pokemon have to…” she went silent after that, her eyes wide open in an expression Espurr was reading as horror.

“…Both pokemon have to… what?” Espurr prompted.

“Both pokemon have to obey the other’s claim,” Tricky said.

~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Square

Just as Espurr had predicted, night had already fallen by the time that they entered the village again. Everymon went their separate ways: Goomy to the northwest, Deerling to the south, Pancham and Shelmet to a house just east of the square, and Tricky to the west. Tricky said nothing to Espurr, parting ways with her silently after all the other ‘mon had already left.

Even Kecleon was packing up. He nodded politely in her direction as he stepped out of his shack; hobbling down towards the south portion of town. And then Espurr was left all alone in the square.

She was about to walk in the direction of Audino’s house when suddenly, there was a rustling from behind one of the buildings. Espurr spun on her feet, glancing towards the building it had come from silently. Was somemon else here with her?

Espurr heard rustling once more, and then Eevee trotted out into the square; her fur looking ragged and full of sticks and dirt.

“I… have been looking all day… for you,” she panted, looking straight at Espurr. She pointedly shook herself off, and the sack that was strapped to her back fell to the ground with a metallic clank.

Espurr looked Eevee up and down, taking in the dirtiness of her coat.

“Alright, here’s the deal,” said Eevee. “You need nails, right? Well, I’ve got. I’ll trade you. All the nails in this sack—” she kicked the sack with a hind leg “—for half that lumber.” Before Espurr could say a thing, she drew a raggedy breath: “Don’t cross me, brat child.”

The ‘danger’ vibes that Espurr was picking up off Eevee were high and strong, so she nodded as quickly as she could without making it look like she was frightened out of her wits.

“I’ll take you there in the morning,” she said, pronouncing the words slowly so that she didn’t fumble them. Eevee stayed silent, flicking her muddy mane wordlessly and then trotting off into the shadows. She swiped the bag of nails up with her mouth and threw them onto her back fluidly as she went.

Espurr waited out there an entire minute before quickly diving into Audino’s house, just to make sure Eevee didn’t figure out where she was living and come back for her.

~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts ~ Morning

“Great. Thanks. Displeasure doing business with you,” Eevee said, lugging half the load of lumber away with Espurr and Tricky’s wagon. Espurr clutched the sack of what looked like more nails than they would ever need in their lifetime in her paw, glancing at Eevee trotting off in the distance. Granted, she probably should have followed to retrieve the wagon, but that felt like pushing her luck with a pokemon who was already off-the-wall-crazy and she didn’t feel like doing that. The lumber they had left was more than enough to build the treehouse, anyway.

The manual was simple. And with the help of Pancham, who could easily haul and carry a lot things when the need suited him, the six of them had constructed half the treehouse by the time that the sun began to go down. Pancham stood back, looking at their hard work.

“Hope it doesn’t rain tomorrow,” he commented wryly.

“You just have the best comments for everything,” Tricky shot back with a hint of annoyance.

Pancham shrugged. “What? It’s my thing.”

Deerling stayed silent the entire day. She didn’t do much to help them, outside of move from place to place to make space for new supplies arrangements and carry the occasional thing, but at least she had shown up. No-mon talked to her either.

It was sundown, and everymon had already packed up and went home. Tricky took a seat next to Deerling, panting from all the work that she had been doing. Deerling didn’t move.

For a moment, the both of them sat in silence, tolerating each other’s presence but refusing to acknowledge it. Then, Tricky spoke: “I’m sorry. Even if you still hate me.”

“’Sorry’ doesn’t replace a ‘mon’s life, Tricky,” Deerling said. “I don’t know how you can think that.”

“I know.” Tricky curled up on the ground, burying her snout in her tail. “I know, and I’m sorry anyway.”

“So why do you keep doing it?”

“Doing what?”

“Going into mystery dungeons. Dragging your friends along, like it’s some joyride. You of all pokemon should know it isn’t. Do you want to see another pokemon die?”

“No,” Tricky said. “Of course I don’t. And… that’s why Espurr and I formed a rescue team.”

“And a “rescue team” is different from what you’ve been doing before how?”

“Because it's not a joyride,” Tricky said. “Rescue Teams save pokemon. We go into dungeons to do the things that everymon else can't. And one day, I’m going to walk into a dungeon, and I’m going to save… not Budew…”

Never Budew.

“But—but another ‘mon just like him. And then no-mon will ever have to go through what we did again.”

"Unless you die first."

"I'm prepared for that. And so is everymon who goes with me."

Deerling had to understand. She had to understand that this was the only way Tricky could live with herself; she’d buried these memories for so long and now they were all coming back and she’d never be happy again unless she could make up somehow for Budew’s life and this was the only way—

“Whatever.” Deerling scoffed. “If you want to get yourself killed in a dungeon, then fine by me. Just don’t drag other pokemon into it.”

She got up and clopped towards the path back to town.

“Wait!” Tricky leapt up from her spot on the ground, running up before Deerling could disappear into the woods completely. “I’m not done yet!”

Deerling sighed, but she stopped.

“Fine. One minute. Say what you have to say.” She kept her back to Tricky.

“I want you to stop telling other pokemon to avoid me,” she said. “You can hate me all you want, and maybe I deserve it, but that doesn’t mean you get to go around telling others they shouldn’t be friends with me.”

“Well, maybe they shouldn’t,” Deerling replied. “Not if it gets them killed.”

“When did you decide pokemon just hanging out with me get killed??” Tricky raised her voice. She couldn’t help it.

“When hanging out with you did!”

The exchange was followed by silence. It took a moment before Deerling said anything else.

“I just… I don’t want to see Goomy get hurt,” she continued. “Or Espurr, that new kid you’ve been pushing around for two weeks. She’s getting reckless now. Or anymon else.”

“I know.” Tricky was calm and level. “I don’t wanna see anymon else get hurt either.”

“Then tell me,” Deerling said. “Where does it stop?”

“With me.”

Another bout of silence.

“I—I know I’ve done a lot of bad stuff,” Tricky began with a stutter. “I got somemon killed. I put other pokemon in danger. I can’t bring him back, and I’m really sorry, and I’m sad that he’s gone too, and I still have nightmares about it, but I’m trying to get better anyway. I’m going to be better. So even if you can’t stop hating me… please just let me get better in peace. That’s all I want.”

Deerling stood in place, completely silent. She didn’t respond. Tricky could hear her grinding her teeth.

It was much longer than a minute.

“…Okay?” Tricky prompted uncertainly.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” Deerling finally said.

That was good enough.

~\({O})/~

From Wartortle’s Guide to Dungeoneering: Pokemon Duel

Sometimes, a dispute between fellow explorers grows to a point where it can no longer be settled with words. When this happens, the conflict must be settled by other means: a duel.

Music of the Week!

Jaws: End Titles
– John Williams
 
Last edited:
Chapter 17 - Fright Night

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter17Art.png


"Baram Town was not equipped to handle the monumental amount of requests thrown our way after the guild collapsed. The supplies are there, sitting in our docks, but we don't have enough pokemon to take them across the continent. HAPPI hasn't responded to our requests for additional support."

~ Mayor Honchkrow of Baram Town


~\({O})/~

17.

Fright Night


~\({O})/~

Capim Town ~ Grass Continent

~Buizel~

There weren’t many distractions flying around in Buizel’s head when he decided to focus on a mission, but sometimes he honestly had to wonder why Archen was the off-continent explorer instead of him. The bird was cranky half the time and standoffish the other half, and he had an aversion to mystery dungeons like Buizel had never understood.

All of that was without mentioning that the Expedition Society would save a fortune in Lapras fares if Buizel had Archen’s spot.

He could probably get Archen’s spot if he asked for it. It was technically a rank above him, but Buizel had been performing missions with a near-perfect track record for just about a year, and a promotion was probably in order. But on the other hand, getting a promotion meant getting on the executive staff. And being on the executive staff meant paperwork. And missions with Mawile. And everymon knew Mawile sucked the fun out of missions with her organization.

Surfacing briefly for a breath of air, Buizel took in the large landmass he was currently jetting towards. He quickly changed his direction, rocketing due east instead. It was the Grass Continent, alright. Now all he had to do was find a dock to properly surface on.

When he wasn’t exploring the deep sea and helping to map the off-land portions of the world out, Buizel did a lot of grunt work meant to help pay the Expedition Society’s bills. He counterbalanced that by purposefully choosing missions that took him far off-continent and to remote places of the world. He had even helped Archen with mapping duty a couple of times (the cranky bird still owed him seven for that).

This mission was easy surfing. Buizel had taken it because he’d been itching for a good, long swim after being cooped up with bossy Dedenne for over a week, and the swim to Grass was about as far as any of the missions on the board went. It wasn’t anything complicated. A quilava had dropped a precious keepsake into the bay, and wanted the help of a determined water-type to get it back—oh, there was a dock.

The dock was made of unvarnished, unsmoothed wood. There weren’t even any steps to climb up onto it easily from the water. It took Buizel a minute to get up onto the dock, and a few seconds more to find stable footing on the uneven surface. He quickly shook himself off, then continued on towards the town in the distance.

Capim Town wasn’t anything to write home about, but Grass was poor in general. There were none of the emera-powered lampposts of Lively Town, but no luminous moss streetlamps existed either. Most of the houses had been made of massive tree stumps that been uprooted from their original resting places and carved out from the inside, and the signs were in footprint runes instead of unown. Buizel walked across the log bridges that spanned the many tree stumps that made up the town’s squares and walkways, using his rudimentary knowledge of how to read footprint runes to try and locate the tavern. His client would be waiting there for him, according to the request.

Actually, Buizel wanted to double-check that. It was always better to be safe than sorry. At least the mission request was in Unown. He turned his attention away from the bridge he was about to step off to unzip the waterproof bag Jirachi had designed for him and dig out the note. It took a while, but eventually he pulled out the note, which had been written on a piece of papyrus.

‘Looking for a water-type willing to recover my lost heirloom for me,’ the note read. ‘20000 Poke reward. Will give more details in person. I will be waiting in the tavern in Capim Town for the next two weeks to see if anyone accepts my request. -- Quilava.”

Buizel relaxed. His client was in the tavern, then. He stuck the paper back in his bag, struggling to rezip the bag back up. Let’s see… he had only bothered to even try to learn footprint runes at Mawile’s request, but he was pretty sure footprint runes for ‘tavern’ were—

Squish. Everything in Buizel’s head came to a screeching halt. He hadn’t stepped in…

He had. Buizel slowly lifted his foot out of a pile of dung that sat several meters off the path. He grimaced and carefully wiped his foot off on the ground beside that. He had forgotten pokemon on the Grass Continent did… that… now he remembered why he hadn’t taken a mission here in so long.

On the other paw, it did alert him that in his reading, he had strayed off the path. He was a good distance away from the town at this point, heading towards the forests.

The badge pinned to his chest drew some looks as he walked into the more populated town square. Some were curious, others dirty. Buizel knew why, knew what they were thinking: Explorer. Shiny metal badges meant HAPPI-affiliated guilds, and HAPPI wasn’t a popular topic on Grass. It was probably a smarter option not to wear a foreign guild badge on this continent, but Buizel didn't care. If somemon wanted to pick a fight over it, let them. He was itching for one anyway.

The main cluster of stumps and traditional buildings that made up the town square was in the distance. Luckily, Buizel had remembered the footprint runes for ‘tavern’, and it was one of the first non-stump buildings he saw when he got closer to the square. He ducked through the door, stopping for a moment to squint at the paw-woven cloth they had covering the entrance. Did they not have doors here?

The tavern was lit by torches that hung from the walls. What little light was inside the dimly-lit building flickered often and made it hard to see. Still off-put by the event that had occurred outside the town, Buizel made sure to check the floors well before taking his next steps. Once he was sure he wouldn’t be stepping in any more piles of dung (at least Grass Continentals kept the stuff out of their towns), Buizel turned his attention to the pokemon in the bar. There were many grass types, but a few bug types and the odd water-type were there as well, and the bartender was an octillery. It didn’t take long for Buizel to locate the quilava sitting on the stool in the back of the bar. A fire type amongst all those grass, bug, and water types stuck out like a sore paw.

Buizel quickly strode over to Quilava’s table, clutching his bag close to him as he went. A plate of slightly seared berries and vegetables sat in front of the quilava, but they were barely picking at it. Buizel made sure to clear his throat to get the quilava’s attention after stopping in front of its table.

Quilava looked up, quickly straightening himself when he noticed Buizel. Buizel quickly opened his bag and produced the mission slip, sticking it on the table in front of Quilava.

“Is this you?” he asked bluntly. A straight question was blunter, but it got to the point.

Quilava slowly took the slip of paper in his paws, holding it up to his face. “Yes. Tha’s me.”

“Great.” Buizel held out his paw to shake. He held it there for a moment, waiting for the quilava to grab it. When Quilava did no such thing, Buizel retracted it. “Look, I’m sorry—can we get a move on? We’re burning daylight.”

Quilava looked down awkwardly at his plate of roasted berries. Buizel felt a mix of impatience and annoyance flood him. He glanced around the bar to make sure they weren’t catching wandering eyes and ears, then took a seat opposite the quilava. “Alright then. Brief me while you eat. That way we can save time once we reach the coast.”

Quilava looked down at his plate once more. He picked up a fork, speared a strawberry, and put it in his mouth.

“T'was ten days ago,” Quilava started, having swallowed the berry while Buizel was stewing. “Ah was fishin’ off tha coast to tha east of Capim Town.”


~\({O})/~

Whip. The fishing line soared through the air, flying gracefully for a few seconds before entering the water with a ‘plonk’ that barely met Quilava’s ears. That was good. That meant the line was far enough out, and he was going home with a nice big fish to surprise the butcher with. Or maybe he’d roast it himself for dinner tonight. He hadn’t eaten fish in a while. That sounded good…

Quilava laid down on the rocks, staring up at the sky. The necklace on his neck jangled softly with his movements. It was solid gold, with a radiant fire stone encrusted in the middle. The necklace was a precious family heirloom, bought by one of Quilava’s ancestors who had not realized quilava didn't evolve by stone but had enough money to get it encrusted in metal anyway. It had been entrusted to Quilava by his parents when he became old enough to leave their den out in the wild, and Quilava had never parted with it since. The residents of Capim Town had long since grown used to seeing the image of a quilava walking around with a thick golden chain hanging around its neck, especially a quilava that hunted for the butcher often. Although in his recent days he had taken more to fishing, once predator pokemon more capable than him had moved to the village. When everymon had their sights set on the large prey like bison, no-mon thought about the fish, and Quilava liked it that way.

A loud
boom in the sky shook Quilava out of his idle thoughts. He quickly sat up, looking around frantically to find out where the boom had come from. Was it a battle between winged pokemon? He did not see any. Whatever it was, enough commotion and it might scare off his fish.

Then Quilava realized that in his franticness to find out where the boom had come from, he had neglected to look straight ahead. The sound of a loud whine from the air caught his ears, and Quilava quickly whipped his head towards the bay in front of him. And then he saw it: Something was falling from the sky. Something massive. And he was about to be caught in it!

That thought jerked Quilava into action. He forgot about his line. He forgot about the butcher, about the necklace, about the fish he wanted to eat for dinner, about anything that didn’t equate to getting out of there. Briefly falling back into his wild ways, Quilava abandoned the townie way of walking on one’s hind paws, scurrying away on all fours from the bay before he could get caught in the wreckage.

The object—whatever it was—hit the bay with an ear-killing splash, and Quilava tried to bolt for the trees in the distance. Too late he realized they were too far away and he wasn’t going to make it he should have headed for the cave instead—

The wave generated by the object’s powerful splash crashed into the shore and engulfed Quilava. For a few agonizing seconds Quilava was tumbling in the water, his head breaking the surface for one second and being dragged underwater the next, and then the wave receded and Quilava was left panting on the sand, completely waterlogged. He pulled himself to his feet once his body had regained the strength, shivering both from the cold of the water and the absolute fear of what had just happened to him. The massive object had sunk into the water, and Quilava was sure he would see no more of it.

He wanted to see no more of it.

Staying wet and cold was a hazard for fire types, so susceptible to water-borne diseases. Quilava shook himself off like they did in the wild, then ran back to Capim Town as fast as all four of his paws would take him.

Only after he was back in the safety of his hut and warming up in front of a warm fire did he realize that he had lost his family’s precious necklace.


~\({O})/~

Buizel sat back in the stool, his arms folded as he listened to Quilava’s story. It was the same old story many of his clients gave him—they were going about their day, something unfortunate happened, they got away but lost their valuable thing that they were willing to pay poke to get back. Cue the explorer. He nodded to give Quilava the impression that he was listening, though Buizel had gotten the necessary details already. Run of the mill retrieval mission. Solid gold necklace, that would be heavy enough to sink to the ocean floor. Fire stone in the middle, easy visual. No biggie. He looked at Quilava’s plate of berries, which was empty at this point.

Seeing that Quilava was done, Buizel rose from the stool and stretched.

“Alright then. Let’s stop wasting daylight.”

“Bu’…” Quilava looked down at his empty plate. “Ah hafta—“

“I’ll cover it.” Buizel opened his bag, dug in it, pulled out an amount of poke he didn’t know the worth of, didn’t care, but he was sure it would cover Quilava’s meal. This wasn’t Swanna Inn. “Let’s do this.”


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village

~Espurr~

A loud bang woke Espurr from her slumber. She sat up straight in her bed of straw, looking around the room that had recently become hers. No-mon was there. She could make out the outlines of the room’s sparse furniture, a dresser and a vacant bookshelf, but she was alone. Espurr kept a close eye on her surroundings anyway. This was not the first time that she had been woken like this.

For a moment, there was silence. And then the dresser began to rattle. Espurr looked at it. If something was in there…

It suddenly tipped over and collapsed onto the floor with a loud crash. Espurr let out an involuntary yelp and jumped back. And then, for a moment, it did look like there was somemon else in the room with her: the very faintish outline of a pokemon running directly towards her—

There wasn’t time to react. Espurr quickly hit the ground behind the bed, cowering. But the pokemon never came. She felt the whoosh of air, and then a slight funny feeling like something had just passed through her, and then the room was empty again.

The tarps were whipped off the orbs of luminous moss in Audino’s room, and Audino rushed in, looking around frantically.

“What happened??” she cried out. “Was it—was it… oh.” She slowly calmed down, looking between Espurr and the overturned dresser. “What happened?”

“T-the dresser fell down,” Espurr said. She wasn’t sure how to explain what else had just happened; how could she? So she didn’t.

Audino walked over, looking at the damage.

“It looks like the legs gave out,” she said, glancing at the snapped front legs of the dresser. “It must have just been old wood. We’ll replace it tomorrow. For now, sleep.”

Espurr tried to, even after Audino had gone back to her room and she lay curled up once more in the bed of straw. She found herself wide awake. Had she just been half dreaming somehow, and the dresser had fallen by coincidence? She glanced back at the overturned dresser. If so, that was a very convenient coincidence.

The idea of a coincidence helped her get to sleep better.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Square ~ Afternoon

“Errand day is usually Sunday, but it’s just about; we can have it a day early.” Audino and Espurr walked through the ever-crowded village square, which was bustling with pokemon all willing to do their shopping in the harsh summer sun so that they could get some of whatever rare imported Mist Continent delicacy Kecleon was offering this month. The Café Connection looked fairly busy as well, and the area of the square that housed Hawlucha’s Slam School was dead as always. Audino discreetly stretched as they both walked to the end of the line for Kecleon’s.

“It’s hot out today, isn’t it?” she asked. Espurr hadn’t remembered a day in which it hadn’t been hot outside of a mystery dungeon. The logs were missing from the square today. She was a bit disappointed—it had been a nice place to sit, while it had lasted.

“I wonder where all your friends went?” Audino broke the silence once more. “I usually see one or two of them hanging around by now.”

Espurr suddenly perked up. Did that mean…


~\({O})/~

“…And that’s a job well done.” Pancham brushed off his paws and gazed up at the finished treehouse. It looked sturdy. Enough.

“Are you guys sure you followed the manual?” Tricky asked sceptically. “The roof doesn’t look right…”

“Hey,” Pancham said. “Me and Shelmet have built treehouses before. We know what we’re doing.”

“I don’t think that was the right way to put the shingles on,” Tricky said.

“Whatchu talking about?” Pancham asked, leaning against a tree. “The shingles look fine. Want my opinion? That manual can go mu—“

“That looks wrong,” Espurr said five minutes later, glancing up at the roof shingles.

“See?!” Tricky cried triumphantly. “I told you!”

“Guys,” Pancham insisted. “It’s fine.”

Deerling shook her head. “No it’s not,” she said.

“Yeah it is.”

“No, it’s not.”

“Prove me wrong.”

“Prove you wrong? Have you ever been right?”

“Go out with me and I’ll let you have the last laugh.”

“Ha! You wish.”

“G-guys—“

“That’s not the right way to apply roof shingles!”

“There’s a manual!”

“G-guys—“

“Alright!” Pancham threw up his paws. “Have it your way. I’m not putting them back straight.”

Espurr leaned back against a tree, rubbing her head with her paws. “They’re back straight,” she said, not even bothering to open her eyes. The rest of the children all glanced behind themselves at Espurr. Then they all looked at the rooftop of the treehouse, and saw that the roof shingles had indeed all been reversed and put on the other way. Then there was a moment of silence as everyone tried to process that.

“I-I tried to tell you,” Goomy meekly pointed out.


~\({O})/~

“What’s that thing?” Pancham put down the old, title-less book he’d gotten tired of reading, glancing lazily at the other side of the treehouse where Espurr and Tricky were fiddling with the Expedition Gadget.

“It’s our expedition gadget,” Tricky said, not even looking up at Pancham. “We use it for exploring.”

“What’s it do?” Pancham asked, obviously not satisfied.

“I just told you,” Tricky said, standoffish. “We use it for exploring.”

Pancham was silent for a minute.

“So what do you do when you go exploring?” he asked.

Espurr saw the look on Deerling’s face sour. They had been sitting rather quietly in the treehouse for a couple of hours, all doing their own things but not really talking to one another. It had been so long since the six of them had been in one room together that they didn’t know how to coexist anymore.

Tricky eventually broke the silence between them. “Stuff,” she said, making it clear she didn’t want to continue the conversation.

“What kind of stuff?” Pancham pressed.

“Stuff,” Tricky repeated. “Exploring stuff.”

“So tell me what exploring stuff is.”

“Let’s talk about something else,” Deerling quickly cut in before anymon else could say anything.

Tricky went silent, and then everymon stayed that way.


~\({O})/~

It was sundown. Even though the treehouse had been finished, the day was spent in silence between the six of them. Espurr had started the day in relatively high spirits, but before long the waves of negativity from everymon in that room had begun to get to her, and she’d silently excused herself from the treehouse to take a break from it.

It seemed they just weren’t ready to become friends yet.

They all walked back to Serenity Village in groups of two. Espurr and Tricky stuck together, Pancham and Shelmet walked ahead of them in a group, and Deerling and Goomy were in the front. Even from a distance Espurr could feel the negativity encroaching upon her brain, so she said something to Tricky just to stave it off for a little while: “That salamence mission is still up.”

Tricky didn’t respond immediately, but Espurr could already see the gears whirring in her head. She yawned. “Maybe we can go tomorrow...”

The six of them all split up at the village square, and then the haze of feel-bad thoughts that had been plaguing Espurr’s head for nearly the whole day finally lifted. She could think clearly again for what felt like the first time in hours, and her mood was high as she walked into Audino’s house.

Nothing visited her room that night.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts

~Eevee~

It wasn’t the new moon yet, but it was close. Eevee quietly trotted through the forest, followed by Fletchinder. The moonlight was just bright enough that they could see where they were trudging, as well as where all the trees were.

“Are you sure we have permission for this?” Fletchinder asked uneasily, stepping around one of the ferns. Up on the hill in the distance, they could see the ever-dark school buildings looming over them all. “I’m not getting in trouble because you want to cover your tail.”

"They won't mind," Eevee said. "No-mon’s gonna notice if we chop down a tree this far out in the woods. You get your lumber, I file some paperwork, that’s both our tails covered. No-mon’s gonna know.”

A stick cracked in the distance, and something pushed apart some foliage. Eevee snapped her head in the direction of the sound, but then dismissed it. There were lots of animals around this portion of the Continent.

“What if somemon notices the stump later?” Fletchinder asked.

“No-mon is gonna care,” Eevee said. “They’ll just think a storm did it or something.” She walked up to the base of a tree and swiped some of the bark off with her claws. “This one. You chop it down, I’ll debark it.”

“…Chop it down?” Fletchinder asked. “How do you expect me to chop it down?”

“You’re a carpenter, how do you usually chop lumber?” Eevee responded.

“Well, I have tools I use…” Fletchinder said.

“And you didn’t think to bring them?” Eevee groaned. “I told you what we were going to do before we walked out all this way to do it!”

Swish. Both Eevee and Fletchinder went silent. That wasn’t too far off from where they were currently.

“Did you hear that?” Fletchinder whispered.

“No duh I heard it,” Eevee said in the same hushed voice. “Stupid animal thinks it’s got the jump on us.” She turned around. “Whatever. We need to go back for your tools; we’ll come back later after it’s gone away. Sound—“

She stopped abruptly. A frozen expression hung on Fletchinder’s beak, and he stared right through her. It was then that Eevee noticed the multicolored lights reflecting off his face, and thought to turn around. Red, green, yellow…

Their petrified statues preserved their silent screams for eternity.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village ~ Daytime

~Tricky~

“We have to take this one,” Espurr said. She and Tricky were up bright and early, long before any sane ‘mon would be awake in the middle of summertime. The morning breeze gently blew Tricky’s scruffy fur all out of shape, and the sun cast the town square into warm shades of yellow and long shadows. Tricky yawned, blinking her eyes back into focus to read what the expedition gadget was projecting onto the wall.

“It’s an outlaw mission,” Espurr continued. “We’re supposed to hunt down and capture a salamence in the Lush Forest that’s keeping several hostages. The mission recommends we have at least three pokemon on our team to take it, but aside from the outlaw the dungeon isn’t dangerous.”

Tricky had to face away from the wind so that her ear fluff didn’t keep getting in her eyes. Maybe this was why she was supposed to trim it.

“What about the reward?” she asked.

“A bunch of poke from the families of the hostages,” Espurr said. Tricky’s ears perked up immediately at the mention of all the shiny gold coins. There was just one thing in the way.

“Can we take it with just two?” she asked.

“The mission strongly recommended three,” Espurr said. “It’s a lot of stars. I was thinking we could ask—

“Yo.”

Both Tricky and Espurr glanced in the direction of the voice. Pancham sauntered up from the east, holding his slingshot behind his back. Tricky could see the stretchy part hanging behind him despite his best efforts to hide it. But more importantly…

“What are you doing here?” she asked, not even making an effort to hide her spite.

“I always get up bright and early,” Pancham said nonchalantly, with that smug look on his face. “What are you doing here?”

Tricky fumed, but didn’t answer. A few tendrils of smoke escaped her ear.

“A-anyway,” Pancham said, blanching a bit under Tricky’s murderous glare. “You guys wanted a third pokemon for something?”

Espurr jumped on the opportunity before Tricky could turn him down.

“We’re going on an outlaw mission. We need at least three pokemon to take it. It’s going to be dangerous, so know what you’re walking into before you say yes.”

“Sounds cool,” Pancham said, with his paws behind his head. “I’m in.”

“Hold up. No-mon said you could be in,” Tricky growled. She immediately pulled Espurr aside, huddling in close where Pancham couldn’t see.

“We can’t bring him!” she hissed. “Anymon but him!”

“He’s who I was going to ask,” Espurr said. “I don’t like him either, but we need all the help we can get. And that slingshot of his is pretty useful.”

“But—But—B—”

Tricky dug her paws into the ground and bore holes into it with her eyes, growling.

“Fiiiine,” she groaned. “We’ll take him. But only for this mission!”

“I’m standing right here, you know,” Pancham said. His arms were folded now.

“I know that!”

“C-can I go too?”

Espurr, Tricky, and Pancham all looked to the west. Goomy was sliming up in their direction, looking a little exhausted.

“Goomy? Why are you up?” Tricky asked, tilting her head in confusion.

“Yeah, why are you up?” Pancham echoed.

“T-to get away from D-deerling,” Goomy said. “I-I heard you guys talking. I wanna go too.”

“Are you sure?” Espurr interjected. “We’re going to fight an outlaw. It’ll be dangerous.”

“I know,” Goomy said, mustering everything he could to stay confident. “T-that’s why I want to go. I’m not fast, but… I c-can take it.”

Tricky suddenly felt unsure about all of this. Pancham could hold his own, but she wasn’t so sure about Goomy…

And now that she thought about it harder, what were a group of kids going to do up against a big, huge outlaw anyway? Especially one that had hostages? Maybe this really was a bad idea.

“Maybe we shouldn’t go,” she finally said. “I’m not feeling so good about this anymore.”

“B-because of me?” Goomy stammered.

Tricky wanted to say no, but she knew the answer was yes. Because she wasn’t going to get two more pokemon killed on her count. Because she had promised to stop.

Memories flashed up again, and she tried to suppress them, to forget. But forgetting meant going back, and she couldn’t go back. Not again.

“We just can’t go,” she said. “And that’s final.”

“Well, if you’re gonna be such a killjoy about it…” Pancham grumbled. He folded his arms and walked off in another direction, not that Tricky was sad to see him go. If there was one good thing about this, it meant not hanging around Pancham for an entire afternoon. Goomy looked similarly disappointed, but he slimed off all the same.

“Why the change of heart?” Espurr asked, watching Goomy slime off.

“What business do we have going up against an outlaw?” Tricky asked. “It’s dangerous. We can’t keep doing that. We said we’d only take small, harmless things, remember?”

“But what about the hostages?” Espurr stressed. “We’re the only ones in the valley who are going to do anything about it. We can’t just leave them.”

“But we could become hostages too!” Tricky countered. “Or, worse…”

Dead.

The silence hung over them for a few more minutes. Only the wind blowing some leaves away in the Village Square, and the few other villagers who were beginning to wake up in their houses made any noise.

“Still...” Espurr folded her own arms, leaning against the house. “We can’t just do nothing. What’s the point of taking these missions if we ignore it when pokemon are in danger?”

“What if… what if it didn’t have to be us?” Tricky asked.

“How do you mean?” Espurr said.

“What if we brought somemon from outside the valley to do it?” Tricky replied. “Send a letter to Lively Town, with some poke so they’ll put it on the board?”

“Isn’t it already on the board?” Espurr asked.

“Only the one for this valley,” said Tricky. “But if we send it to Lively Town, the police will notice it. And the police can arrest an outlaw themselves!”

Police… Espurr had never heard of them before.

“Are the police more powerful than a rescue team?” she asked.

“Well, they’ve gotta be!” Tricky exclaimed. “The police sometimes get rescue teams to do the work for them, but they can arrest outlaws. They put bounty hunters out of business! If we send it to them, they’ll definitely notice it. And they’ll send a team there to deal with it!”

“Then all we have to figure out is…” Espurr trailed off. “How do we send a letter?”

Tricky’s brow furrowed, as she realized she didn’t know how to send a letter either. She’d never done it, and there wasn’t a letter-sending building anywhere around here.

“Wellll…” she began after a minute. “We could always ask…”

“Welcome to the Kecleon Sho—Oh. It’s you two again.”

It was a little past high noon in the square, and the place was filled with its usual hustle and bustle. Kecleon looked down at Espurr and Tricky, who were once again barely able to see over the counter.

“Can you mail something for us?” Espurr asked.

“W-well…” Kecleon . “It’ll cost a little extra, I don’t usually handle mail requests, but, sure. What are you mailing?”

Espurr sat a letter on the wooden counter.

“We want to send this to Lively Town.”

Kecleon looked down at the letter, which bulged with more than paper. Picking it up in his green claws, he felt the weight of and heard the tell-tale clink of coins within the envelope. The clinking of more coins on a wooden surface peeled his attention away from the envelope, seeing that the espurr had just put more than enough coins onto the counter to pay the envelope fee.

With a shaky nod, Kecleon set the envelope aside. “I can mail this for you early as tomorrow! Let me count your change…”

A payday was a payday, but he couldn’t help but feel a growing fear as he counted out the golden coins that were his and slid the rest of the pile back towards the two children. This was more pocket change than most adults had. Where were two kids getting this much money from… ?


~\({O})/~

~Goomy~

Goomy had gotten up six hours early with the purpose of getting away from Deerling for a little while, but he hadn’t really thought it through past that. Which left him with six or so hours he didn’t know how to fill. There were quiet activities he liked to do like watching fish in the lake just off the town square, but he didn’t know if there’d be any fish this early…

Now that he’d been tempted with whatever Espurr and Tricky were doing, all the stuff he’d usually do wasn’t interesting anymore. The two of them were always running off together nowadays, and they were doing cool things like building a treehouse and going off on adventures. He would love to go with them. But they probably didn’t want him along because he wasn’t much better on adventures than a pile of goo, and he couldn’t blame them. He was so… slow, and slimy, and too meek to ever defend himself properly. Half the time everymon was busy saving him instead. He deflated with a sigh, going flat and dragging himself in a lump towards the near beach of the lake that lay just off the Village Square. Maybe there were some fish out on the pond at this hou—

“Goomy!”

Goomy’s antennae perked up at the sound of Tricky’s voice. It came from behind him, and he picked up the sound of pawsteps that were rapidly getting closer. He barely had the time to turn around—

“Goomy!”

Tricky barely stopped herself from collided into him, her paws driving down into the ground to halt her momentum. She panted out a bit, having clearly just made the run all the way from the Village Square to here. Espurr was a ways behind her, focusing intently on her feet as she ran to catch up.

“W-what do you guys want?” Goomy asked, unable to keep the stutter out of his voice for a minute. He hated the stutter. He couldn’t control it.

“We changed our minds,” Tricky said, still catching her breath. “We picked out a different mission! And we were thinking… Do you still wanna come along?”

If Goomy’s eyes could have sparkled, they would have right then. Instead, they widened in excitement.

“C-can I?” he asked.

“If you feel up to it,” Espurr said. She’d just caught up, adjusting the bag that lay on her shoulders like she tended to do often. “We packed orans in case anymon gets hurt, and some apples for snacks.”

“I-I’m up to it.” Goomy tried puffing himself up to look bigger. He only succeeded in looking like a balloon, which made Tricky snicker before she could stop herself.

They left not too long after that. The mission was to comb a dungeon not too far north of the village for some fruits that the receiver was willing to pay poke and a bag of something called “blast seeds” for. Espurr wasn’t too sure what “blast seeds” were, but the name seemed pretty explanatory.

Since the mission was only one star, that left the dungeon almost empty. The reward wasn’t nearly as much poke as they were used to, but they had traded the larger sum for a more safe dungeon-crawling trip. The only time any of them had been attacked was when a couple of wild crows had dive-bombed them. A swift psychic barrier from Espurr had stopped them all flat in their tracks, sending then all flying away with much squawking and several haphazard flaps.

The crows left them alone after that.

Pancham met them halfway on their trek back to Serenity Village. They had only spent a few hours in the dungeon, and yet it was sundown already.

“You have gotta let me shoot one of these things in my slingshot sometime.” Pancham admired the bag of blast seeds as they approached Serenity Village.

“B-but you could destroy a tree with one of those,” said Goomy.

“Exactly,” Pancham stressed.

Espurr had gotten a pretty good idea of what blast seeds were once she’d heard the name. She eyed Pancham concernedly the entire way home.

“If you wanna use our stuff, you’ve gotta be on our team,” Tricky said. “And you’re not joining.”

“Aww, why not?” Pancham complained.

Tricky didn’t answer that; she just trotted ahead of him wordlessly and left him behind. Espurr silently kept the bag of blast seeds safe in her paws before Pancham could think about stealing one.


~\({O})/~

Audino’s House

“I moved the dresser out of your room, by the way,” Audino said as they ate. It was dark outside, and the untarped luminous orbs cast the room around them in tones of blue.

“What happened to it?” Espurr asked.

“I sold it to Lotad,” Audino replied. “He likes to pawn things like that off in Lively Town. Unfortunately, I couldn’t find a replacement at the market. That was where I used to keep all my herbs and supplies.”

“There’s still the bookshelf,” Espurr answered. “You could keep them on that.”

“Yes,” Audino replied. “That’s true.”


~\({O})/~

Slowly coming to.

Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily to the sound of the bookshelf in her room violently rattling.

Then she wasn’t weary anymore.

Espurr immediately stood up in her bed, bracing herself for a possible attack. Whatever had come a few nights ago… It must have returned. She spared a quick look over towards Audino’s room. The sound wasn’t loud enough to wake her. Espurr considered doing it herself. But then the bookshelf stopped rattling.

Espurr snapped her attention back towards the bookshelf. And then she saw it: The fuzzy, faint outline of a pokemon that walked out from behind the shelf. It was the first time that Espurr had gotten a good look at it. It was barely any taller than she was, and stood upright on two paws just like she did. But it looked nothing like her.

It suddenly took a single step in her direction. Espurr took a careful step backwards in kind. Another step forward from the entity, another step back from her, until she was backed up against the wall under the windowsill. She was out of ground, but now the creature walked forward quickly, until it stood right in front of her. And then it stopped. It tilted its head, like it was just as confused as Espurr was. Espurr didn’t dare move as the creature studied her, in case she upset it somehow and made it angry.

Then it suddenly lurched through Espurr, stumbling halfway through the wall and tripping over the lower part of it. It passed right through the rest. Espurr spun around, backing off a little as the creature righted itself. It looked at Espurr—or maybe through her. Then it took off immediately afterward, and Espurr barely had any time to turn around before she was hit with a gust of wind from nowhere and that same funny feeling of something passing through her. And she was alone in the room once more.

Audino awoke to the noise of what sounded like somemon dragging a bale of hay across the floor. She glanced at the window: It was the middle of the night. Sleepily sitting up in bed, Audino looked at the doorway, where Espurr was busy dragging her bed in through the door.

Espurr quickly stopped when she realized Audino was looking at her.

“I’d prefer to sleep in here tonight,” said Espurr, trying to keep the jitter out of her voice. “If that’s alright with you.”

This sleep addled, Audino was only able to produce a barely-coherent nod before returning to sleep once again.


~\({O})/~

Deerling’s House

“Do you want to come to our sleepover?”

Espurr stood outside the doorframe of Deerling’s house, the exploration bag strapped firmly to our shoulder. Deerling, on the other side of the doorframe, traced circles in the ground with her hoof uneasily. It was late afternoon, the sun already beginning to cast slightly orange shades over this stretch of the village path.

“Is Tricky coming?” Deerling asked after a minute.

“I invited everymon,” Espurr said matter-of-factly. “I thought we’d give the treehouse another shot.”

“…Did everymon else say yes?” Deerling asked.

Espurr nodded. “You’re the last. We’re going to bring snacks and tell scary stories until it gets too dark.”

“Where’s this happening?” Deerling’s mother called from inside the house. Espurr froze. They had been talking in hushed voices.

“…It’s happening at my house!” Espurr yelled back after a brief pause. Deerling gave her a ‘stop!’ look.

“Alright then!” Deerling’s mother yelled back. “Deerling, you should go!”

“But what if I—“

“Don’t be rude to your friend! When was the last time you were invited to a sleepover?”

Deerling sighed in defeat. “Fine…” she muttered. “When’s it happening?”

Espurr glanced up at the sky. It was nearly sundown. She had spent the entire day just getting everymon to agree with it.

“In a couple of hours.”

Deerling shifted in place. “I’ll come. Just don’t expect me to stay the whole night or anything.”


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts

“Hey. Tricky.” A hushed voice that was obviously Pancham’s flitted through the darkened treehouse. “Light this for me.”

“But…” Tricky could barely see the unlit torch in the dark. “Won’t the treehouse catch fire if I do that?”

“Eh, I’ll be careful. Now light it.”

Tricky reluctantly blew heat-charged breath over the stick, and soon it began to glow with the very first embers of a fire. Pancham whipped back the fur-woven cover he had been crouching under, making the torch suddenly flare up as a result. Everymon jumped back.

“Don’t do that Pancham!” Deerling gasped.

"No fun."

Pancham brandished the torch and was quickly all business again.

“The Ancient Barrow,” he began. “It’s been standing since before half the village was born. Farfetch’d won’t talk about it. Watchog won’t even go near it. Some say it was built by the Humans eons ago. Others say the founders of Serenity Village built it. But I know the truth. The truth about the Ancient Barrow.”

Espurr perked to attention at the sound of the words ‘Ancient Barrow’. Pancham was probably full of it, but she remembered what the Barrow had been like. The cold, fur bristling atmosphere that surrounded it. If there was even a grain of truth to what Pancham was saying, she’d gladly take it.

“They say the Ancient Barrow’s not just a house,” Pancham continued. “It’s built on a rift between dimensions. It’s a gate to the Otherworld. The Otherworld is just like ours, but dark and scary. The mountains are on fire, and the sky is red. The trees are bare, and everything’s ruined. There’s no-mon around. No-mon except…”

He leaned over the torch, letting it light his face dramatically.

“The Crooked ‘Mon.

“The Crooked ‘Mon roam the Otherworld. They’re shapeless, and they shapeshift. They can be anything. You won’t even know until it’s too late, and they have you in their grasp. And they say… that sometimes, at night, the Crooked ‘Mon escape the Otherworld and descend upon Serenity Village to punish naughty children. So if you ever see something out of the corner of your eye, or think that shadow is more than just a shadow… maybe you’re right."

Everymon glanced around uncomfortably at the end, trying not to look scared.

“For the record.” Deerling said. “I’m pretty sure that’s just a ghost story with some embellishments.”

“Yeah,” Tricky said. “That bit about the Barrow is new, but everymon tells the Crooked ‘mon story!”

Pancham would have folded his arms if he wasn’t holding the torch. “I got it from one of those library books. You’re all no fun.”

Everymon stayed silent for a bit longer. Pancham looked sheepishly at all the eyes looking straight at him.

“…Yeah. I’m done. Next ‘mon.” He held out the torch awkwardly.

Tricky volunteered to go next. She took the torch in her mouth, but then realized that she couldn’t hold it and talk clearly at the same time. Espurr helpfully held it for her.

“Long, long ago,” Tricky began, keeping her voice low to increase the dramatic effect, “there were two pokemon who went into a mystery dungeon.”

In the light of the dim torch, the glimmer of three-or-so other pokemon rolling their eyes could be seen.

“They were stuck all alone in the forest, and wanted to get back to town before it got stormy,” Tricky continued. “Piplup wanted to take the long way around, but Arbok knew that it would take too long, and they would get caught in the storm. So they took a shortcut through a mystery dungeon. Arbok said the other side would lead them to the town, so Piplup followed him in.”

Tricky was better at telling a story than Pancham was, and the others were beginning to realize it. No-mon interrupted her as she continued.

“But they didn’t make it out. The dungeon had more floors than Arbok thought it did, and they wandered around for days. The dungeon fog began to close in around them, and soon they had to eat grass off the ground so they wouldn’t starve. And then came the Dungeon Wraith.

“The Dungeon Wraith was evil. It chased Piplup and Arbok through the dungeon, until they hid behind a rock and it lost track of them. But it came back. It always came back. And soon, Abrok and Piplup reached the dungeon exit. But then the Dungeon Wraith caught up with them! Arbok told Piplup to run, but he was no match for the Dungeon Wraith. It…”

Tricky suddenly pounced forward, and Espurr barely moved the torch out of the way in time “—ate them all up!”

Several of the other occupants in the treehouse jumped back, startled. Then they gave Tricky annoyed looks. Tricky sat back in place.

And then everymon looked at Espurr, who held the torch. She looked down at it, and then realized that it was her turn to tell a story. Only… she didn’t have one.

But everymon was looking at her. She had to improvise somehow.

“Once upon a time,” Espurr began. “There was a pokemon that woke up in the middle of the forest. She didn’t remember anything about who she was, or where she was from. All she knew was that she wasn’t supposed to be there. She ran into three pokemon in the woods, who didn’t talk to her, didn’t communicate, and weren’t friendly. They chased her through the forests, until she could barely keep her eyes open anymore.

“Eventually, the pokemon found a safe place to stay. A place where the Evil Pokemon wouldn’t follow. A place they wouldn’t find. But she still wasn’t safe, because she knew that they were still out there, looking for her. She knew that she couldn’t stay there forever, but she had nowhere else to go. And so she stayed, pretended that it didn’t exist, and that she could be normal. Until one day, the Evil Pokemon found her. They burned the safe place to the ground, and everymon who lived there—including the pokemon—died. The end.”

The entire room was left silent in the wake of Espurr’s story, their faces all either shocked or spooked.

“Interesting,” Deerling said, breaking the silence. “I’ve never heard that one before.”

“I just made it up,” said Espurr. “Who wants to go next?” she held out the torch a little too eagerly, which had begun to fizzle out at that point. Goomy raised his slimy paw, and Espurr crawled over and handed the torch to him.

Goomy opened his mouth to begin—

—But then the torch blew out all on its own, and everymon was cast into darkness. Espurr felt the air shift dramatically, becoming colder. It felt like… she hadn’t felt that since…

Swish.

Everymon heard that. Their eyes had adjusted to the moonlight now, and they all looked at each other worriedly. Pancham silently shushed everymon with a paw.

Slowly, silently, Espurr crept towards the treehouse window. She had to know. She just had to. She wasn’t going to sit still if there was a chance of...

Slowly, Espurr glanced out the window, down into the foliage below. She saw it. The very thing that she had been dreading: A trio of cone-shaped heads, staring directly up at the treehouse. Espurr scrambled away from the window and backed up against the treehouse wall as quickly as she could. Everymon stared at her in confusion, and then she realized she had forgotten to do it quietly.

But there was nothing to do but wait. Wait, and hope that they moved on. Hope against hope that they didn’t see her, that they didn’t know anymon was here. Espurr shushed the others, then quietly clutched the straps of the exploration bag. If worst came to worst… then they could battle. Right?

Something violently shook the treehouse. Everymon let out various yelps and screams of fear. Espurr was almost knocked to her side.

The treehouse shook again, and everymon was knocked off their paws and hooves. They all tried to stand, but the treehouse was left at a lopsided angle. Slightly tilted downward, Espurr could see the beheeyem staring straight up at her through the window. They were trying to knock the treehouse out of the tree!

“Pancham!” Espurr didn’t see the need for subtlety anymore. “Did you bring your slingshot?”

Pancham quickly dug it out from behind his ear. “Yeah.”

The treehouse shook again, shifting in the branches. The floor was just a little steeper than last time. Espurr dug in the exploration bag for the sack of blast seeds. She knew she brought them. They had to be in here. They just had to—

—She finally fished them out of the bag, and thrust them to Pancham. “It’s your lucky night!”

Pancham caught the sack. He eagerly opened it, pulled out a couple of blast seeds, and stuck one in his slingshot. He pulled it back, and then aimed directly at the beheeyem.

“Gotcha.”

Pancham let the sling shot release. The seed whizzed through the air, and then hit the ground right at the beheeyem’s feet—

Boom. There was a large, fire-less explosion that sent the beheeyem retreating back into the woods.

All six of the children watched them go uneasily.

“What was that about?” Tricky asked.

“They’ll be back,” breathed Espurr. “We need to get back to the village. Now.”


~\({O})/~

“Go!” Tricky yelled.

Everymon in the treehouse hurried down the ramp that was thankfully still intact. Deerling helped Goomy along, and Espurr kept track of the woods all around them. She had given the blast seeds to Pancham, who had his slingshot. Tricky lead them all down the ramp, checking ahead just in case they came back.

Espurr happened to look behind them. She saw the lights approaching from the woods. Red, green, yellow…

“They’re coming!” she called to Pancham, spinning around and charging up a mental blast of her own. She was done dealing with these ‘mon—

The Beheeyem’s mental blast hit all six of them first, sending them all careening off the ramp and onto the ground. Then they approached, while everymon Espurr knew was still picking themselves up. They weren’t going to get away in time! Unless—

—The Beheeyem attacked. Espurr used the mental energy she’d been charging to pull the same barrier trick she had pulled earlier. The attacks were weakened, but Espurr’s barrier broke apart. None of them hit. Espurr saw some scorch marks, the indents of flesh healing faster than it should be—the Beheeyem had been weakened by the blast seed’s explosion. But not by much. She could see steam curling up off their bodies, slowly erasing the burns. Were they healing themselves?

Everymon had gotten up by now. Pancham launched another blast seed over everymon’s heads. It flew, then halted to a stop in midair. Espurr took a few steps backwards in horror, realizing what was about to happen. The seed spun in midair, then flew back towards Espurr and the rest of the children. Tricky bounded forwards and shot an ember that collided with the blast seed in midair—

—The seed exploded right above their heads.

“Run!” Tricky screamed back to everymon else. Everymon ran.

They ran. They ran, through the woods, not daring to look back. They ran until they reached the big tree on the hill and they could see the twinkling lights of Serenity Village in the very near distance. It was only two minutes’ gallop away. And only then did they stop to catch their breath.

“What…” Deerling panted. “What are those things?” she looked at Espurr. “Do you know something about this?”

Espurr ignored the question. She looked back towards the woods. “Don’t let your guard down. They’re still coming.”

Sure enough, they could see the beginnings of blinking lights emerging from the far-off foot of the woods. Red, green, yellow…

“Keep going!” Pancham yelled out. “We can lose them if they don’t see us here!”

That was true. Espurr began to run for the other side of the tree, and then so did everymon else. If they were quick and lucky enough, they could make it back to the village without being spotted.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village

All six of the children rushed into the Serenity Village square, which was currently deserted. It seemed they had missed the last of the houses turning their lights dark. For a moment, they all sat in the square, catching their breaths. Then Goomy voiced what they were all thinking:

“I-I don’t f-feel safe sleeping on my own tonight,” he said. All of the other children looked at each other, and it was clear that they agreed.

Audino’s house was as quiet as the rest of the town. Audino was already fast asleep in her bed, and Espurr’s room was more than large enough to fit six pokemon… Espurr didn’t think anymon would mind. She led the five of them into her bedroom, carefully drawing the curtains shut so no-mon could see in through the windows. It felt a little safer that way.

Eventually they fell asleep together in a pile on the floor, all keeping an eye on the draped window until they drifted off to sleep… just in case.


~\({O})/~

Capim Bay ~ Grass Continent

“This is the place?”

Buizel followed Quilava onto the rocks of the bay, still wet from the receding tide. Quilava had a bit of a hard time keeping his balance amongst the rocks, but Buizel was right at home. Quilava hopped onto a particularly large rock, then took a moment to catch his bearings right in the center.

“Ah was fishin’ here when tha’ thing—“

“—Great. Thanks. Let me do my job.” Buizel quickly cut in, agilely leaping onto the boulder and staring down into the bay. It looked calm, no rip currents, fairly stable tides… And Quilava’s necklace was solid gold. That was good.

“Alright,” he said, turning back to Quilava. “So, good news, bad news. Bad news, it’s been a while, so somemon might have fished it out of the bay and claimed it already. And that’s assuming it didn’t get caught up in a rip current and shunted out to sea. If that’s what happened we’ll never find it. Good news: Your necklace is heavier than air, so that probably didn’t happen. Nine times out of ten, it sunk to the bottom of the bay and got caught on a rock or something. Five-minute job, you’ll have your necklace back in no time. Kapeesh?”

The quilava nodded, a cautiously hopeful look on his face. Buizel effortlessly leapt from the rock they were standing to another, bridging the gap with ease. He did a couple of warmup stretches. “Alright. Stand back while I get some traction.”

With that, he quickly made his way back onto the sand, walking all the way to the entrance of that cave in the near distance as the quilava made his way off the rocks. Buizel set his bag on the ground and dropped to all fours, waiting for Quilava to get himself out of the way. Quilava stumbled once before scurrying off to the side. Buizel flicked his tails in anticipation.

He set his sights on the ocean before him, It was a straight line, and the shortest distance between two objects was a straight line.

Perfect.

Buizel began to run. He deftly leapt from rock to rock once he sped past the end of the sands, heading for the expanse of water in front of him. Just before he reached the end of the bay Buizel jumped up high into the air, did a backflip, and dove into the water headfirst.

The bay wasn’t deep here. Only about ten-or-so feet to the bottom. Buizel let himself sink to the seabed as quickly as possible. That was where the necklace would have ended up. Buizel opened his eyes once he felt the embrace of pointy rocks and seashells against his behind, finding a sandy spot on the seabed and pushing himself back into the water. His tails began to softly spin like propellers, keeping him steady. Buizel cast a look at the seabed around him. Even at this depth, something as flashy as a golden necklace with a firestone would have stuck out. So that meant it wasn’t here. The waves probably pulled it out deeper.

Buizel swam out a little further into the ocean, doing a routine combing of the bay. He could be done with that in about ten minutes, but the only way it would take that long was if the necklace wasn’t here at all. Which Buizel doubted. He would find it before long.

He swam through the seabed, looking over the countless things that had been discarded by countless pokemon over the years—old scarves, pieces of poké, an entire exploration bag—but there was no sign of the necklace. Buizel didn’t see the object he was about to hit until he almost hit it. He barely made a sharp turn upwards in time, swimming up to the surface and taking a quick breath before he flipped back into the water again. What was that?

Buizel quickly made a round turn back towards the massive object. This must have been what nearly hit Quilava. That meant the necklace was probably around here somewhere. He let himself hover in the water in front of the object. It was large, larger than anything from the sky had a right to be, and solid rock all the way through. Buizel swam around it, taking it in from all sides. More and more, it was looking like…

…Lugia. Buizel’s eyes fixated on the long neck and traced it all the way up to the head, whose beak was drawn out in what seemed to be a scream of horror, if Buizel didn’t know better. And this had fallen from the sky. Somemon had dropped a statue of the sea myth from the sky. Who? Why? And more importantly, who was this twisted?

That wasn’t the real Lugia. That was ridiculous. Buizel’s eyes drifted towards the seabed below him, where there it glittered—the necklace of gold, with a fire-red gem encrusted within the center. Buizel shot down like a waterborne bullet and snatched the thing up from the sea floor. It was time to return to the surface.

Quilava was busy sitting at the edge of the sands on the beach and minding his own business when Buizel shot up out of the water, landing on the edges of the beach effortlessly. Buizel took a second to shake himself off, before walking forward with the necklace in his hands.

“There you go.” He held out the necklace to Quilava. “Five-minute job.” Quilava’s eyes lit up. He tried to grab the necklace, but Buizel held it away from him briefly.

“I'm gonna be paid, yeah?” he asked. A few pokemon had tried to commission his services and dock the pay in the past. Buizel didn’t fall for that anymore.

Quilava quickly shook his head yes. “Ah have tha pay in my house,” he quickly began. “Ah can take you there—“

‘Yeah, let’s do that.” Buizel began to march back up towards the cliff without even waiting for Quilava to lead the way first. He didn’t want to admit it, but truth be told… he was a more than a bit shaken. It just didn’t make sense. It just didn’t. Who would go to the trouble of making such an intricate statue just for the purposes of some kind of twisted prank? And why drop it all the way out of the sky? Memories of Mawile’s briefing that he’d barely paid attention to crept through his head—this wasn’t connected to that, right? That was all the way over on the Air Continent.

Even though he knew it was probably just the work of some rich busymon with nothing better to do and weird interests, Buizel felt a little jittery just thinking about it. Maybe he ought to call it in. Yeah, he’d do that. He’d leave a message with the nearest HAPPI officials, and then he’d be on his merry way, thank you kindly sir, no weird prank statues here. Let the government cronies on Cloud Nine deal with that headache.

That lingering thought was enough to placate Buizel for roughly the rest of the evening.


~\({O})/~

From Wartortle’s Guide to Dungeoneering: Capim Town

Deep on the Grass Continent coast rests Capim Town, one of the more rural settlements on Grass. Capim Town is known for its competitive hunting and steady production of animal meat, offered for distribution all across the Grass Continent. Much of the continent’s meat comes from Capim, affording it wealth almost comparable to Treasure Town. Although Capim Town has gained prominence in recent years, the villagers’ preference for a much more naturalistic and balanced lifestyle leaves the town small, rural, and staunchly opposed to the Kecleon Foundation’s historic pushes to erect a meat processing plant in the area.

Music of the week!

Labor Intensive
– Marco Beltrami
 
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Chapter 18 - Revelation Mountain

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter18Art.png
"Kecleon's was completely sold out of everything last week, I've never seen that happen before. Pokemon are buying in bulk and stockpiling everything, we can't get the materials we need to keep our bakery open. Law enforcement is completely gone after the Guild collapsed. The shop across the street from us was just robbed, and no-mon was able to do a thing about it. That could be us next time. It's getting bad."

~ Citizen of Baram Town

~\({O})/~

18.

Revelation Mountain


~\({O})/~

Capim Town ~ Grass Continent

~Quilava~

Capim Town was only a poor village on a poor continent, even if Quilava had come to call it home in the years he had lived there. He had spent almost ten years in that village, and in all that time the explorer who had visited three days ago was the first off-continent visitor they had had in a year.

So Quilava didn’t understand why ‘mon from Mist had come here.

The Demetrius and the Gardevoir—Mechanical machinations created by the pokemon on Mist—both stood proudly in the waters off the bay of Capim Town, and the beaches had been blocked off by pokemon who had come out of those ships. All the villagers had flocked to the cliffs off the side of the bay to get a good look (there was a fletchling taking discreet rounds every so often and filling everymon in on what was happening), but Quilava preferred to stay in the town, far away from whatever was happening on the beach.

Were they allowed to fence off the beach? Quilava had no clue. But it wasn't like there was anymon in their village strong enough to stop them.

He could still see the ships from in town—that was how large they were. He turned away from them and began to stroll further inland. Maybe he’d go hunt something to make up for that long-lost fish. Everymon was up on the cliffs, so he wouldn’t have any competition. Bison meat sold for a lot; the Kecleons were always willing to buy them for good money. Scoring himself some meat for his rumbling belly and a good purse-full of poke on the side sounded like a plan—

“’Ey, Quilava!”

Quilava looked to the left, although he didn’t need to to recognize that voice—it was Duskull, the town crier.

“Quilava!” Duskull yelled. “the others sent me! They said there’s somethin’ you should see!”

“Ain’t in tha mood. Leave me alone.” Quilava began to walk towards the town exit and awau from Duskull. He was going to go hunt a bison to make up for that fishing incident last week. Yeah, that sounded good. The butcher would pay something hefty for a large cut of meat.

“It’s abou’ the thing that caught you while you wen’ fishin’ last week!” Duskull yelled back at him.

“I don’t wanna see it,” Quilava said.

“I really think ya should!” Duskull yelled.

“Wha’s so important that ah have to come up there an’ see it?” Quilava groaned, turning around.

“It’s Lugia.”

Quilava was silent for a moment. He could not believe the words that came out of Duskull’s mouth. Lugia? The creature that moved the storms at its very whim? That was an old sea myth! And Duskull expected him to believe that Lugia had crashed into the ocean and nearly swept him out to sea?

Well, what did he have to lose? If the whole town was there, perhaps it was worth taking a look after all. At worst, Duskull was in for a good thrashing.

“…Alrigh’. Show me.” Quilava turned around, waiting in place expectantly. Duskull wasted no time turning around and heading back up the hill.

“I’s this way!” he called back. Quilava had to take the bridges there instead of floating like Duskull did, but he had a general idea of where Duskull was going. Reluctantly, he followed.

The cliffs off the coast offered a much better view of the ships than Quilava could have gotten from in town. All of Capim Town was currently gathered at the edge, looking over at the ships parked below. Quilava marched up to join them, led by Duskull.

“He’s here, he’s here!” Duskull announced excitedly, doing a spin in the air as the others turned around to look at Quilava.

A fletchling perched on a tree branch, leaning forward and whispering something into the head zangoose at the very edge of the cliff. Zangoose nodded wordlessly, and then Fletchling flew off.

Quilava marched up to the edge of the cliff, and looked over at the ships. If he was going to be all the way out here, then he might as well make it worth his time. Sure enough, he spotted something being hoisted up between the two ships. Something that did look a lot like…

But that was ridiculous. There was no way that was Lugia.

But it was.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village

~Espurr~

Slowly coming to. A loud rattling noise jarred Espurr out of her slumber. She sat up in a jolt, looking around wildly, trying to piece together what was making that noise. Her vision sharpened and adjusted to the night, eyes settling on the bookcase.

And just like that, the hauntings began again.

The room had gone silent, and the bookcase was still. Espurr silently stood, weary joints and muscles complaining. She ignored it, scanning the room for that dark figure again. Pancham’s tale wandered through her head briefly, as it had for the past week. The ghost she kept seeing in her room… it was dumb. She shouldn’t be putting stock in ghost stories, especially ones from Pancham. But even so, she remembered what Watchog had muttered about ghosts back at the school. Could it be… a crooked ‘mon?

Whatever it was, it seemed to be gone now. Only the thin drapes that swayed like ghosts with the breeze outside moved. Falling back on her rump in the straw bed, Espurr rubbed her eyes and let out a yawn. A loud sound made her jolt again, jumping to her feet at the unexpected noise and casting her eyes to the bookcase.

It was violently rattling, shaking in place and creating loud noises just like the dresser had before. That was the last straw. Espurr was tired of this. Crooked ‘mon or not, maybe she could locate it and just boot it out instead. Taking a breath and drowning out the rattling, she closed her eyes and let her sixth sense take over.

She couldn’t see with it. Not the way she could with her eyes. But she could feel. Reaching out with her sixth sense was like seeing the world through touch, touch that painted more and more of its surroundings as it went. And she could feel right away that there was something in this room with her. It shone brightly in her mind’s eye, allowing her to locate it and let her mind’s grasp close around the entity. And then she yanked.

It yanked back, but Espurr was prepared for that. She didn’t let go. She pulled back. And slowly, from behind the shelf, she extracted with her mind’s grip a single lone blue flame. It hovered in the air statically for a second, desperately trying to escape Espurr’s psychic pull in whichever direction it could. Espurr was able to keep it in place for only a few seconds before she lost her grip and it zoomed out the window, flying right through the drapes.

Espurr ran up to the window, pushed apart the thin curtains, and watched it go. By the time she spied it, it was just about gone. She saw it fly down the square’s south exit and disappear from view. The flame seemed familiar to her, like she’d seen it somewhere before. But where… ?

The adrenaline left her soon after the excitement did, and she began to feel weary again. Unable to put her paw on where she’d seen the flame, Espurr retreated to her bed and curled up in it again. The thought crossed her mind: What if it came back? But her mind grew foggier and foggier as sleep claimed it once again, and soon she was out like a light.

In her dreams, something came, and only then did she realize where she had seen that flame.


~\({O})/~

The incident with the treehouse had made a lasting impression upon Espurr, Tricky, and all the others. It had been just about a week since, and none of them had gone on any adventures or dared to venture outside the bounds of Serenity Village in a while. Even Tricky was less jumpy and energetic than usual, and today she wasn’t anywhere to be seen.

Audino had left early on a list of appointments, and she wouldn’t be back until after the sun had gone down. That meant Espurr had the run of the house to herself, and no supervision for the day. She donned the exploration bag she’d become used to wearing, grabbed an apple on the way out, and ate it on the way down to the south side of town.

The Crooked House. That was the only place outside Espurr’s dreams she had seen one of those flames before, and she intended to investigate. It was close to the hill with the big tree but not past, and near enough to town that if the beheeyem came looking, she’d be able to flee and get help before they caught her.

The house stood on its lone island, isolated from the rest of the world by nothing but a lake of water and a rickety old bridge. The ominous clouds of mist circling that island and only that island were stronger today, thicker, more powerful. They were reaching further across the lake now, tendrils that were slowly but surely snaking out over the water in all directions. Looking at it made Espurr shiver. But it wasn’t like she could go back. If it was coming to her room, she needed to get to the bottom of it.

She also remembered where all—snap—most of the rotting spots were. She only snapped one board on her way across the creaking bridge, and was able to keep her balance on the tilted planks easily. They each felt like they’d break away as she stepped on them, but she stepped carefully and lightly and they held her weight.

It got colder the closer she went, an unnatural chill that felt deeply wrong when the path just behind had been so warm. It seeped into her bones and filled her with dread, made her feel cold from the inside out. It felt so strongly like she should be anywhere else, that she shouldn’t go any further.

Doubt seeped into her mind. She didn’t know if it was hers or from the house. How did she know she was on the right track? The mist cloaking the island veiled the outside like a blanket. It felt like a trap, waiting for her to walk in before it closed behind her.

But then her foot sank into mud instead of stepping on wood. Espurr looked down and then back at the bridge that stretched out behind her. The bridge felt longer, the coldness stronger than ever. She could still go back. A stray thought in the back of her head pushed its way to the front: she wished Tricky was with her. Some company would make her feel less afraid, and Tricky usually knew what to say to lighten the mood.

But Tricky wasn’t here; Espurr was, all alone. A decision she was regretting with all her might. Maybe she could go back and find Tricky… but then she’d be too tempted not to come back. She grit her teeth, ignored the cold, and trudged forward through the mud. She’d do a brief investigation, and then be gone. Anything to get the ghosts out of her room.

Walking around the island, she nearly tripped over it again. The strange device she’d seen last time, a pair of engraved cards on some kind of smooth surface embedded in the ground. Espurr got on her paws and knees, inspecting it closely. The colors were dull, the cards made with some kind of metal and engraved with markings that looked less like writing and more like paths… for something.

Whatever they were, there was too much mud on the console for them to properly slide back and forth. That left them stuck in the middle. Espurr reached a paw forward, doing her best to clean the muck off the surface. It wasn’t clean when she’d finished, but she managed to get enough off so that the cards would slide. She tried sliding them one way, but they didn’t want to go that way. So, she slid them the other.

Nothing changed, but she could have sworn it got colder right there and then.

The house was the same as ever. Two stories tall and a steep attic, shingles that were falling off and a crumbling chimney. Windows that had been bashed in and boarded over, walls colored brown by the erosion of paint and clinging mud. The entire house was at a crooked slant, the foundation on one side crumbling and letting the building lean into the mud. But Espurr was quick to notice that the front doors, dirty and decrepit, were missing their boards.

She trudged closer to the porch, stopping at the porch stairs. She knew those doors were sealed up. This wasn’t the first time they’d vanished. It was the most supernatural thing she’d seen of the house. Even though she didn’t want to investigate, she had to.

She marched right up to the Barrow’s front doors, and in the absence of knobs that had long ago fallen off, pushed against the wood. They didn’t give. Espurr pressed harder, putting both paws on it. She pressed as hard as she could, and then all of the sudden the rotting wood of the doors snapped forward and she fell straight onto the Barrow’s dirty entrance.

Espurr rolled to her feet as quickly as she could. The doors had broken apart! Calming her beating heart, she stared into the Barrow’s depths, trying to discern something out of the darkness within. It was dark, so black that everything beyond the front doorstep seemed to disappear into a void, sealed away beyond darkness. It was quiet, an absence of sound that not only lacked it, but sucked away any sounds that went in. Espurr experimentally clapped and didn’t hear an echo. Then she caught a scent. A stench, a strong one, that reminded her of something that is dead and rotting. It was stronger than it had ever been, so strong it made Espurr retch on reflex.

She stumbled away from the door, falling on her back against the porch and catching her breath in large heaves. Her trance was brokEN. The place… the place was a…

Coming here was a mistake, a big mistake. She needed to leave, now.

Stumbling down the porch doors and practically flying across the mud, Espurr was halfway across the bridge and taking hasty steps when her ears picked up the sound of somemon whistling off-key to themselves.

Nuzleaf. Espurr didn’t have time to properly make her way to land and hide before Nuzleaf walked into her line of vision. Before she could do anything else, he’d already seen her.

“Hah?” she heard him exclaim. He looked angry. “What’r you doin’ on there?! Get off!”

Cowed, Espurr silently did as he said. Nuzleaf grabbed her arm once her feet had touched dry land, and began to drag her off in the direction of the village, mud-caked fur and all.

“Come with me,” Nuzleaf said. “We’re gonna have a talk.”


~\({O})/~

Village Square

Nuzleaf walked into the Village Square with Espurr in hand, who was struggling to keep up with Nuzleaf’s longer legs and brisk pace. He dragged her to a portion of the square far away from the shops, and then crouched down in front of her.

“I don’ wanna ever see you goin’ near tha’ thing again, you understan' me?” he said. “You can go into any mystery dungeon ya want, I don’ care, but you stay away from tha’ place. Understan' me?”

“…Fine,” Espurr finally relented after half a minute of Nuzleaf giving her a look that rivaled Watchog’s signature glare. She wasn’t going back anyway, not after what she’d seen, but she felt indignant at being told not to go back there. Like she didn’t have any sense.

“Good,” Nuzleaf said, returning to his normal self in an instant. He stood up straight, and stretched. “Glad we coul’ settle this peacefully.”

He began to walk off, but Espurr followed.

“Wait,” she said. “What’s in the Ancient Barrow? And why were you over there, if it’s such a bad place?”

Nuzleaf stopped. He was silent for a brief second.

“…I was checkin’ something’,” he said, and then he began to walk along once again. He didn’t answer the first question. Espurr followed.

“I’m coming along,” she said matter-of-factly.

Nuzleaf shrugged. “I won’t stop ya,” he said. “Just stay away from that house.”


~\({O})/~

Simipour’s House

“I think we’ve put this off long enough,” Audino said, following Simipour around his small, square house as he walked. A four-directional archway at the top was all that separated the different rooms in the house from each other, leaving it open for Audino to tail Simipour wherever he went. “You weren’t having these fatigue problems two weeks ago; you need a checkup.”

“What use was the last checkup?” Simipour yawned, discreetly fleeing from the bedroom to the kitchen. Audino followed him. “I feel fine. I appreciate your concern, but it is wholly unneeded here.”

“I insist,” Audino said firmly, stepping in front of Simipour before he could leave the kitchen.

“As do I.” Simipour sidestepped her and walked into the living room. He sat on the couch that was next to the window and stared at her through eyes that were barely open. “You’re wasting your time.”

“That may be…” Audino said, sitting right next to him with her bag. “But so are you.”

Simipour shrugged stubbornly. “I am content to sit right here on this couch for the entire evening.”

“Perfect. Then you’ll be content to sit on that couch while I give you a checkup.”

“Not in the least.” Simipour gave her a frustrating smile that made it clear he was not going quietly. Audino sighed and tried to keep it from becoming a groan of frustration.

“Fine.” Audino dug in her bag, pulling out a piece of paper, a swanna feather quill, and some ink. “If you can’t be bothered to care about your own health, then put the minds of those who do care to rest.” She scribbled something on the paper, then thrust it to him.

“I’m prescribing you a cup of lum berry tea daily. That should calm your nerves and help you sleep easier. I’ll be back in a few days to see how you’re doing.”

Simipour yawned. “I’ve been sleeping just fine.”

“Do it anyway, starting today. Just before bed.”

And with that, Audino packed up the quill and ink, rose from the couch, and walked out the door. Simipour looked at the piece of paper in his hands. He yawned again.

It was worth a shot.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts

~Espurr~

Espurr followed Nuzleaf as they wandered southwards once more, with not a word exchanged in between them. When Espurr passed the Crooked House, surrounded by all that unnatural mist, she glanced at it with a shiver. Nuzleaf walked right on by, quickening his pace so that they both outstripped it quickly.

At some point, not long after they had passed the town limits, Nuzleaf suddenly veered off the path. Espurr watched as he picked up a couple of the bushes and set them aside. When she passed them, she realized they were fake. Nuzleaf took her down a hidden path that the bushes concealed, walking deeper and deeper through the foliage until a strip of green forest was between them and the path.

“Where are we going?” Espurr finally asked, once they had walked a fair bit away from the main trail. They had outstripped the trees now, and were walking on plains of mud and patches of grass that were foreign. Nuzleaf pointed above them both, at the large mountain that outclimbed all the others in the near distance.

“See tha’?” he asked. “Revelation Mountain. Tha’s where we’re headed.”

Espurr looked up at Revelation Mountain. She had seen it several times from a distance, the larg grey peak that stretched above all the other brown ones, but never up close. It had been lost on her before just how large the mountain was. It didn’t look like it was even possible to scale it in a single day.

“I haven’t heard of it,” Espurr settled on for her next words. It was a minute before Nuzleaf responded.

“Revelation Mountain is an ol’ village tale,” Nuzleaf said as they marched up the path. “Legend says there’s somethin’ at tha top of tha’ mountain, somethin’ we were never supposed to lay eyes on. So tha’s why every day, one of us village ‘mon stands at the base o’ the mountain an’ keeps guard. No-mon’s ever been up there.”

“Are you standing guard?” Espurr asked.

“I ain’t,” Nuzleaf said.

“Then what are we doing?”

“I'm gonna go see it. Wha’s at tha top o' Revelation Mountain. I’ve been all over tha other Con'inents; left this place with a friend when I was still a child. Figure there's still one more con'inent left in me.”

“Why this one last?”

“Why?” Nuzleaf shrugged. “Well, I fel’ like it. I was young. I wanted to go explorin’ abroad. Travelled to the Grass Con'inent, travelled to tha Mist Con'inent, travelled to tha Air Con'inent, and saw all the sigh’s to see.”

He pointed up at the mountain again as they walked.

“Tha’ mountain—tha’s my last expedition. My las’ mission before I retire for good. I wanna scope ou' the area today. See wha' I need to climb it."

Eventually they reached a plateau where the ground became slightly muddy, and ahead of them was a spring. Nuzleaf bent over and took a drink from it with his hands.

“Drink. It’s clean,” he said. “Water ‘round this mountain’s always clean.”

Now that Espurr thought about it, she was unquestionably parched. She silently took a drink from the spring herself too.

The mountain only got larger the closer they approached it. It was already so large that Espurr couldn’t even see the peak when she looked up, and by the time that they were at the mountain’s base she could only see the steep cliff that formed the lower mountain.

At some point, Nuzleaf halted, and so did Espurr.

“We’re here,” he whispered sharply. “Go an' hide.”

Unsure of what to make of that command, Espurr hid behind a bush. Nuzleaf walked ahead, and if Espurr peeked over the leaves of the bush far enough, she could just see the bright-yellowish outline of a pokemon standing in the distance.

Hippopatas.

“Hmm?” Hippopotas turned around at the sound of somemon trudging through the muck towards her. She turned around to look at him, her eyes widening as she caught sight of him waving.

“Mornin’, neighbor!” Espurr heard Nuzleaf call jovially as he walked towards her.

“Iz something ze matter?” Hippopotas asked, her eyes narrowing.

“Nothin’ much,” Nuzleaf said. “Only tha guardin’ order got switched around. I’m today; you’re tamorrow, all tha’.”

Hippopotas’ eyes widened.

“Vell…” she said. “ I DO have important farming to do…”

“Go for i’.”

Hippopotas didn’t need any more encouragement than that. She happily trotted straight back down the path, and Espurr had to quickly change her position so that Hippopotas didn’t notice her on the way down. Once Hippopotas was only a speck on the path back to the village, Nuzleaf ushered Espurr back out. Espurr quickly walked up the join Nuzleaf, and looked at the path that lay ahead of them both.

“Bes’ ta get a head start,” said Nuzleaf, and with that he began to hike up the large, steep incline that lay ahead of them. Espurr sent a brief glance back towards the path that lay behind. It would be so easy to opt out now…

But there was no point. She wouldn’t get an opportunity like this again. And so she began to tentatively follow Nuzleaf along the rocky path upward instead.


~\({O})/~

The Hill With the Tree

~Tricky~

As much of a born explorer as Tricky usually was, after last week’s encounter no-mon had wanted to go into a dungeon again. They’d exhausted everything to do in the village, but Espurr insisted that they couldn’t go outside the village again until they were sure that the Beheeyem weren’t going to come back again. She was shaken up too, but all this sitting around all day made her antsy and bored.

So after frolicking around in the woods on the path to the School Grounds, she lay on her back in the grass by the large tree on the hill, staring up into the sun through the tree’s canopy. The sun was high up in the sky and shone directly over her, but the light was filtered through the tree’s leaves and branches and didn’t blind her nearly as much as it would have otherwise.

At least she could spy the village from here, which meant it wasn’t too far from the village… right?

Voices in the distance met her ears, and she lazily looked up from her spot in the shade of the tree to see the two pokemon she wanted to see the least strolling down the path: Pancham and Shelmet.

They hadn’t seen her, at least not yet. It looked like they were goofing off between themselves, laughing loudly and jabbering words Tricky didn’t care to hear. Pancham was picking up rocks for his slingshot.

Tricky sighed out a puff of angry smoke and pressed herself further down into the grass. She didn’t need another day out with those two—just thinking about them made her begin to heat up inside with anger. If they just passed her without knowing she was there at all, then she could go back to forgetting they existed and her day could be good again.

It was too late. She stuck out like a sore paw amongst all the dark green shrubbery and flowers; Pancham and Shelmet spotted her almost immediately.

“Hey, look, it’s the troublemaker!”

Pancham and Shelmet jeered at her from a distance. Tricky tried to blot it out. She was seething, barely keeping it together. Why couldn’t they just leave her alone?

A pebble whizzed high over her head and thwacked against the tree branch. Tricky had to look once that happened. Pancham and Shelmet waved at her from below on the path.

“Hey!” Pancham called. “We’re over here, loser!”

That was it. Tricky leapt up from her spot amongst the grass, sped over to Pancham and Shelmet, and before either of them could even register that she was charging towards them she had already bowled Pancham over and pinned him to the ground.

Pancham looked up at her with a sudden shock in his eyes that she hadn’t seen in ever. He didn’t even try to push her off. Good. She wanted him to feel shock. Behind her, Shelmet angrily yelled something in his high, almost squeaky voice, but she didn’t hear it.

“Say you’re sorry,” she spat in Pancham’s face with all the vitriol she could muster.

“For what?” Pancham frantically asked, like he was innocent. “All I did was shoot a ro—”

“For all of it!” Tricky snapped. “You tied me up in a tree and hit me with rocks! You tricked me and Espurr so you could laugh at us later! You’re mean all the time!” With each accusation, she pressed her paws further into Pancham’s chest and leaned in further. “And now you’re just hanging out with everymon like nothing’s wrong?”

Pancham seemed to regain some of his former wit just long enough to respond. “You’re saying I can’t hang out with pokemon if I wa—"

“No!” Tricky yelled in his face. “I’m not letting you walk away. Apologize!”

Pancham didn’t say anything, but the insulted look he had on his face spoke volumes.

“Do it!” Tricky growled. “Or I’ll roast your face off.”

Shelmet, who had been sitting frozen where he was the entire time, finally mustered up the courage to say something.

“Get off him!” he cried, inching forward with his shell, but a single look of Tricky’ bared teeth stopped him in his tracks.

“And you too!” Tricky said. “You just help out whenever he’s being mean! You’re no better!”

Shelmet couldn’t meet Tricky’s eyes, but stayed silent the same as Pancham.

“You’re both bullies!” Tricky accused. “You’re mean, gross, dumb pokemon who like to torment others for fun! And you better apologize now. Both of you.”

“Alright, sorry,” Pancham said, in the most dismissive tone that suggested he was not sorry at all. “Now get off of me, loser.”

Tricky’s eyes narrowed. Pancham’s widened—

Tricky put every ounce of anger, vitriol, and hate she had into her next attack, and spewed a torrent of red-hot flame into Pancham’s face for an entire five seconds. Pancham knocked Tricky off of him, getting up to his feet and immediately turning tail. He scurried off without Shelmet towards the village, hiding his face with his paws. She even heard him sobbing as he went.

With Pancham gone Tricky turned back to Shelmet, who immediately looked frightened.

“S-sorry,” he muttered in a voice meeker than Goomy’s, and hopped off as fast as he could in the direction Pancham had gone.

Tricky watched the both of them go, neither of them daring to look back at her as they ran.

Somehow, her victory felt hollow.


~\({O})/~

The Demetrius

~Ninetales~

The statue had been stored on the Gardevoir, because there was more storage room on the Gardevoir then there was on the Demetrius. The Gardevoir was making a quick return journey to Mist to drop off the statue, where it could later be transferred to Cloud Nine for further inspection, but the Demetrius—and everymon aboard it—had stayed behind to comb the bay off Grass and search for any more anomalies of the same vein. Ninetales had stayed behind with them. He knew he was needed to sign a thousand sheets of paperwork back on Cloud Nine, but paperwork ground him down and the Demetrius was his personal ship anyway. A day on the high sea might take some of the stress off before he had to return to his real work.

Something tapped Ninetales on the shoulder. He quickly glanced to the left to see what it was , but there was nothing there. Or something had been there. Ninetales inwardly smirked. He knew this game. A tap came from his right shoulder. Ninetales turned his head to look right, then whipped it left at the last second—

—He was promptly half-tackled to the deck by a sylveon. Barely stopping them both from tumbling over the deck of the ship with his tails, the two pokemon lovingly nuzzled one another.

“I thought you were supervising the Gardevoir,” Ninetales chuffed once they had finished.

“And I thought you were going to do paperwork,” Sparkleglimmer purred back.

“I won’t talk about the paperwork if you don’t talk about the Gardevoir.”

“Deal.”

“Ah… excuse me?”

Both Ninetales and Sparkleglimmer looked up from their nuzzling. A lone phanphy sat in front of them; looking almost a bit flustered.

“Yes?” Ninetales asked before Sparkleglimmer could scare him off. He knew she had a short temper.

“I thought you should know…” the phanphy began uncomfortably, flapping its ears in nervousness. “We found another one.”

The chains of the pulley creaked, jangled, and ever-so-slowly rose. A few pokemon in the water gave the go-head, and the pokemon pulling the chains up on-deck gave it another heave. Ninetales and Sparkleglimmer followed the phanphy onto the rear deck of the ship, where another statue had been half-pulled out of the water.

It was Rayquaza. Ninetales’ heart sank. This statue of Rayquaza had the same horrified expression upon its face that the statue of Lugia had had, and after hearing about what had happened in Pokemon Plaza Ninetales was loath to believe that this was somemon’s idea of a large-scale joke.

Sparkleglimmer didn’t have the same reaction as Ninetales, but she hadn’t lived as long as he had. Most pokemon hadn’t. Ninetales had even talked to Rayquaza once, purely by chance one day when the legendary had decided to take a rest break on Mt. Freeze. He was a bit too proud, but he had a cultured sense of literature (he hoarded old human books) and was a fairly decent pokemon, as long as you earned his respect first and didn’t insult him in any way, shape, or form. Seeing him like this hurt Ninetales more than anymon else on that deck probably knew. He lowered his head in silent mourning.

Then he felt the sadness briefly leave him, and he glanced left to see Sparkleglimmer’s feeler on his back. She had a slightly worried look on her face, so he forced himself to cheer up for her sake. Now wasn’t a time for mourning anyway.

“How much storage space is available on the Demetrius?” he asked. The phanphy looked up, glad to have something to have orders to occupy its nervousness for the present time.

“The cargo holds were emptied of all but essential supplies before we set out,” said Phanphy. “Approximately three of the four storage holds, sir.”

Ninetales took a deep breath and nodded solemnly. That would hold Rayquaza.

“We’re turning around,” he announced. “Store Rayquaza in hold B and set course for the Mist Continent.”

“I had paperwork I needed to do anyway,” he muttered on the way out.


~\({O})/~

Revelation Mountain

Greenery ended where Revelation Mountain began. Espurr followed Nuzleaf up the hill, which quickly became a rocky mountain pathway once they were up far enough. Nuzleaf moved with a newfound energy that Espurr had never seen in him before, walking and hopping gracefully between the rocks of the pathway and shimmying away from its edges expertly. Despite having gotten faster over the last two weeks, Espurr found it hard to keep up, especially as the path got narrower and she had to take care not to fall off the cliff as they went on.

They walked for hours and barely scaled the base of the mountain. A couple of times Espurr nearly slipped and fell, but she quickly recovered herself and continued onwards. The path wasn’t that steep or narrow yet.

Soon, the sun was it its highest point in the sky, and they were high enough up that the heights would have made Espurr woozy if she cared to stare at them. She was making a point of not looking down. She quickly hurried to catch up with Nuzleaf, who was briskly hiking up the trail with not even a pant of exhaustion.

She cleared her throat as they walked, trying her best to keep a respectable pace with Nuzleaf.

“It’s a long climb up,” she said. “I was hoping you might tell me why no-mon ever goes near the Ancient Barrow. So we don’t get bored while we climb.”

Nuzleaf, effortlessly hiking up the slop ahead of them, didn’t spare a look back at Espurr.

“Even I don’ know that,” he said. “I jus’ know whenever I go near tha place, I get this feelin’. Like it’s evil. Like it shoul' be left well alone. Everymon jus’ leaves it be for that reason. Only reason it’s still standin’ is ‘cause no-mon’s brave enough ta tear it down. No-mon wants ta look at tha place. And tha’s all I know.” And then he continued hiking again without a word.

Soon, Nuzleaf stopped up ahead. He stood outside the entrance of what was obviously a very large, very dangerous mystery dungeon. Espurr could see it in the little things, how the path just ahead of them looked off in all the wrong ways and the air sky seemed to ripple.

“So it’s a mystery dungeon,” Nuzleaf muttered to himself. He thought for a moment as Espurr studied the dungeon entrance. It was just like Poliwrath River. The place was stronge, it exuded evil; she could feel it. And this far up the mountain, if they ever got trapped in there… no wonder this place was guarded.

“…I know wha' I need now.” Nuzleaf turned around. “We’re goin’ home.”

That was a good idea. Espurr agreed.


~\({O})/~

Village Square

It was sundown by the time that Espurr and Nuzleaf walked back into the village square. Nuzleaf scratched the back of his head.

“Well…” he started. “Ah… Good run today. We’ll go again next month when I have guard duty; soun’ good? Maybe you can bring your fennekin friend along for tha ride too.”

“Perhaps,” Espurr said. If she knew Tricky, Tricky would love that.

And then they parted. Nuzleaf walked back west, and Espurr entered Audino’s house. The day had been more exhausting on her than she realized, and she quickly made herself cozy with one of the few books in Audino’s house that she hadn’t read. Which happened to be a cookbook, but beggars couldn’t be choosers.

Espurr was reading about how to properly roast different types of berries when Audino walked in the door and set her bag down next to it. She collapsed in the chair next to Espurr, letting out a prolonged breath of weariness.

“And what did you get up to today?” she asked after a minute.

“I climbed a mountain,” Espurr said matter-of-factly, turning the page of her book.

Like Espurr had expected, Audino didn’t even blink—much less take her seriously. “Did you now?”

“I also went ghost-hunting and explored a haunted house,” said Espurr.

“Sounds like you’ve been having fun,” Audino said. She still wasn't taking Espurr seriously. “It’s been appointment after appointment for me. That principal is nearly as stubborn as his second-in-command sometimes…

“Have you been going out with your friends lately?” she asked to change the subject.

“Not much today,” Espurr said. “They were all busy.”

Espurr didn’t know that for sure, but after yesterday she was pretty certain they hadn’t been planning any get-togethers.

They sat together in silence for a while, Espurr reading and Audino silently trying to keep herself from nodding off.

“You know what, I’m too tired to cook today,” Audino finally said. She got up from the chair, stretching. “Fancy a visit to Kangaskhan’s?”


~\({O})/~

Café Connection

The Café Connection was the only building still lit after dark. Espurr followed Audino into the building, where the sudden change in lighting temporarily blinded her. She had only been in the building once before, and never at night. It was mostly quiet, but there were still enough pokemon in the diner for there to be an audible amount of noise in the background at all times. Audino walked up to the counter and took a seat, bidding Espurr to do the same. It was only once she had sat down that she noticed Watchog.

Audino noticed as well. Silently, she edged Espurr over and attempted to sit a little farther away from him. Watchog looked at them, taking a sip of his drink.

“What?” he asked flatly. “Got a problem with me?”

Audino didn’t answer that.

“Your problem.” Watchog took another swig from his drink. Audino took a deep breath.

“How’s guarding the school been?” she asked with veiled politeness.

“Painful,” said Watchog. “I’ve been seeing things around the grounds since day one. Blue flames. Couple of days ago somemon broke into the library. I think there’s a thief in the village. And mark my words, next time they show up I’ll be ready for them.”

He punctuated his statement with another swig of the drink. Audino fell silent after that, but the tension between them was beginning to draw purple scribbles all over Espurr’s brain. It was suffocating. She got down from the stool, unwilling to be stuck next to the two teachers any longer.

“I’ll be back soon,” she said, before Audino could open her mouth. “I just want some fresh air.”

Espurr walked down the restaurant’s aisle, looking around idly as she went. She didn’t recognize any of the customers around, nor did they pay attention to her.

“Hey!!”

Espurr spun around at the sound of the high-pitched noise. Usaring waved animatedly at her from a nearby table, pieces of food stuck in between her claws.

“Uncle—” she began, referencing a larger, gruffer ursaring with darker fur. “This is one of the pokemon who helped me evolve in that dungeon the other day! Say hi!”

Uncle frowned, an eternal look of apparent displeasure on his face. He stared at Espurr flatly.

“Uncle,” Usaring urged with a grin, elbowing Uncle a little. “Say hi.”

There was a moment of silence. Uncle grunted at Espurr, then returned to his meal. Usaring laughed it off immediately after.

“He’s like that with strangers a lot. Anyway, it’s nice to see you! And thanks for the other day! I hope that toothpaste came in handy—”

Ursaring clamped her claws over her mouth immediately after saying that. She glanced at Uncle to see if he had caught that or not. Uncle simply let out a sigh, something between disapproval and defeat.

“It’ll come in handy at some point,” Espurr said, blanching nervously before Uncle’s demeanor. Stares directed in her direction always made her crack, and Uncle’s looked like he was two seconds away from growling at somemon. “I was just about to get some fresh air. I’ll go do that now. Bye.”

With that, she scampered off in the direction she had come, heading out the café door.

“…Weird kid,” Uncle said, after she had left.

Espurr walked outside the doors of the café and leaned against the wall. She let out a breath of relief, closing her eyes and rubbing her head to ease the beginnings of a headache.

“It’s weird to see you out late.”

For the third time that day, Espurr jumped in startlement. She looked around to see Deerling sitting nearby.

“What are you doing out here?” she asked.

Deerling snorted. “Mum doesn’t care where I am, as long as I’m not holed up in my room all day. I take her up on it sometimes. What about you?”

“I live over there.” Espurr pointed towards the house on the other side of the square.

“I guess you’re neighbors with Pancham, then.”

“And Shelmet,” Espurr added.

“I’m not as interested in Shelmet.”

“…So you’re interested in Pancham?”

“H—” Deerling dug her front hooves into the ground in embarrassment. “You know I didn’t mean it that way!”

She snorted and kicked away a pebble next to her.

“Listen,” she said. “Something’s been bugging me about the sleepover last week, and I wanted to ask about it. Sorry if this sounds weird, but… that ‘mon in the story you told. Was she you?”

Espurr’s blood drained.

“…What if she was?” was all she was able to muster for a response.

“Is that a yes?” Deerling asked, undeterred. Espurr was cornered, and she knew it. If she said nothing or made up an excuse to leave, it’d look suspicious, but she’d waited too long to be able to pass it off with a ‘no’.

“Maybe,” Espurr finally settled on. She didn’t see the point of hiding it much longer. “How did you figure it out?”

“Helps that I don’t actually know anything about you before you turned up with Tricky last week of school. And those ‘mon that attacked us. The beheewhatever. Those were also—”

“Yes,” Espurr cut in. “They weren’t supposed to get this close to the village, I don’t know how they found me.”

In hindsight, it was an inevitability that the beheeyem were going to find their way here. The chilling realization was setting in that Espurr didn’t have any plan of action for when that happened.

“So you’ve been keeping a lot of secrets from us,” Deerling said. That made a sudden wave of indignation rise up in Espurr.

“Who said it was your business to know my secrets?” Espurr asked, unable to keep a tone of anger from leaping into her voice. “My past belongs to me.”

Except it didn’t. She’d like it back right about now, please and thanks.

“Listen,” Deerling said again, and this time her voice lowered down to a growl. “I don’t know what’s going on, and frankly I don’t care.” She jutted a hoof into Espurr’s chest fluff. “But keep it far away from us.”

“I don’t think I can promise that,” Espurr said, trying to look unperturbed.

“Why. Not.”

“Because I don’t know what’s going on either.”

“What do you mean you don’t know?” Deerling hopped to her feet, glaring angrily at Espurr. “Just like you ‘didn’t know’ about the beheeyem?"

“Those beheeyem are after me and that’s all I know,” Espurr swiftly retorted, taking a graceful step back. And you’re supposed to be a fabled savior of the world, which means that somehow, this world needs saving. Espurr left that part out. “They’re after me, and only me. If I tell pokemon, who says they won’t come after you too?”

Deerling’s rage was palpable enough that Espurr could swipe at it with her paws. But Deerling looked to the side anyway, and twinges of doubt among the red eating at the corners of Espurr's vision told her that Deerling knew she had a point.

“Urrgh…” Deerling collapsed on her haunches with a defeated growl. “I wish we could go back to before the last two weeks ever happened.”

“Well, we’re here anyway,” Espurr said. “There’s no point running.”

“So what are you going to do when those beheeyem things come around again?” Deerling asked. “And I’d better hear you have a plan, because I’m not going to be the one saving everymon’s tails if you get caught.”

Espurr didn’t have gabite’s exploration bag with her, but she knew its contents by heart. At the least, she had something to defend herself with if it came to that.

“I’ll come up with something,” Espurr said.

Deerling looked like the next words she was about to say were knives on her tongue. “And… you’d better tell Tricky too. You two hang out often, she deserves to know.”

Espurr nodded. She hadn’t seen Tricky today… she’d say something tomorrow.

Deerling got up and walked around Espurr, heading to the south.

“Have a good night,” she said bluntly in passing. Espurr watched her go, then leaned against the wall of the café. She stared up at the night sky, looking at the sliver of a crescent that was the moon. It was a little brighter than she remembered it being.

A plan…


~\({O})/~

Cloud Nine

~Sparkleglimmer~

Lightning flashed, but it was half a minute before thunder crashed. Sparkleglimmer didn’t like the look of the clouds on the horizon. She knew it was only a storm—Cloud Nine had weathered many storms before—but something about that storm unnerved her. There wasn’t much that could unnerve her. Turning her gaze from the window that offered a front-row view of the dark, building clouds, she picked up the rest of the paperwork Ninetales was supposed to sign tonight with her bottom ribbons and used the top ones to shut the door of Ninetales’ office behind her as she walked out.

It was a Sunday, and many of the facilities on Cloud Nine were closed, which left the place completely deserted. There would be no-mon hurry-scurrying around (at least, not above deck), so Ninetales had wanted to do his paperwork in the frigid cold sea air. When Sparkleglimmer had asked why he never used his office anymore, he said working outside reminded him of Mt. Freeze.

She walked across the large park that made up the massive front deck of Cloud Nine, where Ninetales lounged near the edges of the deck. How all this greenery reminded him of that barren old mountain, she would never know. His ears twitched as she approached him from behind, and that was how she knew that he knew she was there.

“You forgot these,” she whispered in his ear, neatly setting the paperwork beside him. Ninetales was busy reading through a ledger of documents he had probably been putting off for weeks, but he hummed in acknowledgement to let her know he was listening. Sparkleglimmer took a seat beside him, looking at the storm system that loomed in front of them. Lightning flashed. Thunder crashed a little sooner this time.

“I don’t like how that storm looks,” Sparkleglimmer said. “I think we should go inside. You wouldn’t want to get caught in that with all your paperwork.”

Ninetales looked up from the ledger he was almost done reading through, glancing at the clouds dismissively.

“It’s nothing but a storm,” he said. “We would get blizzards ten times worse on Mt. Freeze in the winter.”

There were times when Sparkleglimmer almost wanted to club Ninetales over the head with something, and this was one of them. Did he not understand that you couldn’t just sit in a thunderstorm and do paperwork like nothing was happening? Ninetales turned back to his ledger, and it was clear that his mind was made up. Sparkleglimmer glanced at the storm ahead. She heard the thunder crash almost simultaneously with the lightning.

Sparkleglimmer took a deep breath, then discreetly planted her feeler on Ninetales’ back. The air began to hum, and a few black sparks flickered around the tip of her ribbon. Before Ninetales even had a clue of what was happening a sense of calm spread through him, and the normally astute look on his face became dazed. In the state of calm that Sparkleglimmer had him in, he’d be more susceptible to suggestion. Sparkleglimmer didn’t like to do it in public if she could help it, but the situation called for it.

“This storm is awful,” she breathed in his ear. “You want to get inside before you’re caught in it.”

Ninetales slowly nodded. She removed her feeler, and slowly Ninetales began to return to his normal state of mind. But the suggestion was still there. Nine times out of ten he would follow it.

True to her predictions, Ninetales stood up, gently picking up the paperwork with his mouth. He began to trot off towards the central government building in the distance, his tails lazily swishing behind him as he went. A few sheets of paperwork still lay on the ground in front of Sparkleglimmer. Sparkleglimmer sighed. For somemon who claimed to have a good memory, he was very forgetful.

Thunder crashed. Sparkleglimmer didn’t see the lightning, but the sound of the thunder kicked her into gear. She picked up the sheets of paperwork Ninetales had left behind in her ribbons, then walked after him into the building.

The telltale whir of the engines under the deck began to start up once again, and within seconds the airspace around Cloud Nine had a slight sheen to it. Sparkleglimmer glanced out the window as they passed it. The protection fields had been raised. That meant the storm was too close for comfort. Or, it meant that they’d be going through it. Knowing the muk-head who was in charge of steering this thing, probably the second one.

After Sparkleglimmer’s intervention, Ninetales had been more than happy to finish the paperwork in his office. And it was just as well, because the storm raging outside was severe beyond belief. Even from here, Sparkleglimmer could hear the howling of the wind and the telltale crash of thunder from outside. She couldn’t help but glance out the window at the storm, as if seeing what was happening instead of just hearing it would help her feel better about it.

The outside was pitch-black, illuminated for only a second at a time by flashes of lightning. She could see countless black flakes of dust swirling around in the clouds, like debris picked up from a dust storm.

“It’s only a storm,” Ninetales muttered from his desk. “Only a storm.”

Whether that was meant for her or himself, Sparkleglimmer would probably never know.

She turned her attention back towards the window, her ears zoning in on the howling of the wind. It no longer sounded like just wind to her. It sounded like there was something in the storm, shrieking and howling in the background. Because surely that high-pitched scream that had just reverberated through the clouds wasn’t the wind whistling through something.

“Only a storm…” Ninetales muttered to himself.

Thunder crashed again. Sparkleglimmer didn’t see the lightning. She didn’t want to anymore.


~\({O})/~

Audino’s House

~Espurr~

Slowly coming to. Espurr awoke in her straw bed, gazing up at the roof of her bedroom. It must have been the middle of the night, because the room was as dark as ever, and Espurr could barely see a thing.

…Wait. That wasn’t right. It was never this dark at night. There was always some moonlight filtering in—hadn’t the moon been especially bright tonight?—or at least the glow of the luminous moss streetlamps outside to offset some of the darkness. This darkness was like being trapped in a box. Something was wrong.

And so, using her knowledge of the room’s layout to navigate, Espurr headed for the window to see what had happened to all the light. Gazing out through the window’s crossbars, she saw nothing but more blackness. Impossible blackness. Darker than the doors of the Ancient Barrow, darker than the night sky, blackness that she had only seen in one place before.

And then it all clicked for Espurr. This blackness was familiar to her. She knew where she was. And that meant…

At Espurr’s will the walls of her bedroom began to crumble away, disintegrating into nothingness until she was left standing in the middle of the blackness.

This was the Dream. It was back.

They came. The voices, whispering all around her, spinning up into a massive vortex that towered over her and was somehow blacker than the blackness itself.

And then the louder voice, the one that had been taunting Espurr every time she had entered the dreamscape, spoke in its cacophony of raspy howls:

Hello.


~\({O})/~

Music of the week!

A Quiet Life
- Marco Beltrami

Sparkleglimmer-by-Windskull.png

Art by Windskull
 
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Chapter 19 - The Calm and The Storm

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin

Chapter19ArtLineless.png
BREAKING: Government ship disappears off the coast of Grass

The government ship Demetrius was last heard from en route to Noe Town harbor while travelling across the Coast of Grass. Transmission contact with the ship has since been lost, and has not yet been recovered. HAPPI officials declined to comment on the matter.

This is a developing story. Please check in with the Cloud Nine News Network for updates as they come.


~\({O})/~

19.

The Calm and The Storm

~\({O})/~

A Month Ago

Open Waters ~ Nighttime

There was a storm building out on the churning seas that evening. It had been building for a few weeks now, and it would continue to build tonight. There was nothing to keep it in check now. Nothing to stop it from growing out of control. Nothing to stop it from being controlled. From being shaped into something more malleable. An unnatural disaster. A weapon.

A cocoon.

Something writhed in the Storm. Something that was blacker than the night and the clouds around It. It controlled the wind and the sea now. The very storms acted at Its whim. And act they would.

Grow.

The rumbling of thunder boomed through the night sky, and purple lightning lit up the center of the storm like a brilliant display of silent fireworks. The clouds of the storm began to swirl down, down, towards the earth, towards the ocean…

And when the clouds and sea met, the storm wasn’t just a storm anymore.

~\({O})/~

Pokemon Plaza ~ Air Continent

Last Day of Spring

"Picture this."

Several wagons encrusted with the multi-ringed sigil of HAPPI were parked right outside the courtyard of Pokemon Plaza. Many pokemon were working in and out of the wagons, taking diagnostics of the environment and performing various other tasks. An elgyem was intently scanning the ground with the lights on its arms and muttering, while an impidimp hastily scribbled down everything they said. A togademaru had a camera with a connection orb slotted through the lense, taking generous pictures of everything around her as other ‘mon gave orders in the distance. Each pokemon wore a bright purple scarf, with a picture of HAPPI’s badge sewn onto the front.

Simisage walked through the unkempt ruins of the town, stepping around debris and sharp shards of stone. Directly behind him, Vaporeon followed. The square was littered not with statues but with small shards of stone that covered almost every surface in the town. Both Simisage and Vaporeon had to be careful to step around the sharp pieces so they didn't cut their paws on them as they walked.

"Pokemon Plaza goes dark," Simisage began, stepping over some rubble. "HAPPI teams can't leave Mist 'cause of the blizzard that formed over the continent, so the Expedition Society is drafted in their place. They arrive. They claim to have done their job. The mayor of Baram Town vouches for them. And yet, that very day, stone lapras statue; missing lapras. Cloud Nine receives no photos nor word from the Expedition Society concerning the mission for two. Whole. Weeks. And then, after the fact, stone pelipper washes ashore up on Mist. Am I the only one seeing something funny going on here?"

"I see something funny going on," Vaporeon said, looking put-out. She wore a purple scarf of her own. "You aren't wearing your scarf."

Simisage shrugged. "I forgot," he said. "Everyone does it. Now, where was I…"

Vaporeon took a deep breath, but when Simisage started rambling, it was usually easier to let him ramble than to get him to stop.

"It's simple," Simisage drawled sagely. "This was all a plot from the very beginning. Think about it. The Expedition Society has been scoffed at and put down by the other guilds for too long. They want fame and glory, and they want revenge. And so–if I may be allowed to insinuate further–a plot begins to form in their tiny little reviser-seed-sized brains. They shoot down the pelipper post employees coming in and out of the plaza, and get their little electric pet to jam the transmissions. Pokemon Plaza goes dark; blizzard happens over Mist just. As. Planned. Boom shapow bang—" Simisage clapped his hands for effect "—Expedition Society is now drafted for convenience. Now two of them have a mission. They sail into Baram Town and travel up into Pokemon Plaza. And once they get there, they turn the whole square to stone.

"But see, now they're at risk," Simipour continued. "They have photos of the carnage, but they were the last ones to go into that square, and there. Are. Witnesses. They need to be seen doing something that will clear them of all charges; dismiss them as suspects entirely! Now cue the lapras. The lapras isn't important to them, so they kill the lapras too. They write the note; they stick it on the raft, and they let it float into the harbor, conveniently being in just the right spot to get there in time and look innocent. Now the blame is off them but they can't rest yet. They gotta lie low for a couple of weeks, let the heat die down before they submit their findings. They gotta plot their next move first, 'cause if they don't than this was all for naught. They gotta be ready. And once they are… I assure you, something's gonna happen. Something we've gotta prevent."

Simisage stopped once they reached the other end of the plaza, where one of the white, metal-encrusted wagons sat. Out of his exploration bag he pulled a leather envelope of documents, showing it to Vaporeon. "Luckily, I have taken the necessary precautions to make this line of intervention possible."

Vaporeon puffed out her cheeks in frustration.

"That sounds great!" she said, her tone dripping with sarcasm. "There's just one problem: How are you going to prove they turned all these pokemon to stone? That doesn’t just happen. There’s no power that does that."

Simisage waved a hand around the square.

“Clearly some power did this.”

“But we don’t know it’s connected to them,” said Vaporeon. “Just because they were in the same place doesn’t mean they’re culprits. There’s no solid connection here.”

“These papers say otherwise,” Simisage grinned, waving the folder. “Now how they did it… is TBD. But the point is, they’re guilty. And we’re gonna prove it.”

~\({O})/~

One Week Later

Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Lively Town

~Mawile~

It was nighttime, and for once the halls of the Expedition Society were quiet. Mawile quietly slunk down the hallway, making sure not to cause any noise and wake the others up. She stopped outside the large open archway that led to the kitchen, looking down the hall both ways before entering.

Any other member would have been harshly disciplined by Swirlix for this. The chef kept an iron grip on the Society's food supplies, tight enough that there were separate stocks for travelling supplies and normal food. The last time somemon had tried to sneak something from the kitchen had been when Bunnelby had nicked a head of lettuce for a midnight snack, and while Mawile did not know exactly what Swirlix had done when she had found out, the entire Expedition Society had seen the effects—Bunnelby never ate lettuce again.

Swirlix currently lay sprawled out on one of the counters, conveniently stationed near the food cupboards. Fast asleep. She began to sniff the air once Mawile entered—even asleep, she was still on guard. Mawile reached into her bag and pulled out a pawful of grimy food she had dug out of the dumpster. She set it on the floor in front of the entrance. That would overpower her own scent.

Slowly, Mawile crept across the kitchen, opening the cupboards one by one as she searched for the medicinal berry stock. Swirlix suddenly stirred in her sleep, reaching out for something that existed only in her dreams.

"Nnghh… Apple…" Swirlix muttered, nearly rolling off the counter as she grasped for thin air. Mawile acted fast—she handed what little remnants of the grimy food that she had in her bag to Swirlix. Swirlix took it without question, grimaced at the smell, and then sleep-consumed it in a single bite. Mawile tried–and barely managed–to stomach the sight. Swirlix snored loudly, and Mawile grit her teeth and continued.

She found the medicinal berries in the cupboard to Swirlix's left. Mawile quickly rooted through it until she found the chesto berries, all picked and sitting in a small wooden crate. Mawile took three or four and stuffed them into her bag. She quietly shook up the berries in the crate so that Swirlix wouldn't notice they were gone, and slipped away from where Swirlix was sleeping. She picked up the grimy food and deposited it in one of the wastebins in the hall on her way out.

The glow of a miniature luminous moss orb lit Mawile's office an ethereal blue. A torch would have been more convenient light-wise, but Mawile refused to pose a risk to all her books that way, and the room had never been built with electrical lighting in mind. She sat down in one of the stools in the office, taking a bite of a chesto berry and opening a history tome of the Sand Continent. There were almost five times as many books on the Sand Continent as there were books on the other four, and Mawile had yet to pour through it all. Nights were the most convenient time to do this, and Mawile spent hours looking through every possible path that might lead her towards answers.

It had been nearly two weeks since they had returned from the Air Continent, and Mawile was still at a loss as to whatever had attacked them in Pokemon Plaza. The photo of the anomaly was pinned at the top of the wall, separate from the rest of the intertwined strings on the board. A couple others, various shots of the stone lapras they had encountered a few days after, were pinned near the original photo, but Mawile had not found a way to connect them yet. She relished the day that she would be able to pin them all together. Maybe tonight… Mawile turned the page in the book, reading up on an entire new section of Sand Continent lore. Maybe tonight.

~\({O})/~

~Ampharos~

Early mornings were always a pleasure for Ampharos. He awoke every day at the crack of dawn before anymon else in the Expedition Society rose, then ate a quick breakfast outside while he could still feel the morning breeze flowing through his fur. Lively Town never really went to sleep, but dawn was one of the few times of day the town was truly quiet. Most days, Ampharos would go for a stroll through the market and observe the morning going-ons around town, until eight-o-clock came and Dedenne rose to sort the morning paperwork. The Expedition Society briefing was at nine, because nine-o-clock was the earliest Ampharos could convince the Society to collectively rise and shine.

He grabbed an apple from the larder in the kitchen, making sure not to disturb Swirlix on his way out. Special privileges of being Chief. As he walked into the lobby, he caught sight of Mawile loitering around aimlessly near a window. Ampharos walked up to join her.

"Morning," she said without even looking back at him. She didn't have to glance back at him to know that he was there.

"Likewise." Ampharos took a bite of his apple, chewing noisily.

"Did you find anything?" he asked a moment later. Mawile knew what he was talking about. They went through this exchange every morning, to the point where it may as well have been scripted.

"Nothing," Mawile replied. "If Sand Continent history doesn't pan out I'll comb pokemon moves and energy next. Perhaps there's something we've missed."

Ampharos nodded silently, taking another bite of his apple. They stood there in silence for a few minutes, watching the sun rise from the east.

Around eight-o-clock, the large double doors clacked open and Dedenne walked through to begin her shift. At eight-thirty the process of waking everymon up began. Some were already awake, like Nickit, who liked to sneak off to the vault in the mornings and Buizel, who hated wasting time. Others, like Jirachi and Bunnelby, were asleep as usual. But through the combined efforts of Buizel, Dedenne, and Bunnelby once he was awake, all fourteen members of the Expedition Society stood in front of Ampharos, ready for the morning briefing.

Ampharos cleared his throat, preparing to read the first line of the paper Dedenne had given him aloud, but suddenly he was interrupted by a loud bang from outside. Everymon turned their heads towards the large double doors at once. Sure enough, it came again, a loud knocking that sent echoes all through the hall. The Expedition Society exchanged looks.

"Somemon couldn't wait five minutes for us to open?" Bunnelby asked, half-annoyed. He was met with silence.

When the knocking loudly came again, Ampharos put down the paper and stepped forward. Dedenne grabbed it in his wake. He walked through the row of Expedition Society members that parted for him, letting one of the large doors creak inwards and peeking out.

A simisage and a vaporeon stood outside, the latter of which wore a purple scarf with a badge on it. A very familiar badge. Ampharos took one look back at the rest of the members and signaled for silence, and then slipped out the door completely. Seeing that he now had Ampharos' attention, Simisage stuck out his paw for Ampharos to shake.

"Morning," he said. "I understand you're the chief of the Expedition Society?"

Ampharos noticed the glint in his eyes, a glint of distrust, hidden beneath a gleam of sharpness. Behind Simisage stood Vaporeon, the same suspicious look flickering through her eyes for a second. Along with the scarf… something was up. Ampharos decided to put on a cheerful face anyway.

"Correct you are!" he said, shaking Simisage's paw. "We aren't open for another five minutes, I'm afraid. Can I ask you to come back later or set up an appointment?"

Simisage cleared his throat. "I'm afraid you don't understand," he said. His voice had a grating drawl, like he was the smartest person in the room and very keen on broadcasting it. "I'm Simisage, leader of Team Cobalt, and this is my partner, Vaporeon." He gestured to Vaporeon, who nodded quietly in Ampharos' direction. Vaporeon frowned. Ampharos caught it but didn’t know why.

"Myself and Vaporeon work in a very specific line of profession," Simisage continued. "In other words, it's our job to find things. Or find out who might be responsible for things. And this—" Simisage dug in his bag, producing a leather folder and handing it Ampharos "—Is a warrant issued by Cloud Nine on behalf of HAPPI."

Ampharos would be lying if he claimed he wasn't shocked. But he kept his cheerful face up anyway.

"May I ask what this is for?" he asked politely, keeping the act up. He was pretty sure he knew what it was for.

"All will be explained in due time," Simisage drawled. "Now gather your flunkies for me. We need to have a talk."

"They're… already gathered," Ampharos said, for once at a loss for words. "Just in there."

He could have sworn Simisage's grin had teeth sharper than they should have been for a second.

"Splendid."

~\({O})/~

"Alright, here's the deal." Simisage stood at the front of the lobby’s grand stairs, where Ampharos usually stood for the daily morning briefing. Now, he was lined up with all the other Society members. Near the back, Vaporeon stood right before the front doors as if guarding them.

Simisage pulled out the leather folder, showing it to everymon in the room.

"This warrant here authorizes a twenty-four-hour lockdown of the property, effective immediately," he said. "No-one is allowed to leave the premises until this time tomorrow."

Much of the Expedition Society suddenly looked quite disturbed.

"On what charges?" Bunnelby asked.

"Yeah. Where's this coming from?" Buizel added.

"The Expedition Society is suspected of 'monslaughter on a mass scale, fraud, and breach of contract," Simisage said. "Team Cobalt has been granted the authority to determine if there is any evidence of your guilt, which will be done through a series of investigations performed by myself, my partner–" Simisage gestured to Vaporeon "–and other, optional personnel, should it prove necessary."

The lobby was suddenly filled with several loud, angry pokemon all shouting over each other.

"'Monslaughter?" Bunnelby cried out. "That's crazy!"

"But what if we need to go shopping for food!?" Swirlix cried out. "I'll go mad from hunger, I will!"

"Somemon was murdered!?" Archen shouted in terror.

"You can't confine us here all day!" said Buizel. “We just got over one of those!”

"Actually," said Simisage, "I think y'all will find I can." He shook the contents of the folder.

Then the lobby exploded into racket again.

"What's the matter?' Nickit loudly asked over the noise. "It's a leisure day. Are you really complaining about a leisure day?"

"It's not a leisure day if we’re being accused of… whatever green monkey guy said, Nickit!" Holly chided.

Jirachi just yawned.

"But no-mon here is guilty of that," Nickit said offhandedly. “This is a wash-up.”

"I'll be the judge of that," Simipour replied. And then he clapped his hands together.

~\({O})/~

~Ampharos~

It was 10:00, and Simisage had derailed the entire day. He and Vaporeon had contained the Expedition Society to a single bedroom in the left wing, while the lobby had become a 'sacred place of investigation'—as Simisage put it. In reality, he had set up a few chairs and a couple of connection orbs that belonged to Vaporeon. Ampharos distinctly remembered Vaporeon asking him why he hadn't brought his own.

"Is the connection orb recording?" Simisage asked, leaning to the side in the chair with a back support. He had a clipboard in his paw, also Vaporeon's.

Vaporeon double-checked, then clumsily tapped the orb with her nose. It began to glow.

"Now recording," she said, sitting down behind it.

"Alright." Simipour leaned back in the chair, clasping his hands. "Interview the first: Expedition Society, Chief Ampharos. Tell us about yourself."

"What do you want to know?" asked Ampharos, who cheerfully sat opposite of Simisage and Vaporeon.

Simisage leaned forward. "Everything."

"Well," said Ampharos. "Everything might take quite a while! And I understand you only have twenty-four hours. I suggest you lower your scope."

Simisage frowned flatly. "Start at the beginning, then."

Ampharos shrugged. "If you insist…" he leaned back against thin air, acting as if there were back support behind him.

"It was dark inside the egg."

Vaporeon barely held in a groan of frustration.

~\({O})/~

~Mawile~

"Interview the second: Expedition Society, Vice Chief Mawile." Simipour leaned forward in his seat. "I trust you'll be more co-operative than our last subject."

"To be fair," Vaporeon grumbled, "You didn't have to let him go on for four hours either."

"Ah-ah-ah! Quiet! Quiet! You're messing up the tapes!" Simisage snapped. He readjusted the way he was sitting in his seat. "Now. Mawile. I understand you migrated over from the Grass Continent before you joined the Expedition Society?"

"Yes. Yes, I did."

"And how do you feel about that?”

"I'm not sure I understand this line of questioning."

"Answer it anyway."

Mawile took an annoyed breath through gritted teeth before answering.

“No particular feelings.”

"Hmm." Simipour marked something down. "And do these feelin's that don't exist sometimes influence the way you do your job?"

Mawile rose from her seat.

"This interview is over," she said firmly, beginning to walk off.

"It isn't over 'till I say it's over–" Simisage began.

"It's over," her back maw snarled at them.

Simisage sat back in his seat after she had left, an oddly satisfied look coming over his face. "Yeah. It's over," he said. "Roll next!"

~\({O})/~

~Jirachi~

"Interview the third: Expedition Society, Engineer Jirachi. Are we rolling?"

"We're rolling," said Vaporeon.

"Jirachi," Simisage clapped his paws together. He licked his lips. Delicious. "Complimentary question: How does it feel to be the only Legend currently working for a HAPPI-endorsed guild?"

"Why," Jirachi yawned. "It feels great.

"Sorry," he said, a minute later after he had finished yawning. "I'm not really awake until I have my remedy."

"Stay awake enough to answer these questions and you can be asleep for all I care," said Simisage.

Jirachi took him up on the second part.

~\({O})/~

~Archen~

"Interview the fourth: Expedition Society, Off-Continent Explorer Archen." Simisage set down the clipboard he had been writing on, and then he leaned forwards. "Now I'm gonna ask you as a confidant," he said. "I understand you were one of two 'mon to lead the expedition to the Air Continent a week ago?"

"Unfortunately," Archen said, ruffling his feathers stiffly at the memory. "Who's asking?"

"I want the rundown of how that mission went. Leave no details out."

Archen rubbed his wings together nervously. "Well," he said. "It all began when we had to take a lapras all the way to Baram Town without sleeping for the night…"

~\({O})/~

~Jirachi~

"Interview the fifth: Expedition Society, Engineer Jirachi, continued. I assume you won't fall asleep on us this time?" Simisage asked.

"Nah," said Jirachi, doing a lazy cartwheel where he floated. "I've had my remedy now. That'll keep me going through the night."

"Amazing," said Simisage. "Now tell me. What's the Expedition Society's process for makin' copies of photos?"

~\({O})/~

Residential Wing

A single scarf sat on the windowsill, all on its lonesome.

"That is what it took. To get rid of the stench." Holly enunciated slowly, her voice dangerously calm. "A scarf infused with Sweet Scent. You would not believe. The things we had to sniff to get this. So kindly do not touch or smell it, please."

"Wasn't dreaming of it," said Nickit. The rest of the Expedition Society lounged about in the room, where Simisage had told them to wait while they weren't being interviewed.

"My belly hurts…" Swirlix groaned. Everymon collectively ignored her.

"I wonder why we haven't gotten interviewed yet," Bunnelby pondered to himself.

~\({O})/~

Lobby

"And that's break time!" Simisage clapped his paws twice, hopping down from the chair and collecting the connection orb. He gestured for Vaporeon to follow him out the doors as he went. The large doors closed behind them, leaving them in the Society's empty outdoor square.

"Alright, so what do we know?" Simisage asked in a hushed voice. "We know that their chief likes to dodge things. We know that the vice-chief is hiding something. We know their mission to the Air Continent gets fantastical once they reach Pokemon Plaza, and we know that it should only take half a week to print those photos. Somethin' we aren't getting' here."

"And we also know that they checked in with Mayor Honchkrow of Baram Town, and were picked up by the Water Continent's Ambassador on the way back," Vaporeon added. "Isn't a more prudent question what the Ambassador was doing here? Or perhaps a more prudent action to interview the mayor? I'm surprised you didn't try to follow up on either of those."

"But see, that's where you're behind," said Simisage. "I already know what the Ambassador was doing here."

"And what's that?" Vaporeon asked skeptically.

"He's in on it. A better guild gets better votes; the continent gets in better standing with HAPPI. He remains in power. It's all one big conspiracy."

"It's all one big conspiracy in your head!" Vaporeon barked. "All of this—this entire investigation—it's all been based on guesswork you came up with! You wouldn't have done this a week ago! How did we even get this warrant? And–" her eyes veered to his chest "–And you're not wearing your scarf again!"

Simipour glossed over the last part of the accusation. "Regardless," he said. "We're here. Let's find out what we can while we still can. I believe the Vice Chief has a personal office? We might find something there she’s not telling us."

Vaporeon wasn't sure how he knew that.

~\({O})/~

Dining Hall

"I'd like to request on behalf of our members that Chef Swirlix be allowed to use the kitchen," Mawile stated calmly to Simisage.

"Denied," said Simisage. "We haven't interviewed her yet."

"Approved," said Vaporeon. "She isn't relevant to our investigation right now." She turned to Mawile. "We don't want to inconvenience you beyond what’s necessary. My partner has just forgotten that for a little while." She sent Simisage a quick glare to get her point across.

"I'm afraid you wouldn't be able to interview her anyway in her current state anyway," said Mawile.

"And what state is that?" Simisage asked, raising an eyebrow.

"FOOOOD!"

Mawile quickly stepped back seconds after the loud voice blasted down the hallway stronger than an Uproar, and Simisage and Vaporeon backed off just in time to not get crushed by the white puffball that charged down the hallway with the ferocity of a dragon.

"FoodfoodfoodfoodfoodGimmegimmenow—" Swirlix snarled as she ran. Her tongue hanging out, she uttered a few unintelligible syllables out at Mawile, Simisage, and Vaporeon, then dashed through the kitchen doors. She left a trail of slobber on the floor in her wake.

Both Simisage and Vaporeon looked rather shocked.

"I could fine your guild for that on three fronts alone," said Vaporeon.

"You won't after you taste her cooking," Mawile replied.

~\({O})/~

Mawile's Office

~Vaporeon~

The door to Mawile's office opened, but Mawile was not the pokemon who stepped in. Vaporeon sneezed at all the dust circulating in the air from her entry, making sure to close the door behind her with the fin of her tail. Vaporeon’s short coat of fur didn’t shed easy like the other evolutions of her species did, which made it perfect for sneaking about without leaving evidence behind. Which was what she was planning on doing. If there was one thing Simisage was right about, it was that Mawile was the true head of intelligence in this guild–if there was anything here substantial to know, Mawile would know it. And she'd probably keep that information in her office. Vaporeon looked around for a light switch, but it seemed like this room didn't have an emera light in the first place—even though the rest of the building was lit that way. Curious.

Once Vaporeon’s eyes adjusted to the dark, she caught sight of something faintly glowing under a tarp. Vaporeon pulled the cover off with her mouth, flooding the room with a blue glow. She smirked in triumph: light!

Now for the investigation. It seemed Mawile had a fixation on history, particularly Sand Continent history. Several books on the subject lay around on the desk, open to various places. There were footnotes written in bluk berry ink onto a piece of paper, all leading to obscure legends that didn't seem to be linked in any way, shape, or form.

Vaporeon lowered her head under the desk, trying not to bump her tail into the bookshelves behind her or the cot that lay between them. This was the last place somemon would bother to search. Perhaps something was hidden here.

Vaporeon didn’t find a big secret under the desk, but there was certainly a lot of dust under there–She had a brief sneezing fit after inhaling a bunch of it. Once she was able to stop coughing, Vaporeon stuck her head back underneath, holding her breath this time. Something caught her eye near the corner of the room, where it could be easily missed. Something that glinted.

Vaporeon took a closer look, as soon as she could adjust herself so that she didn't topple a stack of books by accident—Seriously, this place was too small, how did Mawile live like this? On closer inspection, the glimmering looked to be the shattered remains of a connection orb.

"We were all given a presentation by Mawile," Archen explained, sitting in his interrogation seat. "I remember specifically that all the photos were saved to a connection orb, but it disappeared the day after Primarina left. If you want my opinion, I think somemon stole it. Or wanted it hidden. Somemon didn't want pokemon to see those photos."

One couldn't jump to conclusions. There was no proof that it was the same connection orb. Perhaps Mawile had dropped it at an earlier time and simply neglected to clean it up.

Or perhaps she had broken it and hidden it here so that it wouldn't be found in the waste.

Vaporeon raised her head, preparing to leave, but then she saw the photos on the wall. There were three, pinned next to one another. One of a house in Pokemon Plaza, two of what looked like a stone lapras floating in on a raft, and another of a note stuck to the lapras’ chest. It was written in thick loopy handwriting that seemed very familiar to her… she just couldn’t remember where she’d seen it.

Vaporeon sat, looking at the photos. There was no proof that the connection orb was the same one she was thinking of, but that along with the photos were grounds for suspicion at least. It proved one thing: Whatever the Expedition Society was up to, they knew more than they were letting on. They were keeping these photos locked up, photos they weren’t authorized to have. What else were they hiding?

Maybe Simisage was right. Maybe he really was onto something. Putting everything back just right so that it looked undisturbed, Vaporeon made her way out of the office. She couldn’t remove the photos, but she could report what she found.

~\({O})/~

"Feels weird to be eating without doing anything all day," Holly said, lying on her bed of straw. They could smell the aroma of whatever Swirlix was cooking in the kitchen from half the building away, but none of them could leave the room without Simisage's say-so.

As if on cue, Simisage stepped into the room, reading off a list.

"Ampharos," he said.

"Right here!" Ampharos raised his paw, even though he was the tallest pokemon in the room and could clearly be seen by anymon present.

"Great," Simisage drawled. "Follow me."

~\({O})/~

“Are we rolling?” Simisage asked, leaning back in his seat. There was no answer. Simisage frowned.

“Are we rolling?” Simisage asked. There was no answer. Simisage frowned.

“Are we rolling?” Simisage asked. There was no answer. Simisage frowned.

“Are we rolling?” Simisage asked. There was no answer. Simisage frowned.

“Are we rolling?” Simisage asked. There was no answer. Simisage frowned.

“Are we rolling?” Simisage asked. There was no answer. Simisage frowned.

“Are we rolling?” Simisage asked. There was no answer. Simisage frowned.

Simisage’s frown faltered. For a second he was still, as if his entire being had just frozen. Then he looked at the pair of connection orbs that sat next to him, noticing Vaporeon’s absence.

“That no-good partner…” he muttered. “Always disappearin’ off to who-knows-where…”

Simisage returned his attention to Ampharos, pressing the record button on the connection orb.

“Interview the Sixth: Expedition Society, Chief Ampharos, continued. Hopin’ you’ll be a bit more co-operative than last time,” Simisage said. He prepped the clipboard Vaporeon had given him.

“And I sure hope you’ll be a bit more specific this time,” Ampharos said. “Why, it’s hard to answer questions when you barely give me anything to go off of!”

“Oh, I certainly will,” said Simisage with a level of relish that Ampharos considered quite inappropriate for the matter at hand. Regardless, Ampharos reclined into thin air, appearing relaxed.

“Fire away.”

“Tell me why the ambassador of the Water Continent spent three days at your establishment before leaving,” Simisage began.

Ampharos considered his next answer carefully. Now that he thought about it, he realized he still didn’t have a good idea as to why the Ambassador had shown up for the photos in the first place. But another question presented itself in its wake…

“What makes you think the Ambassador was here?” Ampharos asked.

“Others’ testimony stands against you,” Simisage snapped. “Don’t be coy.”

“As I understand it,” Ampharos said, “the Ambassador arrived claiming authority to collect the photos on Cloud Nine’s behalf. He stayed three days while they were prepared, then collected them and left that same night. I think you’ll find the others’ testimony will line up with mine.”

Ampharos purposefully left out the part about Zoroark and the photos being destroyed. Things no-mon had witnessed but him.

“And yet you attempted to keep this secret,” Simisage said.

“I didn’t feel the need to complicate things further,” Ampharos said. “Your investigation was directed towards accusations of monslaughter, as I recall.”

Simisage cleared his throat.

“Next question,” he continued, switching fronts, “Your Vice-Chief was the ‘mon who handled the making and distribution of the photos?”

“Yes, along with Engineer Jirachi, that’s correct,” said Ampharos.

“And you made no backup copies?” Simisage questioned.

“We put our trust in our superiors,” Ampharos said. “As long as the photos were safe in Primarina’s flippers we didn’t feel the need to make backup copies.”

Not a single word in that statement was true. But Ampharos trusted that no-mon had said otherwise to Simisage. Perhaps it was just the way the light shone on him, but Ampharos was almost certain there was a satisfied look on Simisage’s face, a sinister glint to his normal smugness.

“One last thing,” he said, chewing the words. “Tell me your opinion of your vice-chief. Specifically the fact that she came from the Grass Continent.”

Ampharos tilted his head, immediately suspicious. He sat forward. “bit of a weird question to ask, don’t you think?”

“Without the proper context, sure,” said Simisage. “It would be very weird. Answer it anyway.”

“I would ask in return why such a thing would be important to your investigation.”

Simisage muttered something. He sat forward, switching the connection orb off.

“It would be relevant to my investigation because I think that your vice chief is a saboteur,” he said. “Working for the Grass Continent in order to destabilize HAPPI from the inside. And what would benefit Grass more than the fall of the most powerful guild under their control?”

“Allow me to settle your concerns,” said Ampharos icily. “I can assure you nothing like that has ever happened under my or her supervision.”

“Is that so,” Simisage muttered back. He sat forward, switching the connection orb off. “What if I told you that just this morning, she proved the opposite to me?”

It was a moment before Ampharos had the clarity to answer. “I’m sure she wouldn’t do that,” he said.

Simisage played something on the connection orb.

“This interview is over,” Mawile’s voice blared through the orb.

“It’s not over until I say it is—“

It’s
over.” A snarl from her back maw, and Simisage shut off the recording. He sat back in his seat.

“What do you say to that?” he said.

“I would say that doesn’t prove anything,” Ampharos said.

“I would say it proves everything,” Simisage said. “Or it will when I bring it before the Quorum of Cloud Nine.” Ampharos looked at the orb, noticing it was turned off.

“Your Vice Chief was found to be housing copies of the photos you took at Pokemon Plaza in her office,” Simisage continued. “I trust this was not known to you at the time? If so, that would be… disappointing.”

Ampharos remained silent. If Simisage knew about the photos all along… That meant he had been waiting for Ampharos to slip up. And combined with the way Simisage was now acting, that could only mean one thing…

“Keeping copies of sensitive information would be a breach of confidentiality between you and HAPPI. If you are found guilty, then it could result in a criminal trial on Cloud Nine, and the dissolving of this organization.”

Getting up from his seat, Simisage began to pace around the lobby, slowly orbiting Ampharos.

“Of course, I don’t believe the Society at large is guilty of this. You put your trust in your superiors, correct? Well. Put your trust in me when I say your second in command is a spy.”

Abandoning all tact completely, he stopped in front of Ampharos and folded his arms behind his back. “So here’s how this is gonna go. You testify against your vice-chief, allow us to perform the arrest, and I let the rest of y’all off with a slap on the wrist. You don’t, and I end your Expedition Society. Crystal?”

“This is unbecoming conduct from a bastion of the law, wouldn’t you say?” Ampharos said. His tone had lost all its airiness for iciness—truly, this was the hardest it had ever been for him to maintain a poker face in years.

Simisage just shrugged. “Who will tell them? I have the arrest warrant ready in my folder, if you’ll just testify.”

Ampharos sat up, eyeing Simisage levelly.

“Do you consider me the type of pokemon who bends to such evil demands?” he asked gravely, dropping all pretenses.

“I consider you the type of pokemon to make the right decision,” Simisage said.

The sound of somemon padding down the hallway cut the tension in the air cleanly. Ampharos and Simisage looked over in the same direction to see Vaporeon padding in from the right-hand wing.

“I thought I would tell the both of you that the chef called dinner,” she said.

Ampharos had always been shrewd and eagle-eyed; even through her professional demeanor, he could tell she looked shaken—the look of fear in her eyes, the position of her tail between her legs, the formal tone her words took. Though she didn’t speak much, she seemed much more reasonable than Simisage. Had she overheard and… ?

“We’ll settle this later,” said Simisage, jarring Ampharos out of his thoughts and muses. “Go enjoy your meal.”

“Indeed,” Ampharos responded calmly, his best attempt to remain calm. He was anything but calm.

~\({O})/~

Dining Hall

Swirlix's dinner that night was nothing fancy—Swirlix had only had half the time to cook today that she usually had, something she made very clear with much annoyance when dinner had bee served. But to the starving Expedition Society, who had been through the most stressful day they’d had in a while, it was better than nothing. Mawile walked into the dining room after everymon else, where Swirlix had just set the table full of food and rang the dinner bell. As she entered, Vaporeon fell into stride alongside her.

"I'd like to conduct an interview of my own with you after dinner," said Vaporeon to Mawile.

Mawile took a deep breath in and out before she answered. "That's fine," she breathed.

"I'll be as tactful as I can," Vaporeon assured. "I only need to confirm a few things Simisage left out."

"Agreeable."

And with that, Mawile curtly took a seat. Simisage sat near them, wedging himself between Archen and Nickit and keeping a suspiciously close eye on Ampharos.

As Ampharos bit into a piece of bread, his mind wandered. He was presented with a rather gruesome ultimatum, a choice between bad or worse. Both were out of the question, and so the question became different: was there a way out?

Ampharos began to organize his thoughts. This ‘detective’ wasn’t on the level; that much he could tell. And even worse, his mission wasn’t to find a true crime. It was to make one. To betray facts for fraud so callously… Ampharos was disgusted at the very notion. But the end result was the same: Simisage claimed he had the power to tear the Expedition Society apart, and Ampharos wasn’t willing to call a bluff.

The only thing Ampharos knew for sure was that Simisage was powerless without evidence. If he could somehow get the photos, get the interviews; delete them or otherwise do away with them… then Simisage would have no proof against them. Nothing to show for all his investigating. It was a low tactic, but Simisage had set the board at this level, and Ampharos had no choice but to play. And so, he made it a plan.

~\({O})/~

~Vaporeon~

Night had fallen, but the doors of the Expedition Society remained the same way they had been all day: closed. And Vaporeon didn’t know what to think.

She didn’t mention to Simisage that she had heard their entire talk from the hall. She wasn’t sure what had changed, but after this… she knew something had. She couldn’t trust him anymore. She didn’t mention anything to Ampharos either. He wasn’t a part of the investigation team, and despite whatever was going on with Simisage, she knew that the Expedition Society wasn’t being completely candid. They were tiptoeing around something, covering something up with omissions and half-truths. And whatever it was, Vaporeon intended to find out.

So she approached the one member of the Expedition Society who was sure to know everything: Mawile.

The interview didn’t happen in the lobby. Vaporeon wanted somewhere more secluded, somewhere off the record. The bottom floor of the Society Building had an old bedroom near the end that Mawile said was hers. She clearly hadn’t used it in a while; it had become a makeshift storage room from the looks of all the crates neatly stacked up against the far side of the wall. Mawile sat down on the dusty cot near the window, and Vaporeon took a seat on the floor. That left them eye level with each other.

“Interview the seventh,” said Vaporeon, reciting for a recording connection orb. “Vice Chief Mawile, continued. Previous testimony from Off-continent Explorer Archen indicates that at one point, you had the photos taken at Pokemon Plaza saved onto a singular connection orb. Additionally, testimony from Chief Ampharos claims that the only physical copies of the photos remain with the Water Continent Ambassador. In your office, photos from Pokemon Plaza are pinned to your wall, and the remains of a connection orb lie on the floor. Can you explain to me why these testimonies were inconsistent?”

Mawile looked annoyed at the notion of her office having been disturbed. It took a moment before she responded. Just enough of a pause to pass it off as somemon gathering their thoughts, but Vaporeon was sharper than that. She could see the cogs turning in Mawile’s head.

“The Expedition Society suspected foul play on the part of the Water Continent Ambassador, who arrived claiming authority to pick up the photos,” Mawile answered. “We deduced that the Ambassador was not in contact with Cloud Nine for this mission, and therefore must have had other motives. To avoid entering conflict with our superiors, we sent Ambassador Primarina off with copies of the photos and waited to see what happened.”

Vaporeon listened, making

“As for the connection orb,” Mawile continued, “it was the orb that the files were originally saved on, but the files were not saved properly onto the orb itself. It was useless, so I left it on my desk. At some point it must have fallen off and broken."

"I assume you are also aware that the Ambassador has not been seen for almost a week since leaving port in Lively Town?"

"I have recently been made aware of that fact," Mawile answered.

"Very well." Vaporeon took a deep breath. The story held together, but… something was still fishy. She needed to pry deeper. Discreetly pressing a paw to the connection orb, she switched the recording off.

“One last thing,” she said. “You gave some smart answers for the recording. Now tell me the truth. All of it.”

“Are you implying I was being dishonest during the interview?” Mawile asked coolly. There was a calmness to it that managed to unnerve Vaporeon somehow.

“Yes, actually,” she pulled herself together to say. “Yes I am.”

“Explain yourself.”

The answer was curt, to the point, and said with enough authority that it held a power over Vaporeon that it shouldn’t have. But she saw through it, saw what Mawile was doing. She was trying to flip the dynamic of the interview, put Vaporeon in the interrogation seat. And Vaporeon wasn’t going to let that happen.

“I am the one asking the questions,” Vaporeon said loudly. “There is nothing I have to explain to you.”

“Then ask your questions and be done with it.”

“Not before I am finished.”

Mawile was silent, staring at her levelly. Vaporeon cleared her throat and continued. “I’ve stopped the recording, because everything after this is off the record. In twelve hours’ time, my partner will have created enough evidence to have your organization be held guilty in front of Cloud Nine for espionage and by extension, mass murder of everymon in the Rescuer’s Guild. Do I believe that’s true? No, there’s no evidence in support of that. But you and the Expedition Society are tiptoeing around something, and I need you to tell me what, so I can help you. So I will ask again: What’s the truth?”

“So you mean to solicit my help in stopping foul play, even if it breaks the rules of your investigation?” Mawile asked.

“I wouldn’t say I’m the first one to break rules here,” Vaporeon said. “But only if you can give me reason enough to trust you first.”

“I was not being dishonest in the interview,” Mawile said after a pause. Vaporeon’s heart skipped. Had she gotten through? “I did, however, omit some crucial details. The Expedition Society believes a fourth great calamity may be upon us. The fate of Pokemon Plaza and the Rescuer’s Guild would only be the beginning of what is coming, at the claws of an anomaly I have yet to find a reference of in any source or textbook. And we have reason to believe that our superiors may be against this information becoming public. The same superiors that issued a warrant not for failure to deliver confidential information on time, but for monslaughter and espionage. Somemon wants the Expedition Society out of the way, and it seems your partner is one of them. Is this summary to your satisfaction?”

As loony as it sounded… it fit. Mawile’s words made an uncanny sort of sense, one that made the gears in Vaporeon’s head turn even though she didn’t want them to. There were points—why was that warrant issued? And how, when there wasn’t even a case to preclude it? When Simisage was…

“Let’s say I believe you,” Vaporeon said, swallowing down her fears of confronting her partner, of learning if he really had been involved in this from the beginning. “What then?”

“Then…” Mawile said. “We would begin planning.”

~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Hallway

~Mawile~

It was late, and everymon was already in bed.

Mawile rarely ever used her allotted bedroom. It had become something of a storage room in the recent years, where she would lop things that had no use or place in her study so it didn't clutter up space elsewhere. They all lay in wooden crates, stacked neatly on top of each other with a piece of paper attached to each one, informing pokemon on where everything went. As it all should be. Mawile headed to her bed, reluctantly tucking herself into the pile of straw. Team Cobalt had fenced off the upper floor for the night, and that meant all the Expedition Society 'mon were sleeping on the lower floor. Mawile laid to her side, and attempted to drift off…

But she couldn't. She wasn't used to sleeping at this hour. Even when she didn't take her chesto berry, she always slept during the day and worked at night, when there was no-mon else to bug her. Sleeping at this hour felt wrong. So wrong, that Mawile couldn't even stay in bed any longe.r She sat up, pulling the covers off herself. She might be able to lobby permission to use her study with Vaporeon. Assuming Vaporeon was still awake.

And if she was asleep, then Mawile saw no conflict of interest.

She walked out of her room, slinking down the hallway until she reached the lobby. Crime scene tape had been slung over the entrance to the second floor, but it was nothing somemon couldn't easily pass if they wanted to.

She entered the second floor, approaching the large room where the Pokemon Nexus was hidden. Her study was just a room away…

Mawile suddenly hid as a door opened. Peeking out, she saw that it was the door to Ampharos' Office. The lights clicked off, and Simsiage stepped out, empty handed. He looked annoyed. Mawile stayed hidden, watching him as he went. He was up to something. Mawile watched him slip through the room, and disappear into her study.

That was the last line crossed. Mawile was not endorsing that a second time. She slowly crept forward, catching the door before it could close and peeking in.

Inside, Simisage rifled through the study, searching for something. Mawile kept herself hidden, watching him silently. He pulled a camera out of the sack he was holding, a small, rectangular device with a connection orb slotted through the center. Flash. Snapshots were taken of the office.

Soon Simisage found what he was looking for: the broken connection orb under the desk. He picked the shards up, stuffing them into his bag. Then he looked up. He saw the photos. Mawile just stopped herself from yelling out for him to stop.

Simisage reached up, and pressed a button. Flash. A photos was taken. He plucked the photos one-by-one off the wall. He began to stuff them in his bag as well, but then stopped at the last second. Instead, he brought the photos up to his face. Mawile had to adjust her position to see around the back of his head.

Then Simisage tore. He tore the photos in half. And then into fourths. And then eights. And then into several pieces so small Mawile couldn't even count them anymore.

Mawile was horrified. She had an inclination to yell out to him right now, but that would just get her caught. And then Simisage turned back towards the door. He didn't see anything, because Mawile had disappeared.

Mawile hid behind the second-floor trash can as Simisage exited the office. He looked around just to make sure he hadn't been seen, then continued on his way. Mawile wasn't noticed as he walked downstairs, leaving his bag in an obvious spot at the front of the stairwell. Mawile silently followed.

Simisage dropped the photos in the wastebin outside the kitchen, then left in the opposite direction. Mawile quickly hid so that she wouldn't be found. As soon as he was gone, she slunk over to the bin and pulled out what remained of the photos: they were in so many pieces that she couldn't even hope to glue them back together.

She heard the sound of somemon creeping back up the stairs. Mawile decided to cut her losses and leave. As saddening as that loss of information would be… it wasn't worth getting caught by Simisage over. It wasn’t worth ruining the contingency she and Vaporeon had so carefully constructed.

Soon after Mawile had crept back to her bedroom, Ampharos snuck into the hallway. He took a look all over the room, just to make sure he wasn't being watched. There were no pokemon that he could see.

Good.

Silently, Ampharos crept through the hall, doing the best to keep the glow of his tail dim. It glowed brightly anyway, as he couldn't stay calm long enough to dim it. Ampharos just decided to move along and pretend like the orb glowing at the end of his tail wasn't a large giveaway.

Simisage's bag was sitting at the edge of the staircase. Ampharos considered for a minute that its placement was just a little too convenient, but he didn't have much choice in the matter. If it was a trap, he'd just have to spring it. And so he reached the bag, opened, it, and began to rifle through its contents.

Up at the top of the stairwell where a pokemon on the first floor wouldn't be able to see, a connection orb started recording.

There were only a few things inside the bag, and Ampharos had no trouble finding the connection orb he was looking for amongst the ledgers of documents. He pulled it out, and then activated it with his Expedition Gadget. Ampharos went into the menu. He pulled up the list of recordings, and went all the way down until he found the one detailing his second interview with Simisage. He opened it, then swiped right.

Large red words appeared upon the connection orb's projection: "Would you like to delete this file? [Yes/No]"

Ampharos thought for a minute. If he did this and was caught… all the better to do it quickly, then. He pressed 'yes'. The file disappeared from the menu, and then Ampharos deleted all of Mawile's interviews as well. He removed the connection orb from his expedition gadget, putting the connection orb back in the bag and then zipping it back up. The mechanical camera of the connection orb caught him slinking back into the Society's residential wing.

~\({O})/~

Baram Town ~ Spinda's Café

~Vaporeon~

It was nighttime. Vaporeon was dizzy, and she was only 25% sure the food served in Spinda's made you that dizzy. Although she couldn't be sure, because she was dizzy and she thought a few other patrons looked slightly dizzy too.

"Hope that hit to the head didn' do ya any harm," Simisage said, sipping from his drink neatly. He wore his scarf, an ornament he took pride in and made sure to carry around with him everywhere.

"It was only an emboar," Vaporeon said. "I had the type advantage; I'll be fine. Thanks for asking, though."

"Alice." Simisage said sternly. "A physical hit to the head ain't a type advantage; that's just a physical hit to the head. If it gets worse I want you to get it checked out. Deal?"

"Fine." Vaporeon wouldn't lie – she was feeling a bit out of it ever since that hit. Maybe so medical care would be a good thing.

They sat in silence, eating their food for a few minute. Then Simisage got up and stretched.

"I'll be back," he said. "I'll only be a minute. Hold my seat for me, will ya?"

Vaporeon silently curled her tail fin onto his seat in response. Simisage smiled in gratitude, then ran off.

It was quite a few minutes before Simisage came back, and in that time Vaporeon had been cussed out by more than one pokemon who had their eyes set on Simisage's seat (Spinda's was a popular place). He looked a bit more distant than he normally did, looking at Vaporeon dully. "What happened ta you?"

Even through her dizziness, Vaporeon noticed a change like that.

"Are you okay?" she asked.

"I'm fine. I'm askin' about you. Just answer the question"

Maybe he'd slipped in a puddle or something and had a mood. It was a terrible excuse in hindsight, but Vaporeon just wanted to rationalize any problems away and make her evening go right. She'd deal with the consequences tomorrow—


But she hadn't dealt with them tomorrow. Not even when he'd paid the check in that weirdly loopy handwriting he never used before. She hadn't dealt with the consequences in over a week, and Simisage had never been the same. He never wore his police badge around, never talked to her the same way he did before, and his handwriting…

…His handwriting. His handwriting.

Vaporeon awoke, sitting up in the straw bed in shock and breathing intensely. She knew. She knew. She knew she knew she knew she knew she knew.

But that couldn't be right. Because if it was that meant

That meant

That

It

No

She couldn't

She can't

He

He

But

But

It was.

Vaporeon retched in horror. And then she puked. And then she cried.

~\({O})/~

“Then let me change the question,” Vaporeon said. “What’s going on? What are you hiding that you won’t tell me?”

“You aren’t recording this,” Mawile said coolly,

“You’re right,” Vaporeon said. “I’m not. Anything you say in this room, I can’t prove it. I hoped respecting your privacy would open you up more.”

“This investigation has been a fundamental breach of privacy,” said Mawile.

“Let me make this easy for you,” said Vaporeon. “Come tomorrow morning, Simisage will have created all the evidence he needs to incriminate the entire Expedition Society. I don’t know why. Maybe you do. But what I do know is that I can’t help you unless you help me understand why you have these photos.”

“You believe your own partner is conspiring to falsify evidence?” Mawile asked.

“Yes,” Vaporeon said. “More than believe. I heard him threaten it.



~\({O})/~

Lobby

It was eight-forty-five. The lobby was once again filled with all the pokemon in the Expedition Society, who all stood lined up in a neat row like they usually did for morning briefings. Vaporeon and Simisage stood at the front of the stairs. Simisage held a connection orb discreetly in his paw.

"I'm sure you're wondering why I've called you all here, with only fifteen minutes until the lockdown lifts, Vaporeon said, discreetly wiping away a tear on her cheek with her tail. "It isn't in vain: I've solved the case. And rest assured…" her eyes flicked over the room. "One of you in here is guilty."

"There really is a guilty party?" Bunnelby asked, eyeing everymon else in the room nervously.

"They know who they are," Vaporeon said. "Now allow me to explain to the rest of you. The guilty party, the one pokemon in this room who has unquestionably committed a crime, is my own partner."

At her side, Simisage looked at her in shock.

"You…" he stammered in disbelief. "You're accusing me? Wha? Explain. Now."

"Gladly," said Vaporeon, her tone hardening. She looked back towards the rest of the Expedition Society. "I first noticed something was off about Simisage when he began to routinely not wear his scarf. True to my deductions, he has not worn one for the last week and a half, and he isn't wearing one now."

Simisage looked down at his scarfless chest.

"That's no pretense to accuse someone of crimes over," he said angrily. "I just forgot it!"

"You didn't bring it," said Vaporeon. She turned to Mawile. "Mawile, if you please, Simisage's luggage?"

"Over here." Mawile strode over and grabbed Simisage's bag out from the storage room outside the hallway. She opened it, revealing its completely empty insides – save for a thick leather envelope.

"Open the envelope, please."

Mawile opened the envelope and pulled out the papers contained within. They were blank. Vaporeon turned back towards Simisage.

"You faked a warrant. This case never had any pretense or authorization from HAPPI. You broke the law in order to incriminate the Expedition Society. The only question left to answer is why."

"I- I…" Simisage stammered.

“Luckily,” Vaporeon said, addressing the entire room. “I have that answer. I held a seventh interview before nightfall, between myself and Vice Chief Mawile. There, I found the last pieces of the puzzle.

"Picture this," she continued, addressing the entire room. "There are monsters in this world. Monsters that stay hidden until they see fit to strike from the shadows. And on the Air Continent, that is exactly what happens. Two monsters are responsible for the destruction of Pokemon Plaza. Two monsters with two missions. One heads to Pokemon Plaza to kill everymon there. The other—" she took a moment for a deep breath "—the other kills and replaces my partner, Simisage, in Baram Town."

~\({O})/~

Baram Town ~ Outside Spinda's

Simisage walked around the back of the restaurant, looking for a restroom that wasn't bird-suited. Damn birds, only thinking of themselves and no-mon else…

The creature slunk into the alleyway behind him. Simisage spun around at the sound, looking at the creature. It stood out against the alleyway's darkness; so dark that he wouldn't be able to see any of it if not for the fact that it was darker than everything else.

"Who's that'?" he asked. The creature didn't answer. Simisage took a step forward.

"You ain't scarin' me," he said. "I just dealt with an emboar today and won; wanna bet on if I can take you—"

The creature lunged. Simisage never even got the chance to scream.


~\({O})/~

Lobby

"You can't prove that!" Simisage cried out angrily. "You're crazy, that's what you are!"

"Maybe I am, Vaporeon said. "But, to quote something you once told me: if I may be allowed to insinuate further, I think I'll begin to sound a lot more sane.

"See, the monsters are crafty," Vaporeon continued. "If they reveal their presence to the world, they know that they will be wiped out. They need to disappear. They need somemon else to be seen doing something that will remove suspicion off them entirely; dismiss the barest notion that they even exist! And so a plan begins to form in their heads. When the Expedition Society is drafted to investigate Pokemon Plaza, they make their move. One monster sneaks back to Pokemon Plaza the night after you arrive, murdering and posing as Simisage. It then attacks their lapras escort, pins a note to it, and sends it floating into the harbor on a raft—pretenses for a future plot. Now cue the Ambassador. The Ambassador's role is simple—he needs to stop all of you from delivering the photos to HAPPI, because if HAPPI catches wind of what has happened in Pokemon Plaza that soon, the monster's plan is down the drain. I can only assume the Ambassador has been replaced or otherwise manipulated as well, explaining his disappearance. The Ambassador sabotages your mission efforts. His plan initially fails, but there is a failsafe, and that’s where Simisage comes in. With all evidence of Pokemon Plaza's massacre erased forever and the Expedition Society behind bars, the monsters are free to plot their next move.”

Vaporeon turned to Simisage. "And that's why you came here, isn't it?" she accused. “With a fake warrant and a pocket of lies. The Expedition Society is your scapegoat, a debacle to keep the authorities in the dark while you go about your plans, isn't it?"

"Perhaps you're forgettin' somethin'," Simisage said. "I'm not a monster! I'm not! I'm not I'm not i'M nOt!"

"Prove it to me," said Vaporeon. "What were we doing in Baram Town?"

There was a delayed pause before Simisage answered. "Vacationin'," he finally said.

"Wrong." Vaporeon said. "We were solving a theft, and celebrating the successful completion of that mission. Try again. What's my name?"

"…Vaporeon?" Simisage guessed.

"Wrong. It's Elizabeth. Try again."

"…Elizabeth?" Simisage guessed one last time.

"Wrong again," Vaporeon said sternly. "My name is Alice, and you are not my partner."

Simisage was silent for a minute. Ampharos tensed up in case a fight was about to break out, and the rest of the Expedition Society quickly followed his example.

Simisage breathed hard. Then he suddenly bolted for the door. He threw it open with a thrust, running for the outdoors as fast as he could.

"Don't let him get away!" Alice yelled, and everymon began to run after it. Simisage ran out the front door with the connection orb in his hand, then ran through the square. It stopped at the sewer monhole. As Alice and Expedition Society dashed out the front door after it, Simisage turned around to look back at them. It grinned, and then slowly began to dissolve and sink in…

A sudden water gun from Buizel jolted the monster away from the monhole, and then Bunnelby charged forward while Simisage was still recovering. On the other side, Jirachi flew around and cut the Simisage off. It looked both ways at all the pokemon surrounding it, then lunged past Jirachi for the entrance to Lively Town. Jirachi was sent flying to the side, but Ampharos quickly let off a dragon rage that hit the creature directly. Simisage hit the ground hard. The connection orb hit the ground and rolled to a stop near the sidewalk. It was cracked but still intact.

Now crippled, Simisage began to crawl for the connection orb. Racing forward, Bunnelby saw that his legs were regenerating.

"Everymon get over here!" he yelled. "It's growing back!"

Simisage hissed at Bunnelby – unnaturally, gutturally – and then fired a large shadowy ball at Bunnelby. Bunnelby ducked and barely leaped out of the way. He saw it catch the end of a chimney, leaving it stone grey.

The rest of the Expedition Society ran up, joining Bunnelby as they watched whatever had pretended to be Simisage crawl over to the orb. Its legs had nearly grown back, but instead of Simisage’s legs they were jet black, twisted in unnatural ways and with the consistency of goo. Everymon watched as he suddenly spasmed, his form exploding and then reforming for split seconds into other pokemon: An elgyem, an impidimp, a togedemaru, all wearing purple HAPPI scarves.

Ampharos didn’t waste time. He quickly charged another dragon rage up, but ‘Simisage’ clutched its hand around the orb first. It looked back at him, grinning evilly with a mouth full of more jet-black teeth than any simisage should have.

"Just… have… to send… this… video…" it hissed, performing the motions as it spoke. Ampharos blasted Simisage with the dragon rage, and then the rest of the Expedition Society followed suit with their own attacks.

It was too much for the monster to bear: it began to disintegrate, evaporating up into the air and convulsing like it was in agony as it did. And then slowly, it was gone.

~\({O})/~

Lively Town Docks

"So what are you going to tell HAPPI?"

The ferry Vaporeon and 'Simisage' had used to travel to Lively Town floated in the docks. The ferrymon would be waiting for them, but not for much longer. Dedenne had followed to see Vaporeon off, even helping carry Vaporeon's bag for her (which was no easy feat when the bag was bigger than you were).

"I don't know," Vaporeon said, lowering her head. "I guess I'll tell them nothing of consequence was discovered. And…" she went silent for a minute. "I'll have to find a new partner. I'll be keeping an eye out. If I find something, I'll go to you first."

She took her bag off of Dedenne and tossed it over her shoulder. Dedenne waved at her as she climbed onto the ferry. Vaporeon waved back the best she could.

Slowly, the ferry sailed away towards the setting sun. And soon, it was gone.

~\({O})/~

Baram Town

~Zoroark~

Zoroark-as-Braixen sat in the seat closest to the door of the mayor’s office. The large vane of the windmill slowly descended over the windows, casting the entire room briefly into darkness for the umpteenth time. He had been waiting out there for hours, thinking about what Honchkrow and Primarina were talking about. In fact, if he leaned close enough to the door…

Zoroark-as-Braixen leaned over in his seat, trying to get a good idea of what was being said.

“Do I have your word that no-mon hears anything about these photos?” Primarina asked.

“Your secret is safe with me.”

“Good. And remember, there’s a good mention for you for the Rescue Guildmaster position if you keep that secret. If not…” Primarina lowered his voice, and Zoroark-as-Braixen had to strain his ears to hear the last part: “I know yours.”

There was something that sounded like Honchkrow reluctantly trilling in confirmation, and then the door opened and Primarina slithered out.

“Come on,” he said to Zoroark. "Let’s go."

The walk through Baram Town was quiet and somber. The sun had nearly set over the horizon, and the sky was a quickly darkening blue. It set over trash-ridden streets, buildings covered in paintings that stretched all the way up to the second floor, houses with their windows smashed in, and pokemon hanging in quiet, huddled gangs on the streets. Some of them wore the customary scarves of the Rescuer’s Guild, others didn’t. They all regarded Primarina and Braixen quietly as the two of them walked towards the harbor, their faces painting shades of orange from the small fires they were huddling around.

Zoroark-as-Braixen just turned his head away, kept it down, kept walking. The harbor wasn’t too far from here.

~\({O})/~

The Exeggutor ~ Nighttime

Primarina did not seem in the best of straights. He hadn’t been for almost a week. He was slouched over, tired, and responded to few of Zoroark’s prompts. Once or twice, Zoroark throught he had seen what looked like a black spark or two zipping out of the corner of his eye. He was beginning to get worried. And now Primarina had been piloting the Exeggutor to an unknown location out at sea after leaving Baram Town. There was a storm brewing in the distance, and that only amplified Zoroark’s worry.

Soon, the boat stopped all together. Zoroark had been playing a game of checkers lazily with himself on the front deck when the boat bumped to a stop and knocked over his board all together. He looked around, his eyes settling on the ship’s cabin. He cast another look towards the storm in the distance, which was only growing closer. The rumble of thunder a few seconds later punctuated its near arrival. What was Primarina doing?

And with that thought motivating him, Zoroark got up and headed over to the captain’s cabin.

Zoroark burst into, looking around. The steering wheel was near the front, and Primarina was slouched over it, asleep. He must have collapsed! Zoroark quickly attempted to wake him.

“Hey,” he hissed. “Primarina. You awake?” Primarina didn’t stir. “Are you okay??” Zoroark shook him. Primarina was completely unresponsive. Slowly, he slid off and onto the floor, spinning the wheel as he fell. The ship suddenly made a violent bank to the right, and Zoroark was barely able to grab onto something as the cabin tilted. He grabbed onto the steering wheel, stopping it from spinning uncontrolled. Slowly, the ship began to stabilize itself.

Zoroark took a second to catch his breath, then paced around the cabin for a few seconds. What had happened? Was Primarina dead? This was bad. And trapped out here all alone too?

Okay. He had to calm down. He could get out of this. He just had to figure out the first step – getting to land. He just had to steer the ship back there! That could work.

…If only he knew how to work a ship as big as this.

And he didn’t.

Zoroark tried pulling on the steering wheel, but either because the ship’s violent bank had broken something or other powers were stopping the boat, it wouldn’t budge. Eventually, Zoroark gave up. What was another good way to reach land?

The transmission machine. That was a good fallback. But there would be a six-hour delay between transmissions, and Zoroark wasn’t sure they would make it. He looked at the storm outside through the window. It was getting uncomfortably close.

And then he noticed from outside the window that the water was glowing.

Zoroark exited the captain’s cabin and marched up to the starboard railing, looking over the side at the glowing water. There was something under there. Something large.

Something moving…

And then it attacked.

The captain’s cabin – easily half the ship – was suddenly gone. The large crimson head of a massive gyarados crashed back into the ocean. The ship splintered. Zoroark fell. The game of checkers fell off the deck and was lost to sea forever.

Zoroark acted quickly. He looked at all the debris floating away – there was a good large plank, easily a makeshift raft. Large enough to hold him. Zoroark didn’t see his fake wand anywhere – it must have been caught up in the wreckage. Oh well. He didn’t need it anyway. He jumped onto the plank, and none too soon: the water began to glow again, and just a second later the other half of the ship was snatched up in the gyarados’ mouth.

Zoroark watched as the gyarados’ massive head slowly retreated back into the ocean. Then there was nothing but the wrecked remains of the Exeggutor in a state, which he stared at in a state of distant shock. Shivering, Zoroark crawled onto the plank completely. The water had lost its glow; it seemed like the red gyarados wasn’t concerned with small prey like him.

And then all was silent, and Zoroark only had the storm he was floating away from for company.

~\({O})/~

Music of the week!

Blanc's Tale, Part II - Nathan Johnson


 
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Shiny Phantump

Born of Smol and Void
Location
Hallownest
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. absol-mega
  3. silvally-psychic
I’ve just read through everything here, so I though I’d leave what I can of a review.
I’m not in the most critical think-y mood at the moment, so it’ll be a short one. I just know that if I don’t make a point of doing it now, I’ll end up putting it off indefinitely.

Thus far, the character writing on Espurr and Tricky has been very well done. I’ve always been a fan of Super’s partner, but this fic in particular does a good job of exploring Tricky’s flaws, while also keeping her from being irritating, which the original Super partner was guilty of. Espurr’s character is subtler, but she still has a clear enough personality to set her apart from the run of the mill protagonist.

As for the latest chapters, I’m beginning to become a little confused as to who and what is and isn’t in the voidlands. I can’t tell what’s happening and where. I’ve lost track of were Espurr, Tricky, the schoolkids and our new Riolu friend each are. Fortunately, the character writing was still enough to hold my interest.

Anyways, I’m looking forward to seeing what goes on from this point forwards!
 
Chapter 20 - Fallout

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter20Art.png
Breaking: Pokemon Plaza found deserted, Air Continent economy takes a major hit

After weeks of mystery surrounding the cutoff in communications with the Rescuer's Guild, authorities have finally revealed the truth behind the incident. The guild and city was found completely deserted by responders who arrived on the scene, and everyone within a mile radius of the city has been classified as missing.

"It's honestly baffling," said Vaporeon Alice, one of HAPPI's investigators. "An entire city, some of the most accomplished explorers in the world, gone missing. None of us have ever seen anything like it."

In the wake of the Guild's shutdown, the Air Continent has been sent reeling. HAPPI officials are expected to move in to stabilize the economy and choose a new guildmaster within the coming weeks.

~ The Lively Town Times


~\({O})/~

20.

Fallout

~\({O})/~

~Espurr~

…Hello.

Espurr fell back on her behind in startlement, landing on solid blackness. The rest of the bedroom behind her had crumbled away—it hadn’t ever been real in the first place. She trained all her mind’s strength on the cyclone of voices towering above her, aiming it like a cannon yet to be fired. She felt the heart of the vortex hesitate. They both knew: It could get hurt in here.

“Who are you?” Espurr questioned loudly to the swirling vortex of blackness and whispers.

Me?

The voice boomed down, a culmination of a thousand weaker whispers that crept into her ears. Some were children. Some were adults. Some were male. Some were female. All were one.

I am the voice that lives in everyone’s head.

Espurr didn’t know what that meant, but there were more important things to ask.

“Alright… Where are we?” she asked next, keeping her mind’s eye trained on the voice. It was waiting for her to slip up, to lower her guard.

This is the In-Between. the subconscious of a mind, where memories go to die and be found. Few pokemon can access it.

“Then why are we here?” Espurr asked.

Because I have willed it to be.

The vortex swirled around Espurr, then disintegrated into nothing right before her eyes. Espurr quickly looked around to see where it went, but it was gone.

This world is rotting. It is a withered corpse of what it once was. Soon by my hand it shall cease to exist. But… you do not need to die with it.

The voice boomed out of nowhere, resounding all around her. The darkness was its home, and it was blending in perfectly. Espurr turned around in the blackness, looking around to see where it was coming from. But she could see nothing.

You have come from a different world; A different time. your captor, the one who brought you here, has robbed you of everything you once knew. You were not given the chance to decide whether you would like to go; you were taken. I ask of you: would you like to go back?

Espurr breathed heavily, looking around in vain. She didn’t like what this voice was saying. And yet…

“What does that mean?” she asked the blackness firmly, over the whispering chorus of voices that had grown in volume.

I could undo it all. Return you to where you came. Let you discover who you were before you were stolen. Bless you with your old life. Just like I blessed you with the knowledge of this world’s language.

That made Espurr pause for a minute.

"That was you?"

For just a minute, she was actually listening to what the voice had to say.

Indeed. Do you now see the mercy of your captor? To take from you so heartlessly? To not even leave you with that one simple thing? you deserve better. You are not deserving of your fate as a pawn. Allow me to restore what your captor has taken.

It tempted Espurr. To know all the secrets she had been dying for ever since she had woken up in that mystery dungeon three weeks ago…

She almost said yes.

She almost let the words enrapture her.

But she knew better.

“What’s the catch?!” she yelled up at the blackness over the chorus of voices. They were chanting something; she could barely make out the words among the incessant whispering-

—human—

—threat—

—rip—

—Tear—

KILL

—Not yet—

cease…

Catch? You will abandon this world as you know it and return to your old life.


Espurr spun around; the voice had come from behind her. The void was rematerializing, a thousand whispers filtering into the distance once she had noticed.

The answer should be no, Espurr’s first gut instinct told her. But then other parts of her began to think. Was it really that bad a choice? She had been here three weeks. That was barely enough time to grow attached to anything here. And she had a whole life to go back to, one where there weren’t creepy voices in her dreams and beheeyem stalking her every move. Maybe she should leave. Maybe there were others who missed her.

But then she thought of Tricky. What would Tricky do if she up and vanished one day?

And that was what ultimately swayed Espurr’s mind.

“No,” said Espurr. “I think I want to stay here. I’ve made up my mind.”

The wrong answer. But do not saY I didn’t gIVE you a CHANCE…

The voices all around Espurr suddenly began to rise in intensity, getting louder and louder until Espurr could hear clearly what they had to say—

Rip

Tear

Maul

Kill

Kill her kill her NOW


“Get out!” Espurr screamed over the chorus, now terrified. “Get out of my head!”

The voices only got louder. And then the vortex began to form right above Espurr again. It was angry. It began to reach out for her from above, winds and whispers swirling with all the intensity of a hurricane…

Espurr lashed back. She wanted to explode, to blow the vortex apart like she’d blown up the classroom, if only she could find the right mental snag…

And then she did. The dream BOOMED, and Espurr blacked out—


~\({O})/~

What lived in the Ancient Barrow awoke from Its slumber. It clawed its way through the Barrow’s decrypit doors, Its limbs meeting the cool night. Its claws driving into the porch’s wood. For the seal was now broken, and It could roam free once more.

Hunt.

Find.

Kill
.


~\({O})/~

Audino’s House

—Espurr hit the floor of her bedroom.

Her real bedroom. Espurr scrabbled her paws along the very solid, very rugged, very visible floorboards in joy—she had escaped!

At the cost of a slight headache. Espurr rubbed her forehead in pain. Exploding, even in her dream, still took a lot out of her. She sat back against the straw bed she had fallen out of, staring up at light from the window tiredly. It was sunny. At the very least, that meant she wouldn’t have to go to bed again.


~\({O})/~

Village Square

The Pelipper Post visited Serenity Village that day. There hadn’t been any word from the Pelipper Post in weeks, so when a lone pelipper flew over Serenity Village and dropped a single copy of the Lively Town Times smack in the middle of the Village Square, the entire village went out to investigate. It was Simipour who took the newspaper in his hands, uncurling it and reading the news headline:

“Breaking News: Pokemon Plaza on Air Continent found deserted; Air Continent economy takes a major hit,” Simipour read aloud. He and the other adults all traded concerned looks.

“Pokemon Plaza?” Tricky asked, her tail drooping. Simipour nodded. “But that means…”

Tricky began to breathe hard, at a loss for words. She turned away from everymon else, and was silent for a while. Everymon’s attention—Espurr included—returned to Simipour.

Simipour folded the newspaper. “Run along,” he said, waving off the children. “This isn’t a matter for children.”

Espurr was about to combat that with her own counterargument, but then saw many of the adults in the square, from Sawsbuck to Hippopotas to Lotad, nodding their heads in agreement. It seemed their minds were made up. It was a lost cause. Espurr said nothing.

Ursaring did a fist pump.

“Yes,” she said in a hushed declaration of excitement. “Not a child anymore!”

Uncle swatted her on the ear.

The adults all convened at Kangaskhan’s Café (aside from Kangaskhan, who had capitalized on the few ‘mon who weren’t interested in the weekly news and had headed off for an easy breakfast instead), leaving all six of the children all on their lonesome in the square.

To everymon’s surprise, Deerling was the first one among them to talk.

“…So,” she said awkwardly. “You guys… wanna give chess a go?”

The air suddenly became laced with an awkwardness thick enough that a knife couldn’t cut it.

“Eh,” Pancham shrugged. “Better than doing nothing.”


~\({O})/~

Deerling had gone back to her house to quickly retrieve the chess kit and the manual, and then the six of them had set it up in the square to play. There was only room for two players at a time, so they took turns playing and watching each other play. After reading the manual, Goomy and Deerling went first. Goomy’s slimy paws weren’t made for pushing all the pieces around, but he managed to beat Deerling by just a hairline. Or perhaps Deerling had let him win. Espurr couldn’t tell.

Tricky—reluctantly—went up against Shelmet next. By the end of their game, Espurr silently concluded that Tricky had no tact or strategy whatsoever, and Shelmet was a closet chess genius. Their game had lasted all of five minutes.

Then Espurr faced Pancham. She knew it wouldn’t be easy; Pancham was sharp when he wasn’t being mean. Their game lasted longer than the last two combined had, but when Pancham finally knocked over Espurr’s nidoqueen the others clapped and rejoiced. The three games combined lasted them until the end of the adults’ conference.

It was late afternoon when the adults all streamed out of the Café Connection, all walking around or herding their child off home. Even Kecleon’s was setting up shop rather late.

Carracosta cleared his throat, standing over Espurr, Tricky, and Deerling (The rest had had to leave early).

“Oh! Right.” Tricky stood up, shaking herself off obliviously. “I’m helping make dinner tonight. I gotta go. Bye!” She waved at Espurr, and then followed Carracosta eastwards. Then it was just Espurr and Deerling. Espurr quickly put the pieces of the chess kit back in the box. She and Deerling both stood up.

“So… good game today,” Deerling said. She held out her hoof to shake, and Espurr shook it.

It had been such a lackadaisical afternoon that Espurr had forgotten all about telling Tricky about the Beheeyem.


~\({O})/~

Audino’s House

“What was in the newspaper?” Espurr asked over dinner. She had forgotten about it over the course of the afternoon, but after everymon had gone home and the sky had gotten dark it had slowly come back to her. She didn’t know where Pokemon Plaza was, much less what had happened to it, but now she wanted to know.

“We’re not talking about it,” said Audino.

“But I want to talk about it,” Espurr replied matter-of-factly. Audino was silent for a minute.

“Children shouldn’t have to deal with things like this so soon,” she finally said. “Cherish your youth while you still have it. You’ll thank me later.”

“Why can’t I know?” Espurr pressed.

“Because you’re thirteen!” Audino said. “You’re too young to be worrying over things like this. You should grow up and evolve before you have to worry like that!”

Espurr had the urge to tell Audino she already had a thousand things to worry about aside from whatever had happened in Pokemon Plaza, but that probably wouldn’t do her any favors. Reluctantly, she dropped the topic, and both pokemon went back to eating their dinners.


~\({O})/~

School Grounds ~ Nighttime

~Watchog~

Watchog guarded the school every Thursday and Sunday. All through the day, and then all through the night too. It was getting more than a little grating. He honestly was starting to think he was beginning to hallucinate. He’d see things, lurking just around corners and flitting through windows. Sometimes, they’d take the shape of a blue flame. Other times, he’d see nothing but the faintest outline of something standing in the distance. One time, something had whooshed through him, knocking him back on the ground and leaving him very winded. All of these incidents combined had thoroughly spooked Watchog, but tepig would evolve into pelipper before he’d admit he was too scared for this job. After all, any ‘mon who could handle the demon of mischief that was Tricky could certainly handle a little guard duty.

Watchog made a round of the school, jumping at the sudden trill of a cricket as he looped back around. He wasn’t scared! Just… alert. It was time to make his routine detour up to the school buildings. He was paying double attention to that ever since somemon—At least, he thought it was somemon—had broken into the library a couple of weeks back. And then again just a day ago. He wasn’t going to be bested like that again.

As Watchog marched up the hill towards the School Clinic, he saw that the door to the library was open. Watchog’s heart almost stopped. The thief had come back!

Alright. Well, they weren’t going to escape this time. Not if Vice Principal Watchog had anything to say about it. He slowly crept towards the building, making sure to stay as silent as possible. The library was as dark as all the other buildings. Watchog couldn’t hear anymon in there either. He slowly crept in the door, looking around. The library looked empty. But Watchog knew it wasn’t.

He stalked through the bookshelves, looking around. There was nothing that he could see. Maybe they were near the back, then—

—A book fell. Near the back. It hit the floor with a loud thump, drawing Watchog’s attention immediately. He’d be a liar if he said he hadn’t jumped then.

Aha! So they were in the back! Watchog sneered. Distance wasn’t going to do them much good now. Abandoning stealth, he began to walk towards the back of the library quickly. The intruding ‘mon dove behind the shelf to the right. Watchog sped up, grabbing the side of the bookcase and looking around it. There was nothing there. Whatever was in this library with him had already travelled around the other side.

Then Watchog heard a footstep. A big, slimy, heavy footstep. Then another. And then a third one. And only then did Watchog realize that maybe, just maybe, he was in over his head here. He began to quickly edge around the bookcase, heading for the other side before whatever was stomping this way could reach him—

—Watchog reached the other side of the bookcase just as the other 'mon in the room lunged around the back. He heard it stomp forward onto the floor, and then it stood in place. Watchog took a deep breath. It was time to figure out what he was dealing with here. Then he took another deep breath. And another. Berry crackers, was he really doing this?

But it had to be done. He was the school guard. Watchog took one last deep breath, then carefully peeked around the other side of the bookcase.

Something stood, Cloaked in shadows. Completely still. Watchog forced himself to face it.

“Alright, you’re busted!” he called out. “Come out here and face me like a true ‘mon!”

The creature tilted its head rigidly. It was silent. Eyeless. Countless spines protruded from its back.

Then it lunged—


~\({O})/~

~Espurr~

Slowly coming to. Espurr brought herself to her feet amongst the dry, cracked ground. Another dream. She kept her wits about here, not sure what to expect. She stood in the middle of the village square, but it was completely leveled—no building stood taller than a foot off the ground. Rubble lay everywhere. The sky was red. And everything was quiet.

Espurr looked around cautiously. What was this?

I see you...

And then Espurr lurched forward without her consent. She began to run out of the village square and down southwards, away from the voice.

There is no escape.

Whatever was controlling Espurr ran faster, and she didn’t think she wanted to stop anymore. She looked up, and then she saw it: a lone mountain, wreathed in flame—

—And then everything went dark, and Espurr had control of her body again. She stood up in the blackness of the In Between, waiting for whatever was about to happen next—

—She was on a path. At the bottom of the hill. At the top of the hill, the abandoned School Grounds sat. Above them, a storm brewed and rumbled ominously in the blood red sky.

She was in the library. Her head twisted to the side without her consent, and she saw the dark blue sky.

Thump. A book fell.

She was spying on Watchog from behind a bookshelf. Slowly, she crept around Watchog as he walked closer.

She was Watchog again. She watched, as something lurched from the shadows towards her—

—Espurr was suddenly pulled straight into the ground, and landed on the hard, wet, wooden boards of a bridge. The rickety old bridge. In the distance, the Crooked House sat, glowing much like the mountain had. It was the only thing that glowed, and it glowed blood red. And there was nowhere to go but near it. And so—slowly—Espurr went. She crept across the bridge, avoiding all the spots she knew were rotting. But this bridge wasn’t real. If she said so, there no rotting spots.

Suddenly, as if in response to that one stray thought, the entire bridge began to crumble away behind her. Espurr looked back at the sound, noticing the decay.

“Come on.”

With that, Espurr quickly made haste as the bridge continued to fall apart. But the rate of decay was faster than she could run and she wasn’t going to make it—

—Espurr jumped, and landed on the island just seconds before the entire bridge crumbled away into nothingness. Thankfully, the decay did not continue onto the island. Espurr looked at her paws, which she had just realized were muddy. And suddenly, just like that, her belly was covered in mud. Great. Espurr wiped the mud on her paws off on the mud of the island, and stood up. The Barrow stood before her, glowing just like it had from a distance. Espurr stomped towards it. It wasn’t real. None of this was real—

—the Barrow’s doors slammed open wide, showing Espurr more of that blood-red sky. Espurr took a few involuntary steps back. Alright. It not being real didn’t mean she wasn’t just a little scared of it.

A wind emerged from the Barrow’s doors, slowly pulling everything around it in through its entrance. And that included Espurr. As soon as she thought to get away the wind suddenly became too strong for her to resist and she was pulled in towards the doorway and then—

She was falling. Falling through that blood-red sky and everything around her was red red and more red and then she was back in blackness and she hit the ground.

Espurr got up, panting out of desperation. When was this going to end?

Something stepped out of the shadows. Espurr spun to look at it. She could barely make out the fuzzy outline of something walking towards her…

…As it walked, it changed. It became larger. It sprouted grotesque claws. Its footsteps became heavy and slimy. Spines flexed and rose on its back.

And then it lunged for her—


~\({O})/~

Audino’s House

Espurr awoke with a gasp just short of a scream. She glanced around her bedroom, still trying to see whatever had attacked her in her dreams. But it was long gone.

~\({O})/~

Serenity Village

It was still rather early in the morning. Espurr walked out of Audino’s house and into the Village Square, the exploration bag slung over her shoulder. She adjusted the scarf Tricky had gifted her with; the one she had barely taken off since she’d been given it. There weren’t many ‘mon currently out in the square, so she was able to make her way to the west exit easily.

She headed to the west side of town, leisurely strolling through rows of houses that were either still dark or just waking up. Until she reached Tricky’s house. Espurr shouldered the bag and was just about to knock on the door—

But it suddenly opened for her, revealing a disheveled and still-sleepy Tricky. Her face immediately brightened upon seeing Espurr. Then she yawned.

“Did you have trouble sleeping too?” she asked.

“Do you want to go on a mission today?” Espurr asked without hesitation.

“Yep!”


~\({O})/~

Glittering Mountain ~ Afternoon

Glittering Cave was a smaller dungeon that wasn’t too far off from Serenity Village itself. Espurr was putting off telling Tricky about the Beheeyem, but her recent nightmares had shaken her enough that it wasn’t at the forefront of her mind anymore. She’d remember to tell her sometime during the mission. When she and Tricky booted up the expedition gadget once again, they saw a mission posting to rescue a butterfree that had gotten stuck at the bottom of the dungeon and couldn’t find their way out. That had seemed easy enough, and it was only one star, so Espurr and Tricky had taken it.

Glittering Mountain itself was more like a sunlit cave than a mountain. Espurr and Tricky wandered the maze of cave passages further and further downwards, but sunlight never stopped filtering in through the moss-covered walls no matter where they turned or how deep they went. The dungeon ferals here (and occasionally, the plain old animals) were incredibly weak and were easily bested by Espurr and Tricky at every turn.

In other words, a walk in the park. And a suitable distraction for the day.

“I had this nightmare last night,” Tricky said as she and Espurr walked down one of the mystery dungeon’s fifth-floor corridors. For a second, Espurr was reminded of her own traumatizing nightmares, but she shook it off quickly. This mission was supposed to be an escape from all that.

“Bird!” Tricky suddenly cried.

A crow dove for them, letting out a feral shriek. Espurr blasted it to the ground with her mind and Tricky quickly roasted it with an Ember. Its tail feathers scorched, the crow quickly took flight and high-tailed it out of there. Espurr looked at Tricky as they began walking like normal again.

“What were you saying?” she asked.

“It was really weird,” Tricky continued. “I was in the school with Watchog, but then I was Watchog. And then something took him away and I saw the School but the sky was red and there was this big storm above it! And then everything went dark and the thing that took Watchog attacked me and then I woke up.”

Espurr stopped. She looked straight at Tricky.

“How do you know what I dreamed about last night?”

“Wait. You had the same dream??” Tricky asked a bit too loudly for their own good. A cacophony of screeches erupted in the corner far ahead of them, and both Espurr and Tricky decided to high-tail it into the left-hand passage they were rapidly approaching. They pressed themselves against the walls just in time to watch an entire flock of crows zoom past where they were hiding, hoots and caws and all. Espurr slumped back against the wall they’d been pressed into in relief once they were gone, and then both she and Tricky lowered their voices into a hush.

“Come to think of it, has anymon in town seen Vice Principal Watchog in the last couple of days?” Espurr asked.

“He wasn’t there when everymon gathered yesterday,” Tricky whispered back.

“The last time I saw him was on Saturday in Kangaskhan’s Cafe,” Espurr said. “He was complaining about ghosts.”

“And it’s Monday today…” Tricky added.

“…We should ask around town,” said Espurr. She pulled out the expedition gadget, projecting it on the wall. “The dungeon’s only six floors. That butterfree has to be around here somewhere.”


~\({O})/~

They found Butterfree cowering in a small nook that had a stream of water running near it. Luckily, the dungeon wasn’t the type to fog over and start lashing out at intruders yet, but Butterfree had been overwhelmed by all the feral animals in the dungeon. Between the two of them with Butterfree in tow, they managed to find their way out of the dungeon in no time. It was the last floor, after all. Butterfree didn’t have copious amounts of anything as a mission reward, but offered Espurr and Tricky some odds and ends that she had scraped together.

It was late afternoon by the time that Espurr and Tricky entered Serenity Village once again. There were noticeably fewer ‘mon out and about today, Espurr noted. They both stopped in the village square. Espurr shifted the exploration bag from one shoulder to another.

“I’ll start on the south side of town; you start on the west. Which one of us wants to go up to the school?”

“Shouldn’t we do that first?” Tricky asked. “he’s guarding it or something.”

That was fair.


~\({O})/~

School Grounds

The school grounds were just as deserted as they had been all summer long. Espurr and Tricky walked into the empty space where they classroom had been, glancing around for any glimpse of Watchog. They saw none.

In the woods, something watched them.

“I don’t see him,” Espurr said, looking around. “If he was here, then he would have started yelling at us already.”

“Maybe he’s up in the library,” Tricky replied. “That’s where I saw him in my dream.”

They continued up the hill towards the school clinic, then took a hard right for the library. Espurr peeked in through the door that was ajar, looking around. She saw nothing but dusty musty books. Tricky peeked in next to her.

“The place looks empty…” Tricky said in disappointment.

“He definitely would have found us by now. He’s not here,” Espurr said. “We’re wasting our time.”

Tricky just pouted.


~\({O})/~

Audino’s House

Espurr stepped in the door and set Gabite's old exploration bag on the floor next to all the others. Audino was at the table, reading a book. She briefly glanced at Espurr as she walked in, then flipped the page and returned to reading.

“Have you seen Vice Principal Watchog?” Espurr asked.

“No, I haven’t.” Audino closed her book. “I think he’s up guarding the school. Did you check there?”

Espurr shook her head no. That was a lie. But would Audino really let her leave the house if she thought that Watchog had gone missing?

“I haven’t yet,” Espurr said smoothly. “I’ll go do that now. Thank you.” She picked up the exploration bag, and began to head for the door--

“Is there something you need from him?” Audino asked. Espurr froze.

“Just… wanted some library books,” Espurr quickly improvised. And then she was out the door before Audino could say another thing to stop her.


~\({O})/~

Simipour’s House

“I put Watchog in charge of guarding the school this summer,” Principal Simipour said, mixing himself a cup of lum berry tea in the kitchen. “But if he isn’t there, I’m afraid I can’t tell you where he is.”

“Have you seen him at all over the past couple of days?” Espurr asked, following him into the parlor.

Simipour yawned, quickly setting his drink down in order not to spill it. “The last time we talked was on Friday. He was turning in his weekly report on occurrences at the school. ‘Strange things are happening’, he said.” He quickly downed the lum berry tea, then glanced inside the cup.

“This stuff isn’t working…” Espurr heard him mutter under his breath. Then he turned back to her, that dopey smile once again plastered on his face.

“Well!” he exclaimed. “Is there anything else I can assist you with?”

“No thanks,” said Espurr.


~\({O})/~

Cafe Connection

“I’m looking for Vice Principal Watchog.”

Espurr sat at the Café Connection’s counter, talking to Kangaskhan. The café was moderately crowded, but it rarely wasn’t like that.

“Just a minute.” Kangaskhan nodded Espurr’s way, before tending to the order of a magby. Espurr turned around in her seat and stared out the window until Kangaskhan got back to her.

“What were you saying?” she asked, turning to Espurr.

“I was wondering if you’d seen Vice Principal Watchog,” Espurr said. “I know he comes here a lot.”

“Not since Saturday,” Kangaskhan said. “Sorry.”

Espurr glanced out the window, where she caught sight of Tricky running back into the square.

“Thanks anyway,” she said, and then she was out the door.


~\({O})/~

Village Square

“Did you find anything?” Espurr asked as she met up with Tricky in the village square. ‘Mon passed all around them, completely oblivious to the concerns of two children.

Tricky shook her head. “Nothing! I went to Farfetch’d’s, Watchog’s house, the Principal… but he told me you already asked him.”

“So no-mon’s seen him since Saturday,” Espurr laid out. “And then you and I both had the exact same dream about him getting kidnapped. And then there’s the things I’ve been seeing in my bedroom…”

“Wait wha—“ Tricky began.

“Something’s been appearing in my bedroom at night,” Espurr explained. “I think whatever it is is the same thing that took Watchog.”

“Wait-wait-wait,” Tricky said. “You’ve been seeing ghosts in your bedroom and you didn’t tell me?”

“I… I didn’t think it’d be safe.”

“Safe? Why? What, do you think the ghosts are going to beat us up?” Tricky tilted her head, almost like she was considering the possibility. “I don’t think we have many ghost-types in this town…”

“No, that’s…” this was getting harder to explain by the minute. Espurr shook her head. “That’s not it.”

“Then what is it?”

Espurr took a quick look around the square to make sure that no-mon was listening in.

“I’m being hunted,” she said, her voice hushed. “Remember those pokemon that attacked us outside the treehouse on Thursday?”

Tricky nodded. She suddenly looked uneasy.

“Wait, you’re saying—”

“Beheeyem,” Espurr continued. “They’ve been on my case ever since I woke up in the forest two weeks ago. The nightmares started a few days after that, and I started seeing things in my room after I moved houses. There’s no way both of us having the same exact dream is a coincidence. Watchog’s disappearance and the ghosts must be connected.”

Tricky pawed the ground for a moment. “You mean those beheeyem took Watchog?”

“I don’t think so,” Espurr said. “We’d have seen the beheeyem if they entered the village. This has to be something else.”

“Then, what?” Tricky asked.

“I don’t know,” Espurr said. And she didn’t. She didn’t know nearly enough where it counted, and that was beginning to worry her.

“Can we tell an adult?” Tricky asked.

“Would any adults believe us?” Espurr pointed out. “There’s no point going to one unless we can prove something. And right now all we know is that Watchog’s missing.”

“Right…”

“Hey.” A graveller nudged Espurr aside as he passed. “Mind getting out of the way? You’re blocking the entrance.” Espurr stood right outside the entrance of the Café Connection.

“Sorry,” Espurr said, moving aside. The graveller entered the café without a second thought.


~\({O})/~

~Watchog~

Watchog coughed. His eyes flew open.

He was laying sideways on the ground. There was a small stream of swamp water flowing through, which was running straight into his…

Watchog quickly sat up, coughing and sputtering wildly. There was swamp water in his mouth! He rubbed his paws on his tongue, trying to clean it of the troublesome taste. The thief had knocked him out! Knocked him out with fire! He almost couldn’t believe it. Fire! In a library! He would be reporting this to Principal Simipour for sure, just as soon as he—

—And then Watchog realized that he wasn’t in the library anymore. He stood up, beginning to hyperventilate in fear. He stood in a narrow, crooked hallway, and the ground was mud with swamp water. The walls all around looked were coated in some viscous black… goo, and some of it came off on Watchog’s paw when he tentatively reached out to touch it. And then Watchog began to freak out.

Splash.

It came from down the hallway to his right. Watchog snapped his head in that direction. He let out a squeak of fear. It was the thief. The thief was back. It had dragged him down to… wherever this was and now it was going to kill him! Watchog was certain of it. Without thinking, he took off in the other direction, not caring about the noise he made on the way. He was not going to die today!

The hall twisted into another corridor that turned left into a passage that led to a dead end. Watchog bumped into the wall in panic, taking a second to react in disgust at all the goop that now covered his body. And then he scrabbled along the wall, looking—hoping—for some way out of this.

Squelch. The creature appeared just outside of the hallway as he rounded the corner. It looked like it had melted out of the wall. Watchog turned around, then backed up against the wall. Where he had come from was a dead end… There was nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide. Unless…

Watchog suddenly let out a battle cry that could barely be heard from the end of the hallway. He began to charge for the beast with his head lowered. The beast didn’t move, not even when Watchog got close enough to fully see it—

—Watchog hit a tree root and his face suddenly ate swamp water. He lifted his head up out of the mud to see the creature slowly walking towards him. Its movements were eerily stiff, yet fluid in a stilted way. Watchog slowly edged back.

“No, no no,” he mumbled softly, pleading in vain. “Not me. Not me. Somemon else. I won’t tell anymon what you were doing in that school, I- I- I won’t. I promise. I promise. Please—“

The creature paid no attention to his pleas. It reached a clawed hand out for him—

—And then, just like clockwork, it suddenly froze up. Once Watchog noticed, he took the opportunity to get a good distance back from the creature.

The creature’s head twisted all the way around; the rest of its body stayed still. Then its body turned around to match. And then it took off, down the hall and away from Watchog. Watchog shakily got to his feet. Was that it? Had he scared it off?

But it didn’t look like it was running off. It was running towards something.

Watchog was glad it wasn’t him.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village

It stormed the next day. Sheets of rain fell over the village square, and the only ‘mon out and about at the time were the Water types. Espurr watched it from the window (which had the rain curtains drawn over it), scowling A little rain wasn’t going to stop her.

She’d previously had the expedition gadget set up against the wall, idly scrolling through the missions they wouldn’t be taking today because of all the rain. To her dismay, she saw that the salamance mission was still up—had that letter even gotten through?

Espurr grabbed the exploration bag and quietly slipped out the door. The rain hung off her fur and soaked her down to the bone, but she pressed on anyway, heading for the west side of town. There were more important matters to attend to than keeping dry.

She found Pancham and Shelmet having a mud fight in a ditch near the west side of town. It was a ways off the beaten path, so Espurr course-corrected to meet up with them.

“I see you’re having fun,” she called out through the rain as she approached them. Both Pancham and Shelmet paused their game, looking at Espurr. Pancham quickly brushed the mud on his hands off near a wall.

“Heh… pretend like you didn’t see that.” He brushed off his hands once more, and then turned to face Espurr, whose fur was soaked and limp. Pancham looked almost too amused by it. “Whatcha doing out in the rain?” he asked. “You look like crap, I’m just gonna tell ya.”

“What are you two doing out in the rain?” Espurr asked flatly, staring at Pancham’s muddy paws for effect.

Pancham’s face lost its amused look. “I said ignore that,” he said.

“Having a mud fight,” Shelmet answered for him, ignoring Pancham’s look of horror directed straight at him.

“I’m looking for a missing pokemon,” Espurr said matter-of-factly. “Interested?”

Pancham thought for a minute. “…Which pokemon is it?” he finally asked.

“Vice-Principal Watchog.”

“Wait, what??” Pancham and Shelmet both exclaimed at the same time.

“You heard me,” Espurr replied. “He hasn’t been seen by anymon since Saturday. I’m launching a search mission.”

Pancham and Shelmet slowly traded looks.

“…I mean, let’s think about this,” said Pancham innocently. “Do we wanna save Vice-Principal Watchog? School would be much easier if he wasn’t on our tails all the time.”

“But then you won’t have dungeon class,” said Espurr.

“Good point. We’re in.”


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts

It wasn’t raining as hard as it had been this morning, but it was still raining nonetheless. Luckily, the shingles were doing their job, and the interior of the treehouse was dry. Espurr, Tricky, Deerling, Shelmet, and all the others sat around in a circle inside the building.

“What do you mean he’s missing?” Deerling asked. “How does a pokemon just go missing like that?”

“No-mon’s seen him since Saturday, apparently,” Pancham said, arms folded.

“It’s true,” Tricky added, nodding for effect. “Me and Espurr searched everywhere.”

“Evidence suggests Watchog was kidnapped,” Espurr said, unfurling a paw-drawn map of the village, with scribbles that only really covered the paths and school. “And that whatever took him might appear at the school again.”

“And… where is this going?” Deerling asked.

“We set a trap,” Espurr responded. “If we all work together, I think we can catch it off-guard.”

“Or get kidnapped ourselves!” Deerling exclaimed. “we should tell an adult.”

Espurr shook her head. “The adults won’t believe us.”

“How do you know that?” Deerling asked angrily.

“Ghosts,” Espurr said. “Watchog was kidnapped by ghosts.”

“Cool…” Pancham and Shelmet both whispered at the same time.

“…Wow,” Deerling said in mock amazement. “You’re right. I don’t think any of the adults will believe that. In fact, I’m having trouble believing it. You know why? Because ghosts aren’t real, Espurr! This is crazy!”

“Watchog was seeing them up at the school,” Espurr said. “I overheard him talking about it in the Café Connection last Saturday.”

Deerling still looked skeptical. She stared at Espurr promptingly. “And all of this just proves that he was kidnapped by ghosts?”

“I’ve been seeing them too,” Espurr admitted. “In my bedroom at night. Have you got a better suggestion as to what happened to him?”

Silently, Deerling puffed out her mouth and admitted defeat.

“I’m going to the school after dark,” Espurr said. “I’m going to find out what happened to him. Anymon who wants to join me is free to. After all, ghosts aren’t real… right?”

And then she pointedly rolled up the map.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village ~ Nighttime

~Tricky~

It was nighttime, and many of the clouds in the sky had cleared up. It had certainly stopped raining. Tricky popped her head out of the bedcovers, yawning. She looked out the window.

‘Meet me in the village square after the lights go out,’ Espurr had said. And the village looked pretty dark to Tricky. Slowly, quietly, she slipped out of her bed, put on her scarf, moved the empty scarf case over to the window, and used it as a platform to squirm out through the windowpanes.

Tricky landed on the grass outside her bedroom, taking a deep breath of the fresh air. She could still smell the rain scents from the storm earlier. Tricky looked east, then hopped over the bush by the front porch as she scurried off that way.

“Evening.”

Espurr turned around and adjusted the exploration bag as Tricky came trotting into the village square. Tricky looked around. She saw Espurr, Goomy, Pancham, Shelmet…

“Are we going to get this over with or not?” Deerling asked.

Tricky tilted her head. “Why’d you come along?” she asked, half in excitement and half in confusion.

“Because Goomy wanted to go,” said Deerling. “Can we get this over with? I don’t want my mom to catch wind of this.”

“Because…” Shelmet prompted.

“She’ll encourage it.”

Everymon was silent for a moment as they tried to digest that.

“Deerling’s right,” Espurr finally broke the silence. “It’s best not to waste time.” She started walking up towards the school, and everymon else followed.

The school sat up on the hill, its buildings imposingly dark as ever. The clouds of the storm brewed ominously above it, almost like they were gathering there. They walked up the hill and through the gates, entering the empty space where the classroom had once been.

“So now what?” Pancham asked, folding his arms. “What’s your big plan?”

“We scour the place,” Espurr answered. “Until we find out what took Watchog and where it went. We’ll go in groups of two, so no-mon’s left alone. If anymon sees anything, yell. Loudly. We’ll come help.”

“We aren’t just going to sit at the desks and wait for it to come for us?” Shelmet asked.

“Of course not,” Espurr said. “That would be stupid.”

She reached into the exploration bag and grabbed three dry non-wand sticks she had collected on the way. She held them out for Tricky to set aflame. “For light.”

They broke off into three groups, each group with a torch. Deerling and Goomy went to the School Clinic, Shelmet and Pancham went to check out the Library, and Espurr and Tricky went to investigate the Principal’s Office. Espurr waved the torch around to make sure that no-mon was waiting in there for them before stepping in.

“Do you think Watchog ever comes in here?” Tricky followed Espurr in, looking around the place (She never got to be in here).

“I don’t know what Watchog does,” Espurr said, waving the torch around for light.

“Then why are we here?” Tricky asked. “Shouldn’t we go to the library?”

“We’re just snooping around until the ghost shows up again,” Espurr said. “Whatever kidnapped Watchog must have kidnapped him because they crossed paths. That means it’s probably going to come back. Until then, we’re just looking around.”

She approached the principal’s desk, waking around the side where the bin of maps lay. There was a large collection of papers on the desk. Espurr momentarily handed Tricky the torch so she could sort through them. There were a collection of wanted posters on the desk – which included, for some reason, the salamence they had fought in Lush Forest. Espurr rooted through them. She poured through papers of wanted Water Continent outlaws, until she reached the bottom. There was a poster that caught her eye.

MISSING POKEMON: Beheeyem x3

Last seen 6/5/11133 on their way through the Lively Mountain Basin. If found, please contact the Guild of Merchants in Treasure Town by Pelipper Post.


“We don’t need another disappearance on our paws…”

Espurr stared at the paper for a minute. No. That wasn’t the missing pokemon. There had to be a mistake. And why did Simipour have this… ?

“What is it?” Tricky asked through the torch in her mouth.

“Just a minute and I’ll tell you,” Espurr said. She held out her paw. “May I have that torch?”

Tricky let Espurr remove the torch from her mouth. She opened the cabinets under the desk. More papers, hundreds, all in a neat stack. Had Principal Simipour been collecting these?

Espurr took one of the posters in her left paw and stuffed it in her bag.

“Help!!”

The cry came from outside the building. Both Espurr and Tricky’s heads snapped in that direction. It was Deerling!

Espurr and Tricky ran out of the School Clinic to see Goomy quickly sliming out of the library, followed by Deerling. Deerling was panting hard as she galloped up to them.

“We found it,” she breathed out, and then she spun around.

It appeared right in front of them in its full glory—blacker than a void. Large and hunkering. Clawed. Spined. It slowly lifted a single claw, pointing straight at Espurr.

You.

“What is that?!?!” Tricky screamed in terror.

“Hey!”

A pebble whizzed through the air and hit the back of the monster’s head. It turned around, looking for whoever had just done that. Pancham marched forwards, slingshot in hand.

“Yeah, that’s right,” he said, reloading his slingshot. “Get a piece of me.”

He let the pebble fly. The monster wasn’t even fazed. It galloped over to where Pancham was, snatching him by the throat and pulling him up—

“NO!” shouted Deerling. She charged and gave it a large headbutt. The Monster grabbed her in its other set of claws.

“Let them go!” Tricky yelled. She charged for the monster, but a kick with the power of a bouffalant sent her flying to the side.

Espurr clutched her head, which suddenly throbbed with all the force of a headache. She just needed to think.

There is no escape.

There was no time to think. The monster lifted both Pancham and Deerling up in its claws, and Espurr’s headache became splitting.

Kill.

The monster’s head snapped straight towards her. Pancham and Deerling were dropped to the ground, and the monster suddenly phased over towards Espurr—

—Espurr fought off the headache just in time. She got to her feet and produced a psychic blast that momentarily blew the creature back. But it kept advancing anyway. There was nothing to do but run. And so Espurr ran. She made it all the way into the principal’s office before the monster caught up with her. It grabbed her foot and tripped her on the ground. Espurr tried to reach for something—anything—eventually grabbing the doorframe as the monster tried to pull her away. Tricky let loose with a flamethrower from behind, which caught the monster’s attention for a minute and allowed Espurr to escape.

The monster looked between them for a minute, torn. Then it chose Espurr. Espurr backed up all the way behind the principal’s desk; the monster advanced. She cast a look at the window to her right, then scrambled for that. Espurr slipped through the panes just as the monster grabbed for her—

—She tumbled back onto the grassy ground outside the hut, rolling to a stop and getting back on her feet. The monster dissolved through the wall of the hut, looking around for Espurr, but Espurr was long gone by that point.

“Run!” Espurr fled down to the classroom, and everymon else gladly followed her. The monster galloped to the top of the hill, then to the bottom, and then all of the sudden it was blocking their entry out of the school. Everymon stopped, gaping at it in silent horror. The monster began to walk towards them, not even concerned with phasing anymore.

“Run the other way!” Deerling yelled.

Everymon turned to run the other way, but the monster was faster. It leapt behind them before they could even start.

But then the monster was suddenly knocked to the side by something invisible. It snarled, its attention off the children and on whatever had just attacked it. Espurr’s heart leapt as she saw what had hit the monster—it was a shadow. The ghost from her bedroom!

It leapt up into the air, and then collided into the monster with all its might. It wasn’t a match for the spined figure, but it was keeping it distracted.

Espurr did some last-minute quick thinking – she opened her bag and pulled out the pouch of blast seeds. Right before the monster could strike back against the figure, Espurr pulled one out, and threw it. It blew a hole right through the monster, and then blew it apart. Black good exploded all over the grass and the path, wisps of smoke curled up in the air from where they lay, and it was motionless for a moment.

“This is our chance!” Tricky yelled. “Everymon run through!!”

The gap was only open for half a minute, but by that time the monster’s trap had already long failed. Espurr cast one short look back at the school as she ran, and then fled down the hill with the rest of the group and away from the monster.

She could see the shadow staring at them from a distance, almost as if it saw them.


~\({O})/~

Village Square

“This isn’t over.”

Espurr caught her breath against the wall of Audino’s house. All the other children were also panting in the square, terrified out of their wits.

“What do you mean it’s not over?” Pancham asked. “I ain’t going back to school after this.”

“What if it comes back?” Espurr asked. “We have to do something about it now—“

“No,” said Deerling. “This is over. I’m not playing along with this anymore. We have to tell the adults.”

“Tell them what?” Espurr asked.

“Tell them something!” Deerling yelled back. “What makes you think a bunch of grade schoolers stand a chance risking their lives against a big spiny monster?!”

“And when have the adults ever stood up and done something right?” asked Espurr. “Were they right to call Tricky a troublemaker and write her off when she needed help? Were they right when they just let all his bullying—”

She pointed to Pancham, who looked offended. He couldn’t refute it.

“—Slide because of his parents? What about your parents?” she addressed that last line at Deerling. “Do they even listen to you? If they weren’t right then, what makes you think they’ll be right now? Going to the adults will end up with Watchog and maybe several others dead.”

The rest of them were silent. From the look on Deerling’s face she wasn’t convinced, but even she couldn’t figure out a comeback.

“I know where it went and I’m going now,” said Espurr. She picked up her exploration bag, slinging it over her shoulder. “Anymon who’s coming, come now. Otherwise I’m going alone.”

Tricky stared down at the ground for a minute.

“Well…” she said, barely struggling to contain her fear. “You need help, Espurr. I’m coming.”

“I-I’ll go too.”

Everymon turned to Goomy in shock.

“What are you talking about?” Deerling asked flatly. “You’re going home. You need sleep.”

“I-I’m not g-gonna sleep knowing t-that’s out there,” Goomy said, his voice trembling just as much as he was. “I-I have to k-know i-it’s gone.”

“You’re marching back to your house and you are going to bed. Now.” Deerling’s eyes were pure fire, but Goomy didn’t submit to them.

“N-no,” he said. “Y-you’re not the boss of me!”

Deerling scoffed in shock.

“No. No no no no no,” she said. “I’m gonna- I’m gonna- I’m-“

Deerling stuttered, realizing that she didn’t have anything to threaten Goomy with. Instead she looked straight at Espurr.

“You’re not taking him with you.”

“I’ll go where I want!!” Goomy yelled loudly. All of the children cringed at how loud it was, then looked at the windows of the houses to make sure no-mon had been awoken. Goomy glared daggers at Deerling.

For a moment, Deerling glared back. Her legs trembled. Then she finally gave up.

“…Fine…” she grumbled. “You’re right. I can’t stop you from going. But you can’t go alone. I’m not letting that happen.” Reluctantly, Deerling stepped up to join Espurr’s group. Espurr looked at Pancham and Shelmet.

“…Yeah, we’re in,” said Pancham. “Lemme just get some more stones.”


~\({O})/~

Music of the week!

Lovely Rendez-vous A La Montagne
- Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinelli
 
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Chapter 21 - The Crooked House

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
There once was a crooked man

Who walked a crooked mile


He found a crooked sixpence

Against a crooked stile

He bought a crooked cat

Which caught a crooked mouse

And they all lived together underneath

Chapter21Art.png

~\({O})/~

21.

The Crooked House

~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts

~Espurr~

The Crooked House stood on its island of evil, pointing up out of the ground like a pillar of darkness. It was obscured near completely by fog now, a silhouette in the moonlight. Espurr ran down the pathway, sliding to a stop right outside the entrance to the bridge. She saw that the previously sealed doors now lay wide open.

Something had changed. And she was right.

By now, the rest of the children had arrived, panting in exhaustion as they caught up with Espurr. They all eyed the Barrow with a sense of apprehension. They were never supposed to come here.

“We have to go… in there?” Tricky squeaked in fear, looking at the house. She never went here, and for good reason.

“This is where it went,” Espurr said, slowly but firmly. “If we want to rescue Vice Principal Watchog, then we have to go in.”

She stepped forward onto the bridge, which creaked under her, then looked back at the rest of the children. The looks on their faces ranged from doubtful to fearful, but no-mon voiced any objections. Espurr took another step, then hurried across the bridge, making sure to avoid all the rotting spots.

The island was muddy, as always. Espurr trudged across it without complaint, even though the mud felt gross stuck to her fur. As she approached the Barrow, she caught wind of a familiar scent—one that had often danced around her nose, and was never more pleasant to smell no matter how many times she smelled it—this was the scent of a mystery dungeon. And it was stronger than ever.

Espurr stepped onto the Barrow’s porch, then looked back at the rest of the children who had just crossed over the bridge and were now uncomfortably trudging through the mud. She shouldered her bag.

“It’s a mystery dungeon,” she said loudly from the porch. “Heads up.”

“Are you sure about this?” Pancham asked, looking up at her warily.

“Positive.” Espurr nodded.

“T-the place smells evil,” Goomy said in fear.

“All mystery dungeons smell like that,” Tricky added in a hushed voice.

“Are we going or not?” Shelmet asked, perhaps the only one of them that wasn’t openly frightened out of his wits.

“Yeah,” Pancham said, rolling his shoulders and stretching his slingshot. “Let’s do this.”

“All at once,” Espurr said, turning towards the entrance. “Otherwise we’ll get separated.”

Soon they were all gathered on the porch, standing in a row.

“On three,” Deerling said, unable to keep the waver out of her voice. “One… Two…” Espurr could feel Pancham trembling.

“Three!”

They all stepped in through the doors at once, and slowly, the mystery dungeon closed up behind them.

~\({O})/~

The Ancient Barrow

Just like all the mystery dungeons she had entered, Espurr felt all drafts dissipate upon entry. This dungeon was windless like all the others, but evil reverberated in the air.

“What is this place…” Tricky whimpered.

The halls were narrow and cramped, and sticky black goo covered them from top to bottom. The floors were a stream of swamp water, and the roof extended into crooked black arches above. It wasn’t an earthly place. And yet, there was nothing to do but press onwards. And so, without a word exchanged between them, the six of them silently continued through the waterlogged halls.

The dungeon was devoid of any ferals; Espurr, Tricky, and the rest of them were left well alone. But there was no sign of Watchog either.

“How long is this dungeon?” Deerling asked after a while. “You’d think we’d be on the third floor by now.”

But they hadn’t even crossed the first stairway yet. They’d gone a while without seeing anything but gooey black walls and trudging through nasty swamp water, and still there was no hint of the stairs. The areas were getting more and more mazelike as they continued, and they’d gone down several dead ends at this point. Espurr was beginning to get doubtful they’d make it out before dawn. And that wasn’t good.

It was after the fifth dead end that something changed. It had just been for a second, but Espurr, Goomy, and everymon else had caught the shape of something quietly slinking around the corridor ahead.

“W-what w-w-was t-that?” Goomy asked, terrified. Espurr quietly shushed everymon. Slowly, they continued down the corridor, heading for the corner. Espurr carefully peeked around the edge, but she saw nothing.

“There’s nothing there,” she whispered to the rest of them. “It must have been a trick of the light.”

No-mon looked particularly convinced, but it was the least scary option, so everymon went with that for the time being.

Espurr lead them further down the hallways, in search of the stairs. The lack of anything around unnerved her quite a bit. Why was there nothing here?

The only warning they had was a distant whoosh from up ahead. But that was enough for Espurr.

Tricky’s ears twitched. “Everymon duck!” she yelled, and they all ducked just in time to avoid the sight of a large, shadowy ball flying directly over their heads. It flew straight past them and exploded distantly at the other end of the corridor.

Just like that, the monster was already in front of them. Espurr wasn’t having it. She unleashed her raw mental power upon it and blew it back across the corridor. She was sure a fair few ‘mon screamed around that point.

“Run the other way!” Tricky yelled, and everymon made to do that—

“Wait!” Espurr yelled. “Don’t!”

“What do you mean ‘don’t’?” Deerling yelled, stopping for one brief moment. She was the only one.

Espurr quickly checked to make sure the monster was still down.

“I have a plan,” she quickly hissed. “The monster’s fast, but it can’t be in two places at once. If we split up into groups, it’ll have to choose. And then we attack it.”

“Great. You can be a group,” Deerling said. “I’m going the other way.”

And with that she galloped off, following the rest of them. Espurr was left all alone in the corridor. She steeled herself, even though it was taking every ounce of her bravery to remain in place.

“Hey! I found the stairs! Everymon this way!” Shelmet’s voice echoed across the corridor and caught Espurr’s ears. She looked at the creature, which was silently pulling itself up from the ground. She watched in horror as instead of attacking her, it stepped towards the wall and slowly began to sink into it.

That was the last straw. Espurr turned around and ran for her life.

The monster was fast. A pair of clawed arms suddenly shot out of the wall goo to grab Espurr—

Espurr rolled to the ground, barely avoiding being snatched up by them. The clawed hands receded back into the wall in her wake.

“Where’s Espurr?” Tricky’s voice echoed through the hallway from up ahead. Espurr pulled herself out of the swamp, choking and sputtering from all the swamp water she had gotten in her mouth. They were up ahead! She just needed to…

The monster was behind her. Then in front of her. It exploded out of the wall, then grabbed her and lifted her up into the air. Espurr tried to repel the creature with her mind once more, but that previous blast had taken a lot out of her—she felt a headache coming on just from trying to start.

“Help!” she rasped, fighting against the monster as it pushed her towards its belly. A gaping hole opened up within the creature itself, and inside there was nothing but blackness, and Espurr was being forced towards it. She tried to push and escape, but the monster was just too strong this was the end wasn’t it she should have listened to Deerling and told somemon—

A brilliant burst of fire arched through the hallway and slammed against the creature’s back. It let out a loud, droning screech, dropping Espurr back down into the water as it writhed in pain. She’d take it. Espurr wasted no time getting to her feet and running past the creature before it could recover, closing the gap between herself and the rest of them.

Tricky had darted out of a small, left-hand passage just after where they had first caught sight of the monster. No wonder they hadn’t seen it. Espurr glanced back at the monster as she ran. The shrieking had stopped, but it wasn’t coming after her. She caught the last of it slowly absorbing itself into the goo on the wall. The monster’s black slime still covered Espurr’s fur where it had grabbed her. Was this where all that goo was from? She felt suddenly and oddly jittery.

Espurr slid to a stop, then splashed through the water and into the dead end. Everymon else stood by the stairs, glancing at her worriedly. Espurr took a moment to catch her breath, then quickly got to the rest of them as fast as possible. They led downwards, but the bottom was enveloped completely by darkness.

“All together,” Espurr panted, holding out her arms for the others to grab.

A gurgling noise suddenly erupted from right behind them. Everymon turned around to see that a black, gooey arm had erupted from the wall, and the rest of the monster was quickly following.

“GO!” Deerling yelled, and everymon dashed for the stairway. The monster hissed, and Espurr heard several ‘mon scream. The monster lunged—

—But it was too late. Deerling hit the stairway first, followed by Pancham and Shelmet, then Tricky. Goomy barely avoided the monster’s lunge, but he was too slow and wasn’t going to make it! The stairs were already closing up by the time that Espurr reached the stairway. She quickly grabbed ahold of Goomy, but the stairs separated them just before the monster lunged again and they closed up.

Everything immediately went black.

~\({O})/~

~Goomy~

Goomy slowly opened his eyes, and his body solidified back into its usual shape once more. Everything was quiet, and so was he. He looked around, trying to figure out where he was. The scenery around him was…

Grassy and green. Goomy looked down at the roots he was currently on top of. This looked like…

This was the School Forest.

Goomy slowly slimed backwards in fear. But it couldn’t be the School Forest. They had just been in the Ancient Barrow!

He looked around once more, taking in the gnarled root walls of the dungeon that were still sealing over. Sure enough, it was unmistakably the School Forest. But how had he gotten here? Had the Barrow somehow transported him here?

But there was no time to worry about that. If this was the School Forest, then soon there would be dungeon ‘mon. And Goomy knew he wasn’t fast enough to avoid them. He had to get somewhere safe, find the others, get back to the village!

Goomy slimed down the hallway as fast as he could. Could he find the stairs? He glanced at each of the walls from left to right, but there were no openings between the gnarled roots of the labyrinth. There was nowhere to hide. So after looking behind him to make sure that he wasn’t being tailed by anything, Goomy continued into the next hallway.

The hallway led into split corridors that branched off in opposite directions. Goomy went down the right-hand one without question. Only then did he realize that he had not looked the other way before entering like he should have. A loud roar suddenly erupted behind Goomy, ricocheting down the hallway and battering him as it passed. It smelled of something rancid, even worse than Tricky’s breath!

And the worst part was when Goomy turned around, he saw the fog. It crept down the hallway towards him, its tendrils snaking out almost as if it were grabbing out for him. Goomy didn’t waste any more time gawking at it. He immediately began to slime down the hallway as fast as he could in the other direction.

Goomy was going as fast as he could, but the fog was faster. And even at Goomy’s top speeds he couldn’t outrun it. He frantically glanced around for a place to hide, a chance to get away, and then all of the sudden he saw it: the entrance to another corridor, not that far off! It was perfect! Filled with re-invigorated hope, Goomy quickly changed his course.

Goomy slimed around the corridor, evading the fog at the last minute. He watched as its tendrils spread out like a living being, feeling the ground and roots of the hallway around it before moving on. It did not spread into the hallway Goomy was in at all. Goomy stared at in in confusion. Fog wasn’t supposed to work like that…

Another—softer—gust spread through the hallway, invading Goomy’s nose with that rancid smell again. He quickly looked around, then behind him. He saw more of the fog, engulfing the corridor behind him as well. And this time, there was no way out.

Another loud roar suddenly emerged from the fog. Goomy looked back to the previous corridor. That roar had come from inside the fog. There was something in there! Maybe it was a large feral. Maybe it was the mystery dungeon. Maybe it was the Dungeon Wraith… just its name was already sending chills down Goomy’s spine. He really hoped it wasn’t the Dungeon Wraith.

Goomy decided to focus on the situation at hand. He wasn’t going back down the corridor he’d come. Not after what he had heard. But soon he would be enveloped by the fog anyway…

Goomy took a deep breath and steadied his quivering goo. Then he bravely slimed into the encroaching fog ahead.

~\({O})/~

~Deerling~

Deerling slowly pulled herself to her feet amongst the swamp. All she saw were the cramped halls of the Barrow, but she was alone. She looked all around, trying to catch a glimpse of anymon, but no-mon was there. She was all alone.

“Guys?” Deerling called out. “Can anymon hear me?”

Deerling got no answer. She clip-clopped further from where she was standing, looking around in vain. “Is anymon out there?”

There was no answer.

Deerling suddenly heard the sound of somemon sniffling behind her. She turned around, and noticed a ‘mon all curled up in a pile—it was Tricky. Tricky was far from Deerling’s favorite person, but right now she was happy to see anymon. She quickly galloped up to Tricky, slowing down once she reached her. Only then did she notice that Tricky was crying. Deering sat down next to her.

“Are you… okay?” she asked. Just a week and a half ago she would never had dreamed of asking Tricky that. The words felt weird on her tongue.

Tricky didn’t answer with anything coherent. She just let out something that sounded in between a sob and a snort, and continued to silently bury her face in her tail. Deerling adjusted her position to become more comfortable.

“Well… talk to me when you’re ready. It’s not like we’re in a life or death situation or anything.”

Tricky wasn’t ready for a while. When she finally did speak, it was through a cracked and hoarse voice: “We lost him.”

“…What? What does that mean?” Deerling asked. She didn’t want to think about what that could mean.

“We lost him,” Tricky said louder.

“Who’s ‘him’?” Deerling pressed.

“Goomy.”

Deerling went cold.

“…What are you talking about?” she asked, barely able to muster up more than a whisper. Her

“He’s gone,” Tricky whined. “The Barrow separated all of us. It put us on different floors. There was fog on Goomy’s. He walked in, and… by the time we got to him, he…”

Tricky broke down into sobs after that, burying her face into her tail once more.

“It happened again,” she moaned. “I lost another friend…”

Deerling stood up in the swamp, suddenly feeling woozy. No. This wasn’t happening. Goomy wasn’t dead. Not him. Not him too. It all had to be some sort of trick, right?

But the facts didn’t lie. There was Tricky, right in front of her, and Goomy was nowhere to be found. And it was all because of…

Deerling ground her hooves into the mud under the swamp, trying not to collapse into tears like Tricky was. Her breath caught in her chest. She couldn’t cry now. They had to get out of here before another ‘mon died.

“Tricky,” she said, doing her absolute best to keep her not-sobs under control. “W-where are the others?”

“I… I don’t know,” Tricky sniffled. “I couldn’t find them.”

“Well, we need to,” said Deerling. She took a few deep breaths to keep herself steady before answering again: “We can’t let anymon else get k-killed.”

It was a minute, but Tricky slowly lifted herself off the ground to face Deerling. She drooped all over in sadness, but followed Deerling regardless.

Deerling sadness stewed and turned to rage as she walked. Her grief boiled and festered and turned into hate. Pure, unfiltered hate. Hate for that one pokemon who had been ultimately responsible for Goomy’s death. Hate for the one pokemon who had gotten them all into this mess into the first place.

Hate for Espurr.

~\({O})/~

~Pancham~

Pancham slowly picked himself up off the ground. He looked around, but couldn’t find his slingshot. Somehow he was back in the Village Square in broad daylight, but something felt off. Everymon was passing around him without even noticing. Pancham was confused.

“Hey,” he said to a passing swadloon. “The swadloon tromped off dully, not even paying him a glance. Pancham tilted his head. Okay. Well, swadloon were dewott-downers. Maybe somemon else. Instead he set his sights on a mudkip instead.

“Oy,” he said, attempting to get the mudkip’s attention. The mudkip didn’t notice him either. Pancham was left with his jaw hanging open. He couldn’t believe this! Why was no-mon paying attention to him? And why was he here in the first place? Wasn’t he supposed to be—

Pancham was suddenly kicked to the side by a passing ursaring, who also didn’t notice him. He was now beginning to get scared. He dashed from villager to villager, attempting to get some sort of reaction, but none reacted. None even noticed he was there. Pancham was actively freaking out now. He was a ghost!

“Hey! Anymon? Is anymon out there? Somemon answer me!”

Pancham turned at the sound of somemon yelling through the crowd. That was… Shelmet’s voice. Shelmet was here too! That was just what he needed. Shelmet would listen to him. Shelmet always listened, no matter what. Pancham began to charge towards the voice, pushing aside villagers who paid him no mind at all.

He found Shelmet in the area outside Hawlucha’s tent, which was deserted as always.

“Shelmet!” he cried, waving his arm. “I’m over here!”

There was no answer. Shelmet continued to mill around, looking for somemon who would hear his cries.

“It’s—it’s me!” Pancham cried. “Your friend Pancham! Answer me!!”

Shelmet didn’t even hear him.

“Answer me…” Pancham pleaded, on the verge of tears.

“He can’t hear you.”

“Augh!” Pancham spun around, coming face to face with Espurr. She was missing her scarf and her bag, but stared at him with the same emotionless, slightly creepy stare she gave everymon else. He took the time to calm down for a minute before speaking.

‘What do you mean?” he asked once his jitters had faded enough for him to properly form words.

“He can’t hear you. No-mon can. I’ve tried talking to all of them,” Espurr said, taking a cursory look around at all the villagers. “It’s a miracle we can even speak to each other.”

Pancham spent a minute trying to wrap his head around that. It lined up with what he had seen, sure, but still…

“How did we get here?” he asked, asking the question he should have asked a while back.

“I don’t know,” Espurr replied noncholantly. “Something about the stairs… We didn’t all enter at the same time. That must have blown us all to different floors of the dungeon. I imagine this is a lower floor. And these…” Espurr nonchalantly tripped a passing pikachu, which fell face-first in to the ground, then picked itself up and continued walking like nothing had happened. “These aren’t real either. They’re just tricks of the house.”

But… Pancham looked at Shelmet, who was still looking around helplessly. “What about Shelmet?”

“He’s a trick too,” Espurr said firmly. She grabbed his paw. “We have to find our way out of here so we can find the others. Like the real Shelmet.”

“Agh! Auggh!!” Shelmet cried, falling on his side. “They’re all over me! They’re—They’re—Somemon help me!!”

Pancham was torn, but he couldn’t take his eyes off Shelmet. Espurr tugged him by the arm.

“We’re on a clock,” she said. “You know what happens when pokemon stay in mystery dungeons too long.” She tugged on Pancham, and slowly—reluctantly—Pancham let himself get pulled away.

“No—Stop!! Help me!!” Pancham heard Shelmet cry one last time before Espurr briskly led him into the Café Connection.

~\({O})/~

The inside of the Café Connection looked like a dream. Everything after the entrance doors looked like it was trapped behind a mirage, and even as Pancham bumped up against one of the counter seats as Espurr pulled him along, it didn’t feel like anything was there. He never saw this many pokemon go in and out of the café anyway. All the patrons were scooping picturesque food out of the table and into thin air, and though their mouths opened to speak, Pancham heard nothing.

Espurr walked around the counter, where Kangaskhan was robotically arranging dishes and seashells in intricate, flowing, nonsensical patterns on the countertop, then pulled Pancham into the kitchens.

Pancham had never known what the chef looked like, and he didn’t even see a chef in the kitchen. In fact, he didn’t even see half the kitchen. It tapered off into nothingness halfway through the room, seeping into the blackness like tendrils of reality reaching out into nothingness. And beyond its barriers, Pancham could see nothing. Espurr pulled him towards it anyway.

“Hey, where are you taking me?” Pancham asked, a bit agitated now. He tried to separate his paw from Espurr’s, but her grip was unnaturally strong. Too strong for him to pull out of.

“Beyond,” Espurr answered.

She pulled him into the blackness, and slowly they walked on. Pancham couldn’t see what was under him, but it was completely smooth. Espurr pulled him along like he was just a stray feather floating in the wind, and soon he could barely see the Café Connection behind him. Maybe it wasn’t there anymore.

It was about five minutes of walking before Espurr said something.

“Look,” she said emotionlessly. “The stairs.”

Sure enough, there were the stairs, right ahead of them. Espurr dragged him over to them, then stopped. They led down into darkness; Pancham couldn’t see the bottom.

“You first.” Espurr pushed him forward to the foot of the stairs.

Pancham looked back. “Aren’t we all supposed to go at the same time?”

“Maybe that doesn’t apply here,” Espurr answered coldly. Her voice had a sudden chill Pancham hadn’t detected before.

“Wasn’t that what got us into this mess in the first place?” Pancham asked.

Espurr pushed him.

Pancham had no time to react. He fell down the stairs, letting out a scream of surprise as he rolled and tumbled down the stairs—

—And he kept tumbling. Down, down and further, until he landed on the cold, hard stone ground that lay at the bottom of the stairs. Pancham picked himself up, coughing. He looked around. The place looked like a prison cell, just without the bars. It was a perfect box made completely of cobbled stone, and the only openings were for two sets of stairs—one on each side of the room. Pancham looked at the one that led further downward. What that led to, he didn’t know. And he was loath to find out. A more dangerous dungeon? Something worse? Nothing at all? The decision wasn’t hard to make. Pancham turned around, and headed all the way back up.

The stairs kept stretching onwards, and Pancham felt like he’d been climbing for a while. He was beginning to get tuckered out.

“Espurr?” he called out, his voice echoing up the stairs. It sounded scared, pitiful. He tried to sound stronger. “Shelmet!? Anymon??”

No-mon answered his calls, except for his own echoes that reverberated through what sounded… and looked, like a chamber ahead. He was getting somewhere! Filled with new hope, Pancham continued to climb. Soon he emerged into a room. It was the same room that he had been trying to escape from in the first place. Pancham blanched. No, That didn’t make sense. Stairways didn’t work like that. Maybe if he... Pancham ran over to the other entrance, gazing up at the same staircase that he had just climbed. They were both the same. This place was a loop! He couldn’t leave. He couldn’t leave.

Pancham returned to the center of the room. He began to pace uneasily, his arms shaking n fear. Oh, how he wished he’d just stayed home…

~\({O})/~

~?~

‘Espurr’ didn’t see the point in being Espurr much longer. It shed its false form, and the distant visage of the village square crumbled to nothingness behind it. It could hear the cries of that pancham’s friend as he succumbed to his own fears, but that had never been important, because he had never been important. He was insignificant, just like all the rest of them were. The mystery dungeon had spread them out far and wide, but It would find them all soon. One at a time. They never stood for long when they didn’t have others to stand with. And one by one, It would end them, just like Its creator had wished It to.

But these insignificant toddlers were not Its true enemy. Two others came first. Finding and eliminating them was Its top priority.

The stairs—the real stairs— were just up ahead. Transitioning between forms, It didn’t currently have a mouth to grin with, so instead It just marched towards them on legs shedding lilac fur, and descended. It felt the stairs warp into nothingness behind it, and a new scent invaded Its nose: There was another on this floor, all on their own and so, so weak, so, so malleable, so, so delicious. Another sniff: This was the one they called “Deerling”.

A grin spread wide across Its face. Too many black, sharp, needle-like teeth met the air, before they began to shrink down into vulpine incisors. So be it.

~\({O})/~

~Tricky~

Tricky coughed herself awake, slowly pulling herself to her paws amongst all the swamp water and marsh. What had happened? The last thing she remembered was going down the stairs, and then… A sudden wave of dizziness hit her, causing her to stumble back a bit in the marsh. And only then, after the dizziness had left her, did Tricky fully realize where she was.

Cramped, gnarled trees hung over her like twisted arms, vines hanging down from their branches like nooses. And the marsh was nearly up to her belly. Tricky looked around in fear. This couldn’t be possible. That place was gone. She had seen it collapse, right in front of her. So how was she here now? Was this where mystery dungeons went after they died?

But if there was anything Tricky knew, it was that dead or alive, a place like Poliwrath River was never safe to stand still in. She removed one of her forelegs from the mud with a loud squelch, then slowly pressed onwards through the muck. It was just like all the other dungeons. Find the stairs, find your friends, get out alive. Find the stairs, find your friends, get out alive. Find the stairs, find your friends, get out alive. Tricky repeated that mantra over and over in her head as she marched through the swamp.

Tingles suddenly ran up and down her spine, and she saw hints of a single light shining through the trees. It wasn’t large, but it was enough to illuminate Tricky’s surroundings. And it was getting farther away. Any light was precious light; she tried to dash after it, but the muck of the marsh slowed her down, and soon it became clear she was fighting a losing battle. Before long she couldn’t even see the light anymore, and she was left all alone to handle the horrors of Poliwrath River in the dark.

Silence greeted her ears as she travelled across the glade. The marsh was sticky and pulled her paws back into itself with every step she took, and aside from the occasional splash in the distance there wasn’t a sound to be heard. Tricky could barely even see anything as she walked.

Until she suddenly could. Between the trees ahead of her, something glowed. The light slowly floated out from behind the trees, and Tricky could almost see it clearly—

And then it was snuffed out, just like that.

“Heeeeelp!!”

A voice called out distantly in the woods. Tricky recognized it, a voice she hadn’t heard for almost a year.

“Budew?” Tricky cried out hopefully. If this was where mystery dungeons went to die, then… maybe pokemon who died in mystery dungeons came here!

“Heeeelp!!”

“Budew!”

The sound of Budew’s pleas were more distant this time, as if he were being dragged further and further away by something. Tricky began to slog through the marsh once more with renewed vigor. She could catch up! She could catch up. She was going to catch up.

But soon, Tricky was faced with the situation that had been tugging at the back of her mind all along: the marsh had gotten too deep. Tricky—whose belly was half-submerged at this point—was loath to go any further on foot, and both paths around the marsh were blocked by the gnarled tree trunks of dying trees. Tricky’s ears lowered. How was she going to find Budew now?

And just like that, she could see again.

A single lilypad floated in the middle of the lake, a mysterious air surrounding it. It illuminated everything around it with an ethereal glow, and the light quickly caught Tricky’s eyes. She watched as slowly, it began to drift towards her as if guided by an unearthly force. Soon it was at the very bank of the lake, and it stopped right in front of Tricky. The glow was almost hurting Tricky’s eyes at this point. Even so, her heart leapt in joy—Budew was trying to help her! She didn’t want to go on the river… but there was no other way. Out of options, Tricky took a deep breath, stepped on the pad, laid down, and began to paddle with her paws.

The lilypad floated back out onto the lake with Tricky on top of it. Despite all her efforts to make the paddling go faster, it went stressfully slow. Tricky could barely see the other end of the lake, and in a place like Poliwrath River that was too scary. She attempted in vain to make the lilypad go faster.

It wasn’t long before she began to notice small ripples silently coursing through the water ahead of her, like something coasting just under the water’s surface. Tricky barely caught the movement over the lilypad’s glow, but it was there and she saw it. She watched it coast out further into the lake with bated breath, hoping that it wouldn’t notice her floating along. The water quieted down a moment after, and then Tricky saw fit to continue paddling.

The lilypad had continued floating by in the absence of her paddling, but now it seemed that no matter how much or how hard she paddled it was slowly coming to a stop. And soon it came to a standstill in the middle of the lake. Tricky paddled almost violently in the water, looking down at her futile efforts in fear. This was bad. She was as far out from either side of the lake as she could get! And this stupid lilypad—

There. She caught it again. Something rippled through the water in the dark distance, coasting right through. And it was heading right for her lilypad. Tricky watched it with horror. This was the end, wasn’t it…

As it approached the ripples disappeared, and for a split second, Tricky wondered if it had lost interest and was leaving. Then the bottom of her glowing lilypad suddenly tore open—

—A mottled blue hand shot out and pulled Tricky into the water.

Underwater she couldn’t breathe. Tricky had just enough time to take a breath before she went under, and then she was in the grasp of a skeletal poliwrath. The glow of the lilypad illuminated it from above, and she saw that half its skin was missing, seared off by flame. Its eyes were dead, rotting, and focused straight on her. Tricky just stopped herself from screaming underwater and releasing all her air, but she did her best to get away anyway. The zombified poliwrath wouldn’t let her go. It violently grabbed her and began to pull her apart. Tricky felt it she felt all the pain and it was horrible. She couldn’t stop herself from screaming, and she released all her air.

But it wasn’t water that flowed into her mouth. Air didn’t flow in either and Tricky felt like she was suffocating, but she knew what water felt like in her mouth and there wasn’t any. And even through all the pain she was experiencing, that one thought stayed in Tricky’s mind: No water…

She took a breath, and air flowed in. And even though all her other senses were telling her that was underwater and she couldn’t breathe, she was breathing. And if she could breathe she could—

Tricky snapped her head forward, took a deep breath of air underwater, and then blasted the poliwrath in the face with fire. It dropped her, and Tricky fell to the bottom of the lake like a deadweight. The poliwrath screeched loudly as it covered its face in pain, and all around her Tricky saw the Poliwrath River begin to crumble away.

The trees dissolved upwards, taking the vines with them Tricky couldn’t see the lilypads or the mud of the marsh anymore, and within minutes even the lake itself had become nothingness. The poliwrath had disappeared long ago. And all that was left was blackness. Blackness all around, and Tricky was once more alone. And then, the blackness began to take shape…

—Tricky violently snapped awake. She saw the narrow, goo-covered hallways of the Ancient Barrow once more, and Tricky realized she was laying against one. Half her face was covered in the goo! She sat up like a shot, quickly trying her best to rub it off her in disgust. Gross!

It was about a minute before full clarity returned to Tricky again. It must have all been a dream! But if it was all a dream, then… Budew… Tricky’s ears lowered ever so slightly. What a mean thing to do.

A sudden glow caught her eyes. At the end of the hallway, that same ghostly glow that the lilypad had shone from around the corner. Tricky glanced at it, first in confusion and then in hope. Maybe, just maybe…

She got up and followed.

~\({O})/~

~Pancham~

Pancham had been stuck underground for a while. Actually, was this underground? The answer eluded Pancham, but it didn’t matter—he was trapped nonetheless. There had to be some way out—he’d gotten in, after all—but no matter how many times he had rushed up or down the two stairways that led in and out of the room, they all led back to the same stone chamber that Pancham had been stuck in forever. He had tried everything: he’d searched for secret passages, went back up and down the stairs in patterns, and even tried pleading with the stairs at one point, which was a secret he would take to his grave no matter what. Nothing had worked. Somehow, he had been thrown in here, and there was no way out.

He’d taken to just leaning against a wall, staring at nothing in particular. This was his nightmare come to life, being trapped all alone. All alone with only his thoughts to keep him company. He didn’t like the thoughts. He liked to ignore those, act tough and cool, shoot a few pebbles from his slingshot. His slingshot was gone. He missed his slingshot. There wasn’t a single sound in this room, and somehow that was deafening.

Somewhere beyond his hearing but in his head, whispers flitted through his mind. They told him many things. They told him this was his punishment, that he deserved to be in here. To be locked up in a room, away from all the attention he so badly craved. To be locked up here, where he couldn’t hurt anymon else. Where he could look at them and see how happy they all were, but know that he couldn’t have any of that. Except this time, he couldn’t make them pay attention to him. Even if he had to be the villain, even if making their lives worse was the only thing that made him feel better, he just wanted somemon to pay attention. Somemon who didn’t just follow him mindlessly like Shelmet. Now he had what he deserved. He folded his arms, leaning further and further down against the wall until he was sitting like that.

Maybe it was just the way that the dim light in the cavern reflected off the stone walls, but Pancham could have sworn that the cavern was slowly getting smaller—no, it was definitely getting smaller. The amount of wall between the stairway and the roof had decreased by quite a bit. Pancham sat up quickly. He didn’t know whether to be worried by the fact that the room was shrinking, or happy that he had something to distract him from the thoughts now.

The roof kept descending, and Pancham soon began to realize that it wasn’t going to stop. He could be crushed! He looked over to the stairways, to see if he could escape onto those, but found that there was no way through—the stairs were shifting inwards, becoming narrower and narrower as the roof grew closer and closer.

And somehow, the smaller the room became, the heavier the clouds over his head grew. Soon Pancham couldn’t even think straight enough to make an escape for himself; he just huddled in a ball on the ground, hoping he could ignore it and it would go away, just like the thoughts. Soon, the cold embrace of hard stone touched his head, and it didn’t give way even though he feebly pushed against it. The air in here felt downright oppressive, enough that he’d do anything to get away. Maybe it wasn’t so bad to let it happen. Maybe it wasn’t so bad to just give up. Maybe he could just stop fighting it and let your thoughts crush you.

But there was one thought that broke through all of that. It was one of the ones he liked to push away, because if he looked at this thought he had to look at all the other thoughts. But it tumbled out with everything else, and flitted through his mind just like the others. It was a saying, something his mother liked to recite: Your demons will devour you if you give them the chance. They feed and grow stronger on your pain, your fears, your bad deeds, and most of all your own ignorance of them. So let them in, let them see you, face them with all your bravery. And only then can you kill them.”

And then, just for a second, the cloud lifted. It was enough for Pancham

Even though the stone was rock solid and there was no way he could make his way through, he began to punch at it. And to his surprise, his fists found purchase.

No

Pancham’s heart leapt. He continued to punch, creating greater and greater cracks in the stone with each pummeling.

No

The more he hit, the greater the dent became. The roof was close enough to the ground now that he was laying on the ground and it was still pushing against his head, tighter, tighter—

The seventh, desparate punch went through. Pancham saw light.

DIE

The roof seemed to all of the sudden pummel down further, the pressure on Pancham increasing tenfold. He could barely breath, everything was being squeezed and he couldn’t take this much longer… still, he kept going.

FOOL

One last, desperate, weak hit, and the roof that was crushing him broke apart—

I’LL STILL KILL YOU

The room was flooded by light, and then collapsed into nothingness.

Pancham awoke, breath heaving… but perfectly intact. He tried to move, but something seemed to be stuck to him. He looked down, seeing that nearly his whole body was stuck to the black goo that decorated the halls of this dungeon. He was halfway inside the wall! Quickly, he yanked at the coating of goo with all his might, trying to unstick himself from the wall. After a bit, he came free, falling into the dirty water with a splash.

Now that he was free again, he took in more of his surroundings. The cramped halls of the Ancient Barrow were around him once more, and what was worse—he didn’t see the others around. Pancham picked himself up, brushing a copious amount of black goo from his arm and the right side of his face as he did. He slowly stood up, marveling at the fact that he was still alive. Had it all been a trick?

He glanced over. On the other side of the hallway, Shelmet lay against the wall, stuck to it as well, fast asleep. He was writhing in apparent pain, murmuring unintelligible gibberish to himself. Pancham wasted no time. He crawled through the swamp over to Shelmet, shaking his shell violently.

“Shelmet! Wake up!” he yelled, his cry echoing through the dungeon’s halls. Shelmet stirred once more, and then his eyes opened.

“…Pancham?” Shelmet asked wearily. Pancham wrapped him up in a large bear hug.

“Ugh… save it,” Shelmet struggled to say through Pancham’s embrace. “We don’t even know where we are yet…”

“There you guys are!”

Pancham quickly looked behind his shoulder, noticing Deerling and Tricky running up behind him. Shelmet took the opportunity to squirm out of Pancham’s arms while he was distracted.

Pancham quickly got up, just noticing that he had gotten his legs completely covered in swamp water. He grimaced.

Deerling silently counted them.

“That’s four of us,” she muttered. “Where’s Espurr?”

“She pushed me down the stairs,” Pancham said, standing up once again.

“...Wha?” Shelmet asked, still trying to regain his bearings.

“Somehow, that doesn’t surprise me,” Deerling said, and then she marched past Pancham. Pancham quickly ran to catch up.

“Wait! Shouldn’t we be focusing on getting out of here? I’ve seen a lot of weird stuff!”

“We’ve all seen weird stuff today,” Deerling said. She gave Pancham the cold shoulder. Pancham stopped walking with her, allowing her to continue on. Tricky gave him an oddly smug look as she passed him. It was like she was taking him in, smirking condescendingly.

I’LL STILL KILL YOU.

A few splashes from behind Pancham, and Shelmet quickly hopped up.

“Did you think something was off about that?” he asked. Pancham could only nod hurriedly.

~\({O})/~

~Goomy~

The fog closed around Goomy, and then he was lost in endless blankets of white mist. Unsure of what to do, he continued to slime through it in a straight line, keeping an eye out for anything he could see in the fog.

The mist was thick and invasive, and it was impossible to see anything until Goomy was almost close enough to touch it. He had almost slimed into a wall more than once. But what he heard in the mist was more unnerving by far. Every so often in the distance Goomy would catch wind of a growl or a screech, and he’d course correct to avoid it. But they only got closer, no matter which direction he slimed in. Goomy had taken to the walls, checking for places to hide as he continued. But there was nowhere to hide. No holes were large enough for him to hide in.

The sound of several screeches behind him caught Goomy’s attention. He quickly turned around the best he could, glancing down the long, long hallway he had just crossed.

Dungeon ‘mon.

Goomy could hear them rioting just around the corridor—and there were more than Goomy could count. There was nowhere to hide.

Goomy began to panic. Where was he going to go what was he going to do how would he get out of this??

He saw them as shadows in the fog first. Shadows that quickly grew in size and intensity, until a pair of furfrou broke the mist—

The furfrou were not okay. They were half-decomposed all over, and Goomy could even see the bones in some places. And then they attacked. Goomy, who had never had to fend for himself, had no line of defense—he was snapped up and mauled like a chew toy. One of the furfrou shook him in its mouth and then threw him against the wall. Goomy slowly splatted to the floor, then weakly reformed himself. Thankfully, his body wasn’t solid enough to be mortally damaged by mauling, but it had still hurt him.

Hoots and hollers and screeches abounded in the distant fog. Goomy began to tremble. He was going to die, wasn’t he?

No. There had to be a way out of this! There just had to be! If he just tried hard enough….

With determination, Goomy slimed back out into the middle of the corridor. He was going to fight this time, not run and hide like a scared rattata.

The next pokemon that dashed out of the fog was a zebstrika. It was mottled and rotting in all the same places the furfrou had been, but Goomy held his ground this time. He tackled the zebstrika to the ground just as it reached him. As scary as it looked, the pokemon was frail, and Goomy watched in awe as it degraded into dust.

He looked at the fog ahead of him. He could see the outlines of many more pokemon advancing through the mist.

Goomy braced himself. That was too many to deal with all at once. He looked around. There was no way out; he wasn’t fast enough. There was nowhere to hide; he was too large. And if he tried to run now he’d be cornered. There was only one option. Fight.

Before Goomy even knew what had hit him, he was swarmed by dungeon ferals galore. They piled on top of him, all snapping at him with their rotting mouths and skeletal claws. Their claws hurt, but Goomy continued to fight back as best he could. He wasn’t taking it lying down anymore! He was going to fight until he couldn’t fight anymore!

With that thought, Goomy suddenly began to glow. He saw his body light up with a bright flash, and the bright flash was the last thing he saw, before his surroundings went black.

~\({O})/~

~Pancham~

Led by Deerling, the four of them travelled through the Barrow’s cramped halls silently. The floor was long and expansive, and perhaps more like a labyrinth than any of the floors above it. Pancham would never admit it, but all the silence was beginning to put him on edge more than everything that had happened tonight did. No-mon was talking to each other, instead just stewing in their own thoughts. Pancham didn’t know how, but he could feel it. Something about the dungeon made him able to feel it, and maybe everymon else felt it too.

The only ‘mon who seemed perky was Tricky. Tricky, who had the greatest negative energy of them all. It almost repelled Pancham with how strong it was.

But worst of all was that feeling of something being wrong. Something that neither he or Shelmet or even Deerling knew about. And Pancham couldn’t keep it in much longer.

“We should talk to each other.”

“What?” Deerling turned her head back at him, and Pancham saw that she’d been silently crying the whole way.

“I said we should talk to each other,” Pancham repeated. “There just… can’t you feel all that negativity in the air?”

They could. They all could. It hung over them like a cloud, oppressive in a way it had never been before.

He waved his paw around just to make a point. “That’s us. And the longer we’re walking here in silence the worse it’s gonna get.”

“You’re gonna stop us from finding the path,” Tricky suddenly butted in. “If we’re talking all the time, we’re not looking!”

“I agree with Tricky,” Deerling said. “We should be focusing on getting out, not talking.”

Tricky sent Pancham another smug look, before continuing with her nose in the air. And slowly, the group returned to silence.

Every so often Pancham would look at Tricky, who was prancing along gleefully without a seeming care in the world. It infuriated Pancham. How could she be so happy in their dire situation! The first thing he knew about Tricky was that she was a total wuss about this place.. how could she be so carefree about it now? It was like she genuinely didn’t care if they got out or not. Not as long as she had her fun.

Slowly, Tricky began to fall slightly behind. Soon she fell behind Shelmet, and trotted right next to Pancham, humming a cheerful tune and eyeing him almost tauntingly. And then, Pancham came to realization: Maybe it was in the way she moved, or the fact that she wasn’t wearing the scarf she had come in with, but Pancham realized all the same. This wasn’t Tricky.

He acted quickly, grabbing ‘Tricky’ by the throat and pinning her to the side of the wall.

“Who are you??” he yelled in the creature’s face.

“Pancham!!” Deerling and Shelmet quickly turned around and ran back to where Pancham was. “What are you doing?!?” Deerling cried out in horror.

“That’s not Tricky!” Pancham yelled.

“What are you talking about?” Tricky feigned, squirming in Pancham’s grip. “I- I’m Tricky! Your best friend!!”

Even Deerling was caught off by that. She kept her attack position, but stayed still. Shelmet relaxed as well once he saw Deerling.

“What happened to your scarf?” Pancham asked.

“I… lost it,” Tricky said. “In the dungeon. But that’s not what’s important now, right?”

Pancham wasn’t satisfied.

“Then tell me your name,” he said. “Everymon knows that one.”

“Duh.” Tricky rolled her eyes. “It’s Tricky.

Deerling couldn’t take it anymore.

“Pancham, just let her go,” she said loudly.

“That’s not the real Tricky!” Pancham yelled back, saying it in a panic as if on repeat. “It’s not real! It’s not real!”

“Pancham! Stop this!” Deerling yelled louder.

“Guys!” Shelmet tried to interject. He was ignored.

“I won’t! That’s not the real Tricky!” Pancham continued to yell.

Unnoticed, Tricky grinned with a mouth full of fangs. This was exactly what It had wanted, and that panda bear was dumb enough to fall for all Its traps. They had broken free of the nightmares, but the negative energy from this argument alone was giving It all the energy It needed to finally finish them off. Slowly, It sank into the goo-covered wall when no-mon was paying attention.

“Guys!” Shelmet loudly yelled, cutting both Pancham and Deerling off. They both looked at him with the same annoyed face: “What??”

“Tricky’s gone!”

Shelmet gestured to the wall where Tricky had been. Sure enough, there was nothing but black goo in her place. Both Pancham and Deerling went silent.

A sudden splashing from around the corridor caught the attention of all three pokemon.

“There!” Deerling yelled. “Follow it!”

Pancham, Deerling, and Shelmet all ran down the corridor and towards the noise.

Deerling was faster than Pancham and Shelmet combined. She rounded the corridor first, followed by Pancham and soon after Shelmet. Deerling froze. Her legs trembled for a minute. Then she quickly bolted forward.

“Goomy!” she called out as she ran. Sure enough, once Pancham looked, he saw Goomy slumped against the black goo of one of the walls. He was half-consumed by the wall, the pink goo of his body mixing in with the black goo of the walls.

A sudden gurgling stopped Deerling in her tracks. She watched in horror as slowly, the monster pulled itself out of the wall. It stood over the sleeping Goomy, reaching down for him menacingly…

“NO,” Deerling roared. She ran forward, her head down. At the last minute, she came to a screeching halt, opened her mouth, and shot a beam of green energy directly at the monster.

“Hey—wait!” Pancham called out as he and Shelmet tried to catch up. “Wait for us!”

The monster was barely fazed. Ignoring Goomy, it began to step forwards, focused on Deerling instead. All her bravado suddenly lost, Deerling began to back away.

“Hey!”

A voice echoed down the hall, drawing the attention of both Deerling and the monster. Pancham dashed forward, his fist glowing with black energy. “You stay away from her!” he cried out valiantly, dashing forward and striking the monster in the chest.

The monster reeled back a bit, and Deerling took the opportunity to blast the monster with another energy ball. That sent the monster careening backwards.

Pancham, Shelmet, and Deerling stood together as it got up, ready to attack once again. But the monster didn’t attack. Instead, it studied them as if it were slightly wary of their power.

Then, without warning, it suddenly scooped up Goomy in its claws, and dove into the wall, taking Goomy with it. Deerling’s cry of horror was lost as the last of Goomy’s lavender goo disappeared into the wall along with the monster.

And then all was quiet.

Deerling’s legs trembled. Once. Then twice. Then, she collapsed to the ground. Pancham didn’t hear her say anything. He walked over.

“We’re gonna find it,” he said.

“It took Goomy!” Deerling suddenly snapped at him. She turned around; Pancham saw the devastated look on her face. “W-what do you think there’s going to be to find?”

“Didn’t you see?” Pancham asked. “We scared it off! It’s running from us! It took a hostage.”

“What does that matter?” asked Deerling forlornly.

“If we’re fast enough, we can still get Goomy back!” said Pancham. “Espurr and Tricky too.”

“You don’t know that,” Deerling muttered.

“No, I don’t.” He began to trudge forward in the muck, looking back at Deerling and Shelmet. “But don’t you at least want to try?”

~\({O})/~

~Tricky~

Tricky ran through the hallway, carelessly splashing through the muck. The glow was disappearing. She had to keep up with it! Tricky rounded one corridor, then the next. In the distance, she heard what sounded like a large gurgle, and only then did the glow begin to stay in one place.

She slowed down as she approached it. Carefully turning the last corridor, Tricky finally laid eyes on what had been casting that ghostly glow all this time: in the middle of the hallway floated Budew. He looked just like she remembered, all the way down the blue scarf she’d given him to wear all that time ago.

Tricky didn’t know whether to laugh or to cry. So she did the first thing she could think of – she bolted forward and hugged him tightly.

“Budew…” she half laughed, half sobbed. “It’s really you…”

“All I remember is… dying,” Budew said, in a small, cracked voice. “And then I ended up here. I’ve been here for years… wandering around all in the dark… I had to drink swamp water!”

“I know…” Tricky still hadn’t released him from her hug. A single tear slid down her cheek. “I’m sorry I got you killed.”

Budew was the one who eventually parted them. He looked at her with big, pleading eyes. “Have you come to take me out of here?”

Tricky’s face lit up with what was perhaps the most joyful expression she’d ever had. “Of course! Of course you can come back! You can come back to school, and meet Espurr and Goomy and see Deerling again and…”

“Does that mean you’re going to take me out of here?” Budew asked, louder and more firm this time.

“I… can’t yet,” Tricky said. She took a deep breath, steadying herself to say what she didn’t want to. All she wanted to do was go back to town with Budew, she wanted it so badly, just to find the exit and skip back to her house and tell the whole village that he was alive, that she wasn’t a murderer after all. But she couldn’t. Not yet.

“There are friends in here with me,” she said. “I can’t just leave, I have to find them. We have to find them. So they don’t end up down here like you were.”

“B-but the exit’s right there,” Budew said. “It’s right around the corner. We could leave, you could come with me. Please, I’ve been so lonely down here…”

Tricky saw what she didn’t before, a light around the corner, the light of daytime. Her heart fluttered, her ears rose. The light looked so magical, the way out so easy, the exit and Budew’s life again only a corridor away. And then doubts began to fill her mind. Espurr was good at crawling dungeons, as good as her. M-maybe they’d find the way out, the other five of them. Or maybe she could just go now, and then come back for the rest of them later! It all seemed so easy, so obvious. She just had to not think about it.

But she couldn’t not think about it. She couldn’t go. She wanted to go, but she knew she couldn’t. All her friends, her classmates, they were still down there. And she valued Espurr and Goomy and Deerling just as much as Budew. She couldn’t leave them! She had to go back. She had to.

“G-go without me,” she said. It took too much willpower to say. “I’m the explorer. I’m going back for my other friends, and I’m not leaving until everymon gets out of here safely. But… you could go. I’ll find the exit again, I promise! And then I’ll introduce you to everymon else! You just need to go.”

“But I can’t,” Budew said. “I can’t go unless somemon else goes with me. You could save me, please. Please.”

It was too much for Tricky to take. She grit her teeth and kept her mouth shut and trembled, because she knew if she opened it she would say yes, she wanted to go with him. But then her eyes locked on something beyond Budew that wasn’t the light of the outside. Tricky’s head tilted, and she looked behind him to see the form of something lying against the wall. Something that looked pinkish.

“…Hey,” she said. “Is that Goomy?”

“What?” Budew looked behind himself as well. “Who’s Goomy? I don’t see anymon.”

“But he’s right there,” Tricky said, beginning to pad around Budew. Budew quickly made to stop her, flying in front of her.

“There’s no-mon there, Tricky,” Budew said sternly. “Please go with me. Just forget about everymon else. Do what your heart says! It’s telling you what you should do, right?”

Tricky was silent. Slowly, her ears drooped, and a few tears fell from her eyes silently. But she didn’t cry.

“You’re right,” she said. “It is. Lead the way.”

Budew happily veered off in the opposite direction, heading down the hallway she had come from. But Tricky didn’t follow. Budew looked back in confusion once he had reached the corridor’s entrance. He wavered, floating back over once he’d noticed.

“Are you coming with me?” he asked. Tricky shook her head.

“You’re not the real Budew,” she said.

“But I am the real Budew!” Budew yelled. “I am! I am! i Am!”

Tricky just hung her head and shook it.

“I’m really sorry,” she said. And then she took a deep breath, and blew a stream of fire directly at Budew.

The fire was hungry, and soon Budew was completely alight. Tricky tried to drown out his screams by covering her ears, and soon with her own. But they didn’t last long. The familiar voice of Budew droned on longer than it should have, increasing in pitch until it was a loud, demonic screech. And then it cut out entirely, and Budew was gone.

Tricky sniffled, then blinked the tears from her eyes. And when they settled, the light around the corner had disappeared. Her eyes focused on the floppy pink pile lying by the wall down the corridor.

“Goomy!” she yelled, running over to his sleeping form. She quickly nudged him with her paw, then her nose. “Wake up!”

It was a minute, but Goomy stirred. He blinked his eyes open wearily, looking at Tricky.

“…T-Tricky?” he asked hopefully. Tricky nodded ecstatically.

“Come on—get up!” she hissed, barely able to sit still. “We’ve gotta find the others!”

“Hey!! Over here!”

Both Tricky and Goomy turned to see a welcome face: Pancham ran around the corner, followed by Deerling and Shelmet. Everymon was there, except for…

Except for…

…But Espurr was smart. The smartest of all of them. Tricky was sure she was fine. She had to be fine. Tricky quickly ran to join the other three ‘mon, looking back to make sure that Goomy was keeping up.

“How’d you guys find us?” she asked.

“We heard the screeches,” Pancham said. “We just followed the sound. What were those, anyway—”

“GOOMY!!” Deerling cried out, galloping over to meet Goomy in the middle. She quickly checked him over to make sure he was fine. “Are you alright? Did that monster do anything to you??”

“I-I’m fine,” Goomy said, shrugging off the attention. He didn’t like it when Deering fawned over him like that. He was big enough to care for himself!

A sudden gurgling from the wall stopped everymon in their tracks. They all watched in horror as a clawed arm erupted out of the wall, followed by another. And then a leg. And then the monster stood before them in Its full glory. Enraged.

DIE.

Pancham, Deerling, and Shelmet took attack positions.

“Behind me, Goomy,” Deerling said urgently. Goomy was going to object, but then saw the monster and did exactly as Deerling asked.

“Now what?” Shelmet asked, as Tricky charged up and ember too.

“On three, we all attack,” Pancham said. “One… Two… Three!”

Tricky fired an ember. Deerling fired an energy beam. Pancham grabbed ahold of Shelmet, and ran straight for the beast with the pointy end of Shelmet’s shell. The energy ball and ember combined sent the monster reeling back, but it was quick. It grabbed Shelmet, stopping Pancham in his tracks.

“Hey—stop!” the monster lifted both Pancham and Shelmet up into the air. Deerling lost it. She put her head down, and charged for the monster once more, intending to headbutt it. Her head became stuck in the goo.

Tricky fired another ember at the monster, but it blocked the attack with Shelmet’s shell. Tricky growled and charged forward, , biting the creature in the leg, But her muzzle went all the way through, and Tricky found she couldn’t remove it. Muffled, she screamed in horror as she tried to pull her nose and muzzle out. She was suffocating!

Goomy watched in terror as the monster dealt with all his friends. He couldn’t… he couldn’t take this anymore! If no-mon was going to help his friends, then somemon had to step up!

The same spark Goomy had felt in the nightmare resounded within him. There was a sudden flash, and for a few seconds Goomy felt nothing. And then everything went black. Goomy could feel his eyes, and he could hear his friends scream, but he couldn’t see them!

And then his antennae twitched, and suddenly he saw everything. He looked around, his antennae focusing on the monster. Somehow, he knew what to do. He opened his mouth, and he felt a newfound energy build up within. And once it became too much for his mouth to bear, he spat it out. The ground suddenly boomed, and the creature was thrown back to the end of the hallway. All of Goomy’s friends fell back into the muck, catching their breath from the harrowing encounter. They all saw Goomy and gazed in awe, but their attention quickly returned to the creature at the end of the hallway.

With just a squelch and the shifting of the wall, it was gone.

~\({O})/~

The In-Between

~Espurr~

Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open. She sat up in the blackness, looking around. The all-too-familiar blackness of the In-Between met her eyes. She stood up. If she was here, then that meant…

Foolish girl.

A wind began to howl in the distance, and suddenly Espurr was knocked backwards, falling on her behind. She glanced up at the howling wind above her, staring up in wordless horror.

Oh so foolish… you make my job too easy. All it took was one dream, and you came skittering into my lair without another thought to pay.

The void was suddenly all around her. Espurr stayed quiet as she looked for a way out. Just the thought of pulling another psychic trick made her head want to explode, but there had to be another way out!

“Wake up…”

A new voice reverberated in her head. Espurr quickly stared up at the sky in hope. “It’s coming…”

The winds suddenly picked up, the howling drowning out whatever she could hear of the voice.

Now your friends will die… and you will die with them. My shadow will consume you ALL.

“…Wake up! Wake up wake up wake up—"

Espurr felt something violently shake her, and all of the sudden she was in—

~\({O})/~

The Ancient Barrow

The cramped halls of the Ancient Barrow greeted her eyes once again. Espurr was lying against the black goo that coated the walls, and a good amount of her fur was covered in it. Over her stood a riolu. Espurr was startled; she almost yelped in surprise. But the riolu frantically gestured for silence with his paws.

“Quiet! It’s coming,” he hissed.

Sure enough, Espurr’s ears caught the sound of something gurgling in the distance, and then a large splash echoed through the hallway. Riolu began to panic—he looked this way and that, his eyes finally settling on a dead-end corridor nearby.

“This way!” he quietly hissed, and then he quickly led Espurr towards it. Still addled from her sleep, Espurr could only stumble after him, their feet making splashes in the swamp water as they ran.

They both sat down in the swamp muck, hiding themselves from sight. Riolu motioned for silence, and Espurr stayed as quiet as she could. They quietly listened as outside the passage, something large tromped by.

Slowly, it passed, and only after it had been gone for a good minute did Riolu uncup his paw from over his mouth

“Who are you?” Espurr asked in a whisper, once she was sure that the monster wouldn’t be coming back for them.

“I’m Riolu,“ he said, puffing out his chest. “And I’m the fourth Human Savior.”

~\({O})/~

Music of The Week!

All Together Now - Marco Beltrami



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Chapter 22 - Salutations From the Other Side

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Oh, you’re up now.

Salutations from the other side, dear traveler! Sorry for putting you under. Trust me, you’d have gone crazy if you were awake.

…Hmm? Who am I? Well… I’m a friend. And there’s an entire world out there that needs your help. In fact, you’re their last hope.

You want what?

I’ll have to erase your memories of this conversation, so you won’t keep any of it. But we have a little time. Sit down— oh. Wait. You don’t have a body yet. Silly me! Just float there, then.

It all started very long, long ago…


Chapter22Art.png

~\({O})/~

22.

Salutations From the Other Side


~\({O})/~

School Forest ~ Four Weeks Ago

~Riolu~

Riolu opened his mouth, and his tongue flopped out. Everything felt weird. He could smell the forest around him in much more detail than he was used to, and he was sure his tongue wasn’t supposed to be hanging out of his mouth like that. It was only when he heard the rushing of the lake that Riolu thought to open his eyes.

He couldn’t see as well, that was for sure. But his smell and hearing more than made up for it. He could hear the lake, and he could smell the lake, and his nose and ears together told him it was less than three feet away. That would take some getting used to. His feet, however…

Riolu cast a look at his hind paws, realizing that he didn’t have the faintest idea of how to walk on those. All the while his tongue had been flopped out of his mouth, and it was beginning to drip slobber onto him. Riolu did his best to pull his tongue back into his mouth, but it took a few tries to get it right. And then, Riolu noticed: he was parched.

Luckily, that was what the lake was for.

Riolu crawled over to it on his elbows and knees, and after casting a look around and realizing there wouldn’t be any ready-made cups waiting around for him in the middle of a forest—darn it—he gave up and stuck his tongue into the water to drink. He was able to drink his fill that way easily, although the water flowed too fast for Riolu to see his reflection.

Swish.

The thing that jarred him out of his stupor was the sound of something approaching from behind him. Riolu quickly turned over, looking in the direction of the noise. In the distance (although he couldn’t tell for sure, the distance was a bit blurry), there stood what looked like a trio of cone-headed creatures with softly-flickering lights on their arms. The flickers made it hard to see. Riolu tilted his head for a minute. Were these natives? Maybe they could help him!

“Hey!” Riolu called out cheerfully, waving at them. “Hullo! Over here! Anyone think they can give me some directions!?”

They didn’t answer. Riolu’s waving stopped for just a second. He was beginning to get a little unnerved. Maybe they couldn’t hear him or something. He’d just wave harder.

“I’m a bit lost!” Riolu called out, unconsciously wagging his tail behind him. “Can you help me?”

The trio of pokemon turned to each other, and Riolu saw for sure the flickering lights on their hands. Red yellow green yellow red and then yellow again…

And then, just like that, they all turned back to face Riolu. Riolu gave them a complimentary wave. Just in case. Maybe…

All thoughts and hopes of a civil exchange were suddenly dashed from Riolu’s mind. The creatures raised their arms, and then a large shadowy ball materialized out of nowhere and flew straight at Riolu—

—Riolu barely dived out of the way as it flew over the bush he was next to and exploded against something on the other side of the lake.

“Hey! Not cool!” Riolu yelled back at them. If the strange pokemon heard him, they didn’t acknowledge it. They started to move towards him, and as the bushes pushed apart Riolu saw that they had no legs. They floated.

Riolu quickly glanced down at his own legs. He didn’t know how these even worked, much less how to walk on them! But then one of the strange pokemon’s lights flickered bright yellow again and blinked him in the face, and Riolu decided that now was as good a time as any to learn. He hopped to his feet—stumbled a bit—then ran off into the woods as fast as he could.

He didn’t get far. He tripped on a root, which sent him tumbling down the forest floor until he landed in the middle of a ditch.

After half a minute of lying there, Riolu groaned. His leg hurt. It wasn’t broken, but it wasn’t like he was going anywhere fast. There was no time for this! Maybe—maybe he could—

Riolu looked down at his paws, then at all the mud under him. He didn’t know how, but he knew: His hands were made for digging. And he was in a ditch. He could dig his way out.

Above him, the strange pokemon passed over, looking for him in vain. Riolu held his breath until they had disappeared (or at least he couldn’t hear them anymore). Then he sat up. His leg wasn’t throbbing in pain as much anymore. It was time to get to work.

Riolu spent the next few hours digging a hidey-hole for himself. At several points, he had to stop whenever he heard the swish of ferns being pushed aside, or the tell-tale beeping that came with the strange pokemon’s presence. But Riolu was a diligent worker, and by the time that night fell Riolu had dug himself a large tunnel.

Before long, he felt hungry. He lay in the small, underground passage he had dug that was just big enough for him, clutching his belly in mild pain. He’d been working hard all day, not to mention the nagging feeling that something was off about him that he couldn’t quite put his finge—paw on. Above him, he heard distant beeps in the distance. He couldn’t just go out and forage for things, because then he would be caught and he didn’t have the skills to fight or evade those strange pokemon yet.

Riolu decided to keep digging. He needed food sooner or later, but staying in this tunnel forever and waiting for the relentless pokemon to leave would just mean starving to death in here. Riolu was going to dig outside of their boundaries, and hope they didn’t discover the tunnel in the ditch before he did.

And so he dug. For hours, until dirt piles littered the passage behind him and Riolu was sure it was sunrise again (although he couldn’t tell because he wasn’t above ground). He was almost ready to collapse. He looked back at the tunnel entrance, which he could still vaguely see from far away. He hadn’t dug as long a distance as he had thought. Riolu leaned against the cavern wall in exhaustion. He was so tired, and so hungry, and so thirsty… Perhaps he’d just dig up here. This must be outside the strange pokemons’ boundaries. And if not, maybe they were sleeping. Or maybe they’d moved on, thinking he was long gone at this point. Either way, this couldn’t go on for much longer. Riolu needed out, and he needed out now.

Riolu dug up. It was hard at first, but he soon found that he was able to cling to the walls with his claws and bat the dirt down, and soon the entire ground above fell onto the floor of the cavern below and Riolu saw daylight, beautiful daylight, and he rejoiced, climbing out of the hole.

Swish.

In the distance. Riolu’s head snapped back towards that. Did those pokemon never quit? He didn’t think beyond that—he ran. The pokemon emerged from the treeline behind him, almost like they had known he was there, and as he glanced back towards them Riolu tripped.

He hit the ground hard. Riolu groaned, feeling all the aches and pains of his body come back to hit him full-force with that one collision against the ground. The strange pokemon didn’t wait for him to recover. One of them raised its arms in his direction, and before Riolu had a chance to react a large shadowy ball flew out of nowhere and collided with him.

Riolu’s body was pain, then stiff, and then everything went black.


~\({O})/~

It was a while before Riolu could wake up again. He was still parched, but everything felt hotter. Much hotter. He opened his eyes, and saw the blood-red sky above him.

That wasn’t right.

Riolu sat up, looking around. All around him was a forest of dead trees. No leaves were anywhere to be seen, and the bark was pitch black. It rotted off the trees and curled up on the ground.

Riolu slowly got to his feet. Nothing about this was right. And he needed something to eat. And drink.

Something caught the corner of Riolu’s eye. Something blue amongst all the crimson. Riolu turned to see a blue flame dancing deeper in the forest. It flickered weakly, almost half-gone. Riolu could even see through it.

It danced around in the air gracefully, then zipped off in a different direction as if bidding Riolu to follow. Riolu stopped for a minute. Was this really the best option? The last pokemon he had tried to trust had brought him… here. But where was ‘here’? Riolu looked around at the dead trees and the red sky. He needed any help he could get. He’d just have to be on the lookout for a trap. And so Riolu reluctantly decided to follow it. There wasn’t another good choice, in hindsight.

As Riolu walked he noticed that the flame was beginning to get stronger. He couldn’t deny that he was scared right now, and maybe that was making him see things, but it looked like the flame was slightly more solid. Less see-through. Maybe even the flame was a hallucination.

Riolu’s stomach growled. He clutched it in hunger as he went. Boy, he hoped he could find something to eat soon.

The flame entered a large clearing in the middle of the dead woods, and then it stopped. Riolu followed it into the clearing, but no further. The flame was completely stationary, dancing and flickering brightly in place. It looked a lot more energetic than when Riolu had first seen it. A wave of fear came over Riolu suddenly. Had he just walked into some kind of trap?

Slowly, Riolu peeked his head out into the clearing, both ways. He didn’t see anything but the trunks of more dead trees. And that flame, which had not moved an inch. Slowly, Riolu sighed in defeat. If this was a trap, he’d just have to spring it. He was too hungry to come up with a better solution right now.

Riolu took a single step out into the clearing, then quickly pulled his foot back. Nothing happened. Arrows didn’t fly from the trees, and no monster emerged from the forest to devour him. Riolu mustered up all his courage, and then put his foot out again. And this time, it stayed there.

Riolu took another step. Then another. And another. Soon he was all the way out of the tree-line, and nothing had changed. Riolu let out a quiet sigh of relief. Then he quickly scampered up to the flame like the ground behind him was lava.

It stood still in the air, same as it had since he’d seen it. Riolu tentatively reached out a paw to touch it, but his paw went through completely. Riolu pulled it out then looked down at it, noticing how it was completely unharmed.

“BOO!!”

“Aaauggh!” Riolu fell backwards onto the ground, edging away towards the treeline in fear. Slowly, he watched as the blue flame materialized completely, a candle forming at its base. A candle with a face.

“Oh, tasty, tasty beautiful fear!” the candle cried out in joy, seemingly devouring something that Riolu couldn’t see. “For a moment…” the candle gasped between bites. “…I thought I was going to disappear…”

“Fear?” Another voice piped up from a distance.

“Fear?”

“Where is it?”

“We can eat??”

“We can eat!”

“We’re saved!”

Several more voices whistled through the bare treetops, and Riolu could only watch as more of the blue flames arrived to feast upon an invisible luncheon. And Riolu was terrified. He curled up in a ball on the ground, waiting for it all to be over, for this all to be just a dream—

“You can get up now. We’ve had our fill.”

Riolu slowly peeked out from the ball he was currently curled up in. The candle that had led him here – he could tell because the flame on top was larger than the others – floated over him, a friendly expression upon its face.

“Yeah!” another candle piped up from amongst the horde of candles that were now watching him (Riolu became a little uncomfortable in just that moment). “You saved us!”

“I… what?” Riolu asked. His voice was raspy from lack of water, and it felt weird just talking. Never mind the fact that he was talking to floating ghost candles.

His stomachache suddenly grumbled, and Riolu clutched it in pain. The candles all exchanged looks.

“Well, he fed us,” said one. “’s only fair.”


~\({O})/~

“So what are you guys all about?” Riolu asked, happily gnawing on a few carrot-like roots that the candle-things had picked for him. They barely had any taste and they smelled awful, but Riolu was just happy to eat something at this point.

“What do you mean?” one of the candles asked, lazily floating in the air.

“Like,” Riolu said before biting off a large piece of the root. “What are you?”

All the candles exchanged weird looks at that line.

“Well…” one candle started. “We’re Litwick. The former and forever occupants of the Ancient Barrow!”

“Well, until recently,” said another.

“What’s that mean?” Riolu asked.

“It’s an unfortunate misconception,” said the litwick who had led him here. “The public thinks we’re soul eaters, and that we have to kill somemon every time we want to eat. Really, we just feed on negative auras. But all the superstition got troublesome to deal with, so we locked ourselves away in the Ancient Barrow and posed as ghosts. A little ‘boo’ here, dishes re-arranged there, and we ate well. We were eating well. And then…” the litwick shuddered, too scared to go on.

“And then we were attacked,” another, braver litwick continued in his place. “All this icky black goo came down the wall! None of us saw what it was. We were just hit by this strange black ball, and the next thing we knew we were all here.”

“There’s nothing to eat here,” a smaller litwick piped up. “We almost disappeared from starvation!”

“But then you showed up,” said a fourth, quieter litwick. “A lot of us owe you our lives.”

Riolu set down what was left of his roots.

“So there’s really nothing for you guys to eat here?” he asked.

One of the litwick shook their heads. “No living creatures,” they said. “Nothing to feed off of.”

Riolu stared at the ground. “And if I leave you…” he began. “…You’ll just starve again?”

There was silence, but everymon knew the answer to that question.

“…How about we make a deal?” asked one of the litwick. “You just woke up here, right? You must think this place is pretty strange. We’ll protect you! We’ll teach you how to survive here! And all you have to do is feed us!”

“Yeah!” the smaller litwick piped up. “The only pokemon you still have to meet is Solosis! And she’ll be back soon!”

“Who’s Solosis?” Riolu asked.

“Our leader,” the first litwick said. “You’ll meet her tonight, after she gets back from There.”

“Where?”

The litwick pointed directly behind Riolu. “There.”

Riolu looked behind himself, to where Litwick was pointing. And then he saw it: A large mountain, wreathed in flame. He quickly stood up and looked up at it. And then he didn’t want to look at it. Riolu shut his eyes and turned away, but the image of the demonic mountain was burned into his brain now. Slowly, he opened them, making sure to look in the other direction.

“W-what is that?” he stammered.

“We call it the Bad Place,” said one of the litwick. “Solosis has another name for it.”

“Another name for what?”

The voice reverberated through Riolu’s head. It came from everywhere and nowhere at once, but Riolu only had to glance where all the other litwick were glancing to find out who was speaking.

It looked like nothing he had ever seen before, a small ball with eyes encased in a larger coating of thick green slime. And it floated.

The large green ball of slime looked around, its eyes settling on Riolu.

“You’re new,” she ‘said’. Despite the distance Riolu heard it as if she was standing right in front of him.

“Uh… hi.” Riolu didn’t have the energy to wave in greeting.

Solosis sighed in exhaustion (or as close as it could get to that, Riolu assumed), then floated over.

“Did you find anything?” one of the litwick asked.

“Not yet,” Solosis broadcasted. “I haven’t been able to get close.”

Noticing the falling look upon the litwick’s face, Solosis quickly floated over.

“Cheer up! We’ll figure it out soon enough. Maybe I’ll bring some of you with me next time, see if we can make it up that cliff easier.”

There were various murmurs of disappointment and interest from the litwick, but they soon dissipated. Nothing had changed, after all. Solosis herself soon fluttered over to Riolu, then lowered herself to his height.

“So what brings you here?” she asked. “Wait—don’t tell me. You got zapped here too.”

Unsure of what to say, Riolu nodded silently.


~\({O})/~

“We haven’t got much, but… we’re the only pokemon for miles out. Trust me. I’ve searched.”

Solosis floated next to Riolu on one end of the clearing, where he sat against the trunk of a dead tree. Out in the middle of the clearing, the litwick amassed in a large flurry of floating candles and blue flames, flying around and socializing with each other at speeds Riolu couldn’t even possibly imagine.

“I’ve been feeding them as much as I can, but I’m only one pokemon when it comes down to it,” Solosis said. “And litwick can’t eat their own negative auras, or we’d never have to worry about this. They were all starving to death until you showed up.”

Riolu connected the dots quickly.

“And…” he said. “You want me to help out?”

Solosis sent him a pleading look he wouldn’t have thought was possible with those beady black eyes.

“Would you?” she asked.

Riolu was silent for a minute. That should have had an easy answer. He didn’t have anywhere else to go. And… they’d fed him. He’d probably die on his own. But at the same time… did he want to be stuck here for the rest of his life? He looked up at the blood-red sky.

“…Is the sky always like that?” he asked. “It doesn’t feel right.”

“It’s been like that ever since we’ve been here. And wouldn’t you believe it, this is the daytime.”

“Really? What’s it like at night?” Riolu asked.

“Black,” Solosis answered. “Even this place can’t take that away.”

Riolu snickered through his nose. It sounded more like a snort.

“So, what do you think?” Solosis asked, giving him that pleading look once more. “Will you stay with us? Just until we find a way out of here?”

Riolu shrugged. “I guess.”

“Great!” Solosis suddenly sounded much more energetic.

“Oh, and one more thing you should know,” she quickly said before Riolu could open his mouth in response. “You might hear things in the distance at night. Howls, screeches, pokemon crying out for help… whatever you do, don’t leave the clearing. Got it?”

Riolu’s ears flopped down in confusion. Something wasn’t adding up. “I thought you said we were the only living things here for miles out.”

“I said we were the only pokemon for miles out,” Solosis said. “You’ll steer clear of those, yes?”

Riolu nodded, suddenly looking a lot more fearful.

“Good!” Solosis broadcasted into his head cheerfully, leading him through the clearing. “I’ll show you where you’ll sleep.”


~\({O})/~

Riolu slept in a pile of dirt near the far side of the clearing that had been bunched up to look like a bed. He felt his stomach grumble a little, but clutched it in silence. The roots had filled him for a bit, but now he was hungry again. He gritted his teeth and bore it in silence. It could wait until morning.

And yet, as the hours ran on, Riolu found himself still wide awake. He shouldn't have been this wide awake—he should have been exhausted from everything that he just happened in the past day—but it felt like his body didn’t want to loosen up. He was still tense, like something was going to spring on him any moment and he had to be ready.

Maybe it was this place that was making him feel like that. Everything was deathly silent. At least, back in the other place, he could hear things chirping as he dug. Here, there was… nothing. It was dead. Everything here was dead.

“Heeeeeeeelp!”

Riolu immediately sat up in his bed of dirt, staring directly at where the voice had come from. It sounded like… he couldn’t really tell what it sounded like, but it had come from very deep in the woods.

You might hear things in the distance at night.

Riolu stared at the trees intently, trying to see anything that might be in the distance. He could only see the absolute darkness that crept out from the treeline.

Whatever you do, don’t leave the clearing. Got it?

That was suddenly a much harder set of instructions to follow. Riolu was scared out of his wits, sure. But if there was somemon that needed help out there…

Riolu slowly rose from his position, taking care not to upset the ghostly forms of the sleeping litwick all around him. Slowly, he tiptoed towards the treeline, trying to get a better idea of what might be out there. His ears pricked up, able to hear the cracking of sticks as something prowled in the distance far off. Another living creature?

He sniffed the air, remembering his heightened sense of smell. He smelled… eww, that was rancid. A disgusting scent wafted in through the trees, regaling Riolu with its foulness. He wrinkled up his nose and stepped back. It smelled like somemon had died long ago and was now rotting. Riolu stood in place, not sure what to do with this information. Maybe he should go wake Solosis—

A loud roar echoed through the trees, biting Riolu’s ears with the force of a hammer. It heightened in pitch until it was the screech of a demon, and then Riolu heard whatever had been prowling through the woods suddenly romp off.

Without thinking, he quickly got back to his bed of dirt and laid down upon it, wide awake and scared witless.

He stayed awake the whole night.


~\({O})/~

“Rise and shine.”

Slowly coming to. Riolu blinked himself awake, staring up at Solosis. He looked up at her briefly, yawned, then let his head fall back down against the dirt again. He felt tired. What had happened last night?

Slowly, it all came back to him. All the memories of his frightening encounter last night. What was that thin—

“BOO!!”

Riolu jolted awake with a yelp, and the litwick feasted.

That was how it went for the next few days. The litwick, experienced and ever-creative in the art of frightening pokemon, found new ways to scare Riolu each day. In return, Riolu got roots to eat from them twice a day and water to drink, and so his belly stayed relatively not-empty. He quickly made friends with a few of them, having nothing else to do all day as they waited for Solosis. The one who had led him here was called Tall-Flame, and the other three litwick in Tall-Flame’s gang were Small-Light, Flicker-Stem, and Violet-Fire. Small-Light had haunted a library for a while, and read a lot of things in books when he wasn’t busy scaring the librarian. Violet-Fire would scare him the worst but ate very little herself, while Flicker-Stem was very young and had known little else but this place. Tall-Flame was adventurous, but also reckless. The other three constantly had to talk him down from pulling several reckless stunts, and it soon became obvious to Riolu that Tall-Flame had found him completely by accident.

This wasn’t meant to be permanent. Every day, Solosis would wake Riolu and then leave early, and she would come back an hour before darkness fell, because it wasn’t safe to go out at dark. Riolu had questioned her on several occasions, but Solosis was always very coy about the answers she gave.

“What are those noises?” Riolu asked one day, just after Solosis had come back from wherever she went all day. “I hear them every night. You said they aren’t pokemon. But if everyone can hear those things, then that means there has to be some other sign of life out there, right?”

Solosis sighed, like she wasn’t prepared to answer that question.

“Promise me you’ll never go after those voices,” she said, just to him. “They aren’t what they pretend to be.”

“What does that mean??” Riolu pressed, but Solosis refused to communicate with him beyond that.

“So,” Riolu asked as he bit into a root. His nose wrinkled as he did. They smelled more and more awful with each day, but they were the only thing he had to eat at this point. “What’s up with Solosis? You guys know why she goes to that mountain every day?”

Flicker-Stem floated next to him, staring at the same thing he was: the flame-wreathed mountain in the distance. It was colored the dark shade of rust that everything in this place was colored, and from a distance it seemed almost peaceful. Almost.

“Solosis calls it Reverse Mountain,” Flicker-Stem said. “She said that in the world—the real world, not this place—there’s a mountain just like it standing right there. And on top of Reverse Mountain is the way back to the real world.”

Riolu chewed his roots silently as he gazed up at it.

“…Then why haven’t we left already?” he asked.

“Because there’s no way up the mountain,” Flicker-Stem said. "It's too hot."

That made Riolu glance at Flicker-Stem in shock.

“Then…” he said, with a mouth full of awful-smelling root. “...We’re stuck here forever?”

Flicker-Stem frowned. “We were already stuck here,” he said. “Every day Solosis goes out to the mountain and looks for a way out of here.”

“But she hasn’t found one yet,” Riolu finished.

“You’re getting it,” Thin-Stem said.

“Then how does she know that there’s a way out on top of the mountain?” Riolu asked.

“I don’t think she does,” Flicker-Stem replied. Riolu could hear the doubt beginning to creep into the edges of his voice.

It was a week before anything notable happened.


~\({O})/~

“You’re awake. Good! I’ve been waiting so very long…

…How long? You were out for quite a while. I was beginning to get worried about you. Although, your mind wouldn’t have survived the trip if I hadn’t put you under. Transferring consciousness between bodies is a big deal, after all!

Do you remember what we talked about? The questions I asked you? The conclusions we came to together?

Yes… We’re here. We’ve arrived at the Pokemon World. But…

I’m afraid I have to leave you now. However, I trust you’ll be just fine on your own.

You will… If you answered my questions with an honest and open heart, you should have nothing to fear.

And now we must part, dear Espurr. My heart goes out to you, in the new world…


~\({O})/~

Litwick Campground

~Riolu~

Riolu lay on his bed of dirt, with his eyes squeezed shut. He still heard the voices, but it had been a week, and he’d almost learned to ignore them at this point. Or at least sleep while he heard the howling and screeches that reverberated through the woods. He didn’t think Solosis knew what they were. Maybe she had spent too many nights listening to those voices as they kept her up at night. A few nights of hearing them and Riolu never wanted to hear them again. He rolled away from the woods in front of him, gazing at the sleeping pile of litwick that cast a soft blue glow over the campsite. He was beginning to feel sleepy, and finally the woods had gone silent around him. Perhaps he could get a good night’s worth of sleep this time—

A low rumbling caught Riolu’s ears, and then the sharp noise of something blasting up into the sky made them lower in shock. Riolu quickly sat up, looking around in confusion. His eyes settled in on the new direction: It was due south.

Opening his eyes, Riolu was met with the image of a thin pillar of light streaking up into the sky. That was… using the mountain as a landmark, Riolu quickly checked. That was to the southeast.


~\({O})/~

Somemon very, very far away glanced out from his tent to watch the large pillar of light brightening up the sky to the southwest.

“Interesting…” Wartortle muttered to himself.


~\({O})/~

~Riolu~

Riolu looked one way, then the other. Then back at the stream again. It didn’t look that far off, but… Didi it make sense to leave the clearing to go looking for it? Riolu was torn.

It was a few minutes before he properly decided. Quietly, Riolu crept off his bed of dirt, and took a few hesitant steps towards the treeline. It would just be there and back again. No sweat. And if he found something, then it was even better! That made up Riolu’s mind. He took a few more confident steps, and then sprinted for the treeline.

He ran through the woods, heading due south. Looking up, he could still see the stream flaring up in the sky. It looked no larger than it had before.

He'd grown good enough at using his feet now that he could run without looking at the ground. He closed his eyes, and let himself focus on what was in front of him instead—

A tree branch sent Riolu stumbling to his feet, and he struggled to pick himself up and continue onward. Okay. He’d keep his eyes on the ground from now on.

Before long, the forest ended. Riolu found himself stumbling to a stop in a second large clearing. He looked around in confusion.

He stood in the middle of what looked like a village, but it was almost completely leveled—no building still had its roof intact, and many of the houses had been leveled from the top half up. Many of the deeper cracks didn’t even extend a foot off the ground. Which was half as tall as he was, but several feet short of a complete building.

The light had slowly died down by now. Riolu looked upwards towards the sky to see that the large flare of light was thinning. It threatened to leave Riolu in complete darkness, but lit up the area just enough for him to see.

In the distance behind him, a stick snapped. Riolu glanced back towards the woods from which he had come anxiously. Was something there?

On instinct, Riolu hid behind one of the building’s walls, crouching down to avoid being seen. Something was out there, and he knew there was only one thing it could have been.

Slowly, he heard it stomp around. The footsteps were heavy, like the creature they belonged to was bulky. Riolu barely dared to breathe.

He stayed like that for a minute, breathing as silently as he could with his paws clenching the rust-red dust on the ground. He heard the monster stomp around a bit more, almost like it was looking around for something. It sniffed the air audibly. It smelled him.

Riolu decided to take a peek. If he was going to decide on a good course of action, he at least needed to know what he was dealing with first. Ever-so-slowly, he twisted his head around the stone wall he was hiding behind, trying to get a good look at what was in the middle of the village square.

The only reason he could see it was because it was blacker than anything else. It looked without a stable form, and Riolu saw it dripping black fluid onto the ground as it walked. He took a heavy breath, trying to stomach what he was seeing. His teeth began to chatter, and he realized his whole body was trembling.

The monster suddenly snapped its head towards where Riolu was hiding, and Riolu quickly pulled his head back behind the wall. He heard the monster begin to stomp again, and each stomp was getting louder and louder…

…It knew where he was. Riolu had to act. He sprung up from where he was sitting, dashing down the beaten path southwards once more. He heard its horrible screech sound from behind him as he ran.

So panicked and focused on getting away, Riolu didn’t see much of where he went. It was the ruins of a town, that much he knew – a destroyed house here, the ruins of a bridge there – but he was more focused upon outrunning the thing that had taken chase after him. He could hear it galloping after him as he went. And it was gaining ground. If Riolu didn’t do something fast to throw it off, he was going to get caught.

A sudden scent invaded his nostrils, the same one that he’d smelled in varying quantities as far back as he could remember. But this one was incredibly strong. Maybe… Riolu quickly took a hard right, heading southeast into the forest, and then dived behind the trunk of a dead oak. He remained completely quiet. The monster galloped past, not even sparing a look towards the forest as it passed. Riolu waited half a minute to uncup his paw from over his nose. Then, once he was sure it was safe (or about as safe as it was going to be in a place like this), he continued onward.

Riolu walked now. He stepped through the woods carefully, too afraid to do anything that could lead to making noise and setting the monster back on his trail. As he walked, he followed the smell of slow decay, which was only getting stronger as he headed southwest. And soon, he came upon the source of the smell: What looked like a strange amalgamation of a tree and a beating heart. Riolu watched it perplexedly as it slowly thumped, and his eyes followed it downwards to all the roots snaking out from under it.

Most of the roots had been chopped and severed off somewhere, and when Riolu leaned over to investigate he realized the smell was coming from there. He quickly sat up, actively repelled by the stench. These were the same roots he’d been eating since he got here. Was this where they all came from? He looked up at the beating heart once more, noticing how it was beginning to shrivel up at the bottom from lack of nutrients. Riolu tilted his head, perplexed.

As disgusting as the roots smelled and looked, they were there, so Riolu—reluctantly—ate. And once he was sure that the monster wouldn’t be coming back for him, he slept.


~\({O})/~

~?~

For so long It had gone without any other creatures within its domain. For 10,000 years It had traversed the cursed lands It inhabited all alone. It had been 10,000 years since It and Its brethren had last feasted. And now they would feast again.

Living beings were returning to the Voidlands, a sign of much greater things to come. It salivated at the prospect of even more creatures to devour. It prowled through the woods, tracking the scent of the one It had chased. The scent reached a dead end once the smell of a distortion hub nearby became too strong, so It followed the track leading the other way. It travelled up through the remains of the wrecked village, and over the hill, up towards the direction of the burning mountain. The creature’s stench lead a clear path back to where he had come from. It grinned as it grew eyes and saw light, and then it was Riolu.

Solosis was roused by the sound of somemon pattering around the camp. She blinked her eyes open sleepily, her gaze settling on Riolu.

“Ugh..” she groaned, still trying to get her mind into a state awake enough to deal with the matter at hand. “What are you doing? It’s not like you to be up this early—”

Riolu suddenly sprouted a large black gooey clawed arm, and Solosis barely had any time to react before it slammed down upon her.

Psychic power glowed from under Its arm, and then It was blown back by Solosis, who rose up into the air.

“It’s going to take a bit more than that to get rid of me,” she broadcasted. “Everymon awake! We’ve been found out!!”

It growled, Solosis' psychic jerk sending a searing pain into Its head for a second. All of the litwick were jolted awake by the sudden sharp signal, and once they saw It the situation was clear. They all quickly began to flee through the woods as fast as they could. The clearing was empty of litwick within seconds.

It snarled through a muzzle that was now only barely riolu. Its feast was escaping! Not if It had anything to say about it. But a sudden Psybeam sent It reeling backwards, and It realized perhaps an appetizer was in order instead.

Solosis shone with light, and then suddenly in her place stood a mighty giratina.

“Have at you!!” the giratina yelled. Then she charged forward.


~\({O})/~

The Ancient Barrow ~ Present Day

~Espurr~

While Riolu told his story, Espurr took a moment to catch her breath and let her brain catch up with the rest of her body. This was obviously a deeper floor of the dungeon, but none of her friends had caught up with her yet. She briefly wondered if they were all oka—

A gurgling noise came from the wall right above Espurr. Riolu glanced at the noise, and Espurr turned around. Not a second too soon. An arm erupted from the wall and grabbed for Espurr’s head. Espurr barely scooted back enough for it to miss, then stumbled to her feet.

“Run!” she cried out, pulling Riolu to his feet and fleeing the dungeon. She heard the shadow exit the wall completely as they both sprinted into the main hallway and took a hard left, but it soon went silent. Espurr heard the echoes of a silent pop reverberate through the hallway, the signal of the monster slipping back into the wall.

“Keep clear of the walls,” Espurr said once she could no longer hear it. She gravitated towards the center. “It’s not gone. It’s just waiting for a moment to grab us.”

Riolu nodded, still breathing heavily.

They continued down the hall in single file. Espurr made sure she was behind Riolu, just in case. Riolu didn’t seem to mind (if only because he didn’t have to worry about the monster attacking him from behind as much). After a while, Espurr spoke.

“That thing,” she said. “You knew what it was. Mind explaining?”

“Yeah. The pokemon in the Voidlands had a name for them,” Riolu said. “We called them Void Shadows.”


~\({O})/~

Litwick Clearing

~Riolu~

Slowly coming to. Riolu yawned himself awake.

After a week of being woken up by somemon scaring him back into existence, it felt strange for Riolu to wake up on his own accord. The sky greeted him instantly, blood-red once more. Riolu stretched, then slowly rose from his position against the weird heart… tree thing. He wrinkled his nose up at the smell. It seemed much more pungent than it had been yesterday, and the strange beating heart looked just a little more shriveled up than it was before.

He ate some more of the roots for breakfast. They were still edible even though they rotted. After finishing the roots, Riolu felt a bit parched. The litwick had always given him some water whenever they had gone out to collect roots, and he’d taken it for granted. But clearly they hadn’t gotten the water from here.

He had a choice now. Go back to Solosis’ camp, or continue onwards. Riolu looked ahead, where he could still see the remnants of flickering light in the sky. He’d come this far… going back now was a waste. He had to see what had made that light! And more importantly, if it was the key to a way out of here.

And so Riolu made his choice. He turned southeast, checked to make sure the coast was clear, and then hiked off in that direction.

It felt like he travelled for hours, across desert dunes of rust-red sand and the occasional ruins of other buildings and forests. Every so often he would come across more beating heart-trees, their roots snaking through the ground in twisted layers almost twenty feet out. Riolu steered clear of them, mostly.

For a while, that was all there was—a desert of red dust. Riolu was beginning to feel hopeless; maybe he’d run out of luck. He was stranded all the way out in the middle of nowhere, with no cover to take, nothing to drink, and no-mon to keep him company. His tongue unfurled from his mouth, parched enough that he was constantly panting. He was all alone. Riolu was really beginning to regret leaving the litwick camp…

And then he heard noise. Distant noise. The noise of two pokemon talking to each other. Riolu didn’t think twice. He sprinted towards the sound, running up a large red dune of sand.

“Hey!!” he yelled, waving his arms up in the air as he ran. “I’m over here!”

The pair of pokemon who had been making the noise, a brionne and a seviper, turned to look at him as he ran. But suddenly their expressions hardened, and they began to charge up attacks—

Riolu only had a second to change his joyful look to one of fear before he was hit with the combined power of pure beams of water and grass energy. Unequipped to handle such a pair of attack, they both sent Riolu flying straight back down the dune he had been climbing. The two pokemon were on him in an instant, and the next thing Riolu knew he was coiled tightly in Seviper’s grip.

“What do you think? Seviper asked Brionne. "A straggler not from the camp, all alone in the middle of this desert? I think he's one of Them."

Brionne looked at Riolu, tied up in Seviper’s grip. “I think he would have changed by now if he was one of Them.”

Seviper looked at her disappointedly. “And that’s what Eddie said the last time this happened! When was the last time you saw him?”

“Not since then,” Brionne sighed through gritted teeth.

“Point in case.” Seviper said. “We should get ‘rid’ of him.”

Brionne looked unsure.

“But what if he’s for real?” she asked.

“We can’t take that chance,” Seviper pointed out. "He could just be a smart one."

“What are you talking about?” Riolu muttered, regaining his bearings enough to speak again.

“See?” Brionne stated, brashly gesturing to him with her flipper. “He speaks.”

“They all speak,” Seviper shrugged. “At first.”

“Give him a chance to explain himself before killing him!” Brionne pleaded. “You yourself said you could tell a Shadow alibi from a real ‘mon.”

Seviper pouted for a moment. Then she hissed in annoyance.

“Fine,” she said, turning to Riolu. “You. Talk fast. Who are you?”

“Hurting,” Riolu muttered, still way too constricted for comfort within Seviper's coils. Seviper squeezed him for a second, causing Riolu to gasp in pain.

“Not funny. Talk. Who are you?” Seviper stared him down. Riolu stammered.

Riolu looked into Seviper’s slits-for-eyes, and came to the conclusion that the best option was to talk fast.

“I- I- I’m Riolu,” he said. “Just Riolu. I’ve been here for a week.”

“And?” Seviper prompted.

“And what?” Riolu asked.

“Where were you before that?” Seviper hissed.

“I…” Riolu stammered. “I… I don’t know. I think I hit my head pretty badly. Everything’s new to me.”

Seviper sent Brionne a silent ‘See?’ glance. Brionne looked down to the ground. Riolu glanced at her pleadingly. She took a deep breath, then looked at him again.

“Oh. Well, that sucks.” Brionne frowned. Her eyes darkened. “But you see why we have to be suspicious of you, right?”

She began to charge up an attack, and Seviper did the same. Riolu scrambled backwards in fear.

“You don’t believe me?” he asked in horror.

“You know what the biggest tell is when somemon’s a Shadow?” Seviper asked. “They never remember anything. They copy the body but not the memories. Most pokemon never see it coming until it’s too late. If you're interested in staying alive…” the coils around Riolu's body began to tighten just a little. “You nip it in the bud before it can happen.” And with that, she began to charge up an attack of her own. Riolu looked down at his paws. Could he fight? Should he fight?

“W- Wait!!” he called out, just before the two of them could fire. “I can prove I’m who I say I am!”

That made Brionne hesitate for a minute. She eyed him suspiciously. “Then talk.”

“I—“ Riolu began, trying to organize his thoughts. “I didn’t wake up in this place, I got zapped here! I woke up in a forest in the middle of nowhere, and these weird pokemon with lights on their arms chased me and hit me with this attack. The next thing I know I’m here. I really have been here for a week.”

“A week? All on your own?” Seviper scoffed. “Likely story.”

“Not alone,” Riolu shook his head. “There’s a whole clan of litwick back in the woods that looked after me. They were looking for a way out of here, but they eat fear. They needed me to give them fear to eat.”

Brionne kept her attack stance, but Riolu could tell she was having second thoughts.

“Why’d you leave?” Seviper asked firmly.

“Last night, I saw this pillar of light appear in the sky. I wanted to go investigate,” Riolu said. I thought I would be there and right back, but it was farther away than I thought. There was something out there in the woods. It tried to chase me, but I got away. And then I came across this place.”

“And you don’t remember anything.”

Riolu shook his head. “Nothing before I woke up in those woods. I’m telling the truth, I swear! If I was one of those monsters that attacked me last night I would have attacked you by now!”

Seviper and Brionne exchanged looks.

“It is a complicated alibi for a Shadow,” Brionne admitted.

Seviper sighed.

Fine,” she said. “But we’re taking him to Wartortle before anything else happens.”


~\({O})/~

The two of them hoisted Riolu up with flippers and tails, and began to drag him across the dunes of rust-red sand. It wasn’t five minutes of walking (or slithering, or… whatever that hopping/sliding thing Brionne was doing was) before the sounds of distant noise began to reach Riolu’s ears. They pricked up, and then so did he. That sounded like…

All the way from where Riolu was to the coastline, long, paw-made tents covered the dusty ground, and occupying those tents were hundreds of living, breathing pokemon, wonderful living beings! Noticing that Riolu was fidgeting a lot in excitement, Brionne and Seviper let Riolu down.

“Don’t run,” Seviper hissed in his ear. Eager not to get on her bad side and feel the crushing sensation of her coils around his midsection again, he hurriedly nodded. Seviper and Brionne led him down towards the civilization.

All around there were pokemon going about their day, but none of them paid Riolu any mind. They all looked like they had just reached the end of a very long journey. Seviper and Brionne dragged Riolu towards the center, where a somewhat grander tent stood.

“Where are you taking me?” Riolu asked, looking at the tent.

“Quiet,” said Seviper. “We need to make sure you’re the real deal. Wartortle will see to that.”

They approached the tent, where a line of pokemon had already amassed. They took issue as Brionne and Seviper pushed past them.

“Hey!” one of them, a joltik, squeaked out angrily. “What’s the deal? No pushing in line!”

“This is important,” Seviper hissed back.

“We found an outsider,” Brionne quickly added, hoping to avoid a conflict. "It's urgent."

The joltik looked mighty annoyed, but settled for grumbling to itself instead. It cleared the way for Brionne and Seviper to pass.

They dragged Riolu into the tent, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the candle-lit darkness. Inside, a largeish, turtle-like pokemon was studying several charts and stone tablets intently.

“Hmm?” he asked as Brionne and Seviper entered. He looked up, his face immediately twisting into something bemused when he saw the three pokemon staring at him from the doorway. He set the tablet aside. “And do what do I owe the pleasure of seeing the two of you? ...And apparently a strangled riolu,” he added, glancing at Riolu in confusion.

Brionne nudged Riolu forward.

“Explain yourself.”

Riolu did. He told Wartortle about waking up, the strange pokemon who had hunted him down, the litwick, Reverse Mountain, the pillar of light, and his amnesia. All through the story Wartortle nodded and hmmm’d in thought, but he stayed interested. His eyes looked like they were piecing things together even as Riolu said them. At the end, when Riolu had finished talking, Wartortle set aside the stone tablet he had had in his lap, and stared directly at Riolu.

“I think the three of you should stay for a little while,” he said.


~\({O})/~

“Every so often, the world we live in is struck by a major crisis,” Wartortle began. “Natural disasters, the decay of time, an apocalypse of ice and snow. I’ve lived through it all, and I fear that we are in the midst of another. But for every apocalypse, there is a savior. A single Chosen One who must bear the burden of saving the world for all pokemon who live on it. I was the first of these saviors, sent in to combat a meteor that ran off its natural course. The second worked at the most prestigious exploration guild of its time, and the third helped found the largest city on the planet. If your story is true, then you may very well be the fourth.”

Riolu and Brionne didn’t make a sound as Wartortle spoke. He picked up one of the tablets, and set it down in front of them. “These tablets were found on the Air Continent, where I and everymon in this encampment come from. They were written in ancient Human text; thus, I am the only ‘mon present who can decipher them without studying their language.” He pushed it towards Riolu. “Read.”

Riolu looked at the tablets, staring at nonsense. He didn’t recognize any of the markings, but when he read over the words he somehow knew what they said.

“We have been here forty-two days now,” Riolu said, his eyes flicking over the nonsense as he read. “There’s no internet. No power. No cell-phone reception. Not another person or pokemon to be seen. These stone tablets are the only method of preserving information now. At night, they come for us, and we cannot keep driving them off. I fear we will not see the morning at this rate. There’s nothing to eat. Nothing to drink. No way out.”

Riolu looked at Wartortle, who cleared his throat.

“…It’s an improper translation, but close enough.” Wartortle took back the tablet, but even Riolu could see that his face lit up with hope. “Your story checks out. You are the chosen one. You are the fourth Human. And…” Wartortle’s claws began to shake with excitement.

“There’s a lot we have to go over. If the three of you will stay just a little longer…”


~\({O})/~

Wartortle hopped to life like a slowpoke who had just been given all the energy of a young pichu. He sprinted to and from all the old books and tablets that lay around his tent, arranging things like a presentation. The line outside had been called off long ago. Off to the side, Riolu and Brionne were made to sit. Seviper had left long ago.

“So who is Wartortle?” Riolu asked as he leaned against the tent. “He looks important.”

“He is important,” Brionne said. “He’s the leader of the Rescuer’s Guild in Pokemon Plaza. Or… he’s the last living leader. This is the happiest I’ve seen him in a while.”

“Last living?” Riolu asked. “What happened to the others?”

“What do you think happened?” Brionne lowered her voice, then looked at Wartortle to make sure he hadn’t heard. He was still stacking books. “Void Shadow got ‘em.”

“Are the Shadows those monsters that come out at night?” Riolu pried.

“Yes,” Brionne answered in a whisper. “They… they absorb pokemon. Wartortle has a few theories on what happens after that, but we don’t know where they go. And his theories are… far-fetched, for lack of a better word. I think he’s too hopeful, honestly.”

Riolu nodded silently.

“There’s one Void Shadow in particular you need to watch out for,” Brionne continued. “Wartortle calls it Nyarlathotep, from some book he read. It’s bigger than all the others. Stronger. We think it commands them.” She leaned in close. “That’s what killed the rest of Team Go-Getters.”

“All ready!” Wartortle gestured from the other side of the tent. “Both of you, over here. I need to show you what I’ve been planning to get us out of here.”

He pushed another tablet towards Riolu. “That last tablet I gave you wasn’t the whole story. There is a whole series of these, which I have poured over relentlessly. This is the only one that matters. Read.”

“Last week one of ours went on a journey towards the mountain,” Riolu read. “Today we saw it erupt in a pillar of light that stayed in the sky for over a day. Tomorrow, we hope to complete the same journey. This will be the last entry I leave here. I wish well to any others who find this stone. May you also escape this evil place.”

“Now initially, my plan was to give us some time to rest before we continue on towards the mountain. Our journey here was long and relentless. But then that beam of light shooting up into the sky! And then we met you… it must be a sign. We set out tomorrow. Huzzah!!” Wartortle jumped into the air in joy, then quickly hurry-scurried towards the entrance of the tent.

“Hey,” he said to the furret guarding the tent, his voice hushed and joyful. “Give the order. We leave tomorrow, for a way back to the real world! Spread the good news!”

The furret’s dull face brightened up. It nodded eagerly, before scampering off in manic excitement. Wartortle turned back to Brionne and Riolu. “Bryony, you are not to let him out of your sight the whole way there!”

Riolu looked at Brionne after Wartortle had gone. She grinned sheepishly; whether it was out of embarrassment or general excitement Riolu couldn’t tell.

“And… yeah. Bryony’s my name,” she said. “Might as well learn it.”


~\({O})/~

The Ancient Barrow

~Espurr~

“So you’re a Human,” Espurr said as they hiked. “Just like me.”

“Yeah,” Riolu breathed. “Been here a month.” He took a turn down another corridor, and Espurr followed. Then it clicked. He looked back, staring at her in shock.

“Wait—you’re a Human too?” he asked in shock. Espurr nodded. Riolu quickened his pace.

“Then you need to stick with me,” he said. “The sooner we can leave this place, the better,” he said. “We just need to find the stairs.”

“I can’t.” Espurr shook her head.

“Wha—“ Riolu turned around. “Why not?”

“I came here with five other pokemon,” Espurr said. “They’re still up in the dungeon. I’m not leaving without them.”

Riolu was still for a minute. There was a brief silence in between them.

“It’s here in the dungeon, you know,” Riolu said. “Nyarlathotep. And if you guys got separated, then… your friends are probably dead. Sorry to say.”

No. That wasn’t true. Espurr refused to believe that. She shook her head silently. There had to be a way to tell. There just had to be…

Espurr shut her eyes, and reached out with her sixth sense. Somewhere, if she reached far enough, there just had to be some kind of tell, some evidence that they were still alive. Because if they weren’t she didn’t…

Espurr experienced something completely foreign to her in her three weeks of life—a single tear fell down her cheek. And her eyes were brimming up with more of them. She squinted them shut, forcing the tears out. Breathing heavily, she wiped them from her eyelids, fighting back the pressure that was beginning to build under her ear-flaps. No. She couldn’t break down. Not here. Not now. Not when she knew they were still alive. And she knew they were still alive. They had to be. She’d figure out why she knew later, she’d find some reason, some train of logic—

“I’m sorry, but it’s true,” Riolu stressed from where he was standing. “If we don’t get out of here, then none of us are leaving—”

The walls began to shift again around them, accompanied by a gurgling noise. Espurr’s head snapped towards it; she gladly took the opportunity to banish the grief from her head.

“We stayed still too long,” she said. “Run!”

An arm shot out of the goo, and both Espurr and Riolu sprang into action.


~\({O})/~

Wartortle’s Colony ~ Nighttime

~Riolu~

Riolu awoke to the sound of distant chaos outside. The flaps of the tent they were in were being battered by a strong wind. If it weren’t sealed they would have been blown off by now. Alongside him, Bryony rose, looking at the same thing.

Opening the tent flaps, they saw that the camp had devolved into a frenzied chaos. And the reason dawned upon them quickly: In the distance to the north, a wall of red dust was approaching. It howled and raged, bringing winds stronger than the ones battering the tents now, and it was going to swallow their camp in just—

—Riolu’s vision suddenly swam with red particles. Dust engulfed the camp, and the strong winds howled and threatened to blow the tents clean away. It was nearly impossible to see more than six feet in either direction. It was all Riolu could do to keep the dust out of his eyes, and any of the pokemon he could see around him were doing the same. Even Bryony was squinting.

Then, over the raging winds, clearly audible above it all: A loud, droning roar that heightened in pitch until it was a bloodcurdling screech.

“VOID SHADOW!” came an accompanying shout through the dust that was much closer.



The pokemon in the immediate vicinity quickly started to panic even more.

“It’s Nyarlathotep!”

“It’s coming for us!”

“Calm down!” Even the raging and howling of the storm wasn’t enough to trump Wartortle’s shout. “They’re still far out. We have enough time to prepare. Anymon able to fight, join me at the front lines. The rest of you start the pack up process. We need to retreat.”

“What’s happening?” Riolu asked.

“Shadows,” Byrony said. “They’re attacking.”

They were quickly interrupted by a pair of pokemon tromping past them, quicjly headed in the direction of the front lines.

“You two!” That was Wartortle. Riolu and Bryony looked back towards the turtle pokemon, who was ushering them back towards him. “With me.”

Wartortle led them back into an empty side tent and sat them down.

“You’re going with the evacuation caravan. We’ll hold them off at the front lines until everymon’s ready to go.”

“How did they find us?”

“They attack every other week or so,” Bryony explained. “We can outrun them, but they always catch up. But they’ve never had a storm before…”

“And the last attack was only a day ago,” Wartortle added, thinking. “If this was a co-incidence, I’ll be darned. The storm is strategic. It lowers our visibility. We’ll be luck to escape with half the camp if we don’t flee effectively.”

“Guildmaster Wartortle!” The furret from before poked its head into the tent, trying to shake the dust out of its fur. “They’re getting close.”

“Acknowledged,” Wartortle said. He walked back towards the tent, looking back at Riolu and Bryony. “Remember: With the escape caravan. Don’t dawdle.”

Riolu and Bryony nodded.

“Good luck,” Wartortle said. “I’ll see you on the other side.” And then he ducked through the tent flaps. Just like that, he was gone.

That left Riolu and Bryony to sit inside the tent, waiting for the caravan that was supposed to be forming to make itself visible through the storm. The tent flaps stayed wide open, lifted by the storm’s winds, but the caravan never came.

All they could hear were the disturbing sounds in the distance. Distant screams, the crashing of supplies and debris, and more often than anything else, the droning screeches of the void shadows.

“We should go,” Bryony said, after half a minute of waiting.

“What about the caravan?” Riolu asked.

“I don’t think it’s coming. Somemon usually shows up by now.”

A sudden explosion of noise nearby caught their attention before anything else could be uttered. It was the sound of several pokemon’s screams, and it was far too close for comfort.

“We can worry about that as it comes,” Bryony hissed over the weather. “Move now.”

Riolu nodded in agreement. Then they both bolted for the tent flaps.

Rioku peeked out, checking both ways to make sure the coast was clear. A wall of rust slammed into his face, making him retract his snout into the tent almost instantly. He pulled his head back in, coughing. “I can’t see anyth—”

But they could hear. An explosion to the left. The battle was that way.

“This way,” he said, pointing to the right. Bryony nodded, and they quickly slipped out the tent.

The storm had gotten stronger; it was almost impossible to see anything in it. Riolu could barely see the outlines of the other half-packed tents through all the rust-red dust, and he had to squint to keep it out of his eyes.

They ran, away from the battle and all the screaming. There were pokemon dying back there, and the concept was just becoming solidified in his mind. It made him woozy, and only the fear of falling and dying himself stopped him from tripping over his own feet. Riolu heard the shrieks behind him as he ran, and he tried to blot it out with his paws. But his nose and mouth needed the attention more. He covered his nose with them instead.

Something enormous suddenly crashed into the tent up ahead of them—

Riolu and Bryony skidded to a stop in their tracks. The monster reared its head, and Riolu saw that it looked like a blaziken but something was very off—

“This way!!” Bryony shouted, and so Riolu did. They went left, hoping the shadow didn’t notice them.

The camp was completely ruined by now. Tents had been torn off their foundations by the storm’s wind. Wares and belongings lay speared on debris and flew through the air. Everything was in shambles, and the few pokemon that could be seen were either running around in terror or helplessly looking for others in vain. The scene was still a sea of red rust, and neither Riolu nor Bryony could see more than a few feet out. They didn’t know which direction to run in anymore. Where was the front line—no, where had it been? And where was the way out?

“Which way do we go??” Riolu yelled out to Bryony over the howling of the wind.

Bryony looked around. “There has to be somewhere!” she yelled back to him. “I—I don’t know! I don’t—“ she continued to stammer to herself, looking for some way ahead, any way ahead. There was a loud thud behind them. The thud of a loud footstep. Riolu spun around to see that the blaziken from before was stomping towards them. Scarlet feathers retreated into its body, replaced with black goo that oozed out from the gaps. Black, muscular arms stretched out of its form, and impossibly sharp claws speared the sand. An uncanny mouth of fangs glistened amongst an ovular head black as the rest of it. Dropping down into a hunch, the Void Shadow let out a beckoning call that droned up on into a screech.

“R-run!” Riolu stammered out, and suddenly the direction they ran in wasn’t an issue anymore. He and Bryony turned tail to flee the best they could.

The Void Shadow bounded towards them, closing the gap in no time. It batted Bryony to the side effortlessly and lunged for Riolu—

“Oi!”

A cascade of water slammed into the Void Shadow from the side, sending it flying off into the distance. He looked over to see Wartortle approaching through the storm from the opposite direction. His right leg had been twisted out of shape; he was limping over to where Riolu was intently.

Bryony had made her way back over to Riolu at this point.

“Wartortle!” she cried out. “Sir! Are you okay?”

“Go,” he said urgently. “You’re too important to lose.”

“Come with us!” she pleaded.

“I can’t,” Wartortle said. He glanced in the direction the Void Shadow had been thrown, making sure it hadn’t gotten up yet. “Leave while you can.”

“You’re going to die!” Bryony said. “Let us help you!”

Nothing came from Wartortle’s mouth, but his eyes reflected Bryony’s answer: I know.

Riolu faltered.

“Bryony…” he said. “We should go.”

From behind Wartortle, the Void Shadow suddenly bounded out—

Wartortle spun on his feet and blasted the Void Shadow back with another torrent of water. The Void Shadow was sent flying back once again; the motion of turning on his right leg around sent Wartortle falling to his knees.

He gasped in pain, looking at Riolu and Bryony.

“What are you still doing here?” he spat. “Go! Get! Leave!”

The Void Shadow approached from the depths of the storm once more. It sniffed the air, and its head snapped towards Riolu and Bryony—

“Oy! Nyarlathotep!” Wartortle cried out from where he was laying, staring the void shadow down. A third water attack poked a sizeable gash in the Shadow’s neck. It wasn’t as effective as it had been before. Nyarlathotep snarled loudly, then spun towards where Wartortle was. Then it bounded over to Wartortle and grabbed him by the neck.

“No! Stop!” Bryony shouted. Nyarlathotep’s attention snapped back to Bryony, but Wartortle bit down upon its hand. A high-pressure water stream blew half of Nyarlathotep’s claws away. His eyes focused on Riolu and Bryony both: Run.

Nyarlathotep screeched in rage. It squeezed its claws down hard, harder, squeezing the breath out of Watortle…

There was a sickening snap, and Wartortle went limp.


~\({O})/~

Pokemon Plaza ~ Air Continent

Broad Daylight

In the deserted main square of Pokemon Plaza, hundreds of stone statues began to quiver in place. A high-pitched hum reverberated all around the plaza. Then the statues all exploded into shards and slivers of stone.

~\({O})/~

Ravaged Colony

Nyarlathotep’s body seemed to expand. The mangled remains of Wartortle was sucked into Its chest, and then Nyarlathotep Itself turned back to look at Riolu and Bryony.

But they were already gone.

They both ran, though the wreckage of broken and burning tents. Through the relentless dust storm. Through the silence, the everlasting, ever-burning silence, until there was nothing but dust and the howling of the wind. All the Void Shadows were gone. Riolu and Bryony collapsed in a sand hovel on the other side of the hill.

Silence remained, because there was nothing to say. At some point, the two of them drifted off, among the howling winds and the sea of red outside their burrow.

Only Nyarlathotep’s horrific screeches kept them company.


~\({O})/~

Music of the week!

The Shortening of The Way -- Hans Zimmer
 
Last edited:
Chapter 23 - Void and Shadow

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter23Art.png

~\({O})/~

23.

Void and Shadow


~\({O})/~

Ruined Colony

~Riolu~

The storm was gone the next morning, when the sky turned blood-red again. Riolu rose, staring blankly into the distance and waiting for the events of the previous day to inevitably come back to him. When they did, he suddenly felt much less peppy. Next to him, Bryony slept, looking much more tired than he felt.

“Come on…” Riolu muttered, shaking the sleeping form of Bryony awake. “Get up!”

Bryony stirred, groaning incoherently. She slowly sat up, looking at Riolu wearily.

“Wha… What happened?” she yawned. “I had the worst nightmare last night.”

Riolu frowned, then took a deep breath. “I’ll bet it was more than just a nightmare.”

Exiting the hovel they had fallen asleep in, Riolu and Bryony walked back to the wrecked remains of the camp that had once held everymon in Pokemon Plaza. Bryony’s pigtails flopped down in horror as she gazed around at the ruins of the camp.

“They…” she gasped, but couldn’t bring herself to say anything further. Riolu walked forward towards, the camp.

“We should scavenge before we go,” he said. “Maybe they left something for us to eat.”

Bryony’s flippers trembled.

“I just need… five minutes…”

She didn’t look at him. Riolu nodded, then walked off into what remained of the campsite. He’d find some food while they waited.


~\({O})/~

Just like Riolu had thought, the camp had a lot of food lying around, ripe for the picking. Unfortunately, little of that food was still in edible condition. Withered roots and what looked like the husks of what once was fruit lay on the ground, bruised and mashed beyond repair. The portable silo that held the water had collapsed in the storm, and had turned a good portion of the ground to sludge and mud. Riolu picked whatever bits and pieces he could get off the ground in edible condition, and eventually gave up on the prospect of water that wasn’t from the sea.

He handed a smelly root to Bryony on his way back from the camp.

“…What’s this?” she asked after a minute, looking down at it.

“Food,” Riolu said. “I ate them for a week, and others must have been eating them too.”

“There were fruits on the Air Continent,” Bryony said, sniffing the root. “I know because we took some with us.”

“Well, not anymore,” Riolu said. “They were all smashed to mush.”

He took a bite from his own root, grimacing slightly at the taste before walking forward in the direction of the mountain.

Reverse Mountain became a beacon for them as they travelled, a final destination that was always visible and ever-present. Riolu walked back through the seas of rust-red sand, passing the tree-tangled hearts without much commotion. At one point, he bent over and began to hack away bits and pieces of the roots with his paws. Bryony watched him in silent horror as he chopped away at the roots, finally picking up two small ones and handing one to Bryony for lunch.

“Did you just…” Riolu heard Bryony mutter in shock behind him, but she was quickly silent after that.

It was half a day’s journey back to the ruins of that old village, and Riolu quickly led Bryony towards where he knew the Litwick’s clearing was.

“It’s just this way,” he said to her as they walked. The mountain’s large figure loomed above them, much more ominous now than it had been from a distance. Riolu entered the clearing with the large root, but found that it was empty. Just like when he had first entered. Maybe they were just hiding because of Bryony.

“I’m back!” he hollered out. “Sorry for leaving!”

Only silence greeted him. Riolu tilted his head. No, that wasn’t right. They were hiding.

“Anymon there?” he called out again. Silence greeted him. Not even the wind whistled through the rotting branches of the trees.

“C’mon guys!” Riolu yelled. “This isn’t funny!”

He couldn’t hear any answer. Bryony tilted her head at him.

“Solosis?!” Riolu called out. “Anymon?!”

“There’s no-mon here,” Bryony said.

“But there was!” Riolu argued, spinning around to look at her. The expression on his face was worried and desperate. “There were over a hundred litwick here just yesterday! And somemon called ‘Solosis’ too! Where could they all have gone?”

“You won’t like the answer,” Bryony said, folding her flippers.

“What does that mean??” Riolu yelled at her.

“It’s just like what happened to my pokemon,” Bryony said. “There’s only one reason over a hundred pokemon disappear in one day: A Shadow got ‘em. That, or they all decided to move at once. But that’s unlikely. You have to assume the worst.”

“They have to have moved somewhere,” Riolu said. “I’m not going to believe a Void Shadow got them. Not until I see it with my own eyes.”

“You’re seeing it now!” Bryony said. “Did anything you saw last night stick? They carve destruction in their paths, and they leave nothing behind. They’re gone, Riolu; you have to assume they’re gone.” She took a moment to breathe. “Keep it together. We both have to keep it together.”

Riolu’s gaze lowered, and he was silent. He began to trudge off in the direction of the mountain.

“I still want to look for them.”


~\({O})/~

“Solosis—the leader of that litwick group—she said she would come up to that mountain every day and look for a way out,” Riolu said, as they headed up a largish hill on the way to the mountain. Riolu could see a trio of buildings at the very top, and Reverse Mountain loomed over it all in the distance. “But she always came back at the end of the day with nothing.”

“Did you ever go there with her?” Bryony asked, inching her way up the hill after him with her flippers.

“No, I only stayed a week,” Riolu muttered. They reached the top of the hill, stopping at a fork in the road.

“Around that building,” Riolu said, pointing at the ruins of the building directly in front of him. To both the left and right lay two other buildings, both in similar condition. A path led around the remains of the middle one and straight down the hill. Riolu braced himself, and then slid down the hill on his rump.

He left Bryony behind. She tried to slide after him, but ended up hitting a rock and tumbled all the way down instead. She crashed into Riolu from behind, and they both tumbled to the ground in a heap.

“Ow..:” Riolu grumbled, rubbing his head and looking down at the ground. He saw large roots, staring him straight in the face. And they smelled putrid. Riolu’s eyes followed the roots are far as they could, watching them snake and tangle their way through the ground until they spiraled up and around another beating tree-heart in the distance.

Bryony lifted herself back up, gazing at the same thing Riolu was.

“What are those things…” Riolu muttered to himself.

“It was only a theory,” Bryony began, but then paused for a minute. “But I think they’re mystery dungeons.”

“What’s a mystery dungeon?” Riolu picked himself up and began to walk through the mess of roots. Bryony followed, but she had a harder time of navigating the roots than Riolu did.

“Mystery dungeons are… places that don’t make sense. They form over completely ordinary spots of land and then they twist them. The insides look like a maze, made out of whatever the mystery dungeon formed over. And at the center, there’s an Anchorstone – the original spot of land that the dungeon formed on, hidden deep in its depths. There are land dungeons, water dungeons, sky dungeons… Wartortle was even considering the possibility of a dungeon out beyond the stars.”

"Mystery dungeon..." Riolu thought for a moment. “You think that’s what’s on top of Reverse Mountain?”

“No-mon knows,” Bryony said. “I’d prefer the way back, myself.”

There was nothing else to say, and they walked at a steady pace in silence. Soon, they reached the base of Reverse Mountain.

Even from this close, the mountain shone, and Riolu could feel the heat pulsing from it. It reverberated through the air, and all of the sudden Riolu felt like he was standing in a desert. And then he saw what had puzzled Solosis all this time: From the very bottom of the mountain up to a point that Riolu couldn’t see was a jagged, insurmountable cliff. It looked like large pieces of the stone had been carved out, leaving a steep arch that spread outward and ended far higher than either Riolu or Bryony could ever hope to each.

And even if you could fly over, the mountain was almost too hot to touch. Riolu didn't want to think about how it was higher up.

“How do we climb that?” Bryony asked.

“I don’t know if we can,” Riolu answered.


~\({O})/~

The Ancient Barrow

~Espurr~

Riolu and Espurr ran down the Barrow’s narrow halls, splashing in the swamp water as they went. They could still hear the Shadow lurking in the distance behind them.

“Where are you taking us?” Espurr called out as they ran.

“The next floor up!” Riolu called back.

The goo ahead of them sudden began to bubble. Exhausted as she was, Espurr directed a beam of mental energy directly into the water, which flared up and slammed into the wall. The Shadow retreated into the goo just long enough for Espurr and Riolu to pass and round a corner.

“But the floors go down here,” Espurr yelled to Riolu as they ran. “Not up!”

“Think again,” Riolu replied, not even looking at her. “Look!”

He pointed ahead, and then Espurr saw what he did: just ahead of them was the Staircase. It led up, its perfect steps shining despite being surrounded on all sides by filth.

“Hey, what are you waiting for?” Riolu yelled from ahead, noticing that she had slowed down. “Do you want Nyarlathotep to get you?”

Espurr considered her options. The Stairs weren’t supposed to lead up. What if that was the final Staircase, and they both exited the dungeon? That would mean Tricky and the rest of them were still behind her. But at the same time… being caught by Nyarlathotep over a whim wasn’t an option either.

“Hey!” Riolu called out. “Creepy cat! Snap out of it!”

“It’s Espurr,” Espurr said. And then the walls began to shift again, so she ran like the wind. She reached Riolu, who grabbed her arm and pulled them both onto the Stairway. They vanished together, and the next thing Espurr and Riolu knew they were deposited straight onto the swamp water of another dungeon floor. Espurr let out a breath of relief—they must have been deep in the dungeon after all.

They both sat there in the swamp for a moment, catching their breaths. Nyarlathotep didn’t follow.


~\({O})/~

The Voidlands

~Riolu~

It had been roughly a week, and both Riolu and Bryony had come to the depressing conclusion: There was no way to scale Reverse Mountain. Not by themselves, anyway. The cliff was made of stone; you couldn't dig into it with paws or flippers. Climbing it the conventional way was out of the question, since the steep, cave-like arch all around the bottom of the mountain required defiance of gravity to scale. And neither Riolu nor Bryony could fly.

Riolu was stumped, as was Bryony; soon they fell into a routine of collecting roots from heart-trees in the area for food and searching for another way out in the meantime. Riolu started exploring the remains of the nearby village during the day. Perhaps there might have been something he could find there.

As the week passed, he found things. Ruined things, but still things he could use to build with. He didn’t know what Bryony was up to, but Riolu came up with a nifty plan on his own: If he couldn’t pierce the stone of Reverse Mountain with his own digging paws, he’d do it with a grappling hook! Now all he had to do was build one.

The wrecked buildings in what was obviously the center of town had many more odds and ends to choose from than the ones on the town outskirts. Riolu nicked a few sharp knives from the large building in the center, and some rope from the stall to the left. There was a burnt tent to the southeast side of the square that held nothing useful. Riolu kicked some of the ruined tent remains aside, slinging the rope and knife over his shoulder. It didn’t look like there was anything else here. He looked up at the sky; it was beginning to turn black. He should have left an hour ago.

Riolu turned around, but caught sight of movement from behind him. He spun around—had a void shadow snuck up on him unawares?

But what he saw was the fuzzy, faint outline of what looked like a pokemon his size, heading into one of the ruined houses in the square. It spared a look outside, glancing in Riolu’s general direction for a second. Riolu quickly hid behind the tent with his rope and knife. It was a few moments before he peeked out again.

Curiosity overtook him—what was that? Slowly, Riolu crept out of hiding and tiptoed over to the house. He stepped over what little remained of the wall, heading down the hallway once he realized what had been the living room was empty. He peeked into the room on the left, and caught sight of the shadow—

Startled, Riolu lost his balance for a minute. He stumbled into the dresser on the right, creating a loud ‘bang!’ before quickly darting out of the room. The last he saw of the shadow was it quickly sitting up.


~\({O})/~

“What’s that?” Bryony asked, eyeing the rope and knives Riolu had slung over his shoulder. She had a sack (also collected from the nearby town), filled with more of the gross-smelling roots.

“It’s something for the mountain,” Riolu said, trying to fiddle with it. “Maybe we can pierce it this way.”

“What about that big tree?” Bryony asked.

“What about it?"

The big tree could be seen from anywhere in the near vicinity. It was a beating heart-tree just like all the non-blackened trees in this place were, and it stretched far above any other. At some point it had to have engulfed some island in the large lake out in town, but its roots slinked out of the lake and onto land from all sides.

"I passed it a couple of times yesterday, and I was pretty sure I saw some kind of door there," Bryony said. "But I was carrying that sack and the bridge looks rickety, so I didn't take a look. I think it’s worth checking out. You think we should do that when…” she looked up at the black sky, hesitant to say ‘day’. “…When the sky’s red again?”

Riolu wasn't sure how well Bryony could see him in the darkness, but he nodded. It was worth a try.


~\({O})/~

Slowly coming to. Daybreak came earlier than Riolu thought, but he rose with it anyway. Bryony was still asleep, and Riolu didn’t try waking her. He had something he wanted to check out on his own.

He made the trek up to Reverse Mountain with his knife and rope in hand. Riolu had spent last night tying them together, even though he didn’t know the first thing about tying knots and his stubby paws didn’t help with that in the least. He just had to hope it held together well.

The base of Reverse Mountain was as hard and volcanic as ever. Riolu flinched just from the heat. He looked up, and saw the stop of that large curved arch above him. Was this really a good idea? The heat was beginning to make Riolu pant.

But there was nothing to do but try. Riolu let the rope he held go slack until the knife hit the sand below him with a thwump. Then he started swinging. Over and over in circles, the knife gaining more momentum as it went—

—Riolu’s eyes widened and he quickly ducked just before the knife could clip off a good portion of his ear. The knife flew over his head and embedded itself deep into the stone behind him.

Losing his balance, Riolu fell backwards onto the ground. Hearing the sound of the knife embedding itself into the stone, he looked around and saw the knife’s blade sticking out of the rock, at the very start of where the mountain properly began. Had it… had it been a success?

Riolu quickly jumped to his feet, scurrying over and pulling on the handle. It gave, but not without some resistance. Riolu pulled out the knife, but the momentum sent him falling back and landing on his tail. Riolu flinched from the pain, but then looked down at the knife in the sand. It had worked. It had really worked! He jumped to his feet, running over and snatching the knife up. It was slightly hot to the touch.

This was a breakthrough! He had to get back to Bryony. Riolu jumped to his feet, grabbed the rest of the rope, and began to run back towards the forest clearing.


~\({O})/~

Village Square

By the time that Riolu made it back to the forest clearing, Bryony was already long gone. For a moment, Riolu freaked out— Had she been… taken? Were the Shadows already here?

But if they were here, then Riolu knew this clearing was no longer safe. It was better to go to the ruined village.

It wasn’t until he reached the deserted village square that he caught sight of Bryony sliding herself down the pathway towards the south side of town. He quickly ran to catch up with her.

“Bryony!” he called out, catching up. Bryony looked back at him, her face relaxing as she saw who it was.

“Where were you?” Riolu panted out as he caught up. “I saw the camp deserted and I thought…”

“I thought the same thing.” Bryony continued to slide herself along, not even sparing another look at Riolu. “If you were going to leave, you should have said something to me. I had no choice but to assume a Shadow got you.”

Riolu folded his arms, puffed out his cheeks, and made a loud ‘pffffffft’ noise.

“So where are we going?” he asked a moment later.

“I’m going to check out that tree I told you about last night,” Bryony said. “I just… I have this feeling about it. I want to check.”

Riolu was silent after that. Only the knife, swinging idly from the rope slung over Riolu’s shoulder, made any noise.

“There it is,” Bryony said after a while. They had outwalked nearly all the houses at this point, and the biggest thing ahead of them was a hill with a large dead tree trunk on it. But out on the islands were the roots of the large tree. It extended up into the sky, so big that it was hard to see the top. And sure enough, in the middle of the bottom, the roots looked like they had grown around a small hovel of an entrance. The only path leading to it was a single, rickety brigde that looked like it could collapse at any moment. Riolu stared at it hesitantly.

“…Are you sure?” he asked.

“Why not?” Bryony answered. “What have we got to lose?”

“You two are wasting your time.”

Both Riolu and Bryony spun around. Bryony’s eyes lightened at what she saw.

“Charlotte!” she gasped. Seviper Charlotte slithered up from the path ahead of them, a ragged look upon her face.

“I… have been tailing you guys… for almost a week now…” she gasped out.

Bryony suddenly rushed forward and enveloped Charlotte in a hug.

“I thought you were dead!!” she bawled out, burying her face in Charlotte’s scales. Charlotte bore the hug as well as she could, but Riolu could tell she wasn’t remotely in the mood for hugs.

“Anyways,” Charlotte said, gently shaking Bryony off herself, “There’s nothing in that hovel. I camped out in there last night. It’s all just swamp water and muck.”

“But…” Bryony wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at the house. “There’s no hurt in looking, right?”

Riolu’s head tilted.

“Yeah,” he said. “Why only show up now?”

Charlotte didn’t answer that. For a second, she went completely still.

“So where do you guys camp out?” she asked instead. “I haven’t had a comfortable place to sleep for over a week.”

“We don’t exactly sleep in beds…” Bryony said.

“What about my question?” Riolu asked. Charlotte glanced at him.

“I didn’t hear you ask any question.”

“I asked why you only showed up now if you've been tailing us for a week,” Riolu said. He gripped the rope the knife was attached to, just in case. Charlotte’s eyes followed his own. "And that's a pretty uncomfortable place to camping out in. How did you cross the river?"

“Like I said,” Charlotte repeated harshly after a bit. “There’s nothing in there but muck.”

“Then you won’t mind if we go in and look,” Riolu said. And with that, he turned around and strode towards the house.

“nO—” Charlotte suddenly screamed, and she shot towards Riolu quicker than Bryony could react.

Riolu acted fast. He grabbed the rope and threw.

Bryony screamed and then edged herself away from Charlotte, who now had Riolu’s knife stuck halfway through her head. She looked at Riolu in horror.

Why would you do that?!” she screeched at him.

“That’s not who you think it is,” Riolu said.

The knife slid out of Seviper’s skull on its own and it the ground with a thump. ‘Seviper’ – very much alive – looked up at them both with eyes that weren’t right. She grinned at them with a mouth full of too many fangs.

“gOt Me.”

And then its face split open. Bryony yelped and edged all the way back to where Riolu stood on the bridge. Quills grew out of its back. It grew limbs, and then claws. The last of the dull blue and yellow scales were eaten up by murky black goop, and then Nyarlathotep stood before them in Its full glory.

A silent understanding was reached between both Riolu and Bryony – run. And so they did. Riolu ran like the wind; he could outrun a Shadow! But it was only a few seconds before he noticed that Bryony wasn’t keeping up with him. She had to slide her way across the ground – that wasn’t fast enough! Nyarlathotep took chase, and Riolu turned back. He scooped Bryony up and began to drag her along. What was left of the rope on his shoulder began to unravel.

They were fast, but not fast enough. Nyarlathotep charged. A swipe of its claws, and Bryony was knocked to the side. Riolu was pinned to the ground.

Nyarlathotep leaned over Riolu, and the nightmare goo that dripped from its body stained Riolu’s chest. Riolu struggled furiously, but it was all in vain. Nyarlathotep opened its mouth of fangs that took up its whole face, and began to lean in towards Riolu. Riolu closed up his eyes and scrunched up his nose to avoid the putrid smell, turning away. He couldn’t believe he was going to be eaten…

Water drenched him—

“Over here!”

Bryony’s voice rattled through the sound of Nyarlathotep’s breath, and in an instant its head turned towards the other pokemon and its ginormous hand was off Riolu’s chest.

Riolu acted fast – he reeled in the rope, until he could grasp the handle of the kitchen knife. Nyarlathotep began to romp towards Bryony, who couldn’t get away in time, and that was when Riolu made his move. He took aim, and threw the knife as hard as he could.

It embedded itself in the back of Nyarlathotep’s head. Nyarlathotep turned its head to look at Riolu, and Riolu saw the tip of the knife sticking out of its throat. He tugged on the rope.

Another stream of water hit Nyarlathotep, but before the void shadow could react Riolu ran up and kicked one of Nyarlathotep’s legs out from under it. The shadow lost its balance, narrowly missing falling on Riolu or Bryony. It collapsed on the ground with a loud thud, and Riolu quickly got to his feet.

Already, the goo was beginning to lose its shape and reform into Nyarlathotep’s standing position. Riolu forgot about retrieving the knife and rope, and picked up Bryony instead.

The path would be too easy; Riolu bolted off into the woods instead. He knew where he was going. The distant screech of Nyarlathotep rang out from far behind them.

A hunting call.


~\({O})/~

Riolu could tell he had made it just by the smell. He sped into the clearing where the heart-tree he had slept by the night he had left the litwick camp was, collapsing to the ground and dropping Brionne the second he was out of the trees. He panted in exhaustion, then wrinkled up his nose. This place smelled more awful than he remembered.

Bryony picked herself up from the ground, dusting her flippers off. She said nothing. The two of them sat there for a few seconds, completely silent. Neither commented on the smell.

Bryony sniffled.

“I just really wanted to believe it,” she mumbled. “I really wanted to believe she wasn’t dead.”

She curled up on the ground and stuck her head in her flippers, and then all was silent.


~\({O})/~

They slept in the trees that night, using what little branches remained as cover. Every so often a pidgeot would soar over the forest, scouting out below. The instinctive urge to call out for help every time he saw the bird-shaped silhouette fly across the night sky came to his mind often, but Riolu knew better. He knew what it was, and it wasn’t a pidgeot.

The sky began to slowly turn red again, but Riolu hadn’t slept a wink.

Bryony still wasn’t talking in the morning. Even when they both climbed out of the tree they were sleeping in. They ate a silent breakfast of roots and drank some water that Riolu had collected from the riverbank by the ruined village, and then they went their separate ways. It was dangerous, now that they knew what was lurking nearby, but they couldn’t just wait around and do nothing. They knew Nyarlathotep wouldn’t stop until it had found them.

Riolu went back down to the town to see if he could gather some more knives. He had taken the biggest one yesterday, but surely the others would work. He just needed two (and some more rope). He made his way down to the center of the village just like he had the other day, and entered the large café building to the north.

The knives had been lying around in a pile next to all the other silverware. That was where Riolu had left them yesterday. That was why he tensed up when he entered the kitchen, and saw that all of it was gone. Riolu quickly looked around to make sure nothing else was gone. There was only one reason those knives would be gone. Had it known that Riolu was going to come back here?

All of the sudden he scrambled over and hid under the counter. He could hear something approaching from outside – heavy breathing. Damnit – it had known. This was a trap! Riolu knew he couldn’t stay here; Nyarlathotep would find him at this rate. There had to be a way out.

Riolu’s ears pricked up as, above the counter he heard Nyarlathotep enter the room. It looked around, sniffing. It smelled him. Riolu looked around for a moment, looking for something – anything – to use. His eyes settled on a frying pan.

There was a hole in the wall to his left. From what Riolu remembered Nyarlathotep’s true form didn’t have any eyes. It navigated from memory, smell, and hearing. He slowly crept over to the frying pan and picked it up from the ground, making sure to make as little of a sound at possible. He glanced at the hole, and he heard Nyarlathotep begin to tromp towards his position. It was now or never. Riolu aimed for the hole, and then threw the pan. It clanged against a building in the distance, and Riolu heard Nyarlathotep snarl. It leapt over the wall, heading out in a different direction after where it thought Riolu was going.

Riolu wasted no time. He picked himself up from under the counter and quickly looked around the kitchen once more. Come on – where were the knives?

Not here, it became clear. Riolu decided to continue onwards. He quickly sped out the back door of the building and headed around the left side to the front. He quickly stopped when his eyes were met with the very sight that he didn’t want to see: a void shadow prowling around in the middle of the square. Riolu froze. Had Nyarlathotep come back that quickly?

Sniff.

Riolu’s head turned towards the alleyway where he had come from, where heavy sniffing sounds were emerging. There was another one! It dawned on Riolu: Nyarlathotep had brought company.

How many? And how to get out of this? Riolu silently leapt the next wall.

He found the knives in a pile in the middle of the living room of the next building. A bang from behind him, and he realized he had to keep moving. He snatched up two of the knives and ran down the hallway. He made a left turn into one of the two bedrooms at the end, and took a moment to relax. A sudden screech from one of the void shadows outside shocked Riolu and made himself tumble into one of the bookshelf at the very end. It rattled noisily, and Riolu did his best to stop it from rattling.

Then he noticed the ghost had sat up.

Riolu was slightly scared, but he was scared of the Void Shadows more. He set the knives on the floor and then walked out from behind the bookcase. The ghost continued to stare at him. It looked about his height, and it distorted the background around itself a little, but what was it? Riolu took a step closer. The ghost stumbled back until it was leaning against a wall. Or rather, thin air where a wall once was. Riolu walked forward, up until he was face to face with the shadow. He tilted his head when it didn’t react. Why wasn’t it responding??

Creak. Something moving through the floorboards.

Sniff. Something smelling the air for him.

Riolu knew what it was, and he realized he had no more time to waste on this ghost. He charged straight through it, but he felt nothing. Landing on the ground outside of the house, he quickly got to his feet, picked up the knives, and began to run into the square again. Not a second later a Void Shadow charged through the wall Riolu had just jumped over, setting its sights on him. It was Nyarlathotep.

Nyarlathotep screeched, and all of the other void shadows focused on its call. They sensed Riolu. Riolu took a right turn into some of the other houses. He ducked and dodged through the alleyways, looking for ways to evade them. How he was going to escape. Just… just think. Riolu ducked into an empty house for a minute and collapsed against the wall where no-mon could see him. The void shadows… they followed their noses, right? So all Riolu had to do was mask his scent. But the only way he knew how to do that was with water. And…

…And he was near a riverbank. It all clicked. If he could get to the riverbank, then…

Riolu quickly sat up with the knives. He could hear the Void Shadows getting near. It was time to go. If he had any hope of reaching the water before they caught him, he had to leave now.

Riolu weaved through the town, heading in a loop back to the town center. He could see the riverbank from here, and it was just a few meters away… Riolu began to full out sprint. So close; he closed his eyes as he ran. One of the knives nicked his leg. Riolu hit the ground hard. The knives went flying and landed hilt-up in a nearby ditch. Riolu pulled himself to his feet and groaned. A roar sounded from right behind him. How had they gotten so close?? Riolu looked back, and saw that a Shadow was galloping right for him. He forgot all about the knives and dived into the river.

It was dark and silent under the riverbank. Riolu couldn’t hear the screeches of the void shadow from under here, but he also couldn’t breathe. Speaking of… he needed to get some air. Riolu swam towards the surface, breaking it and gasping for air. He floated along, paddling occasionally to stay afloat.


~\({O})/~

~Bryony~

Bryony slid herself through the landscape, yawning. She didn’t know where she was going, just that she needed to take a stroll. Something to clear her mind of… yesterday. Something to help her forget. She’d been at it for she didn’t know how long either, but it had been a while. She didn’t even know where she was now. She had abandoned the forest long ago, and instead a long field of half-charred dead bushes lay in front of her.

She trudged on in silence for a while, until the sound of voices caught her ears. Brionne looked towards where they were coming from in confusion. More shadows?

“Look at the mukking sky, Eevee! Does that look normal to you?? I’d rather have had a markup over this!”

“Stop lecturing me like it’s my fault! Do you think I brought us out here with the intention of getting us stranded wherever this is? Who does that? Not me! Back off!”

“I have every right to lecture you! This was your idea in the first place! If not for you I’d be sleeping in a bed right now, all comfy! Instead I slept on the ground, like an animal!”

If these were Shadows, then this was the most elaborate ruse Bryony had ever come across. She decided to investigate further.

“Hey!” she called out, approaching the arguing ‘mon from a distance. A fletchinder and an eevee quit their argument for a second to stare at her.

“Quiet!” they both told her in unison, and then went back to arguing. Bryony slid herself closer to them silently. She was sure they weren’t Shadows now.

“We thought we told you to muk off,” Eevee hissed at Bryony as she slid herself up to them.

“Do either of you realize where you are right now?” Bryony said.

“I wish…” Fletchinder grumbled.

“Okay. This is going to sound weird,” Bryony said, “but the both of you need to come with me. For your own safety.”

Both Eevee and Fletchinder looked at each other.


~\({O})/~

Riolu slowly floated down the river, bobbing along and paddling himself towards the nearest shore away from town. He pulled himself out onto the riverbank, shaking himself off. He was soaked, but it was also hot enough here that the water felt more refreshing than anything else. He cast a look back towards the village in the distance. He’d lost the Shadows… for now. It was time to get away from here, before he was caught again. Riolu passed a large, destroyed archway on his way out of the town. He’d never been down this way before, and in the distance he could see what looked like a field of charred plains.

He walked for a bit, letting the ambient heat dry his fur off. Soon he was among the field of dead bushes, and he stopped. This looked like a good place to turn around and figure out where he was. He needed to go… north. Yes. Riolu turned towards Reverse Mountain, and began to trudge in that direction.

Then his ear twitched.

In the distance, he heard what sounded like voices. One of them was Bryony’s.

Bryony was here? Riolu spun in the direction of the voices, and saw Bryony leading what looked like two other pokemon onwards. And they were heading in the direction of the village. Riolu’s tail went flat in horror. They were going the wrong way! They were going to—

Without thinking, he took off after them.

“Hey!! Wait!!” he called out at the top of his lungs as he ran. Whether that would attract that Shadows, he didn’t care. He just needed to make sure they didn’t walk into the trap.

Bryony didn’t hear him. Riolu called out again, even louder this time. He was gaining ground on them, but not fast enough. They were nearly at the village gates.

“Stop!! You’re walking into a trap!!” Riolu yelled, running towards them as fast as he could. Finally, Bryony turned around to look at Riolu, having heard him yelling but heard what he said. Copying Bryony, Fletchinder and Eevee turned around.

“Who’s that?” Eevee asked.

“That’s my friend,” Bryony answered. “But what’s he doing?”

It was too late. A Shadow romped down the path towards them, and only Riolu could see it. He pointed behind them and shouted desperately, but he was still too far away. They couldn’t hear him.

Bryony didn’t realize what was happening until it was too late. She was suddenly snatched up by a large, black hand, and when she turned around the maw of Nyarlathotep stared her in the face. Extra limbs shot out of its body and snared Eevee and Fletchinder as well. And even through they protested, it was all to no avail. Nyarlathotep’s body split open into teeth, and all three pokemon were engulfed.

Riolu made a hard left and hid behind a bush before Nyarlathotep could see him. He was crying, but he did all he could to stay quiet. He couldn’t be found. He just couldn’t. He had to find a way out of here.

It was a few moments, but eventually he heard Nyarlathotep let out an abominable screech, and then it galloped away from where Riolu was.

Riolu clenched the rust-red dirt under his paws. This place… it ground you down until you were all alone. Hopeless. And that’s when it got you. This was hell.

There had to be a way out. There just… there had to. Riolu refused to believe they was trapped here. And if they were, then maybe being devoured by a Void Shadow was a merciful death.

And then the full force of reality hit him: He was all alone. Forever. Bryony… Solosis… Wartortle, who he had only known for a day but still enjoyed the company of… the litwick… all gone. Only he was left.

Riolu curled up in a ball, and for the rest of the day, he sobbed to himself.


~\({O})/~

Forest Clearing

One Week Later

~Riolu~

The sky boomed, and Reverse Mountain erupted in volcanic flame. Riolu fled through the woods, trying to get out of range from the falling bits of ash and fire.

It had all been so sudden. Previously, not a sound could be heard rattling through the Voidlands. Even the void shadows had left after a while, grown disinterested with the prospect of having Riolu for lunch.

Riolu lived near the decaying heart tree in the woods southeast of the ruined village now. It was the only place his scent was stamped out safely, the only place that the void shadows wouldn’t follow him. And none had. He ate what little roots had still grown from the tree’s dead remains (it had died roughly a week ago), and drank from the lake. Every so often, he would sneak down to the village when the Shadows weren’t looking and look around. The knives were long gone.

He still felt dizzy just at the thought that he was all alone here. He would see hallucinations in the woods – maybe Bryony’s flipper, or the flame of a litwick – But they’d all be gone at a second glance. Not the tricks of a Shadow, but rather the tricks of a mind. Riolu needed an escape. And it was the ghost that provided it.

Riolu still had no idea what the ghost was. He could see it, but apparently it couldn’t see him. The patrolling Void Shadows meant that he couldn’t study the ghost full-time, but Riolu still went down to the ruined village every once in a while to study it. It slept during the day, for some reason.

And then… this. Riolu had been nibbling the last of the roots left on the dead heart-tree, when suddenly everything around him had suddenly exploded into noise. A pillar of flame erupted from the top of Reverse Mountain, and the sky rumbled and boomed with unseen thunder.

hunt.

Find.


kill.

Riolu heard the words, and they came from the skies. And then he heard a worse sound still: The sound of tens of Void Shadows all screeching in unison. It came from everywhere, and it buffeted Riolu’s ears and he couldn’t stop hearing it but it was unbearable—

Riolu crouched over, covering his ears the best he could. The debris from above was beginning to land. A slab of burning rock crushed a couple of trees near him out of nowhere. It was several times bigger than Riolu was. Shaken, Riolu quickly continued onwards.

He fled south, until he could barely see the burning trees or the ruined village behind him. It was a place of death and despair, and once the fires hit it would be unlivable. Riolu was glad to leave it behind.

Eventually, he lost track of where he was going. All he knew was that it would be a while until the fires reached here. He had at least a few hours. Riolu sat down against a dead tree, and gazed up at the erupting mountain in the distance. Every day, it seemed like his hopes of leaving got farther and farther away. His only way out, on top of that mountain, everymon said. Well, now it was going up in flames.

Riolu didn’t cry. He didn’t have any left in him. He took a deep breath, and simply watched the mountain erupt for a bit. He felt a peace that was foreign to him.

Slowly, the figures of several blue flames began to become visible once again. Riolu saw them flicker in the woods, but he ignored them. More hallucinations.

But were his hallucinations ever so clear? Riolu shot a second glance at them. They didn’t disappear when he looked. He slowly rose from his sitting position. Was it true?

He watched as slowly, several candlestems followed the flames in visibility. His heart soared, and the next thing the litwick knew Riolu was running towards them in joy. He hugged the closest one – it didn’t matter which one – tightly.

“I thought you guys were gone…” he muttered out, eyes closed.

“We nearly were,” one of them said. It sounded indignant. Riolu looked up at it in confusion.

“We had a deal,” another one of them continued. “Where did you go? Why did you leave us all to die?”

“I- I-“ Riolu couldn’t come up with a proper response. “There was this thing in the sky, and—”

He stopped, looking down. There was no excuse, he knew.

“I’m sorry.”

There was silence between them for a moment. Then Riolu looked up.

“So where are the rest of you? Where’s Solosis? How come you guys weren’t at the camp when I came back two weeks ago?”

Tall-Flame came forward.

“This is all of us,” he said. “All of us that are left. A monster attacked our camp. Solosis was eaten so we could get away. We…” Tall-Flame shuddered, reliving horrible memories. “We had nothing to eat. All those weeks of hunger… most of us disappeared!” he bawled, then broke down entirely into tears.

No-mon else spoke; they watched Tall-Flame cry, mourning all the dead litwick. Riolu was the first pokemon to break the silence.

“You guys don’t have to forgive me. I… I don’t know if I deserve it anyway.”

He had the litwick’s attention. They stared at him, skeptical but waiting for him to go on.

“I think I know where the way out is. Not on top of that mountain. But we have to wait for nightfall.”

“You know for sure?” one of the litwick asked skeptically.

“Not for sure.” Riolu shook his head. It’s just a hunch somemon had. But we’ve got nothing left to lose. Why not try?”

The litwick exchanged looks.

“Well…” one of them said. “I guess it’s better than trying to go up the Bad Place.”

Tall-Flame slowly picked himself up off the ground and began to float again.

“I’m okay now,” he said. “I still have breakdowns sometimes.”

“So where’s this way out you speak of?” another litwick piped up.

“I’m about to tell you now,” Riolu said. “Gather around. Here’s what we’re going to do…”


~\({O})/~

“If we’re going to get past the Void Shadows and escape this place, then we’re going to have to be clever about it. That’s why we use the fires to our advantage.”

The fires quickly spread throughout the woods, catching from tree branch to tree branch and burning them all to the ground. Up above them, Reverse Mountain slowly began to return to a fiery simmer, but the damage was done – everything around it was alight.

“It’ll reach the village by nightfall, and I’m willing to bet that fire hurts these creatures. We’ll use the opportunity to slip past them.”

It was nightfall, and the village burned. Void Shadows had prowled it relentlessly for the past week – the flames had sent them into hiding. Riolu slowly crept through the forest towards the fire. He could see the outskirts of the burning buildings, and he silently waved the litwick after him. They followed.

The Fires burned the trees all around them, and the fire burned brighter than Reverse Mountain did. Riolu took a step onto the pavement, flinching at how hot it was. Then he stepped onto it entirely. There was no time to complain about those things.

He didn’t see any void shadows. Riolu crept forward into the village square, looking around at all the burning buildings.

“It’s to the south,” he said. “There’s a big tree, and it’s on an island. It’s there. That’s the way out.”

The litwick looked at each other.

“That’s where the Ancient Barrow used to be,” they said.

A board suddenly snapped amongst the burning structure. Riolu turned, and he saw it – standing amongst the flame was a void shadow. It leered at him menacingly from behind the wall of flame that separated them. But it didn’t charge.

Go on, it taunted. See how far you get.

Riolu stared back in contempt. The Shadow couldn’t see him, but he didn’t care anymore. He turned around and began to walk towards the southern entrance. Then he broke into a run, ushering the litwick after him.

The buildings flew by as he ran, burning and bright. Riolu paced himself so that the litwick wouldn’t be left behind. He closed his eyes, but then opened them wide.

He was just in time to see a Void Shadow sprint out of the wreckage, obstructing the path ahead. Riolu hit the ground and rolled under its legs, not skipping a beat. The litwick soared over it. The Void Shadow gave chase, but Riolu took a right turn into a building.

“Hide!” he hissed to the litwick. They did. The Void Shadow came barging in through the doorway, but it hit the top of the doorframe. The wall collapsed in on it, covering it in flame. It screeched.

Riolu quickly picked himself up and sprinted for the house’s back door.

“Go!” he yelled, and the litwick zoomed out of hiding.

The buildings beyond their location had all been half-destroyed by the fire. Riolu crept through the alleyways, keeping clear of the flames that licked out into the street and keeping his eyes peeled for Shadows. There didn’t seem to be any here. Riolu ushered the litwick all on.

“This has to be the south side of town,” Riolu said after a while. They had maneuvered through the village for about five minutes, and seen neither hide nor hair of another Void Shadow.

“We’re just a few buildings away, one of the litwick said. Riolu nodded, and crept up to the burning building ahead of him. He could see the main path just head. It was empty, but something wasn’t right—

—The structure next to him was suddenly bowled over. Riolu barely jumped clear of the wreckage. He stuck the landing, but a Void Shadow swatted him to the ground just a few seconds later. It let out something between a screech and an angry roar. Riolu picked himself up and began to run for it.

He made his way onto the main path, but then realized the litwick weren’t with him he looked back.

“Hey!” he called out to them. “Over here!”

The Shadow took notice. It glanced at him and snarled, but it was suddenly buffeted over the head with the attacks of the three litwick. They soared back onto the main path to join Riolu, and all four began to run south again.

“I can see it!” one of the litwick exclaimed as they ran. He pointed to an island in the distance, illuminated by the fierceness of the fire that it was engulfed in. For just a second, Riolu stopped in horror. The bridge was on fire too – that was the only way across! He had to get there before it collapsed. Fear overcame Riolu. He began to take off at high speeds, running towards the bridge as fast as he could. He forgot about the litwick, which he had left behind.

Riolu closed his eyes, letting his nose and his feelers do the seeing for him. He was almost there, so close—

Riolu tripped over a rock and hit the ground hard. He groaned, and tried to lift himself up. Over where the island was – he was halfway there – the last of the bridge crumbled away into the water below. Riolu looked back at the litwick, then at the house. He could swim across. Freedom was so close…

Riolu looked back at the litwick. They’d catch up. Even now, they were floating right towards him. They’d be fine. He just had to get there himself—

The Void Shadow charged back onto the path, and it was livid. It smelled the litwick, and it heard them. It began to gallop in their direction, and only Riolu could see it. And that was when he made his decision.

Riolu leapt up, running back towards the litwick. He wasn’t letting this happen again, no matter the cost—

With that thought, he felt something begin to collect in his paws; a foreign energy. It surged, and just before Riolu collided with the Shadow his paws met its chest. The attack sent them both flying backwards from each other. The litwick flew clear of the explosion.

Riolu pulled himself to his feet once more. He was dizzy. He could feel the energy leaving his paws, and smell the burning all around him, and see the brilliant orange flames and his ears were ringing. He was suddenly punched to the ground.

The Void Shadow picked him up, swung him around, and then batted him into the ground again. It swatted him into a house, and then pinned him to the ground a third time. It leaned in over him menacingly, but Riolu caught his bearings fast enough to fight back. He clasped his paws together again, and managed to produce enough energy to repel the Shadow from his body.

Riolu crawled along the ground, coughing, but he felt the Shadow’s gooey claws wrap around his legs again and drag him back violently. It flipped him over, and then pinned his arms to the ground.

The Shadow didn’t waste time. Its face split open into jaws and teeth, and they converged around Riolu—

A trio of embers suddenly batted the Shadow’s head off of Riolu. Riolu looked where they came from, and he saw the Litwick swooping in from above! The next wave of embers hit a nearby structure, which collapsed on the void shadow. Riolu took the opportunity – he began to crawl away from the Shadow and got up to his feet. The Void Shadow was still struggling under the flaming wooden beam. Riolu struggled onto the path, but then he looked back at the litwick.

“Go!” one of them shouted at him. “We’ll catch up!”

Riolu didn’t even think; he accepted it without question. He turned and ran. He ran, and he didn’t look back. When he reached the water, he jumped into it without thinking and paddled his way across. He clawed his way onto the mud of the island, shaking himself off and pulling himself to his feet. He ached all over, but he was so close and he wasn’t stopping now.

Finally, he reached the Barrow’s doors. Riolu looked back at the burning village in the distance behind him. He couldn’t see the litwick. Riolu scanned the sky, but he didn’t see them there either. Had they been killed?

They’d catch up. They said they would. Riolu didn’t have it in him to wait any longer. He ducked in through the doors of the Ancient Barrow. The darkness dissolved after him.

Up above, Reverse Mountain erupted once more, sending fiery chunks up into the sky. Down below, the village continued to burn in silence.

The screeches of several Void Shadows could be heard.


~\({O})/~

Riolu stumbled into gooey black corridors full of messy swamp water. Behind him was more of the same. Where there had once been a door, there was now nothing but darkness and silence. Then it clicked for Riolu: Was this a mystery dungeon?

And if so… he looked up at the ground, realizing he couldn’t see the roof. Maybe this was the way out.

In front of him sat a staircase. It was smooth as marble, and shone with a ghostly glow in the darkness. Riolu headed for it, but stopped. He glanced back, looking for any sign or indication that the litwick had followed him there. Clarity was finally beginning to return to him, and he realized what had happened. They’d said to go ahead. They said they’d catch up. And now… there was only him. The silence spoke for itself. If they hadn’t come already, they probably never would.

Riolu wanted to go back, just to check. It felt… twisted to leave behind the pokemon who had helped him through this final stretch of the way, hopes high on a promise he’d made to them that he’d never be able to keep.

He tried to move himself back towards the entrance. His foot wouldn’t move. The primal will in him to forget about everything else and just escape was stronger than the will in him to go back and risk his life once again. Try as he might, he couldn’t will himself to go back into the hellscape. He couldn’t. With a shaky breath, he succumbed and turned his sights back onto the staircase. He couldn’t.

It was time to escape this awful place once and for all.


~\({O})/~

The Ancient Barrow

~Espurr~

“So you abandoned them.”

The dungeon was quiet as Espurr and Riolu walked through its hallways. It seemed that Nyarlathotep hadn’t figured out where they were yet.

“I… I…” Riolu tried in vain to come up with some kind of excuse. Eventually, he slumped over as he walked, letting his shoulders fall forward. “Yeah. I was… scared.”

“I’m also scared.”

It sounded so clinical, so matter-of-fact. She needed that. She couldn’t let herself break down now.

As they walked, Espurr noticed that Riolu’s body was getting less and less real-looking. Soon she could see the wall through him. She was about to say something, but Riolu suddenly broke out into a run. Espurr saw why: There was light ahead! This was the exit to the dungeon! Espurr’s heart leapt, and she ran after him through the muck. How she wanted to escape from this place so badly! And yet…

The entrance was up ahead; a single doorway illuminated by morning daylight. All around them was the inside of an old and battered house, covered in black goo.

Riolu approached the doorway without hesitation. And the more of the light that spilled out onto him, the more of his body disappeared. He reached a paw out towards the door, watching it vanish completely.

“Come with me.” Riolu looked back towards Espurr, holding a translucent paw out.

“I told you I can’t.” Espurr stayed where she was, folding her arms. “I’m going back for my friends. If you want to leave, that’s your choice. Go ahead.”

Riolu looked at the door. Then at Espurr. He groaned. It should have been a no-brainer! The door was right there. He was free! So… why did it make him feel crummy inside to leave?

“You’re going to be alone out there, you know.” Espurr stayed where she was, staring him directly in the eye. Her gaze was calculating, but Riolu saw a glimmer of daring in there as well. “No-mon out there for you. No-mon to keep you company. No-mon to help you when you really need it, because you weren’t there for them first.”

Riolu was – for once – silent. Espurr took a deep breath in.

“My friends are still down in that dungeon,” Espurr said. “I can feel them. I got them in this mess, and it’s my responsibility to get them out. I’m not giving up on them. That’s why I’m going back. If you want to run, then run. But everymon stops running someday. You only get to choose when.

“So choose. Now.” Espurr straightened herself up, brushing her dirty, grimy fur off and adjusting her scarf out of habit. “Are you coming with me, or are you running away?”

It was a moment before Riolu decided. Slowly, he trudged back into the dungeon, and Espurr saw his legs become visible again.

“Fine,” he said, sighing. “Let’s do it.”

“Great.” Espurr turned away from the dungeon entrance and began to jog back into the hall. “I think I saw another hall back this way!” she called back to him. “That’s a good place to start.”

Riolu cast one last glance back at the dungeon exit. He didn’t know what had possessed him to do that. Maybe it was something in her voice. It just felt like the right thing to do. He hoped this ‘Espurr’ knew what she was doing.

And with that thought, he took off after her before he lost sight. They weren’t out of the woods yet.


~\({O})/~

Music of the week!

Murder (In Four Parts)
- Thomas Newman
 
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kintsugi

golden scars
Location
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
Hi! Experimenting with my review format and I figured I'd go a bit old-school for this one. Apologies if it feels a bit more disorganized--I definitely went a bit more organic this time; feel free to let me know if you have any questions. I went ahead and read up through to the end of Part 1, since I felt like it'd be easier to give overarching thoughts with a better understanding of the long-term arc of your story. Also, full disclosure, haven't played or really interacted with any PMD Super so I'm semi-fandom blind (semi in the sense that I know what espurr and fennekin are; blind in the sense that I don't know why they're at school or what all the continents are doing); I tried to keep my questions on worldbuilding sort of tame with that in mind.

EDIT: me from the future sees that this is really really fucking Long, and I'm sorry. I had a lot of things to say because there were a lot of interesting things in this fic! I hope some of it is helpful.

the plot
"But if I'm here… doesn't that mean the world is about to be destroyed again?" she asked Tricky. "Which isn't a good thing? I don't see how that's awesome."

"Well…" Tricky's happy look faltered. "Maybe,- but still! This means we have to go on an adventure and get strong enough so we can defeat whatever's coming to destroy the world this time!"
^plot in a nutshell tbh. I like the setting for this since we get a lot of apocalyptic things but we're forced to look at them through children (and sometimes, incompetent adults!) It's a fun mix of "hey if the world ends we can be cool" and "oh shit, if the world ends, we're all screwed", woven in with some schoolyard drama and an isekai plot. For me there are three two central threads here: Espurr integrating into her new life, and Tricky struggling with her past insecurities. There's also the Ampharos subplot but since the main characters didn't really care about it, that took a backburner emotionally for me, even though I imagine it's probably going to be super important later.

There's a lot of bigger hooks dangling in the air, like wtf Humans have done in this setting, who is turning everyone to stone, what all of the other guilds are going to do about it, etc, but for now this is a fun romp about bullying and how it's easy to shame and outcast people for events out of their control. I liked how you layered escalation here--first a small dungeon, and then progressively bigger ones, until we get to the final exam sequence.

In general I think the school setting was a really clever way to bring us into a broader world--we can literally be taught information. I got mad Harry Potter vibes from this, both in the sense that Tricky is basically tragic Hermione and Espurr is Harry with negative charisma, and in the sense that we get a lot of stealth exposition through classes/detentions and this very semi-competent bunch of teachers. It's a fun setup and in general the arc of the plot was simple but easy to follow, and a lot of fun to read through.

the characters
My favorite area of this fic tbh. I really like the cast of characters you've set up, and how a lot of them--especially the ones I didn't expect--feel very vivid and realistic.

"I've never had a student apologize to me before," he said. Espurr wasn't sure it was meant for her. "I-is that all you want?"
Like! This to me was a very crazy moment!! Up until this point Watchog is sort of treated as this fuddy-duddy, rules-oriented disciplinarian, which makes sense, since we only see him from Espurr and Tricky's perspectives. And I mean that's definitely not wrong; that's certainly who he is, but for a while I really couldn't wrap my head around why this guy is even a teacher, since he seems to hate teaching and his students with a fiery passion. And for the most part that disdain felt borderline cartoonish, since what we see on screen is pretty tame shenanigans and kind of what I'd think a middle school (?) teacher would know and be prepared for--but I liked this moment here since we get to see a bit of his own vulnerability, and he does open up to Espurr! I think your size of cast really helps in this situation too since he's the main teacher we see and I thought that his takes on teaching literal children were very spicy, so it was great to see this exchange:
"It's Tricky's fault we're in this situation," Watchog grumbled back. "And you say she's not a troublemaker?"

"Tricky is a kid. They're all kids, Watchog!" Audino replied, having come to the absolute edge of her temper. "That's your problem- you can't seem to wrap it around your head that kids aren't invincible!"
Like!! Thank you Audino!! This arc gave me mad Hogwarts vibes (down to the detention in the spoopy forest), and when we got to the point where Watchog blatantly sends kids into a very blatant danger-hole and then blames Tricky for running out on her own despite knowing that she's already traumatized from literally watching her friend get murdered in a similar danger-hole, I really appreciated having a more-sane adult perspective to knock Watchog into shape.

And I think this brings us to the crux of the cast of characters: Tricky! All roads lead to her in this section.
"I can't believe you did that," she seethed. "Oh; wait. Yes I can. Because that's what you do. You lose pokemon. Just like you 'lost' Budew. You know that's why Mrs. Rosiela moved away, right?! Not because she couldn't handle winter; but because she couldn't handle winter without Budew! I am not letting you do the same thing to Goomy and Espurr. Find them. Now." Deerling stamped her hoof into the ground.
"Why would I be here again if I didn't care about Goomy?" Tricky hissed.

"Because you probably got into trouble out there, and you're trying to get out of it by rescuing him." Espurr folded her arms in finality. Surely that was true.
"Because she always does this! She tells the new pokemon to stay away from me, and everymon always listens to her! It's not fair!" Tricky yelled at the top of her lungs. Maybe she was blowing her breath in Espurr's face. She didn't really care.
Espurr thought on that a minute. Sure; Tricky was reckless beyond belief… but that didn't mean she had to be friendless.
Like, I mean, technically Espurr is the main character here but she's very passive and is mostly an audience-standin; the real arcs and dynamics of Part 1 all revolve around this little fennekin baby.

I like how you coax out different angles of picking on people instead of just letting them be cartoon bullies: Pancham just thinks he's cool; Shelmet doesn't want to be a target; Deerling thinks she's helping people. I mean, sure, they do lock Tricky in a booby-trapped building and then throw rocks at her, but given that they're pokemon and are actively going to magic attack school, this does seem somewhat grounded. And they're kids! Kids can be very cruel, and I like how you go into this unflinchingly.

I did find the complete through-line of Part 1 a little weird--at the end of the mine-clearing, Espurr seems super on-board with Tricky and her antics. And it's not like Espurr was forcibly dragged into the dungeon, and she definitely did her own share of reckless things (like going back for the book and trying to run them past Gabite). So for Espurr to turn around and be like "oh, no, it's Tricky who caused all of this"--I see how she could think that, being a kid and not wanting to take blame, but it did ring really hollow and catty for her to turn her back like that. This makes the emotional ending of that arc, where Espurr realizes that Tricky still deserves to have friends despite doing basically what Espurr does, feel weird as well--since honestly everyone in this village is complicit in bullying this child and no one has given her a fair chance. The narrative feels very blind to Espurr's mistakes, and I found myself wishing that there was more focus on Espurr realizing her own faults/contributions to this, instead of just deciding to acknowledge only Tricky's. I would've liked a bit more growth/understanding from Espurr here, who comparatively feels like a blank slate compared to her partner.

The side characters doing their own little plot on a non-Mean Girls plane of existence are also hilarious tbh. Ampharos with his dashing cloak, Mawile with her Quirrell head--tons of fun. I hope they survive lol.

Overall this is a lot of fun and your cast really flourishes! PMD/school is a really interesting mashup since you can go into a ton of angles, and there's a lot of implicit fridge horror on how kids might grow up in a world where their friends can be murdered in front of them--definitely not what I expected going in, but I liked the close study on how this would craft a loner, and it lends a lot of credibility to why the partner pokemon is so desperate for the human to be their friend.

the structure
Multi-POV stories! Always fun, always with their own set of challenges. On the broad strokes I really like what you did here--I get the feeling that if this was just Espurr or just Tricky's POV, the story would have to be told a lot differently, and a lot of character revelations would end up getting moved around into less-impactful ways (I'm mostly thinking Tricky's backstory, but the flex POV also lets you do fun stuff with Ampharos and Mawile).

The POV switching can be a bit aggressive, though. I think for me they stood out the most when we'd switch POV's to a different character but then still have the narration dwell on things that they shouldn't know--for instance, this chunk below is labelled Espurr, but it's not really told in her head, and by the end, it's 100% Audino's POV:
And with that, Espurr suddenly was out the door so fast Audino couldn't help but wonder if Tricky had been a bad influence on her.
And at this point I have to question if it's even worth having the scene break/POV change at all, since it ends up becoming an amorphous/omniscient third person narration anyway--more of a "this scene contains Espurr" rather than "this scene is specifically told through Espurr's eyes".

There are a couple of other times where I think the scene breaks are a bit gratuitous--for example, the goomy scenes at the end of the test don't really build tension for me; they just re-established that Goomy is nervous and doesn't want to be killed to death, which I sort of got the first time around? In a way it almost undercut the tension, since every time we cut back to him he's fine--ironically, not-seeing him would've made me more nervous, because maybe then he got eaten or winded out of the dungeon.

For earlier chapters, where there isn't really a converging/central thread that makes it "this chapter is about X", the switching also makes the chapter feel very disjointed. I think the big culprit for this was Chapter 2, mostly because it's roughly twice as long as your other chapters (wordwise) and covers so many topics (plotwise)--we get Ampharos's (dazzling) debut, Espurr's first day of school, some interesting flavor text about Humans!, Tricky sad backstory hints, detention, Mawile and Archen debut, the kids meet Ampharos and Ampharos drops a plot hook, Espurr and Tricky get plot hooked, we meet Dad Carracosta, scarves mean friendship (with some bonus Tricky backstory foreshadowing), Mawile and Archen get attacked, and then a wrap-up in the infirmary. That's! A lot. I remember getting to the end of this chapter, seeing that the next chapter was 3, and scrolling up because I couldn't believe this was all one thing.

And I actually don't think that wanting to cover a lot of ground, even with a lot of perspectives, is necessarily a bad thing--one example of a format that really does this well is of course in Avatar: The Last Airbender's, in particular the episode "The Storm", which has a similarly ambitious goal of trying to cover a lot of things in a very small time period, with the story alternating between snips of both subplots. We end up getting v very tragic and very heavy backstories for both our antagonist and our protagonist, at the roughly the same time, and tbh the format on paper seems really stupid since it's literally just two characters turning to people around them and explaining what happened! But for me ATLA succeeds here because the two plots are actually intricately related on a thematic level, even though the events themselves are very different--there's a central theme of both characters running from their duty, only to be punished for it hard. By the end of the episode it makes sense why the story was chosen to be told in this exact way, pairing both characters against one another, because thematically we're basically watching the same thing unfold; the only difference is who both characters choose to become after this event.

I found myself wishing for a similar grounding theme here--where ATLA's episode feels more like a braid, where two individual stories become twined together and we can better appreciate both as a result, ch2 (and a few of the other POV swaps) just feel like many separate strands that don't really contribute much on an emotional level. In addition to being about characters that don't have any bearing to our main duo, doing things that don't have any impact (yet) on our main duo, in a place that's very far away from our current setting, the themes here are very different--Tricky and Espurr are learning about school bullying and tentative friendship; Mawile and Archen are watching a very ominous eradication of their global norms. I appreciated why these were here in terms of what I know you wanted to build with the grander fic, and looking back on the intro chapters as a whole I understand why you wanted to start introducing some early darkness in Part 1, but in the moment these chapters feel very confused, and as a result, oversized, because of the seemingly-needless POV swaps.

the worldbuilding
"All dungeons have those," Tricky said dismissively, once Espurr had asked. "Dunno why; don't really care." she shrugged, glancing around the cavern.
I think (?) in Discord you've mentioned that there's actually a really Important reason for this, so I trust you haha.

Having Espurr as a viewpoint character is clever here, since it means we get to have someone ask all the questions I have about these distortions and their perfectly-shaped stairs, and like, why are they here? In particular the exam scene where Espurr has to answer a lot of questions about history was a great "haha! I'm secretly being exposited to but it feels natural!" moment. There's a lot of info buried in those exam answers for little fandom-blind me--does the word "colonized" imply that there were other civilizations there first? The origin of HAPPI seems super ominous, especially in the light of Espurr's thought process that the exact opposite of what HAPPI did was "let people explore where they want to".

Nectar Meadows was a Class A Mystery Dungeon, which meant that pokemon which became stranded or lived in it didn't turn into rabid monsters like Gabite. Class A dungeons were usually the homes of pokemon who didn't feel at home living in civilizations such as Serenity Village. However, Nectar Meadows was the home of a beedrill colony that had a reputation for being quite vicious in the nectar-gathering stage of the year, which was… just around summertime.
This passage was interesting to me as well, since it sort of digs into the "what exactly are ferals??" question. Here it seems like ferals are regular pokemon that got driven mad by the Mystery Dungeon, which is a super interesting concept! What do you do with creatures that used to be people? Can you just put them down? Surely it'd be an important societal priority to make sure that this happens to as few people as possible, and maybe a lot of investigation into a cure of some sorts--to me this almost feels like a zombie apocalypse premise, where there's a constant threat of you and your loved ones turning mindless. And it's particularly interesting to look at a society that's evolved with this in the background (compared to zombie apocalypse, where the zombies usually come out of nowhere)--since here, everyone seems so nonchalant about it. To me this hits home the hardest at the end of the Gabite mini-arc, since we get to learn about this explorer as this cool mythic figure in the library, read his diary and get to know what he was going into the dungeons for, and then suddenly! oh shit! he's this brainless monster and reasoning with him is out of the question! It opens up a lot of interesting questions about this world, for sure.
"…Did we… ?" Tricky asked in a small voice; the fire gone from her eyes. "Did he…"

Espurr was sorry to say that she wasn't sure. However, she could also admit with little guilt that she didn't really care one way or another anymore

I found this as another instance where the viewpoint characters feel kind of strained--to me it would make a lot more sense if Espurr is the one who's confused about pokemon dying in dungeons, especially given Tricky's backstory. And Espurr not really caring one way or another feels a bit brutal? She feels young, and she does seem to act with people's best interests at heart, so I wanted a bit more of a reaction to "whoops I avalanched a living creature to death" from both of them here.

And then, at the end of Part 1, the Beedrill fight is really interesting to me since it involves opponents who are basically just regular people who are following orders and gathering food for their colony! And like objectively we're told from Tricky's book that this is their territory, and Tricky goes into it on purpose, and then everyone is surprised pikachu face when the beedrill don't take very kindly to that. I really had a hard time picturing the beedrill as the bad guys here, even when they're knocking out our protagonists and trying to figure out where to take them since, like, if someone came into my backyard garden and also started lighting me on fire, I'd be pretty pissed as well?

I also was a bit confused at first on the usage of "animals", who get name-dropped with Ampharos's first appearance but don't really get explained until Watchog's lesson--it does get covered later, but not really at the time I found myself wanting that explanation.

All-in-all it definitely feels like there are a lot of moving parts here, and this school is just the tutorial level before shit really hits the fan. The alternate scenes cutting away to Ampharos's adventures, along with the Mawile/Archen subplot, are really good at hinting at that--these, along with this section taking place at the end of spring, really gave me vibes that shit hits the fan in Part 2 and we're about to start dealing with the larger world in a much more important way.

"Did you know it's customary on the Grass Continent to just do your 'business' wherever you please?" Mayor Honchkrow asked, after ten seconds of silence had elapsed.
stupid side note but this felt very JKR "wizards shit themselves and then vanish the shit" in terms of like, oh, initially this is funny, but logistically this is such a shitty idea and? It has weird implications? Most civilizations evolved ways to not store their shit with the rest of their things since a) it smells and b) it's dangerous--even most animal societies are also pretty careful about not pooping where they please, for the aforementioned reasons. This one felt like a weird joke/reference that fell a bit flat for me.

the psychicness

Strangely, Espurr couldn't get a single clue as to Pancham's true intentions. When talking to other pokemon, Espurr had realized she could gauge their intentions and their emotions by tuning out the background noise and focusing only on their speech, but it wasn't happening with Pancham.
Espurr quickly ducked before she could be seen by Watchog as his pacing took him near the window. She shut her eyes and quickly tuned out his thoughts. Those would just distract her right now. She didn't need to do anything fancy. It didn't even need to be particularly well-done. She just needed to give that one memory of her and Tricky being late a small tweak…
I wanted a bit more of the psychic angle from Espurr, honestly! An empath protagonist is a really cool concept and helps a lot with the fish-out-of-water vibes, but I don't really think she ever uses this ability outside of mentioning she can't use it on Pancham? A lot of the Tricky stuff could be settled very early if Espurr just sensed what Tricky's (or Deerling's) true intentions were. Espurr getting an early read on Ampharos would also be interesting, since it's clear that he's literally looking for her--felt like a missed opportunity here. I also didn't really get why she couldn't read but she could speak?

the grammar/technical
For the most part you're really solid on this front. I flagged a few typos (see below) but for the most part they didn't really distract me from the point you were getting across. A few consistent things I noticed:

The smart thing; Espurr knew; would be to turn him down.
Semicolons are tricky heh I feel like we get this joke a lot. You often use them where you should use commas instead--the above example was probably the most dense.

A rule of thumb that I used when I was learning semicolons vs not is to instead consider what they're "equivalent" to, or what words/punctuation you can replace semicolons with. The most broad use-cases are:
  • Replacing periods: joining together two complete sentences (i.e. "He ran quickly. There wasn't much time" vs "He ran quickly; there wasn't much time")
  • Replacing a contraction + period: joining together two independent clauses (i.e. "She dodged out of the way, but the attack still clipped her tail" vs "She dodged out of the way; the attack still clipped her tail")
The common thread here is that you should be using semicolons to merge together thoughts that can stand on their own. For shorter pauses in thought, and to join together fragments/thoughts that wouldn't be independent alone, you use commas. In the quoted example above, we're basically looking at three pieces of the sentence: "the smart thing" / "Espurr knew" / "would be to turn him down". Note how none of those bits really stand on their own ("Espurr knew" sort of interrupts a complete thought formed by the other two; this is called an appositive!). In this case, and in almost any of the cases that you used semicolons, you'd actually want to use commas:
The smart thing, Espurr knew, would be to turn him down.
It's a little esoteric and I don't think this is make-or-break, but to me it did get a little jarring--there are several hundred semicolons in the section I read, but a lot of them didn't need to be there/were used instead of commas.

And, sorry, I'm like legally obligated by the em dash lobby to mention this at least once:
"Them- the Pokemon Paradise Crew – They defeated the Bittercold 50 years ago!"
"What if it got you?! You'd— You'd—"
"Uh-uh! You're not changing the subject on me-" the fennekin angrily began-
Okay, squinting at these dashes that you've used here, you'll actually notice there are three different types of dashes. The short one (-) is a hyphen, the medium one (–) is an en dash, and the long one (—) is an em dash. Why does this matter? Like semicolons and colons, these are visually similar parts of speech that have different uses and applications.
  • - / hyphen: this is used to join two words. You do this very well naturally on your own. Words like "grey-purple", "head-on", "hastily-chosen". Hyphens can also be used to indicate stuttering, which you also do ("N-now what d-do we d-do?").
  • – / en dash: this is used to join spans of numbers, and is actually quite rare in prose. Stuff like showing sports scores ("Manchester lost 2–0") and dates ("She was president from 2003–2007")
  • — / em dash: this is used to join two thoughts, usually to show interruption. If you're putting a dash between two words and you aren't intending to join the words, but instead the sentences they're part of, you'll want to use an em dash.
Examples below:
"Uh-uh! You're not changing the subject on me-" the fennekin angrily began-
"He's gonna be fine!" Pancham shouted in self-defense over all the yelling. "All of this because—"

"—We'll go."
The second one is with em dashes, and is correct. The first one is with hyphens, and should be with em dashes.

And again! This is stupid and sort of esoteric, but it really helps me as a reader when the text does them separately, or at least does double hyphen (--) in the absence of a word processor to denote the difference between hyphen and not.

Some misc typos that I noticed:
"Find them." Watchog growled. "it's your mine!"
Tricky's ears quickly lowered at that sentence, and Espurr felt the sudden cloud of negativity e=invade her mind.
Mawile' deductions
At least the place if filled to bursting with gemstones.
"'That right? Well, eat a mudkip for all I care! I'll poop wherever I darn well feel like pooping!"
Espurr knew it was a dream, if she tried to breathe in water in the dream she'd just breathe in air in the real world, but for some reason she couldn't seem to breathe. She couldn't seem to breath
(Also, not purely technical but there's a lot of breathing in that last one; also the last "breathe" dropped its E).

But otherwise! Mostly clean stuff here. I was sampling a lot of words so I didn't really comb through for typos like I normally might, but in general things check out.

the minutia
Anyway here's some dumb things that crossed my mine while I was reading:

For floating on the water was the stone statue of a lapras on a wooden barge; a note stuck to its chest in thick, loopy handwriting:
The Mawile/Archen exploration B-plot was really ominous and I'm curious if this is all a setup for some sort of "end of innocence" where Part 2 of the shonen anime is super dark and picks up all the threads from Part 1. But in this case, since we'd seen that the lucario statue was an actual lucario turned to stone, is this also a lapras turned to stone? How big is the barge to support that much weight?


"I'm sorry, I just can't," Audino told Espurr, setting out the lunch prep. "Deerling came in and asked me only a minute ago. Writing with your nose can't be easy, so I said yes. Why don't you ask the Principal?"
At first I really thought this was such a ridiculous thing since out of all the kids, only Pancham seems capable of taking an actual written test (and Tricky, if she showed up). This feels like a weird port of human mechanics to a foreign world, since "class means let's all sit in desks and write answers on paper" is distinctly adapted for humans, and logically I don't really see a pokemon world, which is inhabited by so many different body types, to evolve in the same way. I think part of the point here is that Audino is probably the only sane teacher in the lot, but to me written tests just felt like a weird export of human schools when oral exams should be the norm, or some sort of written language that doesn't require hands.

Honchkrow let the sentence die in his gizzard, the implications ringing clearer than his voice.
In birds, the gizzard is the rear part of the stomach (helpful diagram!) and doesn't connect to the lungs/voice, so this one felt a bit flat for me.

"Of course I'm not mad!" she force-laughed out of herself. "What makes you think that?
I originally flagged this in multiquote for hyphen lessons, but imo "force-laughed out of herself" is a bit tricky of a phrase to parse on its own regardless of punctuation. Maybe something more like:
"Of course I'm not mad!" she forced a laugh. "What makes you think that?"

"Tricky!" Both Espurr's and Tricky's heads turned to the right, where what could best be described as an angry otter wearing a safety vest was marching right towards them.
Watchog are based on non-aquatic mammals--so groundhog, prairie dog, meerkat would all fit better here than "otter".

the other random stuff i couldn't put in a category

Tricky suddenly blanched at the word that was about to leave Kangaskhan's mouth. Kangaskhan quickly corrected herself before the word was uttered in its entirety, sending Tricky a brief apologetic look.
! this was good foreshadowing! I flagged it the first time as like "oh shit are we going to get Tricky's given name" and we DID and I was so hype. Really good follow-up to "my name is! a secret!" rip.

"The Adventures of an Intrepid Psyduck," Espurr said; half in shock. "That's the title of the book."
This line was so good! I liked the calm realization after all of the drama in the dream sequence; for me, it made the actual understanding of what just happened much more weighty and momentous.

"Do we know how to play chess?"
The POV switching here really worked--some dire situations for the rest of the crew, and then Deerling and Espurr are over here trying to read instruction manuals and play chess without opposable thumbs

"Smell, don't taste, oran berries make the base, and always mash everything into a paste," the class recited.
It is a known fact that I wholeheartedly approve of exposition via nursery rhyme, and this is no exception! Great summary for the berry lesson lol.

"My real name is Artemis Carracosta Duringham," Tricky began. "That's what my Pops named me when he adopted me. I… had another friend before you. He used to go exploring with me all the time. And…

She took a long shaky breath, as if to prepare for what she was about to say next:

"And I killed him."
This was dramatic af but also a very cathartic moment for finally realizing what all of the emotional undercurrents were building up to.

in conclusion
Really fun romp so far! Your setting choice and cast are definitely my favorite aspects, and I like how you use them to explore some very deep facets of this universe.
 
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SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
I didn't have the energy to do this last night, but here's a response to your review!

First off, thanks for reviewing! I don't think I've ever gotten one this long or in-depth before. As a result, this may end up being a bit long too, lol

In general I think the school setting was a really clever way to bring us into a broader world--we can literally be taught information. I got mad Harry Potter vibes from this, both in the sense that Tricky is basically tragic Hermione and Espurr is Harry with negative charisma, and in the sense that we get a lot of stealth exposition through classes/detentions and this very semi-competent bunch of teachers. It's a fun setup and in general the arc of the plot was simple but easy to follow, and a lot of fun to read through.

I'm glad the Harry Potter vibes came through well! I based most of the school staff off characters from HP (Simipour = Dumbledore, Audino = McGonagall, Watchog = Filch/Snape), but it's interesting to see the connections between some of the students too! I will say that the game this is based off of uses the school setting for its first half, but mostly as a tutorial backdrop more than anything else.

The narrative feels very blind to Espurr's mistakes, and I found myself wishing that there was more focus on Espurr realizing her own faults/contributions to this, instead of just deciding to acknowledge only Tricky's. I would've liked a bit more growth/understanding from Espurr here, who comparatively feels like a blank slate compared to her partner.

Yeah, this is an issue that more than one person has brought up to me. For what it's worth, Espurr is meant to be a somewhat selfish/toxic character (like most everyone in the story is) and her angle on bullying is slowly growing to treat Tricky based on public opinion instead of hearing her out fairly. The brunt of Espurr's realizations about her behavior and character development is mainly meant for parts II and beyond, as I wanted to flesh out Tricky first. That said, at the time of writing chapters 6 - 7 - 8 of the story I was confused on what I wanted the themes to be, and kind of cobbled it together haphazardly as I went. I'll be making an effort to go back and make it a bit clearer in the future, hopefully!

Semicolons are tricky

Oh god the semicolons

I used to think they were the fancy commas, so I used them in place of commas as much as I could, Then another author enlightened me to what they actually were, and I made an effort to go back and edit them out (I still haven't gotten them all, and only on some platforms)

I think the big culprit for this was Chapter 2, mostly because it's roughly twice as long as your other chapters (wordwise) and covers so many topics (plotwise)--we get Ampharos's (dazzling) debut, Espurr's first day of school, some interesting flavor text about Humans!, Tricky sad backstory hints, detention, Mawile and Archen debut, the kids meet Ampharos and Ampharos drops a plot hook, Espurr and Tricky get plot hooked, we meet Dad Carracosta, scarves mean friendship (with some bonus Tricky backstory foreshadowing), Mawile and Archen get attacked, and then a wrap-up in the infirmary. That's! A lot. I remember getting to the end of this chapter, seeing that the next chapter was 3, and scrolling up because I couldn't believe this was all one thing.

This is also another common criticism I've gotten from many of my readers. Luckily, I got this one pretty early on - while I can't really change the nature of Chapter Two due to all the important things in there, I've made an effort to avoid future chapters being that packed and long.

stupid side note but this felt very JKR "wizards shit themselves and then vanish the shit" in terms of like, oh, initially this is funny, but logistically this is such a shitty idea and? It has weird implications? Most civilizations evolved ways to not store their shit with the rest of their things since a) it smells and b) it's dangerous--even most animal societies are also pretty careful about not pooping where they please, for the aforementioned reasons. This one felt like a weird joke/reference that fell a bit flat for me.

At the time of writing this, I actually wasn't aware of that tweet, so I can say it's certainly not a joke or reference of any kind. It's (obviously) not canon to PMD either - I wanted to use it to illustrate differences between cultures and how that can create rifts between people, and I specifically wanted to choose something more animalistic for that. The justification is that the continent has very, very few non-wild/foresty settlements, so having specific places to store waste outside of doing it the way that animals IRL do it isn't really needed or wanted outside of one town.


In addition to being about characters that don't have any bearing to our main duo, doing things that don't have any impact (yet) on our main duo, in a place that's very far away from our current setting, the themes here are very different--Tricky and Espurr are learning about school bullying and tentative friendship; Mawile and Archen are watching a very ominous eradication of their global norms.

I think this will look much better in hindsight, tbh. The source material actually had the opposite problem - the player spent so much time cooped up in Serene Village, then halfway through abandons all those characters for the Expedition Society. I decided to introduce them earlier, both to build them up as characters and see what they were doing while the MC/Espurr and Tricky were doing in the village. I'm glad it was fun to read though.


I think (?) in Discord you've mentioned that there's actually a really Important reason for this, so I trust you haha.

Yep the stairs are important :)

in conclusion
Really fun romp so far! Your setting choice and cast are definitely my favorite aspects, and I like how you use them to explore some very deep facets of this universe.

Thanks! I'm really glad you liked it! I think most authors can attest to the fact that there's no better feeling than someone reading your work and telling you they liked it, and I'm especially flattered that you took the time to write out something this in-depth. I won't let any of it go to waste!
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Location
the warmth of summer in the songs you write
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. silvally-grass
  2. lapras
  3. golurk
  4. custom/booper-kintsugi
As a result, this may end up being a bit long too, lol
who would EVER write long things omg

I will say that the game this is based off of uses the school setting for its first half, but mostly as a tutorial backdrop more than anything else.
As someone who hasn't played the games, that's pretty fascinating! I think it translates well to fic for me since, again, Harry Potter--the first few books are very light schoolyard drama and it slowly evolves darker alongside the characters.

Yeah, this is an issue that more than one person has brought up to me. For what it's worth, Espurr is meant to be a somewhat selfish/toxic character (like most everyone in the story is) and her angle on bullying is slowly growing to treat Tricky based on public opinion instead of hearing her out fairly. The brunt of Espurr's realizations about her behavior and character development is mainly meant for parts II and beyond, as I wanted to flesh out Tricky first. That said, at the time of writing chapters 6 - 7 - 8 of the story I was confused on what I wanted the themes to be, and kind of cobbled it together haphazardly as I went. I'll be making an effort to go back and make it a bit clearer in the future, hopefully!
Mmmmm, character arcs are tricky. I wanted to clarify that I didn't really want her to like, instantly become a better person, but I wanted some growth from her, or some sign that her actions have consequences that will also harm her (instead of just Tricky). Ironically Harry Potter continues to be a good reference here--at the end of the troll bit in the first book, Harry realizes that if he and Ron keep treating Hermione like this ... that's a bad thing. And yes, Hermionie is slightly annoying and corrects them, and yes, Ron and Harry don't instantly learn to patch the bridge, but they all come away from that a little better.

Your call, though, and certainly don't feel obligated to hold to that trio for your own duo, haha. I do think duos are tricky for that reason since your dynamic becomes a lot more flat--maybe bring in a different character for a bit? Audino talking to Watchog helped temper my understanding of Watchog once I realized that not all the teachers in the school were batshit; I could see a similar moment where a non-student talks to Espurr about how she's been treating Tricky? It just feels very lonesome for Tricky when no one will stand up for her, and it also makes Espurr feel very flat as a character since her arc in these intro chapters is mostly focused around catching up to everyone else knowledge-wise.

I used to think they were the fancy commas, so I used them in place of commas as much as I could, Then another author enlightened me to what they actually were, and I made an effort to go back and edit them out (I still haven't gotten them all, and only on some platforms)
oh no! I feel ya. Good luck on the hunt, and I hope my explanations made sense!

Thanks! I'm really glad you liked it! I think most authors can attest to the fact that there's no better feeling than someone reading your work and telling you they liked it, and I'm especially flattered that you took the time to write out something this in-depth. I won't let any of it go to waste!
Quag! I'm glad I was helpful! I sort of looked up in a daze and saw I'd written a lot in the review so I was afraid the length would be off-putting, and I'm glad it wasn't!
 
Chapter 24 - All Together Now

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter24Art.png

~\({O})/~

24.

All Together Now


~\({O})/~

The Ancient Barrow

~Espurr~

The light of the way out that had been nearly blinding soon faded into darkness. The dark of distance met Espurr as she ran back into the halls covered with viscous black goo. Looking for any sign of the hallway she had seen before.

Behind her, Riolu tried his best to catch up. He made noisy splashes in the water behind them as he ran.

“Hey!” he called from behind her. “Wait up! I’m gonna lose you!”

Reluctantly, Espurr slowed down. It wouldn’t do any good to lose the only pokemon currently with her, no matter how panicked she was. She took a deep breath, and tried not to be.

It didn’t work.

“What are we even looking for?” Riolu panted out as he caught up with her. Espurr sped up again, forcing him to abandon catching his breath to keep pace with her.

“A way up,” Espurr answered. “If the anchorstone is in the middle of the dungeon, and the stairs at the entrance went down while the ones we’ve been climbing went up, we can probably assume this dungeon doesn’t work like all the other ones. And that means there’s stairs leading up onto the floor above. It’s an easy way to get to them. All we have to do is find the stairs.”

She had ad-libbed all of that. More hopefully than based on any hard knowledge, but Espurr was willing to accept almost any fragment of hope she could grasp at, even if she had to make it up for herself. Alongside her, Riolu nodded along, looking like he didn’t understand any of it.

Up ahead in the corridor, Espurr caught sight of a small hallway to their left. She pointed at it, making sure that Riolu could see. “We’re headed that way first.”

“But shouldn’t we scout the floor and come back to this late—”

“We might not find it again later.” Espurr cut him off, taking him by the paw and almost forcefully dragging him into the hallway.

The theory was their lucky break. It had to be. Or Espurr didn’t know what she would do.


~\({O})/~

~’Goomy’~

Goomy saw wrong. More accurately, he felt wrong. The antennae constantly twitching atop his head were wrong, and so was the gooey snail shell on his back. He couldn’t see colors anymore. He saw, but he saw in vibrations. Everything around him was illuminated in black and white, a fading image renewed with each twitch of his antennae. He didn’t even know where he had pulled that attack from – something he wouldn’t have fathomed doing just a few seconds before. Goomy stayed still in shock for a bit.

“Goomy!”

Deerling galloped through the muck towards him, then threw herself into him the best she could. Goomy did his best to not collapse into formless goo upon impact, but now that he tried it, he couldn’t do that as well now either.

“Aw, berry crackers. He’s the first to evolve? He’s the youngest out of all of us!” Pancham walked forward, his arms stuck out in annoyance. Goomy could hear the relief he was trying to push out of his voice.

“Oh, stick a wooper in it, Pancham,” Deerling hissed at him. “You nearly died! We. All. Nearly. Died. He saved our lives! The least you could do is thank him instead of treating him like Muk!”

“Sooo cool!!”

That was Tricky. She bounded around him, checking his new body out from all angles. “What does it feel like? Can you see? Ooh—Ooh—Watchog said that sliggoos dissolve everything with killer slime. Can you dissolve a dungeon ‘mon??”

“T-that’s a myth,” Goomy stuttered out, still trying to figure out how to speak with his new mouth. He knew that much. Although he guessed he was Sliggoo now.

“Hey,” Deerling said, trying to stabilize the wobbling Sliggoo. “You feeling alright? Do you need to rest for a moment?”

“This is great and all,” Shelmet interjected loudly, “but I propose we get a move and get out of here before, y’know, the scary monster thing comes back to get us?”

“I- I’m f-fine,” Goo—Sliggoo stuttered, stabilizing himself without Deerling’s help. “I just want to get out of here.”

“True that,” Pancham muttered. “How many floors is this place, anyway. It’s gotta have been at least fifteen.”

“Try five.” Deerling clopped past him, leading the group onwards. “It can’t be that many now. The only ‘mon we’re missing is Espurr.”

No-mon saw it in the darkness, but Tricky’s ears flopped back as they continued on.

“You don’t think we left her behind, right?” she asked. Deerling didn’t answer. No-mon did. No-mon knew. There was only hope to guide them.


~\({O})/~

~?~

This was less than optimal. They were in two groups now. If It allowed them to progress unhindered, soon there would be only one. They knew. They weren’t like the pathetic beings that had ended up in the Voidlands. pathetic beings filled with hate and discord for It and Its brethren to leech off of and grow stronger from. They were a measly seven, but together they had hurt It. And now It slunk off to lick its wounds, and hunt the smaller group lower in the dungeon.

It had never liked children. They were too hopeful, too filled with positive emotions that burned It like fire. Too small to make a good meal, for all the trouble. And yet they posed the biggest threat to It.

It lay in hiding, conserving Its strength and plotting Its next move. Maybe this was more optimal than It had originally thought. In one group, they were a dangerous but easy target. And now that It had fought them a few times, It knew which ones to eat first. It would devour the psychic cat and the goo snail, leaving the rest of them powerless to Its strength. And then It would eat them too.

All along the walls of the Anchorstone, goo shifted and squelched in preparation. It was time to set the stage.


~\({O})/~

~Espurr~

There was nothing at the end of the hallway. Espurr hadn’t wasted time making it back to the main corridor, pulling Riolu along with her. Riolu had made a few efforts to slow down, but Espurr wasn’t having it. They found another corridor, and she checked that one too. It was only after a few more hurried searches of hallways that Riolu finally sat down in the muck, all puffed out.

“I need a minute,” he panted. “To… catch my breath…”

Espurr reluctantly stopped. She folded her arms, marched back over to him, and sat down opposite him silently.

Nothing was said between them; they sat together in silence. For the first time since being separated from her friends, Espurr noticed the distinct lack of a tattered old exploration bag hanging from her left shoulder. Her stomach suddenly fell – that bag had everything in it! But she had bigger priorities right now. She’d pick it up on the way.

If she found it.

“Ready yet?” she asked Riolu. Riolu nodded.

“Almost,” he said, still sounding tuckered out. “I can get up no—”

Something changed. Both Espurr and Riolu noticed. He stopped mid-sentence, and they both silently looked in the direction of the distant rumbling that came from deeper within the dungeon. It was getting closer.

“Move.”

Both Espurr and Riolu got to their feet, but it was all they could do to jump clear of the stairway before the walls suddenly became fluid. Goo shifted along the walls at high speeds, and soon the walls themselves began to change. The dungeon began to roar – something was rearranging it without its consent, and it was not happy. The sound resounded through the air around Espurr and Riolu, and a sudden gust of rancid wind blew them both backwards. And the walls weren’t solidifying.

Espurr got back to her feet, helping Riolu up as quickly as she could. A sudden pillar of goo shot out of the wall, and they both ducked just in time to avoid it. The area closed up into a full wall, and Espurr and Riolu scrambled away from it. More and more pillars of goo shot out from all directions, while walls around them collapsed.

“What do we do?” Riolu yelled over the noise of the shifting dungeon. He and Espurr were pressed as close together as they could possibly be. The muck around them churned, and they parted just in time to avoid a pillar of goo shooting straight up out of the ground. And then Espurr saw it: Behind a collapsing wall, the stairs stood. They glowed brighter than anything else, and most importantly: they led up.

She called out to Riolu just before the wall sealed up and separated them. “Head that way! I see the stairs!”

The wall finished forming, and they were both cut off. Espurr didn’t waste any time running forward. A corridor was forming around the stairs, and Espurr ran directly for it. Another pillar of goo shot out of the ground and began to form a wall between her and the stairs – she was going to be cut off!

The dungeon roared a second time. Espurr knew that the dungeon winds would follow. She sped up as fast as she could, but then she began to feel a draft. She noticed her fur blew in the direction of the sealing up wall, and she jumped—

—The gust of wind blew through the nearly completed hallway, and its power blew Espurr off her feet and sent her flying through the gap just before the wall closed up. She hit the muck on the other side of the hallway and got a mouthful of swamp water. At this point, she was beginning to get used to how it tasted.

“You okay?”

Espurr looked up to see Riolu standing over her. He held a paw out, and she took it, bringing herself to her feet. Ahead of them, the stairs lit the hallway with a luminous glow. Behind them, the dungeon slowly settled into an uneasy peace. The rumbling ceased.

“We shouldn’t wait around for something else to happen,” Espurr said, winded as she was. “Let’s go.”


~\({O})/~

~Tricky~

Tricky worried about it the whole way there. She worried about what had happened to Espurr, who was her friend when no-mon else would have been. Espurr, who was the only ‘mon still separated from the group. Espurr, who Tricky worried had been left behind in the dungeon. She knew there were no answers for her, but the worry hung over her like a cloud as they walked.

‘Espurr can take care of herself,’ Tricky’s brain said. She used that like a shield, hiding herself away from all the worry behind it. But that didn’t stop her from knowing it was there.

“Hey,” Deerling spoke after what had felt like hours of silence. “I found something.”

She sped up, and all the others did their best to follow.

Sitting against the goo-covered wall was the tattered old exploration bag that belonged to Espurr. Deerling stopped right in front of it, and looked down at the bag. It floated in the muck, its strap stuck to the goo and holding it in place. If it weren’t waterproof it would have been ruined long ago.

Tricky quickly pushed past Pancham and Shelmet to look at the bag. She was the first one to point out the obvious.

“That’s Espurr’s!”

Everymon else exchanged looks in worry. Tricky’s fear nearly overcame her – Espurr wouldn’t just leave the team bag behind like that. What if something had… had… good thoughts…

Tricky stared down at the muck for a moment, trying to think of something positive to make of the situation.

“Well…” she began after a moment. “If the bag is here, then Espurr has to be further down in the dungeon. So we didn’t leave her behind.”

More silence. No-mon had anything to add, but the unspoken words hung in the air over all of them: She’s dead, isn’t she.

“…We should collect it,” Deerling said. Her voice was barely above a whisper. “It’s got her things in it. We don’t want to leave those behind.”

Pancham – the only one with hands – stooped over and picked it up. He slung it over his back, and they began to continue on again in silence.

Tricky wouldn’t believe it. Not until she saw it with her own eyes. That perked her up just a little as they trudged further into the dungeon.


~\({O})/~

~Espurr~

The stairs deposited Espurr and Riolu onto the next floor up with little ceremony. They picked themselves up and began to trek through the dungeon’s hallways once again with little complaint. Their fur was matted with swamp water and bits of black goo. Espurr didn’t think she could ever clean the filth out of the scarf Tricky had given her. It hung around her neck, soggy with swamp water and almost brown from the dirt that had accumulated into it over the past three weeks. Tricky…

Espurr closed her eyes, and reached out with her sixth sense once more. If they were on this floor, and she tried hard enough…

“Hey, do you hear voices?”

Riolu’s comment snapped Espurr back to reality. She glanced at him.

“I wasn’t paying attention.”

“Voices. That way.” Riolu pointed towards the end of the corridor that they’d been travelling down. When Espurr strained her ears, she could hear it too.

“I think the stairs are this way," said a voice in the distance. "It’s the only hallway we haven’t checked.”

That sounded like… Deerling. Espurr immediately broke out into a run, dashing down the hallway and making splashes in the muck behind her. She just stopped herself from calling out to them, in case it was an enemy she hadn’t been aware of.

She slowed to a stop just outside the entrance to the main hall, glancing in the direction she’d heard the noises from. Her eyes widened. She saw all five of the other village children, in a group led by Deerling.

“Espurr!!”

The cry was loud enough to pierce the ears of everymon in the dungeon. Tricky pushed past everymon else and quickly embedded herself into Espurr. “Where were you all this time?” she asked. “We found your bag, and I thought you… were…” Tricky couldn’t go on. Espurr hugged her back. For once, Tricky’s infectious hyperactivity was getting to her.

“Here’s your bag.” Espurr’s bag went sailing through the air and landed in the muck with a splash in front of her. Pancham folded his arms Tricky shuffled away from the bag, shaking some of the water it had kicked up out of her tail, and Espurr picked it up.

Deerling walked forward. Espurr thought she was about to say something, but suddenly Deerling lowered her head and headbutted Espurr right in the chest. Espurr landed in the muck with a splash, too surprised to make her landing graceful. She looked up at Deerling in shock.

“That’s for getting us into this mess.” Deerling flicked an ear indignantly. “Now get up. We…” she looked down. “We need somemon who can get us out of it.”

Espurr rose from her position, pulling her bag back onto her shoulder. It felt good, having that there again.

Riolu finally made his way to the end of the corridor, stumbling to a stop awkwardly and catching his breath. The rest of the children looked at him in alarm.

“This is Riolu,” Espurr said. “He got lost in the dungeon, just like us. We found the way out. It’s only a floor down. The bad news is…”

“There’s a monster after us,” Deerling said. “We know.”

“We didn’t find Watchog,” Shelmet pointed out.

“I say let Watchog rot,” Pancham said dismissively. “We’ll be lucky to get out of this with our own fur, forget his. Besides, we would have found him if he was here.”

That was met with uneasy agreement from everymon else.

“So now what?” Tricky asked, much more chipper than before.

“Now…” Espurr turned back towards the hallway ahead of them. “We look for the way down, and then the way out.”


~\({O})/~

The halls of the Anchorstone were completely different when Espurr and her friends stepped onto its grounds. It almost looked like a whole new floor. Around them, the dungeon settled silently, with only a short rumble or hiss as the new hallways finished slotting into place. Espurr slowly led them down the corridor, being as silent as possible.

The goo on the wall popped once as they continued on, startling Espurr. There was a hole in the center of the wall that led into blackness. But nothing came out of it, so she decided to move on. None of them noticed the eyeless face that silently emerged from the hole to spy on them after they’d passed it. Satisfied, it retreated back in, black goo swarming over to cover it up.

The hallways were perhaps darker than they’d ever been, and Espurr had trouble seeing the way ahead properly. Several times she almost walked straight into a wall. Eventually, she led them into what looked like a large room where all the hallways led. Espurr stopped, unsure of where to go next. Everymon looked around, taking in the sheer number of hallways all around them.

“Now where do we go?” Tricky asked. The walls shifted silently all around them. If Espurr didn’t know better, she would have said the doorways were getting narrower… they were! The doorways had definitely been narrower than they were before, and if she looked carefully she could see them closing up a little. Espurr took a fighting position.

“Get ready to fight,” she said, brandishing her paws. “We aren’t alone in here.” And with that, she fired a mental blast at the wall.

Nyarlathotep abandoned the element of surprise immediately. Goo began to collect in the middle of the floor, assembling itself into Nyarlathotep’s body—

An ember from Tricky sent the lower half of the body reeling back before it could finish building itself.

“Get it!” Everymon rushed forward, ganging up upon the shadow before it could assemble itself completely. Riolu pushed one of its legs out from under it, causing it to stumble forward. Pancham climbed on top of it, beating it over the top with his fists. Shelmet charged forward and stabbed the pointy edge of his shell into its leg. Tricky shot another ember, hitting it in the center. Espurr ran forward and used her mind to pull the shadow’s other leg out from under it. It collapsed completely. Sliggoo unleashed a dragon breath, sending the body sliding back further. Deerling spun around and kicked it with her hind legs.

It fell back against one of the walls, and was silent. Everymon held their breath, watching it lie still for a moment.

“Did… Did we beat it?” Tricky asked hesitantly after a minute. Espurr looked over the shadowy body, studying it intently. She looked at how the goo flowed off the walls and down into its body. And then she realized.

“No,” she said quickly. “It’s just recovering. Let’s finish it off before it has a chance to.” She began to charge another mental blast, aiming it directly at the recovering Nyarlathotep.

But it was too late – Nyarlathotep was up faster than Espurr could blink, and the last of the goo had assembled into the Void Shadow’s monstrous body. Its quills stood alert, and before Espurr could unleash her mind attack it had already charged forward and grabbed her by the throat. Espurr wasn’t having it. She directed her attack directly at its claws instead. The raw power was enough to blow the shadow’s hand temporarily apart, and she slipped back to the ground.

One by one, everymon launched an attack against the shadow. Its arms shot out and whacked Tricky aside. It dodged Riolu, then kicked him into a wall. It took the brunt of Sliggoo’s dragon breaths, walking towards him without any harm. Pancham and Shelmet were both thrown aside. Deerling stepped in to defend Sliggoo, and the shadow began to charge straight for them. One more mental blast sent it careening to the side, and Espurr slid to a stop right where it had been.

She looked at her fallen friends, then straight at Nyarlathotep. She could tend to them later. Right now, there was a bigger priority. Espurr began to approach the Void Shadow once more. She began to charge up an attack, but suddenly a sharp headache struck her. She couldn’t summon the energy to do it.

Nyarlathotep shot up and grabbed Espurr once more, and this time there was no hope of escape. She struggled the best she could, but she wasn’t strong enough to pry herself from Nyarlathotep’s claws.

“Help!” she looked back at all her classmates desperately. None of them would reach her in time, not even Tricky.

Espurr felt Nyarlathotep’s breath on her face. It ruffled her fur, and it smelled of mystery dungeon. Nyarlathotep’s maw opened up, and it spoke in a voice only Espurr could hear:

You are at the brink of death. My shadow shall devour your mortal frame, and you will be doomed to know only blackness forevermore. unless…

Espurr didn’t want to hear whatever the monster had to say to her. Frantically, she began to search for a potential way out. Her headache was waning, but she needed more time to recover.

Once again, I present my offer to you: Leave this body. Return to your old life. Regain your memories. escape death. Do this, and you have my word that you shall not be harmed by my Shadow’s hand. I ask once more: do we have a bargain?

It took everything Espurr had not to accept the offer. She was scared, and tired. Tired of all the mysteries. Tired of the mystery dungeons. Tired of everything. A way out would be everything she’d ever wanted, and it came with the added bonus of not being eaten. But Espurr couldn’t rid herself of the underlying guilt and horror at what she was thinking: Was she really considering it?

Then a cough sounded from behind her. Tricky. The shadow’s head snapped towards it, but Espurr quickly faked a cough herself to draw its attention back. She noticed it was eyeless. It must have been relying on sound smell touch to sense things. She turned her head towards the rest of the children, who were silently rising from the muck. They assembled in the middle of the room wordlessly, taking attack stances. Espurr took the cue, and found that her headache had waned enough for her to begin charging her own attack.

I require an ANSWER.

Nyarlathotep leaned in closer. Espurr stared its eyeless face down.

“I’m sorry. We don’t have a deal,” she said, her face quickly returning to her former smugness. “And you really should know by now: threats don’t work on me.”

With that remark, Espurr blew apart Nyarlathotep’s hands. The monster lunged forward, its jaws clamping shut, but Espurr tumbled to the muck and rolled away from the shadow just in time.

“Now!” she yelled to all the other children, jumping out of the way just in time. Everymon fired their attacks all at once, and they all hit the same target: the center of Nyarlathotep’s chest. It left a hole clean through Nyarlathotep. One that didn’t fill itself in.

Nyarlathotep took a step towards the village children, and all of them balked in fear. But then it stopped. It twitched, then began to tremble. And then it burst into tiny flakes of black goo and ash, that began to rise up into the air until no-mon could see them. And then there was only silence.

Unseen, a single flake of blackness flew behind everymon’s backs, and deeper into the dungeon.

Espurr slowly raised herself from the muck, picking her bag up with her. She rejoined the rest of her classmates, and they all silently continued towards what was now the only hallway left out of the clearing. Just around the corner, there was daylight.

A figure lay slumped down against the wall, fast asleep. Its body was half covered in black goo. Vice-Principal Watchog was slowly roused from his sleep by the sounds of seven children tromping through the muck towards him.

“… Huh?” he muttered. “What are you troublemakers doing… here… blurgh… more mago berries… the good shtuff…”

He was asleep once again.

Espurr and Tricky exchanged looks.

“We’ll just have to carry him out,” Espurr stated. No-mon objected.

Daylight was just around the corner.


~\({O})/~

Music of the week!

Possession
- Nicholas Hooper
 
Last edited:

Starlight Aurate

Ad Jesum per Mariam
Location
Route 123
Partners
  1. mightyena
Hey hey, here for Catnip! Apologies for how late this is; I reviewed the prologue and first 3 chapters to get a gist of the story and a feel for how it goes.

I don't think I have much to give that hasn't already been said by kintsugi, haha. After receiving such a wonderful review from her, this might feel lacking ^_^; But I shall do my best!

Prologue

There are a few inconsistencies throughout the prologue; you firs refer to the body of water as a "river" and then later as a "lake." Saying that the protagonist is distracted by their thirst to be too surprised or take much notice of their fur and paws doesn't strike me as too realistic--if anything, I'd imagine it the opposite way around and that one would be so distracted by their different appearance that the shock would temporarily delay their feeling of thirst.

Using multiple question marks in a row strikes me as more grammatically incorrect than anything--I get that you're trying to display the sense of urgency in the story, and I think that your description displays that very well! I don't think you need extra punctuation, and it takes me out of the story a bit.
extension of the existing sentence, not a new sentence entirely.

As I'm reading the prologue, I get a sense of the "fight or flight" feel--it's only the prologue, so we don't yet know what the story is about or what Espurr is doing there or what her aims are. But she's clearly in danger and just trying to survive, so I think that focusing on external description and her fear works well for you.

Halfway across, she lost her footing, and for one horrifying second she thought that she was going to fall; that every bone in her body would break and then she would be left defenseless as the strange pokemon carried her off to a fate worse than death-

-And then she caught herself with her other foot, resuming her charge to the end of the branch with renewed determination.
Ha, nice allusion to how cats have really good balance.

All of the sudden, Espurr forgot about the mighty oak and the blinding pain in her arm, and began to run for her life.
Might be worth mentioning whether she's been running on two or four legs--up until now, I had imagined her running on all fours like a real life cat, but if her arm is truly in that much pain I imagine she wouldn't want to put more weight on it.

I know you have a lot of reviews for the prologue so I don't want to dwell too much on it. On to Chapter 1!

Chapter 1


The sun shone brightly in her face, and she tried to raise her arms to cover it out of instinct. She then noticed her left arm was in a cast.
Feel like she would've noticed the heaviness or pressing feeling surrounding the arm before seeing it.

The Fennekin is cute! You do a good job of describing he as a hyperactive young kid with her one-sided conversation and constantly asking questions.

“Yep! Totally. We’re taking the looooong way around,” The fox remarked, her eyes straight on the ground. Espurr could see her mental smirk.
This last sentence is interesting! Is it a reference to Espurr's psychic abilities? It makes me think that Tricky is inwardly smirking or being sarcastic but that Espurr can still see it. I like seeing bits of the world like this.

Also, "The" shouldn't be capitalized.

Tricky’s ears quickly lowered at that sentence, and Espurr felt the sudden cloud of negativity e=invade her mind.
Bit of a typo!

Espurr’s attention was drawn back to her cast, and the dull throbbing of her bone that was slowly beginning to become sharper.
This back half of sentence is a bit clunky; you can shorten it to something like: "The dull throbbing of her bone slowly grew sharper," to make it less wordy.

I'm getting a real sense of the ominous forbidding feeling! I think you're capturing the urgency of this situation well.

He was nine! That was… a big kid’s age for sure!
Heck yeah it is!

“In my fifteen flipping years of service… one student has been the very bane of my existence.”
Ooooh not sure it's a good idea for a Vice Principal to use that language in front of students!

A wave of uncomfortable passed passed through the teachers at the mention of dungeon pokemon.
You're missing a noun after "uncomfortable" and you accidentally put "passed" twice.

“Yes, Simipour replied, locking half-closed eyes with Tricky. And unless you’d like me to make it two, I highly suggest rolling with it.”
You're missing quotations after "Yes" and before "And"

If she hadn’t stumbled upon Audino by chance… she might not have survived at all. That was a scary thought.
I'll say!

Espurr glanced over at Tricky, who had somehow fallen asleep mid-meal, the half-eaten celery-stalk resting idly at the foot of her bed. Espurr decided to follow Tricky’s example, and closed her eyes to rest as well.

Then, a moment later, she got up, placed the celery stalk back on the plate, and promptly crashed in the straw bed again.
This was a really cute closing scene <3

This was quite eventful for a first chapter! I think you do a good job of laying out the setting and giving us the tone of the story. I get the idea very early that they're in a quaint village. Because of the limited amount of time Espurr spends out there, we don't get to see much of it or what makes it individual. That isn't necessarily a bad thing, since this chapter was so high-energy throughout and she wouldn't have had much time to really explore her new home, but I don't think you should wait too long to explore your protagonist's thoughts and let us know what she's thinking and feeling throughout this.

The Forbidden Forest really made things take a darker turn. You do a good job of describing the spooky, hostile atmosphere and the fact that the area is actively trying to kill the Pokemon. Those two furfrou seemed pretty scary, especially with rotten bags hanging off of them and seeming rabid. The Principal's comment about a Pokemon having disappeared into the Forbidden Forest added a bit of tension in the otherwise quiet scene with him and Espurr.

It's only the first chapter, but you've definitely put a lot of questions out there and given us stuff to think about!

Chapter 2

"Actually, I was more interested in hearing about you," the yellow pokemon replied, expertly deflecting the question. There was no need to reveal that he had lost the map to a nasty gust of wind early on in the trip, and had spent the rest of the time taking shifty side-routes and bumping into dead ends and mystery dungeons.
Losing a map given by Jirachi seems like a pretty big deal and something that can't be kept secret for long!

Blinded; Ampharos barely jumped out of the way of a large shadowy ball that suddenly flew straight out of thin air. He landed on his feet, only just managing to keep his bearings. That wasn't a Shadow Ball, and Ampharos doubted beheeyem could perform that move naturally anyway. Whatever that was… it was new.

Interesting paragraph! It definitely makes me intrigued as to who these beheeyem are and what they're up to. Two things:
1. The semicolon after "Blinded" should be a comma
2. How can Ampharos tell it's not shadow ball? Your only description is "a large shadowy ball" but that it isn't Shadow Ball. Does it have a certain aura that Ampharos can feel? Does it look different? More description here would be nice.

I feel like you could do with more description overall--I didn't know what form deerling was in or what color she was until you mentioned her pink coat. The Pokemon aren't given much individual descriptions beyond their species names. Even describing their demeanors could be helpful--what did Shelmet look like? Why does Deerling come across as someone who isn't usually wrong? You do a nice job mentioning how Pancham thinks of himself as cool; I'd like to see it extended more to the other Pokemon, as well!

In the distance, Watchog folded his arms triumphantly.
Not sure I'd refer to one side of the classroom as "the distance"--makes it seem like he's far away, like on the other end of a field or something.

A break for recess was given before Watchog's class, and though Espurr didn't see Deerling during that period, she did take notice of the way the other teachers were all mentally preparing themselves for future headaches.
What does that look like? It is a glimpse of Espurr's psychic powers coming into play?

Loved the bit about English being a dead language! It adds nice flavor to your world and gives it a unique touch.

"Trial and error," she replied, stowing the clipboard away in her exploration bag. "You learn quickly where the best spots to sleep on a Lapras' back are once you've tried it a couple of times."
I imagine the times of "error" involved falling into the water :P

"Why, I came to see the sights, of course!" Ampharos replied cheerfully. "Serenity Village is known for its stunning scenery, after all." Ampharos glanced at Tricky's face for a minute to see if she had bought it or not. He was making this all up on the spot, of course. He couldn't reveal his true reasons for travelling to the Village.
I'm not sure if this paragraph is a shift in POV or if it's Espurr using her psychic abilities to see Ampharos's true intentions. Either could be plausible, but since we don't get an exploration of what Espurr's abilities are like beforehand, this comes across as more of a jarring shift than anything.

Reading the next paragraph, I see it's a change in POV--reiterating what kintsugi said about it, you might want to make these a little less jarring, perhaps by preempting them? Or doing a sort of scene break so the audience is prepared for it?

"That… was mega weird," Tricky concluded, after a long, quiet pause.
Ha, I love how his attempts at being subtle and sneaky do not fly with them.

I like Tricky's excitement over the scarves. It definitely strikes me as something a little kid would take a lot of pride and joy in, and it's another nice, concrete detail of who Tricky is and what she likes!

Next to the wagon sat a perfect stone statue of a lucario, posing dramatically for battle. Its back was turned to the pair of explorers, staring up at the sky in horror at something that was no longer there.
Saying that Lucario is posed "dramatically for battle" but is also "staring up at the sky in horror" don't sound like two images that quite go together; I imagine that Lucario would be looking a lot more confident than terrified if it's ready for a fight.

You do a really good job of setting up the lead up that Lucario had turned to stone! I could really feel the tension and sense of "oh no."

The pokemon started towards them unnaturally, its movements like the manipulation of a puppet rather than a living being.
Love this detail.

"Deerling… right? I don't believe we've properly met," she introduced herself. "I'm-"

"Save it," Deerling hissed back. "I'm not in the mood. Go to sleep."
Awww poor Deerling isn't too nice when she's suffering from her itchiness :(

There was certainly a lot going on in this chapter! I might even say too much--this was a lengthy chapter and I think it would've worked just fine splitting it in two. Having shorter chapters might also help with proofreading; I'm someone who definitely struggles with ironing out typos and grammatical errors and I find that putting out things in shorter chunks help.

I definitely feel like we're into the plot--the mysterious shadow Pokemon who turns things into stone and seems to be controlled by something else is definitely intriguing! What is it and why has it been attacking Pokemon?

My favorite (to no surprise, I'm sure) are the snippets you put out about Jirachi--apparently he gives the Expedition Society their maps and has some sort of robots he controls? I thought it was interesting how Archen compared the movement of the shadow Pokemon to one of Jirachi's robots. Makes me wonder what role the Wish Maker has in all of this!

My main critique is Espurr's view. Up until now, I don't much of an idea for what Espurr is feeling. Surely there must be a lot of confusion and distress, what with not remembering anything and being thrust into these dangerous situations. But there isn't much insight as to what is running through her mind. There's certainly a lot happening, so it's understandable that, in those moments, she's acting and not so much reflecting. But if you took a quieter time when she's not so active, perhaps when lying down to sleep or waking up, to go through what she's thinking and feeling, I'd have a better feel for how she's doing in all of this.

Tricky is endearing. I love her hyperactive childishness! She has a lot of character and personality, especially with how she responds to Mr. Watch--I mean, Vice Principal Watchog. I'm hoping we get to see a bit more of Goomy! He seems really cute but so far we've only glimpsed him.

Chapter 3

Archen lay in the room’s sole bed, sound asleep. That was fine. Mawile considered sleep a natural detriment to the activities of the mind, and with the help of chesto berries she had easily built up enough stamina to regulate her sleep to one short period a week. While the other Expedition Society members thought this habit was unhealthy, they couldn’t deny Mawile’s much faster work-rate, and she never had to worry about missing the morning role-call.
Holy crap. I don't know anything about Mawile physiology but that sounds horribly unhealthy.

“Jirachi picked up two pulses of immense teleportation energy on the Pokemon Nexus,” Ampharos explained, mainly so Dedenne wouldn’t needlessly spill the news to the rest of the Society. “Both occurred exactly a week apart, and both landed in this area. Such energy has only ever preceded the arrival of a human, and the arrival of a human has only ever preceded imminent disaster; which I fear we may be on the brink of. That is why it is of the utmost importance to find this human and bring them back to the Society, where we can properly prepare them for the trials they were brought here to face.”
!!!

I wonder if Nuzleaf was chosen to teach Espurr because her psychic attacks can't effect him. Love the kind of character and teacher he is--he's got a distinct accent that makes him appear (in my mind, at least) as a sort of country bumpkin but is very smart and quite a capable teacher!

Espurr lowered her paw disappointedly, gazing up at the blackboard filled with the berry drawings and Unown numerals she couldn’t understand in the least. Perhaps the answer was hidden there. Espurr mentally steamed; frustrated. She wished she could read!
Has she forgotten how after Nuzleaf taught her? It's plausible, I just want to double check.

None of the food had floated like that nut had, and Espurr was beginning to grow tired of the fruitless endeavor.
Love the pun!

Strangely, Espurr couldn’t get a single clue as to Pancham’s true intentions. When talking to other pokemon, Espurr had realized she could gauge their intentions and their emotions by tuning out the background noise and focusing only on their speech, but it wasn’t happening with Pancham. The words flew off his silver tongue flawlessly, and Espurr couldn’t detect a shred of… anything from them. It was like she was being blocked.
Neat! I would liked a glimpse of Espurr's powers sooner!

Espurr had to admit that she didn’t quite fancy the idea of another one of Watchog’s grueling detentions – far less so with what would undoubtedly be a day’s worth of grumbling from Tricky. Even if it was an obvious trap, she was sure she could outsmart Pancham. And they had just gone through a dungeon a couple of days ago… How much could it hurt?
Now this is a side of Espurr we haven't seen before. She hadn't struck me as the kind of Pokemon who felt confident about trying to outsmart others or to think that risking danger was worth getting away from the grumbles of Tricky. I like it, but I think giving us even glimpses of this before (what did she think of Pancham the first few times she saw him? How does she feel around other smart Pokemon like Deerling) would help give us a more solid picture of Espurr and her personality.

Watchog blinked again when he realized the detention card attached to the knapsack read ‘Help Out at Drilbur Coal Mines’ instead of ‘Cleanup Outside Foreboding Forest.’

“Odd…” he glanced at it lopsidedly. “I must have read it wrong.”
Kinda breaks my suspension of disbelief, as that's a pretty big error for him to make.

Tricky led Espurr further down the hall, struggling to move slow enough to for Espurr and the heavy ladder to keep up.
Looks like you've got an extra word in here.

That was why they were so horrified when the espurr and the fennekin grabbed ahold of each other, and jumped into the boarded-up mine shaft.
Was there a hole or something in the boards? This sentence makes me think so, but that would contradict the point of the mine shaft being boarded up if Pokemon could get through it anyway.

I think the mine in general could use more description; I didn't have a clear idea of what it looked like apart from a few tunnels and a number of drilburr. How did the area itself look? Were there many tunnels branching off it? What was the atmosphere like? Mines are a really cool place and you left us off with a great cliffhanger! I'd like to see more to get a better idea of what exactly everything looks like.

I think Espurr's fear in this chapter of getting caught makes sense but it doesn't tie in with the image of her before, where she felt confident enough to prove to Pancham that she could do this.

In General:
I want to echo what kintsugi told you about grammar and to learn from the tips she gave you on punctuation, as it looks like that's your biggest struggle across the chapters (it might be fixed in later chapters, and it's possible I just haven't seen it). Your use of semicolons is egregious, and I have a few examples to point out:

Her right arm was fine, but her left arm; the one she had landed on, hurt like nothing she had ever felt before.
Semicolons should either be for a list or to separate entire clauses (like a period!). The parts of the sentence you have here surrounding the semicolon are incomplete, and would thus be better to have around a comma.

"Happened to be in the area; thought I'd lend a helping hand," Audino replied with just a little crossness in her voice. "Somemon has to look out for the students' health; after all, and it's not going to be you."

"Really?" Watchog folded his arms defensively. "They're just as happy to cause trouble on any other day. The way I see it; this is a useful waste of their energy."

"Oh; you did not just go there…"
This is an example where I felt like the semicolons were a little overbearing; you use four of them in the span of three lines and I only think the first one is used correctly. Commas work just fine in the other areas! They can be their own little beasts to work with, but I think they would serve you well here.

Another area is your use of parentheses, like here:

Espurr hesitantly stole another glance, hoping she hadn’t been spotted (Although; she noted with growing anxiety, if they were here, they most likely knew she was too).
Letters are not capitalized at the beginning of parentheses--they're an extension of the sentence, so "Although" should be lower cased.

It's similar with your use of dashes:
The events of yesterday were beginning to flash through her head again- Her harrowing trip through the woods, the strange pokemon that had chased her…
Letters after dashes aren't capitalized; as with parentheses, they're part of the same sentence, so they stay lowercased. (Dashes are also two hyphens, not just a hyphen and a space.)

Also with colons:
Audino had been right: She did need more rest.
As with dashes and parentheses, letters after colons are not capitalized.

No-one deserved to go through that.
No one is one word.

“As it happens,” Watchog continued, “I didn’t have these students dragged from their beds. Rather; I ran into them on their way back…” he paused for dramatic effect, “…From the Foreboding Forest.”
As with colons and parentheses, it's the same rule with starting again after ellipses: the first letter is not capitalized.

Speaking of ellipses, you use them quite a lot. That's not a bad thing, but it does give a sort of dream-like, dazed quality to scenes.

Your grammar surrounding quotation marks is inconsistent, and I picked out a few examples:

“Yep! Jumped out of a tree to do it, too. Twisted my tail, sprained three of my ankles, and my ear hurts.” the fennekin tried to wag her tail, and cringed in silent pain.
Missing a capital letter.

“See you in class tomorrow. She ignored Tricky. And you…
I think the "She ignored Tricky" part was supposed to be outside of quotations.

“Well, I didn’t see you signing up to help.” Deerling pointed out venomously, staring daggers at Tricky
Since "Deerling pointed out" is a dialogue tag, should have a comma at the end of the dialogue instead of a period.

“And knowing that,” Simipour continued, “What would you then say they were doing in the dungeon?”
"What" would not be capitalized, since it's not beginning a new sentence, just continuing what was already said.

"…I like them," She said, looking up at Tricky."
You've got an extra quotation mark after "Tricky."

"Sleep well, you two." She set her exploration bag near the side, draping cloths over the luminous moss and heading into the clinic's back room for the night. Espurr stared at the tarped mushrooms in interest. Was this what pokemon used for lights at nighttime?"
You've got extra quotation marks at the end.

“Not that they could stop me anyway,She continued, righting herself and resuming her trot alongside Espurr. “but no-mon ever comes in here willingly, so they’ve never had to try!”
I'm picking this sentence out because I think it's a good one to show where you can fix a few things that are throughout your chapters I've read so far:
1. "She" should be lowercased just after the quotations
2. Either put a comma after "Espurr" or, if you're keeping a period, capitalize "but"

Other grammatical typos:
"We happen to be on our way to Pokemon Plaza ourselves," she said
Missing a period after "said"

Al three students glanced up wearily at the pokemon who had greeted them, suddenly straightening up and leaping to their feet when they saw who it was.
All three students


"I have a horribly awful sense of direction." the pokemon tried his best to simplify the sentence.
Missing a capital T

"What is Dungeon Eating." The big blue turtle asked; only half incredulously. He had seen too much of this.
Should be a question mark after "Eating"

The floating nut in the air wavered a little, before Espurr’s concentration pushed it back to a stable spot in midair.
You don't want a comma in front of "before," since "before Espurr's concentration..." wouldn't form a complete sentence on its own. If you take out the comma, the sentence is just fine (y)

And that's all I have! I apologize that this review is only a few chapters and isn't as lengthy or detailed as other reviews you've gotten. This is a solid story across, though. Your characters are strong (love Tricky!!) and you have such cool places for us to explore (a forbidden forest that tries to kill explorers! A village! A mine!!!). I think your prose could use more description or give more of an idea as to how the different characters, especially Espurr, feel. Thanks again for posting this delightful story to the forums, and good luck!!
 

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
I don't think I have much to give that hasn't already been said by kintsugi, haha. After receiving such a wonderful review from her, this might feel lacking ^_^; But I shall do my best!

No worries! You clearly went to a lot of effort and took time out of your busy schedule to write this up. That makes it equal if not better, in my opinion!

I will fully admit that I started writing this with no clue how proper grammar etiquette worked, so I made up my own ruleset and called it a day. I definitely gets better as the chapters go on and I realized my mistakes, but the first nine or so chapters are unfortunately littered with my old grammar mistakes. I am in the slow, slow process of removing them, though, and the grammar/typo snippets helped out a lot!


My favorite (to no surprise, I'm sure) are the snippets you put out about Jirachi--apparently he gives the Expedition Society their maps and has some sort of robots he controls? I thought it was interesting how Archen compared the movement of the shadow Pokemon to one of Jirachi's robots. Makes me wonder what role the Wish Maker has in all of this!

Jirachi's role is actually a canon one - in the source game Jirachi is the Expediton Society's astronomer, but he's a side character who only gets a few scenes. Here, he's their engineer - he designs all their technology and gear and also some other stuff that often doesn't work out so well. I'm looking forward to writing more of him when I get there!

I feel like you could do with more description overall--I didn't know what form deerling was in or what color she was until you mentioned her pink coat. The Pokemon aren't given much individual descriptions beyond their species names. Even describing their demeanors could be helpful--what did Shelmet look like? Why does Deerling come across as someone who isn't usually wrong? You do a nice job mentioning how Pancham thinks of himself as cool; I'd like to see it extended more to the other Pokemon, as well!

Hmm... I think one or two other people have said something similar to me.] I'll keep it in mind for the future!

Holy crap. I don't know anything about Mawile physiology but that sounds horribly unhealthy.

:quag:Yep! She pretends it never catches up with her but it always does.

Reading the next paragraph, I see it's a change in POV--reiterating what kintsugi said about it, you might want to make these a little less jarring, perhaps by preempting them? Or doing a sort of scene break so the audience is prepared for it?

Yeah, the funky POVs are something that gets universally criticized by most everyone. Originally I didn't have any character headers at all - every scene was meant to take place from an omniscient perspective. I quickly got complaints that people couldn't tell who was the main focus of each scene, so I added the character headers, but with the intent that it would be more of "this scene is focused around X character" rather than "this scene is from X character's perspective". I'm wondering if I should put that in an AN at the beginning to be clear, though...

And that's all I have! I apologize that this review is only a few chapters and isn't as lengthy or detailed as other reviews you've gotten. This is a solid story across, though. Your characters are strong (love Tricky!!) and you have such cool places for us to explore (a forbidden forest that tries to kill explorers! A village! A mine!!!). I think your prose could use more description or give more of an idea as to how the different characters, especially Espurr, feel. Thanks again for posting this delightful story to the forums, and good luck!!

Again, no problem! It was a treat to read, and the grammar stuff was helpful! :veelove:
 
Last edited:

Cresselia92

Gym Leader
Pronouns
She/Her/Hers
Partners
  1. ho-oh
  2. custom/sneasel-nyula
Hello there! Here I have with some fresh catnip for your cat main character! :D

Apologies if I didn't reply earlier, but I had a tons of RL stuff I needed to deal with. Anyway, I'm finally here, so without further ado, let's dive into this story" ^^

Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily.

Hmm, I find these sentences a bit awkward. I think they would be better if they were tied by a comma, as in "Slowly coming to, Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily."

The river rushed by not a few feet away from her, just as she’d thought. Espurr fell to her knees, attempting to cup up water in her hands, but it just wasn’t working how she wanted it to. She couldn’t work her fingers as well, and it all fell through her much smaller paws before she could hoist it to her mouth. It took Espurr a minute to recognize that her fingers were much smaller than they should have been (and covered in fur as well), but getting water took priority, or she’d never get around to it. She temporarily ignored whatever was up with her hands in favor of her growing thirst.

Huh. I find her reaction to finding out that she has small paws a bit puzzling. As in, she shrugged off the discovery with nonchalance, without being a little spooked? I feel like having her be temporarily shocked before focusing on the more pressing matter -- the thirst -- would have been more realistic than an "I have paws... meh, whatever, water first".

Would she have to drink from the river with her tongue?

Ah, yes! I like this part, as she shows her struggles and uncertainties with her new body.

From head to toe, grey-purple fur enveloped her body, the only standout features being the white tips of her hands, feet, and floppy ears, and the oversized, pinkish pair of eyes on her face. She stared at it blankly, trying to decide what to make of it. The sight was shocking for sure, but Espurr couldn’t in all honesty say she’d been surprised. She’d had a nasty suspicion of it while drinking her fill of the lake’s water just a minute before.

Wow. She is taking the news... surprisingly well.

The real shock, in Espurr’s mind, came when she tried to recall her name. ‘Espurr’ kept coming up when she asked herself what she was, but… that wasn’t her name. In fact, everything that seemed to be floating in the back of her mind; all her memories, thoughts, fear, doubts… They all slipped away like mirages once she tried to recall them. And the scariest thing was that she never would have noticed if she hadn’t taken a good, hard look at the depths of her mind!

Espurr felt her breathing speed up as she took a shaky step away from the lake, dropping the leaf of water to the ground. Her entire mind was a blank slate! She began to shiver uncontrollably, repressing the urge to release a loud yowl of horror. Had she felt like this often before she woke up here? Had she even existed before then? Did she have parents? How did she remember what parents were?



Anyway, I really like how she starts wondering about other matters regarding her past. Forget what I said earlier about her nonchalance, this is good. (y)


Espurr was roused from her distressed panic by the sound of something deftly moving through the woods behind her. She turned around, quickly scanning the forest for any intruding p… (pokemon, her mind helpfully substituted. Espurr was mildly unnerved, but opted to use it all the same). It took all of four seconds to find them.

Inriguing. So whatever force has dragged Espurr into the new world has added some information inside her brain? That's... something, indeed!

Black sparks began to collect around the strange pokemons’ blinkers, and suddenly a large, shadowy ball materialized out of nowhere and flew straight at Espurr. She barely dove out of the way in time, landing on the ground sideways. She didn’t see what had become of the bush.

Rip bush. :c


Surely the river would have led her to some sort of civilization. Why hadn’t she followed the river?

Maybe because a trio of cone-headed Pokémon had attacked you without even giving a moment to understand what was happening?

It was almost like a solid wall, and Espurr felt an air of evil approach with its presence. It wasn’t safe to travel in this fog.


But how does she know that it isn't safe? While, yes, I probably wouldn't travel in a dark fog, either, but that because I would find that suspicious, not because I knew that it isn't safe. Here, it seems that she knows about the fog despite having amnesia? Granted, it could be another bit of ingrained info she got by the forces that be.

Curled up in a tree branch just large enough to not risk falling from in her sleep, Espurr dreamt horrible dreams of a black void of nothingness. An In Between of nothing but horribly impossible black, and she dreamt of nothing. Because there was nothing to dream of. Nothing to remember, and nothing to fill her dreams. In her addled state, with her mind blank and black as her in between, she somehow understood that. And briefly, in the absence of her dreams, came something else.

Dreamt, dreams, dreamt, dream, dreams, dreams. There are quite a few repetitions here. Maybe you could slip a "nightmare" here and there?

(And "I see you"? That isn't ominous at all!)


Flickering lights of the red, green, and yellow variety lit up the fog right below her tree.

Oh, snap! Not again! D:

Could it be true? Had they given up?

Or maybe they were there by chance? 🤞

The wind that appeared out of nowhere violently ruffled Espurr’s fur. The poor pokemon only had enough time to look in its general direction before she was hit with a strong blast of the foul-smelling gust. It knocked Espurr far off-course, her paws barely missing the branch by a hair’s length before she began the heart-wrenching journey towards the ground.

Crack.

Espurr let out a loud yowl of pain as she hit the ground, rolling to a stop on her side. She picked herself up quickly before anything else could take her by surprise. Her right arm was fine, but her left arm; the one she had landed on, hurt like nothing she had ever felt before. She could barely move it!

This... could be a problem.

An audino quietly picked the herbs and weeds from around a ground-bound bush in the forest, slipping them into her exploring bag.

Audino is a drug-addict confirmed.

Well, this was certainly a very intriguing prologue. It is very similar to the beginning of SMD, which I assume is intentional. Now, to go with Chapter 1!

Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily.

Nice call-back to the beginning!

“Well, that’s why you don’t go jumping out of trees,” Audino retorted, pouring whatever she had gotten into several small leaf-made pouches. “Not to worry,” she continued. “You’ll have company.”

What? Can't we practice bungee jumping without rope here?

“A WEEK?!?!!” the fennekin moaned, like it was her with the longer sentence and not Espurr.

Um, I feel like a "?!" or a "!?" would have sufficed here. I understand the intent behind it, but I find that a bit awkward nonetheless.

“SO-o-o-o-o-o….” the fennekin drew out her single word for as long as possible after making sure Audino had left. “What are you in for?”

“You’re new here,” she piped up just a second later.

“What’s your name?” she asked immediately after that.

“Are you…”

“Hah! There’s no way you’re Ms. Audino’s kid, are you?”

“Wait. Are you?”

“Huh? Are you? Pleaaase tell me!”

“Do I ask too many questions? Some pokemon say I do, but Mr. Farfetch’d says that the worst questions are unasked ones, so I’m going to ask as many as possible!”

“What’s your name? I feel like I’ve asked that one before…”

I admit I got a bit confused here, because I thought Espurr was answering with another question. Perhaps you could put some focus on the body language of the Fennekin while she starts asking questions to her new companion?

But still, haha! I'm amused already! ^^

“A~nyway, I’m out of things to talk about. Did I ask for your name?” she finished. Espurr blinked at the fennekin, flabbergasted.

Pal... you have an Audino called Audino and a Farfetch'd called Farfetch'd. It wouldn't be too weird to have an Espurr called... Wilson. :p


“Yep! Jumped out of a tree to do it, too. Twisted my tail, sprained three of my ankles, and my ear hurts.” the fennekin tried to wag her tail, and cringed in silent pain. “But it was all for a noble cause!” she stated boldly, perking up. “I couldn’t allow a fellow child to suffer in the clutches of the evil Nurse Audino for an entire week!” the fennekin moaned dramatically, attempting to put a paw to her forehead, before wincing at the sudden pain and shoving it back under the ice.

Well, that was kinda extreme. Couldn't you have waited visiting hours or something?

The fennekin cleared her throat dramatically, as if queuing up for a moving performance. “My name is… A secret! But everyone just calls me Tricky, so you can too!” she boldly stared Espurr right in the eye. “Your turn.”

"My name is secret, too. Just call me Espurr."

“Oh wow! I’m healed! I’m finally healed!”

Well, that was fast!

“Is this another one of your shenanigans?” Watchog angrily asked as he marched towards the pair- “What are you doing with that poor student?!!!” he shrieked in horror once he’d gotten close enough to see what was happening. “Put them down right now!!!”

Once again, I find the emphasis with the punctuation a bit weird. Maybe you could attempt to emphasize stuff in this way?


Tricky let Espurr down, dashing out in front of her stiffly. “Guys- You are never gonna believe this- I found Nurse Audino’s kid! Seriously! See?”

Way to jump to conclusions, Tricky!

“See you in class tomorrow. She ignored Tricky. And you…

Missing brackets, unless she literally said "She ignored Tricky." :p

“Ha!” Tricky laughed. “ I laugh in the face of trouble! See?”

Careful. You might get the attention of a trio of Mightyena. Or Beheeyem, in this case.


Sure enough, the pink and yellow pokemon was leisurely hiking up the hill to the school, unawares that the very two pokemon she had told to stay put were watching her at that moment.

I think unaware is supposed to be singular. 🤔

“I’m going in after him!”

“No! You c-can’t! We… we won’t let anything bad happen to you!”

“Like you didn’t let anything bad happen to Goomy?”

There was a scoff, followed by the clip-clop of someone backing away.

“Fine! You two go, then.”

“W-why would we do that? I’m sure he’s fine.”

“Y-yeah, he’s totally fine. And once he brings that paper back, he’ll prove it!”

“He should have been back hours ago!”

Hm? So, this is technically a rewrite of SMD, but with Espurr's point of view? Because this part seems almost verbatim from the game. I don't mind rewrites at all, but I thought it was going to be a prequel of SMD or something like that, considering the fact there is Espurr.

“I am not freaking out over nothing, Pancham!” Deerling exploded at him. “You know that! You all know that! We can’t leave him in there; we can’t have a repeat!”

Oh? Now this is interesting. What is that "repeat"? *inquisitive stare*

Espurr tripped over her own feet again. Sure, the ground was littered with all manner of trip-friendly objects, but she could tell that wasn’t where the problem originated from. It felt like… It felt like her feet weren’t her own.

She looked up at the woods, noticing the utter lack of wind, how the forest seemed to stare down upon them with a thousand evil eyes, the rancid scent that once again filled the air… Something was wrong here.

“The forest doesn’t want us here,” Espurr finally concluded aloud. “I can feel it.”

Very ominous.

“Well, duh.” Tricky was nonplussed. “We’re in a mystery dungeon.” She dismissed it with a wave of her paw. “I should know, I’ve been through, like, 30 of these and come out just fine! You’ll always know you’re in a mystery dungeon when the wind stops blowing, and everything smells bad, and you get that kinda creepy feeling, like somemon’s watching you…”

Hm! I like this detail about dungeons. So they are intentionally malevolent in this setting, huh? It's weird that Espurr gained knowledge about Pokémon and yet she doesn't know what dungeons are... 🤔


“…And you know it’s time to leave once this really thick fog starts creeping in…” Words finally stopped sprinting out of Tricky’s mouth, the fox falling silent as she saw the same thing Espurr was seeing: A thick mass of fog slowly crept between the trees, almost impossible to see through.

“…Exactly like that,” Tricky quietly finished. She suddenly looked a lot more frantic. “Already??” she asked; to no-one in particular. “We were only here for five minutes! How come there’s already fog?!”

Espurr saw the treetops above crackle violently, blown away by a wind that had come out of nowhere.

“Tricky?”

“Yes?” The normally hyperactive fox glanced back at Espurr.

“What happens if you stay in a mystery dungeon for too long?” Espurr asked, her voice wavering with just a hint of fear.

“Well, first, this really freaky wind starts to blow out of nowhere,” Tricky started, ticking it off on her paw. “And it just gets stronger every time it comes back. And if you don’t leave after that, then the dungeon begins to lash out at you itSELF-“

Whoa! So the strong wind is even more dangerous here! Veeery interesting!

And it just got worse the longer he sat there. The fog, the drafts of wind, the scary feeling coming from everywhere… He had heard that there were wild pokemon who lived in mystery dungeons, wild pokemon that would eat you all up for breakfast if they caught you, wild pokemon that had been brainwashed by the Dungeon Wraith and set out as its personal hunting slaves…

Oh? So the wild Pokémon are under the influence of the dungeon. Hmm... I like this take.

A pair of furfrou. They leapt out of the clouds in sync, their eyes vacant and their mouths dripping with drool, both aligned in permanent snarls. Old and rotting exploration bags adorned their backs, filled with the remains of exploring supplies long rotted away. Goomy couldn’t stand it anymore. He broke down in tears before the twin beasts. He was going to become some wild pokemon’s lunch!

Oh my gosh! This sounds like a nightmarish experience for sure.

“I agree,” Simipour replied. “If I recall correctly, You live in the same area as Farfetch’d, correct?”

*you

He opened a drawer below his desk and put the stack of papers in front of them into it.

“The pokemon who chased you last night are known as Beheeyem, and they’ve been sighted several times in the past few days searching for you.” Simipour’s voice lost its airy quality for a more sincere tone. “That is why, for the time being, I strongly implore you to stay within the bounds of this village. I say this out of concern for your own safety, not to put a shackle on your freedom. We don’t need another disappearance on our hands.”

“Disappearance?” Espurr suddenly felt like she wanted to puke. “You mean… someone already disappeared?”

“We’ll discuss that another time.” Simipour closed the drawer and leaned back in his seat. “But, for now, I think it best that you stop allowing such thoughts to clog up your mind, and take kind Nurse Audino up on her offer to let you stay up at the School Clinic.”

Wait... he knows about the Beheeyem?


----


Alright! And here we are, at the end of the review.

So, overall I can say I already like it. It's basically Super Mystery Dungeon, but with a few twists. I wonder if this will diverge in significant ways from the original story and have more unique events, or if it will be "SMD, but Espurr". I wouldn't mind either way, but I really think it would have potential with more unique spins to make the story "less predictable". Still, this is just the beginning, so perhaps you already worked on that in future chapters?

Regarding the prose, it reads nicely, even though it had a few typos here and there (which i have pointed out). The descriptions are relatively simple, but they do their jobs, especially regarding the dangerousness of dungeons and the more upsetting situation. My only gripe is thast I wish we got to see more about how Espurr handled herself with her cast. Like, it would have been interesting to have a part where she struggled to call psychic energies to defend herself from danger, or something like that. As is, she felt a bit too much like a token audience, and it wouldn't have changed much if only Tricky ventured into the dungeon. Kinda felt like missed potential.

The characters, well... they are in-character. Maybe Deerling is a bit more harsh toward "partner" than usual, but overall their personalities match their source material.

And, well... I don't really have much else to say. I'm really curious to see how this story will continue, and whether it will follow the same path or take a detour somewhere.

Keep up the good work, and until next time! ^^
 

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Apologies if I didn't reply earlier, but I had a tons of RL stuff I needed to deal with.

You're earlier than I am!

But how does she know that it isn't safe? While, yes, I probably wouldn't travel in a dark fog, either, but that because I would find that suspicious, not because I knew that it isn't safe. Here, it seems that she knows about the fog despite having amnesia? Granted, it could be another bit of ingrained info she got by the forces that be.

Hmm... the intent here was actually supposed to be that the fog had an objective aura that made anyone around it uneasy/gave out "this is evil" vibes, although I can see how that would be taken subjectively as well.

The characters, well... they are in-character. Maybe Deerling is a bit more harsh toward "partner" than usual, but overall their personalities match their source material.

This is good to know! That was... a really big worry for me.

So, overall I can say I already like it. It's basically Super Mystery Dungeon, but with a few twists. I wonder if this will diverge in significant ways from the original story and have more unique events, or if it will be "SMD, but Espurr". I wouldn't mind either way, but I really think it would have potential with more unique spins to make the story "less predictable". Still, this is just the beginning, so perhaps you already worked on that in future chapters?

Those are both my beginning gimmicks! I wanted to write something derivative that more represented what I saw in the game's arguably wasted narrative, and I wanted to do a character study of Espurr, who was essentially an enigma in the canon game, so this fic is both of those. I think the deviances get clearer from Chapter Two onwards, but arguably it should be obvious from the beginning. I might have to brainstorm ways to make that get through.

Regarding the prose, it reads nicely, even though it had a few typos here and there (which i have pointed out). The descriptions are relatively simple, but they do their jobs, especially regarding the dangerousness of dungeons and the more upsetting situation. My only gripe is thast I wish we got to see more about how Espurr handled herself with her cast. Like, it would have been interesting to have a part where she struggled to call psychic energies to defend herself from danger, or something like that. As is, she felt a bit too much like a token audience, and it wouldn't have changed much if only Tricky ventured into the dungeon. Kinda felt like missed potential.

I think this is another symptom of the slow opening. Espurr definitely gets to experiment with her powers and gains independence from the narrative, but this doesn't start happening in earnest until around the third chapter because I wanted to finish setting up the narrative first. I don't think that's something I can change now, though, unfortunately.
Oh, and the typo spotting was helpful! I don't know how I missed those, because I just edited that chapter about two weeks ago... Failmander.png

Thanks again for writing this all up! It's nice to know what does and doesn't work, since once I finish my rewrites I'm not touching these chapters again unless I absolutely have to.
 
Chapter 25 - What Came After

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter25Art.png
Exclusive: HAPPI moves to instate new Guildmaster, help bring Air Continent back on its feet

"The Rescuer's Guild is vital to the functioning of the Air Continent, and we must do everything in our power to return this pillar of our society to its former greatness," said Sylveon Sparkleglimmer, director of HAPPI. "Cloud Nine will convene in the coming weeks to decide upon a new Guildmaster."

This story was first published on the Cloud Nine News Network.


~\({O})/~

25.

What Came After


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts

~Espurr~

Espurr was rudely deposited into the thick mud of the island that the Ancient Barrow sat on. Tricky quickly followed, then Deerling, then Pancham, and all of the others. Riolu was nowhere to be found.

For a moment, Espurr couldn't see anything. Her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness of the Barrow's hallways, and it took a minute for the morning sun to not feel like it was burning her gaze into oblivion. But slowly, her surroundings became more and more bearable to look at, and everymon on the island was met with the familiar sight of Serenity Village in the distance. All of the village children cheered – Tricky loudest of all. Espurr didn't cheer, but she couldn't help but grin too. It was truly a relief to see the daylight once more.

A loud sputter suddenly came from next to them, sending all the children into silence. Watchog – laying flat on the mud nearby – coughed once, then twice, then sputtered himself awake. He looked one way, then the other. He saw the morning sun. He saw the Ancient Barrow. He saw that he was positively filthy. And most importantly, he saw all six of the village children sitting next to him, suddenly fearful looks on their faces. They were right to be scared.

Watchog suddenly jumped up, pointing an accusing finger in alarm. "You- You-" he sputtered. "What are you kids doing here?!"

No-mon answered him. Several of them looked down at the mud in shame.

"All of you go home!" Watchog cried. "Every single one of you. Go home! And-" he cleared his throat, trying to look dignified at the last second. "If anymon asks, none of this ever happened. Kapeesh?"

"Kapeesh." The answer was unanimous; everymon could agree with that.

"Now scat!" Watchog cried, shooing them all with his arms. All six of them were back on the path to the village faster than Watchog could say 'troublemaker'.


~\({O})/~

Carracosta's House

~Tricky~

"YOU FOOL!"

Carracosta punctuated his outburst with a stomp of his feet against the floor. Tricky cowered in front of him, looking suitably ashamed.

"I have two rules," he boomed. "One. Don't go out after dark. Two. Stay out of mystery dungeons. Last night you broke both."

"Actually, you have three rules—" Tricky piped up, but she was quickly cut off again.

"SILENCE!" Carracosta yelled. "I'm disappointed in you, Tricky. Since you can't seem to follow the rules correctly, you don't need special privileges either. You're grounded for a week."

"Grounded?!" Tricky exclaimed in horror.


~\({O})/~

Pancham's House

~Pancham and Shelmet~

"I swear we can't keep you two in the same room together and expect you to behave," Pancham's mother sighed, scrubbing Shelmet down. He and Pancham were in opposite tubs, facing away from one another as they washed off all the muck that had stuck to them.

"I wish your dad was still here," Pancham heard her mutter as she cleaned off Shelmet's shell. "He'd know how to keep you two in line."


~\({O})/~

Sliggoo's House

~Sliggoo~

"Son, we…" Sliggoo's father, a gallade, said. He sat on a stool in front of Sliggoo, who was silent. "We think it's great that you wanted to evolve, we do," he continued, then trailed off. Clearly the subject made him uncomfortable.

"—We just wish you'd done it while we were there," Sliggoo's mother, a goodra, finished for him.

Awkward silence ensued.


~\({O})/~

Deerling's House

~Deerling~

"Mooooom," Deerling pleaded, all sprawled out on the floor. "Just punish me."

"Why would I?" Deerling's mother asked, genuinely confused. "You've made such a large step forward into becoming independent!"

"I went out of the house after bedtime," Deerling said. "I broke a rule! You're supposed to punish me!"

Sawsbuck deliberately ignored her, humming as she went back to whatever she was doing.

"At least do something!" Deerling cried out. "Put me in my room for the day. Take away my dessert rights. Send me to bed without dinner. Anything works. Just don't tell me you think this is okay. Please."

"Hmm," Deerling's mother hummed. "I think this is the first time I've ever seen a child beg for punishment."

"…That means you're going to punish me?" Deerling asked hopefully.

"Eh," Sawsbuck said, not even looking at Deerling. Deerling blinked once, then twice. She opened her mouth, but then realized arguing was useless. Instead, she stormed off in annoyance.

"Don't headbutt the walls, please!" Sawsbuck yelled after her.


~\({O})/~

Village Square

Espurr walked into the village square, her fur still soggy and drooping from the self-imposed dip in the lake she had taken. She got a few looks from some of the passerby pokemon in the square, but no-mon approached her or said anything. Espurr would have washed it out, but she was just too tired to.

She trudged up to the front door of Audino's house, which she had purposefully left unlocked for herself the night before. She pushed down on the knob. It gave. Still unlocked. Espurr pushed it open with a loud creak, and wearily trudged in.

"Where were you?!"

Espurr looked up in shock – Audino stood right before her, looking at Espurr. "And how did you get so dirty?" she questioned. "What were you doing all night? Explain. Now."

Espurr didn't have an excuse for Audino, and she was too tired to make one. She went with the truth instead.

"We- I was searching for Watchog last night. He hasn't been seen since Thursday."

Audino leaned back against the wall of the house, covering her face with her hands out of frustration.

"Watchog was out of town. He just said so, when he passed by in the square."

Espurr blinked in shock. So that's how it was…

"If you thought he was missing, why didn't you tell an adult?" Audino questioned. "You put yourself in danger!"

"The adults won't understand." Espurr looked up at Audino.

"We won't understand if you never tell us anything," Audino seethed. She sighed. "Just- just go to your room until supper." She was at a loss for anything else to say. Espurr wasn't complaining. She felt tired enough to collapse where she stood. She trudged off to her room, where the bed of straw was still unmade from where she had left it last night. She yawned, shuffled over to the bed, and collapsed with the sun in her eyes.


~\({O})/~

In the village square, a lone riolu dashed out into the sun. He looked around, taking in the bright blue sky and all the passerby pokemon, laughing loudly in joy. His legs shook, his eyes fluttered, and then he slumped over in exhaustion. Several pokemon gasped, and gathered around him in worry.

~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Lively Town

~Mawile~

It was business as usual at the Expedition Society. After the morning briefing, everymon had gone their separate ways, and the building was left deserted all except for Swirlix, Nickit, and Torracat's Team – who had taken an off-day and were instead sparring in the training hall. Mawile could hear the sounds of their battle from one floor above. (This meant they'd carelessly left the door open, but so long as it didn't become a repeat offense Mawile was willing to let it slide.)

Content that things would stay peaceful at least for a little while, Mawile let the door of her office slide to a shut behind her. She had more important things to do right now.

A second sighting of the entities that had caused devastation in Pokemon Plaza meant more than ever that action was required as soon as possible. Mawile wasn't confident in HAPPI's ability to act in time. She'd been pouring over and re-reading dozens of old texts in her miniature library, hoping to find something that she had missed. Something had to rear its head eventually. It wasn't possible that there were no accounts of these beings throughout history. (Or rather – Mawile didn't want to accept the possibility that there was nothing she could do from an administrative position.)

However, days after days of examining every word she could find had run her down – Mawile was relishing the idea of finally moving on from this project. Or at least, getting herself some new material to read over. She walked around the gigantic pile of books and scrolls that lay on the desk. Her eyes settled on an old book that lay on the bottom shelf next to the desk – it hadn't been visible for a while because of an errant pile of books that had blocked it. The sight of the book jogged Mawile's memory: Ampharos had given it to her, claiming he'd negotiated it from Rayquaza, who kept a lot of Human texts and ancient scrolls.

"I couldn't hope to find a use for this," Ampharos had said the day that he'd given it to her. "But when Rayquaza bid that I took something, I grabbed the first thing within reach out of politeness. Perhaps you'll find it useful where I couldn't."

Mawile doubted the answer lay with the Humans of old (as fascinated as she was with them). But at this rate… she reached for the book, and grabbed it from its perch on the shelf. It couldn't hurt.

The text was the unpublished ramblings of a porygon, who had lived long ago at the very start of Pokemon Civilization. Surely a gem, and Mawile was sorry she hadn't opened it earlier. She made a note to visit Rayquaza at a later date and gain his opinions on some of the book's topics.

The passage on the next page made all thoughts of leisurely philosophical debates fly from Mawile's mind:

Humans.

9,000 years dead; 9,000 years our senior. 9,000 years a myth. No-mon has ever seen a human, yet the grounds of this world are replete with the ruins they leave behind. The crumbling remains of their cities, soon to be overgrown for all time. Years upon years of obsessive studying has granted me perhaps the best recollection of what happened to their kind.

The Humans were a warlike species. An ambitious species. Their technology built them towers that scraped the sky. Their wars shook the world and made all others cower in fear. And when the human leaders spoke, everyone listened.

But too much power is never a good thing, and pride always comes before the fall. Slowly, the Humans destroyed their planet. Pollution blotted out the sun, and toxins seeped down into the very ley lines of their Earth. Soon they knew they would all die if nothing was done.

On every continent Humans convened to search for the only answer the Human Leaders could provide: A new world. A new place to colonize and corrupt and build their metal cities over. They soon discovered the stars held no secrets for them, so they began to burrow into the ley lines of Planet Earth. And soon, they drilled a hole straight into Hell.

By the time the Humans realized what they had done it was too late. They were destroyed by the foul creatures that emerged from this hell realm. In a bid for survival, the final remains of their species constructed three seals to cover up their mistake. One on the Water Continent. One on the Sand Continent. One lost to the tides of the sea. If any of these were to break, surely the wrath of hell would be inflicted upon the world again.

I have determined the best we can do is to leave these seals to lie in peace. If, for any reason one should shatter, the signs will make themselves clear. And it will fall to the pokemon of the world to unite and take action, before they are destroyed as well.


Mawile could barely sit still. Thoughts flew through her head at the speed of light – if this wasn't her answer, it was a step in the right direction. Although foul creatures and ancient seals felt a bit fantastical. Mawile pulled out a map of the Sand Continent – the continent most mapped by other cartographers – to investigate.

Immediately, she found what she was looking for. The Sands of Time, an important historical landmark further inland on the Sand Continent, had boggled explorers for decades. Everymon who had entered noted one detail in common – a large, arcane room with what looked like a massive hatch in the middle. A seal by any name. Brimming with excitement, Mawile checked the porygon's text again just to make sure, and then immediately got to work, ignoring the dulled sounds of the battle taking place a floor below. To quote an old Human idiom: she had struck gold!


~\({O})/~

Audino's House

~Espurr~

Espurr had slept through the day, and then the night. It was a dreamless sleep; her mind was too tired to entertain mind boggling fantasies or alien presences encroaching upon her head. Espurr sat up in her bed of straw, glancing at the sunlight pouring in through the window. It felt like she had slept for five minutes.

A loud snoring sound came from beside her, causing her to gasp in fright. She looked to her right, realizing that she now shared the bed with a noisily snoring Riolu. Espurr let out a sigh of relief. At least he had made it back out safe.

There would be no more sleeping with Riolu's noisy snoring habits, so Espurr yawned, stretched, and pulled herself off the bed. Her stomach growled and she felt a bit dizzy, so she devoured an apple in the kitchen. Audino wasn't there. Espurr assumed she was out tending to a doctor's appointment.

For the next ten minutes, she sat around the empty, quiet house. This was her home – she was safe here, right? All the bad memories of the last few weeks flashed through her head – the beheeyem, the gabite, the strange dreams, Nyarlathotep. Would any of the adults understand? Would any of them even believe her? Watchog was the only one who had any reason to believe her, and he was far too pompous to do anything about it. But above all, Espurr knew that she couldn't sit around the house doing nothing all day. She had to take a hike.

Espurr grabbed her dirty exploration bag, donned the scarf caked with mud, and slipped out through the door.

She walked through the village with all its pokemon walking by, but they didn't interest her. She needed to go somewhere quiet. She walked south, until she had outwalked all the houses. The dark visage of the Ancient Barrow demanded her attention. Espurr refused.

She continued to walk south, past the tree where Ampharos had gifted her and Tricky the expedition gadget. She walked past the forest path that led to the treehouse they had all made, and walked until Serenity Village could fit into the palm of her paw. Up ahead, the path led into the Lively Mountain Range, but that wasn't where Espurr was going.

Espurr rooted around in the bushes until she found the fake ones Nuzleaf had set aside that one day. She walked around them, leaving them undisturbed.

Watchog was at the guard post for Revelation Mountain that day. Espurr momentarily stopped in surprise – she hadn't thought about the guards – but then she noticed that he was fast asleep. That simplified things. She crept past him, leaving a trail of muddy pawprints behind her as she scampered up the mountain.

She stopped at a cliff near the base of the mountain, and sat on a ledge. She could see the village from here, as well as all its forested surroundings and the mountain ridge in the distance. It took her back to a time when her largest worry was what place Tricky would drag her off to today… had that really only been a few weeks ago? Espurr let her bag drop next to her, and eventually she laid her head down upon it, staring up at the sky with folded arms.

"I wasn't aware this was where all the kids went when school was out," Principal Simipour said.

Espurr jumped – she hadn't even seen him! She hadn't felt him either. She quickly sat up, looking at him. Simipour took a seat next to her, staring at her with that ever-weary gaze. Espurr cleared her throat?

"…What are you doing here, Principal?" she asked.

"I come here sometimes for an afternoon stroll when Vice Principal Watchog's on duty, Simipour answered. "Adult's privilege. Hmm, now that I think of it, should you be here?"

Espurr Blinked, trying to come up with a good counter for that.

"I'll allow it," Simipour cheerfully shrugged it off before Espurr could say anything. "Why deprive a pokemon of this beautiful view, after all? Just don't make a habit of it."

Espurr still couldn't feel him. She couldn't feel anything on him, which was strange. She knew from Watchog's type matchup class that psychics couldn't perceive the minds of dark-type pokemon, but Simipour was supposed to be a water type… right?

Then she remembered the paper she had snitched from Simipour's office just last night, and she remembered what was on it. It was still in her bag, wasn't it? Disguising it as a causal rummaging through her bag, Espurr zipped it open and sifted through the items until she found what she was looking for. The paper still read, in large words:

MISSING: Beheeyem x3

If found, please contact the Merchants' Guild on the Grass Continent.


Espurr remembered her first night at the school—


~\({O})/~

Simipour opened a drawer below his desk and put the stack of papers in front of them into it.

"The pokemon who chased you last night are known as Beheeyem, and they've been sighted several times in the past few days searching for you." Simipour's voice lost its airy quality for a more sincere tone. "That is why, for the time being, I strongly implore you to stay within the bounds of this village. I say this out of concern for your own safety, not to put a shackle on your freedom. We don't need another disappearance on our hands."


~\({O})/~

That stack of paper had been missing posters. And Simipour had been collecting all of them. For what?

"Is something the matter?" Simipour asked Espurr. Espurr quickly closed her bag so that Simipour wouldn't see what was inside it. She set it aside, and stared him in the eye.

"The night I got here," she said, "You told me that there was another disappearance before me. Who disappeared? And why does no-mon talk about it?"

In an instant, Simipour's posture seemed to change. He slumped over, and his expression became much less cheery.

"So that's how it is…" she heard him mutter. Espurr mentally prepared herself to be on her defense. This didn't look like it was going good places.

"Peer into my mind." Simipour's voice didn't sound anything like Simipour. He had lost his airy voice for something more serious. The sudden change sent chills through Espurr, but she had no choice but to comply – not when the consequences for disobeying her could be far worse.

Not when she was so close to getting her answers.

Espurr took a deep breath, and reached out with her sixth sense. Some of the fog over Simipour's mind had lifted, allowing just enough for a clear path through – what was this? For a moment, their heads merged, and Espurr saw what 'Simipour' had seen.


~\({O})/~

Village Square

Three beheeyem were travelling through town that day, five weeks ago. They brought wares from the Grass Continent – dried berries, roasted insects, the works. It was enough to put Kecleon out of business for the day, but he was an honorable shopkeeper and wouldn't sabotage their business if they travelled out of town by next week.

Simipour didn't remember much of what happened that day. But something else did. Something else – for that brief moment – took complete control. Something else used Simipour's charisma to lead them up to the school and then into the School Forest.

"I…" one of the beheeyem glanced around in confusion. "So what was that thing you wanted to discuss? And why lead us into a mystery dungeon? Are you a robber?"

All three of them took a battle stance, preparing for the worst.

Simipour opened his mouth, and an ungodly voice branded itself upon their brains.

I have a different purpose in mind for youthree.

He raised his arms, which then crackled with energy the color of a void shadow. The beheeyem panicked, abandoning fighting and trying to get a safe distance away. But there were only so many places to go in mystery dungeon.

Cease.

The energy hit all three beheeyem, and they convulsed violently.


~\({O})/~

Simipour never felt his best after that. He did what he could to hide it – the school principal had to be at his best, after all – but his endeavors to hide his sudden weariness failed often. When Audino offered, then insisted that he receive a mental checkup, something in his brain told him it was a bad idea. The same thing in his brain that told him to collect missing posters up around the town. The same thing that told him to keep an eye upon any new arrivals to the village. The same thing that had told him to be here now. Now Simipour had a mission. To kill—

~\({O})/~

Espurr forcefully separated her mind from Simipour's. Something was very wrong; what she had just witnessed told her that. But it was amplified when she saw Simipour's arms, which crackled with the same black energy they had in the memory, and they were closing in around her in a deadly embrace—

Espurr ducked at the last second, rolling out from under Simipour and grabbing her bag. Simipour – or what was controlling him – lunged for Espurr, but she pulled herself out of the way at the last minute. Dashing further in towards the mountain and spinning on her feet, Espurr prepared to blast Simipour off the side of the mountain with her mental powers. Then, she faltered – what was she doing? She didn't want to kill him!

But right now, he wanted to kill her. A concentrated ball of dark energy blasted against the cliff, and Espurr dodged it just in time. The best option here was to run. So, she did.

She ran down the trail, and Simipour bounced after her as fast as his body would take him. He was faster than her – Espurr wasn't even going to make it to the base of the cliff!

Simipour charged another shadow attack, jumping up into the air. And that was when Espurr made her move. She spun around and directed an unfettered mental blast into the air. Simipour was hit midair by the blast, and landed a ways up the cliff. Espurr didn't stay to see where he had gone. By the time 'Simipour' crawled back down to the base of the mountain, there was no sign of her anywhere around.


~\({O})/~

Espurr didn't even bother following the correct path back; she cut straight through the woods and didn't stop until she'd run back into town. She was in such a frenzy that she didn't realize Audino had been walking towards the front door of the house until she bumped right into her.

"Espurr!" Audino turned around, looking at Espurr. "What are you doing?"

"I…" Espurr panted. "I… I need to go…"

"No, you don't!" Audino grabbed Espurr's bag just as she was about to run off, tugging Espurr back at the last minute. "What you need to do is sit down and tell me what's going on."

Despite everything in her brain telling her that nothing was okay now, that she needed to get somewhere safe before Simipour or something else came after her, the clear authority of Audino's voice penetrated Espurr's panic for a minute. Just enough to make her see reason. She stopped struggling against Audino, letting the straps of the bag relax. Audino was right. If there was anything she needed right now, it was help.

"…Alright." Espurr walked back towards Audino, finally regaining some of her earlier composure. "I want to do it inside." She cast a suspicious glance around at all the other pokemon in the square, who were giving them a wide berth by now.


~\({O})/~

The door closed behind them, and Audino directed Espurr towards one of the stools at the table before sitting down at the other end. Neither of them removed their bags.

"Now tell me what's going on."

It was a moment before Espurr had gathered the nerve to say anything, but eventually she took a deep breath, and then spoke in as plain a voice as possible: "I think something's trying to kill me."

Espurr told Audino everything. From waking up in the woods all alone, to the strange dreams, to Ampharos, to Tricky and the beheeyem and what had happened in the Ancient Barrow. By the time she was done, a good portion of the day was already gone.

Audino sat at the table, looking skeptical. It was so fantastical. Monsters from another dimension? Strange dreams? The Expedition Society? Humans? And yet… it all explained so much. Audino's memory flashed back to the Open Pass – why else would those beheeyem have been so fixated on Espurr?

"…Alright. I believe you."

Espurr's eyes lightened up, as if a large burden had been removed from here.

"You do?"

Audino nodded. For a moment, Espurr felt a sense of elation – finally, somemon understood! She was going to get help and answers—

"I'm not allowing you to leave the house anymore."

Espurr's hopes crumbled before her eyes in an instant. A shocked "…What?" was all she could produce.

"All of this-" Audino continued. "Taking things from strangers, going into mystery dungeons, and even disturbing ancient monuments? Of course things are after you! This isn't sensible behavior!"

Espurr blinked. Had nothing she said rubbed off?

"But—" she began, flabberghasted.

"No buts. You're in danger, and you'll be safe in the house. We're going to have a talk later about how you and all the other kids have been behaving."

And with that, Audino got up from her stool, and set her bag on the floor. Espurr sullenly hopped off from her stool, trudging away with her exploration bag on her shoulder—

"I'll be taking that bag too, thank you."

Espurr stopped in her tracks. Audino walked over, and scooped the bag up off Espurr's shoulder. Espurr let her. She looked over her shoulder to see where Audino had stashed it – right next to her own bag – and then trudged off to her room.


~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Lively Town

~Ampharos~

Clack.

It was nighttime, but the shutters were rolled over the windows of the second-floor chamber of the Expedition Society's headquarters anyway. Ampharos placed a connection orb in the indent at the center of the room, and stood back as the Pokemon Nexus rose up out of the floor. Ampharos approached the hexagonal console, and tapped a few buttons into it. A display of a large map shot out of the connection orb and illuminated the wall: this was the Pokemon Nexus' true purpose. Ampharos leaned over the console, and pressed a few more buttons. A red dot appeared upon the map. He made sure to check every night, once he was sure everymon else was asleep.

But something was different tonight. The dot – which had been situated directly in Serenity Vilalge every time Ampharos had checked on it – was now someplace in the Lively Mountain Range. Ampharos tilted his head at it in confusion. Surely that didn't mean what he thought it did.

A door opened to his side, startling Ampharos out of his thoughts. He looked to his left, seeing Mawile swiftly close the door to her office behind her. She looked sleep-worn.

"You didn't sleep."

"I had more pressing matters to take care of."

Mawile joined Ampharos at the Pokemon Nexus.

"Another night mission?" she asked after a minute. Ampharos seemed lost in thought, yet she knew him well enough to tell what he was thinking just from his face.

"A very important one, yes." Ampharos' answer was short and to the point. "I'll have to leave before the break of dawn; I trust you to hold things down until I return?"

Mawile had been hoping to discuss an important matter with him. She prepared to broach the subject, but another glance at Ampharos' face told her that he wasn't open to discussion.

"…I have an important affair I hope to discuss with you when you return," she said instead. "It's concerning recent events."

Ampharos nodded silently, too deep in thought for a proper response. He pressed a final button on the console, and the Pokemon Nexus lowered into slumber once more.

Ampharos dawned his cloak, his bag, and his walking stick, striding out the large doors of the Expedition Society and into the night. His destination: The Lively Mountain Range.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village ~ Nighttime

~Espurr~

Kill.

That night, the large welcome archway that lay above the eastward entrance to Serenity Village went up in flames. It attracted the attention of many of a pokemon, who then went to call for Carracosta (the most formidable water-type in the village).

No-mon noticed the trio of beheeyem that entered from the south. They continued through the houses, looking for the one that lay to the west of the town square.

Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked herself awake, smelling smoke. She sat up in confusion. Riolu was still sleeping, like he had been all day, but even he smelled it. Espurr watched him wrinkle his nose up in disgust.

Only then did she notice that there was light in the room, and it was a flickering, soft orange. One that was coming from the window. Espurr quickly scurried to the window to see what was happening. Approaching the window, she saw the fire, and the large amount of pokemon grouping around it from outside. And from the south side of town, she saw… flickering lights. Red, green, and yellow.

Espurr quickly dashed back from the window. No. This wasn't happening. This was a dream. It had to be. It had to be—

She quickly pressed herself up against the wall next to the window as flickering lights illuminated the room. For a moment, there was silence. Espurr held her breath.

The wooden bars of the window were suddenly blasted off by a psychic force, and Espurr barely resisted the urge to scream. Wood chips landed all over Riolu (though none hurt him). Trying to breath as quietly as possible, Espurr edged over to the end of the room, eyeing the entrance to the hallway. Could she reach it without revealing herself?

A ghostly wind made the already-ripped curtains flutter in the air. A cone-like head emerged through the window, and began to look around. Espurr was caught like a sitting ducklet. There was no escape. It was going to see her, and…

…Why did she care if it saw her? The exit was right there. And just like that, a plan began to form in Espurr's head.

Abandoning stealth, Espurr dashed for the entrance, running into the hallway before the beheeyem could even react. Her bag was at the other end! If she could just—

Something heavy collided with the wall, making a sizeable dent with cracks in it. They were trying to break in! Espurr ran down the hall as fast as she could. The wall couldn't take another hit – it burst into pieces, and the second of the three beheeyem floated into the house.

Espurr finally reached her bag, and picked it up. But the door was suddenly blasted off its hinges, and it caught Espurr on its trip towards the wall.

The door slammed into the table, which slammed into the cupboards with enough force to leave a large dent in all three objects. Espurr was small enough to fit under the table and only got a small dent from the cupboard's handle. And before she knew it, the third beheeyem entered the house.

Espurr frantically searched for any way out. The door? Too risky. Back through the bedroom? Definitely not. Make a hole? Where?

Then she saw the window above the kitchen stove. She was small enough to slink out through the window if she wanted. And those bars looked like they would give really easily. That was her escape route. Now if only she could create enough confusion to make her escape…

The table was suddenly thrown off of her by a beheeyem. Espurr whacked it in the face with her bag. Hard. The beheeyem was sent stumbling back.

She didn't waste time. She crawled up to the window, trying to fit herself through. She fit through, but the bag didn't. She just needed to pull hard enough…

The window-bars finally broke, sending both Espurr and the bag tumbling to the ground. Espurr wasted no time picking herself up and dashing behind a nearby house to catch her breath in peace. She slowly peeked out from behind the wall, looking at the fire in the distance that was being doused. She could see the Beheeyems' flickering lights illuminating the house from the inside. Espurr shouldered her bag, and finally came to a decision:

"Sorry, Riolu."

She ran away through the alley as fast as her legs would take her.


~\({O})/~

Carracosta's House

~Tricky~

Knock~Knock~Knock

There was a rapping upon the wall of Tricky's bedroom. Tricky stirred in her bed, groaning. She had cleaned the entire house from top to bottom as punishment for sneaking out after dark, and she was exhausted.

Knock~Knock~Knock

The rapping came again, and this time Tricky woke up.

"Huh?" she murmured sleepily, then shook herself awake. She smelled the scent of smoke on the air. What was happening?

The knocking on the wall turned out to be Espurr. Tricky looked one way, then the other, then slipped out the window to join Espurr.

"What are you doing here?" she hissed, suddenly wrinkling her nose. "And what's that smell?"

"Fire," Espurr answered hurriedly. "Those beheeyem set something on fire."

"What?" It took Tricky a moment to take that all in.

"The ones from that night at the treehouse," Espurr continued. "They were on those missing posters. Remember? The ones Principal Simipour was keeping?"

Tricky still wasn't fully awake. She nodded the best she could, yawning. "Yeah, I remember."

"He's responsible," Espurr said. Tricky's eyes widened, and Espurr heard her mutter something to the extent of 'holy mystery dungeon' under her breath.

The beheeyem came after me tonight," Espurr continued, in a hurry to say everything. "The house I'm staying in is in shambles. This place isn't safe anymore."

"…Wanna stay at my place?" Tricky offered. "I'm sure Pops will understand—"

"Your place isn't safe," Espurr stressed. "Nowhere is. This entire village… none of it is safe anymore. Not if I'm here." She took a deep breath before saying the rest of what she had to say.

"If I'm here, everymon in this village is in danger. So…" another deep breath. "…I'm leaving. I've still got that map in my bag; I'm heading to Lively Town. Maybe somemon there can help."

That woke Tricky up completely.

"Lively Town…" she muttered, then gasped. "That's where the Expedition Society is! We can get help from them! Just wait-"

Tricky suddenly hopped back into the window of her house before Espurr could say anything to stop her. A moment later, she hopped back out. Espurr quickly checked to make sure that the beheeyem hadn't caught up yet.

"I'm coming too," Tricky stated firmly. "You don't get to be the first one to go the Expedition Society, no-siree!"

Espurr opened her mouth to object, but then thought about it for a minute. If the beheeyem went after her, who else would they go after? And if there was any company she wanted along the way… Tricky was her first pick.

"When do we leave?" Tricky asked, beginning to bounce in excitement.

"As soon as possible," Espurr said.


~\({O})/~

Serenity Village Outskirts

They looped around the south side of the village, until the sign of the now-doused sign was only a small figure in the distance. Espurr checked behind them at every corner, in case the beheeyem had caught on again. But never once did she see the flickering of lights, or hear the faint beeping that suggested they were near.

Soon, they reached the eastward trail into the mountains, shrouded by mist. Espurr took one last look at Serenity Village, which had been her home and her sanctuary for the last three weeks. It had felt like three months. And it had felt like home. For a moment, all Espurr wanted to do was go back to her house and lay in her bed, and talk to all her friends the next day.

But her bed was destroyed, and her house lay in shambles. And all her friends were in danger the longer she stayed. The only thing to do was press forward.

Espurr shouldered her bag, feeling the familiar weight on her shoulders. And then, she turned her gaze away from the village behind them, and continued along with Tricky into the misty mountains ahead.

It was a good night for exploring, anyway.


~\({O})/~

Music of the week!

Obliviate
- Alexandre Desplat
 
Last edited:
Chapter 26 - Interlude The Second: Rejected

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin

Chapter26Art.png
Headline today: Quorum of Cloud Nine to hear appeal against Magnagate Ban

The quorum of Cloud Nine will gather today to hear the appeal against the shutdown on Magnagate Technology. Officially patented by HAPPI in 11031, the company developing it was shuttered and all development was halted only a month after the acquisition. Espeon and Umbreon of Mist, the disgruntled inventors of the technology, sued on grounds of fraudulent conduct but were ruled against by the Quorum. Today’s trial will seek to reverse that ruling.

~ The Lively Town Times

~\({O})/~

26

Interlude the Second

Rejected

~\({O})/~

Cloud Nine Courtroom

~Espeon and Umbreon~

The domed central building on the floating airship of Cloud Nine had a large, double-door arched entrance that led through a pristine hall. The hall led through another pair of massive double doors, into a lofty room of wooden stands and seats that were too pristine to have been used regularly. This was one of the many courtrooms of Cloud Nine, and it was currently filling out with pokemon of all shapes and sizes.

It wasn’t long before the room’s wooden stands and seats were full up, filled with hushed chatter, throat clearing, feather rustling, and an artificial, stuffy silence. Two pokemon sitting together behind one of the two ground-level stands in the front of the room observed the pokemon filing in quietly.

“Weren’t Alexis and Elliot supposed to be sitting on the Quorum for this trial?” Espeon whispered to Umbreon, looking at the five podiums at the far end of the room that stretched over everything else—one for each continent. On the podium marked for Sand, an emboar sat with his hooves clasped. The podium for Grass had an elderly whimsicott, who represented the continent in name only. The one on the inner left, marked for Mist, was empty. “I know we haven’t been on the greatest terms for some years, but they’re the most likely of everymon here to rule for us.”

“They recused themselves a day before,” Umbreon whispered back. “Impartiality reasons.”

“Sounds more like they just didn’t want to see our faces again,” Espeon muttered.

“It’s not like they can put that on a public billboard,” said Umbreon.

The clacking of a wooden gavel sent a wave of silence throughout the courtroom. All heads swiveled towards the five podiums, which were now occupied.

“The court will now come into session,” a ninetales spoke, hopping gracefully onto the centermost podium. His voice carried throughout the room. “Today we hear the appeal of Espeon and Umbreon of Mist, versus the Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute. Are all representatives and parties present?”

Next to Espeon and Umbreon, a scrafty quickly sat up, trying to keep the stack of papers he held in his hand all straight.

“P-present!” he said in a scratchy voice, fumbling the papers into something resembling a clean pile and setting them down on the desk in front of Espeon and Umbreon. “Scrafty of Pokemon Paradise, representing Espeon and Umbreon of Mist!”

“Also present,” came the much smoother voice of a krookadile, standing in front of the opposing seat with his arms folded. “Representing the Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute.”

The double doors behind them suddenly opened with a loud clang, and in walked the pokemon who was supposed to be sitting in that empty stall. The sylveon walked in, letting her cape a shade of eye-catching blue trail on the floor behind her. Sparkleglimmer calmly took a seat behind the stall, staring straight ahead aloofly.

Eyes were once again directed towards the Quorum. The seat the furthest on the right, marked for the Water Continent, remained empty. The one marked for Mist was now occupied by a stern-looking owl pokemon.

“Standing in on this Quorum for Alexis and Elliot of Mist is Noctowl Humphrey of Pokemon Paradise,” Ninetales announced. “The court will now hear the defendants’ appeal.”

Scrafty stepped forward, picking up the papers once again and fumbling with them until he found the right one. After a few seconds of shuffling, he ended up dropping them all over the floor. Muttering an apology, he stooped over to pick them up. Espeon and Umbreon could feel the disdain radiating over from Sparkleglimmer’s side of the court. It wasn’t a good look.

Managing to get all the papers back in his claws, Scrafty stood up straight again. He cleared his throat, and began to read off the one at the top of the stack:

“Five years ago,” he read aloud, reciting a speech Espeon had helped him prepare in advance, “The Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute acquired the rights to patent Magnagate Technology and the company that designed it… under the agreement that they would fund its development. However, less than a month after the acquisition, HAPPI abruptly shuttered the company’s doors, and put the technology under wraps. This court previously ruled in favor of HAPPI on the grounds that the move, while disingenuous, did not violate the contract. This appeal seeks to convince the court that HAPPI should be held responsible for its own disingenuous conduct in regards to a contract that it wrote.”

“If I may,” a smooth voice suddenly cut in, severing Scrafty’s speech before he could properly begin the next segment. Everymon looked over to Sparkleglimmer’s stall, where the sylveon had just spoken. She cleared her throat dantily, then rose to speak.

“While it is true that HAPPI shuttered doors on Magnagate technology development,” she began, “It was not done disingenuously as this appeal claims. The agreement between HAPPI higherups was such that Magnagate technology offered too many liabilities in the wrong paws to be publicly distributed. Imagine the implications of such technology out in the wild. Entire dungeons, vanished. New ones created from thin air. Unlegislated travel on a scale that we have never seen, and opportunities for use as a weapon. I think this quorum would agree that making such technology publicly available is—”

“We’re not asking for it to be publicly available,” Umbreon cut in. “We’re asking for the rights to develop it. Privately. As agreed by our contract.”

“And as this court has previously ruled,” said Sparkleglimmer. “Our contract does not and has never stipulated an indefinite continuation of funding and development after the agreed upon trial period of a month.”

“But that’s disingenuous to the contra—” Espeon seethed.

“Behavior you may perceive to be disingenuous does not hold weight in the face of the law,” Sparkleglimmer cut in. “You have so far failed to present any new evidence or information to sway the minds of this Quorum. I would like to posit that this entire trial has been a waste of many pokemons’ time.”

‘Because you didn’t give us a chance,’ Espeon wanted to growl. Sparkleglimmer had cut them off mid-appeal, and everymon in this court knew it. But not a single pokemon had spoken up.

“Enough,” said Ninetales, stamping the gavel with a tail once more. The room quieted down. “Is there anything else to say?”

“There is,” Umbreon levelly announced, cleanly moving on to the next part of their prepared speech. “Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute proposes the idea that introducing this new technology into the world would be too dangerous to consider. Espeon and I propose the opposite. On Mist and on Sand, entire cities face being swallowed up by expanding mystery dungeons within the next couple of decades. Supply ships from Grass find their journeys around the upper and lower capes of Air more extreme and perilous with each year. Emera mines on Water and Air dig deeper and deeper and find less and less of the precious gemstones that our society runs on. But magnagate technology could solve all of that. With the power to manipulate mystery dungeons, we could create faster travel for the supplies everymon needs, like the crisis on Air. We could mitigate the spread of dungeons, before they swallow up the towns we all live in. We could create controlled dungeons to mine enough emerastones to keep our power needs stable. This technology isn’t just useful, it’s necessary. And we do this world no service by shuttering it.”

“And yet I might remind the court that this still holds no significance to the validity of a contract,” Sparkleglimmer said. “You signed a paper. That paper bound you. There has been no fraud on the part of my company. HAPPI is well within its legal right to use or not use a patented technology as it sees fit. Therefore, your appeal holds no ground. Now either present something of legal significance, or concede to the court.”

And worse, it looked like the court was agreeing. Scattered hushed whispers among the pokemon in the stalls below the quorum filled the room. A gathering that didn’t want to be here, and a quorum that was probably bought off by HAPPI… they’d never had a chance in the first place.

Ninetales sighed.

“All those in favor of ruling towards the defendants?”

Espeon and Umbreon’s hearts sank as they were met with a room of near silence. Only a scant few paws, claws, and fins raised into the air.

“All those in favor of ruling towards the plaintiff?”

Nearly the entire room raised their appendages.

A bang of the gavel. “The court rules, once again, in favor of the Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute,” Ninetales said wearily. A quiet, formal applause filled the room.

~\({O})/~

“HAPPI will extend its offer for a settlement once again,” the krookadile lawyer spoke to Espeon and Umbreon as pokemon filed out of the courtroom. “You’ve dragged this into court twice. Worth seeing some return on your troubles.”

“We don’t need a return,” Espeon spat.

“We’ll consider it and get back to you,” Umbreon cut in.

The krookadile nodded. “The offer stands regardless of when.”

He picked up his briefcase and began to walk off. How did he feel about defending HAPPI? The shades covering his eyes didn’t reveal enough for Umbreon to tell.

“We didn’t even have a fair chance in there,” Espeon seethed as they walked down towards the serene garden sector of Cloud Nine. The sun was beginning to set over the mountains, casting the sky a shade of brilliant orange, and bathing the leaves of the hedges and the futuristic archways in a mystical glow.

“She just walked all over us. Cut us off mid-way, and acted all shady about a contract. Everymon knew it was out of turn and no-mon said anything! That nasty little—Uurrgh!"

"Calm down," Umbreon breathed. They both stopped next to the gate to the gardens, under the shade of a large hedge. Umbreon put his front paws on her shoulders. "Breathe. It's no use getting angry right now."

Espeon closed her eyes and breathed. Slowly, her ears that had been flattened against her head in anger went back up.

“…You're right," she finally said. "I… I shouldn’t be getting this angry."

“We'll keep going,” Umbreon reassured her. “Just because the courts sided with HAPPI doesn’t mean that’s the end. We'll make appointments. Every month. We'll send letters. Sooner or later she'll get tired of it. And that's when we strike."

"She'll never let us have it back," Espeon muttered. "Getting rid of us is like swatting a fly to her. We need something more. Something better."

"Like what?" Umbreon asked.

"The council members,” Espeon said. “Everymon knows she’s paying off half of them to get privileges for her company. We’ll talk to them. Turn them against her.”

"We couldn't get appointments with them," Umbreon reminded her.

"We'll get appointments," Espeon scoffed. "We're the most famous researchers on the entire Mist Continent; there must be something we can use to get there."

The gardens weren't empty. Every so often, a pokemon pushed by them into the hedges, and there were several more loitering about or going on their way in every which direction. Not a single one of them even spared a glance at Espeon or Umbreon. Umbreon sighed. It was too peaceful a sunset to waste worrying about things that were said and done for already.

"Let's worry about this tomorrow," he said. "We're on Cloud Nine- there must be something open."

"I think I saw a fish parlor just below-deck on our way up," Espeon said. "Smelled good."

"let's go there, then." Umbreon began to walk off towards the entrance to below-deck, and after he looked back to make sure she was keeping up, Espeon followed.

~\({O})/~

Director’s Office

~Sparkleglimmer~

The engines of Cloud Nine hummed below deck, several floors down where the maintenance rooms were. Sparkleglimmer sat in her office, sifting through papers on her desk.

Pressing was the matter of the Water Continent Ambassador. He hadn’t appeared at the trial, and the word she’d been trying to keep quiet was that he had recently gone missing out at sea along with his underling and his boat. Primarina was not and had never been honest, and he had his flippers in several different schemes that were netting him and his continent far more wealth than they would or should have had. But his way with words during tense times was a useful skill, and had earned him a fair amount of leeway from Sparkleglimmer—perhaps more than she should have allowed. Maybe somemon he'd gotten on the wrong side of had finally done him in.

Somewhat more pressing was a matter fresh from the printer involving a government ship at Noe Town. It had earned little more than a passing glance from her once she glazed the names; it looked like Alexis and Elliot of Bittercold-slaying fame had taken the job posthaste.

But most urgent was the matter of the entercards. Those frauds from Sand had tried to patent the devices as their own discovery, thinking it was the answer to creating mystery dungeons and easing transportation. They couldn't understand less the true purpose of the entercards.

They didn't need to know.

They didn't need to know what those devices could do; they didn't need to discover the secret upon which all of modern pokemon society had been built. At all costs, Sparkleglimmer needed to keep that secret safe. Both for her, and for the Voice in the back of her head.

~\({O})/~

Music of the week!

A Gift For the Princess
- Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinelli
 
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