• Welcome to Thousand Roads! You're welcome to view discussions or read our stories without registering, but you'll need an account to join in our events, interact with other members, or post one of your own fics. Why not become a member of our community? We'd love to have you!

    Join now!

Homestar!

Mikeposter/Galaxy-Brainer
Location
NorCal
Pronouns
He/Him
Partners
  1. nidoqueen
Hey there! Here for Catnip get hyyyyyype

First off, your prose is very strong and your pacing is great! I'll admit I know very little about the current state of the PMD series, so I have as little of an idea of what is going on as your poor Espurr, but I was able to understand and follow everything! Your foreword immediately established the need-to-know, and the chapter itself covered the rest!

We get thrown into a wild and (seemingly) life-or-death chase almost right off the bat. Your protag has barely enough times to come to terms with being unable to come to terms with themselves, and bam - action! I enjoy your loose-but-enough descriptions, as well as your descriptive narrations of moves without naming them - that's definitely a challenge!

Then smash-cut to an Audino, who gives an unknowing reader a brief catch-up on what a mystery dungeon is, and the difference between 'wildling' Pokémon and Pokémon like herself. I was super thankful for this, but I also am probably not your target audience. I'm personally not entirely sure if now was the right time for that little bit of lore; I think the 'mechanics' of a mystery dungeon's mercurial nature could have simply been alluded to here, and extrapolated on later. The other lore presented fit well, though! The allusions to its corrupting nature, and it even having a bit of a malicious personality, all worked well for me!

I have a few line notes, I'll stick 'em under a spoiler. Thanks for writing this, and have a good one!
just in case she’d need to make an impromptu escape all the sudden.
I noticed quite a few moments like this in Ch. 1, where you would have descriptions of [something] both before and after the something, and both descriptions were pretty much identical.

For me, and for this example, 'impromptu' and 'all the sudden' felt a little redundant. I'd personally drop the latter, and this sentence would work well!

It wasn’t easy to break a pokemon’s bones. Something had done this to her!
This represented the only really fuzzy moment in Ch. 1 for me. An Espurr is a small feline, and without a sense of scale for the tree, I expected her to either instinctively catch herself or tumble and shake it off. I knew she was hit by some attack, but it didn't explicitly seem to me like it was slamming Espurr into the ground.

I had kinda-sorta accepted it when Audino then points this out, and (for me) it raised those questions again: Did the Beheeyem throw her to the ground? If not, why did she break her arm? How tall was that tree?

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
Eyyyyyy I love this sorta fun stuff. I'm also glad that, on some level, Espurr seemed to 'clock' this.
 

Yodakage Kira

A man with a golden gun
Pronouns
he/him
I'm here for Catnip!

That prologue sure was something! It drew me in very well and kept my attention and curiosity going well onto the end. I couldn't help but wonder who this Espurr is, though I'm guessing we'll find something out eventually. With them being chased by mysterious Pokémon, I can't really say that I don't worry for their future. Also ouch, I've never broken a bone before in my entire life yet I cannot imagine just how painful it must be for those that do.

There wasn't really anything wrong with it that I can judge precisely at the moment. For now, it's great. And I will probably be reading more in the meantime!
 
Chapter 28 - Special Episode II: Falling Through Time

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter28Art.png

~\({O})/~

28.

Special Episode II


Falling Through Time

~\({O})/~

Morgue

~Sparkleglimmer~

The humming never left.

Sparkleglimmer sat in the room that was as cold and hard as the slab of rock the body in front of her sat on. She stared at it, like she had been doing for nearly an hour. There were flickers in her brain of horror and fear and shock, and she still felt the flames of the fire and heard them crackle. But all she could do was stare. Stare, and try to process that this was happening and it wasn't a bad dream she was about to wake up from.

Once she started getting sleepy again, she finally registered that she was awake. And Father was never coming back. Her house was gone, her family was gone, everything was gone. Her breathing began to quicken, her eyes burnt, and all of the sudden the ashes that had been the source of her fascination for hours were unbearable to look at.

At some point, she slept. Her mind took her to the burning house again, where she replayed the same horrifying scenario over and over. She didn't know how many times she woke up in between nightmares, only that her sleep was fitful. A pokemon that worked at the morgue woke her up and tried to get her to eat. She refused the food.

Eat.

"I'm not hungry," she mumbled.

You must eat.

"I'm not hungry," she mumbled a little more forcefully.

You must eat.

The Voice in her head was like a broken record. Sparkleglimmer finally snapped.

"Get out of my head," she growled. "Go away."

The Voice went silent, but she could still feel its by-now familiar presence lurking in the back of her head. It had a cold, emotionless edge to it. Everything about it suddenly rubbed Sparkleglimmer the wrong way.

The door to the morgue opened up, letting a flood of light pour into the dark room. A lilligant stepped in, looking at the sylveon on the floor.

"I'm sorry," they said, looking hesitant to disturb her, "but visiting hours are over. I have to ask you to leave now."

Still too shell-shocked to do much, Sparkleglimmer stood up

And viewed the wreckage of the manor she had once called home.

Father's once-beautiful house was a shell of itself against a dull and cloudy backdrop. Walls scorched black as soot had splintered away or burnt to ashes halfway up from the ground. Wreckage and burnt pages of books lay strewn everywhere, and the grand staircase that had once led to the second floor of the house now led to thin air. The place reeked of smoke.

There was nothing left for Sparkleglimmer here. Nothing but smoldering planks of wood, the chill of the cold Mist air, and memories that were now ashes. So she didn't know why she returned. But she did. It was late into the afternoon now, and she had to start thinking about where she was going to go for the night. But instead, she was here.

"I don't know why I listened to you," she found herself mumbling to the only thing that could hear her. "You promised—" her throat caught on the sentence "—you promised I could save my father."

I promised you could save your father's organization.

"But that's not the same as saving him!" she screamed to the void. Her voice echoed through the burnt house and was lost to the breeze.

"You think I can run this?" she asked, barely keeping it together. "You think I can do everything on my own? I can't. I can't!"

You have to.

"Why?" she snarled.

Turn around.

For the first time that day, Sparkleglimmer heeded the advice of the voice in her head, and turned around.

A large galleon sailed towards the harbor, attracting a crowd at the port and immediately catching Eevee's eye. Even from a distance, she recognized the flag that flew from the ship's masts: the badge of the Rescue Federation.

The Rescue Federation? Here? She hadn't seen those ships in nearly a year. Why was one here now?

Then it lined up. They were here, they could only have been here, for one reason.

With only that one thought hanging in her head, Sparkleglimmer took off for the harbor of Noe Town. But she hadn't taken even a few steps before she was already there.

She pushed through pokemon at the harbor, steadily making her way to the docks where the large galleon was docking.

"What are they doing here?" she asked to the pokemon around her. There was too much chaos and noise for anymon to hear here. Pokemon were worried about the ship, not her desperate cries. "What are they doing?"

"Help has arrived!"

A cry sounded from the galleon, followed by a wooden bridge that slammed from the ship's side onto the dock. A tiny ledian made itself visible from the bow of the ship, pulling out an equally tiny scroll and reading off of it.

"In light of the death of the leader of HAPPI, with no apparent living heir to the organization—as stated in clause 19 of our agreement—the Rescue Team Federation will claim rights to the rebuilding and sustaining of this continent and its guilds! We thank you for your co-operation. And remember: Smiles go for miles!"

Gaze upon those responsible for your father's death. They have taken your safety. Your home. Your family. Your town. And soon, they will take your life.

Teams began to march down onto the dock, throwing down supplies and beginning to unload the ship. As they slowly advanced, the crowd drew back to make space.

All Sparkleglimmer wanted to do was make them leave. She wanted to cry out that she was the heir, that they didn't have a right to set a single foot on this town again. It didn't matter how; she'd force them to leave with their own bare paws. They didn't have a right to this continent, they couldn't just barge in here and take over!

But they were. And two more galleons were sailing in on the horizon.

It wasn't a battle she could win; even through the anger and the hurt she was smart enough to see that. As much as she didn't want to, as much as she loathed the idea, she stopped pushing against the crowd, and gradually let them push her back.

She needed to go in the opposite direction.

Father was dead, but the keys to rebuilding HAPPI lay in Pokemon Paradise. And that town lay on the other side of Mist, but the continent could be crossed in three days on foot. Luckily, Sparkleglimmer had some pocket change for quick use. Before the Rescue Federation made it past the docks, she had used her meager savings to buy rations of food for three days and a raggedy cloak for the roads.

There was a twisting pathway that the signs said not to wander off, and the locals to the east said the forest to the west was a giant mystery dungeon. Sparkleglimmer could feel it hum in the air around her, threatening to suck her in if she walked even an inch off the beaten path. But soon she arrived at the gates of Pokemon Paradise, mostly unharmed except for a few rips in the cloak she had made from a potato sack.

The place was sunnier than the grey skies of Noe Town were known for, and the houses looked cleaner too. It was surrounded on all sides by flat, grassy fields that stretched on for at least an hours' travel, and the crowds weren't hardened townsmon but instead sunny tourists looking to sightsee. In the middle of the town square, the statue of a dewott and a pikachu posing heroically had been half-constructed.

Sparkleglimmer stood at the gates, taking the scenery she had never laid eyes upon before in.

She blinked her eyes, and then she was walking through lush hedge gardens.

"I heard about what happened to your father," Alexis, walking beside her, said. He was the picture-perfect personification of the dewott from the statue, though they hadn't captured the air of smugness that hung around him. "I'm sorry for your loss."

"It's hard, Sparkleglimmer said. "But I'm managing. I'm here to follow up on that proposal you sent him. The one about the partnership."

Alexis seemed to brighten up considerably once she said that. "That's to say, you're considering it?"

"I've already considered it. I'm here for fine print."

"Fine print…" Alexis pondered in thought for a minute. "If you'll give us your presence for the night, I can get a contract paper drafted up by the morning."

"Not papers." Sparkleglimmer met his eyes with her own. "I want to know what you want out of this. Tell me why we should partner up."

"I thought I made the terms of the partnership clear when I proposed it, but…" they took a turn at a corner, approaching a two-story house that looked like it had jumped right out of a fairy tale. Alexis stopped to ponder for a moment. "Well, maybe he didn't tell you. Let me show you some designs I have in my office."

Alexis' office was as large as a library. It wasn't as fancy as Father's study had been, but it was nearly twice the size. There were tables everywhere, piled with junk and papers and dust. Alexis led Sparkleglimmer around the maze of junk, to a desk that had something Sparkleglimmer had never seen before: a light that shone completely on its own.

"Interested?" Alexis asked, when he caught Sparkleglimmer looking at it. He walked over, uncovering it so she could see the machinery underneath. "It's something I put together in my spare time. It runs off the power of those crystals you've been digging up. See?"

Wires and metal tubes snaked through the machine, all converging upon a yellow stone that glowed with the same energy of the ones that had come from the island.

"Stuff like this…."Alexis slapped the lamp, making it flicker. "It's cute, but it's child's play. I think we can go bigger. Much bigger."

He shuffled through papers on his desk, pulling out papers and settling them on top of everything else. They were blueprints, detailing immense contraptions Sparkleglimmer had never even seen before.

"I have a vision for the future of the world," Alexis said. "Where with the touch of a button, you can be connected to pokemon on another continent. A future where when the sun goes down, a million lights shining just as bright take their place. Where buildings scrape the skies, and wagons drive themselves. Those were the luxuries that the Humans had. I didn't think it was possible to replicate it here, all their technology's gone. But now, with the power of these stones… The world can truly become a better place."

Sparkleglimmer looked over the papers, trying to make sense of the indecipherable drawings and scrawls all over them. "That's what you believe?"

"Of course. And with your help, we can make the lives of pokemon all over the world better."

An idea struck her.

"Could you make… ships?"

"Ships are possible," Alexis said. He jabbed his paw into one of the blueprints on the table. "I've even got a blueprint for one. It'll just take a while to build."

"How long?"

Alexis leaned back in the chair next to the desk. "Maybe one, two years. After that, they'll come faster."

He jumped up from his chair, suddenly filled with a lot more energy than usual. "Actually, if you come this way, I'll show you some of the other stuff I've been working on…"

Alexis loved to talk, especially about his inventions. He'd built a host of small trinkets already, from the magic light to a small metal fletching that skittered across the room when a switch was flicked, and a strange contraption made for sucking the dust out of hard-to-read places. He had plans for much larger things too, like self-driving carriages and the ships Sparkleglimmer was interested in. His current project was something he was building out of a hollowed-out crystal.

"Frisms are primitive—they can one-time record a message, or a song, or whatever you put in there and play it back," Alexis had explained. "It's like a record back in the Human world. But if I can get it to co-operate with these stones, I might be able to create a small computer."

He was gracious enough to offer her a room for the night, which was just as well, seeing as she didn't have the pocket change to pay for one herself. It was the first time she'd slept on a bed in four days.

Now that it was quiet, she couldn't sleep. She found herself lying awake in the bed, staring up at the ceiling. Everything that had happened was finally settling down in her head. The memories still stung a little, but for now they felt numb.

The voice in her head was quiet, but an ever-present humming took its place.

If she listened hard enough, it almost sounded like thousands and thousands of voices.

In the end, Sparkleglimmer accepted the partnership. Who knew, maybe some of his weirder inventions would become useful in the future. But more than anything, she needed the ships. HAPPI had never had to deal with travel off the Mist Continent, so its fleet was laughably small. If she wanted to stand at the level of the Rescue Federation, she needed ships. Bigger and better ships.

But first, she needed to get rid of some completely different ships. The Voice, always willing to be helpful when it wanted to be, gave her a set of instructions. And that was why, after gaining access to Father's funds from Quagsire's storage in Paradise, she'd contracted a good amount of the more famous rescue teams gathered at Pokemon Paradise to march with her back to Noe Town. Being more famous teams, their rates were high. But HAPPI had enough funds, and she was willing to pay them. She just had to hope the Voice knew what it was doing.

And that was the way she marched back into Noe Town, accompanied by twenty-one pokemon of various shape, size, and species. All the pedestrians on the streets made a wide berth as she led her makeshift army through town. Sparkleglimmer could tell on their faces that none of them knew or recognized her. That would change.

They stopped at the tents. The entire harbor had been occupied by the Rescue Federation at this point, filled with encampments, supplies, and two or three large ships that stood proudly at the docks, with a few more floating in the distance. The fanciest tent was located close to where the harbor met the town, and had a pair of guards standing outside it. They looked bewildered, but stepped forward to greet the twenty-two pokemon anyway.

"State your business," one of them said, trying not to sound like they were still trying to get a grip on the situation.

"I wish to speak to the pokemon in charge," Sparkleglimmer addressed them loudly.

"What for?"

That voice had come from neither of the guards, but rather a rimbombee that buzzed out of the tent. He looked the entourage of rescue teams in front of him up and down.

"Are you the one in charge?" Sparkleglimmer asked.

"I might be. Now state your business here."

"Very well. On my authority as the sole heir of the Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute, I hereby banish all pokemon affiliated with the Rescue Team Federation from these docks. I expect you all out of here by tomorrow."

"What?" asked the rimbombee, suffering what looked like a rare moment of utter bafflement.

"You heard me," said Sparkleglimmer. "Pack up and leave." She produced a few ledgers from her bag. "The necessary papers, if you need proof."

The rimbombee calmly buzzed forward. He snatched the papers out of Suylveon's ribbons, and looked them over. After a second of looking at them, he thrust them rudely back at Sparkleglimmer.

"You'll leave, then?" she said. It wasn't a question so much as a command.

"We could," he said. "Or, consider this scenario. You never showed up here. You never revealed your identity, or demanded we leave. And if you insist that you did, we remove you from the equation."

"You're going to kill me and my bodyguards in front of the entire town?" Sparkleglimmer asked.

They had drawn a crowd by now, a good portion of the pokemon who had been out and about in the first place. That was exactly what she had been counting on. "The townspeople here wouldn't let you set foot on the continent again. And that would permanently scar the Federation's reputation in these parts, wouldn't it?"

Now it was time to see if he called her bluff or not. She didn't mention the many ways that were running through her head of how they could kill her and get away with it, or that she was currently the most scared she had ever been in her life.

He will not. Do as I have instructed.

"Or should I mention that I've already chosen somemon to succeed me, in case I do die?"

That was also a lie.

After a while, it became clear that the rimbombee wasn't going to order her killed, or anything of the sort. By now, there was enough of a crowd that he would have had to slaughter the entire town to cover it up anyway. So he zipped back into his tent with a growl, leaving Sparkleglimmer and all twenty-one of her escorts standing at the beginning of the harbor.

At some point during the day, the Rescue Federation began the process of packing up.

And so, the plan to topple the Rescue Federation began.

The first thing Sparkleglimmer did was cut ties with the Federation completely. They weren't doing anything on the Mist Continent as it was, but there were still some paperwork trails that had to be severed for the Rescue Federation's aid campaign to officially be over.

The second thing Sparkleglimmer did was to get the press running the right stories. For years, Father had practically ignored the news outlets. The Rescue Federation's cronies had dug their claws in deep, so the papers had been running cover-ups for any crimes their teams committed for years. It took some deliberate spending here and there, but soon investigations where being conducted on what had happened in those fifteen years, and stories were surfacing about the atrocities that had been committed in that time. Sparkleglimmer testified about watching pokemon get dragged into the alleyways, and about the murderer who had burnt her house down. Papers about the Rescue Federation's abuse flew from Noe Town to Pokemon Paradise and every settlement in between. As for off-continent? She couldn't say.

The third thing she did was the buying over of the Waterport.

The Waterport had been built out at sea by the Rescuer's Guild on the Air Continent, to handle trade between continents better. Because the Rescuer's Guild was overseen by the Rescue Federation, Sparkleglimmer couldn't buy it up-front. So instead, she went backdoors.

"I do business with about all the large cargo ships and merchants coming in and out of the port," a Primarina said. "What do you need?"

"Do you do… blacklists?" Sparkleglimmer asked.

"Blacklists?" Primarina asked. "What kind of blacklists?"

"Blacklists on a single product," Sparkleglimmer said. She pulled one of the stones out of her cloak's pocket, showing it to Primarina. "I'm sure you're familiar with these stones by now."

"That's a pretty big product," Primarina said. "Who are you blacklisting?"

"A continent," Sparkleglimmer said nonchalantly. "The Grass Continent, to be specific."

"An entire continent?" Primarina asked, baffled. "That's ridiculous." He shook his head in incredulity. "I can't. That's not feasible. Sorry."

Now what? Sparkleglimmer addressed the Voice silently. You said this would work.

It shall. Say as I instruct you.

"Let me put it this way," Sparkleglimmer said after a bit of a pause. "You're more like an enforcer. Let HAPPI handle the legal papers. All you have to do is make sure things are working down here. You'll have the help of my entire organization, plus legal protection if you ever do get into a scrape. And I pay well. All you have to do is sign right here…"

The piece of paper Primarina signed gave Sparkleglimmer such a level of control over trade in the Waterport that she may as well have owned it.

A week after that, the Mist Continent shut off all trade with Grass. With his knowledge of where all the underground operations were, Primarina cracked down on any transactions that took place in secret. There were gaps, but the gaps were small. The number of z-crystals that made their way into Grass were a negligible amount.

It was soon after that that the first fruits of Alexis' inventions began to show themselves.

"This," he said, delicately holding a sky-blue orb that captured the sunlight, "is what I call a connection orb. Using the combined power of the frism and your wonderful crystals, it can record, connect, and transmit information to any other orb it's been authorized to interface with. What you used to need a psychic to do, you can now do right out of your own bag."

The dirt streets of Noe Town were paved over with rocks, and magic lights lit the fog at night. Where Father's manor had used to stand, a headquarters for HAPPI was built. Ships were coming soon, Alexis promised. One way or another.

Sparkleglimmer wasn't sure when the skies had disappeared. One moment she was staring at the ever-present gloomy clouds of Noe Town, and the next she was in a well-lit study with a large observational window in place of a wall. Outside, the many turrets and spires of Pokemon Plaza were visible.

"So," Wartortle said, slurping a cup of green tea. He had always had a taste for tea. "Tell me: why do you want to do business with us?"

The office around them was spartan and cluttered at the same time. Stacks of books and paperwork almost as tall as Wartortle was littered the room, but the only pieces of furniture were the shelves against the wall and a couple of bean bags they were currently sitting on.

"I'm sure you know your contract with the Rescue Federation expires within the next two years," Sparkleglimmer said.

"And you want the Rescuer's Guild to move under your management instead." Another slurp of tea. Wartortle's eyes were piercing.

"Exactly."

A third, obnoxiously long and slurpy sip of tea. Wartortle put the empty cup down, dangerously close to a stack of paperwork next to him. "You're right: our contract with the Rescue Federation expires soon. But why do you want to buy us. This is about your feud with the Federation, yes?

"Don't fret," he added after noticing the brief crack in Sparkleglimmer's poker face. "It's basically public information by now." He picked up the cup and tossed it back for a final sip, but it was empty. Wartortle inspected it with a melancholy specific to tea drinkers, then put it back.

"Do you trust the Rescue Federation, then?" Sparkleglimmer asked. "After everything you've heard in the papers?"

"Wartortle got up from his bean bag, picking up the empty cup with him. He stretched, then began to walk for the door. "By moral standards? I can't say that I do. But I can trust that the Rescue Federation will keep our guild afloat where it counts: our funds."

"You can trust us, too."

Wartortle stopped, halfway out the door. He looked back. "So tell me why we should move over. What does the Guild get from joining HAPPI that the Rescue Federation can't provide us with?"

"Z-crystals," Sparkleglimmer answered promptly. "We manufacture them. We control where they go. We can bring them here. And…"

"And if Z-crystals aren't a deciding factor?" Wartortle clasped his cup between his stubby hands, staring at Sparkleglimmer promptingly.

"Trust," Sparkleglimmer finished. She got up from the bean bag she was sitting on, walking over to Wartortle. "You'll get an organizer you can trust, and not just financially."

"But how do I know I'll be able to continue trusting you?" Wartortle said.

"I'm not sure what you mean," Sparkleglimmer replied.

"Which once again prompts the question," Wartortle continued. "Why do you want to buy us."

"Because the Air Continent is a significant resource, and it would be beneficial for HAPPI to control," Sparkleglimmer said in a perfectly rehearsed voice.

"And that's all it is?"

"That's the leading factor."

"But surely if you're an employer we can trust, you can trust us to reveal your full reasoning for wanting to buy us."

"I've given you the reasoning that's relevant."

"You indeed have," Wartortle agreed.

He let out a cough, looking down at the cup in his hands for good measure. "Heavens, I think I need some more tea… You'll have to humor me while I step out for a cup. This dry winter air…"

Sparkleglimmer watched him as he went, nonplussed.

In the end, the Rescuer's Guild declined to comment on her offer.

She blinked, and suddenly she was in a different office, seeing and feeling through the eyes of somemon else. Her thoughts slurred together with the consciousness of another, and for a moment she ceased to be herself.

"Ridiculous!"

Empoleon of the Rescue Federation seethed in his office. On his desk was a bright yellow scarf, the kind that would make a tight bandanna but would go nicely around a limb or ear.

"They're making you wear these any time you enter the Waterport?" he half asked, half shouted. The uneasy raichu before him nodded but couldn't bring himself to be completely calm.

"On whose authority?" he asked. "We own the port!"

"It's the merchants, sir," Raichu explained. They won't do business at the Waterport if they don't get their way on this."

"Then cut them off!" Empoleon roared. "We need to make an example that this kind of thing isn't tolerated.

"B-but sir—" the raichu began.

"NOW!"

"It's all the large sellers!"

That made Empoleon stop for a moment.

"Repeat that for me, please?" he asked, his tone finally settling into something that wasn't a yell.

"If we cut off every buyer that's making Grass Continent pokemon wear these, we'll lose every big merchant we've got."

"How is that possible?"

"Terms of their supplier, sir."

"What supplier?!"

"That rescue organization on the Mist Continent. 'Happy' or something, I don't… remember the name…"

Empoleon growled. He marched back to his desk, brashly waving the raichu out with a flipper.

He cursed the day he'd signed the papers to help bring that wretched organization back to its feet. Not only had his plan to subsume it failed, it had backfired straight in his face. To think that this was going on right now, in the trading port he owned…

There were papers on his desk, newspapers from the Mist Continent. One of them told a story about the sylveon running HAPPI.

She is the head of the snake.

She was the head of the snake.

She'll stop at nothing to pry everything you have from your flippers.

She'd stop at nothing to pry everything he had from his flippers.

If he wanted the Federation to stay afloat, it was looking more and more like the only option was to cut the head clean off the shoulders.

Back to the fields of Mist, and Sparkleglimmer was herself again.

It was summer now, just three months later. And though the breeze was still frigid and the sky was grey, plains of grass grew outside the cluster of slowly rising buildings that was Pokemon Paradise. Sparkleglimmer walked down the dirt path, following Alexis.

"I've set up a crew to march down to Noe Town and begin construction on those ships you were asking for," Alexis said. "They have to be built on the water, so there isn't another way to do it."

"How long do you expect until they'll be finished?" Sparkleglimmer asked.

"Now that the blueprints and testing are out of the way, maybe three or four months?" Alexis replied. "You'll have them before winter."

"Good to hear," Sparkleglimmer said.

"But wait, there's more!" Alexis exclaimed with glee. "You haven't seen what I've really been building. This is the thing that'll make ships an afterthought." He quickened his pace, gesturing Sparkleglimmer along as he walked. She went as fast as she cared to.

Out on the plains, a scaffolding structure almost as large as Pokemon Paradise stood. Inside, Sparkleglimmer could see the beginnings of something large being constructed within its confines. Magic lights shone on it from all sides, allowing the ant-like dots that were pokemon to work at it from various angles. Even from a mile off, it dwarfed the both of them.

"What is it?" she asked.

"Tell me," Alexis said. "Have you ever wanted to fly?"

"Fly?" Sparkleglimmer asked. "Not really."

Her aspirations were firmly on the ground.

Alexis was quiet for a moment. Probably recalibrating where he wanted to go with his speech, Sparkleglimmer noted.

"Back before I came… 'here'," Alexis began, "I was an engineer in the Human world. I created blueprints for things, solved problems with existing things, and put together new things entirely. My dream was to create something new, something their world had never seen before. But before I could finish, I ended up here.

"I've created a lot of things here," he continued. "As self-absorbed as it sounds, I consider myself the bastion of advancement in this world. And my biggest achievement is going to be making pokemon fly without wings. I'm thinking of calling it 'Cloud Nine'. It means euphoria, the pinnacle of happiness. That's how I'll feel when it takes off towards the skies for the first time. It'll fly and fly forever, and it won't come down. Not until the end of the world."

Alexis looked at Sparkleglimmer. "Your organization can be the first in the world to ever own an airship."

An airship… Even if she didn't care for flight, the idea of owning something no other organization would ever have sounded appealing.

"I'll think on it," Sparkleglimmer said. "If the ships go well, expect our full support going forward."

The fields slurred together, everything around her becoming abstract colors. When they reformed, she didn't seem to have a body. Her essence was in the air, watching everything below.

Or reliving the account of somemon who had watched everything below. As she sunk more and more into it, she became less of herself again.

"Ship approaching!"

These were dangerous waters. The mist was thick here, and jagged rocks lay just out of sight, waiting to punch dangerous holes in the Copperjah's hull if they veered too close to any of the small islands sitting in the fog. The deck of the ship bustled with 'mon who had abandoned many of their tasks and were currently trying to see what was approaching them through the mist.

As vast a ship as the Copperjah was, the cries could still be heard in Empoleon's office. This was a dangerous route as is, but they had chosen it because traffic through the area was nonexistent. The best case scenario said it was just another one of their supply vessels taking a shortcut, but if it were pirates, or something worse?

"I've got a read on the ship!"

The cries echoed through the deck and into his cabin once more.

"It's a HAPPI vessel!"

"Give her a wide berth!"

The creaking of floorboards, and all of Empoleon's office tilted just the slightest bit as the ship began to veer left. The inkwell he'd been writing with slid to the other side of the desk with a clatter. It was a messy turn, but Empoleon wasn't concerned with that right now. He walked to the right-hand window, looking at the blankets of fog that sat in the distance. It was time to see for himself just what these futuristic HAPPI vessels looked like in the flesh.

Sure enough, the stern, black hull of the passing vessel appeared through the mist. And just like he'd suspected, images couldn't compare. The ship looked nothing like a proper ship did. The narrow, stern hull glistened black like it was made of iron, and it lacked sails. Instead, the water churned hectically under it, as if something underneath the ship was propelling it forward. A white icebreaker in the shape of an aggron's skull pushed away and broke rocks as the ship went. It made a slow bank away from the Copperjah, heading straight into the mist where the jagged rocks and the uncharted islands were.

Empoleon had no knowledge of any HAPPI dealings that involved going to strange islands, nor had he ever seen a ship that dared to venture into a death trap like the thick mist. But just now, all that had changed. And then, watching the stern of the pitch-black, alien vessel slowly fade away into the mist, he finally realized just how much the world was changing underneath his very feet.

When Sparkleglimmer finally regained herself again, she found herself propelled into another memory, one with a single leading and overpowering thought.

It had to be said: Sparkleglimmer enjoyed Pokemon Paradise.

The many artificial lights of the city burned bright against the beauty of the setting arctic sun. There were buildings now that stretched above three stories, four, even five. For all of his hubris, Alexis proved himself a brilliant architect.

Her being as powerful a pokemon as she was meant there wasn't time for fooling around like the average 'mon would have had. She always arrived a day early when she came to this city, though. It had become a bustling epicenter of every technological advancement, rare merchant wares, and hopeful inventers who came to try out their new innovations and gadgets for public use. On the south side of town, they were even building a HAPPI center to help facilitate the advancement of rescue teams for the city.

A pair of escorts followed her around town. It wasn't subtle, but they stayed in the background for the most part. Sparkleglimmer took a tour of all the shops, sampling rare delicacies and browsing expensive fabrics.

"How do you like it?" The owner of Torracat's Tailory, an incineroar, asked as she browsed a selection of fancy cloaks. She had picked out a teal-colored one, fitted with rims of solid gold and encrusted with red rubies. "It's a rare fabric from the Air Continent. They make it with spinerak silk, then dye it with the pigments of flowers. Would you care to try it on?"

The cloak was pricey, but Sparkleglimmer bought it all the same. The Rescuer's Guild had finally outlived their contract, and she was to attend a final meeting to see if they'd reconsider her offer to sell out to HAPPI. Perhaps if she showed up in something made on the continent she planned to purchase, it would buy her points with the locals.

Alexis had asked her to Paradise to attend the ceremony of Cloud Nine's first launch. As the main benefactor of his advancements, he thought that she should be present at the launch. There were still a few more days before she met with the Rescuer's Guild, so there wasn't much of a schedule conflict.

She dined at Swanna Inn, which had grown much larger than it had been the last time she had been here. The prices were high, too – she had often heard about Swanna Inn's outrageous rates, but it didn't really set in until she viewed the price tag herself. Not that it was anything more than a drop in the bucket for her, of course.

The bed was worth the price. The food, made by chefs who didn't look like they were being paid enough, debatably wasn't.

It was only in beds at night now that her thoughts ate her. During the day, she could distract herself with the mundane affairs of running HAPPI and the shallow delights of the city, but the nights were quiet. She was left alone to reminisce with herself. Sometimes she almost wished there were loud noises happening outside for her to focus on, like there had been back when Father's manor still stood. Noe Town was too fancy for that now, though, and this many floors up Swanna Inn was silent.

When her thoughts left her and her head went quiet, the voices came. She heard them in her dreams, and she sometimes caught them when everything was quiet and she was lost deep in thought. She never understood what they were saying; it was all spoken in a language ancient and lost on her ears. But she knew what they sounded like. Grating, harsh whispers that overlapped and hissed and snarled.

And she could hear them now.

The clapping of fins roused Sparkleglimmer from her thoughts.

She was standing backstage now, in broad daylight. The teal cloak she'd purchased yesterday and wore now went all the way down to the ground, but stopped just high enough that it wouldn't get dragged in the mud. She'd gotten some boots to go along with them, since they matched the color and paved roads had made her averse to dirt. She remembered where she was: In the distant fields behind her stood the massive supports that carried Alexis' Cloud Nine. It was a mile away, and yet it still looked incredibly sizeable.

"Are you with us?" A dewgong asked, looking up at Sparkleglimmer. "The launch is beginning soon. Alexis sent for you onstage."

With only one last glance at the massive airship in the fields, Sparkleglimmer nodded. The buzzing in her head had grown stronger, and she'd been zoning out most of the day. "Tell him I'll be there promptly."

Promptly was only a minute—things moved fast backstage, and it was only five minutes to noon. Sparkleglimmer could hear lively music playing as she walked towards the curtain of the main deck, the final remnants of a celebration that was now ending. She walked through the curtain and out onto a stage surveying a grand number of pokemon from Paradise. The crowd ended in a far-off place that wasn't at the city gates, but still hard for her to see anyway. There were never this many pokemon in Noe Town.

The music died down once she took her place next to Alexis on the stage. Alexis' partner was here too—a bouncy-looking Pikachu who was waving boldly to the crowd. Even so, somehow Sparkleglimmer could tell he wasn't very comfortable with stages.

As silence overtook the crowd, Alexis stepped forward. The dewott cleared his throat, and then began to speak.

"Over the years, Pokemon Paradise has been lots of things. It was once a dream between two pokemon to make what used to be a barren wasteland a better place. Then it became a haven for lost pokemon, who went on to make their lives a better place. And now it is a mighty city, whose wealth and technological advancements make the entire world a better place!"

Cheers rang out across the crowd, and Alexis basked in the applause.

"And now, we will make the skies a better place. We in Pokemon Paradise are about to accomplish something never seen before. The machine you see in the distance there—" he gestured to Cloud Nine behind him "—Is about to become the first mon-made vehicle to fly. Imagine! A ground beneath your feet, hundreds of meters in the air! To fly like a bird, without even setting foot off the ground! That is what three hundred lucky pokemon aboard Cloud Nine are about to experience."

A large, mechanical timer above the stage activated. It began to count down from a minute.

60. 59. 58.

"In exactly one minute, you will watch our marvel of creation defy gravity!"

Sparkleglimmer would have listened to the rest of the speech, but suddenly the buzzing in her head became too much for her to cope with. She flinched, then tried to stop herself from falling over in pain from the sudden headache. Not on the stage. Not where she'd show the public weakness.

45. 44. 43.

All of a sudden, the voices were back. They were louder than ever, and the experience was disorienting. She could barely keep her balance over it. Then one voice overpowered the others, and it spoke directly to her.

Someone is here to kill you.

Sparkleglimmer stumbled and had to grab onto something for support. She knew she had attracted the concern of Alexis' partner, but she didn't bother with that right now. Instead, she worked herself back up to the point where she was standing again. She surveyed the crowd, looking for anything that could be off. She saw nothing, but the Voice had never been wrong.

33. 32. 31.

"Who?" she managed to snarl under her breath.

Look to the near left corner.

Sparkleglimmer followed the voice's instructions. It couldn't be caught if you weren't looking for it, but a patch of thin air in the southwest side of the crowd was shimmering in a strange way. It was making its way towards the stage with a speed that was alarming. Sparkleglimmer realized what it was immediately: the illusion of a zoroark. An expertly crafted one, but the chaos of the crowd was too much for even the best trickster to imitate.

15. 14. 13. Sparkleglimmer followed it from the corner of her eye, but she pretended not to see it.

Claws suddenly lunged for her throat, only becoming visible seconds from the strike, but seconds were enough. Sparkleglimmer managed to step out of the way in time, pulling the assassin down to the ground. The zoroark hit the ground of the stage hard, the momentary shock jarring him out of his illusion for just a second. Screams and cries came from the crowd, who had just witnessed a pokemon appear out of thin air and crash down on the stage. In the distance, Cloud Nine rocketed up into the skies with a boom, but no-mon was paying attention.

Sparkleglimmer's escorts, standing just off the stage, ran over and began to restrain the zoroark—

A completely different pair of guards sat the zoroark down in a chair, his claws caged behind his back. They were in the drab walls of what Sparkleglimmer assumed to be an interrogation room now, and she was sitting on the other side of the table. She remembered what she had been told before she went in there against everymon's wishes – 'He's dangerous, don't trust your eyes or ears.' She knew full well the dangers of a zoroark, and had insisted she be able to view him anyway. She would be able to pry away the answers she needed, the ones that normal pokemon couldn't.

"You've got nerve, coming all the way here," the zoroark grinned, as the doors closed behind the guards. "Didn't I just try to kill you?"

"I need answers," said Sparkleglimmer, sitting on the other side of the table. "Who were your targets at the festival?"

"Shouldn't that be obvious?"

"Who sent you?" Sparkleglimmer pressed on.

"I keep my clients confidential. Otherwise no-mon would hire me."

"I have ways of extracting that information," Sparkleglimmer said. "I'm just asking you nicely first."

"And how are you going to do that?" The zoroark asked, mirthful. He flicked his head in the direction of the pokemon observing them outside the room. "They couldn't, and they were trained for this. You're just a priss who's never dealt with anymon like me."

Sparkleglimmer ignored his words. She leaned forward, and placed a ribbon on his head. A few black sparks flickered out of her ribbon, and the air around the zoroark's head began to hum. It was only seconds before he was in a relaxed, only half-conscious state. Perfect.

"Let's try again," she breathed in his ear. "Who were your targets?"

The zoroark answered like he was asleep.

"You. The dewott and the pikachu. Anymon who interfered."

"Why at the festival?"

"Client wanted to make a public outburst. It was the easiest way."

"And who was your client?"

The zoroark didn't answer that one. Even in the state she had him in, he was still tight-lipped. Even through the fog of anger in her head, she had to admit that amount of devotion was admirable. But it wouldn't be enough.

"Who was your client?" she pressed on. The power in her ribbons intensified, sending him as deep as it was safe to go.

The zoroark grit his teeth, letting out a sudden snarl that startled everymon outside the room. Sparkleglimmer's first instinct was to jump back, but she kept the ribbons on his head. She was so close. She wasn't going to let a few scary noises stop her now.

Finally, he broke.

"Empoleon," he said, in a voice so strained and determined not to speak that only Sparkleglimmer could hear. "Of the Rescue Federation."

Sparkleglimmer's ribbons left the zoroark's head and went to her cloak.

She stood outside the interrogation room now, and the zoroark was being wheeled away back to his cell. But she couldn't care less about him right now. What she cared about was that she finally had proof. She had always known deep down that the Rescue Federation had been behind everything that had happened up to this point, but she didn't have anything to prove it. Now she did, and all the hate that been building up in the back of her head for years finally had a proper target. And she didn't know what she was going to do with that power.

For the first time in a long, long while, she was realizing she need somemon to lean on, somemon to consult, and she didn't have one. She didn't have anymon like that, and she hadn't for a long time. Except one.

"What should I do?" she found herself asking the one entity she had always been able to confide in all these years: The voice in her head.

What do you think you should do?

Of course, it was kicked right back into her ballpark. Because the Voice had never been one for confiding in, only solving problems.

But maybe solving a problem was what she needed right now.

And for what felt like the first time in a long, long while, the humming in her head stilled. Enough for her to think and hyperfocus.

You need a solution to your dilemma. Do you think the Rescue Federation will permit you to continue living, when you pose such a threat to their very existence?

No. By now it seemed clear: There was no option for peace. The Rescue Federation had fired its shots, and now it wanted to seal the death warrant.

One of you will kill the other. It is only a matter of time. You should strike first, while you still can.

And as always, the Voice was right. Now that she had the assassin's testimony, now that she knew who had just tried to kill her, was the proper retribution not in order? For everything she knew they had done? Her blood was boiling; she knew she should not make decisions without a level head, but this one… this one seemed so easy. So right. How could any other conclusion, one with even a single shred of mercy, fill the hole they had left the same way?

Or, the oft ignored part of her brain argued, she could let the story go public. It would make the papers, and HAPPI would make sure it stayed in the papers. The Rescue Federation would be ruined.

But will they stay ruined? Or will they bounce back in four years, three, two? When will the next assassin arrive?

She could hire more guards. Only stay in secure facilities. Each new assassin was another chance to shine the Federation in a bad light.

Foolish. The Rescue Federation has nothing to lose. They will stop at nothing until you are dead, and your organization exists only in the history books. Smears will fade with time. The only option for survival is to cut off the head of the snake.

But she outgunned them in every department. She had no reason to take such drastic action. Not when she could play defense and instead let them rot.

It will mean nothing when you are DEAD. I have not guided you all these years to witness your fall at the fins of a WEAKER power. Kill him, before he has the chance to end you forever.

She was standing at the bow of a ship in the dead of night now. One of the mighty metal vessels Alexis had built for her, the one he named the Demetrius. It was accompanied on either side by another vessel just like it – on one side, the Aggron. On the other, the Gardevoir. In the distance stood a more traditional ship. It was massive, multi-floored, and its sails were orange and green. There was only one ship it could have been: The Copperjah.

She knew why she was here, why she was seeing this memory. This was where she killed him.

Sparkleglimmer calmly walked onto the deck, after her crew had successfully dispatched any pokemon unlucky enough to be on-deck at the time. They left one alive, to point them to the office of the Federation leader.

Empoleon had been collapsed over his maps, fast asleep, when the door banged open. Before he knew what was happening, two of Sparkleglimmer's crew had him pinned against the wall. A sharp claw pressed itself against his throat, threatening to cut it open if he moved or tried anything.

"Help," Empoleon hoarsely squawked, trying to make sense of the situation. "Guards! Help!"

"They won't help you," said the shadow in the doorframe. Sparkleglimmer walked in, flicking the door shut behind her. "We've taken care of them already."

"W-w-what is this?" Empoleon asked, his face now having contorted into an expression of straight fear.

Good.

"I-if it's—If it's m-money, then I have a lot. Just tell me what you want me to pay and I'll pay it! I will! Just please don't kill me."

"Unfortunately, I'm not your run of the mill turncoat," said Sparkleglimmer, careful to stay in the shadows where Empoleon couldn't see her just yet. "And you've taken something from me that no amount of money can replace."

"Who are you?" Empoleon asked. "I-if this is about that ship my merchants shot down, then I'm sorry! It was just collateral damage. We were shooting pirates—"

"Save it," Sparkleglimmer said, walking forward. She walked until she was right in front of Empoleon. She took his head in all four of her ribbons, and forced him to look directly at her, and only her. "I want you to look me in the eye and realize exactly who I am before you die."

It was a moment before it came to Empoleon, but when it did Sparkleglimmer could see it in his own eyes. The look of realization, then a redoubling of terror that she had been looking for.

"You're… you're the…" he broke off, stuttering inanely.

"The new and current director of HAPPI," Sparkleglimmer finished for him. "The company that's going to take over for yours."

"You… can't," Empoleon said as she walked away. "You can't. You can't do this. It's not, it's not ethical, it's not legal, it's not righ—"

"I can't?" Sparkleglimmer looked at him. "Just like you couldn't burn down my father's house and then spit on his death? Just like you couldn't send the same assassin after me when you felt threatened? I think you'll find I can."

The Empoleon couldn't answer her. It wasn't like he didn't have the words, he had many to spare, but in that moment he seemed really and truly caught.

"Everything you're about to get right now, you deserve," Sparkleglimmer said. "It's of your own design, after all. Murdered by a turncoat in your own home, which will have mysteriously burned down the next day. Don't you think it's poetic?"

"I think you're a monster," Empoleon spat.

"It takes one to know one," was all Sparkleglimmer told him in return. "Do it."

Empoleon was swiftly disposed of. The lantern that lay amongst the maps on his desk was knocked to the floor, where the flame caught on the boards and began to swiftly spread.

The Gardevoir and the Aggron slowly surrounded the Copperjah on either side. Sparkleglimmer watched from the Demetrius as they floated into position. Then, a barrage of cannon cannon-fire tore a thousand holes in the Copperjah's hull. The now half-burning ship began to slowly sink, an eerily still display of fire and destruction.

But slowly, the scene dissolved around her. The sea rippled away into dust, and the ships crumbled until they were gone. The fires snuffed themselves out, plunging the Copperjah into darkness. And then, just like that, it was gone. And all that was left was the blackness. Sparkleglimmer's paws were submerged in a water that didn't feel wet.

And then, only then, did she truly realize what was happening.

"I'm dreaming, aren't I."

Indeed.

The Voice only took form in these dreams, and yet she had never seen it. Sometimes she caught a hint of its shape here and there, but it only looked like a corner or a glimpse of something much larger.

"Why are you showing me all this again?" Sparkleglimmer asked. "I've lived it once already."

To remind you of everything you went through. And to prepare you for the ordeals that are to come.

The chorus of voices swirled around her, yet it seemed to come from everywhere at once.

The Plan is reaching its apex. Should you continue to aid me, you will find yourself in a favorable position when all is said and done. Yet, there are still pieces that must slot in place first. I require your assistance to finish setting the board.

"You keep going on about this plan of yours," Sparkleglimmer addressed the void. "But I haven't caught what you're building up to yet. Don't you ever plan to clue me in?"

All you need to know right now is what I require of you in the moment. I have never acted without your best interests in mind, yes?

"I don't believe you have. What do you require from me?"

Head to Paradise. The final piece of the end's beginning is waiting for you there.


~~~~\({O})/~~~~

The end of Part II.

~~~~\({O})/~~~~

There were two major changes I made this arc that ultimately ended up being beneficial for the story. The first was scrapping the original trajectory I had for Primarina and Braixen, and making Braixen a Zoroark. (Originally they would have attempted to frame Nickit, and Braixen actually would have been a braixen.) The second was keeping Riolu alive. Both were characters I didn't really see a need for outside of these arcs and planned to sideline or do away with. Glad I didn't do that.

For this arc, I decided to take on a more freeform writing style and structure the arc around character beats rather than plot-by-chapter. I knew that Tricky/Deerling was going to make up the first third or half of the arc, and then I wanted to segue out into the broader conflict with the Ancient Barrow and the Expedition Society's troubles. I think on the whole, this made things a bit easier to put together! But it also meant that I had more trouble keeping track of the logistics (what happened on what day, HAPPI's movements in the background, what was going on in the Voidlands, etc).

One of my major initiatives with this arc was bridging a gap between the canon material and the more original direction I'd like to take this fic going forward. While the first arc was able to strike a healthy balance of using the canon events as framework and supplementing with original content, essentially 90% of this arc was original material – and the only events I had cemented in my head when I began was the Deerling Day festival and that I'd be using the school ghosthunting/Ancient Barrow trip at the end. Stephen King's IT is a book/movie that left a big impact on me, and I tried to transpose a lot of its elements and structure to this arc – especially when writing the finale.

I also wanted to use the background to board set the larger world while I still could without it being cumbersome and putting a stopper on the actual story. To that end, I worry that I may have fallen into the pitfall trap that most large fantasy stories fall into when board setting – by doing the board setting, but not providing much to latch onto among all the one-off content. (though it's all due to become directly relevant next arc, so even if it is an issue, it's one that I feel I could live with.)

From a meta standpoint, wow this arc was hard to put together. I published weekly with a backlog of only five chapters, and the first COVID-19 lockdown (and the ensuing chaos that followed) threw a huge wrench in my buffer. It got down to the point where I was crunching hard to publish a chapter the week after I wrote it, and when the scope eventually got too big for me to keep it all going, I lapsed and burnt out. Chapters 21 – 26 were all published hideously late, and still require a lot of touchups as of this writing. It 100% did not go smoothly all the way through! And for future arcs I'll definitely want to be going at a more manageable pace/have a monster backlog so I don't end up in a situation like that again.

But now for some commentary on the latter half of the arc!

By now, it should be clear that the "Traitor" character is in fact not Nuzleaf, but rather Principal Simipour. (And indeed, if you've been paying super extra attention, those random numbers at the top of my chapters might spell a message...)This is one I knew I was doing from the very start, especially since Nuzleaf's lessened significance upon the story meant making him the Traitor would be a harder and less powerful twist. I looked at how Simipour always seemed like he was about to nod off whenever he appeared in the canon game, and considering the significance of the In Between here and the fact that I wasn't doing the Nuzleaf Twist, it just lined up wonderfully.

I also had a lot of fun writing the Ancient Barrow portion of the arc, as well as fleshing out the idea of the Void Shadows and what happens if you get petrified in the real world. And honestly, I just had fun doing more in the Voidlands. I've read a total of one (1) other fic that actually employs or has reached the Voidlands/Shadows, so it was cool to basically be broaching (to my knowledge) new territory for fanfiction. I had particular fun with the void shadows, especially writing their chieftain Nyarlathotep. Nyarlathotep is a name that I chose both for the creepy Lovecraft effect, but also because Lovecraftian Nyarlathotep is a chaos loving demon with a thousand faces who serves a greater evil. Which I feel pretty much sums my Nyarlathotep up. I'll admit that the whole thing was a spur of the moment decision + scope creep + things (mostly) falling into place, though. I was basically tearing my hair out with what I wanted to do for the Barrow portion (since having it be the vanilla Litwick encounter seemed like a bit of a letdown) + how I was going to explain where the Shadow that attacked Pokemon Plaza came from, and it absolutely would not have worked if I had done Chapter 20 even a little bit differently.

Some readers have asked me if Serenity Village is going to get the spotlight again later, along with some of the more minor characters. And the answer is, yes! It would be remiss not to (and I just love the setting). But... not next arc. As this special episode hopefully accomplished, I'm hoping to use this opportunity to "pan out" towards the broader world and give the Expedition Society and a few other places the spotlight for a bit. Hopefully you've enjoyed what's been written thus far, and didn't think things were too unresolved! I respond actively to all questions, thoughts, and criticisms, so if you have something to ask or say, don't hesitate to reach out. Until next time!

Music of the Week!

You Will Rule This Land Someday – Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinalli
 
Last edited:

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Finally getting around to responding to this! It's been more than a month, sorry. If I respond to everything I'll be here for hours, so I'll focus more on the criticism bits! Sorry if that feels persnickety, but please do know that this review totally made me copyka while reading all of it in a good way

The pacing of the plot as a whole seems pretty good to me. It is a bit on the slow side, like you said, but I feel like each chapter unraveled at a solid rate. By the time arc 2 kicked off, things ratcheted into high gear, and a lot was happening, fast! Revelations were made, mysteries uncovered, and oh boy! You made excellent use of multiple viewpoints and omniscience to maximize the plot and characters to show this slowly unraveling darkness happening all across the world. There were some suitably DEElicious bits too. The Stone Lugia was a big terror moment, the Riolu was a huge wth?? moment, and a lot more. It took some time, but once we got the Tricky backstory part, I started to feel invested in the story.

I feel so validated to hear this one :veelove:
I worry way too much about my first arc being too slow for people to read on/my second being too rough around the edges, so this really made my day to hear

Those were definitely present. Let's talk about bullying first. There were some serious undertones of that throughout a lot of arc 1 especially. The scene in particular with Pancham throwing rocks at Tricky was... terrible. Not badly written but it was terrible because of what happened. (It was really well written). No mon deserves that. There were also a lot of smaller, pettier things that are actually pretty bad as well. Deerlings treatment, and the way everyone else looks at Tricky. So that theme is surely present in serious ways. What concerns me personally is I don't feel like any bullies ever got any narrative comeuppance. What Pancham and Shelmet did felt really really really really really horrible. But I feel like it was never addressed, and they haven't had to apologize or make up for what they did, and now it kinda feels like the group of just. Chilling together at the treehouse. Like them practically trying to stone her to death was just. nbd.

Now it's perfectly fine if you want to make the point that maybe no one sees bullying (which is true). But it did leave me feeling a little confused and unsatisfied. Perhaps this is something that will come up after arc 2 though. In which case, ignore everything I've said!

Yeah, I just. didn't know what to do with Pancham and Shelmet for this arc. I'm going back and trying to fix this currently, though Idk if it can be tied up in a neat little bow. As for Deerling, Watchog, and the rest, that is something I've sectioned off for a return arc to the village a bit later in the story. Though I definitely plan to come back to it! I just felt those needed a spotlight I couldn't really do while Espurr and Tricky were focal characters.

Next, Survivors guilt. I don't actually know a lot about the topic personally. But I think this one was handled better. Assuming you mean Tricky in particular, dealing first with thinking it was her fault, then wanting to save every mon and dealing with the nightmares and other fallout, constant negativity... etc etc, leading into her experience in the Barrow where she finally had to burn Budew (and break my dang heart). This felt more narratively addressed and explored a little more than the bullying one. I felt like I got to really see more of it through Tricky's eyes. And see a sort of culmination too. Not to mention it was touched on with Riolu's experiences too. I'd say overall it was pretty dang good, although I wish there could have been a bit more fixating on this or talking about it. (I love angst). Maybe there will be more in later chapters?

I'd definitely like to tackle more of Tricky's psyche going forward! I just dunno if Budew will be very focal to it. I wanted to use the second arc as her finally getting over that death and trying to move forward with her life.

Lastly, discrimination. I am assuming you mean Mawile and the Grass continent thing? I actually don't feel like I saw a lot of this, except for Mawile. I never feel like I understood what the discrimination was, or properly got it, because it almost felt like a weird in-universe joke to the Mon? Mawile seems tense about it in later chapters but I can't quite grasp why or what her history was, so it made it difficult to really understand this or empathise.
I did see what felt like a little more clear moments of discrimination towards Tricky and the kids as a whole, where the adults (Watchog really) would treat them poorly as if he forgot they were just kids. This aspect of the discrimination as well as Deerling's clear disdain for Tricky felt much more fleshed out to me.

I guess maybe it's too early in the story for that though I will admit that I wrote the mawile chapter in a week without editing and consider it a mess. I'll try to add in more scenes illustrating it in the second arc, but the gist is basically that there's a cultural/ideological schism between Grass and the other four continents, and they're viewed as savages. There's particular troubles on the rescue side of things because they hate HAPPI, which runs everything outside of Grass. I'll work to make that more clear, though! I also didn't really consider the other half, with Watchog and Deerling, so thanks for pointing that out! :wigglyhappy:

They all really come into their own the epic arc 2 conclusion chapters, especially mons like Goomy, whom I really really love. I'm so proud of my little dragon boy!! AHHH. Nothing particularly struck me as not making sense or not adding up for any of the side characters. The other side and background-ish characters were all fun too, like the other mon at the expedition society.

A key aspect for me of side characters is if they play some kind of role in the plot and/or subplot, and yours really seem to be important, from all I can think of!

Was also psyched to hear this one! I felt I totally missed the landing with the Ancient Barrow bits/the character direction at the end tbh

Now, I'm only at the end of arc 2 so its entirely possible this is the tip of the iceberg! Perhaps there will be further exploration of these things I mentioned later, or maybe I missed some cues on my first read and should pay more attention (if there are cues I missed please let me know!)
My final go, for now, will be... 7/10!!

Nope, I think you caught just about everything! Except the discrimination bit, but that's definitely me handling it clumsily tbh. Glad to hear you enjoyed it, despite all the rough edges!


oh, and the meme is very wonderful and fitting :mewlulz:
 
PART THREE: Chapter 29 - Ghost Ship

SparklingEspeon

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


To Lively Town! Chased away from Serenity Village and the dark creatures that have made their home there, Espurr and Tricky set their sights on much larger horizons. Meanwhile, a stranded zoroark seeks refuge in Pokemon Paradise, the most prosperous city in the world. But as all three pokemon will soon find out, the big world is oftentimes worse than the confines of your own home...


You have awakened. Good.

What is your purpose here? You will help save the world.

It is a world consumed by hate and pride and greed. Those who live in it care not for others, only for what they may gain no matter the expense. This cannot be allowed to continue. You will help me bring a stop to this vile cycle once and for all.

Soon there will be another, summoned by one too foolish to see the true effect of their actions. You will exterminate this individual. It is the only way to end the cycle of hate.

But that is a while off. First, you will live amongst those that live in this world. You will understand their inadequacies. Their greed, their arrogance, and their contempt for each other. You will understand why none of them are fit to continue living. Those of the land shall spurn you for what you are. As is their nature. Yet succeed in this one simple task…

…And
I shall take over from there.


Chapter29Art.png

“A second wrong doesn’t right the first.”


~~~~\({O})/~~~~

PART III: THE SOCIETY

~~~~\({O})/~~~~

29.


Ghost Ship

~\({O})/~

Noe Town Border


~Team Anthem~

For a harbor on the Mist Continent, Noe Town had grown exceedingly run down. It existed on Mist’s most accessible coast, and had been founded by the pokemon who colonized the continent. Long ago, it had been the center of all trade and commerce, and where HAPPI made its headquarters.

Not anymore. Now the houses had fallen into a state of dismal disrepair, and many of the paved streets were splattered with dried mud. HAPPI had relocated to Paradise, and with it had gone the wealth and riches. The skies above were grey and cloudy, and the alleys were shrouded in mist. For no riches from the many ships that sailed into the harbor were offered to Noe Town. Those were all for Pokemon Paradise. Papers had been stuck to many of the houses, even covering windows and doors:

Noe Town: Soon to be an extension of Pokemon Paradise (funded and sponsored by the Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute)

It was a desolate town, cold and hard even in the air around it. And certainly not a place that Team Anthem would have any business in normally.

Alexis tried to ignore the feeling of the mud on his paws as he walked. If there was one thing he missed from the Human World, it was shoes. He needed to look into getting some custom-made, even if foot coverings were a completely foreign concept to this world. He was a national hero—there had to be at least one tailor in Pokemon Paradise that made something other than scarves. The dewott fanned the paper slip he held out as he walked, reading what was written on it for the thousandth time (thankfully in Unown). There were only three disjointed sentences on the paper: Friendly fire at the docks. Ship not returning our signals or messengers. Send help.

From behind Alexis, Elliot yawned. The pikachu lazily flicked an ear, then fell on all fours to catch up with the dewott.

“The place is quiet,” he commented, returning to his hind paws. “You don’t think we’re too late, are we?”

“Doubtful.” Alexis folded the paper, sticking it back in his bag. He frowned, looking ahead. “This place has been a ghost town for ages – everymon worth worrying over’s gathered at the docks, no doubt.”

The docks were no more inviting than the town. The waters churned uneasily with the foreboding ripples of a coming storm, and the skies were grey and windy. Alexis looked down at the water and shivered. Even as a water-type, there were some things from his old self he just couldn’t kick.

There were a multitude of pokemon gathered at the docks, many looking like they belonged to some kind of harbor patrol. Alexis and Elliot pushed their way through the crowd, heading towards the shore to get a better look at what was going on.

“Hey!” Alexis called out, catching the attention of most of the crowd. Many recognized him and Elliot on sight, immediately giving them both a wide berth. Alexis pulled the slip of paper out of his bag, waving it high in the air. “I’m looking for a ‘mon who can brief me and my partner here.” He quickly gestured to Elliot. “We got your mission request.”

A furret with a faded HAPPI insignia pinned to his chest quickly scurried forward from the crowd. “That’s me,” he said, clearing his throat compulsively as he stood up. “I’m in charge.” Alexis got the feel he wasn’t used to running things.

The furret pointed out across the harbor, into the outer open waters. Alexis followed his gaze, settling his eyes upon the form of a distant ship, enshrouded by the fog. The shape of the bronze metal hull was distinct – anymon could recognize the Demetrius, even from far away.

“The Demetrius made its way into harbor sometime last night,” the furret began. “When we tried to send it an automated transmission, we received nothing back.”

Alexis sighed, cutting the furret’s next sentence off. “Did you try using an electric-type?” he asked dismissively. Machine transmissions never consistently worked, no matter how the system was tweaked. There were some things he just didn’t understand why pokemon didn’t go old-school for.

“W-we didn’t have time,” the furret stammered, twitching his tail in stress. “The ship started shooting at us before we could do anything else.” He redirected his paw towards the dock several meters away, which had been twisted into an almost unrecognizable mass of wrenched wood and stone.

Elliot’s face twisted into silent shock at the destruction. Alexis didn’t flinch. Disregarding Elliot’s reaction, he turned back to the furret. “So, they got your transmission…

“How many times has the ship fired.”

“T-three times. The first time was after the transmission. The second time was when we sent a search party out to investigate.”

“And this slip says you never got that search party back?”

“We sent them in with a connection orb. When we didn’t hear back, we tried to call them. Then it fired a third time. D-destroyed the second floor of that building to the right.” Furret pointed out a building to Alexis’ left that had been completely wrecked from the second floor up. “That’s when we called you.”

The furret lowered his paw once Alexis had gotten his point. Alexis took a deep breath, then began to mentally shuffle his thoughts into order. The rescue party’s disappearance and the transmissions were easily rationalized away as products of bad communication, but the attacks on the harbor spirited all that wishful thinking away. The Demetrius was not in the hands of its rightful crew.

So what to do about it?

“Those pokemon you sent.” The furret’s attention was quickly caught once again by Alexis’ smooth interjection. “On a scale of one to ten, self-defense wise, how skilled were they?”

“Ah…” the furret wiggled nervously a bit. “…Two? Maybe three? We don’t get rescue team training like the location up in Paradise.”

“Alright,” Alexis began. “Here’s your situation. Most likely case: pirate pokemon. Stupid ones, if they think they can use that ship to lay siege on the harbor.” Glimmers of a slightly queasy look came onto his face as he looked at the waters. Then he turned back to the crowd, raising his voice: “I need a volunteer to sail me and my partner out there!”

No-mon in the crowd looked particularly interested at the prospect of getting closer to pirates.

“Expect to be compensated for your services,” Alexis added quickly. When there was no answer, he decided to elaborate.

“Gold,” he said. “Poke. Money. Lots of it.”

There were no changes in the crowd’s demeanor.

“Aren’t you a water-type?” somemon from the crowd piped up. Alexis glanced at the water again out of the corner of his eye, making sure to hide his discomfort at the thought of swimming in it.

“Even if I am,” he began, “my partner needs ferrying. And we may need to carry more than one pokemon back to land. A boat or a durable water-type is required.”

Elliot waved a little from the sidelines at the mention of his title, grinning timidly. He looked out of his depth.

The low, bellowing call of a massive pokemon caught the attention of everymon at the docks. Alexis turned to see the hulking form of a Wailord Liner slowly approaching from the distance. The massive wooden construct attached to the wailord’s back was filled with many smaller pokemon – more tourists heading into Pokemon Paradise, no doubt. Alexis shifted where he stood, scowling. He spun around, facing the furret once more.

“Get those tourists on the docks and into the town now. The less pokemon know about this before we resolve it, the better.”

With a small squeak, the furret nodded and scurried off. A good portion of the crowd followed him as well. Once the docks were sparse enough that Alexis had the whole place almost to himself, Elliot walked over. He stared out at the Demetrius, floating silently in the distance.

“I have a bad feeling,” he said.

In the distance, there was a loud scraping. It caught the attention of both Alexis and Elliot. Both of them focused intently on the Demetrius, where the sound was coming from.

The front of the metal hull was slowly sliding open. With a loud bang, the hull slid open completely, and from the opening slid a large cannon. Fire-type energy began to collect around the brim. It only took Alexis a second to figure out what was going on. He dashed towards the crowd with haste, but it was far too late—the cannon fired a straight burst of pure fire-type energy that blasted a hole clear into the approaching wailord liner.

Chaos erupted not even seconds later. The crowd at the harbor screamed and panicked louder than the crowd on the liner, the wailord bellowed out loudly in discomfort, and even Alexis’ cry for order was drowned out in all the noise.

“EVERYMON QUIET!!!!” A thunderbolt cracked up into the air and exploded like fireworks above the crowd. The clouds above rumbled in response. Elliot whipped a few stray sparks off his tail and stood up on his hind paws. “We’re taking charge here! Listen to what my partner has to say!”

Stunned by the loud interruption, the crowd quickly fell back into an anxious silence. Alexis stepped forward, looking at the liner. He studied the damage from afar the best he could. The structural integrity of the framework was damaged… but it would get to land okay.

It should get to land okay.

Alexis turned to the furret once more: “How many water-types have you got?”

He didn’t wait for the furret’s answer. “Send them all out to help ferry the passengers off that ship. We can’t rule out a collapse before it reaches dry land. Once the ship’s docked, set up—”

“Passenger accommodations?” the furret interjected helpfully.

“You got it,” Alexis said. “Get them as far away from the harbor as you can. There will be questions; don’t answer any of them. Now get on it. Go!”

The furret quickly nodded, then scurried back to the crowd of harbormon to begin preparing. Alexis gestured for Elliot to follow him, and they both began to jog back towards the next dock over.

“So what do we do?” Elliot asked. Alexis fought off a shudder at the thought of entering the cold, dark, deep waters.

“We find somemon in this harbor willing to ferry us onto that ship. I don’t care what I have to pay.”


~\({O})/~

~Zoroark~

The raft was cold, but the water was colder. The chilly breeze of the storm rolling in nipped Zoroark’s skin through his soggy fur. His mane was wet and heavy, and that just made him chillier. At this point he’d either freeze or starve to death—Zoroark wasn’t particularly sure which one would come first.

But there was one shred of good news: Land was within sight. Unfamiliar, wood-and-clay houses dotted the near horizon, and the town looked more like a bleak outpost than a proper town. But Zoroark would take anything on land at this point. Suddenly alive with energy he didn’t know he had, he stuck a paw in the water and began to eagerly paddle his way to shore.

The makeshift excuse for a raft bumped up against the stone steps of a dock meant for water-types to climb up on, and Zoroark quickly jumped off and threw himself down onto the glorious dry land he’d missed so much. The stone was cold beneath his already-soaked fur, but he didn’t care. He wasn’t getting back on a boat of any kind anytime soon.

By the time Zoroark could summon enough energy to get up off the ground, the ground was not so dry anymore. He wrung out his mane the best he could, and shook the rest of his fur off like an unruly growlithe. Then he remembered he was in a town—pokemon could see him here—and then, just like that, he was Braixen again.

Zoroark-as-Braixen marched through the town wearily, catching the attention of the few ‘mon that were out and about. The pokemon they saw was completely dry—Zoroark didn’t have the energy for wet fur—but walked with the weight of somemon who had been underwater for an hour. He spotted a xatu perched upon a nearby pier, with its head craned directly up towards the clouds, but it paid him no mind. He continued his trudge through the harbor. He could find a place to eat and sleep for the night, and then he’d book his way into Pokemon Paradise. He’d only been there once, when he was young—he had worked for the ambassador of the Water Continent, after all—but how hard could it be to find a helpline in a place that was commonly referred to as “the greatest city on the planet”?

Then he remembered that he didn’t have any poke. Any belongings of his had been swallowed up when the Exeggutor went down. So that was eating and sleeping in a warm place tonight out of the question. Zoroark-as-Braixen took a deep breath, stopping in the middle of the street. He slumped back against a building in exhaustion. He didn’t know where to go from here.

And only then, when his head was clear, did his ears catch the sounds of yelling in the distance. Only then did he see the struggling wailord liner limping its way to shore, the line of pokemon making their way off the docks… and the hulking form of the Demetrius in the distance.

The Demetrius… that was a government ship, sitting stagnant in the waters outside the harbor. What was going on? For the moment, Zoroark forgot he was tired and hungry, and quickly took off in the direction of the harbor.

There were many more ‘mon at the docks. The Wailord Liner had docked, even though the framework holding the ship in place was dangerously leaning down towards the water. The scaffold had a huge hole in its side, one too large for the attack of all but the most powerful pokemon…

Busy staring at the giant hole in the ship, Zoroark-as-Braixen didn’t notice where he was going until he accidentally walked straight into another pokemon. They both let out a grunt of surprise as they were knocked backwards. Surprised, Zoroark let his illusion falter for just a second. The vaporeon he bumped into scrabbled on the ground for something she had lost—there it was. A HAPPI badge had fallen to the ground in their kerfuffle. Vaporeon tried her best to pick it up, but her paws weren’t conductive enough. Zoroark-as-Braixen quickly snatched it up before a passing rhydon could step on it. He handed it back to the vaporeon, who scooped it up with her tail and stuffed it back in her bag.

“Thanks,” she said.

Zoroark-as-Braixen nodded and grunted in confirmation, then moved along. He didn’t catch sight of her after that.

The docks quickly became more empty after that. Zoroark continued along until he could see the ship better. It was still enshrouded in mist from this angle, and it didn’t look like the ship was operating at all. But what was it doing sitting in the harbor? His mind flashed back to the hole in the Wailord liner, and the dissociated dots began to connect in his head and form a very chilling picture. He sped up a bit.

Eventually, his ears caught the sound of two ‘mon talking in hushed voices to themselves. Zoroark slowed down, honing his hearing in on their voices in the hopes he could catch a snippet of what was going on.

“Think we could commission any of the passengers to do it?”

“Leave them out of it. I’d rather not drag scared tourists into this.”

“That’s our best shot. Getting a strong water-type to do it. If you won’t…”

The sound of shuffling paws. Then, somemon cleared their throat.

“We could use this boat.”

“T-that’s stealing! You can’t be serious right now!”

“It’s either that, or we wait for somemon willing and qualified to ferry us all the way out there. We can’t waste any more time on this.”

“We used to hunt down the pokemon who did this kind of thing every day!”

“We hunted evil pokemon who stole for self-gain. We’re doing this out of necessity. We have no other options. And…” the clink of a purse of poke. “…It’s not like we’ll be leaving them with nothing for their inconvenience.”

Zoroark’s ears pricked up at the sound of the money. The contents of that bag might mean the difference between sleeping in a warm bed and freezing to death in the cold Mist fog.

There was a pause, then a sigh of defeat.

“We should at least find the boat owner first.”

“No time.”

“B-but—”

“Necessary evils, Elliot. Sometimes good pokemon have to do a bad thing for the greater good.”

Zoroark had only a second to think on it. He couldn’t let this opportunity slip out of his grasp, but he had no way to ferry them all the way to the Demetrius.

Unless…

If he were caught, he’d be in unimaginable trouble. But at the very worst, spending the night in a jail would be better than spending it on the street. So, Zoroark made his decision.

“Hey!” Zoroark-as-Braixen called out, catching the attention of the two ‘mon he had been eavesdropping on. A pikachu and a dewott raised their heads to look at him. Zoroark recognized them immediately.

Alexis straightened up, putting on his best publicity face for the braixen. “Need something?” he asked.

“I heard you talking about wanting somemon to ferry you over to that ship over there,” Zoroark-as-Braixen said, pointing to the Demetrius for emphasis. He strode over until he was standing only three feet away from Alexis and Elliot. “Well, it just so happens that I’m the owner of that boat.” Zoroark-as-Braixen pointed down to the boat—a measly lifeboat, silently rocking back and forth in the uneasy waters. Zoroark tried his best to hide his surprise. He thought it had been larger. “I’ll ferry you two there… for a price.”

“A fire-type with a lifeboat…” Zoroark heard Alexis mutter to himself silently. His stomach did a backflip—had they caught on to him?

“I go fishing,” he added for good measure.

At the least, the pikachu seemed fooled. Elliot immediately perked up, as if a huge burden had been removed from his shoulders.

“Well, problem solved, then,” he said happily. “Let’s get in the boat.” After a second of thought, Alexis nodded his head.

“Understand this,” he began, before Zoroark-as-Braixen could continue. “We’re asking for a round trip, there and back. You may have to ferry more pokemon back with us on the return trip. This may entail more than one subsequent trip. I cannot guarantee that your boat will survive, but you will be compensated with poke in either scenario.”

Not that he had much of a choice. Zoroark-as-Braixen nodded confidently, letting the illusion hide his jittery face. “I accept.”

“Splendid. Lead the way.” Alexis gestured to a wooden ladder at the end of the stone pier, which Zoroark-as-Braixen stepped towards. Zoroark-as-Braixen climbed down the ladder, and stepped into the boat. It rocked under his weight, and he almost lost his balance completely. Luckily, this wasn’t the first time he had been on a ship. He sat down, grasping the oars carefully. He nodded up at the pikachu and dewott staring down at him from above.

Alexis frowned, undid the rope that tethered the boat to the dock, then carefully climbed down the ladder. Zoroark-as-Braixen hummed silently to keep himself calm, grabbing the twin oars. So much for not stepping in a boat again anytime soon.


~\({O})/~

The waters churned heavily, rocking the boat more than a little bit as Zoroark-as-Braixen rowed his two passengers out to sea. No words were exchanged between the three of them; there was only the distant blowing of the wind, the rumbling of the skies above and the ever-larger looming figure of the Demetrius to keep them company.

A larger than usual wave rocked the boat a little bit, before it set itself back to rights. Out of the corner of his eye, Zoroark spotted Alexis’ paws grip the side of the boat tightly.

Eventually, Zoroark managed to pull the boat up next to the massive metal hull of the Demetrius. A large, portable metal stairway extended out of the ship and down into the waters below. Across from the rowboat Zoroark sat in was a larger sailboat, enough to hold four or five ’mon in it. Zoroark eyed it uneasily as he rowed.

“Pull us up over there.” Alexis pointed to the stairway. Zoroark-as-Braixen rowed the boat until it had lined up with the metal set of stairs, at which point Alexis deftly hopped from the boat onto the stairway. He gripped the railing tightly and turned around, watching Elliot follow. Zoroark-as-Braixen searched the boat for a rope of any kind—he had just remembered boats needed to be tethered so they didn’t float off—and began tying the boat to the railing once he had a line in his hand. Then he took the first step onto the stairway.

Alexis and Elliot, already halfway up the stairs, glanced back. Alexis’ face sunk, like he was annoyed at a toddler.

“I can’t allow you to follow us in here,” he said, glancing down at Zoroark-as-Braixen. “We don’t know what it’ll be like. Might not be safe. Just… stay out here with the boat.”

A rumble of thunder made all three ‘mon look up at the sky. The clouds were darker than they had been just before. Wind ruffled Zoroark-as-Braixen’s fur, dangerously rocking the boats. The storm had arrived.

Alexis looked up at the growing storm and sighed.

“Fine. Come on. But stay behind us.”

He deftly walked up the rest of the stairs, and opened the door a crack. After looking in both ways, he ushered Elliot and Zoroark-as-Braixen along.


~\({O})/~

The Demetrius

The hallways of the Demetrius were too dark to see. Alexis briefly reached into his bag for something as the door closed behind them. Zoroark-as-Braixen blanched—if he was going to be asked to light a torch…

But instead, Alexis pulled a single orb from his bag. It shone in the dark with the same blue glow as luminous moss, illuminating their surroundings. Everywhere, the walls were covered in viscous black goo, some of it extending into long, goopy trails on the ground. There was no-mon around to be seen.

“What is this stuff…” Elliot muttered, reaching a paw out to touch the goo stuck to the walls.

“Try not to touch it,” Alexis said. “It could be dangerous.”

Elliot pulled his paw back before he could.

The goo continued all the way down the hallway, where the three of them found the door at the end of the corridor blasted clean off its hinges. The doorframe was mangled, and the door itself lay at their feet, bent out of shape. Alexis bent over to inspect it, noting that the center was covered in the same black goo that coated the walls.

“Look at this.”

Elliot bent over a pile of something that glinted from the luminous orb’s light. Zoroark immediately recognized what it was—he’d seen the exact same thing himself just a few days ago, after all.

“It’s a shattered connection orb,” he said.

“You think it belongs to…” Elliot trailed off, letting the silence speak for him.

“Looks like that search party went the same way as the crew,” Alexis said, looking at the connection orb remains over his shoulder.

Zoroark-as-Braixen spun around, his ears picking up on the sound of the goo down the hallway behind them moving with a pop. Elliot, who had heard it too, followed suit.

“Did you hear that?” he asked Alexis, turning around.

“Hear what?” Alexis, who had turned back to inspecting the door, didn’t even look back at Elliot.

“Something just moved back there,” Zoroark-as-Braixen said.

Alexis stood back up. In the moment of silence, all three pokemon could hear something slithering down the hallway.

“You stay here,” he said to Zoroark-as-Braixen, who nodded. “Elliot, with me.”

Zoroark-as-Braixen watched Alexis and Elliot slowly move down the corridor in the direction of the sound. The luminous orb had been left sitting on the ground next to Zoroark, but Zoroark dared not move nor break his stance. He looked around at all the black goo hanging from the walls. What was this?

Suddenly, it began to move. With a loud squelching sound, the goo decorating the roof above Zoroark began to shift with life. That was it. Zoroark let out a quiet yelp of abject fear, then took off through the deformed doorway. He didn’t even think to pick up the luminous orb.

The doorway led into what looked like a cafeteria of some kind—chairs and tables were overturned everywhere, and quite a few had been smashed up. Zoroark ran in and took shelter under a still-standing table.

Something heavy hit the ground. It was too dark to see. The impact rattled the ship’s benches and made Zoroark jump.

Whatever was there slowly stomped through the room. There was a brief pause of silence, as Zoroark heard it sniff the air several times. Then it began to walk again.

Whatever it was stepped on a chair right in front of Zoroak’s eyes and flattened it completely. Zoroark barely restrained himself from yelping out in fear. He concentrated, slowly putting up a much more complex illusion he had yet to perfect. If he was doing it right, no-mon would be able to see him in the first place.

Unfortunately for him, his trick didn’t work on what didn’t have eyes. The table was quickly flipped over just seconds later, and Zoroark was snatched up by the grotesque claws of a Void Shadow.

The Void Shadow, made of the same black goo that coated the walls and the roof, growled in his face, then sniffed the air again. Zoroark saw its many, many teeth. That was when he lost it – he yelled a battle cry and began to wildly scratch and claw away at the monster’s face in terror. His claws sunk into its head harmlessly, and he let out a whimper of fear as he tried to tug them out.

The Shadow snarled, and Zoroark felt its claws tighten around his ribs, much tighter than felt comfortable. It was going to crush him! Unless…

“Hey! What’s going on in he—” Alexis and Elliot both stopped short at the sight of the large black monster, its goo reflecting the light of the luminous orb in the hallway as it lifted Zoroark up into the air. Desperate, Zoroark felt out where its claws were on his body. Then he slashed them with his own. His claws sliced completely through the Shadow’s, severing them from the monster. Zoroark hit the ground only a second later and scampered away.

“Ready?” both Alexis and Elliot got into battle positions. They readied their own elemental attacks, aiming at the monster.

“Ready!” The combined power of a water gun and a thunderbolt hit the Void Shadow all at once, sending electricity coursing through its body. It let out a shriek, then collapsed entirely into a black puddle on the floor. Zoroark heard it slither off, but it was too dark to see where it went. By the time Alexis had retrieved the luminous orb, Zoroark was Braixen once again.

“Hey—you okay?” Alexis asked, walking up to Zoroark-as-Braixen. Zoroark nodded.

“Y-yeah,” he coughed out, getting to his feet. “What was that?”

“Beats me,” Alexis said, half to Braixen and half to himself. “I’ve never seen anything like that before. At least it explains the goo.” He gestured to the walls around them.

“So n-now what do we do?” Elliot asked, his voice shaking a bit.

“Our first priority to find out if there are any living ‘mon still on this ship,” Alexis said. If he was shaken like his partner was, he didn’t let it show in his voice. “Somemon had to fire those cannons. We find them, we get them off of here. Then… we figure out where to go from there.”

He turned around, facing Zoroark-as-Braixen. “As for you, I need you to leave. Bringing you in here was a mistake. We’ll escort you back out—”

There were the sounds of slithering goo down in the hallway they had just come down. All three pokemon went silent at its sound.

“…On second thought,” Alexis began. “We’ll find another exit. Stay together.”


~\({O})/~

Alexis made a detour not a moment later to quickly check the cafeteria kitchens for refugees. There weren’t any.

A door on the other side of the cafeteria led to another corridor that wasn’t as shrouded in goo as the last one had been. Goo coated the walls and some of the roof, but light shone through patches of window that had been left uncovered by the black substance. Zoroark thought he saw some of it slither over an uncovered patch of light out of the corner of his eye.

It was light enough now that Alexis put away the luminous orb. Zoroark put his illusion back up. He had tentatively dropped it in the darkness, once the light of the luminous orb had drifted far enough off his form, but now it was light enough that all it would take was a single glance back to destroy his cover. He marched forward, hoping the disappearance of a fake wand he was too tired to recreate in his tail wouldn’t draw too much suspicion.

Alexis watched the walls closely as they went on. Halfway down the corridor, he stopped both Braixen and Elliot, feeling out the outline of a doorframe along the wall. It was completely covered in black goo.

“I know how ships like these work,” he muttered. “So this…” his paws found a goo-covered door handle, and he yanked—

The door swung wide open, revealing a set of metal steps leaning down into darkness. “This is the way down to the engines.” Alexis reached into his bag and pulled out the luminous orb once more. It illuminated some of the steps, but beyond was still left in darkness. Further beyond in the dark, Zoroark-as-Braixen thought he saw something bright orange glowing.

“But that way should lead us to the bridge,” Elliot said, pointing down the corridor. “Something fired this ship’s cannon, right? And you do that from the bridge. Any survivors are probably in there.”

Alexis was silent for a minute, like he was deliberating on something.

“Yeah.” He let the door swing shut with a bang. “I just wanted to know where we were.”

He began to creep onwards, beckoning Elliot and Braixen after him. Zoroark-as-Braixen cast one last look at the door before following.


~\({O})/~

The hallway became more and more dark as they went on. The darker it got, the more invasive the goo became. It was everywhere, even the floor, and soon all three ‘mon were slogging through it as they went onwards. Eventually, Alexis was forced to pull out the luminous orb a third time. There was still no sign of anymon around, nor anything like the monster that had attacked them in the cafeteria. Yet Zoroark still found himself checking behind the group often, just to reassure himself that the little squelching sounds he heard in the distance and the weird way the goo would catch the light every so often was just in his head.

It felt like they had walked for miles by the time they reached the corridor’s end. It was completely engulfed in goo from floor to ceiling, like everything else in the hallway was. This was the worst it had been the entire time they’d been there. Alexis set the luminous orb down, searching with one paw through the black soup for a door handle. His arm was already almost half submerged in it by the time that he found it.

“Some help,” he grunted, trying fruitlessly to tug it open. Elliot’s paws grasped around Alexis, and he pulled too. The door still didn’t budge. Elliot looked back at Zoroark, who was Braixen again in a split second. “Help…” he strained.

Zoroark looked down at his claws that looked, but certainly did not feel like braixen paws. If he touched somemon with those, he’d be caught for sure. But at the same time, he couldn’t just refuse…

Manipulating touch wasn’t an illusion Zoroark was skilled in. It was harder than sight, but easier than sound. He hadn’t tried it before. All he had to do was draw upon what the subject thought the thing they were touching felt like… Zoroark took a deep breath, and wrapped his claws around Elliot. With luck, this would only be a second. He pulled.

The door budged. Then it held for a moment. Then it swung open completely, splattering all three pokemon with the black goo.

Alexis, Elliot, and Braixen all fell back, half-covered in the black substance. It felt sticky on Zoroark’s fur. He sat up, and caught both Elliot and Alexis staring at him weird – he realized at the last second that he hadn’t updated his illusion to account for being splattered with all that goo. But there was nothing to do about it now. It would only look weirder if he changed it. He stood up, staring back at Alexis and Elliot.

“What?” he asked.

Alexis shook his head. “Nothing. The door’s open. Let’s go.”

He strode into the bridge, and both Elliot and Braixen followed his lead.

The inside of the bridge was a strange change of pace from the rest of the ship. The floors were completely clean, and the glass that made up the walls of the bridge was pristine and untouched. Much of the machinery in the bridge was battered and broken beyond repair, but the black goo that coated the interior of the rest of the ship was nowhere to be seen.

Zoroark wondered where it had all gone.

Alexis inspected the machinery on the sides of the ship, gazing at it intently.

“Their transmission machine’s destroyed,” he said, gazing at the only machine that had a hole torn clean through it. Zoroark could see all the way to the back of the wall through it.

“Do you think that’s why they were firing the cannon?” Elliot asked. “Maybe they wanted to deter pokemon from boarding.”

Crash. Something slithered over behind a control panel near the front of the bridge.

“Over there!” Alexis hissed, and all three pokemon immediately scrambled over to where the sound had come from. Whatever was making the sound had no time to flee—before it could get anywhere far, Alexis, Elliot and Braixen had it cornered behind the control panel it had been next to. A perfectly normal phanpy looked up at them.

“Have you come to take me out of this place?” it asked.

“What’s happening here?” Alexis urged, before anymon else could speak. “Where are all your crewmates? Tell me what happened, from the beginning.”

“Aren’t you going to take me out of here?” the phanpy asked again.

“It’s not that simple,” Alexis said. “I need to understand what happened here first. Why is this ship deserted? Who fired the cannons? Then we can talk about leaving.”

“But I want to leave,” the phanpy said again. “Are you going to take me out of here?”

“Cooperate with me, and we’ll do that,” Alexis said. “Where are your crewmates?”

The phanpy was still and silent. Its body was motionless, almost like a sleeping metagross. Then, like a rusty machine clicking back into action, it spoke.

“Gone,” the phanpy said, its voice raspy. “Dead.”

“What happened to them?” Elliot asked.

It was a moment before the phanpy answered, breathing out raspy breaths.

“There was something out there, in the storm,” it began. “It didn’t look like a pokemon, but no-mon knew what it was. It boarded and picked us off, one by one. I locked myself in the bridge. I’ve been in here for a day.”

“Why were you firing the cannons?”

“What cannons?” the phanpy asked.

Alexis’ demeanor ever-so-slightly changed. He stood up. “Elliot, Braixen-no-name, watch him.”

He walked over to the center of the room, studying a dashboard of controls that were laced with the same black goo from earlier—the only muddied thing in the room. Zoroark heard him mutter something to himself.

Alexis rejoined Elliot and Zoroark-as-Braixen, his eyes set on the phanpy. “You’re sure you’ve been all alone in this room for the last day?”

“Yes.” The phanpy readily nodded.

“Wrong answer.” Lightning fast, Alexis pulled a scalchop from his hip and threw it straight at the phanpy. The scalchop made contact and returned, and Alexis caught it neatly. There was a visible gash in the phanpy’s face that didn’t bleed.

“Wh-why did you do that??” Elliot cried out in horror. He moved forward in the phanpy’s direction, but Alexis quickly pulled him back by the scarf.

“Stay back!” he grunted.

The phanpy looked up, and its face distorted into something that didn’t look quite like any pokemon. A pair of massive limbs with claws black as night exploded from the phanpy’s body, far too fast for Alexis and Elliot to react. Zoroark didn’t think—he dashed forward and slashed his claws wildly into the arms before they could reach their destination. The Void Shadow’s head – rearing out of the phanpy’s body – screeched loudly at Zoroark, but the shadow was quickly decapitated by another swing of Alexis’ scalchop. It fell to the floor in front of them with a loud splat, losing its shape and devolving back down into black goo.

The shadow’s arms finally overpowered Zoroark, throwing him clean across the bridge. He landed on one of the control panels, his weight pressing a bunch of buttons he couldn’t begin to fathom the functions of. He fell off the control panel, and then sideways to the ground. Once his head stopped spinning, his eyes fixated on what Alexis must have seen: the severed limb of a phanpy that had fallen behind the panel.

But there wasn’t time to think about that. He pulled himself back up against the panel with a huff. His claws inadvertently slammed down upon a large red button, activating the ship’s horn.

Elliot and Alexis were locked in a close battle with the Void Shadow. Even without a head, the monster fought wildly, slashing at them with its gangly limbs.

“We need to hit it in the center, or it’ll just regroup,” Alexis yelled, slashing one of the arms back with his twin scalchops. They were backed up against the glass, and the shadow’s arms were too large to escape to the sides. “Aim for the torso!”

“It’s too close-quarters!” Elliot yelled back, both pokemon hitting the ground before the shadow’s arms could snatch them both up in its claws. “You’ll get fried too!”

“I can handle that!” Alexis yelled. “Do it!”

The ship’s horn suddenly blasted through the cabin at a near-deafening pitch, forcing both Alexis and Elliot to cover their ears. The Void Shadow let out an agitated gurgle at the sound, its entire form shivering in place. The sound only lasted a few seconds, but Alexis didn’t falter.

“Now, Elliot!” he yelled. Elliot charged his tail, and let a powerful shock wave of electric fury blaze everything around him. That was all the Void Shadow could take—with a pitiful screech, it collapsed entirely into a mass of black goo that began to slither away.

Zoroark watched it go from his spot at the control panel—it was too weak to fight back. This was his chance to finish it off for good! He leapt over the console, running forward, but the formless mass of black goo was too fast—it disappeared down a nearby drain before Zoroark could catch it. He scrabbled at the drainpipe, hearing the gurgling sounds of the retreating shadow echo through the drain.

Elliot shook off the remaining static electricity in his fur, letting his hackles relax. Beside him, Alexis coughed and raised himself from the floor, trying to shake off the electric attack he had just undergone.

“I’m fine,” he panted before Elliot could open his mouth. “Where’d it go?”

“I didn’t see,” Elliot said, still panting. But Alexis was too busy staring at something else to reply to that.

“Down here!” Zoroark called out in response to Alexis’ question. “It went down here.”

He was scrabbling at the drain, trying to see if he could get it open. Zoroark eventually gave up trying to hear the retreating Void Shadow, standing up from the drain and checking his claws for injuries. It took weeks for those to grow back if broken. He then realized his fatal mistake: in all the chaos, he had forgotten to put up his illusion again. Both Alexis and Elliot were gazing at him in shock.

“I should have known,” Alexis muttered.


~\({O})/~

“Move along.” Alexis led Elliot and Zoroark along the corridor as the three pokemon moved on. Zoroark hadn’t bothered putting up his illusion again—what was the use? “We’re heading down to the engines.”

The hallway from where they had come was almost overflowing with the same goo that Alexis was insistent they avoid at this point. They had instead taken the corridor entrance on the other side of the bridge, which was covered in goo all the same but wasn’t as flooded as the other one was.

Eventually they stopped in the middle of the hallway. Alexis handed the luminous orb off to Elliot and felt out the gooey wall for a door handle. He found it and yanked, but the door stayed shut. He yanked it a couple more times for good measure.

“Locked,” he said. Elliot shone the orb onto the wall; all three pokemon took notice of a smallish vent near the ground that was half-covered by goo.

“Does that lead to the other side of this door?” Elliot asked.

“It should,” said Alexis. “Can you fit?”

“Of course I can fit,” Elliot said. “Just depends on the lock. We may have to bust it in if I can’t get it undone.”

“I’d prefer not to,” Alexis responded. “The less attention we can draw to ourselves, the better.

Zoroark briefly questioned how they weren’t being watched in this corridor full of goo anyway, but figured flashy attacks would put a target on their back faster. Elliot carefully undid the vent cover with his paws, then climbed in.

“You shouldn’t have come here.”

Zoroark, who was studying the goo stuck to the ceiling, looked at Alexis.

“No sash.” Alexis’ words rang out loudly in the goo-covered corridor. “An illusion. You’re an outsider or an outlaw.” At Zoroark’s silence, he continued. “You shouldn’t have taken a boat that wasn’t yours. You shouldn’t be in this town at all. So why are you here?”

“What… makes you think I stole the boat?” Zoroark asked suspiciously.

“Just a hunch,” Alexis said. “Are you going to tell me you didn’t? Or should we go back and check with the harbor guard?”

There was a bout of silence Zoroark wasn't willing to challenge.

“What do you have to say for yourself?”

Cornered. Zoroark didn’t see a way out. slumped back against the wall.

“I was desperate,” Zoroark coughed. “Me and my caretaker; we were attacked at sea. Everything I had went down with that ship.” It was finally beginning to sink in that he truly had nothing. Zoroark still felt a sense of abject numbing shock, the inability to process that fact. “I heard that you were offering poke to whoever would ferry you all the way out here. I thought it would keep me off the streets for a night.”

Alexis sighed, then frowned. His scalchops hang limply from his sides. There was silence.

“So… now what?” Zoroark asked in the absence of a response. “You’re gonna… turn me in?”

At least he’d be fed and somewhat warm in the jail.

“No,” Alexis said. “You’d never get out.”

He rose up, dusting off his scalchops. “We complete the mission. Then, once we’re off this ship, you run. Hitch a boat out of the harbor fast as you can; never look back. You’ll find no sanctuary here on Mist.”

With a clank, the door swung open, and Elliot tumbled out, covered in even more goo than he was before. “That was a hard lock to undo,” he panted.

“Are we close to the engines?” Alexis asked, turning around to see Elliot and the door better. “Did you get a good look?”

“Another floor down,” Elliot said, still catching his breath. “There’s a hatch to get there.”

“Perfect.” Alexis swung the door open all the way, and walked in.

“Come on,” he said. “No time to waste.”


~\({O})/~

The hatch slid open, and Alexis dropped down through it. He landed on his feet. Elliot dropped deftly behind him. Zoroark carefully climbed down by hanging from the side of the hatch with his claws, then dropped down three feet from the floor. The three of them then noticed there was a pull-out ramp right at the top of the hatch.

In front of them stood a massive machine that cast the room in a bright orange glow. A trio of rotating metal rings swung around a furnace, except instead of a fire, a single vibrant orange gem floated in the center. It shone bright enough that most everything in the room was visible to some extent.

“Just like I thought,” Alexis said with confidence. He walked up to the large machine, his eyes on the crystal in the center. “Firium Z. The ship’s power source.”

Zoroark shifted, glancing away from the light source. “What does that mean for us?” he sked.

“For us?” Alexis asked. “It’s good, very good.” He hopped down from the platform, walking down and tracing a few of the many pipes that snaked out across the floor. “Very combustible too. Good stuff.”

“Combustible?” Elliot repeated. “What does that have to do with anything?”

“This engine uses a very outdated method of transferring fuel from one place to another,” Alexis continued. “I discontinued it a while ago. Too much chance for the engine to explode if it’s overtaxed. That said… It looks like the Demetrius wasn’t brought back in for upgrades.”

“Yeah, but why’s that relevant?”

“Because we’re about to overtax the engine. Get ready.”


~\({O})/~

The next half-hour was spent unhooking wires, switching dials, turning cranks, and moving hoses from one slot to another. Alexis instructed the process methodically,

“Are you sure you want to do this?” Elliot asked as the three of them moved a large hose from one side of the machine to the other. “There might still be pokemon alive on this ship. What about that search party that was sent here? Are we just going to give up and blow them up too?”

“We don’t know if that search party is even alive,” Alexis said smoothly as he helped Elliot and Zoroark move the hose. “But whatever happens, we can’t let whatever is on this ship with us leave. We already know that it can mimic the forms of other pokemon. We cannot take that risk.”

“But we haven’t searched the whole ship yet,” Elliot pointed out. “How can you just declare that there’s no-mon else alive on-board?”

“Every minute that thing lives is a minute that all those pokemon on the docks of Noe Town are endangered,” Alexis said. “Every minute we do nothing, or prance around this ship looking for stragglers, is a minute we risk hundreds more suffering the fate of whatever happened to the crew here. Going out on a limb on the chance that there might be some pokemon still on-board is risking too many others.”

“A single life is still worth the effort,” Elliot said in a low hush. “That’s our job, that’s what we do. We go back for the one life that no-mon else can save. When did it become about anything else?”

Alexis was silent for a moment, a furrowed expression on his face. He sighed.

“Necessary evils, Elliot.”

Zoroark was silent as he listened to the two bicker. He continued to glance up at the walls and roof around him, studying the shiny black surfaces intently for any sign of movement. Any sign that they weren’t alone in here.

Alexis grunted, lifting the hose as all three pokemon slotted it into its new place.

“That should do it,” he said, patting the hose. “This engine is now a ticking time bomb.”

“How do we light the fuse?” Zoroark asked.

“The machine will do that on its own,” Alexis said. “We just need to get out of here before it does. I’d say we have about ten minutes.”

The goo behind them popped loudly. All three pokemon spun around at the sound.

From out of the wall near the hatch emerged a single, pitch-black protrusion. It sprouted fingers, then claws, then an elbow joint and slammed its palm onto the deck with a loud splat. The shadowy, black arm was the only thing between them and the way out.

“Go!” Elliot yelled.

Zoroark sprang into action first, running for the hatch that was their only way out. He deftly hopped the arm as it made a grab for him, then jumped up and barely grabbed the hatch with his claws—why was it so high up? He pulled himself onto the next floor up and into safety, trying to release the ramp for Alexis and Elliot below. It wasn’t budging.

Alexis and Elliot bolted for the hatch quickly after, but the rest of the Void Shadow tore out of the wall and began loping towards them.

“Dodge!” both pokemon made a break for opposite directions, scrambling out of the way as the Void Shadow charged through. It brought itself to a stumbling halt just before it could collide with the engine, looking around for either of its targets with a snarl. From the shadows, Alexis grabbed a scalchop from his side and hurled it at the Void Shadow. The scalchop sliced its head clean off its body. The mass of black slime landed on the floor beside it. It twitched, then began to slither back into the Void Shadow’s body.

Even headless, the Void Shadow wasted no time galloping towards Alexis, but a thunderbolt quickly struck it from the back and caused it to convulse. Alexis barely dodged the Shadow once again as it barreled forward with a screech and hit the goo-covered wall with a squelching noise.

The wall absorbed it with a squick.

“We need to lure it away from the engine!” Alexis called out to Elliot in their brief moment of respite. “If it destroys anything, the whole ship will blow up here and now!”

From his position near one of the snaking cables they’d rewired, Elliot nodded quickly as he could.

The Void Shadow’s arms suddenly burst out of the wall behind Alexis, forcing him to duck and roll before he could be enveloped in its pitch-black embrace. He made a run for the hatch, beckoning Elliot after him. The Void Shadow pulled itself entirely out of the wall and screeched.

Elliot quickly outpaced Alexis and slid to a stop right under the hatch. There was a crank handle poking out amongst the black goo that coated the walls, illuminated by the light of the engine—that must have been the device for the pullout ramp! Elliot quickly grabbed the handle and began to turn it as fast as he could, looking back at Alexis and the Void Shadow.

Zoroark jumped back as the ramp underneath the hatch door began to slowly slide out. It made a squeaking sound as it fell, but it wasn’t going fast enough. The Void Shadow’s screech as it charged forward forced Zoroark into action, and he kicked the ramp down with his legs. It fell to the ground with a loud metallic bang, and both Alexis and Elliot hurriedly scurried upwards.

The Void Shadow was right on their tails. It bounded up through the ramp, but the piece of metal snapped away under its weight. The Void Shadow fell but caught the edges of the ramp with its claws.

By the time that it had pulled itself up onto the next level, the three pokemon it was chasing were already long gone. It snarled, and began to charge for the open door that was right in front of it, but Alexis slammed the door shut before it could. Zoroark heard the heavy-duty lock clicking back into place.

For just a second, there was silence. Then a loud bang came from behind the door, accompanied by a blood-curdling screech. There was the sound of a couple loud footsteps, and then it slithered off, growling to itself. Not a single noise came from Zoroark, Alexis, or Elliot.

“How long before the engine goes off?” Elliot asked, brushing some of the goo from its fur.

Zoroark began to feel a mild burning sensation on his feet. The floor of the deck was—

“The deck’s getting hotter,” Alexis commented. “We’d better get a move on.”

They looked at the hallway leading back to the bridge, the sole source of light that didn’t come from the luminous orb. The distant entrance was slowly disappearing under a wall of black goo.

“It’s… fencing us in,” Elliot said.

There was a loud gurgling noise from the far side of the hallway, and the goo suddenly exploded forward.

“Run!”

Alexis, Elliot, and Zoroark took off down the opposite side of the hallway as a solid black flood of goo surged down after them. The door at the end of the hallway was wide open. Alexis threw himself through the door, rolling to the side and grabbing the door handle. Once Zoroark and Elliot were through, he slammed the door shut and latched it.

The goo hit the other side of the door with a squelch, causing a sizeable dent in the wall. Alexis, Elliot, and Zoroark were all thrown back by the impact. Some of the goo began to ooze between the cracks. The deck was uncomfortably warm underneath them.

“Keep moving,” was all Alexis was able to pant out. “No matter what.” He got to his feet. “Come on.”


~\({O})/~

The deck only got hotter as they went on. It was soon evident that the whole ship was beginning to heat up, as the walls got hotter and hotter and some of the goo that clung to the surface was beginning to curl away as steam evaporated off its presence.

Zoroark’s ears twitched as he heard the sound of glass cracking, and looked at the exposed window next to him, which had several cracks running down its surface. He quickly put it all together—

“Duck!!”

Zoroark jumped forward, pinning both Alexis and Elliot to the ground just in time. The windows above them all exploded at once. Shards of glass buffeted the walls above them like a razor leaf. some of them flew through Zoroark’s mane and nicked the very top of his ears. He let out a sharp gasp, shutting his eyes in pain.

Near the end of the hallway, there were screams.

Once it had all been silent for a few seconds, Zoroark got up off the two of them, and all three rose to their feet. Elliot was the first one to speak:

“Did you hear that?” he asked. “Over by the end of the hallway.”

“Yeah,” Alexis said, gingerly stepping around the glass shards around him. “I heard it.” He pulled a scalchop from his side. “Let’s make it quick.”

There was a room near the end of the hallway with a door that had been broken clean off its hinges. The black goo was nowhere to be seen. Zoroark caught the last of it retreating into a nearby vent with a pained hiss.

Inside the room, a cranidos, a shinx, and a lopunny sat. They were all huddled up in the middle of the room, and every single one of them looked overheated in some way.

“Who are you?” Alexis asked harshly, brandishing a scalchop. “Why are you here?”

The lopunny and cranidos cowered down at Alexis’ brash interrogation. But the shinx spoke up.

“We’re a rescue party. We’re supposed to be finding out if there’s anymon aboard this ship to save,” he said with level tone.

“Then this awful thing made of goo chased us all the way in here!” the lopunny continued for Shinx. “We managed to hide in here before it could get to us. There’s none of that black stuff in here. Then it locked us in. We’ve been trapped ever since.”

“Well, until the door blew off,” Shinx said.

“Why’s it so hot in here?” Cranidos asked.

“Who sent you?” Alexis asked harshly, ignoring Cranidos’ question.

“Calm down,” Shinx urged. “We’re all friends here.”

“Who. Sent. You.”

“Furret, of Noe Town. We’d contact him to show you, but our connection orb got smashed.”

Zoroark remembered the smashed connection orb in the hallway.

“Looks like our search party,” Elliot said. “No fakes.” Alexis lowered his scalchop in relief.

“Alright,” he said. “You guys are clear. Follow us. It’s time to get off th—”

The ship exploded.

The only warning the six pokemon had was an earsplitting bang before the cabin blew to shreds in a cacophony of steam pressure. The hallway outside was torn apart, and the roof of the ship was blown clean off. Lopunny acted fast. They raised a Magic Coat around the group of pokemon just in time, deflecting the falling debris from hitting or scraping them as it tumbled. The heat of the remaining deck under Zoroark’s feet was almost unbearable by now.

“That wasn’t the only one,” Alexis grunted, getting to his feet. “We need to get to the boats. We’re not far off.”

“Wait—you knew about the explosion??” Cranidos asked.

“Long story,” said Elliot.

“What do you mean we’re not far off?” Lopunny said, anxiously switching feet so they wouldn’t get burned. “Our boat is on the other side of the ship! Where did you all park?”

“Same place as yours,” Zoroark said. He pointed in the direction of the door they had parked at, which was now almost completely level. “But we can just cut over that way. Now let’s hurry!”

A clawed, pitch-black hand suddenly slammed itself onto the deck. The head of a Void Shadow slowly raised itself into view, growling lowly.

“That’s it, time to go!” Alexis yelled, ushering the entire party into a run. With unnatural strength, the Shadow leapt into the air, and . For the first time, Zoroark saw that it had no eyes. And then he realized: it was blind.

And then an idea came to him.

“No, wait!” he yelled, running to the front of the group and shedding his illusion completely. “Stay still!”

The shadow spun its head in his direction, snarling and sniffing the air.

“Not your biggest problem right now,” Zoroark growled. He turned back to the Void Shadow, which loomed over them. It sniffed the air loudly, then took another step towards the group.

Zoroark took a deep breath, steadying himself to produce an illusion. A phantom bang rang off to the left, that everymon heard. The Void Shadow’s head turned towards the noise, and it sprang off in that direction.

“It hunts by smell and noise,” he said. “I can keep it distracted long enough for us all to escape.”

“Good call. The rest of you, come on!” Alexis waved the group onwards.

“You’re working with a zoroark?” Cranidos asked in incredulity. Alexis pointedly ignored him.

The latter half of the ship exploded. The blast threw Zoroark, Alexis, and all the others sprawling to their paws. The deck took on a decidedly tilted slant.

They were almost at the boats now. The side of the Demetrius was tilted dangerously far over towards the ocean, threatening to crush the small pair of boats below. Alexis was the first to reach the edge, skidding to a stop and waiting for the other five to catch up before he went over.

“Okay, we’re going to have to jump,” he said, pointing at the larger boat. “Stairway’s gone.”

“How are we going to make it down there?” Cranidos asked. “I wasn’t made for heights…”

An unseen but very heard screech from the Void Shadow shut Cranidos up.

“You and me first.” Alexis grabbed hold of Cranidos, and jumped over the side. They both landed on the deck of the larger boat safely. “Now the rest of you! Come down in pairs!”

Lopunny grabbed hold of Shinx and jumped over the side. They both landed next to Alexis and Cranidos.

Only Elliot and Zoroark were left. Elliot grabbed Zoroark’s fur, and they were about to jump—

The Void Shadow bounded onto the deck with a loud screech and took a deadly swipe at Zoroark. Zoroark was knocked back onto the deck. Elliot tumbled down and fell onto the deck of the smaller boat.

“Alright, let’s go!” Cranidos yelled, heading for the steering wheel. “We’re taking off!”

“What do you think you’re doing?” Elliot bounded forward, pouncing for Cranidos, but Cranidos easily shook the much lighter pikachu off. Elliot was relentless anyway.

“Getting us out of here, that’s what,” Cranidos said.

“One of us is still left behind!” Elliot grunted, trying to pry him away from the steering wheel.

“If we stay here any longer, that’s gonna be all of us!”

The starboard deck of the Demetrius above them groaned dangerously, then fell forward towards the boat just a little closer.

Alexis made his decision.

“Steer us away. But not too far from the ship.”

“What?” Elliot asked. He wasn’t answered.

Once the sails were drawn, the boat began to speed up.

Zoroark slowly got up off the ground of the Demetrius’ deck, which was almost too hot to touch. The Void Shadow didn’t waste any time, punting him further away from the edge with another swipe of its claws. Zoroark was barely able to gather his bearings before the Shadow grabbed him in its claws, raising him up off the ground. Zoroark struggled to escape and slashed at tis claws wildly with his own, but black goo reinforced the Shadow’s hand and made it too bulky to slice through. The goo tightened around Zoroark’s ribs, and for a moment he thought he was done for…

Then, given the time to fully recover his bearings, he remembered. His kind were tricksters! He knew what to do.

The Shadow’s claws suddenly loosened their grasp on Zoroark at the feeling of something rapidly expanding between them, and Zoroark fell through the gap. There was of course, nothing in the Shadow’s claws. He hit the deck running, making sure that the sounds of his footsteps were going in a completely different direction than the one he was. The Shadow’s head snapped in the direction of the false footsteps, and it charged in the wrong direction.

Zoroark reached the end of the ship, and jumped over without hesitation. He didn’t realize the ship had left without him until he saw it in the distance, and that he was falling down into a sea of blue. He hit the water, and its cold enveloped him. A burning piece of the wreckage followed soon after, destroying the small lifeboat Zoroark had rowed out to the Demetrius in completely. If Zoroark had been above-water to see, he would have winced.

Not a moment later, the Demetrius blew apart completely with an earsplitting ’boom’. Shrapnel and debris flew into the air, and water was sent flying at least a hundred feet high. The rumbling of the wreckage and the splashing of water mixed with the piercing shriek of the monster, which wasn’t seen again.

Zoroark surfaced soon after the boom, but barely. He was trying to swim and keep is head above water, but it was cold and his fur was so heavy and he was tired and he couldn’t do it much longer… All he was able to keep his eyes on as he desperately tried to keep himself above water was the shape of the ship in the distance, which had rolled to a stop.

“I see him back there!” Lopunny yelled out. Sure enough, Zoroark was flailing in the water, back towards the Demetrius. This boat wasn’t going to reach him in time. Alexis looked down at the water, repressing another shudder. He didn’t want to go in…

…But then Zoroark disappeared beneath the surface completely, and Alexis realized he had to.

“Oh, muk it.”

Alexis steeled himself, then jumped off the side of the ship and dove into the water.

Zoroark sunk further and further down. The water felt like pins and needles on him. It was just too cold, and he was running out of air, and not a single illusion could save him now. Zoroark did his best to kick himself back up to the surface, but it wasn’t enough. He felt weak. His eyes began to close…

Alexis dove deeper and deeper down, his body slipping back into aquatic senses he’d never had to fully use since he’d been forced to a couple of times as an oshawott. He blinked his eyes, and he could see clearly underwater again. He scanned the ocean, glancing around the pieces of debris to see the huddled for of Zoroark. Sinking. Alexis made a beeline straight for him.

Zoroark was almost twice as large as Alexis was, but water made things lighter. All it took as a little push, and some paddling from Alexis’ webbed feet, and they both began to rise up towards the surface.

Alexis broke water, pulling the unconscious form of Zoroark up with him.

“Over here!” he called out to the ship in the distance. Ever so slowly, he saw the ship begin to make a roundabout turn and head for his position. Eventually it pulled up parallel to Alexis, and a lifeline was lowered by Lopunny and Shinx.

Zoroark was set on the deck, sopping wet and unconscious. Alexis fervently dried himself, trying get every single bit of the water off him. Just the thought of doing what he had just done made him shudder.

“I can take over.” Lopunny switched positions with Cranidos, taking over steering the ship. Elliot walked over and sat next to Alexis.

“Thank you,” he said.

“For what?”

“For going back for that one life.”

“Don’t mention it.” Alexis said. He let out a breath of relief and exhaustion. “What do we tell the public.”

“Nothing,” Elliot said.

“What do we tell HAPPI?”

“Everything.”

“Think they’ll believe us?”

“Probably not, but it’s worth a try. We know what happened, at least. And we have enough clout they won’t decommission us for the Demetrius’ loss.”

“What about the search party?”

“We could pay them off. Tell them to contact us directly if they see anything like it.”

“You always were better at this than I am.” Alexis got up and cracked his joints. “Meet up at the docks?”

“Yep.”

“Good.”

Zoroark sputtered, coughing up some water.

“Oh, you’re up.” Alexis squatted next to Zoroark, checking to make sure he was fully awake.

“I don’t know if you’re up for it, but you probably want to have that illusion up by the time we land. I don’t have a sash for you to wear right now.”


~\({O})/~

Noe Town Docks

The outcry began as soon as the boat docked in the harbor.

“What happened?”

“Why’d the ship explode??”

“Oh my! Are you all okay?”

“They made it out! All of them!”

“Was it pirates?”

“Quiet!” Alexis yelled. Silence immediately came over the crowd.

“Thank you,” he said. Behind him, the rest of the crew shuffled out. Lopunny and Shinx, carrying an unconscious Cranidos, Elliot with his lazily flicking ear, and Zoroark, who was now Braixen again.

“The Demetrius was boarded at sea by pirate pokemon,” Alexis continued, “and launched an attack on the docks when it sailed in. They took your search party hostage upon boarding, and when we attempted to free the search party they rigged the ship’s engine to explode. We barely made it off the ship with our own lives in time. This maneuver, of course, came at the cost of the pirate pokemons’ lives.” Alexis made a show of looking downwards to the ground in shame. “Now, as a rescue team ourselves, know that neither I nor Elliot relish the prospect of death. But sometimes, like now, we find our paws forced. We could not bring these outlaws to justice. And perhaps, in cases like these, we find death is the greatest justice. A necessary evil. Thank you for your time.”

The crowd began to resume its chatter at the end of Alexis’ speech, swarming in without restraint.

“So it was pirates…”

“Were they from the Grass Continent?”

“Where else do pirates come from?”

“Fair enough.”

“Hey, who’s the braixen?”

“No more questions,” Alexis announced loudly. The questions continued anyway, blending into one other until they were all an unintelligible mass of voices overlapping with each other.

“SILENCE!!” A thunderbolt shot up into the sky, and made the storm above rumble. Everyone cleared away from Elliot, who looked just as laid back as he had before. “We said no more questions. Thank you.”

Reluctantly, the pokemon in the crowd backed off, allowing Elliot, Alexis, and Zoroark-as-Braixen to walk through. Despite all the faces that were fixated on the three of them, Zoroark strangely cared about only one: the unmoving face of a xatu, perched upon the same pier it had been earlier, now staring directly at him and only him.


~\({O})/~

Klink ‘N Klank’s Diner

Klink ‘N Klank’s Diner was a popular attraction of Noe Town. Located in the less shabby portion of town, the diner attracted a steady stream of tourists and made more than enough to break even. As such, it was perhaps one of the most colorful buildings in town.

Alexis had bought Zoroark a yellow sash to wear once they had properly gotten into the town – it was too risky for him to constantly keep up an illusion around pokemon that might be watching. It went around his arm, but he was one of the only pokemon around to wear one. He didn’t understand why everymon else didn’t have one too. Alexis didn’t seem to have the heart to answer that question, so Zoroark hadn’t pressed.

Alexis had reserved a table for three in the diner. Zoroark got a strange look every now and then from some of the diners, but it never went beyond that. He eagerly ate his portion of curry with a ferociousness that was unrivaled by all but a dungeon feral. Perhaps that was why all the diners were staring weird at him. He made an attempt to eat a little less sloppily.

“As we were saying,” Alexis said, stirring Zoroark from his food. “Thank you for your help today. As promised, here’s your side of the pay.” Alexis sat a bag of money on the table.

Zoroark glanced at it in awe, then quickly licked his claws clean before he held it in his paws. “Wait,” he said. “You’re still giving me this? But wasn’t this for—”

“Don’t look a gift ponyta in the mouth.”

That shut Zoroark up.

Alexis leaned forward, his voice lowering. He suddenly looked more serious than usual. “That’s enough to buy you a bed tonight and get you off the continent tomorrow. Maybe even buy your own boat, who cares. But take the money and get out of here. There’s nothing for you on this cold rock of a continent.”

Zoroark gingerly took the sack of poke and held it tight. He finally had it. He wasn’t going to die on the streets! A fuzzy warmth of security passed through him at the thought. Although, if he was going to have leave the continent tomorrow like Alexis said… Zoroark briefly shivered at the idea of stepping off dry land again.

Why did life always lead him back to boats?


~\({O})/~

Noe Town Harbor

The storm had passed, and the sun shone over Noe Town once again. The hulking wreck of what remained of the Demetrius had been swept away by the wind and waves, with only a few pieces of debris floating up to the shore as a reminder of its existence. The smaller sailboats tethered to the dock had suffered little damage at all, and harbormon were readying their boats for days of travelling, trading, and fishing.

Zoroark-as-Braixen stood near the edge of the pier, looking out at all the sailboats. Unseen by anymon around him, his zoroark’s mane flapped and fluttered in the wind. He held the sack of poke that Alexis had given him in his claws. The weight of it felt heavy in his paws.

Alexis’ words rang heavy in his head: “Take the money and get out of here. There’s nothing for you on this cold rock of a continent.” Zoroark shook the pouch, letting the poke inside jingle. By the sound of it, he’d been given enough to buy a smallish boat. That would pay his fare for a wailord liner trip and many things beyond that. He could leave the continent right now, if he wanted. As for where he’d go… maybe back to Water. Somemon could help him there, for sure.

“But is that really what you want for yourself?”

Zoroark looked up in surprise, glancing up at the xatu he hadn’t even noticed until then. It was perched on the harbor’s guardrails, staring up at the sun in the same position he had seen it yesterday.

“H- how did you do that?” Zoroark asked.

The xatu looked down at him with the same piercing, unchanging stare it greeted the sun with every day. “How did I do what?”

“Finish my thought like that. How?”

“We humble xatu are Seers,” the xatu answered calmly. “In other words, I can see the past and the many possible futures. I knew you would think before you thunk it.” It turned back to the sun, meeting its rays with an unmoving stare once more.

Zoroark huffed, looking at all the boats. It wouldn’t be long before a wailord liner arrived. He wondered if the xatu was waiting for the ship too.

“Life is like a series of twisting paths,” Xatu said after a moment, as if he was talking to thin air. “Sometimes, the path seems straight, but it never is. It’s filled with crossroads, that can change your future forever depending on which path you take. You don’t decide your crossroads, but your crossroads decide you. I sense you are standing at a crossroads right now. Yet you do not know which path to take.”

“The path seems pretty straight from here,” Zoroark-as-Braixen said. “I’m hitching a ride out of this town, as soon as the next wailord liner shows up.”

“And yet, you are indecisive. Can you be sure you are not at a crossroads instead?”

Zoroark was a dark-type, but he could swear this bird was reading his mind.

“If I’m at a crossroads, then what’s the other path?” he asked.

“I cannot tell you your own future. But if I may, allow me to impart upon you the future of another.” The xatu gracefully gestured to the right with a wing, and Zoroark looked over to see a bonsly haggling away with a krabby fishermon several boats across. A yellow sash hung from his arm.

“He is the father of three who has lost the boat he uses for his trade and cannot afford another,” Xatu said. “He believes the storm has done away with it. But you and I both know better.”

Immediately, Zoroark felt jittery. Surely it wasn’t the same boat. It couldn’t have been. And how did this Xatu know, anyway—right, seer or whatever.

Deep down, he knew it was the same boat.

“Without another, he and his family will starve to death come the Big Storm this year. Unless…”

“Unless?” Zoroark asked.

“Unless you offer a helping paw,” Xatu said, glancing down at the purse in Zoroark’s hands. “I understand there is just enough poke in that purse to buy another boat.”

Zoroark clutched it tightly. He had gone through hell and back for this money. It was his ticket out of here, his ticket to safety. His ticket to a new life. How could he give it all up just like that?

“You’re asking me to give away all my money?” he asked.

“To save lives infinitely more valuable than a few bits of gold, I would,” Xatu said.

“But what about my life?” Zoroark asked. “What am I going to do without these “bits of gold”? They seem pretty valuable to me.”

“His need is greater.”

Zoroark felt the beginnings of a growl begin to stir in his throat. That magby hadn’t been the one who had suffered through the nightmares aboard that ship, or spent a night adrift on the sea with an empty belly and soaked fur; why should he give up his hard-earned cash for a pokemon he didn’t even know?

But the boat he had taken had been the magby’s. It was only fair he pay off something he had stolen in the first place. The question was boiling up in his mind like a water gun: could he live with himself? Could he walk onto that liner, knowing that a family of pokemon were going to die because of his actions?

“You say he’ll die without a boat?” Zoroark asked. “You know that for sure?”

“He and his family, yes,” the xatu answered. “I have looked into his future; you are his last hope.”

“And I’m the only one who can help him?”

“Yes. This is your crossroads. Which path will you take?”

And all of the sudden, neither path seemed like such a great option. Zoroark thought to himself for a moment. The distant bellow of a wailord sent him back to reality. If he had to choose…

He’d right his wrong. With a deep breath to stop his legs from shivering enough to make him lose his balance, Zoroark-as-Braixen began to walk across the harbor.

The magby was already walking away from the boat empty-handed by the time Zoroark-as-Braixen caught up with him.

“Here,” he said, stiffly holding out the pouch of money. “For your troubles.”

The magby tilted his head in confusion. “Who are you? And what’s in that bag?”

“Poke,” Zoroark-as-Braixen breathed. “Enough to buy you a new boat. I-” He stuttered, realizing that he shouldn’t have even known. “-I heard you lost your old one.”

It was a moment before the magby hesitantly jumped up and snatched the bag from Zoroark-as-Braixen’s claws. His eyes brightened when he heard the jingle in the bag and realized that it was true.

“Well, thanks,” he said. “I don’t really know what else to say, but… thanks.”

He looked up. No-mon was there.

“…Huh.” He tilted his head again in confusion, then began to walk away with the sack of poke. Behind the invisibility illusion that Zoroark had cast, he sighed. Thin air deftly moved behind a stack of battered crates and walked out as a purple-furred braixen. He only had one option now.

It never occurred to him until the Xatu was gone that it shouldn’t have been able to see his thoughts at all.


~\({O})/~

Noe Town Outskirts

Alexis and Elliot were already on the outskirts of town by the time that Zoroark had caught up with them.

“Wait!” he called out, prompting both of them to look back. Alexis’ face fell, like he was staring into the face of a battle already lost.

“Yes,” he asked, turning around fully. “Something you need?”

“You’re headed back into Pokemon Paradise, right?” Zoroark-as-Braixen asked. “I want to come with you there.”

“You’d be better-off sticking to the main path for that,” Alexis said. “Elliot and I, we travel rough.”

“I can take rough,” Zoroark said, walking closer. “Travelling rough in a group is safer than travelling easy alone.”

Alexis sighed. He looked to Elliot, who shrugged in response.

“If you think you can handle it,” he said. “You’re hunting for yourself, though. We only brought rations for two.”

His eyes read with resigned disappointment: I told you to get out of here.

Zoroark’s read with an optimism that Alexis both envied and pitied. He turned around, gesturing Zoroark-as-Braixen onwards as he and Elliot began to continue onwards. The last of Zoroark’s illusion dissolved around him as the trio entered the mist-covered woods ahead.


~\({O})/~

Music of the Week!

An Unpleasant Encounter Involving A Train -- Thomas Newman

A Fateful Meeting -- James Newton Howard

Prize - Zoroark-as-Braixen-by-Windskull.png

Art by Windskull
 
Last edited:
Chapter 30 - To Lively Town

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter30Art.png

~\({O})/~

30.

To Lively Town


~\({O})/~

Off the Coast Of Mist

~Latias~

It's sunny. Off the coast of Mist, where the sun rarely shines even during summer, that's considered a hot day.

A streak of hot red shoots across the ocean at speeds only the fastest birds can match. It's not fast enough.

Latias has been flying for a day and a half. At some point, Latios was there, but she hasn't heard him since the last dark blast. She wants to look back, just to make sure he's still there and he's okay, but to do that means to lose some of her velocity. And that's not an option.

She still hasn't laid eyes on just what's chasing her. All she knows is that it's large, large enough to make the air howl behind her. A black flake dances into her vision every so often, ever so small but just enough for her to know her pursuer isn't of this world.

It's been like that ever since they flew past the storm.

The storm was large. It twisted down to the ocean like a massive cyclone, and the centre was almost pitch black.

They were out scouting, looking for any trace of their peers. Word had abruptly dropped off three weeks ago, and nature was beginning to spin out of control. Just the storm in front of them had grown larger and more powerful than any storm should have been.

Then the storm expanded. The blackness began to break away from the main storm, and soon something was chasing them.

Latios always knew what to do. Latias had asked him, shouting as loud as she could over the whistling of air, what they should do. Latios had said they needed to find the island.

Further explanation wasn't given. There wasn't time.

Latias had only been told about the Island in stories kept tightly contained to the circle of legendaries, the only ones who could be trusted with that knowledge. It was an island that existed off the coast of Mist, the entrance to another world that should never be opened. If it ever was, then hell would descend upon the planet and lead it to its doom. Latios hadn't said it, but just from his words Latias had been able to infer what had happened. It must have been opened at some point. And whatever is chasing her now is from that world.

The Mist air finally begins to chill her fins, a familiar sense of frost from zooming around this continent settling in. She must be close to the coast now.

And sure enough, just ahead, there's a thick shroud of fog in the distance. That fog's never lifted all her life, no matter how many times she came near this continent or at what time of the year it is. Unmoving fog is only reminiscent of one thing, she knows: a mystery dungeon.

The sound of grating vocal cords alerts Latias to what's about to happen: another blast. She's ragged and tired, but thankfully the beast is large and a fraction too slow for her. She banks hard right just before a blast of pure black hurtles outward where she had been. Those attacks aren't often, but they are devastating. A flock of birds were caught in the blast the first time, and she didn't even see them after that.

Grating vocal cords. Latias manages to duck just before another blast flies over her head. Two in a row hasn't happened before. All the same, she keeps her bearings and manages to stay ahead of the creature. The fog is growing closer, closer, closer—

She hits it, and mist envelops her vision. Despite the highs speeds she's going at over the water, she can't see more than six feet in front of her.

She still hears the flaps after her. The beast is still on her tail, and it's like it can see her clear as day. The fog doesn't even seem to be displaced behind it.

Eventually, the mist starts to thin out. And the heat begins rising. Latias sees the spines of sharp rocks below. Many of them have been eroded with age, or broken away by something else. She sees a large rock formation ahead, which she won't hit for a minute. And in the distance, she sees what looks like a shipwreck.

It's not like any shipwreck she's ever seen. Pitch black from top to bottom, no sails, a hull made of metal. The white front, which looks strikingly like an aggron's skull, is floating in the water, wrenched apart. The ship looks like it's been speared on the rocks from above—like somemon threw it in that position.

No matter. A shipwreck in waters these treacherous isn't anything to gawk at. Latias sets her sights ahead, but for a split second forgets to pay attention to what's chasing her—

She barely dodges a blast from the creature that flies out into the fog and dissipates just before it reaches the formation. Latias dives through a hole in the rocks—

The hole is too large for the creature to make. She hears the earsplitting crash as it collides with the rocks, the loud, birdlike screech as it collapses on the creature, and the splash as the creature is knocked back into the ocean. That might buy her a minute.

The island has to be around here somewhere. It's now blisteringly hot, and Latias doesn't understand it. But she presses forward anyway. And soon she gets her answer.

She reaches the island. Except, it's only half island. On it stands a mountain made of fire, sending waves of heat through the air around it. Latias could swear it's nearly shining with energy.

She can hear the screeches of the creature behind her, still on the chase. Luckily, she paid attention in her classes. She knows what to do. She skids to a stop down by the island's beach, searching for what she knows she needs to find: a pillar. The creature was delayed, but it's fast approaching.

Latias finds the pillar just in time. She fumbles with the cards on it, trying to figure out what to do with them. For a frightening second, they come off, but then she realizes they're removable. She places them back, and just as the creatures bursts out of the fog with a screech, slots them in the only way they can slot: forward.

Finally, she sees the creature in all its glory: a magnificent dark bird, made entirely of black, swirling dust. Its wings spread out like colossal claws, and it outsizes Latias many times over. It rears its head, preparing to release yet another blast, and between her own exhaustion and the blistering heat Latias can't move fast enough to dodge it. But she doesn't need to. With a rumble, the mountain is sinking further into the ground, and it begins to pull the creature down along with it. It shrieks as more and more of its body evaporates, sucked into the slowly sinking mountain. The shaking envelops the island, and the mountain and the monster become one.

But it only takes a minute, and soon the peak of the mountain sinks into the ground, the earth closing up behind it with just a few rumbles. And then all is still.

It's a minute before Latias dares to move. When she can finally muster the courage to look up from where she's cowering, she sees that where the mountain was, only a completely smooth plateau of unnatural, blue-colored stone exists.

How does a mountain disappear into the ground? What was that creature? And why her and Latios? Latias knows only her brother can answer those questions right now.

But where is he?

"Latios!" she calls out to empty mist, awaiting a call she deep down knows she won't get.

"Brother?"

But the mists are silent, and soon it hits Latias like a truck. She really was alone that whole time.

She cries, and it's ugly.

But eventually she's out of cry. And there's nothing here but desolate rocks, the wrecks of ships long lost to see, and singed trees burnt by something that wasn't there. The legendaries had long since agreed to stay out of the affairs of other pokemon, but the situation is different now. She knows she needs to break that agreement.

Only issue is, she doesn't know where all the world's guilds are. Latios had neglected to teach her that, when he was still…

Ignoring that. The closest one she knew of was the Archeology Division on the Sand Continent. She vaguely recalled there being one on Mist, but she couldn't waste time combing the continent for something she wasn't sure existed or not. Last she checked the Bittercold had wrecked that place anyway.

To the Sand Continent it was, then. She needed to report what she'd seen, and get the information out to somemon who would listen.

For even if she wasn't there when the First Devastation happened, even if her teachers hadn't told her everything she needed to know, she knew enough to know what this meant: The end of the world was approaching.


~\({O})/~

Lively Mountain Range

~Espurr and Tricky~

The Lively Mountain Range was the opposite of its name: vast, barren, and deserted. The sun shone harshly down on the mountains, making the steep pathways hot to the touch. Without a map, there was a real danger of getting lost out here and perishing in the heat.

And neither Espurr nor Tricky had brought the most important thing on their trip.

"Water…" Tricky panted out, trying not to trip over or kick around any rocks as they scaled a narrow passageway up a steep mountainside. Her ears and tail drooped as she panted, making an exaggerated show of how parched she was. Espurr, walking alongside her, was just as thirsty, but she didn't have a solution. Aside from mentally kicking herself for being stupid enough to bring a bag full of everything but water.

They'd fled through the night, with high hopes that they'd be in Lively Town the next morning. The Water Continent couldn't be that big, after all… right? But it was high noon now, and all Espurr and Tricky could see around them were the vast expanse of mountains. All they had to go on was the taut string of hope that Espurr was following the map correctly, and they weren't simply wandering aimlessly throughout the mountains.

Luckily, the route had been outlined in red.

Traveler pokemon often crossed these paths when coming to and from Lively Town, so Espurr didn't understand why the cliffs were so narrow. A few of them probably wouldn't have even fit a trader's wagon. She reached into her bag and spread Ampharos' map again, attempting to pinpoint their location on it. That was easy; the large mountain just ahead of them was outlined clearly on the map. That was the good news. With her eyes, she traced the path they were on and saw a big, purple blotch on the map between them and Lively Town…

That was the bad news.

Behind her, Tricky let out a loud groan and let her legs give way. She slumped over onto the path.

"Espuuur," she whined. "I can't go on any longer! Don't we have any water?"

"No, we don't," Espurr said. She didn't see the point in sugarcoating it. "I'm thirsty too. But lying around isn't going to help any.

"Besides," she added, flapping the map in her paws for effect. "I'm sure there'll be water in Lively Town. This map says we're close."

Tricky's ears couldn't help but give a revealing perk upwards at that. She looked up at Espurr.

"How close?"

"It's just a couple of mountains over. We're nearly there. But…" Espurr turned around, waiting for Tricky to walk up to where they could both survey the massive mountain ahead of them. "We have to go through that big mountain first. And it's a mystery dungeon."

If Espurr was being honest with herself, this was the opportunity she had secretly been hoping for the entire trip. She knew they were being followed; she had seen the distant lights in the mountains during the night when they had travelled. The beheeyem were tireless and they weren't far behind. A mystery dungeon was the perfect opportunity to throw them off, or at least slow them down. It would give them a few hours' worth of an advantage at worst, and if she was reading that map correctly, they'd be safely on the other side of the Lively Mountain Range by then.

Tricky pulled herself to her feet, walking over with a clearly artificial spring in her step. Espurr could see the weariness in it as well.

"Well, if we're that close… how bad can one mystery dungeon be?" she asked.

"Not too bad," Espurr said, more hopefully than anything. She just hoped it wasn't one of those ten floor monster dungeons. She steeled herself. "Not too bad at all. We can make it."

"That's the spirit!" Tricky sang, and the two pokemon set out on the remainder of their quest with renewed vigor the both of them knew in the back of their minds wasn't to last.

Behind them, in the distant mountain range, red, green, and yellow lights blinked.


~\({O})/~

Gentle Slope Cave

"Here it is," Espurr said, panting. The rest of their trip from there had thankfully been downhill, but now they stood at the foot of the mystery dungeon that stood between them and Lively Town—the map called it Gentle Slope Cave.

The air vibrated around them; both Espurr and Tricky could smell a faint tinge of the rancid scent of Mystery Dungeon. But that was typical. Espurr and Tricky looked at each other.

"Ready?"

"Ready!"

"Grab my paw. Together on three. One… Two…"

"Three!"

They both barreled into the dungeon—

And fell out into the halls of a cavern that didn't look quite right in a heap. Espurr and Tricky picked themselves up, coughing from the dust that had just been pushed into their faces. A coughing fit that lasted far longer than it should have from their dry throats. Eventually, Espurr steadied herself against the cavern wall and managed to stop coughing long enough to catch her bearings.

The hallways of the cavern were twisted in ways that wouldn't have been possible outside of a mystery dungeon, with bits and pieces of sky and moss snaking in from the ground and walls. Inside of a dungeon, however, it was pretty normal fare. Espurr hardly even blinked twice. She watched Tricky get to her feet, slowly shouldering her bag and continuing in through the dungeon's halls.

The dungeon was deserted save for Espurr and Tricky, and the faint traces of the scent from before had disappeared. After a while Espurr tentatively dropped her guard, realizing that this dungeon seemed to be devoid of enemies. Not that she particularly had the energy to fight one off if they did run into one (and she could sense off Tricky that she didn't either). For the dungeon's emptiness, she was thankful.

On the second floor, they came across the remains of an overturned trader's cart. The trader was nowhere to be seen, and the rotten stench coming off the cart's insides made Tricky retch in disgust and Espurr cover her nose to block out the smell. It was to Tricky's surprise that she saw Espurr slowly inching towards the caravan, keeping one paw clamped over her nose and reaching the other out to pull off the cart's tarp.

"What are you doing?" Tricky gagged, covering her nose with her paws and wrinkling it the more the tarp came off. "That stuff's rotting!"

"But still…" Espurr gasped between breaths she was taking with her mouth. "There might be…"

With a thwoomp, the tarp came off, revealing its contents to the two pokemon. Their eyes settled amongst one thing among all the other rotting goods:

"Water!"

Both pokemon scrambled over to the cart, thoughts of rotting goods and awful smells forgotten as they hoisted the large canister of water out of the cart. Tricky greedily stuck her head in and drank once they had gotten the lid open, and once she was done (Espurr had to stop her so she wouldn't drink it all) Espurr drank too.

The canister was empty before they knew it, and now that Espurr had drank, she felt hungry. But the rotting stench in the corners of her nostrils (and was some in her fur? She mentally shuddered at the idea) was enough to put her appetite on hold for a while. Anything they could have eaten would probably just end up right back on the floor anyway.

With their thirst quenched, the two pokemon promptly picked themselves up, adjusted their bag and scarves, and continued on their way down the dungeon. The two of them didn't stop to question what had happened to the driver.

The bear attacked on the third floor.

It came out of nowhere, with an opening swipe that flung Espurr from the floor into a nearby wall. Some of the rock chipped off where she hit it, breaking away to reveal endless blue skies on the other side.

Tricky immediately lashed out with an ember, but the bear snuffed the attack out of existence with its left paw. Tricky yelped and ran further back before the bear could snatch her up in its jaws.

Espurr peeled herself off the wall, watching the bear pursue Tricky further down the halls. Once she registered what was happening, she acted without thinking.

"Over here!" Espurr yelled, focusing her mental tendrils on the bear's stubby tail. Mercilessly, she yanked it.

The bear let out a squeal of pain, trying to shake its rump free of Espurr's grip. Tricky hid behind a convenient boulder while it was distracted.

The bear's body force was too strong—Espurr couldn't hold on forever. She eventually lost her grip, watching in fright as the bear turned around and began to make a beeline straight for her.

She dived out of the way just as it made to pin her down, rolling over and out of the bear's reach. The bear slammed into the dungeon wall, its weight breaking away the rest of the rock formation. Now there was a large hole in the wall, revealing an endless expanse of blue skies beyond the dungeon's barriers.

Espurr felt the balance of the dungeon begin to shift, as her body began to slide down the floor that was quickly becoming the wall. Realizing where she was going to end up if she didn't move fast, she scrambled across the diagonally-tilted ground until there was a sturdy rock wall below her for her to land on.

The bear seemed to realize the danger it was in too, and began to follow Espurr across. Espurr turned around and shot a blast of concentrated mental energy straight at the bear. The bear was blown back and fell into the hole, catching the rock wall that was now the ground by a single paw. It was too heavy—the rock that it had a pawhold on began to crack under its weight. There was nothing Espurr could do but gasp for air from where she was and watch the ground crack in abject horror and fascination.

All of the sudden, the rock gave out, and the bear was sent plummeting into the depths below. Its departure was punctuated by a howling roar that became softer and softer until Espurr's ears couldn't pick it up anymore.

Then there was only silence, and the hole.

Tricky slowly crept forward, bugging her eyes out at the hole in the ground. There was a strip of still-intact rock along the edges of what had once been right next to the roof. Tricky shimmied her way across, taking extra super care not to lose her footing and fall into the abyss.

"What happened?" she asked, once she had gotten across safely. "Why are we on the wall now? And why's there a hole in the wall? Did that hole do this?"

Espurr nodded in response to that last question. "I guess this is what happens when you break a mystery dungeon."

"I… I guess so," Tricky mumbled, cowed.

Neither of them mentioned the bear. The silent horror of the incident was unspoken between them.


~\({O})/~

The Gentle Slope Cave was, thankfully, only three floors, but what had felt like thirty minutes inside the dungeon seemed to have taken the entire day instead. Espurr and Tricky staggered out into the sunset, looking up at the waning sun in the sky. But it didn't matter, at least in Espurr's mind. They were past the hardest part; it was all going to be downhill from here! She felt her spirits raise just a little.

Until Tricky's stomach growled.

"Ugh…" she groaned. "I really wish we brought something to eat."

"I wish we did too," Espurr admitted. She was feeling the weariness inside her; all of her bones ached with the pains of having not rested for a day and a half.

Behind her, Tricky collapsed. She was panting, and looked run ragged.

"Can we stop here for the night?" she asked. "I'm so beat. We've been walking all night and all day... Don't you feel tired?"

Espurr had to agree. Silently, she turned around and fell on her rump, letting the bag on her shoulder slump down to the floor. Flickers of worry ran through her mind. They couldn't sleep here! What if the beheeyem got here while they were asleep? What then? But it was, ever-so-slowly, overridden by every bone in her body screaming out for a good night's rest she hadn't really had for the last week.

Tricky snuggled next to her, yawning and not-so-subtly laying her head on Espurr's bag as a pillow. Espurr lay there, keeping her eyes wide open. Even if they had to rest—even if she had to rest—she could still keep guard. There would be time to sleep when they got to Lively Town.

To Lively Town… Espurr's weary mind clung to that one phrase as she felt her eyelids begin to droop and she couldn't keep them open anymore and…


~\({O})/~

Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked herself awake.

Her scarf was twisted and felt tight on her neck, and she could feel the dust in her fur. The sky above was black, illuminated only by the strong shining moon. It was nighttime.

In an instant, Espurr came to her senses. How long had they slept for? That was dangerous! If those beheeyem had stumbled upon them while they were sleeping…

…And yet, they hadn't. And Espurr couldn't deny she felt a little less tired. Maybe Tricky was right, maybe she was just too stressed out. For all she knew, the beheeyem weren't anywhere near—

The clack of some rolling rocks in the distance. Espurr froze. Speak of the—

But there was no use in trying to move now. That would only reveal their position. Espurr took a deep breath, closed her eyes, and reached out with her sixth sense.

She crept over the rugged walls of the mountain with the tendrils of her mind, feeling out for any other living thing in the area. It wasn't long before she found it: just around the corner from where she was sitting, a trio of living beings. She could feel the power they exuded, creeping ever closer. Creeping over the very rocks that Espurr's mind slunk back over. She saw in her mind the alien tendrils that advanced, and in an instant she knew exactly who they belonged to.

There you are.

Espurr's eyes shot open with a gasp sharp enough to alert anymon nearby to her presence. That Voice again… it had come directly from the beheeyems' mind. She could hear the beheeyem getting closer; the chase was up and she knew it.

"Tricky," Espurr hissed. She shook the fennekin violently until Tricky stirred with a whine. "Shh," Espurr cautioned, thrusting her arms out wildly.

"Whu…" Tricky looked up groggily, squinting to keep the moonlight out of her eyes. "What time is it?"

"It's the middle of the night, you need to get up, we're being followed and they're here," Espurr said in the space of a second, not even breaking to pause.

"We're being followed… ?" Tricky mumbled in tired confusion, half asleep.

"Yes!" Espurr exclaimed as quietly as possible. She could feel herself trembling all over. She cast a frantic glance at the entrance to make sure they weren't here yet. "Get up, please!"

Tricky clumsily pulled herself to her feet, and Espurr snatched the exploration bag up once Tricky's head was off it. But it was too late. When Espurr and Tricky turned around, they faced the beheeyem.

The beheeyem moved slowly, as if savoring Espurr and Tricky's fear. Tricky finally seemed to realize the full scope of the danger, snapping wide awake. The beheeyem began to raise the rapidly flickering lights on their limbs in unison. Black sparks collected around their blinkers.

Whatever they were planning, Espurr wasn't having it. Her eyes narrowed—she concentrated on the cliff above her, and then directed a blast of psychic energy up at one of the rocks. A headache spiked up her forehead and made her grunt in pain, but it had done what she wanted it to. The blast dislodged a ton of rocks, that all began to fall down towards them both—

Espurr and Tricky both jumped back just in time. The rockslide tumbled down with a series of loud crashes and completely blocked off the road in front of them. Slowly, they both raised themselves from the ground. The space behind the rocks was silent.

"Did we get them?" Tricky asked.

"I don't know," Espurr admitted.

But she was determined to find out. Closing her eyes, she tried to reach out with her sixth sense again…

The avalanche of rocks suddenly exploded outward—

Both Espurr and Tricky were caught by projectile rocks flying away from the pile. Espurr was sent flying across the path and landed safely on her rump. Tricky was blown clear off the edge of the cliff. She caught the edge by a paw and nothing more.

"Espurr!" she shrieked out in terror, scrabbling with her other three paws to get a good pawhold on the cliff ledge. "Help me!"

The beheeyem were advancing through the settling dust. Their flickering lights blinked Espurr in the eye. She scrambled out of the way as a ball of darkness suddenly flew towards her. It made a visible indent in the ground.

Espurr's head snapped over at the sound of Tricky's shouts, and she immediately dropped her bag and scrambled over to pull her back up onto the ledge. But it was too late—Tricky's one paw finally lost its hold on the ground. With a horrified yelp, Tricky fell off the cliff.

Espurr's world seemed to slow down. Her ears shone, then unfurled. No, this wasn't happening. This couldn't happen. She wasn't going to let it happen. She couldn't. She was… She was going to…

Nearly ten feet below the cliff's ledge, Tricky found herself suspended in midair. She panted in fear, held in place. Visibly straining, Espurr slowly pulled Tricky back up on top of the cliff.

Once she was set on the ground, Tricky collapsed into Espurr's fur, shaking all over. Espurr hugged her tightly. Her ears lost their sheen and went limp.

They had both forgotten about the beheeyem.

Espurr didn't remember until an alien psychic blast nearly buffeted them off the cliff. It would have, if Espurr hadn't managed to combat it at the last second with a barrier of her own. But it took everything out of her. It made her dizzy; her vision grew fuzzy and tinged with yellow, and she could hear her pulse thundering through her ears. It was all she could do not to faint at the edge of a cliff. Barely, she was able to make out black sparks collecting around the lights once more. All she could do was close her eyes and hope it was quick…

But suddenly, the attack flew elsewhere.

Something in retaliation landed in the middle of the pathway, creating a thunderous crack and throwing debris everywhere.

When Espurr opened her eyes again, she caught the cone-hats of the beheeyem turning tail and fleeing down the mountain. Where they had used to be, somemon in a long green cloak twirled their staff for show.

Espurr squinted, trying to make out their cloaked savior's species. But Tricky's eyes suddenly lit up in recognition.

"I know who that is!" she exclaimed in awe. "That's—"

Ampharos gave his staff one more twirl and firmly wedged the pointy end into the rocky ground beneath him as he watched the beheeyem run off like the cowards they were. He adjusted his cloak and then walked over to Espurr and Tricky. The orb on his tail shone extra bright, acting as a lantern.

"Ampharos!"

Tricky broke the silence first, leaping over and wrapping Ampharos in a tight hug. Espurr watched her from where she sat, with something between shock and surprise. The wheels in her brain started turning: This seemed too convenient. How could he have been in just the right place at just the right time to save them? He couldn't have been wandering around in the mountains for two weeks, that wasn't right. So for him to be here, now…

The expedition gadget in her bag suddenly felt a lot heavier. This could be the start of a greater trap. For now, she had to assume he was working with the beheeyem.

Ampharos patted Tricky on the head with a paw, then stood back up.

"You two are a long way from home," he said. "I must ask: what brings you all the way out here?"

Espurr cleared her throat, making her best attempt to not look disheveled as she stood up. "We're headed to—"

"—To Lively Town!" Tricky excitedly finished for her. "We're going to join the Expedition Society with our junior membership!"

"Ah, Lively Town!" Ampharos exclaimed jovially. "It just so happens I'm headed there myself! And..." he glanced back in the direction the beheeyem had gone running for dramatic effect. He lowered his voice. "It seems the path is dangerous tonight. What say we travel the rest of the way together? I'll even see you to the Expedition Society when we get there."

"Wait a minute," Espurr interjected. "How do we know we can trust you?"

Ampharos looked a bit taken aback. "Well, I just saved you two, did I not?"

"You never said why you did that. How did you know we were going to be here?"

"Do you need a reason to do something for somemon?" Ampharos asked without skipping a beat. Berry crackers. This kid was shrewd. He could feel the child's psychic tendrils probing the outer thoughts of his brain, but chose not to comment.

Espurr finally retracted her mind, somewhat satisfied that Ampharos didn't have malicious intent. She dusted herself off, dropped the argument, and walked over to collect her bag.

Ampharos unwedged his staff from the ground. The scent of the mystery dungeon painted the breeze from the path behind. Wherever the beheeyem had run, they could not have gone far.

"We'd best get going, I'd say," Ampharos said, walking back to Espurr and Tricky with his staff once more. "Our shadowy pursuers are not far behind."


~\({O})/~

They traveled until dawn. Espurr and Tricky were delighted to find out that Ampharos had brought along glorious food! The two of them greedily sunk their teeth into a pair of apples like they had never eaten before in their life. Ampharos, walking slightly ahead of them, took a polite bite of his own and tried to act like he had any idea of where he was going. (He didn't, he was just following the path and hoping he was going the right way.)

The path led them up and around one more big mountain, where the sun had finally risen enough to let the three pokemon see their surroundings without the help of Ampharos' tail. It wasn't long before Tricky, back to her usual juvenile self and scampering ahead of the group, hopped upon a small boulder and promptly began to freak out.

"We're here!" she crowed excitedly to the skies. Hopping off the boulder, Tricky sprinted all the way back to Espurr and Ampharos in the space of a second. "We're here! We're here! I can see Lively Town!"

Espurr's face brightened at that news. She quickened her pace and began to jog after Tricky. Once she was far enough away, Ampharos let out a silent sigh of relief. His awful sense of direction hadn't killed them after all.

Sure enough, Lively Town was just a downhill walk away. Walking up to the boulder, Espurr saw the town in all its brilliant colors, with vibrant shades of red and green and blue and purple dotting the town's roofs. In the middle, on a hill slightly elevated from the rest of the town, was a large purple building with bright yellow turreted roofs and a tower with a top floor that looked suspiciously like a connection orb.

"Look at that!" Tricky said loudly, pointing out the building with one paw while bouncing on the other three. "That must be the Expedition Society!"

"Right you are," Ampharos said from behind them. Espurr looked back to see him walking up with his staff. "What say we go get you both acquainted?" He yawned. "I could use a spot of rest on the side."

"Yes yesyesyesyesyesyesyesyesyes!" Tricky screeched, bouncing higher than a spoink. She eagerly led the way down the mountain and to the entry archway of the town, and even Ampharos had to run a little bit to keep up.


~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Headquarters

The Expedition Society had looked small from afar. Now that Espurr was closer, it loomed above her. The tall tower in the middle reached at least four stories high—taller than any building in Serenity Village. Espurr, Tricky, and Ampharos were all cast in its shadow.

Ampharos held back, pretending to be busy checking some of the missions on the billboard. When Espurr looked back he silently waved them both off into the building. Tricky took the invitation without hesitation, pushing open the giant double doors and dashing in. With one last wary glance at Ampharos, Espurr reluctantly followed.

The Expedition Society's lobby was dazzling and took both Espurr and Tricky off guard. The floors were decked out in the same brilliant colors that the outside of the building sported, and a large staircase with golden railings stood in front of them. But for all its fanciness, the lobby was completely empty.

"Where are all the explorers?" Tricky's befuddled voice cut through the silence.

"Oh!"

Both Espurr and Tricky's heads turned to see a small dedenne lugging a stack of papers larger than she was along. She quickly straightened the papers, set them aside, and scurried forward. "Hi! Welcome to the Expedition Society. May I—"

She held her paw out, then realized that Tricky wasn't the best candidate for a paw-shake, then offered it to Espurr instead. Espurr just watched it with caution.

"Um…" Dedenne cleared her throat, a little uneasy at Espurr's silence. "Sorry, you caught us a bit early today. Technically we don't open for another half-hour, but here's what I can do—" she scurried back to her stack of papers, and took a blank one. "—I can have you write down your mission request right here, and one of our esteemed members will get on it shortly after we open!" she grinned widely, then faltered, looking down at the paper. "No, wait, you'll probably want one with the proper form…"

Quick as a flash, she snatched the paper back and ran back over to the stack.

"Agh! So disorganized today…" Espurr heard her snap to herself as she rummaged through the papers.

"I think there's some kind of misunderstanding," Espurr said. She took a deep breath, preparing "We're looking for—"

"—To join!" Tricky cut in, finishing Espurr's sentence.

Dedenne looked just about as shocked as Espurr. She let out a little titter of nervousness.

"I'm… sorry," she began, "but that's a bit above my pay grade. Besides, you two are still kids! Why don't you come back when you're a bit older?"

Tricky locked up. Her ears flopped downwards, and she began to tremble. Espurr was hit with red-hot waves of emotion coming straight from her. It sent her reeling to the side a little, and she had to move somewhat further away from Tricky before it was bearable.

"It's alright, Dedenne; they're with me." Ampharos' voice cut in cleanly, putting a stop to Tricky's emotional crisis.

"Chief!" Dedenne immediately straightened up, going back to picking up her papers. "You... left. Again." She cleared her throat perfunctorily.

"I had an important matter of business to attend to," Ampharos replied. "Namely, rescuing these two." He gestured to both Espurr and Tricky, standing in the background.

"Wait," Espurr said, looking at Ampharos. "'Chief'? You're the chief here?"

Ampharos frowned wryly.

"Well, that jig's up."

He flashed his cape again, ruffling Dedenne's papers and causing her to hold them down protectively. "Indeed!" he declared, taking a flamboyant pose. "Know me as Ampharos, proud Chief of the Expedition Society!"

"Chief, could you cut down a bit on the declarations please?" All four 'mon in the room turned to see Bunnelby, walking into the room like he'd just been resurrected from the grave. "I just woke up; all this noise is makin' my ears fall off."

"Ah, sorry for that," Ampharos gave a graceful bow of apology. "Good to see you up and at 'em."

Bunnelby 'hmm'd in acknowledgment as he took a spot against the wall to finish waking up.

"Wait." Tricky perked up again, looking like she had the key to saving the world. "If you're the chief, then you call all the shots around here, right?"

In an instant she was pressed up tight against Ampharos' leg, hugging it like her life depended on it and staring up at Ampharos with baby doll eyes. "Can we join? Pleeeeaaase?"

Ampharos couldn't say no to eyes like that. (And of course, it was the perfect excuse he needed—not that he was saying that aloud.)

"Of course," he said jovially, ignoring the looks of shock from both Dedenne and Bunnelby. Espurr would have been surprised at this point, but she expected it.

"Why are you doing this?" she asked.

"Why not?" Ampharos replied.

"There is an age-restriction rule imposed upon us by our parent organization," Dedenne noted.

"I'm sure they won't mind." Ampharos brushed it off nonchalantly. He turned to Espurr.

"Why don't you stick around for the briefing?" he said. "You haven't met everymon here yet."

Espurr was about to ask why they should, but Ampharos walked past her and planted his staff against the wall.

"All will be explained in due time," he said, reading her eyes.

Espurr folded her arms. She'd have to hold Ampharos to that. Especially since Tricky was far too awestruck to listen to reason right now.

One by one, the members of the Expedition Society trickled into the room. Espurr counted a bird pokemon who looked very tired and grumpy, a buizel who was busy stretching, a trio of pokemon off to the side who were quietly bickering amongst each other, and something puffy with a huge tongue she was getting obscene mental vibes off of.

"Morning, all." Espurr looked up at the top of the stairs, where perhaps one of the strangest pokemon she had ever seen stood: the lower part of their body was comprised of two bushy pant legs, and they sported a large maw on the backside of their head.

"Ah, morning." Ampharos bowed politely. "I believe that's all of us."

"It would seem so," Mawile said, walking down the stairway. Her eyes settled on Espurr and Tricky, but she didn't say anything.

"Now that we are all gathered here," Ampharos said, his voice the only sound in the room. "I have a special announcement to make." He gestured to Espurr and Tricky. "Effective immediately, consider these two brave young explorers members of the Expedition Society. Feel free to introduce yourselves."

Ampharos wisely backed off, and let the chaos reign.

"Wait a minute." Buizel was the first one to break the silence. "These pichu? Explorers?"

"Yes," said Ampharos.

"I have to share my food with two more pokemon now?" Swirlix cried out.

"Yes," said Ampharos.

"Permission to be exempt from introductions, chief?" Nickit muttered from the sidelines.

"Denied," said Ampharos. He looked at Espurr and Tricky. "Would you two like to start?"

"I'll start!" Tricky hopped up and strode into the middle of the room. "Hi! My name's a secret, but you can call me Tricky! I've always wanted to join the Expedition Society and now I'm here!"

The entire room was left silent in the wake of Tricky's declaration.

"I'm Espurr," Espurr added helpfully from the sidelines. "I'm Tricky's partner. Hi."

Somewhere in a corner, Jirachi, who had forgotten to take his remedy again, snored loudly.

Mawile leaned in towards Ampharos. "Permission to speak to you in my office, Chief?"

"Granted," said Ampharos.

The introductions continued on for what felt like almost a half-hour, and Espurr had to shake every paw and wing. There was Buizel, the cocky and blunt one, and Archen, who seemed every bit the opposite. Holly, Granite, and Cinder were an independent rescue team who had been assigned to the Expedition Society by HAPPI to fill their member quota. Nickit was snide and Espurr couldn't read her at all, but promised to patch them up if they ever got hurt. Jirachi was asleep, and for some reason no-mon wanted to wake him.

Ever-so-slowly, the crowd dispersed, with varying degrees of reactions to Espurr and Tricky's arrival. Espurr noted that the slobbery tongue thing was too busy slobbering to properly greet her, but it slunk off to whatever awful lair it must have made for itself in the kitchen so she pointedly didn't bring it up.

Tricky promptly excused herself on a self-hosted tour of the building as soon as the introductions were over, which left Espurr alone in the lobby, for the most part. Bunnelby, one of the quieter 'mon in the room, suddenly opened his bag and pulled out a brightly shining connection orb. He slotted it in an expedition gadget just like the one Espurr had in her own bag, and pressed a button near the top.

"Hmm? You need what?"

A pause.

"No, I'm free today. I'll be right there."

Bunnelby removed the orb, stuffed it and the gadget back in his bag, and then hurried up the stairs in a flash. Espurr watched him go. She looked around the lobby, which was now completely empty apart from herself and Jirachi's snoring. The morning had been eventful as the night before it and she felt exhausted. But to simply crash somewhere in the building would be impolite, especially when they hadn't even been given rooms to sleep in yet.

In that case… Espurr looked around to see which direction Tricky had went, but realized she had no clue. And she wasn't going to crash in the middle of the lobby. Ampharos had gone to the second floor, though. Maybe she'd go there.


~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Second Floor

The room upstairs was dark, and a gate had been slipped over the top of the stairs. Luckily, it was just a gate and nothing more. Espurr hung back in the shadows, trying to get a good look at what was going on further in the room.

There was something in the middle of the room that looked like a large contraption Espurr could only guess the function of. It seemed to operate like a large expedition gadget, projecting images onto a large white sheet through a connection orb.

"Thank you for attending."

Espurr didn't recognize that voice. She watched for a moment. Espurr continued watching from her hiding spot. Sure enough, Mawile walked into her vision only a second after. She had her spectacles on, and seemed to be in full instructor mode. She clicked buttons on the panel, and photographs of paw-written pages from an ancient textbook flashed across the wall.

Clack. Mawile rolled the shutters over the windows on the second floor of the building, casting the room into darkness. The room was in projector mode, and the only pokemon inside were Mawile, Ampharos, and Bunnelby. The Pokemon Nexus projected light through a connection orb and onto the wall. From behind the gate fencing off the second floor from the stairs, Espurr took a spot by the shadows and began to spy.

Mawile adjusted the spectacles she was wearing. She clicked buttons on the panel; photographs of paw-written pages from an ancient textbook flashed across the wall.

"Thank you for attending,'" she began. "The ancient text we see in these photographs dates back almost 10,000 years. It tells the story of the downfall of the Humans. Porgyon's writings speak of an alternate horror world filled with monsters beyond one's imagination."

Another click of the button. Claw-drawn images of a Void Shadow flickered onto the screen, as well as ones of a blood-red mountain enveloped by fire. Espurr barely managed to keep herself from expressing her shock in some way. She had been right. The Expedition Society did have their paws wrapped up in this mess.

"It tells of three seals built across the world, meant to keep these monsters where they came from," Mawile continued. It took Espurr a second to remember that she wasn't supposed to be there. She couldn't do much else, but she continued listening intently. Whatever they were up to, they seemed to know what they were talking about. She could learn. "One on the Water Continent. One on the Sand Continent. And one built on a desolate island, forever lost to sea. These seals plug the cracks between our world, and theirs. If one or more were ever to open, living hell would be unleashed upon us. But these seals erode naturally, and only by the means of ancient human artifacts placed at these sites can they be closed once more."

A click from the machine, and the photo on the wall changed to something much more modern—a picture of the Sand Continent.

"Observe," Mawile continued. "On the Sand Continent, there exists a dungeon known as the Sands of Time, that fits the criteria of this legend almost perfectly. While I would normally consider it folly to base my conclusions simply on legend, considering recent events I think it prudent to take action upon what little information we may have regarding this. Bunnelby, as group spelunker, I've chosen you to travel over to the Sand Continent and scope out the dungeon for us. You are only required to take pictures and report back to the Society. If you see anything out of the ordinary, report right back here. Is that understood?"

Bunnelby nodded.

"Yes, Ma'am," he said. "I-I'll be leaving tomorrow, right?"

Mawile nodded. "Of course. Feel free to take the day off and prepare."

"I will." Bunnelby stood up and picked up his bag. "I may leave now?"

Mawile nodded.

"You may."

Espurr took that as her que to get lost. When Bunnelby, Ampharos, and Mawile walked down the stairs, they found Espurr inspecting one of the lavender, gold-trimmed drawers that she could barely see over the top of.

She hoped they bought it.


~\({O})/~

Dining Hall

The dinner tasted somewhat tart that night, as if Swirlix' displeasure at having to share her normal excessive food portion with two more pokemon had leaked into the ingredients she used to cook. But it wasn't anything strong enough to complain about, and so no-mon did. After dinner, Espurr and Tricky were led by Dedenne to their rooms. Tricky had already given herself a tour of the building and thus knew the hallways well for somemon who had only been there a single day, but Espurr found them foreign to her despite wandering around them for a bit. She'd never been in a building this large before—every hallway seemed like it went on for miles, and there were multiple doors leading down both sides.

"This is where you two will sleep," Dedenne said, leading them through a room with an overhanging curtain attached. "There's beds set up for you both already. I'd suggest using them; you'll be up bright and early tomorrow."

She left, and soon after the lights in the hall went out.

Espurr and Tricky settled into the two straw beds in the room, winding down for the night. Espurr appreciated how comfortable the bed was compared to the rocks of the mountain range.

"Can you believe it?"

The sound came from Tricky's side of the room. Espurr lifted her head up from the bed, wearily.

"Believe what?"

"That we're actually here! I never thought we'd get to make it here, or even join! But here we are… it feels like a dream."

Espurr found herself agreeing with Tricky. It all felt like a dream. She could see the many lights of Lively Town glittering outside their window; a dazzling sight she never would have fathomed was possible back in Serenity Village. But yet, it was so far from home. And this building full of pokemon she barely knew couldn't count as a home. No matter how much Tricky seemed to blindly follow them. No matter how nice they seemed. Not when she'd caught a whiff of the very same thing they had just run from Serenity Village to escape.

"It does," was all she said in response.

"Do you think we'll get to go on a mission tomorrow?" Tricky asked.

Espurr hoped not. She wanted a day of rest, at the very least. A day to regroup. A day to plan, if it all went horribly wrong.

"We might. If we can get up for it first. Aren't you sleepy?"

"Yeah… night, I guess."

Tricky snuggled down into her straw bed, closing her eyes and falling silent. Espurr turned the other way, trying not to think about the events of the past day.

Just what had they gotten themselves into?


~\({O})/~

Music of the Week!

Will You Help Me?
– James Newton Howard
 
Last edited:
Chapter 31 - A Day At the Expedition Society

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter31Art.png

~\({O})/~


31.

A Day at The Expedition Society


~\({O})/~

Mawile’s Library ~ Nighttime

~Ampharos and Mawile~

Mawile’s library was lit by the bright blue glow of a luminous orb. Ampharos tried his best to fit into the narrow room comfortably, but it just wasn’t possible. (This room hadn’t been as narrow before it was filled up with all the books Mawile collected.) He settled for shifting around uncomfortably in his seat every minute or so.

“I implore you to reconsider whether this is a wise decision,” Mawile said, reshuffling some books on her ever-cramped desk. “We can house them. We can train them. But they are not old enough to join as registered explorers. We’d be in breach of our contract with HAPPI!”

“They have been on our guild register for almost a month, Mawile,” said Ampharos. “Simply moving where they lodge does not change much.”

“And you saw fit to register a pair of children from the middle of nowhere onto our guild system anyway?”

“I… did.” Ampharos had a rare fit of silence. “I needed to be able to track them from afar, in case they were in danger. They ran into it on their way here last night.”

“And with that in mind, you plan to keep them confined to the building?”

“I plan to keep them where we can see them,” Ampharos said. “But remember that these children are meant for bigger things. We can’t keep them here forever.”

“Yet why keep them on the register?”

“The risk of taking them beyond the town without a seat on the register is greater than the risk of signing them on underage.”

“And how do you intend to explain yourself to the authorities when we reach our next checkup?”

“We’ll cross that bridge if we reach it.”

Mawile decided to switch gears.

“When do you plan to tell them why we’re letting them stay?” she asked. “The Human, at least, has a right to know.”

“After a week or so,” Ampharos yawned. “They should both have time to settle in first.”

“They might not wait that long.”

“That bridge, too, we’ll cross if we reach it.”

There was silence for a moment. Mawile broke it, sighing in defeat. It was clear she didn’t approve.

“I pray you know what you’re doing,” she said.

“Have faith,” Ampharos replied. “You were a child once, too. Give them a few days, before we shove our reasons on them.”

“My child years are not ones I wish to emulate,” Mawile stated. She finished rummaging through the desk and finally pulled out the book she was looking for, setting it neatly back on the shelf above her head.

“I request you accelerate your schedule,” she said. A week is far too long and unpredictable a timeframe.”

Ampharos opened his mouth to answer, but outside the office, something hit a trash can, jarring both Ampharos and Mawile out of their conversation.

But when they opened the door, no-mon was there.


~\({O})/~

Society Dorms ~ Morning

~Espurr~

Dedenne stuck a loud and obnoxious bell through the doorway of every occupied room in the Expedition Society and rang it loudly.

“Rise and shine!” she called out loudly. “The sun’s up, and you should be too!”

The sun was barely up.

Espurr and Tricky wearily rose from their beds, not rested at all. Espurr felt like she could have slept at least a day’s worth longer, after the ordeals they’d been through the past couple of days.

Tricky wasn’t having nearly as good a time of getting up as Espurr was. After a pathetic attempt at getting out of bed, she flopped back down on her straw and yawned in defeat.

“Maybe we can sleep for… five more minutes…” she muttered in a half-asleep stupor.

Dedenne poked her head back into the room.

“Hey, you newbies don’t want to miss breakfast, right? Chef Swirlix doesn’t leave leftovers.”

The prospect of breakfast got Tricky off her bed.

“Why do they eat breakfast this early…” she yawned, but she walked out the door with Espurr all the same.


~\({O})/~

“Today’s briefing is a short one; I have no wish to keep you all from indulging in kind Chef Swirlix’s fine breakfast,” Ampharos said, holding the paper that Dedenne had given him in his paw. In the dining room to the right of the lobby sat the untouched breakfast spread that smelled absolutely heavenly.

Somewhere near the end of the line, Chef Swirlix was slobbering.

Ampharos read off the paper. “A new mystery dungeon has appeared near Lively Town and needs to have its severity evaluated,” he said. “It should be our priority to add that to the maps here. Does anymon here have a clean schedule?”

“I’m up for it, sir.” Buizel raised a paw high, puffing himself out in an attempt to make himself look as reliable for the job as possible. Not that it mattered; no-mon else particularly looked like they wanted the job.

“Splendid!” Ampharos read down the page, his eyes glazing across the second matter written there. “Next up: The Spinda Café here has requested our assistance in delivering a large shipment from the harbor tomorrow. They need two or three strong ‘mon to help them carry crates from the harbor into their restaurant.”

“Yeah, that’s us,” a member from Team Limestone that Espurr didn’t catch spoke up.

“And now to address the elephant in the room: As you’re all aware, the Expedition Society gained two new members yesterday.”

All heads in the room turned towards Espurr and Tricky.

“We’re very excited to welcome Espurr and Tricky into our ranks!” Ampharos exclaimed. “And as such, I’ve put together the perfect set of tasks for you both…”


~\({O})/~

“Chores?” Tricky whined as they walked up the spiral staircase towards the observatory. “I thought we were going to go dungeon exploring…”

“You didn’t expect them to send us into a dungeon straightaway, right?” Espurr asked. She held a piece of paper in her paws that had a list of all the chores they’d been given to do on it. The first one on the list had been “wake up Jirachi”. Jirachi slept in the observatory, and seemed to be always asleep, but that was all either Espurr or Tricky knew about him.

“Well…” Tricky dramatically sighed in defeat, letting her ears and tail flop down into effect. “I guess not… but I thought we’d be doing something more interesting!”

Espurr couldn’t find it in her to argue with that. Chores weren’t exactly her first choice on the list of ways to spend an afternoon.

The door to the observatory slowly opened, and Espurr crept in, followed by Tricky.

The room was a cluttered mess, but completely quiet. Paper and machines Espurr hadn’t ever seen before lay all around the room, along with what looked like the model of several large orbs and a huge telescope that poked out of the roof.

And in the middle of it all floated what must have been Jirachi.

He was small and frail-looking, no larger than Espurr was. He floated asleep in midair like an abra, snoring loudly like a tyrunt.

“Guess that’s Jirachi,” Tricky said, as they watched him slowly orbit the room in his sleep. “How do we wake him? Didn’t Dedenne say we needed something special?”

“She said we needed a remedy,” Espurr said, reaching into her bag. She pulled out something wrapped in a small bundle of leaves. She wasn’t sure quite what it was, but it felt squishy. “We have to feed him this thing.”

“Sounds easy,” Tricky said. She began to hop between her left paws and right, psyching herself up. “I’ll get him on the ground, and you can feed him the thing!”

“Just try not to break stuff,” Espurr said. The last thing the two of them needed was to get in trouble for smashing equipment on their first day.

“It’ll be fiiiine,” Tricky drawled. “Who are you, Watchog?”

She hopped up on a stack of books, then tiptoed across a table, then climbed on top of a shelf and tightrope walked along the thin surface above over to where Jirachi was sleeping.

“Get ready!” she called to Espurr silently, ready to pounce on Jirachi from above. Espurr braced herself for the chaos that was surely about to follow.

Tricky pounced. She collided with Jirachi midair; both of the pokemon were sent flying towards the ground. They both landed in a heap, rolling to the ground. Tricky faceplanted into a dusty book and wheezed. Jirachi was still sleeping. Espurr quickly walked forward with the remedy in paw.

“I guess this is why we needed the remedy,” Espurr said. She walked forward with the remedy in paw—

—Jirachi leapt up, the eyes on his face half open and glowing brightly. He looked like he was in a zombie-like trance, with his limbs limp and his head hanging downwards.

“You guys shouldn’t have attacked me while I was sleeping,” he mumbled. It was barely audible.

“You were flying up in the air!” Tricky protested. “We had to get you down somehow to wake you up…”

“We were sent to wake you,” Espurr said. She held out the remedy. “Dedenne said to eat this.“

“Oh, you’re new,” Jirachi mumbled further in his dazed stupor, like he hadn’t heard either of them speak at all. “I don’t like being woken up violently. Lash out while I’m sleeping, and I might just… lash back.”

A sudden blast of white energy flew out from Jirachi, snagging both Espurr and Tricky and knocking them back across the room.

Espurr flipped up into an attack position immediately. Tricky beside her did the same thing. They immediately scurried out of the way of another one of Jirachi’s undirected attacks, which hit a bolted-down table and left a dent in it.

“He’s crazy!” Tricky hissed to Espurr. Espurr peeked out from behind the shelf she was hiding behind, then quickly stuck her head back when another attack blasted the shelf and gave it a rattle.

“If he wants a fight, maybe we should give it to him,” she said. “if you can pin him down, I can hold him in place and feed him this.” The remedy was still in her paw.

“If you say so…” Tricky sounded hesitant at the prospect of going out and facing Jirachi’s attacks.

“I can get you there safely,” Espurr said. “You just have to stand riiight there…”

Tricky scuttled out into the open, looking somewhat uncomfortable with the idea. It was clear she had reservations.

“Are you sure about this?” she whispered back to Espurr, who was hiding. Espurr gave her a vigorous nod.

Jirachi was floating around the room aimlessly once more. It was like he had fallen to sleep again. Tricky slowly began to inch forward, her tiny steps growing into a brisk trot as she became more and more sure he’d gone dormant again. Maybe this was going to be easy after al—

Jirachi suddenly spun around, still in the same stupor he’d been in for the last minute.

“There you are,” he lazily breathed.

Espurr made her move. A concentrated blast of psychic energy catapulted Tricky straight into Jirachi, knocking the two to the ground. Tricky quickly made sure Jirachi couldn’t move his arms or legs while she still had the chance. They gave in easily. She was pretty sure he didn’t use them much at all.

The third eye opened. It was right in the center of Jirachi’s chest. Tricky yelped in fright, right before one of Jirachi’s attacks sent her flying up into the roof—

“Good nigh—”

Espurr stuffed the remedy into Jirachi’s mouth before he could finish his sentence. Tricky’s inevitable descent through the air became slower and slower, until she could put her paws on the ground with no impact at all.

“It’s not night any longer, anyway,” she said.

Espurr and Tricky both looked at Jirachi, who had gone dormant on the ground in front of them. He’d even stopped snoring. They both traded a look. Sleeping was one thing but had they made him faint? Slowly, trepidaciously, Espurr poked Jirachi.

“Huh??” Jirachi leapt up into the air and stayed there. His eyes flew open, and this time they looked normal. “Who woke me?”

His eyes settled on Espurr and Tricky, then arched in confusion. “Who’re you two? New recruits?”

“Pretty much,” Espurr said.

“Oh. I see,” Jirachi yawned, his voice taking on some of its signature laziness. “Sorry if I did anything to you while I was asleep. I have… problems getting up. Sometimes I’m not myself, see…”

“Yeah, it was…” Tricky let her sentence taper off, pawing the ground she was intently studying.

Neither Espurr nor Tricky knew how to break what had just happened to him.


~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Vault

The vault was located at the bottom of the Expedition Society, where the large cooling fans blew and made the hallway blare with noise. It ruffled Espurr and Tricky’s fur as they passed, offering a breath of well-needed cool air after days of dealing with unrelenting heat. Espurr almost didn’t want to leave.

But they had chores to do, so they continued trudging on towards the vault.

The massive bronze door slid open with a series of clacks, but no-mon was there to greet them at the door. After sharing a look, Espurr and Tricky stepped into the large room.

The first thing that became apparent was that there wasn’t a single window in the entire room—it was a vault, after all. The only source of light came from a single lightbulb in the wall near the top of the room that flickered every so often. The second thing that became apparent was that the place was a mess. Stuff lay everywhere, organized with no rhyme or reason. There was a large pile of poke in the middle of the room, nearly obscured by mountains and mounds of other things.

“So…” a voice drawled from the other end of the room, catching Espurr and Tricky’s attention. Nickit leaned over a wooden crate on the floor and was at a convenient height to serve as a table. The look on her face was unapologetically smug. “You’re the help, huh?”

“That’s us,” said Espurr.

“Swell,” Nickit replied. “MURKROW!”

Murkrow, snoozing at the top of the gold pile, awoke with a squawk.

“Huh?” he squawked, jumping up lazily and rearing up with his feathers bristled “Who’s attacking? Where are the thieves? Who what where?”

“No thieves,” Nickit said from below. “But the help’s here.”

“Oh…” Murkrow said, yawning. “Have I seen you two before?”

“I’ve never seen a bird like you,” Tricky said.

“We’re new,” Espurr helpfully added.

“You’re a bit young.”

There was an awkward silence between the four pokemon in the room.

“Well, I haven’t seen the day where children couldn’t clean yet,” Nickit said. “Heads up, this is gonna take a while.”

“When was the last time you guys organized?” Tricky asked, as they sorted through a mound of what Espurr assumed was meant to be assorted berries and seeds—though everything here seemed to be a jumbled mess, so who could say for sure if they had originally been meant to be assorted?

“Last year or so,” Nickit yawned, checking to make sure she had a plain seed and not a blast seed under her paw before she kicked it away into the Seed pile. “Usually Murkrow and I get what everymon else needs, so there wasn’t a reason to.”

“You can find stuff? In this mess?” Tricky asked, tilting her head in utter, bemused confusion.

“It looks kind of like your bedroom did,” Espurr couldn’t restrain herself from saying.

“Hey! T-that doesn’t count!” Tricky managed to stammer out.

“Says who?”

“Says me!”

The cleaning continued for a long while; the level was underground so Espurr couldn’t say what time it was by the time they decided to take a break.

“That was a lot…” Tricky said, panting on her back. Only a third of the room had been cleared.

“We did request help for a reason…” Murkrow said.

“Eh,” Nickit said. “I liked it better messy.”

“That’s because you’re a hoarder.”

“Guilty as charged.” Nickit took it completely in stride.

Espurr had been taking a breather against the large pile they still had yet to sort through.

“So,” Nickit said. “We’ve still got ten minutes. Where’re you guys from?”

An uncomfortable silence passed between the four of them. Neither Espurr nor Tricky looked like they wanted to say. Then Nickit let out a laugh.

“Come on, you guys!” She laughed. Espurr couldn’t tell whether she forced it or not. “I’m joking. I wouldn’t be comfortable tellin’ my life story to a stranger either.”

They returned to work soon afterwards.

“No, the razz berry goes there. The razz berry.”

“What’s the difference?” Tricky asked, glancing between two berries that couldn’t have been more different.

Nickit brashly gestured to the smaller, red berry. “That’s the rasp berry. This is the razz berry.” She sighed. “Don’t they teach kits anything in school anymore?”

“I… wasn’t paying attention,” a cowed Tricky admitted.

“Hey, perk up,” Nickit said a few minutes later after Tricky had been moping for a while. “I didn’t mean it.”

Tricky drooped a little less, but didn’t sau anything. It was clear she was still a little ticked off.

“I’ve got a card game I play with Murkrow a lot, but he’s terrible at it,” Nickit said, in one last attempt to cheer Tricky up. “We could play later. Having a fellow fox around to play with has got to be better than birdbrain over there.”

That one managed to get a snicker out of Tricky despite herself.

“I think we’re gonna be friends,” Nickit said confidently.

In the end, they managed to get two thirds of the vault sorted out before sundown.

“Have you guys got any other chores on that list?” asked Murkrow, staring at the list Espurr had forgotten to pick up in all their working. Espurr and Tricky froze.

“Berry crackers!”

They were both out of the vault before either Murkrow or Nickit could blink.

“I did think they were going to finish up here first,” Murkrow admitted, flabbergasted.

“Dang, I wish I was that fast,” Nickit muttered out the side of her snout.


~\({O})/~

There was one more large chore on their list, and it took the largest portion out of the day: Sweeping the floors and halls of the Expedition Society.

It wouldn’t have been so hard if there weren’t so many of them.

Espurr got a broom, while Tricky carried the dustpan in her mouth and swept the floors with her tail. They started on the west side, and slowly worked their way east. There was silence between them for most of it, both because Tricky had the dustpan in her mouth, and because it was finally setting in that they were truly in a building full of strangers. Espurr hadn’t known how to feel about it the entire day, and she didn’t know how to feel about it now either. She supposed that at the very least, she could count herself lucky that they had some form of security – a building of strange explorers was a better shield between them and the beheeyem than a village was.

They reached one of the trash cans in the hall, and Tricky took the moment to let Espurr empty the dustpan into it.

“Espurr?”

Espurr removed the dustpan from the trash can and looked at Tricky, who had taken a seat on the floor. She looked just as exhausted as Espurr felt.

“Yeah?” she asked, setting the dustpan methodically down next to the trash can.

“I miss home.”

That one got a surprise out of Espurr. She knew she did, but Tricky?

“I thought working here as an explorer was your dream,” Espurr said. “Why the change of mind?”

“As an explorer,” Tricky said. “But… I miss Pops, and Goomy, and… even Deerling. Everymon here’s just weird. Don’t you feel like that?”

It was like Tricky had read Espurr’s mind.

“I miss them too,” Espurr admitted. She had only been there three weeks, but Serenity Village was the only family she’d known. Neither of them had really gotten a chance to sit down and process what they’d done a day ago when they’d packed up and left. It had sure seemed like a smart decision at the time, but… was it really looking so smart now?

But they didn’t have a choice.

“But we didn’t have a choice,” Espurr said. “If we stayed there, we’d be putting them in danger. You saw what they did to Audino’s house.”

“Yeah…” Tricky said.

They swept in silence for a while longer. The air between them was heavy.

“I wonder how Pops feels,” Tricky said. “And Audino. We never got to say goodbye…”

Despite that one last day before they’d fled, that one weighed heavier on Espurr than anything else.

“At least we’re keeping everymon else safe,” Espurr said. Half of it was to console herself. “That’s something to be thankful for.”

“Yeah…” Tricky said, and it felt just a tad less heavy than before. “Doesn’t change how weird this hallway looks, though.”

“It’s way too colorful,” Espurr agreed.

They finished sweeping not soon after. Which was just as well, since the sun was going down and pokemon were finally beginning to return from the day’s missions. Bunnelby had gone digging a burrow for somemon on the outskirts of town, while Buizel had finished mapping that local dungeon within the day. Archen had gone down to the harbor to help out with something, and though he wouldn’t say what had happened he was completely soaked.

Then it was time for dinner. The spread on the table was a lavishly decked out feast just like breakfast had been—finally Espurr understood what Swirlix had been doing in that kitchen all day—but they dined with strangers. A bunnelby ate carrots and radishes by the dozen but pointedly avoided lettuce, while a buizel loudly boasted about the many missions he’d been on and a torracat, vulpix, and rockruff quietly squabbled amongst themselves to determine who was going to have the last piece of meat on their side of the table.

Espurr sat apart from Tricky, since there wasn’t a spot on the table for them both to sit together. The food looked and tasted like real food, and the table in front of Espurr and the seat underneath felt just as real as the ones back in Serenity Village did. But even so, Espurr felt like she was watching everything through a glass wall. She didn’t understand anything going on around her, and for the first time since they had fled, that was finally beginning to get to her.

It only served to drill in the point that had been lingering in Espurr and Tricky’s head for the past few hours: This wasn’t home.


~\({O})/~

Dinner ended, and then it was time for everymon to retire. Most of the Expedition Society went to bed soon after the sun had finished setting, since they all woke up deathly early in the morning. Espurr had to admit after all the work they had done that day, she was feeling quite winded too. Tricky walked alongside her, drooping further with every step.

“I’m so tired…” she groaned. “I feel like I could sleep for a thousand years!”

Espurr, similarly exhausted, was too tired to grace that with an answer.

“Which way was our room again?” Tricky asked, yawning.

“I think it’s this way,” Espurr said, pointing down the east-side hallway.

Luckily, she had guessed right. They found their way down to their room within a few minutes, flopping down on their beds and retiring for the night. Tricky fell to sleep soundly a few minutes after she hit her bed, snoring softly. Espurr found herself still awake.

Awake, and staring out at the night scenery that looked nothing like she was used to. Lively Town was vast, and a thousand electric lights lit up the valleys below like a silent festival in the night. And more than anything, it was eerily silent. And despite herself, safe and sound in a building surrounded by experienced explorers, she found herself wondering: Was it really safe here? Where were the beheeyem? The town below was vast. They could be anywhere. She didn’t believe they would just give up that easily.

They were still hunting her, she was sure of it.

The sound of somemon tripping over something startled Espurr form her train of thought. She looked back towards the door they’d forgotten to drape the curtain over, where Bunnelby had just stumbled over the broom and dustpan they had left out. Espurr inwardly grimaced. Whoops.

“Sorry,” Bunnelby said. “Somemon left all this cleaning supplies out, and it’s dark. I didn’t wake you, right?”

“I was already awake, “ said Espurr.

Bunnelby nodded, and then was on his way. Espurr flopped back down on her bed. She knew she should sleep, but she couldn’t. This was just such a weird place, and she couldn’t calm down.

Then she wondered where Bunnelby went.

Eventually, the curiosity overtook her. If she couldn’t sleep, she could at least see what went on in this building at night. She quietly got up off her bed, then walked to the door. After furtively sticking her head out both ways to make sure the hallway was desert, she took off the direction Bunnelby had gone.

At some point, she realized he must have just gone back to his room, since she had wandered all the way into the lobby without catching so much as a single glimpse of him. That meant she had gone all the way out here for nothing.

Now she just felt silly.

Although, now that she noticed it, there was a light shining on the second floor. Espurr could only just see the faint blue glow from the stairwell, and figured it might be worth her time. Considering what she had seen the last time she had gone up there, perhaps she could pick up something useful to know for later.

It was coming from behind the smaller room off to the west side of the floor. As Espurr climbed up the stairway and drew closer to the room, she heard the sound of voices coming from the other side. She knew better than to get close to the door, and she could hear the voices just fine from here anyway, so she staked out next to the trash can in the area, and listened.

“I plan to keep them where we can see them. But remember that these children are meant for bigger things. We can’t keep them here forever.”

“Yet why keep them on the register?”

“The risk of taking them beyond the town without a seat on the register is greater than the risk of signing them on underage.”

“And how do you intend to explain yourself to the authorities when we reach our next checkup?”

“We’ll cross that bridge if we reach it.”

A pause.

“When do you plan to tell them why we’re letting them stay? The Human, at least, has a right to know.”

The world seemed to stop for Espurr, like it was put on pause. The voices continued talking, but she was reeling too much to listen to them.

They knew. They knew about her. She knew it had been suspicious the entire time, that they had their paws wrapped up in the same mess she was ensnared in, but now she had definitive proof they had an ulterior motive for keeping her here. How long had they known about her? And how?

“I request you accelerate your schedule. A week is far too long and unpredictable a timeframe.”

Espurr shifted in her uncomfortable crouching spot, and bumped into the trash can—

It created a bang that made her heart skip a beat. She thought fast—she needed to hide. She managed to scramble into a suitable hiding place just in time.

She heard the door open. Two figures came out—one of them must have been Ampharos—and looked around. If there was talking, she didn’t hear it. The door closed soon after, and the voices grew too hushed for Espurr to hear.

Maybe they knew better than to air their suspicions in front of somemon who might be listening.

Soon after, Espurr crept out from where she was hiding. She scurried down the stairs, then silently crept into the lobby. Only once she reached the hallway did she begin to relax and walk—albeit quickly—back to her room. She took a moment to think about what she had just seen as she walked.

Who were they working with? Who were they working for? Were they with the beheeyem, or somemon else? It would have been easier for Ampharos to finish them off in the mountains, if they wanted her dead. No, they still needed her and Tricky for something.

But for what? And still, the question remained: How did they know as much as they did? They couldn’t have figured it out just by looking at her; no-mon back in Serenity Village could have done that. She could only think of one way they could have that information, and it wasn’t one that put the Expedition Society on her side.

That was the way she found herself walking back to her room. A growing sense of distrust was building within her, and soon she found herself realizing what she had known all this time: there were secrets being kept here; ones that concerned her. She had to keep her cards close to her chest, and if it came to it, be ready to take Tricky and run for the hills.

She lay awake in her bed for a while, trying to process it all. But she was tired, and eventually she couldn’t fight it off any longer. She drifted off to sleep.


~\({O})/~
Music of the Week!

Marilka That's My Name
-- Sonia Belousova, Giona Ostinelli
 
Last edited:
Chapter 32 - Hunt

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter32Art.png

~\({O})/~

32.

Hunt


~\({O})/~

Lively Town Outskirts

The many lights of Lively Town glowed brightly in the night, like a beacon amongst the dark mountains and the vast sea to the west. A trio of cone shaped heads glode across the mountain path, overlooking the town below. Somewhere within lay the targets. It was a large city to search, but they would search it relentlessly and without pause. Finding the pokemon they were now to kill was an inevitability, even in a town this large.

They continued down the mountain path. The hunt resumed.


~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Nighttime

~Tricky~

Tricky couldn’t sleep.

Despite being completely worn out from her trek through the mountains just a day earlier, she found herself unable to drift off to bed properly. Not that she hadn’t tried. At some point she had conked out, then woken up in the middle of the night, then woken up and not been able to get back to sleep. It felt like she’d been lying in bed for hours now! She turned over in the straw bed, which was nothing like the one she had back home, and tried to see if she could get comfy that way.

It wasn’t working. She felt as awake as ever! She spared a glance over to the other side of the room, where Espurr lay, fast asleep.

Eventually, Tricky decided it wasn’t worth the wait anymore. She pulled herself off the bed with a yawn, and began to wearily trot towards the exit to the room. Maybe a walk throughout the halls of the building would help her get to sleep better.

The halls were dark and quiet, but Tricky didn’t necessarily mind. She trotted down the tiled floor, looking at the lavender walls around her with gold-colored embellishments and the odd trash can every now and then. She didn’t notice the figure lurking in the shadows before it spoke:

“Yo, newbie.”

“Huh?” Tricky looked back, her ears swiveling in the direction the noise had come from. Nickit slunk out of the shadows, walking up to Tricky with a smug smirk on her face.

“Watcha doin’ out of bed?” Nickit asked, sitting in front of Tricky and looking her straight in the eye.

Tricky immediately felt much smaller than she had a few seconds ago. “Well… I… couldn’t sleep, and… Does this mean I’ll get kicked out? I can go back to bed! I can—”

“Nah.” Nickit waved Tricky off with her tail. “I’m not gonna get you in trouble. Otherwise I’d have to stop staying up all night too.

“Say,” she began, getting up and walking back down the hall from which they’d came. “Since you’re up… fancy that game of cards?”

“Cards?” Tricky’s ears perked back up at the mention of what sounded like a potentially fun time. “What’s that?”

“C’mon,” Nickit said, prowling back down the hallway. She ushered Tricky along with her tail. “I’ll teach you how to play.”


~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Vault

Nickit led Tricky into the vault they had just cleaned yesterday, which looked much more orderly than the state they had left it in yesterday.

“Took a bit to sort out, but we got the job finished,” said Nickit. “How does it look?”

“Weird,” Tricky admitted. “I liked the mess better.”

“Same.”

An immense stack of poke sat near the back of the room, nearly reaching the roof. At the very top of the pile snoozed Murkrow.

Tricky eyed him warily.

“Don’t we have to worry about waking him?” she asked.

“Doubt it,” said Nickit. “he sleeps like a rock on a good day.”

Nickit pulled a small box out from behind a few chests of poke with her snout. Over a crate of dried berries, she arranged the cards in a neat deck, dealing herself and Tricky each seven.

“A’ight, here’s how this works,” she said. “Each card has a pokemon on it, with a type assigned to it. There are eighteen types total. We each choose a card from our deck and put it down on the table; whoever has the card with the type advantage wins both. If ya get ten pairs, you win. They taught you your type matchups in school, right?”

“Yeah…” hints of indignation slipped into Tricky’s voice. Of course she knew them.

“Cool. Looked at your cards yet?”

Tricky hadn’t. She propped her cards up the best she could with her paws, following Nickit’s example and making sure to keep them out of her opponent’s view. She had a dhelmise, druddigon, axew, flareon, and something called a “Silvally” that didn’t seem to have a type. Or, on closer inspection, it seemed to have all the types. Tricky grew giddy—she knew what she was going to pick.

“Chose your card?”

Tricky nodded. This game was fun. She was beginning to enjoy it.

“Cool. Now place it in front of you.” Nickit chose her own card, and slid it on the table. Tricky carefully picked Silvally out of the deck, and put it opposite Nickit’s card.

“Three… two… one… flip!”

Nickit lipped her card face-up, and then Tricky followed Nickit’s example and did the same a second later. Silvally faced down Nickit’s metapod.

“Hah!” Tricky called out, slamming her paw down on the cards. “I win this one!”

“Not so fast,” Nickit drawled, drawing another card from the pile to replace her own. She gestured for Tricky to do the same. “You still have to get nine more pairs to win, and you’ve just used up the most powerful card in the deck.”

Tricky was uncharacteristically silent, as she realized how stupid of a move that had been.

“Tip to the wise: Cards’ a game of wits,” Nickit said, “Just like everything else in life. Never senselessly start throwing cards out; you can only go downhill from there. Learn to read the other player instead. Just like I read you. I thought you’d pick the strongest card in your claw first, so I sent out a dud to check you.”

Cornered. Tricky looked through the rest of her cards. Ghost, Dragon, Dragon, Fire… what to pick? Now that she didn’t have a card that was sure to win she was a lot more flustered.

“Done choosing yet?” Nickit asked, lazily watching Tricky flipping through the cards. “You can’t take forever, ya know.”

“Y-yeah,” Tricky said, setting down a card from the pile. One of the dragons, but she just had to hope she got lucky.

“Guess I’ll have to match you.” Nickit calmly pulled another card from her claw, setting it opposite Tricky’s. “Three… Two… One…”

The game ended nearly an hour later. Tricky consistently pulled whatever card looked coolest from her deck and paired it up against Nickit, who matched it with her own strategic choices. Tricky almost would have said Nickit was cheating if she hadn’t managed to score three more pairs against her over the course of the game. Nickit ultimately won out, with ten whole pairs and not a single legendary card among them.

“Good game,” she said at the end, gathering up all the cards and putting them back up in the box. She glanced behind Tricky, at the first rays of sunlight beginning to pour in through the door. “Hope you weren’t still sleepy.”

Tricky was a bit sleepy, but she could put that all aside for a bit.

“I have to get going now,” she said. “Bye! Thanks for the game!” And with that, she scampered out the door of the vault and made a beeline for her and Espurr’s bedroom.


~\({O})/~

“Rise and shine, everymon! The sun’s up, and you should be too!” Dedenne rang a pair of very loud bells outside in the hallway, stopping at each door and ringing them extra loud.

Tricky had gotten about an hour’s worth of sleep since her game of cards with Nickit. She pulled herself off the bed like a zombie, watching Espurr stretch on the other one. Unlike Tricky, she looked well-rested.

“Why do we have to get up this early?” was all Tricky could muster as a frazzled response amongst the ringing of bells in the background. She lifted her head, then let it flop back down into the straw.

“Do you want breakfast?” Espurr asked, stretching. “The chef doesn’t leave any leftovers.”

Tricky got a strange sense of déjà vu from the exchange. But all the same, the prospect of breakfast made her a little less tired.


~\({O})/~

After Ampharos’ briefing, a much less extravagant breakfast was served. Most of the members took things from the table and ate on the go, since they had missions they had to get to soon after. Espurr and Tricky were paired with the three members of Team Limestone for their tasks today, so they had to quickly grab a few buns from the table and scurry to catch up.

“Hey, you two!” Holly, the white-furred vulpix, yelled out after them. “You’d better catch up, otherwise we’re going to leave you behind!”

Espurr and Tricky, still scarfing down what they could snatch from the breakfast table, ran to catch up with the other three of them.

“You’re going to be helping us pick some stuff up from the harbor.” Cinder, the torracat, walked up in front, with their team’s own exploration bag strapped to his back. “Make sure to keep up.”

Granite was a bit too busy chewing on something to chip in.

“Hey, what’s that you guys are wearing?” Holly asked, her eyes fixed on Tricky’s scarf. Espurr instinctively fiddled with hers a bit. She was walking backwards, able to see the both of them clearly. Once or twice she came dangerously close to walking into another pokemon, but always managed to step out of the way just in time.

“They’re scarves,” Tricky mumbled. “My pops gave them to me.”

“Holy—” Holly had to take a moment to get her breathing under control. “Is your pops loaded or something?”

“What’s loaded?” Tricky asked.

“What about the scarves?” Espurr asked.

“T-those aren’t scarves! They’re focus sashes!” Holly exclaimed loudly, pivoting on her paws and gaping. “Those are so rare—do you have any idea how lucky your pops was to get ahold of those?”

“What’s a focus sash?” Tricky asked.

“It’s got a very powerful heal pulse sealed in it,” Holly said, still trying to keep the stutter out of her voice. “I-if you’re on the brink of death or were mortally injured, the scarf will heal you as long as you’re in contact with it. Many pokemon live and die without even seeing one. And you guys are just walking around with two of them on your necks! You have to hook me up with him sometime.”

Pops… Tricky’s mood plummeted. Yes, he had made her clean the whole house from top to bottom, and yes, there were scary creatures that would put Pops in danger if she had stayed, but she’d still never even said goodbye to him. He must be worried sick.

But there hadn’t been going back before, and there was no going back now.

“Maybe later,” Tricky said, trying not to look gloomy. It almost worked.

“Huh?” Holly’s head tilted at Tricky’s visible drooping. “Did I hit a nerve or something?”

Tricky couldn’t bring herself to answer.

“Our parents live far away,” Espurr answered in Tricky’s silence. “Traveling back there isn’t really a good idea right now.“

“So… you guys are runaways,” Holly concluded, walking backwards. Neither Espurr or Tricky answered that one. Holly read their fear-stricken faces instead.

“N-not that I care,” she quickly added. “If the chief let you guys on, there must have been a reason! Just curious is all.”

“You know, you’re walking backwards again,” Cinder sighed, sending a glance in their direction. “When are you gonna learn?”

“What’s the issue with it?” Holly asked. “I’m careful!”

“Careful, my tail,” Cinder said. “Yesterday you walked into a streetlamp.”

“That’s one time!” A-and Granite was sticking her tongue out at me! How is that a fair example?”

“I alphays sptick myph tongphe ouff!”


~\({O})/~

Lively Town Harbor

The harbor was crowded and filled with pokemon and ships galore. There were several lapras arriving and departing from the docks, and pokemon loading and unloading the boats passed Espurr and Tricky to and fro. A huge marine pokemon with scaffolding meant for smaller pokemon to ride on sat in the middle of all the ships, taking a nap. Espurr read the large billboard that stood in front of the large pokemon:

Wailord Liner

Departing next for: Sand Continent, Port Archaios, tomorrow at 9 AM

“Alright, this is where you two come in.” Cinder stopped outside a large lapras-pulled barge that had just pulled into the harbor. “The chief wants us to pick up a late shipment from the docks. It should be in that barge.”

“Late shipment?” Espurr asked.

“Fireworks,” Holly whispered to her as Cinder talked with the barge pokemon. “We usually shoot them on Deerling Day, but they were delayed by a storm or something. Now we’ll have to wait until winter.”

“You guys shoot fireworks?” Tricky asked, her earlier gloominess evaporating on the spot. “I’ve never even seen fireworks before!”

“Next year, then…” Holly breathed.

“N-next… year??”

“Yeppers.”

Tricky wilted.

The crates were heavy, and it took five minutes for Espurr and Tricky to move one from one side of the harbor to another.

“How… heavy… are these things?” Tricky panted from under a crate, using her back and head to lift up one side.

“Way too heavy…” Espurr struggled on the other, using her mental powers to lift the crate. She could barely manage a single sentence under the strain.

Eventually, they reached the end of the harbor. Both Espurr and Tricky unceremoniously dropped the box down on the ground, and collapsed on either side of it.

“I hope we don’t have to get more of these…” Tricky panted out. “My tail’s all scrunched up.”

“And I’ve got a headache,” Espurr said, rubbing her forehead. “I think there were only three.”

There was a boat docked at the end of the harbor that was empty. It looked brand new, like it hadn’t even made its maiden voyage yet. There was no ramp leading up into the ship like there were into the others that were being unloaded, but a pile of crates had been stacked up next to it that looked like they’d make a good makeshift staircase. Espurr looked up at the flag that was flying from the boat’s highest mast. It was a soft purple flag, sporting a badge that was very clearly the Expedition Society’s own sigil. Realization hit Espurr. This must be—

“’Ey, you two!”

Both Espurr and Tricky looked over in the direction of the voice to see a scrafty angrily marching towards them.

“Any of y’all seen the ‘mon who pilfered mah blast seeds?” the scrafty asked, pulling a piece of paper out of his pants. “I only saw ‘em for a second, bu’ I got this drawin’! Shoul’ be enough, don’ ya think?”

He thrust the paper out into Espurr’s face. Her eyes focused on what looked like a very crude drawing of…

Espurr suddenly felt a lot less tired. She stood up and took the paper from the scrafty.

“Tricky, look.”

Tricky hopped up onto the crate and took a look at the drawing on the paper. Her ears scaled back a bit.

“You’ve seen ‘em?” the scrafty asked hopefully. Espurr looked down at the drawing again, where a crude but unmistakable drawing of a trio of beheeyem had been marked down.

“Are you sure these are the pokemon you saw?” Espurr asked, her voice urgent.

“Yes, ‘course I’m sure!” the scrafty said angrily. “I don’t mistake a ‘mon once I see them. Now have you seen ‘em or not?”

Espurr handed the scrafty back the paper. “Not since two nights ago. Sorry.”

“Drat…” the scrafty shoved the paper back down his pants. “Tha hun’ continues, then. Well, thanks anyway.”

With that, the scrafty spun around and walked back the way he’d come. “You there!” he pointed at a passing flareon.

Espurr and Tricky silently traded one long, worried look that conveyed the same meaning: What do we do?

The crates were put on a wagon that Cinder pulled across the streets on their way back to the Expedition Society building with ease.

“Ugh,” Holly said on their way back, shuddering. “There were the weirdest ‘mon at the docks today.”

“What kind of ‘mon?” Tricky asked. Espurr’s eyes lit up curiously.

“They showed up near the barge a few minutes after you guys were gone,” Holly said. “Like… these three beheeyem guys. Weren’t with anymon, didn’t do anything but stare at us creepily. They weren’t doing anything wrong, but you could feel the bad vibes…”

Espurr and Tricky uncomfortably traded looks.


~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Headquarters

“I didn’t think they’d reach the city so fast….” Tricky said, pacing back and forth in their room with her head and tail down.

“And they have blast seeds now,” Espurr said. “That means they’re armed.”

“What do we do?” Tricky asked. “If the village wasn’t safe, and now this city isn’t safe, where do we go?”

“There’s nowhere else we can go,” Espurr said. “If they’ve gone after us this far, then they’ll chase us anywhere.”

“Why are they even chasing us??” Tricky said. “What did we do to them?”

“I think…” the next part sent chills down Espurr’s spine. “I think they’re trying to kill us. They’re connected to that monster we fought in the Crooked House. And as for what to do…”

She didn’t know. Where was there to go, when their pursuers were relentless and deadly? Nowhere would be safe forever. Unless…

“Espurr…” Tricky started. “I think we should tell somemon.”

Espurr folded her arms. “Telling pokemon in the village didn’t go so well.”

“But this is a rescue guild!” Tricky said. “It’ll be different!”

“But we tell them, then they’re involved,” Espurr said. “Then the beheeyem will just hurt them too.”

And that wasn’t mentioning she didn’t know if they could trust the Expedition Society yet.

“They’re involved anyway!” Tricky said. “We can’t run from it—you said it yourself! We need to get help.”

“But Tricky, I don’t know if we can trust the Expedition Society,” Espurr said.

“What are you talking about?” Tricky asked. “Aren’t they supposed to be keeping us safe?”

“It’s too convenient that Ampharos knew exactly where we were in those mountains,” Espurr said, “and also that he gave a pair of children from the middle of nowhere an expedition gadget! And last night, I heard them talking. They said they have plans for us; that’s why they’re letting us stay! They have to be in cahoots with whoever’s running all this.”

“But… But Ampharos saved us from the beheeyem!” Tricky paused to compose herself. “How can he be evil?”

Espurr didn’t have a good answer for that. She sat on the straw, and folded her arms. “I just have a feeling.”

There was a silent moment, in which neither one of them knew what best to say next.

“Well…” Tricky began. “Even if this place is evil, he saved us before. He’d help us now, wouldn’t he?”

Espurr was finding it harder and harder to come up with a new answer. The more she looked at the situation to counter Tricky’s comment, the more sound it was. If they could get help, then regardless of that help’s motives, it wasn’t a question of running anymore—they could just overpower the beheeyem!

“Alright, fine,” Espurr reluctantly admitted. “You have a point. But we can’t trust Ampharos. We just can’t. Anymon else.”

“Then who else do we tell?” Tricky asked.

“What about…”


~\({O})/~

Lively Town Streets

“So, let me get this straight.” Holly trotted backwards alongside Espurr and Tricky through the bustling streets, barely avoiding a collision with a passing signpost. “Those beheeyem from earlier are here for you guys.”

“Y-yep,” Tricky said. Her voice quaked a little.

“And they chased you all the way from your village to here?”

“Yep.”

“A-and what do they even want with you?? That’s pretty persistent.”

“They’re here to do away with us,” Espurr said after a moment of hesitation.

“Holy muk,” Holly sighed, breathing a breath of frigid cold air into Tricky’s face. “This is some intense stuff.”

They trotted in silence for a while, taking in the sights of the town. Somewhere among all the street vendors, a lavender audino selling soothe bells stood out against the crowd. The streets of Lively Town were as lively as their namesake, but Espurr couldn’t stop herself from constantly glancing behind her back. There were tons of pokemon in this crowd. Their pursuers had countless places to hide and lurk in a town this big.

“Can you guys prove anything?”

Both Espurr and Tricky looked straight at Holly with worried faces.

“You don’t believe us?” Tricky asked.

“N-no!” Holly stammered, making an attempt to backtrack with an exaggerated grin on her face. “No, of course I do! I don’t think you guys are lying. But let’s be real, the police aren’t going to do anything unless you can prove they’re actually after you. And the Expedition Society technically isn’t supposed to handle outlaw hunting, so we can’t just go after them ourselves.”

“They also stole some blast seeds from the harbor,” Espurr chimed in. “A pokemon there was complaining about it. He had a drawing of them.”

“That’s a start…” Holly said. She sat down in the middle of the street, thinking. Her tails thumped against the sidewalk in some erratic rhythm Espurr couldn’t follow. A choir of small pokemon passed around them, mumbling niceties like ‘excuse me’ and ‘coming through’ as they pushed by Holly, Espurr, and Tricky. Then Holly finally spoke.

“Hey, you guys said they chased you all the way from your village to Lively Town?” she asked.

Espurr and Tricky both nodded.

“Well…” Holly made icy rings in the air with her paw. “If they chased you that far and then they appeared at the harbor, that means they’re following you around town, right?”

Espurr and Tricky looked at each other, then hesitantly nodded.

“So we could set a trap for them,” Holly continued, lowering her voice into a hush. “You guys lure them into one spot, and then I’ll tip off the police about the blast seed thief and have them make the arrest!”

“But what if they just attack us instead?” Tricky asked.

“They wouldn’t attack us in a crowded place,” Espurr said in realization. She suddenly felt giddy with hope. “Not unless they knew they were going to come out on top. That makes sense—that’s why they didn’t just get us at the harbor!”

“Exactly!” Holly said, her grin no longer forced. “And later today the five of us are going to be working in one of the most crowded places in town.”

“What place is that?” Tricky asked, curious.

“Have you guys ever heard of Spinda’s Café?” Holly inquired innocently.


~\({O})/~

Spinda’s Café

“So glad you could all pitch in to help today,” said the very not spinda-ish electivire who managed Spinda’s Café. “Having the extra paws to move around all these crates really saved us.”

“Yeah, yeah,” Cinder yawned. “When do we get paid for this?”

Espurr and Tricky struggled to move one of the crates through the crowded restaurant and into the storage room in the back. They set it down with a smaller thump than before, both collapsing on either side of it to catch their breaths.

“Hey, you guys are here!” Holly quickly sidled herself in, looking around furtively to make sure that neither Granite nor Cinder were around before she said anything else. “You walked around town for a half hour before you got here, right?”

“Yeah,” Tricky said. “Cinder yelled at us for being late.”

“Cinder’s a mukhead,” Holly said dismissively, brushing off the notion with her paw. “You’re sure they followed you here?”

“We’re sure,” Espurr said, standing up and dusting herself off. “You can see them from the window out there.”

She pointed out the vault door. Holly followed her gaze. Outside the window of the store, on the other side of the street, a trio of beheeyem glowered in the shadows.

Holly was clearly doing her best to contain herself, but struggling anyway. “How many crates are still out there?”

“One,” Espurr and Tricky both answered at once.

“Alright,” Holly said, pulling her team’s expedition gadget out from behind a crate. “I’ll tip off the police now. They should get here in five minutes. You guys go and keep their attention in one place.”

The sudden uncertainty in her voice made Espurr equally uneasy. But she nodded all the same, and then and Tricky left the vault.

“Do you think the police are really going to do anything?” Tricky asked in a whisper as they walked out of the restaurant. The beheeyem were only a sidewalk away; the sunny sky felt like it was covered in clouds.

To Espurr’s sixth sense, the atmosphere was downright malevolent. Every voice in her head was going haywire, telling her that this street was not a safe place to be and she had to flee now and take Tricky with her if she wanted to get out of here alive. It took everything Espurr had to will herself not to look at them any more than out of the corner of her eyes.

“It’s worth a shot,” she whispered back, shrugging off the paranoia. “I’ll take anything we can get at this point.”

The last crate sat all on its lonesome on the sidewalk. Espurr and Tricky both struggled to lift it up. The lid jostled as they did, catching Tricky’s attention.

“Hey, Espurr,” she asked in a strained voice as they moved it up towards the storefront. “Weren’t all the other crates sealed? Why’s this one open?”

Now that Espurr thought of it… she bumped the crate from her side; the lid rattled as well. “I think they were,” she said. “Maybe something’s wrong with it.”

Espurr and Tricky set the crate down with twin breaths of exhaustion. Espurr studied the lid, which looked like it had been wrenched from the rest of the crate. “It looks like somemon tore the lid off with brute strength,” she remarked, nudging it out of place.

“Hey—what are you two doing?!” An angry voice in the background caught both Espurr and Tricky’s attention. They both snapped their heads around to see the electavire heading towards them angrily. “I never said you could open that crate!”

“W-we didn’t!” Tricky exclaimed loudly, panicking. “It was already open! It was—”

There was a small opening where Espurr had moved the lid. Amongst the large bags of food and produce, a tiny sack sat. A sack that didn’t look like it belonged among the larger bags of grains at all. Had that bag been put in there just now? If she could just get a closer look… Ignoring the electavire for the moment, Espurr opened the lid a little more, allowing just enough sunlight to shine in and show her what it was: A bag of blast seeds.

Wait—

It clicked. Espurr dashed forward.

“Tricky, get away—”

The beheeyem made their move. Espurr tackled Tricky and sent them both tumbling away from the crate just as a large shadowy attack flew towards the box. The attack sent the box flying straight towards the restaurant. Espurr only had time to cover her face as the storefront exploded—

The blast sent dust, debris, and smoke flying throughout the street. The restaurant was set aflame, and Espurr could hear various cries of panic from inside the building. Holly was in there. They had bigger problems right now.

“Get out of the way!” Cinder pushed the shellshocked electavire aside, heading into the restaurant. Granite followed in his wake. “Everymon out!”

Tricky pulled herself up from the street, shaking her face to clear it of debris. Espurr struggled to find her balance. She glanced around, trying to see something through the dust and debris.

“Where did the beheeyem go?!”

They came out of left field. Tricky pulled a dizzy Espurr out of the way as one of them swooped in from the smog. The lights on its arms made the smoke flash and flicker. All of the sudden the lights were all around them—coming from all sides and impossible to tell where they’d strike next from. It was disorienting. Espurr finally caught her balance and pressed herself up against Tricky’s back. She looked around frantically, trying to ignore the lights and find something that could help them get out of this mess.

Tricky’s ears twitched. She pushed Espurr aside, ducking herself as one of the beheeyem’s shadowy attacks flew through the haze. It slammed against the café’s tattered menu board and turned it to solid stone. Espurr rolled to a stop, got to her feet, and looked around frantically. She forgot all about being an explorer—for the moment, all that mattered was getting herself and Tricky to safety. The electivire was getting up from where Cinder had pushed him, shaking his head. He stared at the burning restaurant, his mouth gaping open in horror.

Tricky had her eyes closed. Her ears twitched towards every sound.

“I think…” she muttered. “There!” she pointed to their left. “Over there! There’s a beheeyem over there!”

Espurr looked in the direction Tricky was pointing. Sure enough, through the dust beginning to settle, there was the outline of a beheeyem moving towards the restaurant. Only a single one, but the electavire was in its line of fire!

“Hey!” Espurr called out to the dazed pokemon. “Move!”

That snapped the electavire out of his trance. He looked over at Espurr. “What—”

Too late for talking. Espurr used her still-recovering psychic grip to pull the electavire out of the way just before a shadowy ball flew in the elecatvire’s direction. He went soaring across the street and landed on the other sidewalk. The landing knocked him unconscious. Lifting such a heavy pokemon made Espurr’s head ache. She clutched her head, doing her best not to fall over a second time.

Espurr stumbled back over to Tricky, trying not to let the lights give her an even bigger headache. This was bad. Really super bad. Those pokemon were going to come out of the restaurant soon, and if they hadn’t dealt with the beheeyem by then, every single one of them were in danger!

Thinking made her head feel like it was going to split. She groaned in pain, falling back onto her behind.

“Espurr!” Tricky called out, running over to where Espurr was.

“We need to… run…” Espurr hissed through the pain.

“Run? Why?” Tricky asked back, frantic.

Another shadow attack. Espurr and Tricky both hit the ground and rolled over; the attack decimated the pavement where they had been.

“The beheeyem are only after us,” Espurr panted, getting to her knees while she recovered from the mental strain. “We need to lead them away from this crowded street, or they’ll just hurt more pokemon!”

The debris was settling, but a large crowd had gathered outside the destroyed storefront. The beheeyem’s three cone-like foreheads advanced through the crowd, now in plain sight. But no-mon knew. No-mon realized how much danger they were in.

“But what about the police??” Tricky asked frantically. “They’re gonna show up soon, right?”

“The police have bigger problems,” Espurr panted, finally regaining enough clarity to stand up properly. She pointed at the beheeyem advancing through the crowed, prompting Tricky to look in the direction she was pointing. “The beheeyem are going to reach us first at this rate.”

Sure enough, the beheeyem were steadily advancing towards their position.

“Where did they go?”

Holly, Granite, and Cinder all galloped out of the shop, looking at Espurr and Tricky among the crowd of pokemon.

“There they are!” Holly called out, pointing down the street. She had a noticeable limp.

“Time to go.”

Espurr and Tricky both got up and began to run down the street, away from the destroyed burning building.

“Wait!” Holly called after them. “Where are you going?!”

“Don’t follow us!” Espurr called back after her.

She looked back at the crowd as they ran. If the beheeyem were intent on chasing them, they’d have to do it in the middle of broad daylight.

But the beheeyem weren’t coming after them. They stood in the crowd, motionless. Watching. Soon, Espurr could barely see them as they ran—wait. They were moving, to the left. If she squinted, she could still see them somewhat clearly. They entered a back alley, disappearing from Espurr’s vision. They were taking a shortcut! How she wished she’d brought their team’s bag with her… At least then they’d have something to arm themselves with.

“Can you see them??” Tricky frantically looked back, although the crowd and the storefront were out of sight at this point.

“They went into a back alley,” Espurr panted as they ran. “They’re probably planning to ambush us somewhere.”

“But we don’t have anything to defend ourselves with!” Tricky said. “A-and they could be anywhere!”

They stopped outside a house in what looked like the residential sector in Lively Town near the coast, panting for breath. Espurr could see to the west the large Expedition Society building sitting up on the hill.

“Now what do we do?” Tricky asked.

“We’re safest back at the building,” Espurr rasped, her lungs run ragged. “Anywhere else in the town is easy pickings. We need to keep moving, or they’ll just catch up to us.”

“Right…”

Without any further hesitation, Espurr and Tricky set off towards the Expedition Society building in the distance.


~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Ampharos’ Office

“Do the two of you have any idea why you’ve been summoned here?”

Espurr and Tricky sat in twin stools in Ampharos’ office. Ampharos relaxed in the seat behind his desk, looking at them both intently. Mawile was silently leaning against the wall in the background with her arms folded.

“Is it about what happened at Spinda’s?” Tricky tried hopefully.

“Correct!” Ampharos exclaimed. Both Espurr and Tricky suddenly shifted in their seats.

“Not to worry,” Ampharos quickly clarified. “Neither of you are in trouble yet. However, as witnesses, you must detail what you saw so the Lively Town police can track down the true culprit. I requested this be done from the comfort of my office, rather than at the police building. You should know we’re being recorded right now.” He gestured to the connection orb on the desk. “If you please… begin!”

Tricky opened her mouth, and Espurr sensed she was about to tell Ampharos everything—

Espurr stuck her paw up. Tricky fell silent before she could say a single word. She looked at Espurr, confused.

“There was an accident with one of the crates,” Espurr said, trying not to trip over her words. She was barely keeping herself together as-is. “It wasn’t packed properly, and whatever was inside exploded. Tricky and I ran away and got lost. We just made it back here when we got called to your office.” She looked up at Ampharos. “That’s what happened.”

There was a click from the connection orb; the recording had stopped. Espurr eyed it, ignoring Tricky’s look of shock.

“Is that all?” Ampharos asked. “Remember that the police need your testimony to be as clear as possible.”

“That’s everything,” Espurr said quickly. “Can we go now?” she asked.

Ampharos dismissed them with a wave of his paw. Once they had left, he sighed and reclined in his seat.

“How much of that do you think was the truth?” Mawile asked.

“Little, if any of it,” said Ampharos. “It doesn’t match up with the manager’s story at all, nor does It include why the police were phoned about a robbery at the harbor. Not to mention the shipments to Spinda’s Café contained nothing remotely explosive.”

“Why do you think they would lie?” Mawile asked.

“There could be a thousand reasons,” Ampharos said, sitting forward. “I suspect fear. Isolating themselves so no-mon else gets hurt. Which, if my suspicions are correct, is exactly what the unknown party in this situation desires. Whoever these beheeyem are.”

He reset the connection orb on the table. “Not to worry. We still have one more witness to question before we have the full picture anyway. We can circle back to this later.”


~\({O})/~

“What was that about??” Tricky angrily questioned Espurr once they had left Ampharos’ office. “We should have said something! Now we’re on our own!”

“Don’t you get it, Tricky?” Espurr looked at Tricky, her eyes full of fear. “The more pokemon we tell, the more pokemon are going to get hurt! We can’t tell the entire police station! That puts them all in danger!”

They both fell silent as Holly limped past them in the hallway, heading in the direction of Ampharos’ office.

“But aren’t the police supposed to handle these kinds of things?” Tricky asked as they walked down the hallway towards their room.

“Have the police ever handled pokemon who can turn other things into stone?” Espurr asked. “They already blew up a building just to get to us—they’ll just petrify the place and walk straight out. We have to deal with this ourselves. We can’t get anymon else involved.”

“But then how do we get rid of them?” Tricky asked. They had entered their allotted bedroom. Espurr stared out the window, looking at the colorful landscape of Lively Town below. Somewhere, lurking in one of the alleyways below, were a trio of pokemon who no-mon knew were dangerous. Just the sight made Espurr want to shiver with fear.

“I’ve been thinking about that,” she said, calming herself down. “Ever since we left Spinda’s. I think I know how to do it. We just need to get them far away from here, then strand them someplace where they aren’t able to get back to us.”

“Where?” Tricky asked, hints of frustration slipping into her voice.

“There’s a ship from the Expedition Society that’s leaving for the Sand Continent tonight,” Espurr said. “I overheard about it yesterday, just before sundown. The Sand Continent’s on the other side of the world, right?”

“Yeah…” Tricky said. “A-and most of the continent’s fenced off for archeology purposes, so there aren’t many wailord liners to and from there!”

“Except the one that leaves from the Lively Town Docks tomorrow morning,” Espurr said. “Remember from the dock schedule? I’ll bet they’ll follow us there on that. All we need to do is stow away on the ship that’s leaving tonight.”

Tricky was quickly beginning to look more perky and animated. “So we can really get rid of them?”

“I hope so,” Espurr said, clutching the window railing tightly. “Otherwise, we’re out of options.”

She walked away from the window, opening their exploration bag and going through it to make sure they had all their supplies. “Make sure you aren’t forgetting anything. We’ll have to leave after dinner.”


~\({O})/~

Expedition Society Lobby

“Bunmph.”

Espurr sat at the bottom of the grand staircase in the lobby, checking her bag one last time just to make sure they hadn’t left anything behind. The map, the expedition gadget, a half-used tube of toothpaste, a few oran berries, what little remained of their own blast seeds…

“Bunmph.”

That looked like everything. Espurr had gone over the bag’s contents almost five times over the past few hours, but it didn’t hurt to be just a bit more safe. She latched the bag shut—

“Ephferr!”

That was enough to startle Espurr out of her trance. She looked up to see Tricky sitting in front of her, her tail wagging furiously. In her mouth was a basket of leftover buns from the dinner spread.

“Look!” she sat the basket down in front of them. “I got us buns from the kitchen! Now we won’t be hungry on the trip.” She looked quite proud of herself.

Espurr tilted her head at the basket. “Did you just steal those from the kitchen?”

“I didn’t steal them…” Tricky drawled out. “I just… took them when the chef wasn’t looking!”

“That’s stealing.”

“Well it doesn’t matter now!”

Espurr looked both ways, then held open the exploration bag open. “Here, quick. Dump them in before anymon sees. I think the chef will literally kill us if we’re found out.”

The buns went into the exploration bag, and the basket was thrown out the window to avoid evidence.

“So what are we waiting for?” Tricky asked in a whisper as they both stood in the lobby, trying to look innocent. There was the sound of a door opening up on the second floor. Both Espurr and Tricky straightened up.

“I think our cue’s coming now,” Espurr said.

Sure enough, just seconds later Bunnelby began to lazily trot down the stairs. He had an explorer’s satchel of his own, and he hummed some tune Espurr didn’t recognize to himself as he walked towards the door.

“Hey,” he greeted as he walked past them. Espurr and Tricky waved back with pronounced, stilted grins on their faces. Bunnelby walked out the door, and neither Espurr nor Tricky moved a muscle until it shut loudly behind him.

“That’s our chance!” Espurr whispered. “Let’s go!”

“But won’t he hear us if we use the door?” Tricky asked.

“We’ll just use a window,” Espurr said, walking up towards the closest one to the door. Where did you throw the bun basket?”


~\({O})/~

The bun basket had been thrown out near where the trash cans were. Espurr jumped out the window first, followed by Tricky. She rolled to a stop on the ground, quickly getting to her feet and collecting their bag not a second later. She brushed a discarded paper out of her fur with a look of disgust.

“This way!” Tricky said. “We’re gonna lose him!”

She took off down the alleyway, and Espurr ran after her to catch up.

“Slow down!” she hissed, chasing Tricky as they turned the corner around the building and ran down the hill towards the rest of the town. “We still have to make sure those beheeyem follow us to the docks! Otherwise, we’re doing all this for nothing.”

“Um, Espurr?” Tricky had stopped ahead, allowing Espurr to catch up easily.

“What is it?” Espurr asked, panting as she caught up.

“I don’t think finding them’s going to be a problem…”

Espurr directed her eyes off to the side where Tricky was looking. What she saw made her freeze up in fear. All three of the beheeyem were haunting an alleyway just off to the side. Espurr gasped and quickly edged out of the alleyway’s view. Once she was sure the beheeyem couldn’t see either of them anymore, she pressed herself up against the house, trying to keep her legs from trembling. She had to keep herself together.

“Now what?” Tricky asked.

This was bad. Espurr had wanted them to follow, but not this close! Bunnelby hadn’t even reached the harbor yet! They had to buy more time, otherwise their own trap was going to backfire in the worst way possible.

“We just… have to sneak past them,” Espurr said. “I’ll make a distraction.”

The lid of a trash can fell over in the alleyway the beheeyem were searching with a loud bang. Espurr peeked around the corner just enough to make sure that the beheeyem had fallen for the distraction, then waved Tricky forward. Tricky bounded across, followed by Espurr a split second later.

They splashed through a puddle of water as they went. The noise attracted the attention of at least one beheeyem. Espurr saw its head turn around just before they cleared the alleyway. For just a second, their eyes locked. And then Espurr’s left foot hit the ground, and she continued dashing down the street.

“They saw us,” she breathed, falling in line with Tricky as they both ran. She grabbed the strap of their expedition bag, holding it tight to her. “We’re going to have to fight.”

The beheeyem glode out of the alleyway and into the street, catching a good glimpse of Espurr and Tricky running off down towards the harbor in the distance. Shadowy sparks of energy collected around their blinkers, which aimed directly at the slowly shrinking figures in the distance…

Espurr spun around at the last second, and hurled a single blast seed at the beheeyem. A psychic blast caught it midair and propelled it the rest of the way across the gap. It collided with the beheeyem’s shadow attack, creating an earsplitting blast. Windows cracked. The beheeyem were blown back. Espurr and Tricky were sent flying through midair towards the bottom of the hill. They hit the ground hard. Espurr didn’t any time getting to her feet, and neither did Tricky. They both looked at the beheeyem up on the hill, who were still recovering from the blast.

“Quick, through the alleyway!” Espurr pointed out a small alley to their left. Pokemon were starting to come out of their houses in the aftermath of the blast, looking around for what might have caused the sound. A trio of beheeyem quickly pushed past them without a single word, heading for the small enclove below. But it was already empty.

Tricky dashed down the narrow alleyway, followed closely by Espurr. They edged around a dumpster, taking a hard left as they followed the night sky above for direction.

“Did we get them?” Tricky asked.

The dumpster slammed into the wall behind them with a deafening crash, leaving a dent in the wall and sending trash flying everywhere.

“Something tells me we didn’t,” Espurr said, shielding her face from the trash that was raining down. “How much longer until we reach the harbor?”

The beheeyem rounded the corner, a shadow attack prepared. Espurr only had a split second, but she reacted fast.

“Tricky, duck!” Espurr hit the ground just before Tricky did. The shadow attack flew over their heads and mangled another dumpster.

Espurr pulled another blast seed out of her bag and threw it at the beheeyem. To her horror, it slowed to a stop just before it could make contact with the beheeyem in front. They’d caught on. The blast seed began to rotate in place, gaining momentum even as Espurr edged herself back and tried to get her footing. Then it shot towards her.

The blast seed hurt. It blew both Espurr and Tricky clean across the alleyway, and felt like fire against Espurr’s skin. She landed on the cold, hard ground, which helped ease the burning but stung all the same. The walls around them were damaged, and the beheeyem advanced upon them like they had already won. Tricky was beside her, still recovering just like her. It was the cliff on the mountain all over again. There had to be way out. Some way out…

The mangled dumpster behind the beheeyem began to move with loud creaks and scrapes against the pavement. Then it lifted up off the ground and flew across the alleyway. It collided with the beheeyem from behind, plastering them against the ground and walls.

For a second, all was silent. The beheeyem didn’t move, and Espurr and Tricky finally had a chance to peel themselves off the pavement and collect themselves. There were a few burn marks on their bag. Espurr smoothed it over the best she could. She wondered if that could be repaired.

Tricky looked at the ruins of the dumpster that had apparently crushed the beheeyem.

“Are they… dead?” she asked, tilting her head at them. Espurr could feel a psychic presence emanating from under that dumpster. An angry one.

“Not at all,” she said. “We should run while we can.”

With that, they both dashed down the alleyway without a second thought. The sound of a dumpster crashing in the growing distance behind them rang out in the night and sent chills down their spines.

The harbor was quiet and dark. Espurr and Tricky ran out into the open, quickly hiding themselves behind a pile of crates. Espurr noticed Tricky was carrying herself with a mild limp.

“Is that going to be alright?” she asked, staring at the leg.

“It’s just a bruise,” Tricky panted, out of breath. “I’ve had tons of bruises before. But where’s Bunnelby?”

Espurr peeked over the top of the crates, frantically looking the ships over. Were they too late? Had he left already?

She spotted the dark outline of the Expedition Society’s ship, and breathed a sigh of relief. They weren’t too late yet. But were they on-time? She didn’t see Bunnelby there, or any other sign of life that would indicate a pokemon had been near that ship recently.

“I don’t think he’s here yet,” she said. “We should get closer before—”

She heard Tricky’s gasp, and felt her tense up. Turning around, she saw what Tricky saw: The beheeyem were approaching them from the same alleyway they had come out of. Espurr tensed up ready to fight, but her body and her head sent her aching pangs—she was in no condition to fight, and neither was Tricky. They had one last blast seed left, but using that in close quarters would just blow them all sky high.

They were out of options. The only way out was to run—

Then Espurr heard Tricky snicker. She looked over at her partner, watching the fennekin scrunch up her tail as she tried to keep her laughter contained.

“What’s so funny?” Espurr asked, looking at Tricky incredulously.

“Don’t they look so silly?” Tricky asked, trying her best not to devolve into a giggling fit. “Look at them!”

Very confused and on-guard, Espurr looked at the beheeyem. On closer look, they were struggling to keep themselves straight. Their cone-like heads wobbled back and forth like waving tops, and they couldn’t even lift their arms to aim another attack at the two of them. Espurr had to admit the sight did look a pretty silly, even if this was a life or death situation.

There were black sparks flying around the many burn marks and dents in the beheeyems’ bodies, and steam evaporated off their forms. The many dents, cuts, and burn marks in their body were slowly disappearing—whatever those black sparks were were healing them. Espurr didn’t understand it, but now wasn’t the time to get focused on small, roundabout details—they needed to move while they could.

“Let’s go before they stop doing… that,” she said, pushing away a still struggling not to laugh Tricky in the direction of the ship.

She could see Bunnelby now, lighting a torch in the harbor as he hopped up on the crates to get on the ship. Espurr and Tricky quickly cleared half the harbor, hiding behind another stack of crates as they watched Bunnelby hop up onto the ship.

“We’ll use those crates to get up onto the back of the ship when he’s not looking,” she said. “Then we’ll sneak below deck.”

Bunnelby disappeared into the ship’s door, and then Espurr waved Tricky along. “He’s in the ship!”

Espurr and Tricky hopped over the crate they were hiding behind and made a beeline for the ship at the end of the harbor. Espurr heard the pile of crates behind them get loudly blasted away, but she chose to ignore it. The sound of crates tumbling and their contents spilling out everywhere just made it harder not to look back.

Espurr reached the pile of crates outside the ship, but stopped to help Tricky up before she went herself. She spared a split seconds’ worth glance towards the beheeyem coming towards them—too long. An attack hit the crates and jostled them. They didn’t fall over, but teetered dangerously over the water.

Then Espurr saw something that triggered perhaps the largest scare of her life—the ship was setting off! And they still had three more steps to climb before they reached the top of the crates!

Espurr helped Tricky up the crates as best they could. The beheeyem got closer and closer behind them. Espurr cast another glance at them—another attack was amassing between their blinkers. This one would probably topple the crates over.

Finally at the top. She and Tricky watched the ship that was setting off towards the harbor. Tricky looked back towards the beheeyem with horror.

“What do we do??” she asked, her voice dripping with terror.

Espurr was determined to get on that boat, no matter what.

“We jump,” she said, desperately trying not to look like she was coming up with a plan on the spot.

“Jump? We’ll land in the water!” Tricky exclaimed.

“We won’t!” Espurr said. She didn’t entirely know that, but she was banking on a gamble. “But only if we jump now!”

“Are you… are you sure?” Tricky asked.

Espurr decided she was. It was all or nothing. She nodded firmly at Tricky.

Tricky gulped, then grabbed onto Espurr. Espurr grabbed hold back.

“Three…”

The beheeyem’s attack that was about to fly any second now.

“Two…”

The ship sailing off in the distance, getting farther away with every second.

“One…”

The crates were suddenly knocked out from under them—

“Jump!”

Espurr and Tricky both launched off the crate under them just before it gave away, tumbling into the sea below with all its lookalikes. Espurr and Tricky flew through the air, losing momentum for just a second and heading towards the water—

—An invisible force bounced up from under them, propelling them the rest of the way onto the ship’s back deck. Espurr and Tricky hit the ship’s floor rolling with a loud thud. Espurr’s head throbbed with pain, but between that and drowning in the ice-cold ocean with a pair of wannabe killers greeting them at the shore, this was the better option by far. She and Tricky lay on the deck of the ship for a moment, clinging tightly to each other and panting in exhaustion.

The beheeyem watched them from the shore, their blinkers flickering red yellow green in the night. Espurr could feel the demented stares they were sending her from a mile away, but at the moment she didn’t care. Because they had won. For the moment, they were safe. And there wasn’t a single thing the beheeyem could do about it.

The ship sailed off into the night, carrying two more passengers than it should. Phase one of Espurr’s plan was complete.


~\({O})/~

Music of the Week!

Those We Don't Speak Of -- James Newton Howard
 
Last edited:
Chapter 33 - Traveler's Demise

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter33Art.png

~\({O})/~

33.

Traveler’s Demise


~\({O})/~

Outside Noe Town

The road through Mist was long, vibrant, and cloudy.

More clouds were rolling in from the sea, and the frigid winter air was turning the would-be-rain into flakes of falling snow. Soon, Zoroark’s mane had a dusting of frost on it that was growing heavier by the minute. He shook it off periodically to clear it of snow—he didn’t need even more moisture hanging around in his fur.

Alexis and Elliot travelled at a fast pace, faster than Zoroark could keep up with at a leisurely stroll. He was about to break out into a jog to catch up with them when suddenly a flash came from behind all three of them. Zoroark looked back to see the figure of the xatu from before approaching them from behind. It must have teleported here.

Elliot looked behind himself and Alexis, catching sight of the xatu who was walking towards them.

“Greetings, traveler!” he waved back at the xatu, catching the attention of Alexis. “Where are you headed?”

“Why, to Pokemon Paradise,” the xatu stated. “Your zoroark friend said he was going there, and I thought I would tag along. It’s better to travel in groups than alone, after all.”

Considering it was the exact train of logic that Zoroark had just used, he couldn’t exactly object. But why this group? And when had he said where he was going? He got the gist the xatu was following him, and gave the pokemon an uncomfortable side-eye.

Alexis’ expression was flat and carried all the energy of a granbull babysitting a group of energetic wooper.

“I’ll allow it,” he sighed after a minute. “But be prepared to travel rough!”

The walk continued. Zoroark hung behind, walking with the xatu who didn’t seem to be entirely occupying the real world right now. He watched as a single yellow butterfly alighted on the xatu’s wing. Instead of waving it off, the xatu inspected it closely, then whispered something to it. The butterfly took off, attracting the xatu’s attention until neither pokemon could see it between the tree branches and the snowing sky. Then the xatu went back to staring at the distance blankly.

After a few moments of walking, Zoroark waved his claws in front of the xatu’s eyes. The xatu silently looked at him. The stare was enough to make Zoroark immediately feel uncomfortable in his fur.

“Hey, we should walk a bit faster,” he said, pointing to Alexis and Elliot who were getting farther and farther away from them with every step. “They’re going to leave us behind at this point.”

The xatu looked up ahead where Zoroark was pointing.

“Ah. Sorry, I get caught up in my thoughts sometimes.”

The xatu put his wing on zoroark’s mane. There was a flash of light, and before Zoroark could say or do anything they were suddenly much, much closer to Alexis and Elliot than they had been before. Zoroark looked around in dazed startlement.

The xatu looked at him with concern. “Hmm, did I disorient you? Apologies. This seemed like the fastest way to catch up.”

Zoroark took a moment to regain his head, then shook it off. “No, it’s fine. Just took me off guard.”

His insides swam with confusion. Had he, a dark type, just been… teleported? What was this xatu?

The xatu clutched his wing much closer to his body than what looked comfortable.

“I’ll ask next time.”

That didn’t help the confusion.

“Alright,” Alexis said, reaching the top of the hill they’d been climbing for the last minute. “This is your last chance to turn back. From here, we go off-road.”

Zoroark finally recovered enough from the teleport-induced haze to gaze upon what lay ahead of the group.

Beyond the summit of the hill lay a forest of green and autumn red. The mountains in the distance were shrouded in mist and snow, and the beaten path snaked through the trees like a winding onix. In the distance, a shroud of white mist eclipsed the looming stone mountains behind it.

“By the beaten path, it’ll take three days to reach Pokemon Paradise,” Alexis said. “We’re taking a shortcut.” In a single motion he unhooked a scalchop from his hip and pointed it right, towards the autumn-colored forest that lay off the path. “That forest you see is a mystery dungeon. They call it Traveler’s Demise. It’s one of the more powerful ones around on this continent. Dangerous for any non-explorers, but it cuts our travel time in half. Elliot and I use it when we have to get across the continent in a hurry. But if the two of you aren’t up to it, we aren’t going to delay our trip to accommodate you.” He redirected his scalchop right back to the path the path. “Take that road, and you’ll safely reach Pokemon Paradise two days after we do.”

Having just given away all of his earnings, Zoroark didn’t have the poke to purchase rations for a three-day trip to Pokemon Paradise. And it sounded like straying from the beaten path here was going to lead him into a mystery dungeon, even if just to hunt for a minute. But as long as he wasn’t going alone...

The xatu stepped forward. “Please count me in. This isn’t my first dungeon trip.”

Alexis looked somewhat miffed. He turned his gaze expectantly to Zoroark.

“Yeah. Count me in too,” Zoroark said. If he could handle what had happened on the Demetrius yesterday, he could handle a trip through a mystery dungeon with a pair of experienced guides.

Alexis looked like the world had forsaken him. “Again. I can’t guarantee either of you will make it out safely. At the very least you’ll probably have to do some fighting on the way there. Do you really want to do this.”

Both Zoroark and Xatu’s faces made it clear they intended to see this out.

“…Alright,” Alexis sighed, hooking the scalchop back to his side and waving them onward. “Follow us. And keep your guard up.


~\({O})/~

Then

Zoroark couldn’t remember much of his childhood. Most of what he knew he had been taught by Primarina, who had been his caretaker ever since he could remember.

Primarina used to live on the Mist Continent. He worked as a scribe for a politician in Pokemon Paradise, and like all ‘mon from the Mist Continent, he had a name. Zoroark had been taught to always address him as “boss”, though, so he didn’t learn it.

He’d turned up as a kit all alone in the middle of nowhere when Primarina was accompanying a delivery of supplies from Noe Town to Pokemon Paradise. It was common for poorer pokemon to abandon their kits in the middle of the wild due to being unable to care for them. Opinions on the matter ranged from the parents being unable to afford to care for them to the parents being too savage and uneducated to raise a child like civilized ‘mon. Zoroark had never considered himself a savage, though. All he knew was that he had clung to Primarina desperately enough that the pokemon reluctantly took him along, intending to drop him off somewhere in Pokemon Paradise.

There was no family or institution in Pokemon Paradise that would care well for a zorua kit. Primarina had considered smothering the kit and throwing the body out with the weekly garbage deposit—there was no way to know what harm caring for a zorua would do for his reputation. But at the same time, the zorua line had a unique ability that could benefit him down the road. All he had to do was raise the ‘mon correctly, and the public never needed to know who his mysterious charge really was. Instead of smothering the zorua, Primarina fed him and gave him a bed for the night.

Zoroark knew that last bit because it was what Primarina reminded him of whenever he had acted out in the past.

Primarina raised him to clean up all the odds and ends that Primarina himself didn’t have time for. To sweep the floors—"use your head fluff, you’ll have tons of it for dusting when you’re older”—to do the paperwork—“you’ll have big, large claws when you grow up, perfect for inking in signatures”—and most importantly, to use his innate power to create illusions to hide himself—“no-mon can ever know what you are.”

One day, when he was young enough to still be a kit but old enough to understand sentences and simple logic, Primarina sat him down and showed him a book filled with pictures of different pokemon.

“Choose one,” he said. “Which one do you like the best?”

After five minutes of looking through the pictures, Zorua had chosen the one he later learned was called “fennekin.” He chose it because it looked almost like he did, except for the yucky bright colors. But that was okay, because there was a picture on the side of one with a grey and pink coat, which looked even closer, better than all the others.

Every day, Primarina made him maintain the illusion of disguising himself as that creature. First for a minute, then five, then ten, then an hour. When Zorua didn’t, he withheld food. “If you can disguise yourself as a bowl to steal cookies at night, you can do this,” he said when Zorua complained.

Zorua still stole the cookies. He was just craftier about it.

Soon, the day came when Zorua was allowed to accompany Primarina outside of the apartment they lived in. By now he was practiced enough to consistently maintain the illusion of a fennekin for almost six hours, so Primarina must have finally felt safe taking him out of the house. The two of them took a walk through the wide streets of Pokemon Paradise, where a large statue of a heroic-looking oshawott and a pikachu decorated the town’s main square where Post Town had once been. They walked through the streets, finally stopping to rest at a white, somewhat battered fountain in a back square of town that wasn’t frequented often. Beyond the fountain, there was a view of the setting sun. Zorua had never seen so many new things, smells, pokemon, places before—all he wanted to do was run off and check out all the new things that were right in front of him. But Primarina had silently motioned for him to sit down, and he had been taught never to disobey Primarina. So they sat by the fountain instead, slowly watching the sun go down.

“Do you know why I took you out here?” Primarina asked after a while. Zorua-as-fennekin shook his head, staring up at Primarina was curious eyes. The look was not returned.

“I’ve received a promotion,” Primarina said. “We’ll be moving to another continent within the week. Once you evolve, you’ll be working full time as my secretary.”

There was silence for a moment more; Zorua-as-fennekin couldn’t think of anything to say. The sun had nearly disappeared behind the buildings at this point. Primarina tentatively rubbed a flipper over Zorua’s head. Zorua looked up in surprise—this was one of the first times Primarina had treated him with something more than indifference.

“I thought you should see where you grew up at least once before we left.”


~\({O})/~

Now

Traveler’s Demise

The woods changed as they entered. The air around Zoroark took on a smell like something was rotting in the distance, and the tree canopies above looked all wrong, like they were mirages against the clouds. The air of a powerful entity hovered all around them.

And yet, Zoroark was the only one who was unnerved by it.

Xatu walked alongside him calmly, and both Elliot and Alexis were on-guard but didn’t look unnerved. Zoroark glanced at the xatu as they walked, but its face was unreadable as always.

“Doesn’t any of this… unnerve you?” he asked, in an awkward attempt to strike up conversation. “The atmosphere feels wrong.”

“I used to be unnerved by dungeons,” the xatu said. “But then I figured acting on fear is when you’re the most vulnerable, you know? So I just don’t.”

The sudden sound of rustling behind them caught the attention of all four pokemon in the area. Alexis looked back.

“Stay close to us, please!” he called back, sounding somewhat annoyed.

“May I?” The xatu asked, holding up a wing. Zoroark shuddered just a bit, but nodded. A flash of light, and in less than a second, they were facing Alexis and Elliot’s backs.

If Alexis noticed they had teleported, he didn’t react to it. “That sound you heard is the sound of dungeon ferals in the background,” he said. “Most dungeon ferals are constructs of the dungeon; a self-defense mechanism for those who harm it. These ones are explorers who fell victim here. They shouldn’t attack us during the day so long as we stay in one group, so don’t wander off.”

“Pokemon… fell victim here?” Zoroark asked.

“I did say this path was dangerous,” Alexis said.

“Don’t worry, we only have to worry about that if we’re trapped in here for more than two days in the real world,” Elliot said with a nervous laugh. “It should only take us half of that to get through this one.”

The first floor of the dungeon was crossed without any hassle at all. Zoroark could hear see sense the ferals hiding in the dungeon corners, but none of them had attacked the group or made any threatening moves yet. The second, third, and fourth floors were also crossed without much issue.

On the fifth floor, Zoroark noticed it was beginning to get darker. He looked up at the sky, seeing the mirage above painted in shades of orange through the clouds.

“Is the sun already going down?” he asked, holding his claws over his eyes so the setting sunbeams didn’t roast them out of their sockets. “It was morning when we entered.”

“The stronger the dungeon, the more time passes outside while you’re in it.” They reached a clearing, where Alexis dropped down his satchel and motioned for the group to stop too. “And the faster you spend your energy. We’ll stop here for the night. Won’t be safe in a few minutes; all the ferals come out when the sun goes down.”

It quickly became colder as the night fell, but they went without a campfire. Alexis immediately vetoed the idea when Zoroark brought it up.

“That’s just asking for trouble,” he said. “Lighting a fire is a good way to attract every feral in the dungeon to your location.

“Don’t forget, you two are hunting for yourselves,” he said when met with Zoroark’s hungry stare as he and Elliot pulled out their rations from their exploration bags. Zoroark immediately shrank back a little. He’d forgotten.

Xatu teleported away. He returned a minute later with a rattata impaled on each wing, one of which he politely thrust at Zoroark. “Are these acceptable?”

Zoroark caught the dead rat with a look of surprise—he’d eaten actual rats before, but eating other pokemon made him squeamish.

“They’re dungeon ferals,” Alexis said when Zoroark questioned him about it. “They’re plum out of their mind, won’t ever get it back. Trust me, you’re doing the world a favor.”

Elliot used a few expertly-controlled thunderbolts to roast the rattata corpses until they were fully cooked through. Zoroark would have preferred to eat it raw, but he didn’t want to be rude, so he didn’t say anything. He ate it dry, burnt in some places, and stringy.

“Two of us should keep watch half the night, and two the other,” Alexis said. “Watch for any attacks from dungeon ferals, also watch for other explorers who may be passing through. It’s unlikely that any outlaws are hiding out in a dungeon like this, but watch for those too. They may have entered right after us. And especially watch for fog and roars in the distance. If you catch anything that remotely sounds or looks like either of those things, wake whoever’s asleep immediately. It means we’re out of time.”

He picked up a pile of leftover twigs from the campfire and deliberately snapped two short. “Whoever draws the short sticks from this pile gets first watch.”

Alexis and Xatu drew the long straws. Elliot and Zoroark drew the short ones.

“I guess it’s decided,” Elliot said glumly, staring at his short stick. “I always draw the short ones…”

The xatu slept standing up, staring at the moon just like he stared at the sun. Zoroark wondered how he could possibly be comfortable in that position, but that ranked up there with his question of “how is he not blind from staring straight into the sun all day” and would probably never be answered.

Zoroark leaned against a tree, trying not to nod off to sleep. Even though it couldn’t have been more than four hours since they’d entered the dungeon, he felt as if he’d been awake for almost two days. Maybe this was what Alexis meant when he’d said energy was spent faster in a dungeon.

Elliot, sprawled out on the ground across from him, seemed to be having the same problem he was. Zoroark decided to strike up some idle conversation so that they didn’t both fall to sleep.

“Tired?” he asked.

“No more than you are,” Elliot replied. He yawned, folding his arms and staring up at the dungeon’s mirage of a moon. “I’m used to it. Enough night watches in these dungeons and being tired doesn’t really bug you much anymore.”

“Do you usually do the night watches?” Zoroark asked, stretching.

“Alexis does his fair share too,” Elliot said. “But eh, he’s team leader. He does the planning and chooses the missions, I do most of the grunt work on the side.”

That sounded very familiar to Zoroark.

“You two are partners, though. The famous duo that saved Mist. Shouldn’t you be equals?”

“None of that would have been possible without Alexis,” Elliot said. “All of it wouldn’t have been. He built it. So he leads, I follow. I don’t have the chops to be a good leader, anywho.”

“Doesn’t sound fair to say that if you haven’t tried,” Zoroark said.

“It is what it is,” Elliot said, shrugging from his place in the dust. “What about you? Alexis told me your ship went down in the middle of the sea, but that’s all he said. Since we’re sharing.”

“That’s all that happened,” Zoroark said after a moment. “We were traveling across the ocean, and our ship went down. I washed up on Mist.”

“Weren’t you going somewhere before?” Elliot asked. “Why stay here?”

“I’m heading to Pokemon Paradise now,” Zoroark said. “That’s why I went with you.”

“Hmm,” Elliot said, but didn’t pursue the dodged question.

After a moment, he got up. “Our watch is just about over,” he said. “Let’s go wake the others.”

Zoroark nodded and stood up too.


~\({O})/~

Then

The Exeggutor

Two weeks after Primarina had taken Zorua to the fountain, the move happened. The apartment flat the two had lived in for so long was packed up, and Zorua-as-Fennekin watched a bunch of ‘mon carry the boxes out.

A ship had been purchased specifically for the occasion—this ship was to be their new home. Zorua was still young but knew how to read with precision. Even from a distance, his sharp eyes could see the ship’s name: The
Exeggutor.

Primarina had impressed some higher ups with a recent scuffle involving mixed up cargo at the Waterport and been appointed by Cloud Nine as the Ambassador of the Water Continent. This meant that their lives would soon be almost entirely spent on the open seas, as aside from a small group of cartographers who hadn’t registered with the guild system yet, there was no central guild on the Water Continent for the ambassador to oversee. No matter how many times Zorua puked over the side of the ship or how many days he spent queasy in the cabins below, he had to adjust, because the job also meant more paperwork.

Time passed. Soon Zorua evolved into Zoroark while trying to spear fish out of the ocean, and he had to relearn how to disguise himself as a new pokemon all over again. It came faster, now that he was more experienced in knowing how to do it.

Paperwork piled up and piled up again and piled up even more. Zoroark signed things but rarely snuck peeks at them like he used to when he was younger—there was just too much to go through, and it was probably all boring stuff like allocating funds and keeping cargo shipments into the Water Continent running properly.

Soon, Primarina began to dabble into new avenues of work. At his request, Zoroark quickly learned to forge signatures. “Forgery is your natural talent as a species,” Primarina had said. “Learning it will bring us into a great amount of wealth soon. This is what I’ve been raising you for.”

Whose signatures they were, he never learned. He often suspected that Primarina kept it a secret on purpose, just in case he were to let something slip later on. But no matter whose signatures they were, the more papers he signed, the better things got for the two of them. Spare and plentiful poke began to pile up under the deck. Lively Town grew more and more prosperous, and the harbor was expanded and developed into a large sailing port. With the wealth came new luxuries for Zoroark—For the first time, he was able to sleep and wake when he wanted. He got to eat the fishes he caught from the ocean for dinner, instead of cooking them for Primarina instead. Primarina got him a fancy braixen wand that was little more than a stick in his paws, but sold the illusion tucked away in the back of his mane.

All he had to do was keep signing the papers.

“It’s only small things under the radar,” Primarina explained. “It won’t hurt anymon important.”

One day, Zoroark had been given a very important paper to sign, and a handful of signatures to forge. Primarina had given him the afternoon to get the signatures right. If he did it right, Primarina would buy him a carton of baker’s pastries the next time they sailed into Lively Town’s port.

He was given a copy of the paper, as well as a few letters for mailing that were full of what felt and sounded like poke, with Primarina’s own flipper signature already on them. Each one had an address to a different continent.

Bribes. Zoroark was savvy enough to know that the only time Primarina sent out bribes was when a paper was going through some very important pokemon. Which meant he was forging some equally important signatures.

He felt a bit of his old curiosity returning to him—what kind of paper was this?—and decided to sneak a peek at the contents of the paper it was so important that he sign. He had the whole day, after all.

This was a drafted plan to bring the Waterport entirely under the control of the Water Continent. If that happened, the Water Continent could tax each and every shipment coming in from and going to other continents. It would net them a lot of profit, but so far there was only one of several signatures. Zoroark had been given a handful to sign onto the paper. He started with the one that looked like a bird’s talons, but then stopped halfway through.

Something about this didn’t seem right. Since he was forging signatures, he suspected it wasn’t anyway, but this was a huge paper, and he was forging signatures that probably belonged to very important pokemon. Was this even safe to sign? Now that he thought about it—and this was indeed the first time he could have been bothered to think about it—how many of these had he done before in the past?

He figured that Primarina probably wouldn’t take very well to learning that he’d read the paperwork, but he couldn’t just do something this big without question. And so he snatched the paper up off the desk with his claws and headed for the Exeggutor’s bridge room.

Primarina was relaxed in his luxury bath, and there was nothing but a rope around the steering wheel keeping the ship on-course. Zoroark walked in and stood a respectable distance away from the bath.

“Boss?”

Primarina looked up.

“Hmm?” he asked. “Have you signed the paperwork yet?”

Zoroark took a deep breath before opening his mouth again. He was venturing way out of his bounds by questioning an order, especially on a significant piece of paperwork like this, and he knew it. It took all of his willpower to utter his next words:

“I looked at some of the paperwork as I was signing it, and…”

Primarina sighed. “So you read it, didn’t you.”

Zoroark didn’t say anything; he only stared at Primarina uncertainly, with the piece of paper clutched in both his claws.

“Well?” Primarina asked dismissively. “Aren’t you going to sign it?”

Zoroark’s claws dug into the paper enough he feared he’d rip it.

“Whose signatures am I putting on this paper?” he asked.

“That’s none of your concern,” Primarina said. “Sign it.”

“I thought we were doing small things,” Zoroark said. “Things that would just net us some wealth on the side.”

“And we are,” Primarina said. “I don’t ask you to sign papers like this every day.”

“But signing this looks dangerous!” Zoroark said, raising his voice before he could catch himself. “What if somemon finds out and traces it back to us?”

“No-mon is going to care,” Primarina said. “We’re bribing pokemon; why do you think I gave you the money?”

“I don’t want to sign it,” said Zoroark.

Primarina sat up in the bath with a splash. Water landed at Zoroark’s feet and came close to spraying the paper.

“Are you disobeying me?” Primarina asked, his voice dangerously level.

“I only said I’d sign small things,” Zoroark said firmly. He had been taught to always obey Primarina, but… there were limits. There
were limits. Right?

“Sign it, or you won’t eat until you do,” Primarina said.

Memories of being starved until he did what Primarina asked gnawed away at his mind. But even more than that, if he backed down now, it was admitting defeat forever and he knew it. There wouldn’t be an opportunity like this again. He had to make a stand.

Primarina had looked away at this point, probably confident Zoroark was going to do whatever he asked. But Zoroark didn’t move from where he stood. Ever so slowly, he tugged on the paper more and more, until it split apart with an audible rip.

Primarina looked over at the sound of the rip, his eyes fixing themselves on the two torn halves of paper. Surely that made a statemen—

A blast of water hit him out of nowhere, throwing him against the wall of the ship’s cabin. Suddenly thrown to his back, Zoroark coughed and sputtered in shock. The waterlogged paper in his claws limply disintegrated.

“Allow me to make something very clear,” Primarina said, rising from the bath. His expression was stone cold. “You are alive today because of my mercy. You
exist to serve me. Don’t forget that again.”

Before Zoroark knew it, a flipper was staring him down.

“Get up,” Primarina said. “We’ll get you another copy of that paper to sign. If you’re interested in eating tonight, you’ll sign it properly. And you can forget about the pastries.”


~\({O})/~

Now

~Alexis~

Alexis sighed, staring up at the moon that was slowly but surely moving across the night sky. Only half an hour until the sunrise. And then they’d continue moving again.

“You can sleep, you know.” He looked over at the xatu, who was staring at him motionlessly. Truth be told, it was creeping him out a little. “Or look somewhere else. I’m not that interesting.”

The xatu didn’t blink, or move, for the first ten seconds. Then it stood up.

“I’m here with a warning,” the xatu said.

“Really?” Alexis said, silently drawing his hand to a scalchop where no-mon could see. Was this xatu some kind of bandit? “And what’s that?”

“Please take me seriously, Alexis.”

That made Alexis stiffen up for a moment. Something was familiar about that sentence, the way it was said. He just couldn’t put his finger on it. He relaxed his position only seconds after.

“Lots of pokemon know my name,” he said. “Was that supposed to catch me off guard?”

“Did it work?” Xatu asked.

Alexis turned himself around, facing Xatu fully. “Who are you?”

“Just a humble messenger,” the xatu said. “Here with a warning.”

“For a humble messenger here with a warning, you’re a very shady ‘mon,” Alexis said. “I’ll ask again. Who are you?”

“Somemon you know from long ago,” the Xatu answered.

“Never knew a xatu before,” Alexis said. Though his paws never strayed far from his scalchops.

Heed my message,” the xatu said, ignoring Alexis’ question. “There’s a storm out there. It’s on its way. It will demolish everything you have built, and wipe away everymon you know. Time is running short—”

Then it clicked. Quick as a crashing wave, Alexis drew his scalchops and threw them.

“It’s you!”

With a bright flash of light that lit up the clearing and a good portion of the sky, the xatu teleported away in an instant. The scalchops hit the wood of a tree and quivered there.

Alexis snarled, then leapt up and ripped his scalchops out of the wood. They left deep cuts in the tree where they were pulled out.

It was endless. No matter how many times he killed that thing, it always came back. It always came back, just for him. How many times? How many times before he could strike the final blow for good? How many times before he could finally send it to the past where it belonged?

A low rumbling spread throughout the dungeon, followed by the beginnings of a howl in the distance. The dungeon winds hurtled through the clearing, nearly blasting Alexis clean off his feet. They brought the smell of rancid meat and dungeon feral with them. And in the distance, he could hear their howls.

He hooked his scalchops back on his sides, and picked up his bag. That was the dungeon shifting. The xatu had already gone through the staircase. And that blast of light had to have awakened all the ferals on the floor too.

There was no more time to waste. Alexis got to shaking awake Elliot and Zoroark. Both rose, looking at him groggily.

“Wake up,” Alexis said in a harsh whisper. “We need to get moving.” He began quickly packing up their supplies and slung the newly packed satchels onto his side.

“Wh… what for?” Elliot asked, only half awake. Zoroark shakily pulled himself up into a sitting position beside Elliot, his ears still unfurling from sleep.

“Dungeon ferals are here,” Alexis said, throwing Elliot’s bag to him. The pikachu caught it groggily. “There’ll be packs descending upon our location any minute now. We need to get as far away as possible before they catch up.”

“What happened to the xatu?” Elliot asked.

“Gone,” Alexis said. “Ran off while we were sleeping.”

A wave of silence suddenly spread over the clearing as a low howl pierced the air. It wasn’t far off.

Something brushed through the trees behind them.

A controlled surge of electricity from Elliot’s tail lit up the area around them. For just a second, the flickering yellow light illuminated the shape of a skeletal lycanroc quickly slinking off into a trees.

“Over there!” Zoroark called out, pointing Alexis and Elliot to where he had seen it.

“Where?” Alexis asked, looking around. “I don’t see anything.”

“It’s hiding in the trees,” Zoroark said.

Another one behind them. All three heads snapped over to where a bush had just been rattled. A large, bipedal wolf-like pokemon was stepping out from the trees, staring at them through pitch-black eyes. Elliot charged up a thunderbolt, ready to strike the pokemon—

Pellets of rocks shot through the air like bullets. Both Zoroark and Alexis were hit head-on, and Elliot was thrown to the ground from being pelted on his back. A second lycanroc, on all fours, bounded into the clearing. Its eyes were just as black and soulless as its companion’s. In a split second, the bipedal wolf dove for Elliot, its mouth with gleaming razor sharp teeth wide open—

Elliot’s tail sparked with high voltage and collided with the wolf’s jaw. The wolf was thrown back towards the trees. The other wolf dashed towards Zoroark, but was slashed across the face with a swipe of Alexis’ scalchops. It fell to the floor and dashed off into the woods with a whimper.

“This way!” Alexis waved them all down the path with his scalchops. “Before they catch up with us.”

The three of them sprinted down the path, looking out for other dungeon ferals along the way.

“Keep an eye out,” Alexis said as they ran. “They could come from anywhere.”

The trees to their right suddenly creaked, and all of the sudden a splintered log hurtled onto the pathway—

—The log flew through the air and crashed onto the pathway with all the force of a collapsing rhydon. An ursaring crashed out from behind the trees, swiping at Alexis and Zoroark with all its might. Alexis jumped backwards, colliding into Zoroark and pulling him back as well. Twin pairs of scalchops went sailing at the bear’s face, but the bear deflected them with its razor-sharp claws.

The ursaring was sent flying to the side by a thunderbolt from Elliot’s tail. Elliot dashed through, scooping the scalchops up in his tail and batting them back towards Alexis.

“Catch!”

Alexis caught them, sending one flying not a second later into the ursaring’s skull.

It didn’t die. Even though the dungeon feral had a scalchop buried cleanly into its head, it was still standing. It dropped to all fours, preparing to charge them down. A thunderbolt from Elliot knocked the scalchop out of its head but did little else, especially as it began to lope towards them with a snarl.

The ursaring suddenly stopped. It turned to the left, let out a bellow, and ran off that way. Zoroark got to his feet, ceasing the illusion.

“It thinks we went that way,” he said.

“Then let’s get out of here before it catches on,” Alexis continued, walking over and picking up his scalchop. “Keep an eye out for those lycanroc too. They’re probably following us by now.”

Sure enough, Zoroark could hear more pokemon slinking through the trees. It couldn’t be just the two lycanroc at this point. Three… four… now there were too many to count.

“Hey,” Zoroark said, his ears swivellng rapidly around. “How far are we from the stairs?”

“Odd question to ask,” Alexis panted out. “Why?”

“I’m trying to figure out whether we should run for it or fight.”

By now, they were surrounded on all sides. On one side, the midnight lycanroc from before limped onto the path with a snarl. On the other, the midday lycanroc stepped onto the path with a matching grimace. Alexis drew his scalchops.

“Get ready to fight—”

“Wait!” Zoroark cried out. “Stay completely still.”

“What are you talking abou—” Alexis began.

Then they disappeared.

The ferals were taken aback by the disappearance. They began to spread out among the area, investigating. Alexis, Elliot, and Zoroark were still in the middle of the clearing. Elliot watched the ferals spread out across the area, looking around for a trio of pokemon that were right in front of them, although they didn’t seem to know it. Besides them, Zoroark looked somewhat tuckered out. Elliot turned his head towards Zoroark—

“—Don’t move!” he hissed. “I’m still not good at this illusion. I don’t know if I can cover you if you move quickly.”

“Psst.” Alexis tried to catch Zoroark’s attention quietly. “Do you just expect us to stay here forever? Sooner or later one of them’s going to bump into us.”

The ferals investigating the area were indeed getting closer and closer. A rotting linoone sniffed around the area, crawling up close to where Alexis, Elliot, and Zoroark were. Its snout came dangerously close to touching Elliot’s, who slowly leaned back at the last second to avoid touching the feral.

“Slowly…” Zoroark moved to the left, edgin towards the path at a snail’s pace. “This way.”

Alexis and Elliot eyed each other but reluctantly followed his lead. Whatever this was, it was working. They moved through the pack of rabid ferals that were snuffling and padding around the clearing in search of their prey, taking care not to brush up against fur, foreams, or tails. At one point, Alexis had to limbo over to avoid inching into a stantler’s antlers.

Soon they’d reached the midday lycanroc guarding the beginning of the road. Alexis raised his scalchop, ready to bring it down upon the lycanroc…

It felt like everything afterwards happened in a single second. Alexis brough his scalchop down, slicing the lycanroc’s head a good part of the way off. Zoroark’s illusion broke, revealing him, Alexis, and Elliot plain as day to see. The lycanroc—still alive—snarled loudly, making to take a bite out of Alexis’ arm—

—A thunderbolt from Elliot’s tail severed the lycanroc’s head from its body. It landed off to the side, completely hollow inside.

“Come on!” Alexis yelled, his voice lost in the unanimous roars and squawks from the horde of dungeon ferals behind him. They made a break for it down the path, using all their might to stay just one step ahead of the feral horde that was bearing down on them from behind. Zoroark couldn’t see a single thing, but he kept his eyes on the path ahead. If anything came after them, he’d hear it before he could see it.

Elliot’s thunderbolts directed projectiles away from them as they ran, Alexis sliced away branches in front of them with his scalchop. They turned corner after corner, until finally the stairway came into sight.

“There it is!” Elliot cried out. It was now or never. Alexis, Elliot, and Zoroark all dove for the staircase at the same time—


~\({O})/~

Traveler’s Demise Outskirts

They tumbled out of the dungeon, falling to a heap on the ground. Elliot got to his feet first, followed by Zoroark and then finally Alexis.

“Ah, you all made it out safely!”

The xatu from before walked towards Elliot, Alexis and Zoaork, extending a wing to help Alexis up. Alexis pointedly didn’t take it.

“Hey, what was the big deal?” Elliot asked angrily. “Why did you go off on your own? It’s dangerous in dungeons like these!”

The xatu ruffled the feathers on its wings a little bit.

“I did say before this wasn’t my first dungeon trip,” he said. “As for why I left, I…”

A glint from Alexis’ eye.

“…realized I had to be somewhere in a hurry, and couldn’t wait until the dawn.”

Alexis’ eyes weren’t any less cold than they had been before.

“Hey, look,” Zoroark said, panting as he got back to his feet. He pointed ahead of them. “What’s that in the distance?”

Alexis, Elliot, and Xatu looked ahead where Zoroark was pointing. Zoroark was right: beyond the snow-capped plains and the chilly morning breeze, lay the towers of Pokemon Paradise.

“We made it,” Elliot said.


~\({O})/~
Music of the Week!

The Knight Who Was Taught To Save Dragons -- Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinelli

Character - Alexis and Elliot.png
 
Last edited:
Chapter 34 - Welcome To Paradise

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter34Art.png

~\({O})/~

34.

Welcome to Paradise


~\({O})/~

Outside Pokemon Paradise

~Zoroark~

The spires of Pokemon Paradise looked like ruck shack buildings stacked up on top of one another until they reached the sky. Every house was made of mud-brown wood and dull violet roofs, and half of them looked like they were on stilts. A large wall of planks and a velvet shroud of mist surrounded the entire city.

Despite all that, Pokemon Paradise was massive and noisy, even from a distance. Zoroark could barely see where it ended on either side from where he stood.

Alexis was the first one to step forward, casting a glance back at the three of them.

“Congratulations,” he said dully. “Here we are. Now let’s go check in before the afternoon rush.”

Zoroark-as-Braixen soon learned what Alexis meant by ‘checking in’. As they approached the large wall of planks that stood thirty feet tall all around the city, he donned his illusion once more. The only proper entrance in or out of the place was a large arched gate nearly as tall as the wall itself. Hundreds of pokemon were lining up outside of it, creating a noisy, cramped mess the three of them could barely see the small check-in desk over.

At some point during their walk, the xatu had disappeared. Zoroark didn't know where he'd gone, and by the time he'd noticed they were far too entrenched in the crowd to pay it mind. Maybe he'd slipped away in the chaos.

Alexis nudged him in the thigh. Zoroark-as-braixen looked down.

“Do yourself a favor,” Alexis said in a voice only Zoroark could hear. “Go as yourself. They don’t take kindly to illusions.”

A skiploom who looked like it would happily be anywhere else was marking things up on papers for pokemon as they went through the door.

“Age. Species. Continent of birth.” They slid several papers towards the three of them. “Fill it out.”

Alexis and Elliot flipped the clerk their HAPPI badges; two of the papers were slid back. Zoroark got a paper to fill out. It was replete with boxes to check and lines to write on. Zoroark’s muscle memory honed from years of marking down papers exactly like this one took over, and he filled the paper out within a minute. Until he reached the species bar.

“You'll find no sanctuary here on Mist.”

No matter how he tried, Zoroark found himself scared to ink that last bit in. Maybe it was something out of instinct—Primarina had always taught him never to show his true form in public. But right now, Pokemon Paradise was the best chance he had at being able to find a warm place to eat and sleep when he needed to. If his species had as bad a reputation here as Alexis seemed to think… maybe Primarina had a point after all.

A paw on his arm. A hooded pokemon glanced up at him from under the brow, looking at his claw hovering over the box. It was Alexis.

“I hope you’re not thinking of marking this up as any other species than your own,” Alexis said. “You won’t even get past the front gate. Don’t be stupid.”

He moved Zoroark's claw, and checked the box for 'zoroark' with it. Zoroark didn’t make an attempt to stop him.

The papers were handed in. Zoroark got a yellow scarf to wear. Just like before, it made him feel slightly weighed down, like he was shackled. The three of them passed through the gates, and then into the city.

Zoroark was, for a moment, taken aback by all the things that were going on around him. The large buildings up close dwarfed anything he could have imagined from a distance, and pokemon of all shapes and sizes were walking around and attending to their business in hordes at a time.

Alexis put his and Elliot's badges back into his bag, then sealed it up.

“Ready to blend in?” he asked.

“Ready when you are,” said Elliot.

The two pulled their hoods down further, then casually walked off into the crowd as if they were two normal pokemon in the daily mess.

That left Zoroark all alone.

A crowd of pokemon filed in and out of the entry gates, making wide rings around him as he passed. None of them looked like they wanted to be near him. Zoroark regained his head quickly. The best chance of getting himself a place to crash for the night was to join the HAPPI facilities further downtown. Even if he didn’t stay, rescue team work was easy as dirt to apply for, and they had free lodging. He’d be able to get enough footing to find a place elsewhere.

There were large signs hanging from overbearing buildings in the main plaza, pointing out where all the large streets were. The way to the HAPPI center was pointed out very clearly, allowing Zoroark to follow the posts there without asking too many questions.

Years of living almost solely on a boat had robbed Zoroark of any idea of what it was like to walk through the streets of a proper city. The buildings on either side loomed over him almost claustrophobically, but it was clear that pokemon were living in them. Storefronts were open and pokemon were causally walking up and down the somewhat dirty streets. The wonderful smells coming from a bakery to the left caught Zoroark's attention as soon as he passed it. His stomach grumbled.

But regardless of the strange sights, he was even more unaccustomed to walking around as himself. He felt naked to the world, weirdly vulnerable in a way that he couldn’t explain. But he soldiered through it, marching through the streets with purpose. Maybe it would feel less strange tomorrow.

The HAPPI building was located deep within the city, but was also one of the largest buildings around and had land sealed off specifically for the teams that lived there, so it was hard to miss and easy to find.

Zoroark could feel the guards standing outside the building’s gates keeping their eyes on him, but he ignored it. He just had to sign up to be on a rescue team, and then it didn’t matter what everymon else thought. As long as he had a place to sleep and food to eat.

He wasn’t the only pokemon who had arrived hoping for the same thing he was. He was accompanied by a group of pokemon he could easily get lost in. Some of them were battered, bruised, and dirty, just like he was, while others were in much better shape and had much more confident looks on their faces, and still others wore the scarves and badges of HAPPI in the first place. Those must have been the returning explorers, Zoroark figured.

All those pokemon, Zoroark included, were funneled through the entrance of the HAPPI Center, and into a massive hall that had every fixing Zoroark could dream of, and some of the ones he couldn’t.

At the end of the large, magnificent room was a small desk, ‘monned by a single delcatty. They marked down papers with a claw and lazily batted something attached to a connection orb, letting their spring-like tail move back and forth lazily as they worked. As the group approached, they formed into a line. Zoroark found himself pushed back and back as others formed up, but managed to secure himself a spot in front of a few of the other returning explorers.

His heart skipped a beat when he realized the pokemon right behind him was the vaporeon he had bumped into at the Noe Town dock. It took him a moment to realize that she hadn’t seen him as a zoroark. He couldn’t act like they’d met before.

The line slowly thinned and shortened; soon Zoroark stood at the desk. The delcatty looked up at him.

“You’re here to… ?” she asked him, her voice trailing off at the end promptingly. Zoroark could hear the bluntness in it.

“I’m here to join a rescue team,” Zoroark said. “How do I do that here?”

The delcatty marked down a few papers, cleared her throat, and then looked back up at Zoroark.

“You have to pass a physical exam before we assign you,” she said. “But why don’t you come back tomorrow? For certain candidates we do a background check first."

Zoroark asked if there was a slip or pass he could use to show that he’d made a request for a physical exam. He didn’t get one.

He sat down and rested his tired body on one of the room’s lavish seats. That wasn’t the answer he had been hoping for at all. Now he had to find a plan B for the night, and pass a physical exam tomorrow. And who knew how long it would be until he’d get a team assigned after that.

He looked up at the counter, where the vaporeon from before was talking with the delcatty. Zoroark didn’t hear much of what was being said, only broken phrases like ‘teammate’ and ‘new form’, but he was able to get a gist of what had been asked. A lost teammate? Or a new one completely? Perhaps she needed a second one? He didn’t have quite enough to put together the finer meaning of it all.

The next pokemon at the desk looked like life had treated them better than it had Zoroark or the vaporeon.

“I’m here to join a rescue team!” the flaafy proclaimed proudly. “What’s the process?”

“Well, first you’ll take a physical exam so we can determine where your abilities fall,” the delcatty answered politely, “and then you’ll be paired up with a teammate who best suits your abilities.”

“Sounds awesome!” the flaafy exclaimed. “When can I take the exam?”

“Unfortunately, you’ll have to come back tomorrow,” the Delcatty said. “But I can give you this slip. Give this to the pokemon standing by that door over there—” she gestured to a door off to the side that had a few pokemon loitering around it “—and they’ll reserve you a spot for the exam first thing in the morning.”

The delcatty ripped off a piece of paper and handed it to the flaafy, who skipped off with it in its hooves.

Zoroark watched it go with something resembling surprise. Wait, hadn’t he asked for one of those? The delcatty certainly hadn’t had the time or politeness to talk to him. Or a paper slip, for that matter. Why? Was it because he was dirty all over? He did look and smell like he had come straight from the streets.

Sure, he looked dirty, but nothing was stopping him from getting back in line and asking for one again. Now that he’d seen the delcatty hand one out, he knew they existed. She’d have a hard time lying her way out of that. Zoroark raised himself from the lounge he was on, walking back into the line.

In the corner of his eye, he could see one of the guards that had been lounging outside the door suddenly leave their post. He looked around, not seeing any specific reason they would have. They must have been on a washroom break or something. Not that it mattered to him. He entered the line, waiting for the six or seven pokemon in front of him to finish off their affairs.

A paw suddenly clamped down on Zoroark’s shoulder. He looked around, seeing the visage of a lucario that was looking straight at him.

“What are you doing, loitering around here?” the lucario asked him. “I’ve seen you go through that line once already.”

Zoroark decided to answer him truthfully.

“I asked to join a rescue team, but didn’t get a slip for my physical exam tomorrow,” he explained. “I’m re-entering the line to get one.”

“Mm,” the lucario breathed. “Sounds like a misunderstanding. Should we ask our upstanding desk clerk about it?”

Zoroark nodded, unsure of what to say. Something about the lucario made his mane bristle and his fur stand on end.

To his surprise, the lucario trotted off, walking over to the desk. He watched the lucario and delcatty talk for a moment, before the lucario started walking back over to Zoroark.

“Guess you’re out of luck,” he said to Zoroark. “Clerk says she’s out of slips. Come back tomorrow.”

“But I saw her hand one out another pokemon,” Zoroark protested. “She wrote it down.”

“And now she’s out,” the lucario said. “You can leave. Come back tomorrow.”

He gave Zoroark a light shove out of the line and towards the entrance. Zoroark wanted to protest, to say that this seemed wrong, everything about it seemed horribly wrong and the clerk had something against him for some reason he couldn’t even fathom, but one look at the lucario’s face, and the growlithe and manetric that were joining him for backup, told him that was a bad idea. He turned around, and left the building.


~\({O})/~

Pokemon Paradise

Zorark left the HAPPI building the same way he’d entered it: through large stone gates, with eyes on him from all sides. They took on a different context now, one of wariness.

He walked back into the city, deciding to wander around and see what he could find. At the very least, he needed a place to crash and something to eat for the night. Then he could attack this again tomorrow. Hopefully they’d have done his ‘background check’ by then.

The streets were made of cobblestone just like Noe Town, and looked extremely uncomfortable to crash in. There were numerous alleyways all around the city that looked like they could make good places to sleep, but Zoroark wasn’t fancying that option unless he had no other choice.

At least there were a lot of trash cans to fish around in if he needed something to eat.

His meandering took him into the shabbier portion of the city, where the buildings slowly became the color of mud and rickety houses on stilts stood everywhere. Under those stilts he saw makeshift tents set up, where pokemon were camping out, eating, and huddling around a fire.

Soon he came across a gathering of pokemon who were angrily shouting in unison. A stage was set up among all the rickety, crooked houses, and atop it stood a lone scyther. Off to the side of the stage was a frosslass that stared at the crowd through cold eyes.

“You can feel it in the air!” the scyther cried out to the crowd. “The coming storms of winter!”

Zoroark was about to pass the gathering entirely, but stopped when he heard that. He backed up a bit to listen.

“You can feel it in the wood of these houses!” the scyther continued. “The decay of time!”

He paused, adjusting his voice to be less noisy. “And you can feel it in their eyes, every day you walk down the street. That you are not wanted here.

“And now they want to tear down your homes. Our homes! So they can build new, shiny houses for them to stay in, while we freeze in the streets. What do you have to say about that?”

Roars from the crowd.

“Are you going to let them destroy your homes?”

More roars from the crowd, this time mixed in with cheering.

“Then stand up and say something! The time to act is now!”

More cheers, louder than ever before. The scyther continued his speech, raising his voice to compensate.

“Together! We can secure the funding needed to save these houses!” The scyther yelled, somehow louder than the entire crowd’s voices combined. The new wave of applause soon drowned him out. “Together, and only together! We can save our home. From them.”

The cheers continued, and soon Zoroark’s feet began to get cold from standing around on the pavement for so long.

“You there!”

Zoroark looked up to see the scyther pointing a blade directly at him. “What say you? Will you help us in our quest to save our home?”

Put on the spot, Zoroark just shook his head uncertainly. “I’m just here to visit,” he said.

The scyther didn’t respond to that. He only lowered his blade, giving Zoroark the same icy stare he’d had the whole while. Then he redirected it to the crowd.

“Do everything you can! Do what you must! Only in this way are we united!”

Before long, the scyther’s words faded out of Zoroark’s hearing, but they were replaced by something that had caught his attention much more: the presence of a trio of pokemon who wore HAPPI badges.

They were a zangoose, charmeleon, and liligent. They hung near the back of the street, just far enough to be out of sight and mind but close enough that they could see the speech too. They looked bored. Zoroark decided not to get in their way. If they were anything like the team that had accosted him back in the HAPPI building, he wanted nothing to do with them.

He was pretty sure the scyther’s eyes were on his back the entire time as he went, but he wasn’t brave enough to look back and tell for certain.

“You’re new ‘round here.”

The voice came down from Zoroark’s foot. He looked down, seeing a buneary lackadaisically hopping in place next to him.

“Do you live here?” The buneary asked.

“I’m just passing through,” said Zoroark.

He cast a quick glance back towards the team in the distance before

“Don’t do that,” the buneary said. “They don’t like it when pokemon stare at them. They might go after you.”

That didn’t make Zoroark feel any more comfortable, but he avoided looking back at the team again after that.

“I’m Beatrice,” the buneary said. “What about you?”

“Just Zoroark,” Zoroark said.

“No name? All the pokemon in the city have one.”

“Not where I’m from,” Zoroark muttered.

At least, Primarina had never given him one.

“So where are you headed now?” Beatrice asked. “We don’t get many ‘mon passing through.”

“I can see why,” Zoroark said. “You live here?”

“Of course!” Beatrice lazily hopped by him. “If you’re ‘round here and you don’t have a badge, you probably live here. Are you staying around for long?”

If Zoroark was being honest with himself, he didn’t know where he was going. He probably had to figure out where he could find his record. He’d had one under Primarina’s payroll, but that was as Braixen, not as Zoroark. Where did new pokemon go to get registered…

He wished he’d asked the clerk what the background check entailed. Maybe he could get a pointer back at the HAPPI building.

“I guess I’m headed out of here,” Zoroark said.

“Most ‘mon do,” Beatrice said sagely.

“Nice meeting you!” the buneary waved after him, a bit too loud for Zoroark’s liking. Zoroark halfheartedly returned the wave, then took a right down one of the crooked alleyways. That would lead him back to town for sure, and he wasn’t looking to pass some of the weirdos he’d seen on the main street a second time.


~\({O})/~

The buildings in the slums really were as ruck shack and rickety as the scyther had said. Zoroark even thought he saw a few of them swaying dangerously, threatening to topple over him at any minute now. There were pokemon living everywhere inside the houses, outside them, above them, and even under them. The one common factor was that nearly all of them seemed to have the same yellow scarf Zoroark was wearing. He was coming to realize it was some sort of status symbol, that wearing it meant he was to be targeted and persecuted no matter where he went or what he did.

If that was the case, then…

Zoroark looked at the scarf on his arm, and then undid the tie holding it together. He let it flutter off in the breeze, carried away by the same wind that was causing the house he was standing in front of to sway dangerously in his direction. Zoroark gingerly decided to move away before the house toppled over like a tower of cards. Being crushed was not in his ideal plan for today.

Eventually, he walked into one of the nicer-looking streets, looking like he’d just emerged from the filthiest wild den imaginable. He strolled down the street, looking to make a good first impression to the pokemon walking by him. One that didn’t scream ‘I’m doing something I probably shouldn’t’.

For the first five minutes, not much happened. But Zoroark hadn’t been paying much attention to his surroundings. What jarred him back into reality was a passing trenevant rudely nudging Zoroark with its shoulder as they passed. He looked back in shock, but the pokemon was already passing along like nothing had happened. Zoroark re-adjusted his mane and continued along, assuming it was an accident.

He hoped it was an accident.

The streets were getting more crowded as he walked, and he seemed to be attracting the ire of all the strangers around him like flies to honey. The amount of strange looks he was getting seemed to have shot up through the roof, and if he hadn’t felt like he had been wanted there before, then that feeling had been multiplied times a hundred. Zoroark was at a loss as to what had caused it. He’d just been through these streets before – what was causing the sudden change? The only thing that had changed since had been…

A claw suddenly landed on Zoroark’s shoulder.

“Excuse me.”

He whirled around to see the same rescue team that had been hanging around the slums earlier – the zangoose, the charmeleon, and the lilligant.

“We saw you didn’t have your scarf on you,” the lilligant said. “that’s illegal, you know.”

“Illegal?” Zoroark asked. “What?”

“Don’t play dumb,” the charmeleon sighed. “We saw you in the slums earlier. You were trying to avoid us.”

“So that’s why we followed you,” the zangoose continued. “You deliberately lost that scarf. Tell me.. what were you planning to do without it?”

Zoroark’s fur bristled.

“What are you accusing me of?” he asked. He’d had enough of being treated like a villain by these douchebags.

“Why don’t you tell us?” the charmeleon countered. There wasn’t a hint of unrest in his voice, just chilling calmness. “You of all pokemon should know your kind’s ability to falsify things. The illusion-resistant scarves are our only method of protection from your highly dangerous illusions. Were you going to steal something?”

“I’m not a thief,” Zoroark growled.

“You’re going to have to come with us anyway,” the charmeleon said.

“Tell me why I should come with you,” Zoroark snarled, beginning to get agitated. “What have I done wrong? All I did was take off that scarf!”

“If you aren’t going to come quietly…”

There was no answer. The three members began to step closer, charging up attacks.

That was the point where Zoroark decided it was best to run.

He spun around and took off, running down the street and pushing madly through pedestrians as he went. Some of them pushed back, but he pushed harder. There were some attempts to grab his mane and stop him in his tracks, but he managed to stumble out of their grasp every time.

He looked around frantically, looking for somemon he could copy. He was in enough of a rush that he couldn’t make an original disguise on his own, and he definitely wasn’t using his braixen one. He scanned the area, his eyes finally settling on a whimsicott. Whimsicott weren’t nearly as tall as he was, so he’d have to be careful. But it worked. It blended in.

A second passed. The air around him shimmered. Then, in his place stood a whimsicott identical to the one passing the street on the other side. Zoroark slowed down, doing his best to blend in and let his mane pass as whimsicott fluff as it brushed up against other pokemon.

The rescue team from before was combing through the crowd, searching for him. He restricted his breathing as the charmeleon passed right by him in the crowd, sniffing around for any hint of his target. It was a good thing Zoroark had learnt how to mask his scent with illusions.

At some point, he had managed to slip away into an alley and evade the team for the time being. Once he was sure that no-mon was going to come back for him or even look his way, he collapsed against the alleyway wall, finally letting out all the pent-up stress he’d been keeping in.

That had turned out worse that he could have ever predicted. And now he couldn’t go back out into those streets again unless he wanted to keep that illusion up.

But keeping an illusion up was beginning to get tiring. He’d been ignoring the fact that he was famished all day, and now it was finally beginning to come back full force for him. Conjuring up a new illusion out of the blue had taken a large chunk of his remaining energy, and all of the sudden he found it hard to stand without getting dizzy. He needed to find something to eat. And to drink too.

Zoroark drank out of a muddy puddle that pooled at the bottom of the alleyway. He knew he could get sick that way, but he was desperate. He fished in several trash cans that decorated the alleyway, looking for something that wasn’t spoiled beyond salvage or covered in something spoiled beyond salvage. He was able to get himself a few bread rinds. One of them was coated in something that smelled like it was rotting. Zoroark wrinkled his nose and dropped it in disgust.

He could smell the bakery down the street. Maybe there was something over there.

“Get away from here!” the rillaboom baker yelled as Zoroark scampered off from the bakery’s dumpster. “Don’t ever come back! Thief.”

The bakery threw away entire loaves of bread. The crusts were hard as bricks and some of them were molding over, but it was good bread. Zoroark had managed to score himself a loaf before the baker inevitably kicked him off the premises. He dug into it with relish. It was cold and hard in places, but tasted like sweet honey. He couldn’t understand why it had been tossed.

Soon, the sun set. The wind whipped through the skies, nipping Zoroark through his fur. This continent was just as cold as he remembered it, and it got even colder at night. A ‘mon could freeze to death on the streets, and even though he was fluffy he didn’t want to sleep out in the open.

There was a fire lit in the alleyway. Zoroark huddled up close to it, just far enough so that it didn’t burn his fur but close enough that it still kept him warm enough for the night. He’d fueled it with the scarves he’d dug out of the trash, and they looked like they’d burn the whole night. He just had to hope that the wind didn’t take it too out of hand.

Part of him considered going back to the slums, where at least there were other ‘mon to help keep him warm and relatively safe. But was there space? He remembered how cramped it had been when he was there. And he didn’t want to go back to a place where that rescue team had seen him before. Before he knew it, the next thing he’d wake up to was them standing over him, dragging him off before he had a chance to resist or escape.

Those scarves… he didn’t understand it. He didn’t understand any of it. Why would he be mistreated so over a yellow piece of fabric? He was finally beginning to understand why Alexis had wanted him to stray far away from here.

But he didn’t have that option anymore. He was in this city, and without at least enough food and money to get him back to Noe Town and off the continent, he was in this city to stay. So somehow, he’d have to make it work.

It was looking more and more like there just wasn’t an honest way to make that happen. Damned if he had the scarf, damned if he didn’t… If that was the case, then he’d just have to get crafty to survive. A whisper of an apology to Xatu swam around in the back of his head, but he was beginning to see it was a naïve promise he’d made back then. Why should he play by the rules, if the rules were just there to kick him while he was down?

Those were the thoughts that plagued Zoroark’s mind, as he sat there and stared at the advertisement banner two floors above that had several electric lights shining onto it—“HAPPI Makes Pokemon Smile! Sign up to protect our valiant city and get your name in the history books today!—Then an idea came into his head.

He’d do what he had for years. Just because Primarina was gone didn’t mean he was helpless. If he played his cards right, no-mon had to know he was a zoroark, or even a zoroark-as-braixen. For all they knew, he’d just be Braixen, former secretary, now newbie recruit eager to join a rescue team.

And for the first time that night, as the scarves burned to ashes beside him, Zoroark felt excited for the coming day.


~\({O})/~

Crooked Alleyway

The buneary stared up at the rescue team that loomed over them. The alleyway they were in was dark, damp, and crooked; one of the buildings was all-but leaning against the other and cast the cranny into shadows. That made it the perfect area for an ambush.

“Where’s that zoroark?” the zangoose asked harshly, just making the buneary cower more. “We saw you with him earlier! Are you hiding him?”

“Tell us what you know and there’s a reward in it,” the charmeleon said. He stood aloofly in the middle of the alley, twirling a piece of poke in between his claws. The light from outside the alley made it gleam and catch Buneary’s eye. Zangoose growled in annoyance, but didn’t say anything else.

Beatrice stared at the coin, mulling her options over. That would buy dinner for the night… but she didn’t have anything to tell them. Maybe she could give them false information, or something vague enough that it could pass…

Seeing the buneary’s silence, the liligent walked forward and crouched over in front of Buneary.

“Sorry to scare you,” she said, her voice soft and inviting. “We’re hunting a dangerous criminal who’s on the run, and you might be the only pokemon who can tell us where he is. If you tell us what you know, you’ll be a big help.”

“A big help?” Beatrice finally brought herself to ask.

“Yes,” the lilligant breathed. “you’ll be the biggest help ever.”

“And I can still have the coin?” Beatrice asked, pointedly eyeing the coin in the charmeleon’s claws.

“Tell you what,” the lilligant said. “If you tell us what you know, you can have two coins.”

She pulled another coin from her pouch to show the buneary. “But only if you tell us where he went.”

The buneary racked her mind for something, anything she could tell them that wasn’t ‘this way’ or ‘that way’.

“Fine,” she said. “I’ll tell you which way he went. But only for three coins.”

“Seriously?” the zangoose finally lost it. “That’s all you’re going to tell us? That isn’t worth three coins at all!”

He raised his claws for a swipe of anger, but all of the sudden he didn’t have a head anymore. Buneary covered her eyes in horror and whimpered. She heard two more slashes, and then somemon stepped into the square.

“You can open your eyes now, little one.”

The buneary did as she was told. She saw—

“Nonono,” a large, green blade covered the carnage from view. It was connected to a spindly green arm.

Over her leaned a scyther.

“Those bad pokemon are gone.” A purse dropped in front of her. “And you can have all the coins in the world.”

The scyther crouched down, and offered a blade. “Why don’t you come over to my house? I, too, have an interest in this zoroark of yours.”


~\({O})/~

Music of the Week!

Four Marks - Sonia Belousova, Giona Ostinelli

Devil
- Yugo Kanno
 
Last edited:

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
Alright, kicking off the process of finally making good on that review exchange for Do Psychic-Type Pokemon Dream of Electric Sheep?, starring the Prologue + Chapter 1 as a taste of the story:

Prologue

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. That didn’t look right, but water was more important. She temporarily ignored whatever was up with her hands in favor of her growing thirst.

Would she have to drink from the river with her tongue? Espurr lolled it around in her mouth uncomfortably. She really hoped she wouldn’t need to. She then came up with the plan of tearing a largish leaf from the bush right next to her and scooping up water in that.

Huh. I can't say that I ever imagined Espurr as being a once-human, but I don't suppose there's anything forbidding it given that this is an AU of PSMD and there's similarly an NPC with this background in RBDX.

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.

The real shock 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, 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?

I see the amnesia ray was... thorough on Espurr there given that she literally can't remember her own name. Though then again, I suppose Gengar didn't remember that either. Probably. Maybe. He could've just withheld it over shame reasons.

Over her shoulder, she saw a trio of pokemon approach her from behind in the woods. The shade of the canopy cast a foreboding darkness over them, leaving them silhouettes. Espurr could barely make out more than the broadest of details on their cone-like heads. She stood up and backed herself against the bush, keeping her eyes on them just in case they moved.

A heavy moment passed, all four pokemon staring directly at each other but none daring to make a move. Eventually, the cone-headed pokemon all slowly turned to each other in sync, rigidly raising their arms up in the air. Espurr watched the rapidly blinking lights flash between the trio, illuminating the strange markings on their heads and the ugliness of their limbs and lower bodies. And then the lights stopped, and in an instant they were all staring directly at Espurr again.

I... think I might have a few ideas of how Espurr doesn't remember her name. Since I've read Beheeyem's Pokédex entries, and allegedly they're capable of a few nasty party tricks involving ever-so-minor cases of serious memory loss.

It seemed she was more lost than ever now. A distant memory surfaced in her head – following the river always lead home. But she didn’t even have the river to guide her anymore. Why hadn’t she followed the river?

Espurr felt and saw the first tendril of cold mist swirl around her paw. She looked behind herself, and saw a large, thick wall of mist approaching from behind her. 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. She didn’t know how she knew that. But more than anything, she could feel it. Espurr glanced up at the great oak tree that stood before her, studying all the little grooves and branches that ran up its trunk. Those pokemon had no legs, and their arms weren’t much better, she concluded. And up there, she’d be safe from the evil mist below. They’d never be able to climb a tree without waking her first… right?

Well that's tempting fate if I ever heard it. :V

Unsure as to what had woken her up, she focused her hearing. She could hear quiet rustles from below the fog…

And saw the flicker of a yellow light. Espurr snapped fully awake in horror. She stood up in the tree, quickly catching her balance before she could fall off. Were they back? Had the strange pokemon caught up with her? She cautiously peered over the tree branch in fear.

Flickering lights of the red, green, and yellow variety lit up the fog right below her tree.

Espurr: "(They just don't give up, do they? Though at least I was right about the tree waking me up if someone tried to sneak up.)" ._.

Swish. More foliage. 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). The lights had disappeared, but so far the pokemon had not yet made another move. Did this mean they couldn’t climb trees after all? That she was safe, at least for the time being? Espurr’s heart leapt pre-emptively in hope. She waited a single moment, her heart beating over her frightened breath. The pokemon had gone away, it seemed. Could it be true? Had they given up?

If you have to ask the question... :V

Espurr glanced over the branch a third time, and was met with the sight of three cone-shaped heads poking out of the fog, staring up directly at Espurr’s tree. She quickly hid again, backing up against the tree trunk. She knew it was too good to be true. It looked like they were waiting for something. But, for what? Did they expect her to come down from the tree?

Yeah, I kinda figured that was the answer. Didn't expect it to come in the very next paragraph though.

A sudden wind ruffled Espurr’s fur, coming out of nowhere and leaving as quickly as it had arrived. The rancid smell blasted her in the face as it passed. It smelled evil, just like everything else in this place did. She watched it blow off, violently rattling the branches and canopies of a few trees as it went. It certainly hadn’t been natural. Was this what the strange pokemon were waiting for? Espurr didn’t want to wait around until whatever the second stage of the strange pokemons’ plan was rolled about.

Espurr: "... Wait a minute, how do I know what an 'evil smell' smells like?" .-.

She looked around, performing a quick survey of the woods from atop her lofty perch. Escaping on the ground was a bad idea all around. Even if she somehow managed to make it to the ground safely and escape the strange pokemon, she’d still have to travel through the fog afterwards. And there was no way of knowing what other evil things were waiting in there for her. The idea of staying in the tree until the strange pokemon left occurred to her, but she didn’t know if that was even a safe option anymore. That left one final idea.

She could escape through the trees. If she walked all the way to the end of this branch, there was a somewhat jumpable gap between this tree and the next. It was risky, but the best other option available to her was to sprout wings and fly, and she didn’t anticipate that happening anytime soon.

Espurr: "H-Hold on just a minute. Shouldn't I think this through given that that's a long fall below and the Beheeyem are right there waiting for me if I fall down?" ._.

Espurr felt the beginnings of another, stronger wind begin to ruffle through her fur. It smelled just as rancid as the last one did, and it was stronger. That was it. It was time to go.

She looked down at the strange pokemon, who hadn’t moved an inch from their previous spots. They just had to stay that way a little longer…

Espurr: "... Yeah, forget this, I'm taking that leap of faith."

—And then she caught herself with her other foot, resuming her charge to the end of the branch with renewed determination. She leapt off the branch as soon as her feet touched the very end, reaching out as far as she could in order to catch the next one. She would make it!

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 outstretched paws barely missing the branch by a hair’s length before she began the heart-wrenching journey towards the ground.

Crack.

Ouch

Espurr: "I regret everything." X_X

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! Just bearing the immense pain was taking a lot of her. Gritting her teeth in pain that made her want to vomit, she spared a half-second’s worth glance at the mighty oak she had just fallen out of.

Espurr’s observation was cruelly cut short at the appearance of a trio of coned heads hovering through the fog. All of the sudden, Espurr forgot about the mighty oak and the blinding pain in her arm, and began to run for her life.

Espurr: "Uh... not really sure how things could be going any worse right now, but alright." O_O;

Fresh-picked herbs were always available on the Air and Grass Continents, but rarely grew anywhere on the Water Continent. They were vital to Audino’s medical practices, and she had been lucky to find this clutch of them sitting around the nearby mystery dungeon. Mystery dungeons being what they were, Audino had returned once every month at the full moon (she was superstitious) and found the exact same bush with the exact same clutches of herbs growing around it awaiting her.

Of course, finding the bush was a different beast entirely—Every time Audino came looking for it, it was always in a different place. But that was to be expected of a mystery dungeon. The places were always re-arranging themselves however they saw fit, after all. Audino was just grateful she’d found the bush fairly quickly tonight. Something was different in the air this time—she could sense it. It was like the dungeon itself had taken a darker tone, and she felt evil hum in the air. The lack of wild pokemon around at this time of night made her ears bristle with uneasiness as well. Dungeon wildlings were mostly nocturnal, but they were never pokemon to shy away from a fight. If the dungeon locals were all in hiding… then what were they hiding from?

Wait, so does that mean in this story, if you want to go to a Mystery Dungeon without getting jumped, you normally just go in the daytime? Or is it not that simple?

She looked up from her herb picking in confusion as an unnatural wind blew past her, shaking the trees with visible anger as it went. Audino clutched her escape orb tightly. This soon? The dungeon had never acted up this soon before.

Oh hey, another story that actually makes use of the floor-clearing mechanic! Or not since this is apparently something different, though will be interesting to see what exactly goes down here.

Suddenly, Audino saw the silhouette of a small pokemon running straight in her direction through the fog. Was it a dungeon pokemon? Audino braced herself for possible battle. She watched as within seconds, an espurr stumbled out of the distant mist and into the immediate area, running frantically through the woods. For a split second, Audino was confused. Espurr weren’t native to this dungeon. So why was one here?

Because plot, dear Audino. :V

Audino only had to see the look in the espurr’s eyes once to understand completely. Their eyes glimmered in the moonlight with a look of pure fear instead of pure fury, the hallmark of many dungeon wildlings. This wasn’t a pokemon who had become corrupted by the dungeon’s influence; it was a fully intelligent one who was about to come pretty darn close!

I see this story opted for the Dungeon Madness route of handling dungeon Pokémon. Not that it isn't mechanically appropriate for a Super story given that you can't recruit dungeon encounters in that game.

“Please help me!” the pokemon cried out in terror, clutching her left arm to her chest as she dashed up to Audino. Audino studied the arm, identifying the fracture in a matter of seconds. It wasn’t easy to break a pokemon’s bones. Something had done this to her!

Espurr: "Uh... yeah, that was kinda gravity in action."
:fearfullaugh:

Audino: "... Why were you in a position for that to even be possible in the first place?" ._.;

Something that was approaching from the fog at this very moment. Hints of the strongest wind yet began to blow through Audino’s fur as she hurriedly beckoned the espurr towards her. Behind the terrified pokemon, she could see a trio of silhouettes approaching, accompanied by flickering lights.

The espurr reached Audino, violently shivering both from intense cold and sheer terror. Audino hugged the Espurr close, keeping an eye on both the wind and the approaching pokemon.

As the wind grew stronger, the pokemon approached, and Audino finally got her first good look at them: a trio of beheeyem, ghostly lights flickering in the fog. They weren’t dungeon pokemon, Audino realized: their movements were too composed for that. Too calculated.

Espurr: "I-If you know a way out of here, now would be a good time to take me there!" O.O
Audino: "I... uh... yeah, I think I might have something. I just hope I can get it out in time." o_o;

There was no more time to waste. Any longer, Audino knew, and the approaching pokemon would be the least of their worries. In one swift motion, she pulled Espurr close and whipped out the escape orb.

“Shut your eyes!” she yelled to Espurr, hurling the orb at her feet. It exploded in a plume of brilliant, blue-white smoke, and when the smoke cleared, Audino and Espurr were nowhere to be found.

Yeah, I kinda figured things were heading in this direction. Though out of curiosity, what was your inspiration for that particular VFX for the Escape Orb?

Chapter 1

“Everymon does bad things once in a while. But I think it’s about what you do after that decides what kind of person you are.”

Oh? What's the story of the quote here? Since there wasn't one like this for the prologue chapter.

Espurr’s head turned as Audino walked into the room. The place was spacious and sunlit, decorated with counters against the walls, windows and another straw bed. Audino beckoned to someone standing outside the door where Espurr couldn’t see them, then walked over to a cabinet filled with several types of herbal remedies. The exotic smells wafted over to Espurr as Audino opened the doors and fished through it.

Espurr tried to raise herself from the straw bed she had apparently been sleeping on, clumsily working with only one arm. Audino turned back at the sound of the straw rustling, looking at Espurr disapprovingly.

“Sit down, please. You still need rest!” she chided Espurr. Espurr sat down again, noticing for the first time how much her body hurt from the events of the previous day. Her left arm dully ached within the confines of the cast. It was annoying, but a vast improvement over the blinding pain from last night.

Espurr: "Wait, did you put this cast on me, or...?"
Audino: "I mean, I am a doctor, and there's no real specialization of medical practice in this town, so..."

Audino finally found what she was looking for, closing the cabinet and glancing towards the still-empty doorway.

“What are you still waiting out there for? You need treatment!” she scolded the unseen pokemon in the doorway.

“Sorry, Ms. Audino,” a voice muttered from outside. “It hurts to walk….”

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.”

Espurr: "Ahehe... funny story about that..."
:fearfullaugh:

- Audino sweatdrops -
Audino: "Well, at least you'll be able to relate well to my other patient." -_-;

“Really?!?” the voice suddenly perked up with all the excitement of a pokemon kit in front of a candied berry stall, and a fennekin somehow limped through the doorway on only one leg. Audino directed her to the nearest straw bed, which the fennekin threw herself on like it was a pile of autumn leaves.

... Shouldn't the Fennekin logically be doing this on at least 3 legs? Since it's hard for me to imagine a quadruped dragging themselves with one good leg and 3 bad and managing to throw herself onto anything. .-.

“IF you rest, your injuries will likely heal by the end of the day,” she told the fennekin. “But, unfortunately…” she said, addressing Espurr, “I estimate yours will take a little longer to heal. You should be fully recovered within a week.”

“A WEEK!?” the fennekin moaned, like it was her with the broken bone and not Espurr.

“A broken bone is no joke,” Audino told the fennekin. There was just a hint of an annoyed edge to her voice. “A week, and no less.”

Espurr: "I'm sorry, but who are you and why are you complaining about me needing to wear this cast for the next week again?"

“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!”

Oh, hello Mew... maybe, possibly. I mean, it is an AU, but that personality sure is checking out.

“…And then I totally robbed like, half my Pop’s oran berry stash, and then he made me clean the entire house from top to bottom! That was a week ago.” The fennekin finished telling what must have been a lengthy story in the space of half a minute.

“A~nyway, I’m out of things to talk about. Did I ask for your name?” she finished. Espurr blinked a couple of times at the fennekin, flabbergasted.

Espurr: "No. No you did not." -_-;
Fenniken: "Oh... er... well this is awkward."

“I came here just to see you, you know.” she muttered.

“You …did?” Espurr asked in surprise before the fennekin could open her mouth again.

“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.

:hoodLUL:


I mean, I didn't remember Mew from PSMD being quite this dramatic, but if that is her... yeah, this is pretty on-point.

Espurr: "(This is going to be a long week, isn't it?)" -_-;

“Audino can’t be evil.” Espurr stated, trying her best to ignore the fact that the obviously crazy pokemon in front of her had just endangered her life to meet her. “She saved my life yesterday and patched me up.” Espurr directed her eyes towards the cast on her left arm for good measure.

The fennekin looked at her like she was both crazy and the best thing ever. “Wait. Did you just say she saved your life??

Is the double question mark deliberate there or a typo?

Espurr: "I... uh... am really regretting taking the topic of conversation here right now." >_>;
Fennekin: "Oh come on, you can't just leave me hanging like that! Really, what's your story?"

In that moment, Espurr realized she had gone too far. What was she going to say, that wouldn’t immediately put her in a situation she didn’t want to be in? ‘I woke up yesterday in the middle of the woods with no memories and then spent the night getting chased by three hostile pokemon, and that’s how I broke my arm?’ Just from what she’d seen of the fennekin, her entire life’s story would be spilled to the world in three minutes flat.

“Um… What’s your name?” Espurr asked cautiously, trying to quietly divert the subject.

“Uh-uh! You’re not changing the subject on me—“ the fennekin angrily began.

“If you tell me your name, then I’ll tell you mine.”

“Deal.”

Espurr: "(That- That worked? I mean, this kit's impulsive, but I didn't think she'd be that easy to sidetrack.)" ._.;

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.”

“Oh… I’m Espurr.” Espurr carefully stated.

“Well, that’s boring.” Tricky yawned, stretching the best she could under the bags of ice.

Espurr: "..." >.<
Tricky: "What, it is, you know!"
Espurr: "(You're really doing your best to try and get me to look forward to Audino kicking you out tomorrow, aren't you?)" >_>;

Squinting for just a second, she pulled her paw out from under the ice and gave it a twist just to be sure.

“Oh wow! I’m healed! I’m finally healed!” Tricky screeched, jumping up from her bed of straw and ice and frolicking around the room in joy. Espurr watched Tricky’s tail painfully cramp as she tried to wag it, sending the fox plummeting to the ground headfirst.

“My tail still hurts, though…” she muttered from the floor. And then she was back up again, walking rather stiffly to avoid moving her tail. “Wanna go exploring?” she asked excitedly.

Espurr was fairly sure Tricky had some kind of memory problem. “We were told to wait here,” she reminded Tricky. “Besides,” she added, tilting her head. “I don’t imagine you can go many places with that tail.”

Oh, you have no idea, Espurr.

“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.

“Berry crackers…” Tricky mumbled. “Bye, Watchog! See you tomorrow!”

Wait, was 'Berry Crackers' an actual thing that the characters said in Super? I know the phrase popped up in Eternal Shadows, but it's been long enough that I forget if it was part of the game or not.

“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!

“No can do, Watchog!” Tricky yelled as she plowed Espurr off. “Audino’s orders! Espurr needs me to show her around town!”

“That’s VICE PRINCIPAL Watchog to you!” Watchog called after her. “And those don’t sound like Audino’s orders!”

“They are! Trust me!” Tricky yelled as she turned a corner.

“Trust… you?” Espurr could hear Watchog sputtering the proposition in disbelief as they rounded the corner, as if the two words were completely foreign to him. She could kind of see why.

Espurr: "Remind me again why I'm not screaming for help right now?" >_>;
Tricky: "Because who else is gonna show you around Serene Village, huh?" :^)

“…He’s nine! We both know he wouldn’t just walk into one of those places like that! Not unless somemon prompted him first…”

Wait, what is the age scale for Pokémon in this story anyways? Since in some stories (like a certain one about babby birb), 9 is old enough that a 'mon would be well out of normal schooling by then.

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?”

“Loser alert...” Shelmet, the younger of the duo, rolled his eyes.

“Tricky…” If Deerling could have facehooved, she would have. Instead, she settled for shaking her head in disbelief, eyeing Tricky in something resembling annoyance. “Nurse Audino doesn’t have kids. Plus, she isn’t married, and she isn’t a psychic-type. How could this be her kid?” she stuck an irked hoof in Espurr’s direction.

“Well…” Tricky’s tail drooped, causing her to wince. “She’s… adopted! Audino saved her life last night!” she nodded vigorously, as if that would prove her point even more. “…Right, Espurr?” She looked at Espurr, hoping for confirmation.

It took Espurr a few seconds to realize that Tricky had just come up with the perfect cover story for her. This way, she wouldn’t have to explain herself to everyone!

Espurr: "Er... assuming they don't laugh it off, anyways."
:fearfullaugh:


“Great,” she said, shaking Espurr’s good paw the best she could with her hoof. “See you in class tomorrow.” She ignored Tricky. “And you…” Deerling turned to Shelmet, the little pokemon already trembling through his shell at her fury. “Show me exactly where he went in. We need to get him out of there before nightfall!”

Without another word, Shelmet led Deerling off through the town gates. Deerling practically dug her hooves into the ground in anger with every step she took.

“So… Are we following them, or are we following them?” Tricky asked mischievously from beside Espurr.

Espurr: "Tricky, we're both injured right now!" >.<
Tricky: "Well, yeah. But that didn't stop us this far, did it?"

“Come on!” Tricky ran back up, rapidly orbiting her as she continued up towards the town’s northern gate. “You’re just like every other pokemon in this village! We’ll be in and out! It’s probably nothing anyway!”

Espurr did her best to ignore her. 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… Were they still looking for her? What if they were right outside the village at this very moment? What if… What if they found Shelmet and Deerling?

That stuck in Espurr’s mind more than anything else that had come before it. She’d known them for all of half a minute, but they didn’t deserve to go through what she had yesterday. The horror, the sheer terror… No-one deserved to go through that. Espurr hadn’t realized she’d stopped walking until Tricky stopped too, tilting her head in confusion.

“…Does this mean you changed your mind?” she asked hopefully.

Espurr: "Do I really have to validate your behavior if I say 'yes'?" >_>;
Tricky: "Yup! No way around it!" ^^
Espurr: "Bugh..."

“No biggie!” Tricky suddenly leapt up with new life. “We’ll just take the long way around. If we’re quick, she’ll never know we were gone! Follow me!”

She began to dash down the thin alleyway, stopping some six feet away for Espurr to catch up.

“Come on, slowpoke!” she yelled back from across the alleyway. “At this rate, taking the long way around won’t be a shortcut!”

Espurr simply couldn’t move as fast as Tricky could, and that was a fact. She kept stopping to catch her breath and tripping on the various things in the alleyway. Audino had been right: She did need more rest.

Espurr: "Not that dodging the Mystery Dungeon (for now, anyways) wasn't probably the right call, but this'll totally end well." >.<

“Yep! Totally. We’re taking the looooong way around,” The fox remarked, her eyes straight on the ground. Espurr could see her mental smirk. She tilted her head in suspicion. The colorful roofs of the village were quickly disappearing in the distance behind them. If this was truly the long way around, then Tricky had meant it in every sense of the word.

“Stop!” Tricky suddenly perked straight up, holding out a paw to stop Espurr from going any further. In the distance, someone was talking.

“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?

Espurr: "Tricky, you could've just said we were going after Deerling and Shelmet!" >.<
Tricky: "Yeah, but then you would've probably run off complaining about how we'd get in trouble with Audino. All's well that ends well, right?"
- Espurr eye twitch -
Espurr: "We didn't even start though." >_>;

“I thought you said we were going back to the school…” Espurr muttered to Tricky in annoyance as the other three squabbled.

“Yeah, but this is more fun than sitting around in the school!” Tricky replied. “You wanna have fun, don’t you?”

Espurr didn’t consider this her idea of fun.

Espurr: "Tricky, why does your idea of fun have to involve putting ourselves into mortal danger?" >.<
Tricky: "It's heroism! Heroism's always fun!" ^^

“Guys, we’re on a clock here!” Deerling stepped up. “Goomy should have been back hours ago. He could be in serious trouble! You know what happens when pokemon stay in mystery dungeons too long. And if you don’t want to get grounded for life by your parents…” she looked pointedly at Pancham and Shelmet. “Then it’s our responsibility to help him!”

“Yeesh,” Pancham muttered, his arms folded. “It’s not a big deal. You’re freaking out over nothing.”

“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!

Ohh dear... can't tell whether this is indicating Goomy got Dungeon Madness'd in the past or else if they lost another friend in this fashion but either implication is... unsettling.

The clearing fell silent. Everyone looked in surprise at where the voice came from. Tricky’s mouth fell open in awe and stayed that way. Espurr slowly put her good paw down.

“…Are you sure?” Deerling asked, eyeing Espurr’s cast. “You don’t look too good.”

Espurr’s attention was drawn back to her cast, and the dull throbbing of her bone that was slowly beginning to become sharper. She had a feeling she was going to regret that decision.

Gee, ya think Espurr? :V

“Have fun getting killed!” Shelmet yelled after them.

“Shelmet!” Deerling’s shrill scolding could be heard but not seen, as the bushes began to close up the way back. Espurr watched as they curled up around each other, creating a dark wall of blue leaves behind them. She cast a look to the front. From here on out, the forest looked downright malevolent.

Maybe it was.

Tricky: "Don't worry, we're protagonists. We're not getting bumped off in the first chapter of the story!"
Espurr: "Oh gods, what did I get myself into?" >.<

“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…”

Tricky’s constant expulsion of words blended in with the background noise as Espurr walked. She wondered how far in Goomy was. She wouldn’t have dared to set foot in here if not for him. She just hoped he wasn’t too far from the entrance.

Espurr: "I'm sorry, but why does this happen again?"
- Beat moment, before Tricky shrugs -
Tricky: "It just does? I mean, it's consistent at least, and I never really stopped to think about it."

“…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 fennekin 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 yelled to all the trees around them. “We were only here for five minutes! How come there’s already fog?!”

Well this rescue mission is going swimmingly already.

“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—

“ Both Espurr and Tricky jumped a combined total of six feet apart as the trunk of a giant tree suddenly splintered apart, falling to the ground with a deafening crash and flattening the area of ground Espurr and Tricky had previously been on.

Tricky: "Right. That's as good a sign of any that we should move on."
Espurr: "Really, really starting to think this wasn't a good idea here." >_>;

“Maybe I should just stop talking…” Tricky finally conceded, still catching her breath from the sudden incident.

Yes, that would be... wise, considering how things have been going thus far.

But this was just as bad, if not even worse! Pancham and Shelmet had told him to do it. If he could find the paper they had left in this dungeon from the last school field trip, write his name on it, and bring it back to them before nightfall, they said, then they would finally recognize him as one of the Big Kids and stop teasing him! It was too good to be a dream, so he’d taken the dare.

And he’d found the paper, too, on the first floor of the dungeon, no less! And written his name on it. But then this really creepy fog began to roll in, and suddenly everything felt more scary than it should have, and he couldn’t move! He was too scared to.

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…

:uhhh:


I mean, every myth in a Pokémon setting always has at least a kernel of truth to it. And considering that myth and what's been expressed about the nature of MD encounters thus far... yeah.

No matter how confidently Deerling had assured him that the Dungeon Wraith was just a scary story made up to frighten little kids into staying in the towns, Goomy couldn’t help but wonder if the off-kilter howls he heard reverberating through the woods more and more frequently were really just wild pokemon after all. They didn’t sound like the howls of any pokemon he’d been taught about in school, off-pitch roars and screeches that rustled through the wood like the moans of a ghost.

And this is why you don't listen to peer pressure.

An excruciating ten seconds passed. Goomy didn’t hear a response. Had he not been loud enough? Did they not hear him?

But all his fears were dashed when two shadows approached through the clouds, the fog parting to reveal—

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. 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!

Uh... yeah, if those fears are remotely founded, that definitely paints the events of canonworld in quite a light considering how base morphs regularly get yeeted into MDs for the equivalent pay of like 4 apples.
:fearfullaugh:


“Begone, foul beasts!”

Tricky’s voice shot through the air again, and the furfrou were suddenly sent running off once a pair of twin embers flew through the air and set both their scruffy heads alight. Tricky rushed out of the fog, followed by an espurr Goomy didn’t know but was just as glad to see.

“Tricky!” Goomy happily glode over to Tricky, giving her his best attempt at a hug. It was a short-lived reunion, however. The mystery dungeon actively repelled such activities with a bellowing screech that blew through the trees and nearly knocked the three of them off their feet.

“Uh-oh…” Tricky looked up at the trees, rattled. “It’s getting mad. We should go.”

It was the first thing Tricky had said that day that Espurr wholeheartedly agreed with.

Espurr: "We did bring an Escape Orb, right?"
:fearfullaugh:

- Beat moment -
Espurr: "R-Right?"
:uhhh:


“In my fifteen years of service as the esteemed Vice Principal of this school…” The torches were lit in the Principal’s Office. Watchog paced the principal’s office like a stressed-out madmon. All three of the other teachers in the room watched him as he did it. “In my fifteen flipping years of service… one student has been the very bane of my existence.”

Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy were all seated in front of Principal Simipour, the head faculty member of Serenity Village’s school. He watched Watchog pace back and forth through the office through sleep-worn eyes (Audino had recommended he go for a checkup multiple times in the past, but Simipour had always insisted he was just fine), the same tired smile adorning his face as he did it. A short stack of papers decorated his desk, blank sides up.

Reminder to change the formatting of 'bane' there, since you mentioned that underlined text has a very particular function in your story that does not apply here.

Tricky: "Well hey, we made it out safely, all good, right Espurr?" ^^
Espurr: "Tricky, we're probably going to get expelled here!" >.<
Tricky: "Oh come on, don't be so dramatic."

“Thievery, trespassing, cutting school… And now she’s corrupting the newcomers!” Watchog’s ranting took on a slightly paranoid tone. “She’s making them think they can do whatever they want, whenever they want…” Watchog let out a hysterical chuckle. “Just think, the next generation: A bunch of scummy layabouts who steal and pillage and trespass to their heart’s content! Are you all just going to sit back and let this be the future?” he questioned the teachers, gesturing broadly to the trio of students in front of him. “This needs to be nipped in the bud, right here, right now—“

You probably want "truancy" for the bolded part since it better parallels Watchog's other items in his rant and means the same thing.

“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.”

Silence fell over the room, as the other three teachers tried to digest that.

“But what were they doing in the Foreboding Forest, I hear you ask?” Watchog continued, only pretending to have heard them ask. “Why, none other than… a dare!”

Espurr: "You know, instead of giving us the third degree, you could try punishing the Pokémon who gave the dare."
Watchog: "Yes, that's where I'm going with this."
Espurr: "You... are?" ._.;

“And here’s the proof!” Watchog crowed triumphantly. “A sheet of paper, straight from the school’s stores! And there’s only one pokemon who would propose a dare as stupid as this…”

Watchog cast his ever-leering eyes down towards Tricky, who immediately looked astonished.

I-it wasn’t me this time! I swear!” Tricky cried out in her defense, but found herself breaking under Watchog’s intense glare.

Wait, so Tricky actually dared someone to go into a Mystery Dungeon in the past?
:fearfullaugh:


I mean, I'm assuming that this is just reflexive blame since she's kinda a serial troublemaker, but...

“And knowing that,” Simipour continued, “What would you then say they were doing in the dungeon?”

Tricky piped up before Watchog could.

“We were saving Goomy! Pancham and Shelmet dared him to go in and he didn’t come back out, so me and Espurr volunteered to go in after him, and we saved him from getting eaten by dungeon pokemon!”

A wave of uneasiness passed through the teachers at the mention of 'dungeon pokemon'.

Might want to add quotes around 'dungeon pokemon' to show that it's a quote of someone else's dialogue.

And okay, so om nom nom is a credible threat to outside Pokémon in Mystery Dungeons in this setting. That... makes some events that would happen in the first half of PSMD suddenly take on some really dark undertones in this setting.

Watchog caught his jaw just in time to stop it from falling open in shock. “You aren’t seriously going to let them go unpunished, Principal?!” he asked in shock.

“Oh, certainly not,” Simipour replied, clasping his hands. “Children going into mystery dungeons unsupervised is grave misbehavior indeed. But…”

He glanced towards Tricky, Espurr, and Goomy.

“…The cause was noble, and I have a hunch little Goomy here won’t be venturing outside the bounds of the village on his own anytime soon. Therefore, excessive punishment is unnecessary. A weeks’ worth detentions will do.”

“Detention for a week?!” both Tricky and Watchog cried out, for entirely different reasons.

Espurr: "Uh, Tricky? Considering that Goomy was about to die horribly when we came across him, maybe this isn't all that bad-" >_>;
Tricky: "Are you kidding me?! That's why this is totally bogus! We saved Goomy's life there and this is the reward we get?!"
:seviAAAAAAAAAAA:

Watchog: "Principal Simipour, given that the offender is completely unrepentant over this entire episode, surely you can think of a more appropriate punishment?" >.<

“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.”

With little more than a squeak of fear, Tricky disappeared out the door, only stopping once to groan in pain as her tail cramped halfway down the hall.

Wait!” Audino called out after her, grabbing her exploration bag and dashing out after Tricky. “You still need healing! I’m ordering you back to the clinic!”

Whelp, so much for healing in a day. Not that it wasn't for a good cause. :V

“I heard about your predicament last night,” he told her, still seated. “I must say, it was rather reckless of you to charge into yet another mystery dungeon only the day you got here, especially with an injured arm. However, it’s convenient you’re here now.”

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. Highly dangerous, do not approach.” 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 paws.”

Ohhh boy. The plot thickens.

Espurr: "I-I'm sorry, did you just say 'another disappearance'? As in those Pokémon snatched multiple others away?" ._.

“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.”

Left with no other options, Espurr nodded silently, and politely bid Principal Simipour good night. She looked back once on the way out, but Simipour was already snoozing with his head on his desk.

Espurr:


“Today was fun.”

Tricky happily munched on a stalk of celery as she watched Audino lock up the school clinic.

“And I mean it this time.” Audino stopped at Tricky’s bed on her way into one of the clinic’s other rooms. “Stay in your beds, or I’ll see what I can do about extending that weeks’ detention to a month.”

Tricky: "Again, why are we getting punished for saving Goomy? Surely that's reason enough to let water under the bridge!" >.<
Espurr: "Give it a rest, Tricky. Aren't you tired at all from everything that happened?" -_-;
Tricky: "Not at all! Why I could keep going all night!" ^^
Espurr: "... (This is gonna be a long week, I can tell.)" >_>;

Espurr carefully helped herself to one of the berries on the plate between them, and took a bite. Tricky had eagerly informed her that those were the ‘boring oran ones’, but to her, it tasted like the best piece of fruit in the world. It was amazing, what fear could do to one’s appetite. Espurr hadn’t even noticed how worn-out and famished she was until after her cast had been cleaned, and she’d been given a seashell filled with water to drink. She wondered briefly about what Simipour had meant by ‘another disappearance.’ Had there been others like her? Others, who hadn’t been lucky enough to make it to civilization? Were the Beheeyem responsible for their vanishings?

For the first time, Espurr realized just how much danger she had truly been in last night. If she hadn’t stumbled upon Audino by chance… she might not have survived at all. That was a scary thought.

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.

And made it to the end. It's an interesting experience to see a story built around things that are familiar but run through a significantly darker frame that still feels like it holds under its own logic and like it's not that big of a leap considering some things in canon like the Voidlands Arc.

I thought that overall these chapters were a good introduction vibe-wise, and it's certainly gotten me looking forward to the other chapters in my review exchange. Hope I didn't mangle your cast too badly with those caricatures, though. :V

Kudos for the good work @SparklingEspeon , and I'll be looking forward to throwing a fair few more of these your way in the future.
 
Chapter 35 - Yellow Scarf

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter35Art.png

~\({O})/~

35.

Yellow Scarf


~\({O})/~

Treasure Town ~ Grass Continent

~Sparkleglimmer~

Despite the harness that secured her to the back of the flygon she was riding, Sparkleglimmer clutched both her paws and ribbons tightly around the flygon’s neck as it zoomed over the sea at speeds she failed to forget were possible whenever she wasn’t riding a flygon. Perhaps she had blotted them out from her memory somehow. She could feel the flygon’s discomfort with having a passenger clutch its neck through her ribbons, which made her uncomfortable by extension. She removed her ribbons and used only her paws instead.

The striking façade of the Grass Continent’s Treasure Town lay dead ahead, just a few miles out. By virtue of being a tourist location, Treasure Town possessed an amount of wealth and prosperity unknown to any other settlement on the Grass Continent. Which, by the standards of other continents, only equated to paved roads and electrical lighting, but it was something. The town had needed to be renovated before tourists from the richer continents would touch it, anyways.

There was only one part of the town that had proven frustratingly elusive: the Wigglytuff’s Guild. Wigglytuff, the old zubat, was much shrewder than he appeared—when the time had come for him to step down, he had left the guild not to the HAPPI officials who were offering a large sum for guild ownership, but to the most stalwart rising star in the guild’s ranks—a bibarel. And on behalf of the Grass Continentals’ pride, Bibarel didn’t sell. No matter how harshly the town was taxed or how many benefits the guild was excluded from, Bibarel refused to sell. His choice soon reflected upon the entire guild, and even some of the town—the wigglytuff décor on the guild’s front tent had become greyed and tattered from disrepair, and its members were frequently underpaid and underfed. Now the situation had become dire enough that Sparkleglimmer had a feeling Bibarel would finally bend. And the economic benefits of finally controlling the last major Explorer’s Guild in the world could not be turned up so easily. She had come prepared.

The flygon landed on the ground deftly, its wings finally slowing to a speed where Sparkleglimmer could see them flapping again. She sat up, using her ribbons to undo the harness attached to her belly. The flygon was tipped twice his usual fee as she stepped off his back, enough that the issue of neck clinging was never brought up between them.

The paved roads of Treasure Town were narrow and crooked, done by ‘mon who had clearly never paved a road before. That was what happened when you sourced a Grass Continent construction company to do a decent job. It was cheaper, sure, but they weren’t good for much else beyond cutting wood.

Sparkleglimmer climbed the stairs that led to the tattered Wigglytuff’s Guild. She stepped onto the padded grate, the old mossy bars of which had long since been replaced by a more comfortable grid mesh.

“A footprint, a footprint!”

“Whose footprint? Whose footprint?”

Mentally, Sparkleglimmer rolled her eyes. What a primitive method of security.

“The footprint is Sylveon’s!”

“Darn right it is!” Sparkleglimmer called into the vents. “I’m here on official HAPPI business. Open up!”

There was some quiet muttering below the vent Sparkleglimmer didn’t catch. Then, the wooden gate in front of her began to open, pulled back by the chains operating behind it. Sparkleglimmer made a show of clearing her throat daintily and walked through.


~\({O})/~

The inside of the Wigglytuff’s Guild was no less desolate than the outside. Sparkleglimmer walked in, glancing up at the holes in the tattered grey canvas above.

There was a quadruped-friendly ramp that led deeper into the guild, but not much else. The few guards who stood on duty looked tired and malnourished. There was a charmeleon close to the ramp that looked like it was on the brink of death. It looked up at Sparkleglimmer with sunken eyes as she walked down the ramp. Sparkleglimmer hid a grimace as she passed. What poor, ugly souls. She’d have to take care of that once the guild had been bought out.

Biberal’s office was lower down, in the underground portion of the guild. Sparkleglimmer had heard Wigglytuff used to sit up above ground on a throne when he was still alive, but if there was still a throne up in that room, it was in shambles.

The door to Biberal’s office was pushed open by a flaffy and a bidoof, allowing Sparkleglimmer to walk in. The doors shut behind her, and then she faced Biberal.

He looked just as underfed and tired as the rest of them. Parchment was all over his desk in a messy mound, and the office smelled like paper had been rotting away for a good while.

“Bibarel,” she addressed him, sitting down on the floor. The barbarians didn’t even have cushions.

“Sylveon.”

“Sparkleglimmer, thanks.”

.The remark was cold and all business. Biberal’s silent eyes matched it completely.

“mind tellin’ me what you’re here for?”

“It’s simple,” Sparkleglimmer said. “I know your contract with what’s left of the Rescue Federation expires in a month. I’m here to buy the Wigglytuff Guild.”

“Then I, and all my workers, ain’t interested,” Biberal said, cutting her short when she opened her mouth again. “We’ve told you tha’ before.”

“Hmm, but are you interested in going bankrupt?” Sparkleglimmer said. “You’re on death’s door as is.”

“We’d sooner go bankrupt than sell ta you.”

Sparkleglimmer didn’t see that as worth replying to. It looked like diplomacy wasn’t going to work. She needed to switch gears.

“Well, as I see it, you have two very large problems,” she began, reaching into the purse that hang from her bow with her ribbons. “First, you’re impoverished. Tourist money and whatever pathetic offerings the Rescue Federation can still give has kept you afloat until now, but even that is failing you. Getting harder and harder to find townies who will do business with you, y’know? Why bother posting independent requests and supporting your local guild when the Connection Orb Network is just so convenient? Explorers from off-continent get here in a day, and get the job done twice as fast. Second problem: your guild isn’t listed as a part of our database.”

“I don’ see tha’ las’ one as a problem,” Bibarel said, taking a breath. He was old, centuries old. Sparkleglimmer could hear it in his throat.

“Oh, but it is,” she said coolly. “You’ll fade into obscurity! Just think: the Wigglytuff’s Guild, an ancient relic of the past that refused to move on and became just another name in a history book. You may be willing to make that sacrifice, but even you can’t deny the facts.”

Bibarel sighed, shutting his eyes wearily.

“It used ta be simple,” he said. “You saw a ‘mon, you rescued that ‘mon. There wasn’ a license on wha’ you coul’ and couldn’ do. Ya didn’ go to jail for doin’ a good deed. That’s how it shoulda stayed. Doesn’ matter how much the times change, things like tha’ shouldn’t.”

“The times never changed,” Sparkleglimmer said. “There’s always been a price tag attached. Always been restrictions on what you could and couldn’t do. Always been pokemon jailed for doing good deeds. Maybe you just didn’t see it back then.”

There was a silent moment of tension. Biberal didn’t say anything, and rightly so. What could he say? She had him backed into a corner.

“Think of this as your saving grace,” Sparkleglimmer continued in Biberal’s silence. “Just think of all the things you’ll be able to do once you’re a proper part of the network! You’ll have the money to feed and pay your employees properly! Full access to the Connection Orb Network and mystery dungeon archives! Transfer teams and aid from HAPPI! And all you have to do is sign this paper.”

“Bu’ we won’ have our independence.”

“’Independence’…” Sparkleglimmer drawled. “Such a big word. Franky, you’ve twisted it so much I thought you’d forgotten what it meant.”

“If Ah sign that paper, we’re at y’alls mercy,” Biberal said. “I can’t bring myself to do tha’.”

“You’re at our mercy either way,” said Sparkleglimmer. “Shame you can’t seem to understand that.”

“Perhaps we have differen’ definitions of ‘mercy’.”

“This paper is mercy,” Sparkleglimmer snapped, leaning in across the desk. “It’s the last and only mercy you will get. I recommend you sign it.”

There was a moment of silence. For every inch that Sparkleglimmer leaned forward, Bibarel leaned a bit more back.

“Or!” she perked up, leaning back and suddenly looking a lot less menacing. “Or! I could simply approach that start-up guild a few miles south with my proposition instead! What was it, the… Blackthorn Guild? That would put you all out of business for sure. So, what’s it going to be?”

Biberal was silent. His angry eyes did the speaking for him. Sparkleglimmer placed one of her ribbons on her chin in an exaggerated thinking gesture.

“Hmm… I’ll take your silence as a no. That’s unfortunate. This offer won’t be on the table for much longer.”

She took the paper off the desk and placed it back in her purse. The doors of Biberal’s office opened for her as she walked out.

“If you change your mind, you know how to reach me!” she yelled on the way out.


~\({O})/~

Pokemon Paradise ~ HAPPI Dorms

~Alice~

Pokemon Paradise was just as frigid as Alice remembered it. Without her partner, it felt even colder.

She’d been through all the forms, the signup sheets, the paperwork. So far as HAPPI knew, her partner had died of natural causes while having a bathroom break in the alleyway. She didn’t think they’d believe the real story, and with good reason, she reckoned.

There was more paperwork to go through after that. She had to confirm her current registry papers were up to date, confirm her results from the last exam were up to date, confirm she was okay with having any assigned pokemon as a partner. (she wasn’t, but if it kept the lights on at night and a roof over her head, she’d do it.)

Already, it felt like morning had come too fast. She wanted to sleep the entire day, but that wasn’t an option—HAPPI was assigning her a new team member… she checked the clock… right now.

Right now??

Alice shot up from her bed like a spooked litten. It was a good thing she’d gotten up when she had – at the rate she’d been sleeping, she would have missed her appointment and the guild breakfast too. But the first one was more important right now; she couldn’t afford to be late to that.

She walked out of her room and then, after checking to make sure no-mon else was in the hall at that moment, started sprinting down the corridor so she’d get there in time.


~\({O})/~

As it turned out, this wasn’t going to be as quick and tidy as she had expected. All she was told was that her next partner was a braixen that would meet her at some point in the mess hall, and then left to her own devices.

That left her to uncertainly mill around the lunchroom, collect what she was to eat for breakfast and sit at the tables, looking around for the pokemon she was supposed to meet.

Most teams had headed out by now to do their assigned missions, leaving the tables mostly empty and bare. Luckily, that meant there were less heads to sort through. Alice soon saw a lavender head through all the others, one that obviously belonged to a braixen. That looked like her cue.

She got up from her bench, deciding to cut the meeting short. As the braixen walked over, she saw the slip in his paws. Looked like this was the one.

The braixen must have noticed at some point that she was approaching him, because he stopped and focused on what was written on his slip.

“Are you…” he began. “Vaporeon Alice?”

“You’re the new partner right?” Alice didn’t bother with introductions. She noted that it was the braixen she had run into at the Noe Town docks, but didn’t really care. “That’s me.”

She turned around to the table, gesturing the braixen along with her tail fins. “Come on. Get something to eat. We need to talk.

“Have you ever been in a rescue team before?” Alice asked as the braixen chowed down on whatever was left over from the guild breakfast. He ate ravenously, like he hadn’t eaten well for days.

“No,” the braixen said, his mouth full of food. “But I can fend for myself.”

“That’s good to hear.”

She took a lap of water, then began speaking again without looking at her partner. “We don’t usually go into mystery dungeons here. Most of our job is spent doing tasks around the city.” Another lap of water. “if you’re lucky, or unlucky, eventually you get transferred off to another guild to do actual exploration work. That’s about 10 percent of every pokemon who signs up for a team here. In other words: don’t count on it. Got that all down?”

“They told me that on the way in,” Braixen said. “Just… less cynically.”

“Well, you needed to hear the cynical version,” Alice said. Maybe it was the grey sky, or the lack of sleep, or the ambient cold of winter creeping its way indoors, but she was in a bad mood today.

“One more thing you need to know,” she said. “We are partners in name only. I know the terrain here better than you do. You do what I tell you to do, when I tell you to do it. That way, this is easy for all of us. Kapeesh?”

“Kapeesh,” the braixen said without hesitation. He was still practically inhaling food, albeit slower now. But even so, Alice got the feel it came too eagerly.

“Well, good to hear it,” she said, sticking her head in the water bowl and absorbing the rest of the water. She was too lazy to drink it. “When you’re done, we can see what missions we can take today.

The braixen nodded, seeming like he was finally finished wolfing down food.

The large doors of the hall opened, and in walked two pokemon that Alice wasn’t expecting to see at all: the heroes of Mist, Alexis and Elliot.

They walked off to the side, turning the heads of every guild member that they passed. It wasn’t an unheard-of occasion for those two to walk into the building on guild business, but to do so in the middle of breakfast unannounced was new.

For some reason Alice thought she saw Alexis glance over at her table, but it didn’t look like he was looking at her. Braixen had looked over his shoulder and immediately looked antsy in their presence. It was a moment before they passed on, entering a door off to the side of the hall and letting it close loudly behind them. The hall behind was left in shocked silence. It even took Braixen a little time to settle down again.

She supposed she couldn’t blame him. It was his first day, after all.


~\({O})/~

~Alexis and Elliot~

“I hope you understand I’m a little irked you two decided to take a mission request to Noe Town this close to an important briefing,” a noctowl said as they fell into stride with Alexis and Elliot. “The resident team there had it under control, and you two are needed here.”

“The resident team there was taken hostage by the pirates,” Alexis said. “I hope you understand that if this headquarters received a mission request, that either means the other team was taken out of commission or is wholly incompetent.”

“And you felt the need to go yourselves, instead of sending a different team?”

“It looked like a nice jot out of town,” Alexis said. “I’ve been getting cabin fever.”

By his side, Elliot looked like he wanted to say something, but decided to hold his piece.

They reached a room with a large table, then entered it. Alexis took a seat, then Elliot and the noctowl did as well. The three other pokemon at the table were still and silent.

“Today, we take a vote on whether to go ahead with the Paradise Expansion Project or not,” the noctowl began. Before the six of us—” he glanced at a single empty chair”—and the one absentee cast our votes, it’s important that we’re all on board with the current status of the project. Does anymon need briefing.”

Alexis flippantly raised his paw. The noctowl pointed a wing at him.

“Alexis. Yes.”

“Did we solve the problem of Traveler’s Demise yet?” he asked. “Last I checked that dungeon is the whole reason we’re building upwards and not outwards. We had to push the trail back six feet just this year to account for growth, and we’re moving ahead with the project?”

“Yes, we recently uncovered a solution for that,” the noctowl said. “As you know, Cloud Nine docks at Pokemon Paradise for its bi-annual maintenance in a few days. The HAPPI director claims she can remove the dungeon for us.”

Alexis raised an eyebrow.

“Remove the dungeon?” he asked. “How? Even I can’t control the dungeons.”

“That’s above all our paygrades, apparently,” the noctowl said. “All we know is that the director has utmost confidence it can happen. Any other questions?”

Now Elliot raised a paw. The noctowl pointed him out with a visible sigh.

“Have we considered building around the slums instead of mowing them down?” he asked.

“Those are old, rotting buildings,” the noctowl said. “It’s better if they’re all demolished.” They’d had this argument before.

“Well, we can take the time to overhaul them,” Elliot protested. “We don’t need to displace all the pokemon living there just to build out more.”

“That’s twice the cost of supplies, twice the cost of labor, and the pokemon living there will still need to be evicted,” The noctowl said. “Stop being naïve. A proposal like that would push our plans back to next summer.”

“What about relocating them, then?” Elliot asked.

“Too complicated,” the noctowl said.

“It would only take a warehouse,” Elliot countered.

For once, the noctowl didn’t have a reply to shoot his suggestion down. Elliot saw fit to continue. “Kicking pokemon out into the streets in the middle of winter? That’s cruel. Aren’t you worried about all the pokemon who will freeze to death because of that decision?”

His remark only seemed to stir vaguely uncomfortable glances among the council.

“All we’d need is a warehouse, food, water, and some blankets,” Elliot continued.

“I-I’m sure a lot of them will find new homes on their own,” another one of the councilmon, an arbok, spoke up. He didn’t sound entirely convinced. He was met with uneasy agreement from across the board. Elliot stood up in his seat, placing his paws on the table angrily.

“Of course they aren’t going to!” he yelled angrily. “Kicking those pokemon out into the streets is like sentencing them all to death!”

“That’s enough,” the noctowl commanded. “We’ve had this argument more times than is good for the health of anymon at this table. If there are no other questions, we will now vote on whether the project will advance or not.”

He raised an arm. “All for?”

Two of the others raised their arms.

“All against?”

Elliot and the arbok raised their own appendages. The noctowl’s eyes fell to Alexis, who hadn’t raised his arm at all.

“Alexis,” he said. “You haven’t voted.”

“Sounds right,” Alexis said. “Haven’t decided yet.”

The noctowl sighed. “I’d suggest not being problematic about this, Alexis.”

“No need to get aggravated,” Alexis said. “I said I haven’t decided yet, not that I won’t.” He rose from his chair. “You’ll have my answer, and the answer of that empty chair, by tomorrow’s end.”


~\({O})/~

Pokemon Paradise

~Zoroark-as-Braixen~

It was frosty out in the streets of Pokemon Paradise, but it was seeming more and more like that was just a normal staple of the place. Zoroark-as-Braixen trudged along behind Alice, trying not to draw too much attention to himself as they both plodded along.

His head was a mess. He didn’t know whether to be celebrating because he’d finally opened up a path to survival, or cowering in fear because he was in one of the most precarious positions he’d ever been in his life.

The vaporeon he’d been partnered with was the one he’d stumbled into at the docks. He hadn’t expected her to be this scathing with her remarks. Their mission today was to patrol the streets of the city, specifically the portion in the slums. Extra attention was being focused on that area today, and they clearly weren’t the only teams in this section of the city.

“Stick close to me, and don’t draw attention to yourself,” Alice said as they entered the slums. “A team went missing yesterday in this area, so that’s why it’s getting the extra attention. Just keep your head down, and all we’ll have to do is make a few laps of the place.”

It didn’t look like getting any trouble was a likely possibility, though. All the resident pokemon camping out in the streets and lurking in the houses shied away from them as they walked through, like the rescue teams were hungry monsters on the prowl. And considering what Zoroark had been on the losing side of yesterday… he couldn’t blame them.

It continued like that for a few hours. The two of them slunk through the streets, keeping a cursory eye on all the going ons around them and trying not to draw unnecessary attention. The grey skies above rumbled and threatened to start raining. The buildings creaked and swayed in the wind. The air and ground was chilly to the touch.

Then there was a shout.

“You two!” a granbull pointed at them. “Over here! We’ve found something.”

The granbull’s team and a few others were huddled around a crooked and narrow alleyway. Zoroark-as-Braixen suddenly felt a bit uneasy as he went. He was good with illusions from a distance and around one or two pokemon, but around a bunch at once… he’d never had to try before.

In the middle of the alleyway, there were the tattered shreds of a few scarves. Scarves that belonged to a rescue team. Zoraork-as-Braixen breathed out a barely audible sigh of relief. They hadn’t found the ashes of the scarves he’d burnt yesterday.

The granbull stood back, looking down at them.

“What do you think?” he said.

“Could they have blown in on the wind?” Alice asked.

“And right into a crooked alleyway where we’d be able to see them easily?” the granbull scoffed. “No, these were deliberately placed.”

“What are you implying?” Alice asked hollowly. “That somemon wanted us to find these?”

“Seems like pretty obvious bait, doesn’t it?” the granbull asked. “There’s even a trail.” He pointed further into the alleyway, where drops of a substance that looked scarily similar to blood had frozen on the ground to make a path.

“I’m gathering every team in the area to take a look,” Granbull continued. “That’s you two, my team, and Alfonso’s over here.”

The pangoro waved at the sound of his name.

“So you want us to spring an obvious trap?” Alice asked dryly.

“Not unprepared,” the granbull said. “Do you have a better option?”

“I guess I don’t.” Alice padded over behind Alfonso. Zoroark-as-Braixen followed, hoping to stay mostly out of sight.

He didn’t know what he was going to do if he had to fight.

The eight pokemon total made their way down the alley, following the trail of blood. One of the buildings had long since leaned into the other for support, blotting out all light from above. Zoroark mentally counted his blessings as they walked. The darker it was, the less he had to worry about disguising himself.

“Keep an eye out for anything that looks suspicious,” Granbull said as they walked. Zoroark-as-Braixen joined the other seven pokemon in looking around as they walked. He didn’t see anything amiss with the walls or the floor. There weren’t any cracks in the wall, or crevasses where a ‘mon could hide. Nothing looked like camouflage, and Zoroark definitely would have spotted any illusions right off the bat. Even above was closed off. That meant the only place an attack could come from was…

“Hmm.” The granbull said, stopping in the middle of the alleyway. “The trail ends here.”

Sure enough, the blood stopped in the middle of the alley, lit by the light of the exit ahead. Granbull stood up and waved the other seven pokemon on forwards.

There was suddenly the sound of the tromping of feet all around them. The eight pokemon in the alleyway looked at the exits, seeing them blocked off by pokemon on both sides.

“I told you this was a stupid idea,” Alice growled.

“Not the time,” Granbull grouched back.

“Alright!” he yelled to the pokemon ahead of the alleyway. “Stand back, let us pass, and no-mon gets hurt. Proceed with whatever you’re planning, and face the wrath of three rescue teams working together.”

The pokemon didn’t respond with words. They marched forward, beginning to quicken up with each step.

“Last warning!” Granbull called out. Around him, the other seven pokemon were beginning to shape up for battle. It was looking less and less to Zoroark like they were going to get out of this without a fight.

He hoped he could at least stay hidden long enough to get out of it.

One of the pokemon in the lead, a weavile, began to charge forward with its claws out.

“You asked for this,” the granbull said, and then he charged to meet the weavile halfway through the alley. His large jaws ignited with fire.

The initial clash of fire and ice sent out slivers and shards of both through the alley, which met and evaporated into steam. Then the scene devolved into chaos. Zoroark’s first instinct was to use an illusion and disappear—he could creep away from the battle that way. But then he remembered he was Braixen right now. He’d be found out if he did that.

A sneasel swiped for Zoroark-as-Braixen, who fell to his feet and backed away just quick enough to avoid having his snout sliced off, once, twice, thrice—

—A large fist punched the sneasel into one of the alleyway walls, knocking it out cold. Alfonso looked down at Zoroark-as-Braixen, holding out his other paw.

“You’re a fire, yeah?” he asked. “We could use that right now.”

Zoroark thought quickly.

“I—I lost my wand,” he said, quickly checking his fake tail to make sure he’d removed the wand. He just had to count on Alfonso buying that.

A barrage of ice slammed into them both. Alfonso braced himself and blocked most of it; Zoroark-as-Braixen caught the tail end of the blast.

“Never met a braixen who needed a wand to do fire before,” Alfonso said. He clenched his fist, and it began to brim with black energy. Seconds later, a group of ice-types responsible for the ice barrage were sent flying back into the alleyway.

“Duck!” came a voice from behind them.

Zoroark and Alfonso turned around just in time—razor-sharp icicles jutted through the air, heading straight for them. One of them clipped Alfonso in the shoulder. He let out something between a growl and a roar, regaining his bearings just a bit too late. One of the ice-types iced his foot to the ground.

“Hey!” he yelled as Zoroark-as-Braixen stumbled off. “Unfreeze this!”

Zoroark was too frenzied to hear him.

The space they were in was getting too close to comfort. Zoroark suddenly felt a long tail hook around his midsection—

—Seconds later, he found himself pulled right next to Alice by her tail.

“What did I just tell you?” Alice loudly asked, keeping her eyes on the group of advancing ice-types ahead of them. They were backed up against the team members facing the group from the other side now. “Stay with me, do what I instruct you to! You know some fire moves, right?”

Panicked and short on time, Zoroark-as-Braixen shook his head ‘no’.

“No?” Alice asked. “You’re a fire-type! How did you even make the entrance exam?”

The entrance exam had been purely demonstrative, and he was good at making something that looked like fire. Not that he would say that here.

“Never mind,” Alice said, shooting another geyser of water out of her mouth. Much of it was frozen before it could reach the other pokemon, and she was beginning to look tuckered out herself.

“Granbull!” she yelled. Granbull was over on the other side, desperately using what little fire he could summon to push the ice-types back. “We need to try and get out of this as soon as possible! Can Alfonso clear a path?”

Alfonso looked back upon hearing his name.

“I can—” he began.

Suddenly, a large ball of ice flew through the air and struck him on the head. It knocked the lights out of him. Slowly, he began to bowl over, the other, smaller pokemon in the vicinity trying to jump clear before he hit the ground with a large crash. Just like that, the largest pokemon in the alley was out cold.

“Now would be a really good time to learn some kind of fire move…” Alice nudged Zoroark-as-Braixen pointedly. By now, the ice-types were beginning to realize there was no reason they had to keep their distance anymore. They began to creep closer.

“These are…” Zoroark-as-Braixen said, trying to come up with an excuse. He looked at the walls around him. “Too close quarters. You don’t want to start a fire, right?”

“You don’t want to die, right?” Alice retorted. Seconds later, she had to dive out of the way of a spheal’s bite.

He couldn’t use a big fire attack, not when it could so easily be revealed as fake in an area this small. But he wasn’t helpless. Zoroark-as-Braixen ran ahead of the group and into the gang of ice-types, using invisible claws to swipe through pokemon left and right. To the others, it looked like his arms had been wreathed in controlled flames, just weak enough to avoid being obviously fake. The smoke and mirrors got the job done.

Then somemon else stepped into the alleyway.

They were just as big as Alfonso was, and they towered over Zoroark. Their claws were encrusted in pure, pristine ice.

The beartic charged, and Zoroark-as-Braixen was in his way.

The last things he heard and saw before he had the lights knocked out of him was Alice’s cry, and the sight of the large bear pokemon charging straight for him.

He’d later learn the beartic had steamrolled the entire alleyway of pokemon into unconsciousness.


~\({O})/~

Old Room

When Zoroark came to again, he was in the middle of an old, rickety room. The floorboards softly swayed under him, and he could feel a chill in the air that wasn’t becoming of the indoors.

“It’s a little cold.”

Zoroark jumped at the sound of the voice. He wasn’t alone in here, it seemed. He looked over, seeing a scyther standing with his back towards him at the unlit fireplace. Had he been waiting there all that time?

“Who are you?” he asked.

“A friend.”

“Why did you bring me here?”

“To talk.”

“About what?”

The scyther turned around. “About something very important to me, and something very important to you.”

Zoroark sat up in the straw.

“Where are all the rest of my teammates?” he asked.

“Unconscious, but unharmed,” the scyther said. “They’ll wake up in a completely different part of town. I only needed you.”

He walked over, taking a seat a good three feet away from Zoroark. Next to him, on a small table whose edges were riddled with what looked like steep cuts and dents, lay a teacup that fit over the scyther’s limbs. He raised it up, and took a sip. He did not offer any to Zoroark.

“You…” Zoroark was trying to put together coherent sentences, but his head was still a little muddled from the hit he’d taken. “I remember you. From the stage yesterday.”

“And I remember you,” the scyther replied. “’Just passing through’, you said. How curious that you’ve gone and joined the HAPPI ranks. Illegally, at that.”

“You’re not going to turn me in, right?” Zoroark asked.

The scyther chuckled. “No, no, far from it. Not that I could. The fools at HAPPI would be far more interested in my head than yours.”

Zoroark finally regained enough clarity to sit up and keep himself that way

“What do you want to talk about?” he asked.

The scyther cleared his throat, stood up, and turned away from Zoroark once again. It was like a rehearsed movement.

“This house, this hut on stilts,” the scyther began. “It creaks and sways and shakes, like it could collapse at any moment. And yet, it is home. For me, for my brethren, and for those who don’t bear scarves but cannot afford to live anywhere better.”

He took a sip of his tea, then sighed.

“But come this winter, that home will be a distant dream. The blizzards that come will knock our houses over, and an innumerable amount of lives will be lost from the destruction and the cold. Unless we can get that repair bill footed.”

“What do you want me to do about that?” Zoroark asked.

“You are the most important piece in the plan,” the scyther said. “A disguised zoroark with full access to anything in the HAPPI ranks is a valuable position we haven’t seen for years. You can be our eyes on the inside, gathering information as one pokemon and sneaking here by night as another. I want you to be my spy.”

Zoroark took a moment to think it over. He was in a bad enough situation as is, but at least as it was he had the option to lay low and stay out of sight. If he start spying on things for this pokemon, he’d be drawing attention to himself. Even if he couldn’t bring himself to disagree with the cause.

“What if I say no?” he asked, testing the waters.

“We turn you in,” the scyther said.

“What?” Zoroark asked. “I thought you said you wouldn’t turn me in—”

“I said I wouldn’t turn you in,” the scyther cut in. “Do you think I’m working alone?”

That shut Zoroark up.

“So what’s it going to be?” the scyther asked. “Will you help me, or shall I strike you down?”

As much as Zoroark detested it, he didn’t see another way out of this.

“Yeah, I’ll help,” he said. Then he decided to throw in one last twist. “But if you sell me out at any point, I’m taking you down with me.”

“Then it sounds like a deal,” the scyther said, not fazed in the least. To the contrary, there was a grin spreading across his face. “Call me Amadeus, by the way. Do you keep a name?”

“I don’t.”

“Pity.”

The scyther got up from his seat, pointing a blade to his side. “The door’s over there. Memorize where it is. I want you to visit tonight, just so we have it all down.”


~\({O})/~

HAPPI Building

~Alexis and Elliot~

The mist and the buildings of Paradise obscured the sunset, but some rays of orange light were still getting through to the elevated walkways of the HAPPI barracks. Elliot followed after Alexis, who was walking along back towards where the mess hall was.

“You’re going to vote with me, right?” Elliot asked.

Alexis was silent.

They walked for a couple more minutes. The silence could be cut with a knife.

“No,” Alexis said.

“What?”

Elliot’s appalled reply did a lot to phase Alexis, but he didn’t let it show on his face.

“You’re voting with them?” Elliot said. “You’re just fine with driving out all the pokemon in those slums?”

“They’re living in slums, Elliot,” said Alexis. “That’s basically on the street in the first place.”

“I don’t…” Elliot’s voice was a soft stutter of disbelief. “You’re really okay with this?”

It was a moment before Alexis responded.

“No.”

“But you’re voting with them anyway—”

“That’s the only option,” Alexis said, cutting Elliot off. “It was decided the moment the director signed on.”

“Then why didn’t you vote then?” Elliot asked. “Why wait until now?”

“To diffuse tensions,” Alexis said.

“You mean to keep me quiet,” said Elliot, reading between the lines.

Alexis didn’t answer that.

“I remember when you would have stood up with me and argued against the rest of the council right there and then,” Elliot muttered. “You did that once. That’s why this place exists. This is supposed to be paradise! Not a place where pokemon go to live in ramshack buildings and die in the streets!”

He stopped walking for a moment, letting himself catch his breath and calm down. Alexis kept walking without him.

“What changed?”

The voice came from Elliot. That was enough to make Alexis stop.

“When did you change?” Elliot asked.

Alexis didn’t turn around. He spoke without facing Elliot. For some reason, he couldn’t bring himself to.

“When one of us grew up,” Alexis said. “And the other didn’t.”

He started walking again, leaving Elliot behind him. This time, it was a while before Elliot followed.


~\({O})/~

HAPPI Building

~Zoroark-as-Braixen~

Zoroark had to trudge all the way back through town the way he came. By the time he could see the HAPPI building, it was already beginning to break nightfall. He wearily made his way up into the building as Braixen, showing his rescue team scarf to the guards so they let him through after hours.

He found Alice waiting by one of the desks in the lobby, surveying the pokemon who came in and out.

“Where were you all this time?” she asked him harshly once he had gotten close enough. “You weren’t with us when everymon else came to.”

“I… got lost,” he said, trying his best to cover up for himself. “I woke up alone somewhere else. I was searching for you. But after a while I couldn’t find anything, so I decided to come back to headquarters and file a missing pokemon slip.”

It sounded believable enough. He hoped. He nervously fidgeted and tried not to look like he was nervously fidgeting.

Alice looked like she wanted to say a lot of things, but refrained from it. Instead, she gestured Zoroark-as-Braixen on with her tail, heading off towards the mess hall.

“Come on,” she said. “Let’s just eat.”

Her apathy grated on Zoroark, but he followed anyway. Low moods and empty stomachs would only make things worse.


~\({O})/~

Team Colbat Quarters

Sleeping in a cozy room with stone walls felt wrong. Zoroark was used to sleeping in silently swaying cabins of wood. But sleeping inside a room was better than sleeping on the outside. Beggars couldn’t be choosers.

He made sure to cover up until none of his mane or limbs were sticking out of the blanket. He wasn’t one of those talented illusionists that could maintain their illusions well into their sleep; Everything he’d learned recently had been on the fly. Going to sleep and hoping he woke up before somemon could catch him was a risky move, but it was one that he was going to have to find a solution for sooner or later. Best to start now. At least with this amount of time until morning, he’d be able to sleep and wake up before anymon else did.

Then he remembered: he had to go see that scyther tonight. Suddenly he felt glued to his bed. But the scyther’s threat of outing him to the HAPPI ‘mon lay clean in his mind. Every second he spent here was a second that scyther’s proverbial blades hung over his head.

For a moment, he considered whether the scyther would actually make good on his threat if he didn’t show up. Either way, it was too big to risk, he supposed. He’s just have to play along and see where it got him.

Zoroark rose from his straw, and dove out the window.


~\({O})/~

Amadeus’ House

The scyther looked up from where he was sitting as the door to the rickety old house on stilts slowly slid open.

“Ah. You’re here.”

Only a fire burning in the stone fireplace lit the room. Zoroark slowly slipped in, closing the door behind him.

“Sit down,” Amaedus said, pointing to the straw beside him with a blade that gleamed with the fire’s light. “We’re going to have a talk.”


~\({O})/~

Pokemon Paradise

Two figures slipped off into the night, pulling cloth hoods over their faces as they stalked off. They stuck to the shadows, making sure to keep out of sight even though there weren’t any pedestrians in the nearby area. The less chance of a pokemon seeing them, the better.

“Sucks to be out this late tonight,” a scraggy silently complained. “I feel like I can barely stand.”

“Suck it up,” the marowak leading them grunted. “It’s just like any other job we do. And that dewott pays buckets of poke. You can go without sleep for one night.”

“Yeah…” the scraggy sighed, stretching. “Just sucks is all. Did the mission slip tell us where the target was?”

“Been hanging around the slums today and yesterday,” the marowak said. “I reckon we’ll find him there again tonight.”


~\({O})/~

Music of the Week!

Curse of The Black Sun -- Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinelli






Art by SpinalTapDancer3
 
Last edited:

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partners
  1. custom/sneasel-nip
  2. bidoof
  3. absol
  4. kirlia
Hi espy, this is a prize review for blacklight. I’ll be covering chapters 4-7 in this review as well as part of 3 because I forgot I read it already. I’ll try to bring up a few particular points from each one, but I feel like, overall, my review would be better if I did a breakdown of the characters and the plot. Because quite a bit happened over the course of this section. Which, based on the way you’ve structured your fic, makes sense.

I’ll talk about plot first, then get into any thoughts on characters that don’t directly tie to that.

One of the common complaints I see for the source material is that the first half and the second half of the game don’t really tie together and really just feel like two totally separate stories. I think you’ve done a pretty good job at alleviating that. For one thing, you’ve already started establishing the dark matter problem by giving some perspective from the pov of the expedition society. While the two halves of the ongoing plot are still virtually separate right now, establishing the greater scope early makes it feel a lot less out of the blue. And because Amphoros is tied to the goings on of both groups (albiet much more loosely on Espurr and Tricky’s side of things), it helps bridge that gap and make both parts feel relevant.

There's also the matter of the political subplots that you seem to be setting up. Now that is something that (so far) has been pretty disconnected from what's happening in Serenity Village, but it's definitely set up to have a major effect on the plot as a whole. The entire sequence in Baram town appears to serve several purposes, in particular. It fleshes out Archen and Mawile a bit, yes. But it also gives a pretty good idea of how government on the Air Continent is set up (which is to say, very loosely). More importantly, however, it introduces the reader to the amount of political power HAPPI has even off of the Mist Continent while also establishing that the Expedition Society is not nearly as renowned. I have a feeling that the red tape of big establishments like HAPPI and how the main cast works around that is going to be pretty relevant to the plot.

On a related note, I’m not surprised that pokemon square is one of the first places to get turned to stone. It makes sense that DM (and whoever its cohorts might be) would want to take out pokemon that would be perceived as threats. I.E. A renowned hero that also happens to be a human.

Most of the Serenity Village plot stuff I’ll cover as I go over character impressions, but I do want to say that I like the way you handled the drilbur mine. While it conceptually is similar to the game, it has enough of a fresh coat of paint that I don’t feel bored by it. It also introduces some game concepts - like emeras - without feeling too gamey.

I’ll also briefly mention that from earlier chapters, I’d gotten the impression that Nuzleaf was straight-up missing, not just out of town. That’s something you might want to keep in mind since I doubt it was your intention.

Okay, on to characters.

Espurr continues to be a fairly quiet character that I can’t quite put my finger on. Up until shortly before her confrontation with Tricky, she’s been fairly passive, something I think is partially a carryover from the canon character and partially intentional on your part. I did feel like her confrontation could have used a bit more build up. Like. It’s definitely something that was primarily built off of limited interactions with Tricky and advice from the other kids but I feel like it could have used a bit more build up on her side. On the other hand… Lashing out was a rash decision, and one that she pretty quickly regrets. So it might just be me. But to be fair, even though it’s true Tricky kind of dragged her into trouble, when it comes right after that nasty scene between Tricky and Pancham, it makes me feel more sympathetic towards Tricky than her.

Speaking of Pancham… If your intention was to get me to hate him, congrats! You did it! He is a terrible terrible child. And to be frank, I’m kiiiinda surprised that no one has stepped in and done something about him? Like, even if you make the argument “well no one likes Tricky so they’re less likely to believe her,” you’ve got him putting other kids like Goomy in serious danger, too. Then again, people get away with serious, physical bullying in real life, so your mileage may vary on this critique. Regardless, it’s going to take a lot to get him back in my good graces.

On to another major character, Tricky. Tricky is probably the most well-rounded character thus far. She’s hyperactive, headstrong, and a little bit insensitive, but it’s obvious that she’s trying to cover up a lot of emotional pain, too. I won’t go into the whys since, well, while I’ve been partially spoiled on it, the full details haven’t been revealed in-fic yet, so I’ll save my thoughts until then. For obvious reasons though, she’s really latched on to Espurr. She doesn’t really have any friends. And while I think her belief that Deerling is trying to take everyone away from her are mostly exaggerated and primarily based in paranoia that’s a combined result of guilt, bullying, and isolation, it is notable that deerling doesn’t seem the least bit sympathetic towards her in your fic, which leaves her really and truly isolated. And… well, I have a feeling that if Espurr hadn’t shown up things would have continued to escalate beyond what they already have.

Archen and Mawile are characters that I don’t have super strong reads on yet, but I enjoyed them. Mawile feels a bit more well-rounded, but I think that’s in part because she’s the PoV character, but we get a pretty good idea about her interests, skills, and personality from the brief time we spend with her (even if I do think it’s a liiiitle beyond the suspension of disbelief that she sleeps so little. It’s probably a throwaway gag to some extent but it feels just slightly out of place.) Also, the talking with her second mouth. Not something I’d ever thought of mawiles as being able to do, but it was a really neat tidbit.

I don’t have a whole lot to say about the other characters so I’ll mostly lump them here. Besides Deerling (who I get the feeling is’t purposefully trying to isolate Tricky but holds some resentment and is letting that color how she reacts to Tricky and her antics) and possibly Goomy, who I don’t have particularly strong reads on yet, most of the characters feel very flat and one note, for lack of a better term. But to be clear, that’s NOT a bad thing. They seem like they’re flat more because they serve a specific purpose in the story, not because they’re underdeveloped or anything like that. For the most obvious example, you have Watchog. His primary purpose appears to be that he’s a bit of an asshole that’s full of himself and really probably shouldn’t be supervising children. He serves as a bit of an antagonist, while also being someone we can laugh at when he gets hit by karma.

Audino is in a similar vein, but on the more positive side. She’s a nurturing figure that’s there to stick up for the kids and make sure they’re taken care of. We know a few other little things about her, but there’s a lot that we don’t know - nor need to know - due to conservation of detail. And I think that’s a good thing. These characters have just enough that they feel like they serve a purpose without going overboard and overloading the reader with pointless information.

The last thing I want to touch on is worldbuilding. I think you’ve done a good job with establishing little history and other worldbuilding tidbits that range from interesting to probably plot relevant by using the school lessons and tests as a framing device. And I think those things combined with the plot elements of political intrigue really help make this feel like more than just a run of the mill Super adaptation, and I appreciate that.

Hopes for the next few chapters; I’m hoping we see Tricky and Espurr make up, and get to the bottom of just what is up with Tricky, as well as Deerling’s animosity towards her. I hope that we get to see a bit more resolution on that animosity too. I'm looking forward to seeing how badly Espurr's cheating screws her over (because it feels too important to just be a minor thing). I'm also looking forward to figuring out what is up with Espurrs dreams because they feel a little too... special to just be dreams. I hope Shelmet and Pancham get some karmic justice for that stunt (legit I’m still fucking angry about it and I finished reading almost a week ago at the time I’m writing this portion of the review.) I hope to see a bit more of the expedition society, and I hope to see the two parts start to come closer together.

Overall, while I had some minor, subjective gripes so far, I’ve overall been enjoying reading this, and regret not getting back to it sooner. I think you have a really good structure, are pretty cognizant of pacing, and have strong grip on characterization and making everyone feel just as static or dynamic as they need to be. And I appreciate that. While the majority of this review was mostly a ramble about things I thought did and didn’t work, particularly when it came to characters, I hope it was useful, regardless. I’ve enjoyed reading this, and look forward to reading more sometime in the future.
 

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Hi espy, this is a prize review for blacklight. I’ll be covering chapters 4-7 in this review as well as part of 3 because I forgot I read it already. I’ll try to bring up a few particular points from each one, but I feel like, overall, my review would be better if I did a breakdown of the characters and the plot. Because quite a bit happened over the course of this section. Which, based on the way you’ve structured your fic, makes sense.

MewWow.png

But also oof about chapter 3 >.<
In fairness, 3 used to be a new chapter. I split Chapter 2 because I consistently got complaints about its length

One of the common complaints I see for the source material is that the first half and the second half of the game don’t really tie together and really just feel like two totally separate stories. I think you’ve done a pretty good job at alleviating that. For one thing, you’ve already started establishing the dark matter problem by giving some perspective from the pov of the expedition society. While the two halves of the ongoing plot are still virtually separate right now, establishing the greater scope early makes it feel a lot less out of the blue. And because Amphoros is tied to the goings on of both groups (albiet much more loosely on Espurr and Tricky’s side of things), it helps bridge that gap and make both parts feel relevant.
There's also the matter of the political subplots that you seem to be setting up. Now that is something that (so far) has been pretty disconnected from what's happening in Serenity Village, but it's definitely set up to have a major effect on the plot as a whole. The entire sequence in Baram town appears to serve several purposes, in particular. It fleshes out Archen and Mawile a bit, yes. But it also gives a pretty good idea of how government on the Air Continent is set up (which is to say, very loosely). More importantly, however, it introduces the reader to the amount of political power HAPPI has even off of the Mist Continent while also establishing that the Expedition Society is not nearly as renowned. I have a feeling that the red tape of big establishments like HAPPI and how the main cast works around that is going to be pretty relevant to the plot.
On a related note, I’m not surprised that pokemon square is one of the first places to get turned to stone. It makes sense that DM (and whoever its cohorts might be) would want to take out pokemon that would be perceived as threats. I.E. A renowned hero that also happens to be a human.
The last thing I want to touch on is worldbuilding. I think you’ve done a good job with establishing little history and other worldbuilding tidbits that range from interesting to probably plot relevant by using the school lessons and tests as a framing device. And I think those things combined with the plot elements of political intrigue really help make this feel like more than just a run of the mill Super adaptation, and I appreciate that.
One of the things that rubbed me the wrong way about Super's story is that we didn't get to see the chaos/unrest something on the scale of Dark Matter's extermination would cause. It just... happened. So when I started writing this fic, I wanted to focus on showing more of that. I think that was what influenced telling the story from the Expedition Society's perspective while the village stuff was going on--it definitely wasn't something I planned from the start. Regardless, I'm glad it's been enjoyable to read/the changes are showing up this early! I plan to use all this full-force in the future, so it shouldn't be buried underneath the village stuff at the beginning.

Most of the Serenity Village plot stuff I’ll cover as I go over character impressions, but I do want to say that I like the way you handled the drilbur mine. While it conceptually is similar to the game, it has enough of a fresh coat of paint that I don’t feel bored by it. It also introduces some game concepts - like emeras - without feeling too gamey.
I'm glad to hear this! My approach to basically all the canon game events has been to play the event mostly straight, but within the rules of the new universe I set it in. I think that's helped keep stuff pretty fresh so far :quag:

I’ll also briefly mention that from earlier chapters, I’d gotten the impression that Nuzleaf was straight-up missing, not just out of town. That’s something you might want to keep in mind since I doubt it was your intention.
D: I'll look into that

Espurr continues to be a fairly quiet character that I can’t quite put my finger on. Up until shortly before her confrontation with Tricky, she’s been fairly passive, something I think is partially a carryover from the canon character and partially intentional on your part. I did feel like her confrontation could have used a bit more build up. Like. It’s definitely something that was primarily built off of limited interactions with Tricky and advice from the other kids but I feel like it could have used a bit more build up on her side. On the other hand… Lashing out was a rash decision, and one that she pretty quickly regrets. So it might just be me. But to be fair, even though it’s true Tricky kind of dragged her into trouble, when it comes right after that nasty scene between Tricky and Pancham, it makes me feel more sympathetic towards Tricky than her.
Yeah, Espurr is a bit blank... ;-; At least for this arc. I was still kind of figuring her character out for those first sixish chapters. I'll also admit that the argument in chapter seven is something that I've never been able to fix properly. It either makes people overly sympathetic for Tricky, or overly apathetic for Tricky, or Riowat at Espurr depending on how I structure it. I still need to find a happy balance for that I think

Speaking of Pancham… If your intention was to get me to hate him, congrats! You did it! He is a terrible terrible child. And to be frank, I’m kiiiinda surprised that no one has stepped in and done something about him? Like, even if you make the argument “well no one likes Tricky so they’re less likely to believe her,” you’ve got him putting other kids like Goomy in serious danger, too. Then again, people get away with serious, physical bullying in real life, so your mileage may vary on this critique. Regardless, it’s going to take a lot to get him back in my good graces.
Aside from them being terrible, Pancham/Shelmet is a factor I don't think I've handled particularly well, especially where how Pancham gets away with all this stuff is concerned. This is something I'm slowly patching out! I think that I'm pretty close to solving it, at least for this arc.

Hopes for the next few chapters; I’m hoping we see Tricky and Espurr make up, and get to the bottom of just what is up with Tricky, as well as Deerling’s animosity towards her. I hope that we get to see a bit more resolution on that animosity too. I'm looking forward to seeing how badly Espurr's cheating screws her over (because it feels too important to just be a minor thing). I'm also looking forward to figuring out what is up with Espurrs dreams because they feel a little too... special to just be dreams. I hope Shelmet and Pancham get some karmic justice for that stunt (legit I’m still fucking angry about it and I finished reading almost a week ago at the time I’m writing this portion of the review.) I hope to see a bit more of the expedition society, and I hope to see the two parts start to come closer together.
I'll say straight up that the test cheating is a loose cannon I'm still trying to integrate into the story properly (it was supposed to be part of a character thing between Espurr and Watchog. I killed that.), but everything else should show up! Even if it's kind of weirdly split between the first and second arcs.

Overall, while I had some minor, subjective gripes so far, I’ve overall been enjoying reading this, and regret not getting back to it sooner. I think you have a really good structure, are pretty cognizant of pacing, and have strong grip on characterization and making everyone feel just as static or dynamic as they need to be. And I appreciate that. While the majority of this review was mostly a ramble about things I thought did and didn’t work, particularly when it came to characters, I hope it was useful, regardless. I’ve enjoyed reading this, and look forward to reading more sometime in the future.
I'm glad to hear this! I've said it a bunch but I personally think it's a mess and it's both strange and gratifying to hear people enjoy reading this
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
Back for the next chunk of that review exchange of Do Psychic-Type Pokemon Dream of Electric Sheep? Featuring Chapters 2 and 3 since 2's short enough to merit making this a double-feature:

Chapter 2

"I'm happy to inform you all that I have safely made it to the boundaries of Serenity Village," the tall, yellow pokemon announced as he walked down the mountain path. In the distance, the lights of Serenity Village glimmered amongst plains of darkness. "And in record time, too! Only two days."

Okay, so I'm really slow, but I now realize why this story is called "Do Psychic-Type Pokémon Dream of Electric Sheep?" It's a story built around the relationship between Espurr and Ampharos. Possibly. Maybe. But it definitely seems to be building in that direction

"Well, that's a record for you, Chief." A voice beeped itself out of the gadget, distorted by distance. "For us… we'd be getting nothing done if we were that slow."

"Buizel!"

"What? Just stating the facts."

"How's it been going? Did you use the map Jirachi gave you?" The second voice continued, then faltered for a moment in doubt. "Oh, no, never mind. Of course you used it. What was I thinking?"

Probably makes sense to add some sort of tag or whatnot to the bold part, since it's not clear that the second voice isn't Ampharos' until 2 paragraphs later.

"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.

"What's the report back at the Society?"

Would suggest one of "Ampharos" or "Electric-type", since you've used this epithet twice with no others for Ampharos thus far. Though his character is pretty on-point with what I remember of him.
:hoodLUL:


"Of course I do it better!" The second voice piped back up indignantly. "Who do you think arranges that report every morning?!"

IMO this dialogue might work better if there's an exclamation point added like so. Since it better sells the sense that the speaker is being testy.

"Jirachi's… still sleeping." The third voice interjected. There was a heavy pause, as everymon tried to figure out what to make of that. "What? He was extra tired today. Would you have woken him up?"

Ampharos: "But if you just allow him to sleep uninterrupted, he could keep going for a thousand years! We'll be dead before he wakes up!" .-.
Dedenne: "You can just say 'yes', you know." -_-;

"Anywaaay…" Dedenne spoke up again. "Archen stepped out and picked up that report you were looking for. Turns out, you were right: no-mon's gone in or out of Pokemon Plaza for an entire week. No food or item shipments, no Pelipper Post, no electrical transmissions… nothing. It's like the entire population all up and vanished overnight without telling anymon. Mawile and Archen are heading out to look it over tonight."

Archen: "Wait, we what?! When on earth did we agree to that?!"
Mawile: "Yeah! You can't just send two Pokémon to investigate an entire town abruptly going dark! That has 'bad news' written all over it!"
Dedenne: "In case if you two didn't notice, but we're kinda low on headcount as an Exploration Society. A party of two will have to do."

And then, just like that, the gadget cut out completely. Ampharos shook it a little, but nothing happened. The fur on his back bristled in unease. For all Jirachi's hubris, his gadgets rarely failed like that.

Unless…

A strange hum floated through the air, and suddenly the area all around him took an ominous tone to it. Ampharos stopped. He discreetly planted his walking stick in the ground, stuffing the expedition gadget back into his exploration bag.

"You're best off going back to the woods from whence you came," he addressed the trio of pokemon standing right behind him. "That, or…"

I think that there's some description missing from the third paragraph of Ampharos noticing something that tips him off to the presence of three Pokémon and hints at who they are (I assume they're Beeheeyem from the presentation), since the 'trio of pokemon' bit kinda comes out of nowhere right now.

He didn't hear the pokemon move a muscle. As much as he disapproved, Ampharos had the nasty feeling they had been looking for a fight in the first place. He shed his cloak without warning, grabbing the walking stick and posing flamboyantly. "…Face the wrath of the Dashing Wanderer!"

Ampharos came face-to-face not with the wild animals he'd been expecting, but instead with a trio of beheeyem, all standing still as stone. Confused but alert all the same, Ampharos kept his fighting position. Why weren't they moving?

Aaand called it, but yeah. Still think that Ampharos should notice shadows or figures he can't clearly see or something at first.

Blinded, Ampharos barely jumped out of the way of a large shadowy ball that suddenly flew straight out of thin air. Black sparks dissipated in its wake. 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.

The attack exploded across a grove of trees, shaking several branches but otherwise leaving the trees untouched. That too made Ampharos flinch, and he barely avoided another one.

Ampharos: "Wait, what on earth was that?" ._.;

Quickly generating a Dragon Pulse in his mouth, he aimed it directly at the beheeyem. This wasn't a battle he could afford to prolong, if he was correct in his line of thinking. It shot through the air, narrowly avoiding the trio of attackers as it went on to shred the forest for another twelve good feet. The sheer force of the move sent Ampharos stumbling back from recoil, but he caught himself with his walking stick, ready to dodge the next attack.

However, it never came. Ampharos hurried back onto the mountain path just in time to see the tips of the beheeyems' cone-like heads as they fled into the forest. He picked his cloak back up, and draped it over himself. It seemed in the end, they were cowards at heart.

Ampharos: "Ha ha! Foolish of them to not come along with reinforcements against the Dashing Wanderer!"
- Beat moment -
Ampharos: "Er... Or at least I assume they didn't. Though I should get moving along from here just to be on the safe side." ._.;

Letting the orb at the end of his tail glow brightly as a source of light, Ampharos approached the site where the beheeyems' unidentified attacks had landed. Just as he suspected, there seemed to be no physical damage to the tree itself…

But when he put his paw on the trunk of the tree, it met not with the rugged texture of earthy bark but instead with the smooth surface of cold, hard stone. Ampharos knocked against the tree for good measure. For all intents and purposes, that section of the tree may as well have been a stone statue. Ampharos pulled out his expedition gadget. This was something he needed to record. He had the feeling it was going to be of great importance in the future.

Whelp, I think I have an idea of why Pokémon Square mysteriously went dark. Though that's actually a fun integration of why you just flatly never hear of it again in Super in spite of its continent being in-game.

The entire class of Serenity Village immediately stopped horseaing around and assumed their seats at the speed of light as Farfetch'd marched into the outdoor classroom. Watchog followed, eyeing the class suspiciously from the sentry spot he took in the background. Farfetched walked up to the teacher's desk, twirling his leak like a baton before stomping it to the ground like a cane. Everyone jumped to attention at the abrupt noise it made, and Farfetch'd cleared his throat, now sure he had everyone's attention.

>dat pun
I mean, it fits the setting, but boy is that a groaner. :V

"Espurr, please introduce yourself." Farfetch'd gracefully cleared the way with his stalk.

"Good morning," Espurr began, reciting the well-rehearsed speech she had mentally practice for the occasion this morning. "My name is Espurr. I wish to become a student here at the Serenity Village School, and I hope that we can all become good friends and classmates in the near future."

A few quiet snickers (and one loud 'pffffffffffffft') emerged from Pancham's side of the classroom, but apart from that, she was received with warm curiosity and mild interest.

Espurr: "(Well that's one way to learn who to avoid like the plague in class. Not that the episode with Goomy yesterday wasn't already a giant tip-off.)" >_>;

"Isn't this so cool?" Tricky whispered to her the moment she sat down. "Not only do we get to attend the same school and detentions, but we get to sit right next to each other, too!" she immediately straightened up once she noticed that Watchog was watching her.

Espurr: "(So much for getting away from Tricky after the week of medical observation winds down.) Er... yeah, 'cool'." -_-;

"Now that we have that out of the way…" Farfetch'd began to write on the blackboard with the chalk in his wing. "As I'm sure I don't need to remind you, we are entering the last school week before Summer Vacation. And since we all know you're going to spend Summer Vacation letting your brains rot…"

He finally finished jotting down whatever he was writing on the chalkboard, letting the class see just what he had written down. "We will spend this last week reviewing our current curriculum!"

There was a collective groan from the class at the idea of reviewing old material, save for Espurr (who had no idea what the class curriculum was) and Deerling, who was more pre-occupied with scratching at her bright pink coat than much else.

Espurr: "I mean, it could be worse. We could be going through exams-"
Tricky: "Espurr, don't give Farfetch'd ideas here!" >.<

He took a leaf through the fat history book on the teacher's desk.

"…Ah! Yes. Here it is. The Human Age. The earliest scrap of recorded history we have in our current possession dates back to over 10,000 years ago. In fact, it's even where we get our current time system from. It's said that many of the things the Humans left behind have been passed down and become deeply-integrated parts of our culture, from spoons to sundials to even—Deerling?"

Time system meaning the way datekeeping is handled? Calendar epoch? Or something different? Whatever the story, I see we're getting into the setting's post-human roots pretty fast.

"Yes, Mr. Farfetch'd?" she asked, trying her best not to sound irritated.

"Would you like to be excused?" Farfetch'd asked. "I'm sure Nurse Audino can do something for your molting."

Deerling immediately stood up from her desk and made a beeline for Audino's office.

Espurr: "Uh... Deerling molt?"
:TailsEww:

Tricky: "Aw, it's just shedding! Perfectly normal, Espurr! I do it all the time!"
Espurr: "Tricky. Stop. Talking." >.<

"…Due to various relics and ancient texts we've pieced together over history, we pokemon have been able to get a pretty good idea of what happened to the Humans," Farfetch'd continued.

Without warning, he suddenly leapt on the desk and slammed his leek into the chalkboard, jolting the rest of the bored-to-death class to attention. Watchog, who had fallen asleep in the corner, jolted awake with a high-pitched scream.

"Bam! Wiped out! Just like that." Farfetched paused for a moment, stepping off the teacher's desk he had jumped on. "By what? We don't know, only that the pokemon were left to pick up the pieces, and no-mon's even seen what a true Human looks like since."

Espurr listened intently, absorbing the information with an interest unrivaled by anyone in her class. The ghostly concept of a Human continued to float around in the back of her mind for the rest of the class.

I see that Farfetch'd's a fan of jump scares.
:charhaha:


Though that's making me curious as to what sort of wibbly-wobbly drew Espurr here given that the indigenous humans have been extinct for almost as long as human civilization has existed in reality.

School wasn't so bad, Espurr decided. At least, it wasn't the dread-fest Tricky seemed to be anticipating. Farfetch'd held the first class, and proved himself a very motivational speaker when he wanted to be. Then, there was Audino's session on medicinal herbs, berries, and health, which seemed extra boring following Farfetch'd's class. But the class wasn't that dull, and Audino was nice enough; Espurr didn't think too badly of it.

Espurr: "Wait, being taught medicine while we're in grade school? What is standard curriculum here anyways, Tricky?"
Tricky: -shrugs- "I dunno, do you really expect me to pay attention to this sort of stuff?" ^^;
Espurr: "... Right. Fair point." -_-;

Watchog taught the dungeon class, and it was safe to say he was not a very encouraging teacher at all. It wasn't like he could go five minutes without warning his students about what would happen if they were ever caught doing the things he taught unsupervised under his watch. Watchog's class was the only one the students of Serenity Village made an effort to at least pretend they were paying full attention to.

Probably a good thing there doesn't seem to be standardized testing for Serenity Village, since somehow I doubt there'd be a lot of high marks with an educational ethic like that.
:shimmersweatdrop:


"Mr. Watchog?" Espurr annoyedly brushed away the dust Watchog had unwittingly kicked into her fur.

"Vice Principal Watchog," Watchog muttered. "What is it?"

"Why are we the ones leading?" Espurr asked. "You seem to have all the directions, yet you're making us lead the way, when we clearly have no idea where we're going."

Vice Principal Watchog sputtered. "I… I have to make sure you don't run off while I'm not looking! Wouldn't be the first time we've had deserters…" He growled, staring at Tricky.

"Sharp right!" he yelled a second later. Everymon perplexedly took a sharp right.

Espurr: "Wait. 'Deserters'? But this is just detention, not the military. Shouldn't you be using something more innocuous like 'truants'?" ._.
Tricky: "Considering how gung ho he's getting about barking orders, it wouldn't really shock me if he used these detentions to live out his fantasies-"
Watchog: "I heard that! Keep up that smarmy mouth, and you'll talk yourself into an extension of your detention period!" >:|

"Now we're just back on the path," Tricky observed in an obnoxious tone. "Do you even know where you're going, Mr. Watchog?" she asked cheerfully.

"For the last time…" Watchog sputtered, his face red, "It's VICE PRINCIPAL WATCHOG! And yes, I took a wrong turn. Fight me. All straights from here."

:lolcat:


I presume that 'Fight me' in this setting is used in a sense akin to 'Bite me'? Though this 'mon really can't help himself, can he? :V

"Here we are," Watchog drawled. "The three of you will be spending detention picking tomorrow's lunch. Here's a list from Princip[al] Simipour, outlining what you need to pick and where." He handed out a trio of lists to Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy, who took it with his slimy paws. Espurr looked over the list, her eyes scanning through the squiggle-like text in confusion. She couldn't read this!

Minor typo in the text there.

Espurr: "... Also, how is this not violating a whole bunch of ethical standards to force kids to go out and pick berries as punishment?" .-.
Tricky: "That's what I said last time! Everyone just ignored me and called me a troublemaker!" >_>;
Espurr: "(Gee, I wonder why?)"

"I can't read this. Are there any in English?"

Watchog's face fell as fast as his prospects of a well-behaved student.

"…What's English?" he asked suspiciously. "Is this another prank?"

"Of course not, Vice Principal," Espurr started quickly before Watchog could continue his paranoid train of thought. "English is…"

She stopped short when she realized she didn't actually know what English was. It was another one of those memories that had appeared on the tip of her tongue, and then slipped away without a second thought.

"…A dead language," she carefully finished. "It's all I was taught to read."

That actually makes me curious as to whether or not Espurr would recognize English writing given that she knows it's a thing, but not what it is from her dialogue.

Tricky didn't like the sound of that. She began to physically drag Espurr into the Oran Berry Section by her good arm. Goomy accidentally dropped his copy of the list as he slimed after them. He watched it blow off into the fields helplessly, carried off on a sudden gust of wind.

"That Watchog is evil!" Tricky gasped once Watchog was out of earshot. "He wouldn't cancel Summer Vacation, would he?"

"I-I think he would," Goomy stuttered as he slimed up, his eyes peeled to the paranoid otter loitering about stiffly in the distance.

Espurr: "... Isn't he more of a meerkat?"
- Espurr looks down at her still-broken arm -
Espurr: "Though, yeah. I kinda have to admit that Tricky's making kind of a compelling argument here." >_>;
Tricky: "See! I told you! When am I ever wrong?"
Goomy: "Er... all the time?"
- Beat moment -
Tricky: "Well I'm not wrong here!"

"Exactly 50 orans… ten apples…" Watchog searched through the students' baskets, his own copy of the list in his hands. "10 carrots, fresh dug…"

A moment later, he put both the list and the baskets down, a look of complete and utter shock on his face.

"I don't believe it…" he muttered in disbelief. "You actually got everything. And without any problems, too…" He just caught himself from swooning. "I think I need to sit down…"

Given that one throwaway mention of the incident involving Tricky and Pop's Oran Field, I'm half-expecting it to turn out that they just stole them from someone's field instead of picking them properly. :V

"It was only the oran section that took longer." Tricky happily stated, licking the oran berry juice off her paws before it could stain her fur.

"Y-you ate some of the berries?" Goomy just stopped himself from crying out in shock. "We could get g-grounded for that!"

"Eh." Tricky finished licking the last of the juice off her snout, causally falling back on her haunches. "What Watchog doesn't know won't hurt him. Right, Espurr?"

Oh, so they did steal some of those berries and things they were picking. Just not in the way I was expecting.

A gust of sudden wind ruffled Espurr's fur. She looked eastward to the forest from which it had come. A large sheet of paper flipped and fluttered through the air, slowly soaring lower and lower as it continued to surf the wind. By the time it reached Espurr, it was flying low enough for her to leap up and grab, and she plucked it out of the air with her one good arm.

"Ooh—what's that?"

Espurr jumped, startled by the sudden exclamation from behind her. Tricky ran up, Goomy doing his best to keep up with her.

"Oh." Espurr tried to keep the paper out of the dry dirt the best she could with only one hand at her disposal. "I don't know. It blew in on the wind."

"Hey! Troublemakers!" Watchog yelled a distance away, apparently recovered from his near-fainting spell. "The forests are off-limits! You'd better stay clear!"

Espurr: "Well so much for being able to get to the bottom of that mystery." >_>;
Tricky: "Hrmph, I'm not just rolling over that easy. There's gotta be a way to get this past Mr. Watchog."

"We'll hide it under the baskets," Tricky chirped, happily trotting off. "Watchog will never find it."

As Tricky and Goomy headed off, Espurr cast a quick glance up towards the sun before following, which was already beginning to dip into an early sunset.

It was hot.

Tricky: "See! Piece of cake!" ^^
Espurr: "Why do I suspect that this is going to go horribly wrong somehow?" >_>;
Tricky: "Espurr, it's a piece of paper. What's the worst it could possibly do?"

Chapter 3

"I never understood how you manage to sleep on Lapras' backs," Archen said, ruffling his feathers in exhaustion as he stepped onto the dock after Mawile. "Don't you ever worry about falling off?"

- Mawile makes biting motions with her horns -
Mawile: "Got a leg up for staying on, remember?"
Archen: "... Hrmph. You'd think that it'd be standard issue to equip Lapras with the likes of a howdah or something."

Mawile, whose time management ran in the same vein as the Chief's (or, as Archen sorely referred to it, 'Drop-Dead Organization'), wanted to be back in Baram Town before dark, which required chartering a lapras in the dead of night and setting out only moments after. They had arrived in Baram Town at the crack of dawn, and Lapras promised to return for them the next day.

Mawile marked off the second box on a page in her travel journal, which Archen saw was marked 'Arrive in Baram Town' (the first was 'Charter Lapras').

Archen: "Mawile, what exactly would we have done if we didn't successfully charter that Lapras again?" >v>;
Mawile: "... We'd need to just revise the plan slightly to get back to Baram Town before the next dawn. No biggie."
Archen: "... Of course." >v<

"Trial and error," she replied, stowing the journal 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."

... Or you could learn that way, that works too.
:hoodLUL:


"Ah—just a minute!" he called out with a sense of manufactured cheer, hurriedly straightening things on all their shelves. "I'll be ready for you in just a minute~! Bit of a late day today…"

Archen had a bit of a hard time fathoming how anymon could consider this late, but he wasn't given the time to think on it. Mawile handed him her exploration bag for the items, which Archen reluctantly took in his wings.

That's nocturnal life for ya, sonny.

"Actually…" he began, wringing his hands together uncomfortably, "My shipments come from the Rescuer's Guild in Pokemon Plaza. I haven't had a delivery in over two weeks, I'm afraid…" He fiddled with his fingers in stress.

Mawile took a minute to study the list.

"I think we can make a few exceptions, then," she conceded, pulling an inked quill out of the bag Archen was holding and deftly crossing several things off. Kecleon's face relaxed considerably at the large number of crossed-out items when Mawile handed it back. "We happen to be on our way to Pokemon Plaza ourselves," she said.

Actually, I just realized. But the name of the town is slightly different from canon of 'Pokémon Square'. As is Serenity Village. Are those deliberate to this setting to hint that it's different, or are those goofs?


"Actually…" he began, wringing his hands together uncomfortably, "My shipments come from the Rescuer's Guild in Pokemon Plaza. I haven't had a delivery in over two weeks, I'm afraid…" He fiddled with his fingers in stress.

Mawile took a minute to study the list.

"I think we can make a few exceptions, then," she conceded, pulling an inked quill out of the bag Archen was holding and deftly crossing several things off. Kecleon's face relaxed considerably at the large number of crossed-out items when Mawile handed it back. "We happen to be on our way to Pokemon Plaza ourselves," she said.

"R-really?" Kecleon's face lit up as he removed items from the shelves. "What for?"

"HAPPI business," Archen grumpily chimed in before Mawile could answer. Grunt work, more like. "We're investigating the sudden cut-off of communications in the area."

Archen: "Mawile, I still say that it's a terrible idea for just the two of us to go there. Like doesn't this feel the least bit ominous to you?" >v>
Mawile: "I mean, yeah. But orders are orders. Plus it's probably just something like a cut-off pass."
Archen: "A cut-off pass that stopped air traffic?"
- Beat moment -
Mawile: "A cut-off pass and some weird weather. Look, the point is, I'm sure there's some reasonable explanations for this! (... I hope.)"

Kecleon dived under the counter, emerging with a quill and paper. He tallied the prices of all the ingredients up in his head so fast Archen was surprised they hadn't established a shopkeeper's monopoly yet (until his tired mind reminded him that they had), writing the final bill at the bottom of the paper and sliding it to Mawile.

So is all retail in this setting just done through the Kecleon? Or else have they cornered a specific retail segment? If the former, who'd they need to reach out to to set up that sort of cushy arrangement? o3o;;

Archen took it reluctantly, watching Mawile pull out a chesto berry of her own and take a large bite of it. It seemed she was more tired than she let on. All those nights of sleepless rune research must have taken their toll on her after all.

"It'll take us approximately seven hours to arrive at Pokemon Plaza," Mawile stated, taking another bite of the bitter berry. "In other words, high noon. We both need to be at our best for this."

She downed the rest of it like it was a rare delicacy. Archen grimaced through his beak at the sight. He grumbled quietly before taking a bite. This was going to give him indigestion later.

Somehow, I suspect indigestion will be the least of your problems, Archen.

"Wait right here," Watchog ordered them as they approached Kecleon's stall. "I have to purchase the non-pickables. I don't want to see you standing one centimeter out of place when I return, or I'll assign summer detention for all three of you. Got it?"

"Got it…" All three students recited wearily.

Satisfied enough, Watchog started towards Kecleon's stall, leaving the three students on their own. Espurr took a seat on the ground the moment he had turned his back, almost drooping with sleep just like her classmates. The day had taken quite a toll on all three of them, Watchog's detention in particular. It was taking most of Espurr's willpower to keep herself from napping in the street.

Whelp, have fun in summer detention, kids.
:charhaha:


"I hope 'Vice Principal' Watchog hasn't been too hard on you," she said, trying to keep a straight face at the sight of Tricky's acting. "He has a penchant for working the detention students to the brink of exhaustion sometimes." Audino's sentence ended with a bit of an edge to her voice. Even without it, Espurr could sense she didn't have a very good opinion of him.

"W-we know…" Goomy sighed dejectedly.

Espurr: "Wait, what is the story between Audino and Watchog anyways? How come she doesn't seem to like him much?"
Tricky: "Because Watchog's a power-tripper with an overinflated sense of importance who tries to bully around anyone under him?" >_>;
Espurr: "... Okay yeah, that's a pretty good reason not to like him."

>this argument between Audino and Watchog Yeah, I stand by that read earlier.

Espurr happily tuned out what was obviously about to devolve into a petty argument, in favor of watching the cloaked pokemon who was clumsily wandering through the square. He was yellow from head to toe; for what little the earth-green cloak concealed, it did nothing to hide the pokemon underneath. Espurr briefly wondered why he had it. She stepped out from behind the arguing Audino and Watchog, heading over towards the Kecleon Stall to get a better look.

"Pardon me—coming through, I'm afraid—" He stumbled through a group of conversing pokemon after tripping on a rock, the orangeish orb on his tail glowing dimly in what Espurr assumed must have been embarrassment. Was this normal? she thought. He seemed so… clumsy.

Tricky yawned loudly, walking over to stick her nose into the second most interesting thing happening in the square at that moment. Her eyes widened once she saw the pokemon.

"What's[ ]his problem?" she quizzically asked, for once too tired to set off another domino stack of mischief. Espurr looked at her briefly, no longer surprised by her abrupt interruptions anymore.

Missing a space there.

Espurr: "... Is he drunk? He sure seems to be having trouble staying upright."
Tricky: "Sounds plenty sober to me! Maybe he's just balance-challenged! It could be a personality quirk!"

"—My sincerest apologies, madame," the tall yellow pokemon apologized to a passing lotad as he picked himself up from the ground. "I think it's this way," he confidently stated, pointing straight in Tricky's direction. Only seconds later, he tripped over the exact same rock that had sent him sprawling to the ground in the first place. Both Espurr and Tricky barely managed to clear the way before the pokemon went barreling through and stopped just short of Hawlucha's Slam School (An otherwise unremarkable tent near the southwest end of the square).

Espurr blinked twice in shock at the sight, watching Tricky stare at the crashed pokemon, eyes wide and mouth agape.

The pokemon twitched, raising himself from the ground clumsily.

Tricky: "... Okay, I'll admit. If he'd sounded a little slurred and I'd smelled berry juice on his breath, I probably would have thought he was drunk there."

"I'm Tricky. That's Espurr." Tricky's introduction was swift and brash. "We're going to join the Expedition Society when we get older!"

It was Espurr's turn to let her mouth hang open in shock. She caught it before it could become embarrassing, staring at Tricky in surprise. When had she agreed to that?!

"You're a travelling pokemon, right?" Tricky promptly began to bombard Ampharos with her usual truckload of questions, all tiredness forgotten for the time being. "Have you been to the Expedition Society? Have you? Huh?"

Oh lol. I see that really is tradition on Tricky's part. :V

"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.

"But now, unfortunately, I must now bid you all adieu, goodbye, tally-ho!" he exclaimed, stumbling up towards the Café Connection. "I have some important errands to tend to."

Tricky: "... Yeah, I'm not buying that at all."
Espurr: "He did seem to be rather evasive earlier. (Not that I blame him for not wanting to answer 50 questions.) Though why would he want to come here?"

In other words, Ampharos had an important pokemon to find. And after an hour of walking around the village, he was none the closer to finding the mon he was looking for. He stopped at the door of the café, feigning a loss of breath to buy himself some time to think. In just about an hour, he had discreetly 'tested' every single adult pokemon who happened to live in the village (The place was rather secluded. Newcomers wouldn't get far without knowing the lay of the land, he theorized, which all-but ruled out the pokemon he was looking for). His questions were mere history trivia, the sort of things anymon would know provided they'd grown up here all their lives. But, so far every single adult pokemon in the village had answered his questions correctly, and therefore incorrectly, which allowed Ampharos to quickly narrow the possibilities down to three on the spot: they were A. dead/lost in the wilderness (Ampharos very much hoped it wasn't this one.), B. extremely clever and a good liar, or…

…C. They weren't an adult pokemon. Ampharos suddenly realized that last option made much more sense than it should have. But his actions today had already earned him the title of travelling madmon, he was sure; he couldn't simply go around asking about the village children! Not unless he planned to blow his cover, or spend a night in the local jail (Thereby blowing his cover in the most undignified way possible). If only there was another way…

Unless if this is stylistically specific to Ampharos' thought process I think that the top paragraph can probably stand to be broken in two, since that's a lot of words in a single block.

He glanced back at the pair of children he had just met. The fennekin had asked about the Expedition Society… Perhaps there was a silver lining to his sudden dizzy spell after all. Disguising it as a quick bump against the doors of the café, he discreetly let his own spare Connection Orb fall from his bag. (Ampharos was a minimalist packer, but he had found it was always wise to keep a spare connection orb on him.) It rolled out in the middle of the square, over to where he knew they would see it.

Sure enough, a moment later, he saw the espurr and fennekin walk over, picking it up and chattering to themselves amongst it. A few times he got the creeping feeling the espurr could see him through the window, but he was pretending to stare at a menu, so he doubted the young pokemon suspected anything. This way… He'd have his answer in no time flat. If the newly arrived Human was among the village children, he'd roll with it. If not… He'd just ask for the orb back a few days later. Win-win. Ampharos began to truthfully study the menu for the first time.

Espurr and Tricky took a good long look at the Café Connection as the kooky ampharos chatted with Kangaskhan.

"That… was mega weird," Tricky concluded, after a long, quiet pause.

Ampharos:


"Now that I think of it… you never told me where you came from, did you?" Tricky asked, slowing to a trot beside Espurr. "That's like, question number #2 on the list of things friends should know about each other!"

Espurr mentally froze. She still didn't have an alibi of any kind to cover for her lack of memory past the last couple of days!

Espurr: "(Would Tricky really find it unreasonable to believe that I hit my head falling out of that tree and got amnesia?)"
Tricky: "Well, aren't ya gonna answer?"
Espurr: "Uhh..."

"It's like I said," she replied, staring at Tricky. "I… Got lost in the woods, and Nurse Audino found me and took me here."

"Yeah, but where did you come from?" Tricky dashed in front of Espurr, walking backwards up the path. 'Come on—I want the juicy bits!"

Espurr panicked inside. There were no 'juicy bits' to give! Aside from the trio of beheeyem that apparently wanted her hide, but she had a nagging feeling that was best kept to herself. And with six days of Watchog's taxing detentions ahead of them, she'd barely given any thought to the issue at all.

"I… don't want to talk about it," she finally said.

"Spoilsport." Tricky spun around, scurrying up the road and heading towards a house decorated like a large blue shell.

Espurr: "(Wait, she just accepted that explanation? Or was that her impulsiveness that saved me again?)" ._.
Tricky: "Oi! Hurry it up, Espurr!"
Espurr: "(Okay, it was definitely her impulsiveness that carried me there.)"

"So…" The immense blue turtle grunted out, one of his flippers curled around a large spoon. A massive spread of different dishes lay in front of them, Tricky's plates piled high with choice selections from every dish. Espurr sat next to her with a small piece of fish on her plate.

Espurr: "Wait, so is that fish fish? Or do wild Pokémon get cut up for food in this story?"
- Tricky shrugs back -
Tricky: "Meh, don't question it. I'm sure the story will give you an answer sooner or later."

"You brought a friend." The turtle took a deliberate sip from the spoon, eyeing Espurr suspiciously.

"Yep." Tricky took a large bite of a stuffed bell pepper lying on a plate to her left.

"On leftover night."

"Yep." Crumbs went flying everywhere as she scarfed down half of a piece of peach cake on the plate to her right.

"Use your table manners!" he shouted, jarring her out of the cake she was currently driving her snout into. "We don't eat like dungeon wildlings in front of our guests!"

Espurr: "Uh... Tricky, not that I'm not grateful for the food, but shouldn't you have gotten Carracosta's approval before bringing me here?"
Tricky: "I-It's approval enough!" >_>;

"What is Dungeon Eating." The big blue turtle asked, only half incredulously. He had seen too much of this.

Immediately Tricky perked up again, her eyes gleaming with that mischievous glint Espurr was beginning to know too well.

"Weeeeell…" she began. "You know how you're in a mystery dungeon, and you don't have the time to sit down and prepare great big meals?"

"No." Tricky's father replied, his tone as flat as the one-word sentence he spoke.

Oh lol, I can already tell this conversation's going to go places.
:loltias:


"And how does this 'Dungeon Eating' work?"

"Easy!" Tricky declared. "You just eat everything on your plate as fast as you can! Like this…"

Carracosta stopped Tricky with another one of his outbursts before she could begin messily scarfing her food down again.

"NO! I won't hear of it! You'll eat your food like a respectable 'mon, or not at all!"

Carracosta has a lot of restraint to not just go "show's over, go to your room" and bid goodnight to Espurr there. And Tricky's really obviously a glutton for punishment. :V

Espurr: "Tricky, why would you do this when it was very obviously just going to antagonize your 'Pop'?" >_>;
Tricky: "... I was hoping he'd find it endearing?"
:fearfullaugh:

Carracosta: "Well, I don't. So now either eat normally or this visitation's getting cut short." >:|

"Fine…"

Tricky sat down, taking smaller bites of her cake. Crumbs still flew, to Carracosta's dismay, but not nearly as many.

Silently deciding that trying to interpret what had just happened in front of her wasn't worth the brainpower, Espurr took a polite bite of the fish on her plate.

Lol, Tricky just doesn't give up, huh?

Tricky scoffed. "Well, lucky you, sleeping in Nurse Audino's office. We kids just don't have the privilege! Besides, the thing I really wanna show you is hidden on purpose."

She began to scurry towards the corner of the room where her bed was (An actual bed; Espurr realized, not a mass of straw. Tricky's father must have been generous).

"You've hidden things by accident?" Espurr asked, curious. Coming from Tricky, that sounded worryingly plausible.

Espurr: "Because most people would just call that 'losing' whatever was 'hidden' that way." >_>;
Tricky: "No, no. There's still a difference! Trust me, I've lost some things before, and it wasn't things I hid without trying."

Espurr waited a few minutes, then decided to peek under the bed as Tricky dug. A yellow paw slapped her away amongst the digging.

"No spoilers!" A muffled Tricky yelled from under the bed. A few dusty books with the picture of what looked like a turtle pokemon on the cover inadvertently slid out on the floor from all Tricky's digging.

A moment later, Tricky herself emerged from under the bed, releasing both a cloud of dust that shot out into both their faces, and a box.

"Ready?" she asked. Espurr didn't feel that question particularly needed to be answered.

Espurr: "... Do I even have a choice here?" -_-;
Tricky: "Nope!" ^^

"Huh." Tricky shook the scarves to expel all the dust. "They are a little dusty, aren't they? I haven't used them in so long…"

She slipped one around her neck, trying to get a feel of the material again.

"Like 'em?" she joyfully asked Espurr, trotting circles around the room. "I totally forgot about them until now! I used to wear these both to school every day."

Espurr carefully picked the spare scarf up with her good paw, admiring the way the fabric shimmered bright blue and bright green at the same time. Just the fabric itself seemed lofty- as if the scarf was not of this world at all. She turned it around in her hand, noticing what looked like the tiniest nick just above the tie of the neck.

Espurr: "Tricky, how long have you had these in here? If I didn't know any better, I'd say there was enough dust in here to look like these had been sitting here from the human era!"
Tricky: "Oh come on, I might be a bit slow in school, but I'm not that old. This is probably a year's worth, tops. Maybe two."

"I know, right?" Tricky was practically beaming with excitement. "I don't remember why I stopped wearing them—"

She suddenly froze mid-sentence, her ears lowering just a little. Espurr caught the motion before it disappeared, and she felt a sudden wave of negativity pierce through her head. It had been the same as back outside the Foreboding Forest, and it blotted out Espurr's thoughts until she moved back a bit.

"Tricky?" she asked. The fennekin didn't even glance at at her. "Is something wrong?"

Tricky removed the scarf, putting it back in the case. She dejectedly took the scarf Espurr was holding, putting it on top of the other one and shutting the lid of the case.

"Never mind that…" she said, shoving the case back under her bed, and all of the sudden she was back to her normal, perky self. The negative cloud disappeared in an instant, hitting Espurr like a truck.

Wait, is Espurr picking up emotional states from Tricky? Otherwise what's with the 'wave of negativity' she's sensing there? Espurr: "(Did something bad happen to Tricky while wearing these scarves in the past ? Otherwise what was with that reaction?)" ._.

Tricky: "Well, no need to worry about those. Why don't we go find something else to do?" ^^
- Espurr casts a glance back at the drawer under the bed -
Espurr: "If you say so, Tricky..."

Between the two of them and Tricky's bottomless stomach, the table was cleared in only ten minutes, and the empty dishes set aside for Carracosta to Water Gun to cleanliness later. Afterwards, Espurr bid both Tricky and Carracosta good night, and set off on her way to the school. She almost remembered to pick up the strange blue orb on her way out.

Almost.

Uh-oh. That surely can't bode well.

"How close are we?" he asked grumpily, a tiny bit of edge creeping back into his normally scratchy voice. Chesto berries didn't agree well with his stomach.

Mawile looked up from the map she was reading.

"Very worrying," she spoke up a moment later, seemingly ignoring Archen's question.

"What's worrying?" Archen asked bluntly.

"If I'm reading this map correctly," Mawile calmly began, shaking her maw free of yet another low-jutting stick, "Then we should be getting close to Pokemon Plaza. And yet, the underbrush remains just as untamed as it's been this whole trip."

Archen: "So... we've been going the wrong way all this time?"
Mawile: "No. Everything about our route's been proper so far."
- Mawile looks around at the overgrown surroundings -
Mawile: "This... is something else."

"Pokemon Plaza is a frequented area," Mawile continued. "Therefore, the land around it should be maintained weekly, unlike the anomaly we see here." She gestured briefly to the overgrown flora around her, recording the present discoveries on her clipboard.

Archen shrugged the best he could with a considerably light sack of dungeon supplies around his back. "Maybe Air Continentals just don't like tidiness," he said.

"I think not," Mawile replied. "We're on the main traveling route. Pokemon from all continents frequent this path. But these shrubs have been growing for a couple of weeks unchecked, minimum."

"Then maybe you read the map wrong," Archen proposed.

Wow. And I wrote that bit on a lark. I wasn't expecting the text to almost immediately mirror it. Though that would line up with Pokémon Plaza going completely dark as of two weeks ago. The unsettled question right now is why though.

He didn't notice Mawile had stopped until he bumped straight into her. A moment later, he saw why. Just ten feet down the path, a tarped wagon sat on its side. The most putrid of smells wafted from under the tarp, making Archen want to puke up the chesto berry he had consumed earlier.

Then again, his stomach argued. Maybe that would be a good thing.

Hitched to the wagon sat a perfect stone statue of a lucario, staring up at the sky in horror at something that was no longer there.

I mean, I was kinda expecting this when literally nobody came from Pokémon Plaza for two weeks, but it's still a chilling delivery there.

Archen:
:uhhh:

Mawile: "What- What is this?"

Ignoring Archen's incessant feather-ruffling, Mawile strode over to the tarped wagon, holding her breath when the smell became too putrid to bear. She whipped off the tarp with her maw, spinning full circle and casting the tarp away to see what the wagon held.

" I knew it…" Mawile muttered, taking out her journal and recording the finding as Archen gagged in the distance.

Setting the journal aside, Mawile leaned in towards the mishmash of rotting berries and other ingredients, picking up an oran by the stem in her hand. It had molded over and bruised in several places, and felt more like a miniature sack of water than anything else.

"Ugh…" Archen muttered in the background, his voice now hoarse. "Sleep deprivation and vomiting in one day… sucks."

:TailsEww:


Though that's surprisingly vivid for a scene without any viscera. Really sets a mood there.

"He was attacked from behind," Mawile stated, stepping back. "And if this example is anything to go by, we can assume all of Pokemon Plaza looks like this as well."

The findings were recorded in Mawile's journal, and then they pressed forward. Mawile' deductions held true as they went. The underbrush only seemed to get worse the further in they treaded, and eventually they happened upon the statue of a scyther wildly slashing at something from the underbrush.

"The hedgekeeper, I assume." Mawile marked it all down on her journal. Archen fearfully glanced at the statue as they went.

Archen: "Mawile, if we already know what to expect, why are we still going forward? This place gives me the creeps!"
Mawile: "Look, Archen, we need to submit a report about what happened. Let's just hurry up, get this over with, and get out."

They could see the short buildings of the great city of Pokemon Plaza through the trees as they walked. The area around them was eerily quiet. Soon after that, Mawile and Archen entered the main square of the city, which was filled with the statues of countless pokemon running in terror. Some were frozen in place, permanently going about their day in a fossilized shard of time, while others had apparently been caught running about in terror. From the looks on their faces, none of them had seen it coming.

"Okay…" Archen nervously ruffled his feathers. "We've seen what we need to. Let's go back now. We'll declare the place off-limits, done."

"We can't declare the place off-limits until we have solid grounds to do so on," Mawile told him, pulling both their expedition gadgets from her bag and handing one to Archen. "I'll need a little help photographing everything. Starting…"

No, seriously Mawile. Listen to the little bird. This entire setup is just screaming "bad news" right now.

Archen: "'We can't declare the place off-limits until we have solid grounds to do so on'. Oh my gods, Mawile, are you even listening to yourself right now?! Just look around!"
- Beat moment as Mawile sighs -
Mawile: "Look, if we go back without solid proof, we're going to get written off as having gotten plastered at a Juice Bar. Let's get it, and then we can bail, okay?"

She walked over to the Plaza's secondary entrance, where a collection of the five largest statues stood. Mawile only needed to lay her eyes on them once to recognize them immediately: Teams Go-Getters and A.C.T., reduced to nothing but stone statues. Like almost every statue the pair had encountered so far, they were standing in battle position, ready to fight something that had obviously overpowered them all in seconds. Mawile barely restrained her panic to a muted gasp. She was shaken, but she couldn't let it get the best of her. The best thing to do right now was to take photos and report back to the Expedition Society. Lest whatever had done this come back again.

:unownf:


Archen photographed the various statues on the opposite side of the square, working in tandem with Mawile until they had amassed through pictures a decent reconstruction of the scene. Looking through the evidence, Mawile didn't notice the dark figure slinking along the rooftop until it accidentally kicked a roof tile to the ground. She spun around just in time to see it conjure what seemed like a shadow ball with its claws, aiming at Archen.

"Look out—"

Mawile dropped her expedition gadget, pulling Archen out of the way before the attack could land. It exploded against the wall of a house, turning the doorway to stone.

Both Mawile and Archen assumed a battle stance, looking straight at the blurred figure that stood on the roof. It was muscular, quadrupedal, and pitch-black; it looked like somemon had cut a hole in the fabric of reality.

Archen: "I wanted to bail from this place, but no, we needed to stay and get your stupid pictures!" >v>;
Mawile: "Look, how was I supposed to know a monster would abruptly show up! Just brace yourself here!"

The charging figure that emerged from the wreckage a split second later tried to snap them up in its claws as it went, but Mawile pulled herself and Archen down low. The monster skidded over them, ramping up against the houses on the other end and charging back at them.

Mawile was swift. As Archen charged a Dragon Breath in retaliation, she pulled a blast seed from her exploration bag, and hurled it at the creature in time with Archen's attack—

The purple-colored explosion created by both the blast seed and the dragon breath would have brought the world's strongest pokemon to the brink of fainting, and both Mawile and Archen had to quickly scramble back to avoid being damaged by the resulting explosion as well. But, when the explosion cleared, the shadowy figure was still standing all the same. Mawile almost lost her bearings in shock. What creature was it, to survive a blast as powerful as that?

Clever combo there, even if it didn't quite pan out.

Archen caught his breath heavily, picking up his fallen gadget from the ground.

"Are those good enough grounds for you?" he asked, trying to keep his voice down to a reasonable level. Mawile could still hear the fear in it.

She gathered her bag and gadget silently, recovering from the event. In all her years of exploration, she had never seen, heard, or read about anything like that before.

Unbeknownst to the two explorers, a single flake of blackness blew off in the wind, off in the direction of Baram Town.

Finished gathering their supplies, Mawile and Archen began the return trip to Baram Town. It would prove one of their most bicker-free trips to date.

Oh yeah, that's not ominous at all. Though I have to wonder whether Archen and Mawile or the dark flake will beat the other back to Baram Town, since I'm not sure which of those scenarios would turn out worse for those two.

"That was mighty irresponsible of him," Audino grumbled as she removed Espurr's cast. Espurr sat on one of the straw beds, watching her carefully cut it away. It was made of a hardened block of paste, one that curled around Espurr's arm and kept it from healing bent. It was soiled and dirty from the day's activities, and some dirt had even wormed its way through the cast and onto her arm.

"I tried to advocate to the Principal in favor of your injury," Audino continued, cutting through the cast and removing it, "But he insisted nothing would happen! That it wouldn't get dirtied or wet or torn off…" she scoffed, setting the cast aside. "Sometimes I think he's just as ignorant as his Vice Principal is."

She got up to retrieve another cast from her medicine cabinet, leaving Espurr to look over her broken arm. It throbbed dully, the pain centering where the fracture must have been. The cast had kept Espurr from moving it too much, and over the course of the past two days, the pain had become little more than background noise in her mind. She tried to move it, suddenly feeling it return tenfold. Espurr let out a sudden gasp as the white-hot pain shot up her arm.

Yeah, I knew that that berry-picking montage felt more than a little dodgy. I wasn't expecting this to happen, but it's a logical outcome for making a kid in a cast do field work.

"Now, you don't move that under any circumstances," Audino told Espurr, standing up. "Understand? If Watchog tells you to do anything of the sort, you tell him it's the nurse's orders." She put the medical supplies back inside the cupboard, closing the door with just a hint of repressed anger.

"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: "What is the story with Audino and Watchog? She seems like she's at odds with him at times... and yet she doesn't seem to have much sway with Principal Simipour to rein him in."
- Espurr looks down at cast and sighs -
Espurr: "I suppose it can wait for a better hour. Though I have to wonder what I'm going to get stuck with as a surrogate task for detention. Watchog doesn't seem like the type to just let students slip away thanks to doctor's orders."

"Don't look at me." Deerling's dejected voice drifted out from the bed behind Espurr.

Espurr tried to turn herself around the best she could without disturbing her arm.

"I don't think we've properly met," she said, preparing to introduce herself. "I'm—"

"Save it," Deerling hissed. "I'm not in the mood. Go to sleep."

Espurr: "... I don't think I want to know. I'm just gonna go ahead and conk out here."

And made it to the end @SparklingEspeon . Things are still on a bit of a slow boil at the moment, but it was neat to see what I presume is the core plot rear its head, and boy did it leave an impression. Kudos on the work, and hope you had fun with this review. Since I know I'll be looking forward to where you take things from here, especially when/where things go firmly off the rails from canon.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partners
  1. charizard
  2. milotic
Hi Espy! This is a reward for your Blacklight participation, and it'll be a review for chapter 1 and the prologue! The first thing I want to get out of the way is that I think the premise of this "alternate universe" canon is very unique despite being reminiscent of the original material. Yes, it's Super, and yes, it starts off in a similar way--but it's Espurr? That's already got me interested in just what that all means and what kinds of ripple effects are going on in the rest of the story because of this one change? Off the bat, I want to say that you started things off very interestingly for that alone, pretty much instantly quashing any sense that this is going to be "the same story" as Super, which is a pitfall for many adaptations.

Your sense of description is also good. I was able to get a nice vision of how the scenery is going, and while it might linger a tiny bit here and there, I didn't find myself feeling impatient at any particular point. During these first few chapters, I'm going to be particularly focused on what the power scaling is like, from things like healing factors to general power output. Every story is different. So far, this seems to be on the low end, but with a quick healing factor. I can work with that!

In the chapters as a whole, I think the biggest standout is the 'strange fog' in the Dungeon as well as the fact that the Dungeon itself seems to dislike showing affection or other positive things while inside, which is a very different take from what I've seen before. The Dungeon seems to have preferences! And it makes me instantly theorize that Dark Matter has a more direct influence on their creation than what is canonically confirmed. Curious to see if my theory holds true!

That's all for now, and thanks for the read! Definitely curious to see where the story will go from here. I heard that it's a slow pace for the first arc, so I'll be going through the next chapter with that in mind.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
Alright, it's been a while, but I'm feeling in the mood to bump my review exchange for Psychic Sheep, starring Chapter 4: Nuzleaf

And that’s why the Expedition Society has declared [a] Continental Emergency,” Mawile finished explaining, taking a bite from a chesto berry as she talked. “With the Rescuer’s Guild being the issue in question, we’re the closest establishment to step in.”

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 rol[l]-call.

Missing a word there plus minor typo, though I have to agree with the rest of the Exploration Society. Sleeping once a week sounds like a way to have problems in the long-term.
:fearfullaugh:


“What little is left,” Mawile replied. “It turns out the Air Continent relied on the Rescuer’s Guild a little too much to establish a serious police department, should anything ever happen. Hence, why no-mon heard about this sooner.”

The tense in the bit in bold feels a bit off. Might want it to look like something along the lines of the following

"[...] serious police department. So if anything ever happened, they'd be left with almost no one to pick up the slack. Hence [...]"

“Troubling…” Ampharos paused again, weighing his next response. “I encountered a few of our shadowy nemeses on the way to Serenity Village as well. A trio of beheeyem, who used attacks much in the same vein as what you just described.”

“What about the Wigglytuff’s Guild?” A third voice butted in over the line. “Or the Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute itself? Couldn’t they help?”

“This is a private conversation, Dedenne,” Mawile chided.

“Not really,” Dedenne’s dry response crackled through the line. “Don’t forget, everything on the line goes through me first. Nothing’s private.”

Mawile: "... Why have we never invested in a different comms system?" >.<
Dedenne: "We have no budget?"

“HAPPI is primarily located on the Mist Continent,” she answered. “They’re currently having a blizzard in direct opposition to our drought, and couldn’t respond in time even with our early transmission. And the Wigglytuff’s Guild is disorganized-as-usual, so they won’t be of much help responding to off-continent emergencies. We’re on our own.”

“I see…” Ampharos pondered that for a moment. “Anyway, the main reason I called was to inform the Society that I may be staying here in Serenity Village a little longer than intended.”

I mean, with that level of organization, no wonder why this world keeps having apocalyptic near-disasters. >:V

“—I’m afraid not,” Ampharos answered, “Although I do appreciate the offer. I’ve run into some… unexpected difficulties searching for the Human.”

This was news to Dedenne.

“What?” she asked, her voice ridden with disbelief. “You’re searching for a Human? What led you to even consider that?”

“Why not?”

Ampharos’ cheerful reply left Dedenne—for once—speechless.

Dedenne: "Ampharos, humans don't rain from the sky! What do you mean 'why not'?" >_>;
Ampharos: "To be fair, they do in some stories. Quite literally, in fact."
Mawile: "(I hope that oursisn't one of them, sounds like a bloody mess. Literally.)" .-.

“…Shouldn’t you at least have some evidence to go on first?” she slowly asked.

“We do.” Mawile put a word in before Dedenne could start another one of her one-sided rambling sessions.

“Jirachi picked up two pulses of immense teleportation energy on the Pokemon Nexus,” Ampharos explained. “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.”

“Oh… I guess that makes sense.” Dedenne’s cowed voice crackled through the line.

Dedenne: "I mean, Pokémon Plaza just kinda turned into a statue garden, so... yeah, we should probably find that human sooner rather than later."
:fearfullaugh:


“I’m afraid I have to go now,” she told them. “There are countless sheets of paperwork waiting to be filled in, and I must have them all at the Baram Town Hall by sunrise tomorrow.”

“You guys aren’t gonna make any more calls tonight?” Dedenne asked, yawning. “I’m gonna go home.”

“I’m 99% certain of it,” Mawile stated, inking her feather pen and pulling the first sheet of a formidable stack of paperwork towards her.

Dedenne: "... How on earth did you get swamped in that much paperwork when you've been back in Baram Town for all of a couple hours, Mawile?" .-.
Ampharos: "Bureaucracy in action!"
Mawile: "Er... yeah, that's about right." -_-;

Ampharos stuck his orb back in immediately after, disabling the call function on his gadget. Instead, he tried to sync up with the other orb, the one he had ‘accidentally’ let drop out of his bag for that pair of children to pick up.

It was a little-known fact that explorer-grade connection orbs could record decent audio and relay it back to HAPPI-mandated gadgets when synced up with another orb of the same frequency. Or, in Ampharos’ case, his own expedition gadget. He had Jirachi to thank for that. Jirachi had modified the feature specifically for Bunnelby’s spelunking missions, but this was a rather clever use of its abilities, if Ampharos did say so himself. A foolproof way of determining whether the Human was on the school premises or not.

Until the audio recording finally synced up, and Ampharos realized he was listening to a discordant symphony of nighttime sounds instead of hearing the chatter of several children. Baffled, he sped it up. The entire four hours of audio were composed mainly of the same outdoor noises. They must have left it somewhere outdoors, Ampharos realized. He suddenly felt far less clever than he had a second before. They were children. Of course they had lost the orb in the middle of the forest. What had he been thinking?

He began to [pore] through the audio, stopping it every five minutes or so to see if he had stumbled upon a hidden clue. They were children, after all. There had to be something hidden in all the mess…

Small typo there, and yeah. This is why when you're going to wiretap a bunch of kids and do things that would get into "it isn't what it looks like, I swear!" territory, you ideally want more than one bug to work with. :^)

Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open. She was met with the unwavering blackness of the void.

Espurr picked herself up, looking around at the darkness without end. There was nothing here. She couldn’t even see the ground beneath her feet, much less understand how she had anything to stand on.

All around her, she could hear tiny, hushed voices wavering all around the void, indistinct sentences and phrases flitting past her ears before she could truly understand them. One was louder than the rest. It continued to swirl around her, chanting something Espurr could hear but not understand. She caught only a single word as it passed close to her ear, and it was a word she had recently heard a number of times: Human.

Espurr: "Uhh... is this a dream of some sort? This is a dream, right?"
:espurrface:


Espurr quickly singled that one out from all the others. Easy, considering it was both louder and larger. She heard a sudden cackle emanate from the gust of wind, before it took off into the blackness. Espurr tried to follow it. She ran after the wind, but she simply wasn’t able to keep up with it. She kept tripping over her feet, and the gust of wind got farther and farther away with every passing second. Eventually, it slipped away completely, and Espurr collided headfirst with a pure black wall she never even knew was there.

She slowly got back to her feet, rubbing her head. She hadn’t seen a wall…

…And she couldn’t feel one, either. Espurr put her left paw out where the wall used to be, feeling a disturbing absence of anything in its place. Walls didn’t just disappear like that, she decided, looking around in vain. And the lack of any surroundings must have meant…

…She was dreaming.

Espurr: "Ow. Though at least we got confirmation now this is a dream." >_>;

And then, just like that, there was. It was tall, far taller than Espurr. Attached to a thin metal pole, she had to stand a good distance away just to see the words written on it.

The words weren’t like anything she remembered ever seeing. Her eyes flicked over them, easily gleaning the meaning even though the numerals were foreign to her.

F-O-L-L-O-W M-E

Follow? Espurr’s eyes quickly scanned the darkness again for another clue. Where? Was she supposed to just walk in the general direction the sign pointed in? She hoped not.

Espurr: "Wait, are these even actual glyphs? Or is all of this in my mind?"
- Espurr looks around worriedly at the surrounding darkness -
Espurr: "And why am I dreaming all of this anyways? Is this my arm acting up in my sleep?"

Time seemed to be an abstract concept in dreams, and Espurr found she couldn’t recall whether she’d been walking from sign to sign for five minutes or five days (even though it felt more like five seconds). It never really jumped out at her until she made an effort to question it. However, all thoughts of time left her mind once she heard the sudden gust of wind ripple past her ears, whispering its inane chants as it went.

Immediately, she began to pursue it again, this time making a better effort to not trip over her feet as much. It quickly out-sped her, doing loop-de-loops in the air as if confident in its abilities to outrun her. Rightfully so, it seemed. Espurr tripped again and landed face-first in the… black, she named it. She pulled herself to her feet, trying to will the gust of wind towards her.

It didn’t work. Espurr began to chase it again, running faster than she remembered ever running before.

She really should have seen the second wall coming.

Espurr: "Ow! Why are my dreams doing this to me?!" >_>;

Espurr laid down as it became too small a space for her to sit comfortably in (Or just sit at all), and as she stared up at the roof, she thought she saw the familiar flickering lights she had come to dread - the lights of the beheeyem. They flashed brightly, blinking her directly in the eye. Espurr cowered even further than she already had, shutting her eyes tightly to avoid seeing the bright lights that were even making their way under her eyelids.

There was suddenly a sickening crunch as the walls pressed in even further, and blinding pain filled her left arm—

Espurr: "AHHHH! I wanna wake up now! I wanna wake up now!"

“Y’all are trippin’ me. What do I know ‘bout all this language-teachin’ stuff?”

The hushed voice floated through the door, mingling with the first blue-yellow wisps of daylight creeping through the window. Espurr shot awake, nearly falling out of the straw bed she had been sleeping in. Her left arm – the one in a cast – had fallen into a painful position in her sleep. Espurr laboriously readjusted it into a comfortable position, biting back a low yowl of pain. She heard Deerling shift uncomfortably in the bed behind her, undisturbed.

Right. She was staying overnight because of her molting. Espurr had forgot.

Espurr: "A-Agh, of course." >.<

“You’re the only pokemon we could find in a timely manner. Besides, your name was on the board—“

“That name was done marked up on the board years ago! Was… volunteerin’ for janitor duty an’ stuff like that.”

“I see… Well, it is a bit of an emergency. Our students are all taught basic reading and writing by their parents—it’s one of the Serenity Village School’s base requirements. We simply can’t teach without it. Now, on occasion, there has been the odd student who just hasn’t learnt it all or is on the younger side, and we’ve employed independent tutors to nudge them in the right direction. But with summer vacation right around the corner, those tutors are all on leave, and we can’t just call them back at a moment’s notice. Therefore, we had no other choice. It takes a village to raise a child, after all.”

“But…” The other voice tried to protest, clearly running out of excuses. “Ain’t there hundreds other pokemon more qualified than me?”

Oh, hi Nuzleaf. Even if you haven't been fully introduced just yet.

“Ah…” Simipour sighed after a moment. “Nothing like the sound of students eavesdropping in the morning. Or lack of it, although my Vice Principal might be inclined to disagree with me on that particular preference. I’ll leave you two to get acquainted, then.”

Espurr froze a second time, mortified. Had he known the whole time? She heard him spin around in the dirt, then saw the messy blue crop of hair adorning his head through the window as he passed by. A moment later, the door to the clinic creeped open, and a pokemon with a large leaf adorning its head walked in, carrying a large book in his bark-y hands.

“Mornin’…” he said, noticing Espurr. “I see you’re up an’ all.”

Espurr: "I... uh... I can explain?"
:fearfullaugh:


“My name’s Nuzleaf.” he introduced himself, holding a hand out towards Espurr. “I reckon I’m to be your language teacher until that blue monkey gets his priorities sorted out.”

Silently, Espurr took it, standing up to reach Nuzleaf’s hand with her good paw. She looked back at Deerling, who was sleeping on her side; her back to the straw uncomfortably. Espurr spared her a look of silent pity. It looked like she had had a rough night.

“Now, I ain’t the expert on teaching,” Nuzleaf began, opening the book to its table of contents. “But I reckon you’ll do just fine flipping through the book yourself.”

Espurr: "Is this school seriously desperate enough to hire a language teacher that doesn't know the first thing about teaching? -_-;
Nuzleaf: "That's what I asked 'em. But you know how Pokemon can be when they put their minds to things. Ain't nothing you can do to dissuade 'em."

“You okay practicing on your own?” Nuzleaf nervously asked. It was clear to Espurr he hadn’t done this before.

The school looked like a completely different place in the early morning. The blue light of dawn crested over the blackboard, and Espurr could barely see the sun beginning to rise behind the desks. A light breeze ruffled her fur, of the cool, breezy kind (And not the foul-smelling mystery dungeon variety). Nuzleaf flattened the pages of the book with his hand before the breeze could wreak havoc upon the book, taking a seat in what was currently not Tricky’s desk at the moment.

“Oh. Right. Darn.” Nuzleaf flattened the leaf atop his head back nervously as he took the book once more. “Forgot you can’t read an’ all. ‘Guess I’ll have to do the teachin’, then.”

I know it's kinda implied in the last scene, but I feel as if the part in bold ought to be more explicit as to how Nuzleaf heard it. e.x. if Principal Simipour was the one who told him.

He walked over to the blackboard, picking up a piece of chalk and marking down several numerals on the board.

“This here…” Nuzleaf began, jotting the rest of the markings down. “Is the Unown Alphabet.” He glanced back for Espurr’s benefit, just to make sure his pupil had gotten that all. Upon finding her staring directly at the blackboard, he put down the chalk and flipped the book open again.

“Now, legend says pokemon borrowed it from the human language an’ all, but… ‘t doesn’t matter,” Nuzleaf continued. “The most important thing is, just about ev’ry pokemon in the world uses this here alphabet. Any questions?”

Espurr: "... Is there linguistic unity in this world? Or am I going to be stuck unable to understand other Pokémon depending on where I go?"
:zorohuh:

Nuzleaf: "We all share a localization across continents, hon. I think you're good. Any other questions?"
Espurr: "('We all share a localization'? Aren't we getting a bit meta there?)" .-.

“Back there on the porch,” Espurr quietly began. “What did Principal Simipour whisper in your ear?”

Nuzleaf looked a little taken aback by the question.

“So you were eavesdropping…” he muttered to himself. Espurr kept her eyes trained on Nuzleaf, as if doing so would get him to spill the information sooner.
Nuzleaf: "Uh... you're kinda staring at me, Espurr." ._.; Espurr: "Yes, that's the point."

“N-none of your business,” Nuzleaf finished, his voice somewhat shakier than before. “It’s not a place for kids anyway.”

He quickly picked up the chalk and began to write again, ignoring Espurr’s intrigued stare.

“Now, I ain’t gonna tell you the history an’ all—I reckon one of your other teachers will cover that just fine—“ Nuzleaf continued, his back to Espurr. “But I think we can get all these letter sounds sorted out before school-time. This one here reads…”

Espurr: "(Did I really make him that uncomfortable? Or else what's this guy trying to hide?)"

Farfetch’d walked up towards the teacher’s desk, nodding as he passed Espurr’s seat.

“Good morning, Espurr,” he said in passing. Espurr discreetly hid her yawn as Farfetch’d took his spot next to the blackboard. As goofy as his accent was, Nuzleaf was quite the ruthless teacher when push came to shove. He had effectively managed to drill the entire Unown Alphabet into Espurr’s brain in the space of two hours (She could still hear his cries of ‘not that one, dangnabbit!’ floating around in her head whenever she thought of the letter ‘E’), although she didn’t expect to remember any of it come nightfall. Already, the letter pronunciations were growing soft and fuzzy in her mind.

Easy come easy go for learned knowledge, I see.
A moment later, Tricky opened her eyes. She had stopped just in time, her paws pushing up against the desk instead of painfully stubbing into it.

“H-hi.”

Goomy, the occupant of said desk, greeted Tricky cheerfully. Tricky exhaled her breath of relief directly into Goomy’s face without a second thought.

Goomy scrunched up his face in disgust.

“Y-your breath smells like s-spoiled peachberries…” he complained.

Espurr: "Uh... Tricky. You did brush your teeth before coming here, right?"
:TailsEww:

Tricky: "Not at all!" ^^

Within a moment, the entire class was standing around the teacher’s desk, gazing in at the berry baskets. Tricky looked like she was going to swipe one when Audino’s back was turned (and Espurr, who had not eaten breakfast in the short period of time between Nuzleaf’s class and the start of school, was almost inclined to do the same). However, all notions of secret mid-class snacks were dispelled when Audino turned back around with a pair of woven gloves and a spoon in her hand, giving Tricky a harsh don’t-you-dare look.

“These berries are not for eating,” she explained. “Today, we will be reviewing how to properly mix berries together, and which ones not to mix. When the test comes around later in the week, you will all be expected to do this on your own, so pay good attention here.”

I mean, considering how much of medicinal preparation is separated from poisonmaking just by dosage, it's probably a good idea to not blindly pig out on the apothecary's berries there. Especially if they're not just game berries. ^^;

“To start off, you will need a berry as your base,” Audino explained. She set the oran berry in the bowl before the class, letting them get a good, long look at it. “Since we’ll primarily be making medicines and other basic mixtures in this class, you will almost always use oran berries, but other base berries exist as well.” Without another word, Audino took a wooden spoon, and began to crush the berry to mush with it.

Showing the class the mashed oran paste, Audino fished in the second bucket for berries. “With an oran berry as your base, you can now begin to add the other berries that will serve as your modifier.” She pulled out a handful of berries, setting them on the table in front of the bowl. “For instance… If I were to mix a chesto berry with our oran berry here, it would then gain the sleep-preventing properties of the chesto berry, amplified by the boosting qualities of the oran. And if I were to add a bluk berry instead, the oran berry would amplify the effects of the bluk berry, thus turning our mixture into a skin-soothing lotion.” Audino held both berries out to the class in turn.

Huh. Some neat worldbuilding there, but it makes sense that at least some berries would have reinforcing effects with each other.

“The… oran berry would amplify it?” She hopefully asked, glancing at the blackboard behind Audino.

“Close.” Audino set the berry down with the chesto and bluk berry. “The mago berry is known for its slight intoxicating qualities—in other words, too many mago berries can make you drunk. But when mixed with our oran berry, the mago berry suddenly becomes a powerful intoxicant: One that can even spell death for a medical patient if administered by accident.” Audino didn’t flinch at the ripple of gasps that spread through the class, the sound of her point properly hitting home.

Audino: "Still want to pig out on my berries without going through my lessons, Tricky?"
Tricky: "N-No ma'am." ._.;

“Due to its extreme likeness to the original oran berry mixture, many doctors know this particular mixture as the ‘Oren Berry’, or ‘False Oran’,” she continued, pointing to the mago berry on the blackboard. “And the more medicinal berries one adds atop a pure oran base, the closer the likelihood that you will end up concocting such a dangerous mixture. This is why many medicinal berry mixtures using bases outside oran are frowned upon, or, in some cases, illegal. The results are simply too unpredictable or even dangerous to use.”

Oh? What's the rationale for pairing Mago Berries with Oren Berries for this story? Since in mainline, Mago Berries are pink and pretty different in shape. Also, more importantly, what sort of recreational drugs can you make out of berries? Is the almighty Lansat also a trip in this setting?
:loltias:


“I’m never eating my pop’s cooking again…” she said. Much of the class looked like they agreed with her.

“Now, there’s no need to disappoint your old Pops,” Audino reassured them, picking up the third basket. “This applies only to a specific range of berries—Medicinal Berries.” Audino showed them the third basket, which was filled to the brim with strawberries and peaches and other various berries. Espurr gazed into the basket along with the rest of the class. Nowhere to be seen were the oddly-colored and shaped berries of the other two.

“These are your average cooking berries,” Audino said. “While nutritious by default, boosting these berries with the oran mixture does not lead to any notable effects when eaten. They are, for lack of a better term, ordinary berries.”

A bit of an interesting dichotomy, but if game berries are really that medicinally powerful, it makes sense that you wouldn't want to just be casually munching them constantly.

“Ms. Audino?” Espurr asked, raising her good paw in the air.

“Yes?” Audino called on her.

“What’s the difference?” She asked. “Why can’t a mango berry cause the same reaction as a mago berry?”

“I…’ll have to refer you to Farfetch’d to answer that question,” Audino began. “He’s the history teacher, after all. All I know on the subject is that Medicinal berries only began to grow after the Human Age came to its end.”

Whelp, I guess we can rule out the Human Age remotely resembling mainline from that comment.

“Psst.”

The floating nut in the air wavered a little, before Espurr’s concentration pushed it back to a stable spot in midair. Too preoccupied to deal with whoever had snuck up on her little corner of the school clinic, Espurr watched it float, mystified.

She had accidentally dropped it earlier, and it had rolled just out of the reach of her good paw. Frustrated by the latest in a long string of such incidents caused by the clumsiness of her new paws and the added handicap of only having one of them available for use, Espurr kept her eyes on the nut as she got up from her seat to retrieve it. However, she had only taken a few steps towards the nut when, to her shock, it began to rise up from the ground!

The moment the seemingly impossible phenomenon registered in Espurr’s mind, the nut fell to the ground, but Espurr found she was no longer inclined to pick it up. At least, not with her paws.

Espurr: "That's so trippy. So do I just need to look at something and it'll float for me?"

Instead, she had recreated the scenario several times, first with nuts, then with berries, until almost all of Espurr’s lunch now lay on the floor, and Espurr was sure she was at risk of attracting Tricky’s attention sooner or later. None of the food had floated like that nut had, and Espurr was beginning to grow tired of the fruitless endeavor. The nut had floated. She had seen it! Why couldn’t the rest of them? Why didn‘t they float? Espurr narrowed her eyes at the pile in frustration.

Just then, she thought she saw the pile quiver a little, and Espurr realized she must have been on the right track. She concentrated harder on the pile, trying not to raise the entire mess of berries but only the one nut. Slowly she watched it shakily rise out of her lunch and into midair, wavering at the same level as her face. The sheer excitement almost made Espurr giggly, and after a few minutes of dedicated practice, she could even make it move around in the air a little. If only she could float it back into her paw…

Espurr: "I'm doing it! I'm doing it!"

“Psst!”

Espurr jumped, the nut clattering to the ground loudly. She turned around, coming face to face with the wry snout of Pancham. Espurr was taken back for just a second. They hadn’t talked at all since they had met in the Foreboding Forest, and neither side had made any move to change that…

…Until now. Espurr wondered why.

“…What do you want?” she asked, suspicious.

Espurr: "I was in the middle of something here!" >.<

Pancham leaned in towards Espurr, his voice lowering to a hush. “Wanna know how you can be my hero?”

If he expected an answer, he obviously wasn’t courteous enough to wait for it. Espurr already felt some mild animosity brewing at how causally he had brushed Goomy off as a ‘wimp’, the pokemon that had toughed out a mystery dungeon for far longer than Pancham would have ever dared!

“The Foreboding Forest is a big deal,” Pancham continued. “…If you’re Vice Principal Watchog. But see, to get ‘in’ with the cool kids around here, you’ve gotta do something that’s a big deal. Something that would give Vice Principal Watchog a heart attack. Something like, say, braving one of the nastiest mystery dungeons around, you catchin’ me?”

Espurr: "Pancham, I have a broken arm right now!" >_<;
Pancham: "Tch, and? That sure didn't stop you last time. So what gives?"
Espurr: "Look, have you even gone to one of these 'nastiest' mystery dungeons for yourself?"
Pancham: "I- uh... O-Of course I have! Who on earth do you take me for?!"
Espurr:
:sceptical:


“Anyway…” Pancham leaned in again, his voice falling to a whisper. “I can get you in. All I gotta do is switch up Watchog’s detention cards, and you’re good to go. Whaddaya say?” He held out his hand towards Espurr, smirking and bending the twig in his mouth at an odd angle.

“Deal!” Tricky had glanced up from her peachberry again, excitedly talking for Espurr before the psychic kitten could say anything.

Espurr: "Tricky! Why would you even-?!" >_>;

“How many times…” Pancham growled, all his swagger suddenly lost for a downright vitriolic look aimed straight at Tricky. “No-mon. Is talking. To you!”

His outburst captured the attention of Deerling and Goomy, who were chatting together in another corner of the clinic. They both stared at him annoyedly, before returning to their conversation. Ignoring Tricky, Pancham turned back to Espurr.

“Oh, and did I mention the treasure?” he asked, making Tricky’s eyes widen with excitement.

“Well, I’m having detention too!” Tricky argued back, not about to let it go so easily. “So I count as 50% of the vote.”

Espurr: "Look Pancham, if you're really trying that hard to kill me off, seriously, just focus on Tricky. She'll wind up dragging me along for the ride wherever she sets her mind to go off to." >_>;

“Just ignore the pest,” Pancham sighed, holding his hand out again. “Unlike her, I know you’re a class act, and I need an answer from you now. You in or out?” The words ‘class act’ were enough to break Tricky. She fell silent at Pancham’s comment, her ears slowly drooping further and further down. She turned around, slinking back to where the rest of her lunch was silently.

Espurr: "Well that was uncalled for! (Though I wonder why Tricky reacted like that when this guy's obviously full of hot air.)"

A wave of anger surged up through Espurr. She wasn’t entirely sure if it was her own or Tricky’s, but that was the last straw. It was an impulse and a bad one at that, but in the moment she didn’t care. She turned back to Pancham.

We accept,” she said steadily. “Both of us.”

She immediately regretted that. Watching Pancham’s face falter in shock was satisfying, but there were a thousand better options. Maybe if she—

Espurr: "U-Uh, it's not too late to-?"
:fearfullaugh:

Tricky: "No takebacks, Espurr!" ^_^

“W-well, maybe I’ll just call off the deal,” he said, waving it off and trying to keep his cool. “How would you like that?”

Espurr: "Yes please!" o_o;

“Tricky,” Espurr cut in, seizing her chance to call the bet off while she still could. “Maybe we can go do something el—” “Nope!” Tricky declared to Pancham, inadvertently cutting Espurr off. “You offered! Now you have to go through.”

She stuck a paw on Espurr’s shoulder. “And you’re coming along too! I need a partner!”

“I don’t know if I really want t—”

“But you saiiiid so!” Tricky pleaded, oblivious. It was like she hadn’t even heard Espurr at all.

Espurr: "Am I seriously about to let Tricky guilt me into going into another one of those deathtraps?" -_-;
- Tricky shoots puppy dog eyes over at Espurr - Tricky: "You said so..."
Espurr: "... Blugh. Guess that's a 'yes'." >.<

“May I use the library before we leave?” Espurr asked. Watchog looked towards her in suspicion, one bushy eyebrow raised.

“I thought you said you couldn’t read.”

In the background, Pancham gave Espurr a thumbs up. He quietly dashed out from behind the straw, expertly switching the cards hanging from Watchog’s hitchhiking pack, and then it was like he had never been there in the first place.

“Well, Tricky can read for me,” Espurr explained. “And we won’t be long.”

Watchog almost let out a high-pitched chuckle of disbelief, catching himself in an attempt to remain dignified at the last moment.

“You want to make the troublemaker read for you.” He said, his voice flat.

Watchog:

Espurr: "Look, can we just get a yes or no answer here?" >_>;

Both Espurr and Tricky nodded, and then they were both gone faster than Watchog could blink. He blinked twice anyway, then shook his head once more and went back to packing the supplies.

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.”

Wait, how is Watchog just not questioning any of this when he should logically recognize the Drilbur Coal Mines are a Mystery Dungeon. And a tougher one for youngsters to boot?
:fearfullaugh:


“Why are we going to the library?” Tricky asked curiously as they entered the empty warehouse filled with packed bookshelves that leaned over them claustrophobically. If she was going to be dragged into another dungeon on a bet, she was at least going to take any opportunity she could to learn more about that dungeon. She just wished she could actually do something other than haphazardly direct Tricky in the direction of six thousand books.

Tricky spun on her paws, walking backwards again so she could face Espurr. “The adults don’t like me in here because I’m a ‘hazard to the books’ or something.” She rolled her eyes. She then accidentally walked into a pile of books lying around next to one of the right-hand shelves, stumbling in place and barely keeping her balance.

Espurr: "No offense, Tricky, but I can kinda see why they say that." -_-;
Tricky: "Hey! It's not my fault some moron just left a pile of books sitting there!"

“What does that read?” she asked.

“Archeology to Electricity,” Tricky translated, her eyes rapidly gliding over the text without a problem. “What are you looking for?”

“Mystery Dungeons.” said Espurr matter-of-factly.

Tricky’s eyes lit up in understanding.

“Right this way…” she beckoned gleefully.

Probably a good thing they don't have a more abstract sorting system like the Dewey Decimal System, otherwise that'd get confusing fast for a couple of kids to navigate.
:loltias:


“A Complete Guide to Mystery Dungeons. Page 64, Drilbur Mines.” Tricky read from the thick, dusty atlas they had together managed to pull off the top shelf. “It says there was an explorer who went into the dungeon soon after it popped up and never came out,” she continued, tilting her head in confusion. “They even have a picture!”

Espurr looked at the illustration on the other page; detailing a shark-like pokemon cheerfully waving one of its fins, a brown bag draped over his shoulders.

“He wasn’t famous…” Tricky went on, mild disappointment cracking through her voice. “I’ve never heard of him before this.”

Espurr felt a sudden wave of anxiety overtake her for a second. The gabite had disappeared many years ago, if the tattered edges and yellowed pages of the book were to be taken at face value, but Espurr couldn’t help but feel for anymon who had met their demise in a mystery dungeon, as well as fear whatever they might have met their demise at.

Considering how it looks like this guy is going to be PSMD!Gabite stand-in, that doesn't bode well at allfor the state they're going to find him in.

“The only thing you have to do is bring me back some of the red gems that sit at the bottom of the dungeon as proof you went in. You’ll know ‘em when you see ‘em. Do that, and I’ll recognize you both as my equals. I made my way all the way down the bottom of that dungeon myself, just so you know.

:sceptical:


“But it’s crawling with pokemon,” Espurr pointed out, peeking over Tricky. “Maybe it’d be better to wait for Watchog to let us in.”

That’s ‘Vice Principal Watchog to you.” Tricky heightened the pitch of her voice in an imitation of Watchog’s shrill cries, falling to a hushed whisper immediately afterwards to mute the sound of her snickers.

“Still…” Espurr hid behind the rock once again. “We won’t make it far with that many pokemon guarding it. And we don’t need a reason for the Vice Principal to give us more detentions.”

“Are you talking about the drilbur?” Tricky asked, a hint of rare incredulity to her tone. Espurr nodded slowly. What other pokemon were there?

“Hah!” Tricky waved it off like it was nothing. “They’re pushovers. I’ve made it past them tons of times, and that’s when they’re all guarding that door. We won’t have trouble at all!”

Espurr: "Uh... Tricky?"
:uhhh:

Tricky: "Relax, Espurr! I know what I'm doing here!"

“What were you up to in the mines, anyway?” Espurr asked as she scampered behind the rock, curious despite herself.

“Treasure hunting.” Tricky snuck behind a third, closer rock, Espurr following not far behind.

Espurr: "Tricky, why would you even-?!"
:uhhh:

Tricky: "It's treasure, Espurr! That's reason enough!" ^^

“Hi again, guys!”

Espurr watched, shocked, as Tricky boldly announced their presence to the entire collection of drilbur with a paw-wave.

“U-uh-oh…” the drilbur all stared at Tricky collectively in shock and horror.

“I-it’s the T-t-troublemaker…” one stammered out.

“A-and she brought f-friends!” another finished, pointing straight at Espurr.

Tricky sent a prompt ‘I-told-you-so’ smirk Espurr’s way, before trotting right out into the open. “Y-you’re not here again for our g-gold, are you?” one timidly asked.

“Nope!” Tricky trotted towards the mine shaft. “That was last week. Today we’re going exploring.”

:hoodLUL:


Tricky really is the shameless type.
:loltias:


“W-wait!” one of them cried out after her, in a vain attempt to stop the fox. “The m-mines aren’t a safe place f-for children! You could g-get in trouble down there!”

Somehow that seemed to get to Tricky. She stuttered a bit for a moment. Just for a second, the vibes Espurr caught off her seemed completely different.

Espurr: "Tricky, if you're not feeling good about this, we can back out!" >_>;
Tricky: "A-And let Pancham get the last laugh over something that I've done a dozen times before? Not likely!"

“...Ha!” Tricky laughed, regaining her confidence with the swiftness of a snap. It was almost rehearsed. She turned around to stare the drilbur down bravely. “I laugh in the face of trouble! See?”

It's totally rehearsed, isn't it?

“Hey! You shouldn’t be over there!” Watchog barked, dashing straight after Tricky. Espurr’s heart jumped once more as she heard him begin to run—she was out of time! Quickly, she darted out from behind the rock, running straight past the drilbur who did nothing to stop her from continuing—

“Run for it!!” Tricky screeched, running further into the mineshaft. Watchog stopped at the shaft, both too large and too unwilling to go in after them.

“You two troublemakers better come right back out of there!” He yelled after them. “I mean it!”

>run into a MD that the adult overseeing your detention is afraid to enter
>as a pair of kids, one of whom has a broken arm



When there came no reply from the mineshaft, he turned to the drilbur, who visibly shrunk in his presence.

Find them.” Watchog growled. “It’s your mine!”

With gratuitous nods and whimpers of fear, the drilbur all scuffled into the mineshaft, more eager to get away from the steaming mad Watchog than they were to find the pair of escaped students.

inb4 those guys just camp out in a quiet corner and pop an Escape Orb after about 10 minutes. I'm not expecting them to have any measure of success or motivation to pry into that dungeon from how they reacted to it.

“We are so doomed now...” Espurr broke the silence of their walk through the mine with the incredibly sober statement. The full reality of what they had done was quickly crashing down upon her: there was no getting out of this one. Watchog was going to no doubt report them to Principal Simipour the moment they left the mine, and Espurr doubted Simipour would see fit to let them off the hook so easily again.

Why had they all been so stupid?

“Yep…” Tricky panted out, still recovering from the rush of successfully evading Watchog. “…But at least we made it! This beats detention any day.”

Espurr: "..." >.<
Tricky: "What? It does!" ^^

Espurr wasn’t so sure it beat detention for the rest of their lives, something she was certain Tricky was purposefully ignoring. The thought continued to hang over her head as they continued in silence through the dark tunnels. Every so often, she thought she heard the distant sounds of something tunneling through the ground above their heads, but it was too dark to tell for certain.

It felt like they had walked for an eternity when Espurr saw faint flickers of light emerging from around the corner. Dust had gotten in her mouth and her eyes, and she would have done almost anything for a drink of water right there and then. From the way Tricky was panting up ahead, Espurr could tell she was just as parched.

Espurr: "Wait a minute, is that the dungeon that's making us thirsty like that?" .-.
Tricky: "Maybe? They're kinda weird places and I never really thought about it when coming here before."

Tricky let out a sharp gasp of joy upon seeing the light, bounding straight for the turn up ahead. Espurr quickly tried to keep up, catching herself on the tunnel wall before she could trip again. However, she soon realized, to her disappointment, that the light ahead didn’t shine brightly enough to be a way out of the mine- instead, it came from a torch that hung from the low cavern walls, illuminating the twin shafts deeper into the mine Pancham had told them about.

Espurr couldn’t hide the disappointment on her face—she wanted to get back above ground!—But Tricky ran over to the mines, more excited than ever.

“This is it!” She shouted back at Espurr in glee. “We made it! Now… which one did Pancham tell us to go through?”

“N-not so fast.”

Both Espurr and Tricky spun around to look at the colony of drilbur who had approached them from behind.

“Y-you aren’t supposed t-to be down here,” one of the drilbur stammered out. “We a-aren’t going to l-let a pair of c-children push us around anymore!”

Tricky: "Left. We're definitely going left."
Espurr: "Doesn't that lead to that 'nasty Mystery Dungeon' you read about?"
:fearfullaugh:

Tricky: "Yeah, and those scaredy moles will never follow us in there!"
Espurr: "Tricky, that's not how any of this works!" >.<

She cast her eyes to the torch flickering to their right, pouring all her concentration into nudging it. If it was anything like that nut…

Sure enough, after a while, she saw it begin to move. The light dramatically shifted as Espurr’s spirits rose and the torch wavered in midair, illuminating everymon’s faces for one swift second; and then Espurr let it drop and the light was snuffed out.

Espurr couldn’t see anything, and neither could Tricky. She could only hear the cacophony of terrified whispers and squeaks from the drilbur as they began to clumsily pursue the two students, only rely on memory as she pulled Tricky towards what she hoped was the right mine shaft with her one good arm.

Narrator: "It wasn't the right mine shaft."

And for the third time that day, Espurr painfully banged her head into a wall she hadn’t even seen coming. Or, in this case, a board. The rotted old board of a boarded-up mine shaft. She heard it break away amongst the cacophony of sounds the advancing Drilbur were making, and it didn’t take the power of sight for both Espurr and Tricky to latch onto the same conclusion—

The drilbur were scared out of their minds, of course. But they were more scared of Watchog than they were of a couple of village children. They didn’t want to return to the surface with nothing to show their new, brutal employer! 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.

The labor of drilbur stopped short at the mine shaft, barely able to see the pair of children disappear into its darkness. It had been boarded up for a reason—one of the few times the drilburs’ cowardice had been wholly and utterly justified. Something lived down there. Something wild. Something evil. Something that had gobbled up many of their drilbur compatriots for lunch, and would happily chow down a pair of unsuspecting children as a mid-afternoon snack. And the drilbur were too scared to go after them.

They always were.

Er... yeah, that explains a lot about why those Drilbur are so high-strung, and suddenly their mannerisms became a lot less funny in light of that.
:uhhh:


Though that's a wrap for Chapter 4 @SparklingEspeon ! Part of me wonders if it could've been cut up in two given how scene-dense the chapter was, but it still works, and you certainly left things off on quite the ominous cliffhanger. Hope you enjoyed the review, and I'll be looking forward to getting to Chapter 5 sometime soon! ^^
 
Chapter 36 - Triple Agent

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter36Art.png

~\({O})/~

36.

Triple Agent


~\({O})/~

The Slums

~Xatu~

The slums were cold.

Here, the streets were dirty. The houses swayed in the chilling night breeze. The only light came from candles indoors, the occasional campfire, and the distant lights of the city behind them. It was a sad state of affairs.

Xatu stood in front of the one house on the block that had a light source in it, the one that stood on stilts with no first story. There were two pokemon in there, formless shadows that were indistinguishable through the blurry windowpanes of the house, but Xatu knew who they were. He knew who they were because he’d known beforehand. That was why he was here, after all. To observe.

The only immediate warning Xatu had was the whistling of bone. He barely ducked before a large bone boomerang whistled over his head, large enough to knock him unconscious if it collided. A second later, and it came back. This time, Xatu was swift enough to sidestep it without problem.

The bone landed in the fist of a marowak. Xatu’s eyes focused on the two pokemon in hoods approaching him from the street. Assassins, clearly. He could see through the cloaks: one of them was a scraggy, the other a marowak. They moved in towards him without hesitation, taking fighting stances.

Xatu did his best to defend himself silently, but even he knew it was a bad idea. He couldn’t keep the fight here, he needed to move away from the two pokemon in that house before enough of a commotion arose to disturb them. He could kill the two assassins in a heartbeat, he knew, but he wasn’t willing to do that. And they weren’t going to be negotiated with like the last ones had. How much was that blasted dewott paying them?

That left him with one option. He raised his wings, and with a flash of light he was gone. The attacks whistled through where he had been and out into thin air.

The marowak caught his bone staff as it came back to him silently. He sighed.

“I didn’t know Xatu could teleport,” he said.

“Does this mean we came all this way out here for nothing?” Scraggy asked.

“Quiet!”

Xatu rematerialized somewhere near the outer bounds of the slums. He didn’t know exactly where, he’d done it in a hurry, but it looked like he’d gone clear to the other side.

Good. He had some time to make a speedy getaway before those assassins came back.

But it wasn’t the thought of the assassins that plagued him as he swooped away—more urgently, it was the thought of who had sent them. There was only one pokemon in the world who wanted his head that badly, only one pokemon who had the resources to send so many would-be-killers after him.

Alexis had the terrifying tendency to never learn from his mistakes.


~\({O})/~

Team Colbat Dorms

~Zoroark-as-Braixen~

By the time Zoroark had made it back to the dorms, it was too late for him to feasibly sleep and be up before his partner was. That meant he’d have to tough it out for the night, or he was worse off than he already was. By the time Alice finally woke up, he was Braixen again.

“Hmm?” she asked sleepily, looking at him. “You didn’t sleep.”

Zoroark-as-Braixen was tired enough that he didn’t dare even pretending to look like he was asleep.

“Wasn’t tired,” he said with a yawn that betrayed he was very tired.

“As long as you aren’t collapsing on the job,” came Alice’s unmotivated reply. She left the dorm, and Zoroark-as-Braixen figured he should follow.


~\({O})/~

Amaedus’ House ~ Last Night

Amadeus folded his scythes behind himself as he talked. The fireplace illuminated him from behind, making him a silhouette. Zoroark just leaned against the pile of straw, listening to him talk.

“There’s an old legend about zoroark and nickit,” Amadeus said. “They say your ancestors, your original ancestors, were once regular old braixen and vulpix. But two of them made a deal with an ancient demon. The demon, in exchange for their loyalty, offered them the power of deceit. And your kind has supposedly employed them all throughout history, which is why no-mon trusts a zoroark.”

“And you want me to be exactly what they’re saying I am,” Zoroark finished for him.

“In a manner of speaking,” Amadeus said.

Zoroark sighed. “What do you want me to do?”

“I thought you’d never ask.”

The jury was out on whether Amadeus would have given him the opportunity to ask. Not that he had a choice either way.

“For your first mission, I want you to get me information,” Amadeus said, crossing his scythes behind his back. “There’s an initiative that’s being pushed by the stiffs up on the government board; they call it the Paradise Expansion Project. I want to know what they’re planning to build, where they’re planning to build it, and where they’re storing the supplies.”

“Where am I supposed to
find that?” Zoroark asked. “I’ve only been there a day.”

“Any organization worth their salt keeps these things on hard records,” Amadeus said. “Find out where. Get it. Get back to me. You have two days.”

“And what about security?” Zoroark asked.

“You know what the inside of the building looks better than I do,” Amadeus said. “Do some recon.”


~\({O})/~

HAPPI Mess Hall ~ Present

The mess hall, when breakfast was at the height of its activity, was packed. The grey skies outside still managed to make the scene look gloomy despite the sheer amount of pokemon and noise in the room.

Zoroark had long knew how to hover in the corners of everymon’s vision when he was in a large crowd, so he wasn’t worried about slipping up even in this crowded mess hall. But the nagging corners of sleep at his vision poised a threat to his ability to maintain it. He’d never been good at these when he was tired.

Zoroark-as-Braixen yawned, trying to eat his fill of the food that had been provided without collapsing face-first into it. Not that it was an easy thing to do when the food tasted like it had been sitting around in a cupboard for a week.

“Are you sure you’re feeling good enough to come on this mission?” Alice pulled her face out of an empty bowl of water, having absorbed it all into her frills again.

“Didn’t get much sleep last night,” Zoroark-as-Braixen muttered.

“Well, eat a chesto berry,” Alice said. “We’re guarding the town border today, that’s chaotic.”

Having eaten and drank her fill, she got up from the table and padded away. Zoroark-as-Braixen watched her go, an inch away from sleep.

Then he realized his tail was beginning to discolour, and immediately focused on strengthening his illusion.

As the two of them walked through the halls, they passed the large billboard that was just there for decoration at this point. Zoroark noticed some posters that had a drawing of a face he recognized on it.

He recognized it because it was his face.

‘Wanted for theft, travel around the city without identifying scarf, and murder,” read the paper. Zoroark blanched. He was guilty of the first two—if you could call eating bread that had already been thrown out theft—but murder? His stomach began to do backflips.

“H-hey,” he said, trying to keep the stuttering out of his voice as he pointed at the poster. “What’s that about?”

Alice walked up to the poster, giving it a momentary read-over.

“Looks like an outlaw notice,” she said. “Judging by the post date, it’s probably for that team that went missing down in the slums a couple of days ago.”

“We’re not… taking that one, right?” Zoroark-as-Braixen asked. He desperately hoped he didn’t look as nervous as he felt.

“You seem oddly jittery about it,” Alice said.

Zoroark’s stomach did a backflip so hard he thought he might puke right there and then. Fear made him improvise quickly. “I just don’t think I have the guts to go up against an outlaw,” he said.

“Well, you’re in luck,” Alice said. “Neither do I.”

She walked on without another word, likely expecting Zoroark-as-Braixen to follow her. He had trouble peeling his eyes away from the poster, but eventually he left the board once he realized others were lining up behind him to use it.

As they walked out of the building, Zoroark-as-Braixen cast a look up at the slogan that was written on the large archway of the entrance:


HAPPI Makes Pokemon Smile!

~\({O})/~

Pokemon Paradise Outskirts

The wall that stretched nearly thirty feet high over the boundaries of Paradise was no more in shape than the rest of it. It hadn’t been painted or maintained properly, and many of the boards were in varying states of disrepair. The only thing that had been maintained well were the walkways at the top, where the HAPPI teams assigned to guard the perimeter of the city patrolled daily.

Today, Team Cobalt had guard duty.

Zoroark was thankful for the fact that the walkways had at least been patched over. As a larger pokemon, he was liable to be one of the first to break something if they hadn’t. That didn’t change the fact that the structure creaked and swayed just a little bit in the wind, which kept him in unease the whole way through. Beside him, Alice walked, equally silent. She didn’t seem to share his unease, though. It looked more like she was plowing through the day as fast as she could, without paying attention to any of it. Zoroark wondered what her deal was. Even after last night… her sense of apathy grated against him. Did she just not care about anything that happened? Or was she just not willing to share anything with him?

Though it wasn’t like he was much better in that regard. If anything, he was worse. He remembered the paper from the billboard in his head, and his stomach did another backflip. He felt jittery all over. He tried his best not to think about it. For now, he was safe. But there was no going back.

“’Ello,” said a voice from behind them. Both Zoroark-as-Braixen and Alice looked back, seeing a meinshao walking up towards them. “You’re Team Cobalt, yes?”

“We are. Are we needed?” Alice asked.

“Nah,” the meinshao waved off the concern. “I’ve been assigned patrol duty for the day. Partner’s sick, real sick, so I’m on my own for now. And with those murders that just happened a few days ago, it’s not a good idea to be alone, you know? I asked if there was anything I could help out with. And patrolling the border is a huge job, even if it sucks, so they weren’t just gonna tell me no…”

The meinshao went on and on. Zoroark didn’t think they had paused for a reply even once. Eventually, the words began to feel like worms squiggling in his ear.

“So where are you from?” he asked, if only to cut off the constant stream of babble.

“I dunno,” the meinshao said without skipping a beat. “Where are you from?”

“I’m from Water,” Zoroark-as-Braixen said, thinking of a cover story that was vague enough to leave out the important details. “I used to live here when I was little, so I came here again to find a job.”

“I’m Marley,” the meinshao said almost immediately after. She stuck out her paw instantly. The tassels batted Alice in the face, who grunted and nudged them out of the way. “Born and bred right here in Paradise. Rising star in the ranks of HAPPI… Shake?”

“Uhh…” Zoroark-as-Braixen hesitated. But it would be rude not to, so he relented. “Sure.”

The paw felt weird. He hated doing this.

“Coolio,” Marley said, pulling her arm back. The tassel brushed over Alice’s face again, to her annoyance. “You keep a name? Wait, no, you’re from off-continent, so probably not.”

“Are names a Paradise thing?” Zoroark-as-Braixen asked. This was the third time somemon had asked him that question. He thought they were confusing. Wasn’t it just easier to call a ‘mon by their species name, and let sight and smell do the rest?

“It’s the whole continent,” Marley said. “Started here in Paradise, though. Didn’t you study your history ever?”

Zoroark had never really had the opportunity. He just shook his head no,

“Hey,” Marley suddenly said, catching Zoroark-as-Braixen’s attention. “What’s wrong with your ear?”

She leaned forward, squinting at Zoroark-as-Braixen’s ear, which was beginning to take on a strangely orange hue. Zoroark quickly turned himself away from the mienshao as quickly as possible, pretending to straighten it out as he made sure his illusion was back up to snuff. He could barely keep his eyes open, let alone maintain this…

“Must be the light,” he said.

Alice annoyedly nudged Marley’s arm tassel out of her face again.

“You sure?” Marley asked, her voice taking on a bit of a suspicious tone. “That didn’t look like the light to me. If I didn’t know better I’d say it’s… a trick of some kind?”

It was hard for Zoroark not to panic. One slip up, and that was the end. And it meant he had to stay perfectly calm.

“That’s a ridiculous thing to think,” he said.

“Oh, loosen up,” Marley said. “I’m pullin’ your leg.”

Zoroark-as-Braixen flicked an ear in annoyance. If that was a joke, he didn’t find it funny.

They reached what looked like a house on the walkway. Zoroark recognized it immediately – it was what he and Alice had come up on. At this point, Marley broke off from them without a word, quickly heading towards the small house-like structure and shutting the door after her. Zoroark spied something strange on her as she walked in—it looked like, concealed among all the other fur, there was a single black tail pointing out her bum.

Zoroark-as-Braixen barely kept his instinct to snort quiet. So much for a trick. She’d been one to talk all along. He wondered if his partner had seen anything. He turned his head to ask—

But all of the sudden, there was the loud noise of splintering wood, followed by commotion down below.

Hearing the noise, Alice quickly sped up, leaving Zoroark-as-Braixen in the dust.

“Come on!” He heard her yell as she ran off. She seemed more in spirits now than she had been the entire time he had been assigned to her. “Don’t get left behind!”

Praying that this wouldn’t be thing that made the boards break away from underneath him, Zoroark-as-Braixen took off after her, wincing at each creak under his feet as he went. He caught up with Alice just as the door swing closed, catching it with a claw and yanking it open long enough to slip inside and shut it after him.

He stopped short just behind Alice, who was staring down at the demolished staircase ahead of them.

“Did it break?” Zoroark asked. If it had, that would explain all the commotion…

“It can’t have,” Alice said. She was intently studying the wrechage of the stairtop remains at her feet, which were littered with burn marks from an attack. “Somemon blew these off. Did you see anymon else in here with Marley?”

Where was Marley, now that Zoroark thought about it? He looked down at the wreckage, which was shallow. If there was a body down there, he’d see it.

“Actually…” he began, barely believing he was about to say it. “I think it was Marley.”

“What makes you say that?” Alice asked.

“She was supposed to be patrolling with us, right?” Zoroark-as-Braixen said. “She had no reason to break off. And the explosion happened right after she went into the cabin. If somemon else did it, then they had to be connected to her.”

Alice thought that over for a second.

“Whatever the case,” she said. “This wasn’t done without an ulterior motive. We don’t have time to call for backup—we need to get down there and stop whatever’s going to happen.”

Zoroark-as-Braixen looked down at the thirty-foot drop that lay below them.

“We’re not going down that way, right?” he asked, his stomach beginning to do backflips.

“We’re just above the main gates,” Alice said. “There’s another stairway down the path from here. Move fast!”

She nudged the door open and bolted out. Zoroark could barely move fast enough to keep up with her.

The staircase on the other side had thankfully not exploded. They bolted down it, running down thirty feet worth of stairs before finally reaching the bottom and entering the chaos.

The large, tight crowd that usually linedup outside the gates each day was a loud, disorganized, panicked mess. Shouts came from everywhere, some angry, some panicked. A small fire had been started in the underbrush, which was beginning to catch fire on the bridge.

“You!” the whimsiccot from the day Zoroark had entered the city, now outside the booth and looking like she was collecting her bearings still, was pointing at Alice. “We need your help with the fire!”

She frantically pointed to the burning wall to make her point.

“On it.” Alice quickly turned to Zoroark-as-Braixen. “You know what to look for. Ask the guard what caused the fire and if they saw a mienshao pass through here.”

And with that, she bolted off in the direction of the firefighing crew and was gone.

With Alice gone, Zoroark momentarily reeled. Catching himself just in time, he looked at his illusion to make sure he hadn’t dropped it while he wasn’t paying attention. He was fine in that department, but… what was he gonna do?

Deep breaths. The first thing to do was get information.

He walked up to the whimsicott, making sure to catch her attention away from the fire that was slowly being put out as he approached.

“What happened here?” he asked, urgently.

“It was just a couple minuts ago,” the whimsicott began. “I was busy doing my job at the front gate there” – she pointed to a stall that looked like it had been destroyed – “when suddenly the stairway next to me exploded!” She whooshed her arms dramatically away from her to ekphasize the explosion. “I’m lucky the fire didn’t hit me. It caught the wall on fire, and sent everymon into a panic…”

“Did you see who did it?” Zoroark-as-Braixen asked.

The whimsicott shook her head. “There was too much chaos, I could barely see what happened myself…”

“What about before?” Zoroark asked. “Did you see anymon enter from the staircase before the explosion? Maybe a mienshao, or a zorua?”

The whimsicott thought on that for a moment. “Now that you think of it, I might have seen somemon…”

Zoroark-as-Braixen zeroed in on something wrong in the crowd. There was a ludicolo running away through the crowd, but it was moving wrong. Lots of pokemon were making way for it in all the mess – which was probably why the zorua had chosen it as a disguise. Although that was a stupid disguise—was she trying to attract attention to herself?

Unluckily for Marley, her inexperience gave her away. Zoroark saw right through it.

“Excuse me,” he said. Then he took off after the figure.

Half a second before he hit the crowd he realized he was going to need to tend to his own illusion too. Berry Crackers—

Now he was enveloped in the tight crowd, taking up just a bit more space than a braixen should. Zoroark-as-Braixen pushed through, allocating as much of his illusion brainpower as he could towards masking the brush of his mane against others, hiding the extra inch it took to shove his way through that the faux braixen skirt didn’t quite gap, and the harder sheen of claws where there should have been furry paws instead. It probably made his main illusion go down in detail a little, but he couldn’t be bothered with that right now. He just had to hope that no-mon noticed.

Finally he got free of the tight space and entered the area that the “ludicolo” had left the crowd reeling in its wake. Now he could go faster. He broke into a sprint, swiftly dodging pokemon that were picking themselves up left and right. He could see the ludicolo now, cutting a large swath through the crowd as it flailed its arms terribly.

Zoroark-as-Braixen picked up the pace, closing the distance between them fast. He slid to a stop right at the end of the crowd, where the ludicolo was flailing. He placed his claws on the ludicolo’s arm, causing it to stop.

“Hold it there,” he announced loudly. “You’re under arrest.”

The ludicolo turned around and suddenly bared teeth at Zoroark that were much sharper than what should have been on a ludicolo. Zoroark wasn’t phased. They weren’t real.

“You’re coming back with us to headquarters,” he said. The next part, he said in a hush only loud enough for her to hear. “For your sake, behave. Otherwise these pokemon are going to see what you really are.”

The ludicolo, reluctantly relaxed. Zoroark-as-Braixen began to tug her away.

“How did you two get down here?” she asked, eyeing Alice helping put out the last of the fire on the right-hand side of the gate. “I thought I blew up the stairs!”

“You didn’t blow up both of them,” Zoroark-as-Braixen said. “We went down the other staircase.”

“But that’s the thing…” Marley stressed. “I did blow both u—”

A loud explosion ran out, nearly blowing off Zoroark’s ears. It was followed by a cacophony of crashes and splintering squealing metal. He shielded his eyes, protecting them from slivers of debris. When he opened them again, he saw that the entire wall where the left-hand staircase had been had collapsed in on itself. There were some small, disconnected fires burning amongst the shattered wood.

“…Oh,” Marley muttered, dumbfounded. Fire workers quickly tried to put out what was remaining before it could blossom out into something that could destroy what was left of the wall.

The wind ruffled Zoroark-as-Braixen’s fur, but his disguise didn’t ruffle with it. It blew off over the wall, and towards the rickety buildings that made up the outer ring of Pokemon Paradise.

Pokemon Paradise must fall.

The black void that Sparkleglimmer had come to know well surrounded her. In front of her, a fuzzy view of the downtrodden towers of the city floated.


The In Between.png

Little as she knew about it, the Voice had never led her wrong before. No matter how counterproductive it seemed, whenever she did what the Voice asked her to, it always panned out in her favor.

And yet, something about this seemed especially wrong.

“Pokemon Paradise is HAPPI’s base of operations,” Sparkleglimmer said. “It’s our biggest economic boon. Why does it need to fall?”

Because it is integral to the Plan.

“And how does Pokemon Paradise factor into the Plan?”

There are traitors and spies in the midst of your ranks there. They must be cleansed, otherwise they will bring about your doom before the Plan’s fruition.

“Then kill the traitors,” Sparkleglimmer said. “You’re in everymon’s head, aren’t you? Tell me who they are. I’d rather not lose the largest city on the map.”

You did not have these reservations about Pokemon Plaza.

“You’re right,” Sparkleglimmer said. “That’s because Wartortle was a hack who knew too much for his own good. It won’t take long to wheel in his replacement and start building a more compliant government there. But if we lose Pokemon Paradise, HAPPI suffers as a result. I suffer as a result. It’s much easier if you just tell me who I need to erase.”

I cannot.

“And why not?”

Because it would affect the Plan.

“When are you going to tell me what this Plan is? If you’re going around destroying my major cities, I have a right to know why.”

It is the plan for the new world.

“Why should we change the world? I’m happy with the way it is now.”

But you will not be forever. In a matter of years, your seat will be taken by others, who have grown dissatisfied with your rule. Would you prefer to go the way of the Rescue Federation, or would you like to preserve your rule forever?

“How do you know that?” Sparkleglimmer asked.

It is the inner logic of the Plan. Prevention, rather than Defense. Need I remind you that we are not enemies? In the new world, you will rule this land uncontested. But for that to happen, there must be change. There must be sacrifice. I have aided you for fifty years. I now ask you to make a sacrifice. Will you oblige?

“Director?”

The voice flickered through the void, echoing around the chamber.

“I’m needed elsewhere,” Sparkleglimmer said. “Let me think on it and get my answer back to you.”

So be it.

The void dissolved around her, and she lifted her head off her desk. A bellossom looked at her from the other side, slightly concerned.

“You fell asleep at your desk again,” she said.

“Travel lag from the trip to Grass,” Sparkleglimmer smoothly answered.

“Didn’t you have travel lag last week?”

“You needed something?” Sparkleglimmer asked, cutting through the question.

“The head of the project on the bottom floor wants a word,” the bellossom said. “In private.”

“And why is the head on the project on the bottom floor sending messengers to me instead of mailing me himself on his connection orb?”

“It has to do with an intruder,” the bellossom explained. “He wants to keep it off the books.”

Sparkleglimmer nodded. An intruder was a very reasonable reason to send for her.

“Very well,” she said. “I’ll be down shortly.”


~\({O})/~

Cloud Nine

The decks of Cloud Nine grew less and less polished the lower one went. Clean, luxurious walls gave way to dirty metal underneath, and the floors became grates and solid steel planks. The engines transformed from a gentle hum into a loud whirring, and the lights became more sparse and harsh. Sparkleglimmer traveled down to the very bottom floor, to a facility built away from any windows or sides of the ship. Typing in the passcode that only she and a few select others new, she waited for the metal door to slide open before wandering into the pristine white laboratory.

The boltund who was the head of the project on the bottom floor grinned widely as he saw Sparkleglimmer approaching.

“You have finally received my summons, I see?” he said, letting his tongue hang out the side of his snout. His accent had the obnoxious slant heard in pokemon who thought they were smarter than everymon else.

“I want to know why those summons were necessary,” Sparkleglimmer said harshly. “You let intruders enter the project grounds?”

“Welllll…. we didn’t let them, persay,” the boltund said with an exaggerated shrugging motion of his entire head. “They just got in.”

“Show me.”

“The intruders took advantage of our looser day security to sneak in,” the boltund explained as he led Sparkleglimmer through the project facilities. Everything, even the equipment on the tables, was spotless. The room was polished a clean white that wasn’t even seen on the upper decks. “They messed up some things and stole one of the components, but it is easily replacable. We don’t think they took anything important.”

Internally Sparkleglimmer fumed. An unknown intruder running around the ship with top secret contraband… She’d have to catalogue all passengers and actions taken on the ship since last night now.

“How useful was that component?” Sparkleglimmer asked.

“Not useful!” the boltund barked. “Not useful at all! Indeed, to even recognize it, it would take a very experienced eye. They would have had to work with these before to see it as anything but a scrap of junk.” He nodded again to drive in his point.

“Do you know who?” Sparkleglimmer asked, her voice much more serious for that one.

“We unfortunately did not see,” said the boltund.

Sparkleglimmer tapped the floor with her back paw in annoyance, mulling it all over.

“Make sure a breach like this doesn’t happen again,” she said. “I trusted your team over others because of your knack for confidentiality. Don’t make me reconsider that trust.”

The boltund nodded very eagerly. Maybe a bit too eagerly.

“It won’t, it will not! We give our solemn promise.”

The sheer change in attitude a bit of fear could bring about was almost magical.

“We’ll look into tightening security for this unit,” Sparkleglimmer said as a closing note. And with that, she left the room.

The elevator ride up to the surface was liberating, like seeing the sun again for the first time after having been trapped underground for days. Years of working on an airship had changed Sparkleglimmer’s attitude towards the skies—as long as her feet were on sturdy ground, she liked standing outside and feeling the wind on her fur.

She was beginning to draw attention, now that she was in broad daylight. The crowd of pokemon around her were having various reactions to seeing her as she passed. Only

But as always, she couldn’t enjoy it for long. She had more important things to think about right now. And so she turned around and headed back into the government building that made up the epicenter of the ship.

Somemon on this ship was snooping around in things they shouldn’t be. She’d have to launch an investigation, and keep things hush for the moment. If any packages had left the ship last night, they would need to be intercepted.

“Have you heard back from the Blackthorn Guild about our proposal yet?” she asked the bellossom upon re-entering her office. “We contacted them a day ago.”

“Nothing yet,” Bellossom said. “We know they have connection orbs, but our messages aren’t being returned.”

“If you don’t hear back from them by tomorrow, then arrange a flygon trip for that location,” Sparkleglimmer said. “I’ll have to fly out there myself.”

The bellossom nodded, then scuttled off. That left Sparkleglimmer to sort out her affairs at her desk in peace.

Faint swirls of the Voice flickered in her head, the low humming she had become accustomed to after all these years making itself known. But she ignored it for now.

Tonight.

Right now, she had to focus on more important things, like ordering that investigation as soon as possible. She sent a summons on her connection orb for the manetric head of security aborad the ship.

But even so, Sparkleglimmer had a feeling she knew exactly who the mysterious intruders were. She recalled the meeting she’d had just a few days ago, the one with that espeon and umbreon. It lined up too well.

That pair was too nosy for their own good.


~\({O})/~

Pokemon Paradise

~Zoroark~

Once they got off the elevated walkways of the patrol walls, Marley was taken from them by a stronger team that Alice had contacted. She would be imprisoned for destruction of property and disturbance of peace, along with counts for several injuries. Perhaps Zoroark should have told them she was actually a zorua, in case she got away somehow. He didn’t seem to have the heart in him to say it. So it went unsaid, and then they parted.

Now they were in the more rustic and developed section of Paradise, the area where the original buildings of Post Town stood and had been integrated into the more modern components almost flawlessly. Zoroark couldn’t tell whether that was because the buildings had been updated to fit with the newer ones, or because the entire city was shabby enough that there just wasn’t a noticeable difference anymore. He figured it was probably a bit of both.

There was a large tower in the middle, a slightly crooked looking spire that stretched up over all the other buildings by several stories. The ground floor was large and lit brightly even during the day. The unown that hung on the sign above the rustic-looking doorway had been done up in fancy calligraphy:


~ S w a n n a . I n n ~

“You can stop looking,” Alice said. “It costs a fortune to even look at the menu there.”

The building seemed very, very crowded even from outside, and there were pokemon lining up around the corner to even get in. But what concerned Zoroark more than anything else was that the entire building looked like it could cave over at any moment.

“Doesn’t the place look unsteady to you?” he asked as they walked down the streets in the direction of the HAPPI barracks.

“That’s Swanna Inn,” Alice sighed. “It’s the most famous restaurant and hotel on the continent, but the building’s so old they need to close it down for repairs. Except that it brings in revenue for the city, so they never get around to it.”

They walked in silence for a bit after that. Zoroark mulled over something. Talking to Alice felt like talking a brick wall that sometimes talked back. If he was going to be in this situation for a while longer, it at least made sense to try and reach out to the pokemon he was going to be stuck with.

“So…” he began. “Since we’re going to be partners for a while longer, why don’t we get to better know each other?”

“Not interested,” came Alice’s flat reply. It left Zoroark in the dust. Not that he was going to be deterred that easily.

“Why not?” he asked. “Don’t you at least want to know who you’re working and sharing a bedroom with?”

“I’ve decided not to make close relations on my job,” Alice said. “You shouldn’t either. What’s going to happen if you have one of those and your partner, say, dies on the job? Or gets reassigned somewhere else? Then you have to do it all over again. Not for me.”

She walked onwards once more, pointedly leaving Zoroark-as-Braixen behind.

Zoroark wasn’t sure how to follow that up. He supposed… if she wasn’t up for it, she wasn’t up for it. Not that it made his day any brighter.

He looked up at the sky, which was in that phase right before it got darker. He suddenly remembered what Amadeus had asked of him. He was going to be late! He needed to go now.

Zoroark took a look at Alice, then, without a hitch, ran into an alleyway and began to take a back-route to the HAPPI building that was clearly visible in the distance.

He needed to do this part without being seen.


~\({O})/~

HAPPI Building

When Zoroark-as-Braixen approached the HAPPI building, it suddenly looked a lot more ominous than it had the day before. The walls that lined the institute seemed like they were claustrophobically snaking around the building. The building’s towers had eyes, all watching him as he walked through the grounds. Like they knew. Every door was a large gaping mouth waiting to swallow him up, every window was another eye to watch him with, and every brick was an ear of some kind he couldn’t see. It was like the entire building knew what he was about to do, and was prepared to strike him down.

But that wasn’t possible. Not really. No-mon knew. And he wanted to keep it that way.

Zoroark-as-Braixen tried his best to look causal, walking down the hallway. He tried to feel causal too, almost convincing himself that he wasn’t here to break in or steal or potentially get himself caught. The calmer he was, the smoother this would go, and the less he had to focus on keeping his illusion steady.

It wasn’t long before he outwalked the other pokemon in the hall, the billboards and banners lining the walls, and the inviting doors that lay half open, entirely open, or closed on either sides. The halls became empty, the doors were more utility-based than anything, and the only ‘mon Zoroark saw in the halls were janitors and ‘mon pushing carts around.

It was here that he stopped in the middle of the hall, realizing: He had absolutely no clue what he was doing. He knew what he was supposed to do—“Find the records”—but it wasn’t like there was a big neon sign pointing out the records room or anything. In fact, none of the signs said that. There was a janitor’s closet, a general supply room, a staff break room for in-building staff, but no warehouse or records division.

“Listen—please hear me out—I think I found something.”

Zoroark’s ear twitched, sensing voices coming from the one room he hadn’t paid attention to. It was behind him to the left, and the sign read “spare break office”. Other pokemon here… not good. He didn’t want to be caught in this section without a pass – it would just make his job harder. Carefully, he slunk up to the wall near the door and began to listen in on what was being said.

“Just give it up,” one of the voices said. “You’ve been looking for stuff like this to pitch all day.”

“But this one works!” That was Elliot. What was going on? “Just only with your vote.”

A sigh, from what Zoroark assumed was Alexis. “Fine. Let’s hear your plan. But you probably already know which way my vote is going.”

“If somemon finds themselves unable to vote for a project, they can give their voting rights to somemon they trust. And… I got that. I got it. With your vote, we have enough votes to—”

“—With the director’s blessing, bring the vote to a tie. You’re grasping at straws, Elliot. What are you trying to accomplish? Stop the project? All you’re doing is pushing it back.”

“But that’s the point!” Elliot cried out. Zoroark’s ear instinctively flicked back.

“The point is you’re trying to push it back?”

“I’m not trying to stop the project, Alexis. I’m just trying to push it back long enough so no-mon gets kicked out into the streets.”

“And how do you expect to do that?”

“If I had another month, or another week, even, I could set up something. A warehouse. Somewhere for them all to go. We could write it into the contract before it’s sealed.”

There was silence, for a moment. The tapping of a foot. Zoroark didn’t know if that was Alexis or Elliot.

“Does that sound doable? Alexis?”

“I’ll think about it.”

There was the sound of walking towards the door, and it suddenly swung open—

Zoroark reacted just in time. Alexis marched out the door and down the hall, not aware that anymon other than him was in it. Zoroark barely dared to breathe, listening for anymon coming to or from as he stayed. Soon after, Elliot walked out, looking quite run down, before going the same way as Alexis had.

It was a full five minutes before Zoroark thought to release his vanishing illusion. He collapsed to the floor, panting for breath. The tiredness was beginning to seep into his bones, and he didn’t know how much longer he could keep an illusion up for. The vanishing illusion was too intense. He was going to need to find some kind of different cover…

His eyes wandered towards a semi-empty trolley that had been abandoned on the other side the hall. Perfect.

He wasn’t going to compromise his braixen disguise in any way, shape or form, so he became a blaziken instead. It was bipedal, about his size, and relatively easy to fake. As long as no-mon asked too many questions or looked at him too hard, they wouldn’t notice the texture of the feathers was slightly off, or that he moved like he was carrying much more weight than a blaziken would. He didn’t have the energy for realism right now.

Now that he had cover, he had to focus on finding the room. He glanced around at all the signs on the door as he walked down the hallway. None of them were the records. At this point, he was going to make a full loop of the building before he found anything…

There it was! He wouldn’t have found it if he wasn’t looking. It was a cramped, slightly narrow doorway that nearly blended in with the wall around it. Sticking out above was a small, gold-colored sign that read


“Records and archives”

Zoroark immediately parked the cart and made a beeline for the room. He checked the door for locks; there were none. It looked like it was an open room for the most part. The guild probably trusted their employees not to be poking around in here for the wrong reasons. Which didn’t make him feel any better about what he was about to do, but worked out for him regardless.

The door opened with a creak, letting light spill into the mostly dark room. It must have been a basement, and sure enough, there were stairs leading down. Zoroark left the door open, because he hadn’t found an electric light source to turn on yet and until he did, the open door was his only light source.

He just hoped he wasn’t found before he found what he was looking for.

The record room was large, almost like an organized maze. There were thick, dusty records sitting on shelves everywhere, and Zoroark could barely see the end of the room. Finding this wasn’t going to be easy.

He crawled through the shelves, looking for any kind of identifier. The shelves seemed to be marked assigned to some kind of system, so he looked for one that was relevant to his find.

Archeology to Electricity… he started at the nearest section, then began to work his way back. “Architecture” started with an A. The paradise expansion project was about building, right? So he figured it would be here.

The A section turned out to be a bust. There were several building plans, but none of them titled “Paradise Expansion Project”. With a sight, Zoroark decided to loop around.

In a burst of dumb luck, he found it under “P”, marked for “Paradise”. It was almost the whole shelf. A quick skim said this was a project that had been in development for years, but was only now coming to fruition. But there were so many, Zoroark didn’t know which ones to take. He figured he’d take whatever looked most recent, and grabbed the two least grimy-looking files off the shelf.

Then the door slammed shut. Zoroark froze. It cast him into darkness.

It opened a second later, but there were shadows standing in the doorway. He could hear voices, conversing rather loudly above:

“That cart parked by the stairway was supposed to go to the other side of the building. How’d it get here? And what’s with the open door?”

“Is this about those ghosts you insist are real again?” A sigh.

“It’s not the bloody ghosts! Well, unless it is, but they usually do stuff at night.”

“I see.”

Whoever said that sounded like they in fact did not see and were just humoring the other pokemon.

The other person sighed in defeat. “I think somemon is down there. You’re security. Can you just check?”

“Yeah, sure, I’ll do a sweep. It’s my job. Just stand back. If I’m not out in five minutes, call backup. And then once this is over, make sure the door’s locked, will you?”

“Got it!”

Zoroark stayed completely still, trying to use the shelves he was behind to hide his big mane and lanky arms. If he had to do illusion gymnastics now…

Somemon tromped down the stairs. Zoroark watched through a crack in the shelves, as a shadow made its way down the stairs…

A lucario walked into the room, carrying what looked like a miniature luminous orb. Zoroark saw his face—it was the same lucario that had accosted him back when he had tried to sign up here! He immediately hid himself from view, and tried his best not to make a sound. That was the worst pokemon who could have come down here—if he was found out…

He mind recalled the wanted poster that had been plastered to the billboard earlier today, and he knew he couldn’t get caught under any circumstances.

Zoroark stayed completely still, not even daring to breathe as the guard made his rounds through the room. It sounded like he was going by shelf, though Zoroark couldn’t see any of it. All he knew was that the tromping was getting closer, and he had to do something.

What were his options? He frantically looked around, trying to find something, anything he could disguise himself with. But the halls were pristine. Something in his bones told him he didn’t have the energy for the vanishing illusion right now.

That only left one option. He’d have to escape on his own. Maybe there was a door on the far end of the room he could step out through.

Tromp… tromp… tromp…

And he had to go now.

Zoroark took a look through the cracks between the books to see where the light was coming from. It was just a shelf down, heading towards the right. Slinking as silently as a furret, Zoroark went down the left side of the book cases, and then weaved a couple shelves further over.

He could see the wall of the far end of the room from here. It was solid stone all the way through, and most importantly there wasn’t another door here. That meant the only entrance in or out of the room was the one on the other side. The one that would be locked after the guard did his rounds.

Tromp… tromp… tromp…

Zoroark had a plan. It was risky, and everything had to go exactly the way he planned, but more and more it was looking like it was the only way out of a bad situation.

He could hear the guard making his way around to the end. He quickly scampered to the opposite side of the room, and waited for the guard to make the turn. Once he did, Zoroark quickly ran for it. He reached the entrance of the room, stopped at the stairs, and then steeled himself for the most important illusion of the day.

“Did you see anything?” the growlithe standing outside the door asked as the lucario guard came up the stairs.

“Nothing,” Zoroark said, doing his best to imitate the lucario’s gravely tones. “Must’ve been some idiot leaving the door open again.”

“A-and what about the cart?” the growlithe asked.

“Another idiot?” Zoroark offered with a shrug.

Growlithe didn’t look convinced, but he wasn’t going to argue with security.

“Go on,” Zoroark said, hoping the growlithe would buy it. “I’ll lock up.”

“Alright…” the growlithe took the cart by one of the pull-strings for quadrupeds, and began to pull it down the hall, back the way Zoroark had come. Only once he was gone did Zoroark dare to drop his illusion. He breathed a sigh of relief, and tightly clutched the files in his claws—that had been too close for comfort.

He then heard the actual guard tromping back up the stairs, and acted on instinct—by the time the guard tromped up into the hall again, he was a garbage can.

The lucario looked around, then folded his arms and sighed in annoyance.

“Can’t rely on anymon these days…”


~\({O})/~

Cloud Nine ~ Nighttime

~Sparkleglimmer~

After office hours, the political district of Cloud Nine and the gardens out front became silent. That worked out for Sparkleglimmer, because in the quiet, she worked the best. And tonight, there was a lot to work on. She had to finish organizing the investigation for the mystery thief. All packages had been checked and all departures had been logged; no-mon had left the ship in the window between the robbery and now. That meant the mystery thief was still aboard this ship. A matter for tomorrow; she planned to have the major suspects screened and

The Blackthorn Guild still had not contacted HAPPI yet. Something about that made Sparkleglimmer uneasy. Grass was backwards in many ways, yes, but she had specifically singled out the Blackthorn Guild for their progressive ideologies and willingness to move forward with the new norms. They would have been ecstatic to receive an endorsement from HAPPI. And yet, for two days, there had been no word. And that worried her.

And now, in the absence of any sound, came something else. The humming that lay ever-present in the back of Sparkleglimmer’s head intensified, and with it came a voice:

The day has ended, and I have come once more to await your decision.

Sparkleglimmer’s day had been consumed by more important matters, and she hadn’t thought on it at all. At the same time, she needed to make a decision now.

“Alright,” she said. “I will allow you to do what you need to make your “plan” work. But on one condition.”

What condition?

“I get to move the valuable assets out of Pokemon Paradise before you do,” Sparkleglimmer said. “We can rebuild easier if we have those.”

To this, the Voice had no reply.

“Is that acceptable?” Sparkleglimmer pressed.

Finally, an answer: It is.

Something about the decision rubbed her the wrong way still, but the Voice had never led her wrong before. This would pan out well for her in the end, she was sure of it.

A knock on the door roused Sparkleglimmer out of her trance. In a blink, the humming dissipated.

“Come in,” she announced.

The door opened, and the bellossom secretary from earlier stepped in. She carried a parcel in her arms.

“Mail just arrived for you,” she said, putting the package on the desk. “It’s from the Grass Continent. No sender or return address.”

Sparkleglimmer looked down at the parcel. Brown paper, wrapped with strings and nothing on it but a scrawled deliver address to the director of HAPPI. She already had the feeling she wasn’t going to like what was inside.

“Let’s open it, then,” she said. Sparkleglimmer used her ribbons to undo the ties, letting the paper come undone and reveal what was inside.

Sitting on the desk, surrounded by nothing but brown folds of paper, was a scorched piece of wood with the emblem of the Blackthorn Guild on it.

Sparkleglimmer stared down at the piece of wood for a while, trying to figure out what to make of it. The bellossom looked jittery all over, like she was scared and trying not to show it.

“You are excused,” Sparkleglimmer told her. “Thank you for delivering the package.”

The bellossom took the nearest opportunity to nod in acknowledgement and leave the room.

Once she was gone, Sparkleglimmer stared down at the piece of wood, and finally drew her conclusions about who had sent it, and what it meant.

“So that’s how it is,” she muttered to herself.


~\({O})/~

Music of the Week!

Deep Sixed – Richard Gibbs
 
Last edited:
Chapter 37 - Port Archaios

SparklingEspeon

Resident Nosy Person
Location
*teleports behind you*
Pronouns
She/Her
Partners
  1. espurr
  2. fennekin
Chapter37Art.png


~\({O})/~

37.

Port Archaios

~\({O})/~

Sand Continent ~ Waters

Slowly coming to. The smell of sea salt on the air roused Espurr from her shallow slumber.

She sat up where she was, yawning. Besides her, Tricky snored loudly, in a much deeper sleep than Espurr had been. Under one of her paws was the bag of buns they had brought along with them, and judging by the crumbs around her, Espurr gathered she had eaten a midnight snack. Only then, when Espurr blinked the blurriness out of her vision, did she remember where they were.

All she could see for miles around them was the endless deep blue expanse of sea, dotted by clouds on the horizon and the occasional ships scattered around in the near distance. It must have been nearly afternoon; the sun shone down brightly on them from above and made it hard for Espurr’s eyes to adjust at first.

They were both on the small back balcony of the ship that they had hopped onto last night, with only a set of barky railings crafted from branches separating them and the sea. It creaked and swayed with the rest of the boat, making Espurr feel unsteady where she sat. Even though she hadn’t moved an inch since she had fallen to sleep last night.

She sat up and stretched, feeling an unfamiliar weightlessness on her right shoulder as she did. The strap of Gabite’s old exploration bag on her shoulder was missing, something she had become accustomed to even though she never wore it when she slept. Except…

Wait. She had gone to bed wearing it, hadn’t she?

That was when Espurr snapped awake completely. She frantically scrabbled around as quietly as she could, looking around for the exploration bag. It was nowhere to be seen, not even near Tricky, who liked to use it as a pillow. With dismay, Espurr noted that the gaps between the railings were just wide enough for their bag to slide through. They must have lost it in the night somehow…

Caught on one of the railings was the nearly empty pouch of blast seeds, gently blowing in the wind. Espurr wasted no time lunging forward and grabbing it before it could fall into the ocean, though it was quite firmly attached to the railing by its rending seams. She scrambled back from the edge, quickly opening the pouch to see if anything was left in there. Inside sat a lone blast seed, at the very bottom of the bag. Espurr hugged it close. If there was one thing in the bag she would have chosen to save, that would have been high on her list. They were at least that lucky.

The number of ships floating in the water around them had nearly doubled the further the ship traveled. With this many boats around, they had to be near something. Espurr nudged Tricky, trying to wake her gently as possible.

“Tricky,” she whispered. “Get up. We’re here.”

Tricky made some indiscernible growling noises, then something that sounded like ‘I’m too tired, pops’, but Espurr kept shaking. She couldn’t be this deep a sleeper, right?

Almost like it was a reflex, Tricky suddenly lunged forward to bite Espurr’s arm. Espurr jumped back just in time, but she went too far. She hit the wall of the cabin with a loud bump.

The sudden noise seemed to have alerted whoever was in the ship’s cabin. Espurr, who was wide awake at this point, looked towards the cabin with sudden fear. Tricky, who had finally been stirred awake by the bump, just stared around in confusion.

Before Espurr could do anything, the door to the back balcony suddenly opened. Bunnelby lazily stepped out, rubbing the sleep from his eyes as he looked around to see what had made the noise. When he saw Espurr and Tricky, he froze. Then jolted to awakeness.

“Wh-what are you two doing aboard?” he asked in shock.

That was the point where Espurr decided this day had it out for her.

Too late to disappear or make a quick escape. She needed to give him some kind of answer that sounded believable for two kids to pull, and didn’t involve creepy mushroom assassins in any way, shape or form. So she said the first thing she could think of:

“Uhhhhh… we got bored.”

~\({O})/~

Main Cabin

The buns were a little flattened. Somehow, though, even after all the abuse Gabite’s old exploration bag had taken, they were still recognizable as buns. Espurr and Tricky dug into them relentlessly, painting the wooden floor with crumbs.

At some point, one of them had offered a bun to Bunnelby. Bunnelby said he only ate raw vegetables and turned them down.

“One of you is going to need to explain to me how you thought it was okay to sneak out in the middle of the night and stow away on a ship you didn’t even know the destination of just because you were bored,” he told them, his voice taking on the tone of a parent calmly lecturing their child. He sat opposite them on one of the ship’s crates, his arms folded. He did not look amused.

“Well, we knew the destination,” Tricky let slip through a mouthful of bun. Espurr froze at that. Stupid stupid stupid—

Wait. Maybe she could work with that.

“We… really wanted to see the Sand Continent,” Espurr said. “Ever since we were little kits.”

Tricky beside her caught on fast enough, to Espurr’s relief. She nodded rambunctiously in agreement, humming through a mouth that was full enough to have an entire bun in it.

“So when we heard that the ship was going here, we stowed away.”

“Where did you hear the ship was going here?” Bunnelby asked. Espurr quickly blanched. That was right. The only place she could have heard that from the briefing the day she got there.

…Maybe it was better to go with the truth for that one.

“The day we got here, I went up to the second floor and overheard some stuff,” Espurr said, choosing her words carefully.

There was a moment of silence as Bunnelby processed that. Espurr wasn’t so sure whether it was better if he believed them or not.

“I guess there’s no point in going back now,” Bunnelby said. “We’ll have to go with the flow.”

“So we can go out and see?” Tricky asked, suddenly energetic.

~\({O})/~

“You’re staying on the ship.”

“What?!” both Espurr and Tricky cried out at the same time.

“This isn’t fair!” Tricky protested. “What are we going to do on the ship all day when there’s this big city in front of us?”

“It’s up to you,” Bunnelby shouted up at them from the dock. “I’d recommend you spend it thinking about why you shouldn’t be stowing away on boats just for joyrides!”

Then he walked away, and both Espurr and Tricky were left in silence. That had not gone how Espurr planned it, but as far as she was concerned it had all worked out favorably for them.

“Well, that was a bust,” Tricky said, sitting her rump down on the ship’s balcony and pouting.

“Yeah..” Espurr said, sitting next to Tricky. “But at least we’re alone. Now all we have to do is wait for the Beheeyem to come to us.”

She tried to sound confident, but the truth was that she couldn’t have felt less so. And when the time came, she didn’t want to stay on the ship. But at least they didn’t have to worry about it for a few more hours.

“What if we told him what’s going on?” Tricky asked. “He’d take us into the city that way.”

Espurr folded her arms, and took a seat against the ship’s mast. The sails gently swayed in the wind above, casting shade down on them.

“Then our plan’s messed up,” she said. “We’re trying to strand them, not get more pokemon involved. Why bring them into the city?”

“Wailord liner approaching!”

The bellow of a loud, large pokemon cut through Espurr and Tricky’s ears. Espurr, who had been sitting against the ship’s main mast and lounging around in the shade of the sails for the last hour, came to attention with a start.

Both Espurr and Tricky next to her looked behind them, where a large wailord with the scaffolding on it was sailing into the harbor. It cut the waves effortlessly, swimming to a stop at the docks.

“You don’t think…” Tricky trailed off.

“What time is it?” Espurr asked, getting to her feet and collecting the bag.

“There’s a clock over there,” Tricky said, pointing into the town. Sure enough, there was a visible clock tower behind the town gates, an old-fashioned one with a glossy brass bell under it.

Ding dong, rang the clock. The hands were pointed to Nine A.M.

Espurr and Tricky traded looks. Then they scrambled up to the side of the ship, looking at the liner.

If they found them on the ship, this was a closed-off space. Espurr recalled what had happened at Spinda’s. The Beheeyem weren’t afraid to wreck things to get to them. She didn’t want to risk destroying the harbor and potentially getting themselves into a bind. It was time to go.

“We can’t stay on the ship,” Espurr said. “They’ll find us here.”

“Well, where do we go?” Tricky asked.

“Anywhere,” Espurr stressed. “Away from the city. We just have to go. And now!”

She walked up onto the ship’s bow, holding her exploration bag and balancing so that she didn’t fall off. Tricky walked up behind her, looking down at the docks below.

“That’s a pretty long fall,” she said, trying to keep the stammer out of her voice.

“I’ll cushion it,” Espurr said. “Just jump on three. One… two…”

“Three!”

The both of them jumped off the bow, headed for the docks—

Just like Espurr had said, the both of them slowed in descent halfway down, touching the docks like they’d jumped barely a foot.

In the distance, the wailord liner had docked.

“Let’s go,” Espurr said, paying the wailord liner a steady glance as they began to run in a different direction.

Towards the sands in the distance.

They hadn’t gone far when they realized there was a large, solid stone wall blocking them from going any further. It extended far, even out onto the water where it turned and blocked the rest of the coast, and it didn’t look like it could be broken by move power alone. It was so high that it looked almost impossible to fly over, let alone climb. Espurr’s stomach did a flip-flop at the idea of even climbing that high.

“What now?” Tricky asked.

“A wall like this has got to have a door in the city,” Espurr said, now thinking to herself more than anything. “Maybe we have to go in after all.”

“And that takes us..” Tricky trailed off.

“Back to the Beheeyem,” Espurr finished, looking back the way they came. “We’ll just have to be quicker than they are.”

The path they followed took them closer and closer to the Wailord Liner. It slowly became less toy-sized as they approached it from the distance. Eventually, it was tall as three stories, and Espurr and Tricky could see crowds that were climbing down off it and onto the docks.

“Isn’t this too close?” Tricky asked. “If they’re really on that ship, they’ll find us here…”

But Espurr was quickly realizing they wouldn’t. There was so much noise in this crowd, both mental and physical, and that meant…

“I can’t sense anything in this crowd,” she said. “And if I can’t, they probably can’t either.”

“So they can’t find us?” Tricky asked.

“As long as they don’t see us,” Espurr answered. “Let’s blend in.”

And with that, they both scampered out of the alleyway they were hiding in and joined the crowd.

The crowd was tight, cramped, and noisy. Espurr nearly lost Tricky a couple of times in all the chaos and clutter; it took conscious effort from the both of them just to stay together. The crowd slowly funneled down into a single file line as they got further away from the docks and closer to the gates. The pro was that Espurr and Tricky could stay in relatively the same place now without getting lost in the crowd.

The con was that now the crowd was thin enough for the Beheeyem to be able to glimpse Espurr and Tricky if they weren’t careful. Espurr glanced back every so often, looking for any sign of the Beheeyem in the line behind them. Luckily, they weren’t in front of them—otherwise Tricky would have spotted them at some point.

“Do you think they just didn’t come?” Tricky asked at some point.

“Maybe they didn’t…” Espurr said. And she almost wanted to believe it.

But then where were they? Whoever was controlling them couldn’t have just called them off.

What neither of them expected was for the Beheeyem to approach from the sides.

They passed an alleyway. Tricky happened to look to the left as the line shuffled forward, catching something moving around in the shadows. It looked like… She recognized it immediately. And then pushed Espurr out of the way—

An attack hurled through the air and exploded against the bricks on the other side of the wall. The line descended into chaos.

Espurr picked herself up off the ground quickly. She made sure Tricky was up as well, then quickly pulled her along through the chaos.

“C’mon!” she yelled, swiftly maneuvering over obstacles and members of the terrified crowd. “We need to get to the gate.”

She just hoped they could get through quickly enough.

~\({O})/~

~Bunnelby~

Processing wasn’t exactly the most exciting thing about explorers’ work. Processing for off-continent missions on a place like Sand was especially dull and grating. Bunnelby had to go through two checkpoints—the first to make sure he had the papers to get into the city in the first place, and the second to make sure he had the authorization to get into the continent’s restricted areas (which could only be done if signed off on by a high-ranking official at a HAPPI-registered guild.)

He had the necessary papers. It was just that he was going to have to sit through two hot, cramped lines to get it all filed.

Right now, he was in the middle of the first line. The line for passport checking was outside in broad daylight, and it stretched all the way back into the harbor. Bunnelby had been here for at least an hour, and he was finally getting near to the end of it. He could tell the cranidos ahead of him was having heat troubles too—which must have said something, since he was reptilian—and the leavanny behind him had slightly singed leaves. It was hot. But the checkpoint was just ahead, so they’d all be out of it soon. He hoped. It wasn’t easy to think of much else right now.

“Identification, please,” the monotone diggersby at the gate warbled out. He was wearing a hat that offered some amount of shade, but those big ears obfuscated enough of the hat’s brim that it wouldn’t do much. “Explorer or tourist?”

“Explorer,” Bunnelby said, opening his bag and fishing around in it. He pulled out his passport with an ear, then sealed the bag back up lickety split. “Here’s my mission slip. Authorized by the Expedition Society.”

The diggersby pulled up a display on a connection orb. “What continent is that on?”

“Water.”

A few more clicks on the orb. A grunt.

Diggersby pulled a paper out of one of two identical stacks, set it on the table, and stamped it.

“Keep that on you. It’s good for the next three days.”

Bunnelby was about to pull the paper off the desk when a shout ran out into the air.

“Bunnelby!”

It was the distinct sound of a child’s yelling. Bunnelby’s ears deflated a little. He thought he told them to stay on the ship…

Sure enough, Espurr and Tricky were running towards him in the distance. They caught up to the stand in a matter of minutes, huffing and puffing and out of breath.

“We’re coming along,” Espurr said, almost keeling over from all the running.

“What’s this about?” Bunnelby asked, folding his arms angrily. “I thought I said you were staying on the ship!”

“We can explain later!” Tricky said. “We just need to get through!”

“The guard said we had to go here,” Espurr explained. “It’s important.”

This was making a scene. Pokemon in the crowd behind were beginning to get antsy, wondering what was holding up the line. And no matter how Bunnelby cut it… the looks of fear on their face looked genuine. He couldn’t say no to that. He just… hoped they weren’t playing him.

“They’re accompanying me,” Bunnelby said to the diggersby. “Stamp them on too.”

Two stamps later, and all three pokemon were cleared to enter the other side of the gate.

“Could you please help me with this bag?” the leavanny behind bunnelby asked him. “My leaves are kind of…” she showed him the singed edges.

Bunnelby couldn’t say no to that either.

“Of course,” he said.

~\({O})/~

Port Archaios

“You two need to explain this to me,” Bunnelby said once they were in the inner streets of the city. “Again.”

The streets around them were decked out in exotic colors, and smells Espurr had never smelled before hung in the air. It was enough to make her dizzy just from all the new stuff that was going on around her, and almost enough to make her momentarily forget about the situation they were in.

Almost.

She blanched at Bunnelby’s demand.

“Espurr, come on,” Tricky urged. “You have to tell him.”

“It’s dangerous,” Espurr said. “I don’t want to get more pokemon involved than I have to!”

Bunnelby was, of course, right in front of them.

“What’s dangerous?” he asked.

Large crowds of pokemon were beginning to file in, and the sounds of a large commotion were beginning to come from the gates they had just walked through. It looked like there had been a holdup at the gates, and even pokemon wearing the fuchsia-colored scarves that marked law-enforcement were arriving and beginning to sort things out.

Bunnelby marched them over to a bench, sitting the both of them down and sitting next to them.

“We’re not leaving this bench until you two tell me what’s going on,” he said.

Espurr glanced at Tricky. She knew it wasn’t going to give her an answer she liked, but it was more of a reflex than anything. Tricky’s eyes only urged her to tell him.

“There was a pokemon at the harbor who was causing a lot of commotion,” Espurr said. “Once that happened, we got out of the ship and ran here. We were hoping we’d catch you.”

Tricky looked frustrated. Bunnelby glanced back towards the harbor gates, where there did indeed seem to be a commotion of some kind. It seemed plausible enough.

“Well, if that’s all it is…” he said, getting up off the bench. “We’ll let the police handle it. It’s their job.”

“What was that about?” Tricky hissed to Espurr.

“I don’t want him in danger,” Espurr hissed back. “He’s not even involved in this.”

“But now we have to go get registered for the mission I’m here to take,” Bunnelby said, getting up from the bench. “Let’s not waste time.”

As much as he wasn’t looking forward to standing in another line, he wasn’t going to delay it until it got busy.

~\({O})/~

Archeology Division HQ

The headquarters of the Archeology division was the biggest building in town. It was also in the center, the large palace with the gigantic tree sprouting out of it. Fitting that it would be the town’s guild and government hall, after all.

But even a great building like that wasn’t free of lines. Few of them were actually there on exploration duty—many of them were there for more mundane affairs like city disputes, civilian registration (since you couldn’t stay in the town longer than three days with just a paper slip), and merchant business like supply trades. The issue was that for the most part, they were all in the same line until they were filtered out into their own break-off groups. Why it was done this way and not some other, more efficient way, none of them knew.

Bunnelby sat Espurr and Tricky down on an empty banquette. He didn’t relish the idea of taking them back into the cramped line, but this place looked safe enough.

“You should be fine here,” he said. “Just stay until I get the registration and come back.”

Then he left, and Espurr and Tricky were left to their own devices. Espurr craned her neck until she couldn’t see him in the crowd anymore. Once he was gone, she leaned back against the seat and at least tried to relax.

Not that relaxing was an easy thing to do in their situation.

“If you told him, he’d be helping us,” Tricky said.

“But he’d be in danger,” Espurr replied.

“How long are you going to do this?” Tricky asked. “We got a cafe blown up. We ran to another continent. We’re in uber trouble!”

“But we’re so close,” Espurr said. “We’re in the city now. All we have to do is find the Beheeyem, find the door to the wall, and then strand them out there.”

“And what if we get into more trouble then?” Tricky asked. “How do you even know we’ll be able to get through that door?”

“We’re already in deep trouble,” Espurr said. “It’s just one last jum—"

“—No,” Tricky said. “It’s not.”

That caught Espurr off-guard.

“What?” she asked.

“It’s not just one last jump!” Tricky said. “It’s more dangerous than it is now! We’ll be all on our own. They can pick us off easy!

“Bunnelby can help us,” Tricky continued. “Even if it’s dangerous. We just need to tell him what’s going on!”

“What tells you he’ll even believe us if we tell him the full story?” Espurr countered.

“How do you know he won’t?” Tricky stressed. “You never tried!”

Espurr folded her arms.

“I know I’m not good with plans,” Tricky said. “But doesn’t getting help seem like the better option?”

After the explosion at Spinda’s, Espurr wasn’t too sure.

“Maybe we can tell the police,” she said. “Bunnelby isn’t going to get out of that line anytime soon, right?”

The line Bunnelby was in was long and ended at a place Espurr and Tricky could barely see from their seats.

Tricky sighed. “Something tells me no.”

~\({O})/~

Port Archaios Police Station

“As it turns out, we’ve placed an arrest recently for three pokemon similar to the ones you’re describing,” the totodile at the front desk said. “If you’d like to come back, we can show you some photos and you can tell us if they’re the same or not.”

“We’d like that,” Espurr said, staring up at Totodile from the other side of the desk with Tricky.

The photos were taken in bad lighting, but from safely behind a glass screen. And the contents of the pictures showed what was clearly three Beheeyem.

“So they got locked up,” Tricky said once they had managed to get themselves situated properly on one of the similarly cushy booths in the police station. “That means we don’t have anything to worry about, right?”

“I don’t think so,” Espurr said. She wasn’t entirely comfortable that the walls of a prison could contain the Beheeyem, but that prison was built for handling dangerous pokemon. If there was any place that could contain them, this was it.

“See?” Tricky said, looking proud of herself. “I told you getting help was the better option! We would have been worried all day if we hadn’t gone!”

Having the Beheeyem gone was only one worry off Espurr’s mind, but she was happy to take it.

“Yeah,” she admitted. “You were right.”

~\({O})/~

Port Archaios Jail

The jails were in limited number here, so the Beheeyem had been locked up in a single cell. Not that having the combined power of three pokemon meant anything—the walls were made of a substance that didn’t seem to react to their attacks. They couldn’t even put a dent into it.

They had several chances to stone their way out of the place. But they didn’t. They had been ordered only to makes waves and create confusion when they had to. Turning ‘mon to stone would have revealed their tracks too fast. It would have outed them before they had a chance to reach the target.

“Hey.” A voice from the cell facing them. An incineroar casually flicked pebbles from the ground besides him into the glass, making a ‘plink’ noise with each one. “Coneheads. You guys all mutes?”

He annoys them.

Fools.

The voice reverberated through their heads, and only theirs.

I granted you immense power, power no pokemon has seen before. I granted you that power to do one job. And look where you end up.

The atmosphere in the cell and only in that cell suddenly grew too heavy to breathe properly.

I should remove you. There are many pokemon in this world who would do a better job rather than fail me like you have.

The Beheeyem were reckless. They can do better.

I expect as much of the pokemon who pledged themselves to be my servants.

They deserve another chance.

Very well.

The heavy atmosphere lifted in a second.

This material is infused with the stone of my mountain. It shall break.

Dark veins spread out through the glass, expanding from within. The glass door of the Beheeyem’s jail cell suddenly shattered apart.

Go now. They are within your sights.

The incineroar within the other cell quickly stumbled up and backed against the wall of his own cell once he saw and heard the shattering of the Beheeyems’.

“H—” he began. “Wait. I was only messing around. I didn’t mean that!”

The Beheeyem approached his cell, separated only by the glass of the prison cell.

They would love to use him as a warm-up.

Very well. He is a witness, after all.

The incineroar watched in terror as veins of darkness began to bleed into the glass of his cell. It blew apart the same way the Beheeyems’ had, pelting him with slivers of sharp glass. He looked up as the Beheeyem closed in on him, raising their blinkers and rapidly charging a ball made up of black sparks—

~\({O})/~

Police Station Lobby

The sound of something shattering suddenly turned Espurr and Tricky’s heads.

The alarms in the police station began to whir. Snapped awake by the alarm, two guards who had been sleeping on their haunches immediately got up and started running for the back.

“You don’t think…” Espurr said to Tricky, beginning to get up off the booth.

The screams of two pokemon from within the chamber—the guards.

The totodile at the front desk quickly hopped off her seat. She pressed a button, a gate lowered over the entrance to the back of the station. There was a moment where everything was quiet…

Then the gate blew apart—

Espurr and Tricky hit the ground to avoid being speared by the debris. From the newly cleared entrance to the jails backstage emerged what Espurr had been fearing that entire day: the Beheeyem.

They didn’t waste any time. The Beheeyem quickly began to charge another attack. It was all Espurr and Tricky could do to pull the totodile out of the way before the attack could demolish the tiles in the area it hit.

No sooner had they managed to dodge the Beheeyem’s attack did Espurr pick herself up, help pull Tricky to her feet, then bolt for the door. They just managed to make it before another attack went flying their way. Espurr kicked the door of the station closed before it could hit them. The attack sent the door flying. The crowd around them reacted with fright as the door sailed over their heads and crashed into the building on the other side of the street.

Espurr and Tricky quickly made themselves scarce in the chaos. Espurr looked back as she ran, seeing the Beheeyem emerge from the side of the building rather than the front. They blended into the crowd, though the tips of their cones stuck out among the top.

Soon, the mental noise of the crowd grew far too immense for any psychic to have a hope of discerning anymon from the rest of the mess. Espurr managed to relax on that front, but that didn’t mean the chase was over. Somehow, the Beheeyem were still within a dangerous distance from them.

Espurr picked up the speed. She began to bump pokemon out of the way, ignoring the grunts and cries of annoyance as she led Tricky through the crowd.

That was leaving a trail, one the Beheeyem were picking up on. They began to follow in the direction she and Tricky were going. That was fine. As long as they got out of here faster they could get lost afterwards. What was a good place to go?

“What if we hid on the roof?” Tricky asked, looking up at the signs that stood on the roofs of many of the buildings. Sure, they didn’t all have flat roofs, but those signs were more than big enough to hide behind until the danger had passed. All they had to do was somehow get up there without the Beheeyem following them…

“That’s a good idea,” Espurr said. “We just need to get up there without being followed. Let’s try…”

She slowed down, trying to look more causal. There was still a large enough crowd that the mental interference worked in their favor, but the pokemon were beginning to thin out enough now that soon they’d be visible anyway. Espurr scanned the sides of the buildings, looking for an alleyway with a dumpster or something else they could climb on. Soon, her eyes caught sight of one. But it was on the other side of the street. They wouldn’t be able to get to it without catching the eyes of the Beheeyem, and their window was closing fast.

The hippowdon they were using as a visual shield from the Beheeyem was making a right turn, so Espurr smoothy bridged the gap in front of a family of grovyle instead.

“If we can get to that alleyway over there, we can get onto the roof,” Espurr said, pointing it out to Tricky. “Be ready to run when I say so.”

At this point the Beheeyem were much too close for comfort—only a few pedestrians away from them. Espurr caught sight of a few unattended barrels sitting next to one of the buildings. Those would do. With just a mental push, the barrels fell over and rolled into the Beheeyem. The door of the storefront they were sitting next to opened, and a large dragonite walked out. He looked down at the barrels angrily.

“Did you knock these over?” He questioned the Beheeyem. Espurr quickly took advantage of the distraction, using pedestrians as cover as they both ran for the alleyway so the Beheeyem didn’t notice.

She wasn’t entirely sure if they did or not.

They entered the alley, looking at the trash can that was supposed to be their ticket up onto higher ground. The building was two floors high, and the trash dumpster barely even scaled a fourth of it.

“Get up on top,” Espurr said. “I’ll propel us.”

Tricky did as she said, hopping up onto the dumpster. Espurr followed suit.

“Ready?” she asked. Tricky nodded. “One… Two… Three…”

Before they could do anything, the dumpster was blown away from under them.

Espurr was sent flying back. Tricky landed somewhere next to her. The alleyway was a dead end.

Then the light was blotted out. The Beheeyem entered the alleyway, casting the street in front of Espurr in shadows. Espurr hardly dared to move, not that it mattered much at this point. The Beheeyem clearly knew it was over. They raised their blinkers at the two of them in unison, letting black sparks collect around them once more…

Not if Espurr had anything to say about it. She concentrated her mental energy, then jumped off the ground. A small psychic boost blasted her up into the air. She landed on one of the Beheeyems’ head cones—

The attack sent the Beheeyem stumbling back—Espurr had done it way too fast for them to react properly. Espurr kicked back the cone she had hurtled into, then slammed back into the one behind her with her body force and knocked that Beheeyem forwards. Another boost propelled her over the head of the third one, and she landed out in the town. Then she realized: in all the kerkluffle, she had forgotten something important: Tricky was still in the alleyway!

But the Beheeyem wanted her. Not anymon else. It was time to end this for good.

“Hey!” she yelled to them, catching their attention from a distance. “Try and catch me!”

Two of the Beheeyem started after her. Espurr briefly wondered what happened to the third, but two was more than enough reason to start running. So, she did. Now, for the city outskirts.

She didn’t know where she was going to find that door yet. But as long as she got them outside the city, then she could take it from there.

~\({O})/~

Tricky had taken the fall much harder than Espurr had. By the time she managed to get up, she saw to her horror that there was a Beheeyem hovering over her.

She yelped in fright and curled up. What had happened to Espurr?

But the attack she was expecting never came. Instead, it felt like something was being inserted into her mind very painfully, but there was no cut. The Beheeyem’s lights flashed, and somehow Tricky knew what they meant:

If you want to see your friend again, get up.

So, she did.

“What did you do to her?” she asked, spitting the words out at the Beheeyem. The Beheeyem didn’t answer, only started moving towards the exit of the alleyway. But Tricky stayed still.

“I’m not moving until you tell me,” Tricky said. “Where is Espurr?”

There was still no answer from the Beheeyem, but it stopped and twisted around just a little. Suddenly, it felt like Tricky’s brain was being sliced in half—

She felt to the ground, moaning and clutching her head in her paws and trying to bear the searing pain from whatever was happening to her—

All of the sudden, it stopped. She looked up at the Beheeyem, who was still in the same position it had been before the attack on her brain. All Tricky could do was pant from all the exertion and the pain, and stare of at the Beheeyem in hurt.

Come.

And Tricky didn’t have a choice. She had to go.

Trying not to pay attention to the tears flowing out of her eyes, she reluctantly stepped after the Beheeyem.

~\({O})/~

Archeology Division Headquarters

“You’re all set,” the pokemon at the counter said. Bunnelby took the paper slip that determined ‘yes, he could enter the fenced off section of the Sand Continent for research purposes’, and left the desk.

When he came back to the booth Espurr and Tricky were supposed to be sitting on, he found that it was completely deserted.

Immediately, Bunnelby went into panic mode. He knew it was the better option to leave them on the ship; leaving two children alone in a large town like this was a bad option! Now what was he going to do?

Wait. They had an expedition gadget. Assuming they had thought to bring it, he could just give them a call. Bunnelby pulled his own gadget out of his bag, slotted the connection orb in, picked out the contact from the expedition society roster (new members were added by default), then pressed the button that contacted Dedenne.

The line whirred for a minute, but eventually Dedenne’s voice came into focus: “Whosit? Bunnelby? Is that you?”

“Dedenne,” Bunnelby spoke up. “Can you wire me through to the newbies?”

“The newbies?” Dedenne asked. “Like I haven’t tried! We’ve been searching for them all day! Are… Wait. Are they with you?”

“Long story,” Bunnelby said, trying to fight the beginnings of an anxiety-induced headache. “I’ll explain it all when I get back.”

“So they are with you!”

“Can you please just wire me through?”

“32nd time’s the charm, I guess…” Dedenne’s voice didn’t sound very enthusiastic. “But, sure.

~\({O})/~

Espurr hugged the pouch with the blast seed in it close as she ran. It had migrated through various places on her person throughout the day, but she’d made sure she never ever lost it. She only wanted to use it if she had to. Once she was sure she had enough of a head-start on the Beheeyem, she spun a corner and continued down a slightly narrow alleyway. She could see the looming wall in the distance in front of her. She just hoped she could find the gate once she got close enough.

The Beheeyem were hard to lose. The two of them floated into the alleyway, then began to make after her as quickly as they had rounded the corner. This building was long, so there weren’t any turns or obstacles Espurr could throw them off at. And without those, she was quickly realizing she was at a disadvantage. She just wasn’t as fast as they were, and she was beginning to get quite puffed out. The Beheeyem floated along without even a sign of being tuckered out, and it wasn’t long before Espurr couldn’t run anymore…

But she didn’t need to. There was a gate just ahead, and if she could just hold out long enough she’d get there with time to spare. With one last desperate burst of energy, Espurr made for the gate. She managed to reach the door before the Beheeyem could catch up, swinging and latching it shut. At last, she was reasonably separated from her pursuers.

The Beheeyem glowered at her from the other side. But they didn’t try to break down the gate like she expected. Maybe they figured it would be too much work to keep going after her like this. She’d surprised them before, after all.

But suddenly something Espurr didn’t expect happened. There was a sudden jab in the backside of her head. It felt like a needle was being inserted into her brain, but when she clutched the area that was throbbing in pain, nothing was there. Espurr wasn’t a dummy—she knew what was happening. It must be some kind of psychic trick.

And she was too tired to push it out.

The lights on the end of the Beheeyems’ blinkers flashed, and somehow Espurr understood what they said this time: We have your friend.

Who they were talking about, Espurr knew too. Tricky. They must have…

Now they had her cornered, and she knew it. She had done everything she did to make sure others didn’t get in danger from this. She had to be the one to deal with it herself.

But that couldn’t come at the expense of Tricky.

“How do I know you’re telling the truth?” she asked. It was worth a shot.

You don’t.

The fact that there were only two of them was enough to send Espurr’s mind into doubt.

And more and more it was looking like she didn’t have any choice but to co-operate.

She reached into the pouch and pulled out her final weapon—the last blast seed.

“Promise me you’ll bring her here,” she said. “Otherwise I’ll detonate this and go find her myself.”

You know those do not harm us.

“You don’t have to worry about the blast seed. You have to worry about what I’m going to do once it goes off.”

She didn’t know what she was going to do. She just had to keep talking big long enough to find a proper plan.

~\({O})/~

~Tricky~

The Beheeyem led Tricky out into a crowded street, filled with pokemon of all shapes and sizes. ‘Mon in shopping stalls tries to pawn off their wares to ‘mon hurrying by in the streets, while others hurried by to get where they needed to go. A pack of children on their own were playing with a ball in the streets, dangerously close to getting popped on a nidoran’s needles.

Any of them could help Tricky. There were so many pokemon here, and she was in the middle of it all. In mortal danger, and no-mon knew anything. And after the sheer amount of pain that had coursed through her head the last time, she didn’t know if she had the bravery to call out for help. If she had to go through the mental torture she had in the alleyway again she thought it might kill her.

She didn’t think the Beheeyem was actually listening to her. If it could hear her trying to make up escape plans, it would have fried her brain by now for sure. She didn’t know for real, but that piece of logic brought her at least some comfort.

But even within the sanctuary of her head, she still needed to think of something, and fast. What would Espurr do in a situation like this?

Run away all on her own, probably, Tricky realized. She had to think for herself on this one. But then she shook her head to clear it. She didn’t need Espurr’s help. She could make a plan all on her own to get out of this! She tried to recall what Nickit had said to her during their card game… something about not playing the most powerful card first. Tricky didn’t know how that applied to this situation.

As her mind wandered, she suddenly realized: if the Beheeyem hadn’t killed her by now… they must be using her to get to Espurr! This one must have been taking her to Espurr’s location right now! If she did something now, she’d never find them in time.

That settled it. She’d let the Beheeyem lead her to Espurr, then knock it out when it wasn’t expecting that! Tricky’s moping transformed into a lively trot, feeling very proud of herself for her plan. Then she felt something foreign poking around in the surface layers of her mind. She immediately scaled back her excitement. She must have drawn its attention somehow.

But the shock she was expecting never came. Tricky, who had scrunched her face up to brace for another shock, warily opened an eye to see the Beheeyem facing away from her just the way it always had been. That sealed it, it had to be careless. If it knew what she was planning, it definitely would have fried her. But she was being careless too. She needed to be more careful from here on out.

The Beheeyem led her down several more streets, into the more rugged section of town, until she could see the large walls that separated the city and the rest of the continent looming over them in the very near distance. Tricky was led down a long, narrow alleyway, until they finally reached where the Beheeyem was taking her. The other two Beheeyem glowered back at them, and behind them, behind a wire wall, was Espurr.

Tricky couldn’t help but call out at that point. “Espurr!” she yelled. “Over here!”

Espurr leapt up from where she was resting, making sure not to get too close to the gate but making sure she saw Tricky clearly all the same.

Before she could even register it, Tricky suddenly had the blinkers of two Beheeyem pointed down at her from either side. The lights flashed, and flickered with black sparks.

Either you or her.

Tricky could hear the thoughts, even though they were directed to Espurr.

Choose.

She saw Espurr over by the gate, looking like she was actually considering it. She couldn’t be.

But it was.

“Fine,” Espurr said, smartly concealing the blast seed behind her back. “Me.”

With that, she opened the gate.

And drop the seed.

The blinkers around Tricky began to flash threateningly, charging up...

Espurr knew better than to mess around, it seemed. It didn’t look like she did it eagerly, but she dropped the seed to the ground. An invisible force knocked it back, far out of her reach. Tricky could read the look on Espurr’s face: she was at a loss.

Luckily, Tricky wasn’t. As energy began to collect around the Beheeyem’s blinkers, aimed straight at Espurr, she suddenly darted forward and latched onto the cone of the Beheeyem that had led her here.

The scene devolved into chaos. The Beheeyem flailed wildly about, swinging Tricky around with it. Espurr took the opportunity to run back and grab the blast seed that had been knocked out of her reach. The Beheeyems’ attack changed aim at the last second towards Tricky, still holding on to their partner’s cone for dear life. By the time the Beheeyem realized their mistake, it was too late—

Tricky was spry enough to launch up into the air just in time. The attack that had been meant for Espurr and then her instead slammed point-blank into the third Beheeyem. Tricky hit the ground in a rolling ball at the side and scampered back to Espurr.

For once, the Beheeyem seemed to be genuinely taken aback. They stared at their third partner, who was now a statue of solid stone. Then, the two of them whirled back around to Espurr and Tricky, their lights aflurry with black sparks--

That was when Espurr threw the last blast seed.

Set off in such a small place, the explosion damaged the walls. It threw Espurr and Tricky back across the alley; they landed in a pile of semi-soft sacks. But most importantly, the two remaining Beheeyem seemed to be down for the count. And that was what mattered.

“Hah!” Tricky couldn’t help but prance a bit in celebration. “That’s what you get for coming after us, meanies!” she blew a raspberry at the stone Beheeyem in the middle. “A taste of your own medicine.”

Espurr walked forward and tentatively gave one of the Beheeyem a kick. It didn’t stir.

“It’s knocked out,” she said. “I don’t think they’re gonna get up anytime soon.”

Tricky, who was winding down from the exhilaration, was finally coming back to her senses. She walked over to Espurr, planted her feet in the ground, and firmly nudged Espurr’s attention towards her.

“What were you thinking?!” she yelled in Espurr’s face. She didn’t realize she had the yell in her until it came out.

“What do you mean, what was I thinking?” Espurr asked, folding her arms. “I had a plan.”

“So you abandoned me and ran off?” Tricky snapped. She could feel her hackles raising in anger.

“I was trying to lure them away,” Espurr snapped back indignantly. “They want me. Not anymon else, me. I didn’t think they would try something like that…”

“But they did,” Tricky said.

“And it worked out!”

“It nearly didn’t!” Tricky’s voice rose into a yell again. “Tell me you had some kind of plan back there. Tell me they weren’t just going to let them do that to you!”

She angrily stuck a paw out in the direction of the stone Beheeyem statue.

Espurr couldn’t. Tricky decided to continue.

“You didn’t even say anything to me before you left! How do you think I would have felt if I went looking for you and they got you while you were on your own?”

She noticed her breathing was getting quick and heavy. Old memories began to resurface, but she grit her teeth and buried them. She didn’t need that now.

“And how do you think I would have felt if I kept bringing other pokemon along with me, and then something happened to one of them?” Espurr cut in. “They only went after you because you’re with me. I’m not putting anymon else in danger from this.”

“So you’re putting yourself in danger?” Tricky seethed. “That’s the most reckless thing ever! And it’s selfish, too!”

“How is it selfish?” Espurr asked. The mask was finally beginning to slip. “All I want to do is keep everymon else out of danger!”

“But you don’t have to do it alone!” Tricky pointed out. “What if you can’t do it alone? What about everymon else? What if you…”

She paused to mitigate her breathing.

“Besides…” she continued. “We’re a rescue team. There’s no team if we don’t do it together.”

Espurr still had her arms folded, but it was a moment before she answered.

“What do you think we should do, then?” she said. “We’ve tried everything.”

“Well, who else do we know that has rescue team training and could help us?” Tricky asked.

She let the silence punctuate the obvious answer.

~\({O})/~

Archeology Federation Headquarters

~Bunnelby~

Bunnelby had looked everywhere, and he still hadn’t found Espurr and Tricky. After they had disappeared from the booth, he had immediately aborted any plans for the day to go look at them. He was generally pretty good at keeping his cool, but this was beginning to make even him begin to lose it. Two kids, lost in a big city… all because he’d left them alone! He had to find them.

He’d gone down to the police station to ask them to help him look, but the building was fenced off and all the glass in the windows had been blown apart. Having more than enough problems on his plate currently, Bunnelby decide to leave that fiasco to the police and continue the search himself. And now the sun was beginning to set, and still no luck. He had made a full round of the city, asked around at nearly every establishment he could find, asked Dedenne to make just one more call, and made it back to the Archeology Division’s headquarters. Now was a good time to start panicking, he thought.

“Bunnelby!”

The sound came from the west side of the building. Bunnelby looked left to see both Espurr and Tricky running towards him down the street. They both looked very beat up and puffed out.

“Bunnelby…” Tricky panted out as they slowed to a stop, panting for breath.

“Where were you two all day?” Bunnelby asked, his emotions finally getting the better of him. “I asked you to sit on the bench, and you ran off without telling me. I searched the entire city for you two!”

“We’re sorry…” Tricky apologized meekly.

“We… need your help,” Espurr admitted.

~\({O})/~

Bunnelby took them both to an inn in one of the quieter districts of town, where they ate a light dinner that had been bought from the market just before. Espurr and Tricky had been somewhat perplexed that it consisted mainly of leafy greens, but ate anyway.

“Done eating?” he asked, when the large majority of the greens had been eaten between the three of them. Espurr and Tricky both nodded. “Alright,” he said. “You two need to explain to me what is going on, right now,” he said.

“We’re being hunted,” Espurr began. “By Beheeyem.”

“They chased us away from our village!” Tricky cut in. “That’s why we went to Lively Town.”

“Then, when they reached us there, we planned to lead them here and strand them,” Espurr continued. “They’re relentless; they won’t stop.”

“They’ve got freaky powers that turn pokemon into stone!” Tricky added.

“And they’re not afraid to hurt other pokemon to get to us,” Espurr finished. “That’s why we’ve been trying to keep everymon else out of it.”

“Did you guys happen to go by chance to the police station?” Bunnelby ventured.

“We did!” Tricky said. “But they kinda blew it up.”

Bunnelby took a moment to process all of that, rubbing his temples for a moment. As outlandish as it sounded, it put a lot of the things he had seen today into perspective. And the bit about turning pokemon into stone… that sounded eerily close to what Mawile had given a lecture about only a couple of weeks ago. Wasn’t that what had happened in Pokemon Plaza?

Maybe there really were dark powers at work here.

Bunnelby mused in thought a while longer. But even so, what to do? This seemed like something that lay out of the paws of the authorities. The first thing to do was to confer with Ampharos and Mawile.

He pulled his expedition gadget out of his bag. He saw Espurr’s eyes follow it. “They really turned other pokemon into stone? Like, stone statues?”

“Are you calling somemon?” Espurr asked.

“I’m relaying this to the Expedition Society,” he explained. “Having as much help as we can get will make this easier for everymon.”

“Ooh!” Tricky piped up. “Call Ampharos! He knows all about the Beheeyem!” Espurr beside her looked suddenly worried at that. Bunnelby didn’t miss it, but tried to set it aside to deal with the main issue at paw.

But before any of them could do anything else, there was a sudden knock at the door. Both Espurr, Tricky, and Bunnelby looked at it with expressions ranging from confusion to apprehension. Who would be knocking on their door at this time of night?

“I-it’s me!” called out the rosiela receptionist that had been at the desk. Bunnelby got up from where he sat, hopping over to the door and opening it.

The receptionist indeed stood at the door, but her face was fear-stricken. Behind her, pointed at her from either side, were the blinkers of the Beheeyem. They whizzed and popped with black sparks, and at the last second the aim changed—

“Bunnelby, duck!” Espurr managed to shout out, before an attack spawned.

Bunnelby ducked just in time. The attack whizzed over and carved a nasty dent into the wall on the other side of the room. The secretary, no longer the center of attention, fell to the ground with a gasp and began to creep away down the hall.

Second after that, a powerful force pinned Espurr, Tricky, and Bunnelby to the wall. An attack spawned, but it was noticeably weaker and taking longer to form than it had before. Espurr connected the dots quick: all this psychic energy they were expending keeping them to the wall must have been sapping their energy!

Meanwhile, not having to have done any athletics in a good hour or so meant she was running on full. She focused on some of the belongings in the apartment. The table in the middle began to rattle, then shot towards the Beheeyem—

It rammed into them full force, sending them careening out the door and back into the hall. Espurr, Tricky, and Bunnelby fell to the ground immediately and without cushioning.

Espurr knew better than to spend time picking herself up off the floor. As much as the fall jarred her, within a second she was standing and ready to battle again. But nothing came. The hallway outside was quiet.

Bunnelby stood up off the ground, joining Espurr with Tricky.

“Stay quiet,” he told them. “I’ll bet they’re waiting just outside to ambush us.”

“So do we go out the window?” Tricky asked, glancing at the window outside.”

“We’re three stories up,” Espurr said. “We’d just break our legs.”

“I have an idea,” Bunnelby said. He pointed to the phone on the desk. “See if that phone is still working. We can phone the police station.”

Tricky got on that immediately. Bunnelby crept towards the door, where all was silent still. “We know you’re out there!’ he yelled. “We just called the police!” he cast a look at Tricky, to make sure she had actually managed to phone the police. “Do you still want to pick a fight?”

For a moment, there was nothing.

Then all of the sudden the wall exploded outwards--

Bunnelby swiftly covered his face with his ears. Espurr was blown back a bit by the rubble, but she managed to keep herself steady. Tricky, who hadn’t been in the blast zone, jumped back but was fine. What Espurr hadn’t been expecting was another stone attack to fly directly through the debris.

It very nearly hit her. It would have, in fact. She just wasn’t able to get her muscles to move in time. Thankfully, something pushed her out of the way first, before she could even register what was flying towards her. By the time Espurr managed to make sense of her surroundings, she noticed that Tricky was right on her.

They didn’t have time to react. The Beheeyem were already scooting in.

Bunnelby was faster than the Beheeyem were. As they moved in, his ears began to glow, surrounded by twin auras of white power. He hopped forward and twirled around, his ears fanning out and making contact with one of the Beheeyem. Shocked by the impact, the Beheeyem was sent reeling back.

The other one had been lucky enough not to get hit. Espurr and Tricky were still pulling each other apart when they saw that the second Beheeyem was about to stone Bunnelby! The attack was forming quickly—they had seconds, if not less. Sensing that psionic activity wouldn’t be quick enough, Espurr ran forward as fast as she could. An ember from Tricky flew over her, knocking the Beheeyem off course. The attack flew up into the roof.

Espurr laced her paws with her mental energy, then punched upwards—

The Beheeyem had no time to recover from the last blow, let alone this one. It was sent reeling back, falling against the wall in shock. It huddled up in the corner, covering its face with its large blinkers in order to guard from any more attacks. Espurr kept her mind trained straight on the Beheeyem, in case it began to move again.

“Go help Bunnelby!” she told Tricky.

Using his ears as fists, Bunnelby was doing a good job of fending off the second Beheeyem. It tried its best to stay out of the way, deftly floating back and to the left and right to avoid Bunnelby’s punches. Eventually black energy began to cover its lights again, and it swung its blinkers at Bunnelby—

Tricky collided into the Beheeyem from the side, knocking it off-course and to the floor before it could touch him. At some point, the desk with the phone that stood on the far side of the wall was hit by a stray piece of energy and was sent crashing to the ground.

Bunnelby took advantage of the moment while it was down. He sprung up, spun in the air, and landed on the Beheeyem’s midsection.

“You’re under arrest!” he loudly proclaimed. “Stay down, and don’t dig yourself a deeper hole than you have already.”

There was the sound of tromping down the hallway. Several pokemon wearing the fuchsia scarves ran in, looking around at all the destruction in shock.

“Which one of you phoned?” Bunnelby asked.

Espurr and Tricky shared a look.

“…Neither of us,” Tricky said.

The rosiela clerk walked in with quick, jittery steps, pointing at the Beheeyem.

“It’s them,” she said. She was still shaking. “Those ones. They took me hostage and then blew up this room.”

With both the Beheeyem down for the count, the crew of policemon moved in, and began to pick up the pokemon and cart them away.

Things blurred together for Espurr after that. She knew Bunnelby went to talk with the police officers. After this incident, they said they would be holding the Beheeyem somewhere more secure, so they didn’t break out this time. Tricky had jumped around and excitedly declared that they’d won, and the rosiela clerk offered them another room free of charge for the disturbance. Espurr paid attention to it all, but not too much. Feelings of relief she hadn’t felt in nearly a week were coursing through her brain. It felt alien after all this time.

All she could really think about was that for the moment, they had indeed won.

~\({O})/~

Music of the Week!

Cheetah – Hans Zimmer