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Pokémon Do Psychic-Type Pokemon Dream of Electric Sheep?

Introduction and Table of Contents
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    “You’re awake. Good! I’ve been waiting so very long…

    …How long? You were out for quite a while. I was beginning to get worried about you. Although, your mind wouldn’t have survived the trip if I hadn’t put you under. Transferring consciousness between bodies is a big deal, after all!

    Do you remember what we talked about? The questions I asked you? The conclusions we came to together?

    Yes… We’re here. We’ve arrived at the Pokemon World. But…

    I’m afraid I have to leave you now. However, I trust you’ll be just fine on your own.

    You will… If you answered my questions with an honest and open heart, you should have nothing to fear.

    And now we must part, dear Espurr. My heart goes out to you, in the new world…

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    Do psychic type pokemon dream of electric sheep logo.png
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    Espurr woke up in the middle of the woods without any memory of how she got there. Seeking sanctuary in a secluded village with only a gaggle of children and a hyperactive fennekin for company, it falls to her to get to the bottom of the strange events affecting the entire world... before the dark forces stalking her catch up. A darker, epic take on Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon, based upon the character of "Espurr" from the same game.

    Genres: Drama / Adventure / Fantasy | Rated Hard T

    Warnings:


    Bullying, Near-Death Situations, Actual Death, Violence, Politics, (Minimal) Blood, and Heavy Themes all throughout. Broad spoilers for Pokemon Super Mystery Dungeon.



    Title Music!

    Dune Theme - Toto
     
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    Prologue - Those That Live in This World
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    PROLOGUE

    Those That Live in this World, and Those That Have Come to It

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily.

    The first thing she noticed was that she was laying on her back, and there was a foul scent in the air she didn’t like. The second thing she noticed was the rushing of the river that she must undoubtedly have been right next to. The third thing she noticed (And the least important, her mind argued, to the chagrin of her body) was that she was parched.

    Like, seriously parched. As in, her throat was going to die if she didn’t get any water. So, Espurr reluctantly admitted it might have been more important than she thought, and picked herself up clumsily.

    The river rushed by not a few feet away from her, just as she’d thought. Espurr fell to her knees, attempting to cup up water in her hands, but it just wasn’t working how she wanted it to. She couldn’t work her fingers as well, and it all fell through her much smaller paws before she could hoist it to her mouth. It took Espurr a minute to recognize that her fingers were much smaller than they should have been (and covered in fur as well), but she temporarily ignored that in favor of her growing thirst.

    Would she have to drink from the lake 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 rather clever plan of tearing a largish leaf from a nearby bush and scooping up water in that.

    After a few drinks from her makeshift forest ladle, Espurr’s thirst was finally quenched, and the ripples spreading through the water in her leaf had finally calmed enough for Espurr to see her reflection.

    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 had had a nasty suspicion of it while drinking her fill of the lake’s water just a minute before.

    The real shock, in Espurr’s mind, came when she tried to recall her name. She wasn’t sure what her name might have been at all. In fact, everything that seemed to be floating in the back of her mind; all her memories, thoughts, fear, doubts… They all slipped away like mirages once she tried to truly 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 scream for help. 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?!

    Swish.

    Espurr was roused from her distressed panic by the sound of something deftly moving through the woods behind her. She turned around, quickly scanning the forest for any intruding p… (pokemon, her mind helpfully substituted. Espurr was mildly unnerved, but opted to use it all the same). It took all of four seconds to find them.

    Approaching from behind, a trio of pokemon lurked in the woods. The shade of the canopy cast a foreboding darkness over them, and Espurr could barely make out more than the broadest of details on their cone-like heads. She wisely backed herself against the nearby tree, lest she fall into the lake unawares.

    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.

    Then they started moving towards Espurr, and as they pushed apart foliage and ferns on their path towards her, she saw that they floated. And then she ran.

    She didn’t know how far she ran or for how long, but she didn’t stop, no matter how many times she tripped on her new legs, until she couldn’t hear the distant beeping and the swish of brushed-apart foliage behind her. Espurr collapsed to her hands and knees, wildly panting as the surge of adrenaline that had encompassed her body slowly wore off. She glanced around the forest, taking in the setting sun to the west. It seemed she was more lost than ever now. She didn’t even have the river to guide her anymore. Surely the river would have led her to some sort of civilization. Why hadn’t she followed the river?!

    Espurr felt the first tendril of cold mist swirl around her paw. She looked behind herself, and saw the wall of mist that was approaching from behind her. It wouldn’t be safe to travel out in all this fog, she realized; doubly so with those other pokemon possibly hunting her. 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. They’d never be able to climb a tree without waking her first… right?

    ~\({O})/~​

    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 back, and she dreamt of the strange pokemon that had approached her earlier, with their flashing lights. What were their intentions? Why had they charged at her like that? Was she just a random passerby to them, or was it something more sinister? The incessant whispers of those questions plagued Espurr as she slept.

    She awoke to the sound of rustling below. Stretching uncomfortably in the branch, Espurr realized it was still nighttime. Fog plagued the forest ground, surely as cold and damp as it looked, and Espurr was dearly glad she had made the decision to sleep in a tree. She took a look around. The forest seemed much more ominous than it had before, almost foreboding in nature.

    Unsure as to what had woken her up, she attempted to hone her hearing. She could hear quiet rustles from below the fog…

    …And saw the flash of a light. Espurr snapped awake in horror. She sat 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. Swish. That was the sound of foliage being brushed aside by something. Espurr quickly hid herself in fear. How had they found her? What did they want with her?? Were they going to climb the tree???

    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?

    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, leaning against the tree trunk only half out of pure exhaustion. She knew it was too good to be true. They were waiting. But, for what? Did they expect her to come down from the tree?

    A sudden wind ruffled Espurr’s fur, coming out of nowhere and leaving as quickly as it had arrived. She watched it blow off, violently rattling the branches of a few trees as it went. It certainly hadn’t been natural. Just the very scent of the wind reeked of evil. 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.

    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 would 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 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, she concluded. It was time to go.

    She looked down at the strange pokemon, who hadn’t moved an inch from their previous spots. It was going to be too late soon. She had to escape! Bracing herself, Espurr began to dash for the edge of the branch, attempting to get a running start. Halfway across, she lost her footing, and for one horrifying second she thought that she was going to fall; that every bone in her body would break and then she would be left defenseless as the strange pokemon carried her off to a fate worse than death-

    -And then she caught herself with her other foot, resuming her charge to the end of the branch with renewed determination. 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 having enough time to look in its general direction before she was hit with a strong blast of the foul-smelling gust. It knocked Espurr far off-course, her paws barely missing the branch by a hair’s length before she began the heart-wrenching journey towards the ground.

    Crack.

    Espurr let out a loud yowl of pain as she hit the ground, rolling to a stop on her side. She picked herself up quickly before anything else could take her by surprise. Her right arm was fine, but her left arm; the one she had landed on, hurt like nothing she had ever felt before. She could barely move it! 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.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Audino~

    An audino quietly picked the herbs and weeds from around a ground-bound bush in the forest, slipping them into her exploring bag. It was the full moon, so the night was suitably light, and her herb stores were running low again.

    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 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 simply 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 malevolent tone. The lack of wild pokemon around made her ears bristle with uneasiness as well. Dungeon wildlings were never pokemon to shy away from a fight. If the dungeon locals were all in hiding… then what were they all hiding from?

    Audino didn’t want to find out. She kept the escape orb she had bought from Kecleon’s specifically for this occasion in one of the bag’s looser pockets- just in case she’d need to make an impromptu escape all the sudden.

    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.

    There was suddenly a loud thump in the distance, followed by a sickening crack. Audino had half a mind to just leave right now and forget her herbs. But that notion disappeared once she heard the yowl of pain that followed. Whatever pokemon had made it sounded rather young… But a dungeon wildling; even a young one, could spell trouble for her at this point.

    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?

    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!

    By now, the espurr had realized Audino wasn’t yet another hostile pokemon, and had changed its course directly towards her.

    “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!

    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.

    “Stay close, and whatever you do, don’t let go. Understand?” Audino whispered to her new charge. The espurr nodded, staring in fear at the exact same thing Audino was.

    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.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    The Black Rider - Howard Shore
     
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    Chapter One - Tricky
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    “Friends lift each other up. The effort has to come from both sides, not neither.”



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

    PART I. THE VILLAGE

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

    1.

    Tricky

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily. The sun shone brightly in her face, and she tried to raise her arms to cover it out of instinct. She then noticed her left arm was in a cast.

    “Oh! You’re up now. Good.”

    Espurr’s head turned as Audino walked into the room. She 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 the use of 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; a vast improvement over the blinding pain from last night. Last night… Espurr suddenly felt a lot less relaxed.

    “You collapsed the moment we arrived here. Half delirious, I suspect.” Audino continued to fish through the cupboard with her back to Espurr. “And just before Errand Day, too. You were lucky Kecleon’s stays open late on Saturdays.”

    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.”

    “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.

    Audino supplied her with a few bags of ice. “Keep those applied for the next twenty minutes or so,” she ordered The fennekin reluctantly put her paws under the ice.

    “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 longer sentence 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. “No matter how resilient pokemon bones are. A week, and no less.”

    She grabbed her bag, and began to walk towards the door. “I’ll be back shortly. A poor ursaring is having throat troubles, and I’ve scheduled his appointment in for today. I don’t want either of you to move a muscle until I return; do you understand me?” she asked, punctuating the last sentence with a pointed glance towards the fennekin.

    “Y-yes, ma’am! Absolutely understood!” the fennekin chirped happily, in a tone that suggested it was not understood at all. Audino kept her wary eyes on the fennekin a good moment longer.

    “I expect to see you both sitting on those beds when I return,” Audino stated, and walked out the door without another word.

    “SO-o-o-o-o-o….” the fennekin drew out her single word for as long as possible after making sure Audino had left. “What are you in for?”

    “You’re new here,” she piped up just a second later.

    “What’s your name?” she asked immediately after that.

    “Are you…”

    “Hah! There’s no way you’re Ms. Audino’s kid, are you?”

    “Wait. Are you?”

    “Huh? Are you? Pleaaase tell me!”

    “Do I ask too many questions? Some pokemon say I do, but Mr. Farfetch’d says that the worst questions are unasked ones, so I’m going to ask as many as possible!”

    “What’s your name? I feel like I’ve asked that one before…”

    Espurr watched the Fennekin prattle on and on, unsure of how to answer the hyper pokemon’s questions or even get a word in on the one-sided conversation. How could she, when she herself didn’t even know the answers to half of them?

    “…And then I totally robbed like, half my Pop’s oran berry harvest, and then he made me clean the entire house from top to bottom! That was yesterday.” 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 at the fennekin, flabbergasted.

    The fennekin immediately drooped down, noticing just how much information she’d bombarded her temporary roommate with.

    “I came here just to see you, you know.” she muttered.

    “You …did?” Espurr asked in pure 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.

    “Audino can’t be evil.” Espurr stated, trying her best to ignore the fact that the obviously loopy 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???”

    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 in a body I’m sure isn’t my own, 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 five 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.”

    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. 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.”

    “So what~?” Tricky sang. “If you listen to the dumb adults your whole life, life stays boring! Besides, I haven’t showed you around yet!” Without another word or even Espurr’s consent, Tricky began to forcibly push Espurr out the door.

    “Tricky!” Espurr cried out in shock.

    “Silence, my liege!” Tricky called back in a heavy accent. “This is the most important of occasions, and it demands our full attention!”

    Espurr tried to drag her feet against the ground in order to bring them to a halt, but it didn’t even slow Tricky down one little bit. And with her left arm in the condition it was, Espurr found herself left totally helpless as Tricky bulldozed her down the hill and through a clearing full of wooden seats.

    “That’s the school- school’s out today-“ Tricky said in between gasps as they passed.

    “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!”

    “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.

    “This is the village square!” Tricky announced as they entered what was obviously the village square. She finally stopped plowing Espurr around like a toy, allowing the psychic cat to catch her bearings. “The village is larger, but this is the place where everything happens! You’ve got your Café Connection, which is called that because there’s an actual phone there, your fighting technique shop – no-one EVER shops there – and your Kecleon’s Stall!” Tricky excitedly pointed all three out as she mentioned them. “Don’t steal from Kecleon,” she added with a hushed air of finality. “Trust me.

    Espurr wasn’t sure whether to be intrigued or worried by that. She wasn’t even supposed to be here. It had been all of five minutes since she’d woken up, and already she was knee-deep in trouble!

    “And so, you see…”

    Espurr’s ears twitched, and for a minute she turned away from the fennekin eagerly awaiting her reaction to eavesdrop just a little.

    “…He’s nine! We both know he wouldn’t just walk into one of those places like that! Not unless someone prompted him first…”

    “Well, I’m getting to that…”

    “What’s so interesting?” Tricky’s head curiously slid over to the side of Espurr’s, who had turned to view the pair of arguing pokemon. Upon seeing them, her entire face lit up, a slight wince betraying the pain from her injured ear.

    “Deerling! Shelmet!” she gasped, suddenly plowing into Espurr from behind again and unwillingly pushing her towards the duo. “Guysguysguysguysguys-“

    Deerling, the elder of the duo, looked up, her face twisting up into annoyed incredulity and contempt as Tricky pushed the hapless Espurr towards her.

    “Um… hi?” Deerling raised a hoof in greeting, still trying to figure out exactly what was happening before her. “Tricky, what are you up to now?” she asked in a much sterner tone. ”I thought you were still in Nurse Audino’s office from jumping out of that tree.”

    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 venomously. “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!

    “…Something of the sort,” Espurr replied. Deerling momentarily looked shocked (Espurr suspected she wasn’t used to having the wrong answers much), but almost immediately she was all business again.

    “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 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.

    “We’re going to get in more trouble...” Espurr couldn’t fathom how the fennekin could still want to continue onwards, especially after jumping headfirst out of a tree.

    “Ha!” Tricky laughed. “ I laugh in the face of trouble! See?”

    “Well, we’re in enough of it as it is. I wouldn’t want to get kicked out the day I got here.” Espurr began to walk as fast as her short legs would take her, heading back up towards the school.

    “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’s eyes widened, and she grabbed Tricky behind one of the houses without even thinking.

    “Hey- What gives-“ Tricky started to fuss, but Espurr quietly put her good paw to Tricky’s mouth. Once she was sure Tricky would be silent, she pointed.

    “Look! Audino’s coming back.”

    Sure enough, the pink and yellow pokemon was leisurely hiking up the hill to the school, unawares that the very two pokemon she had told to stay put were watching her at that moment.

    “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.

    ~\({O})/~​

    This wasn’t the way back at all, Espurr was coming to realize. They had since abandoned the buildings of the village for trees that blotted out the sun ominously, casting everything below various shades of blue and purple. It wasn’t like the foggy green forest she had run through yesterday, but it was no less foreboding, either.

    “Are you certain this is the way back to the school?” Espurr suspiciously asked Tricky, who was sniffing something out on the ground as she went.

    “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?”

    There was a scoff, followed by the clip-clop of someone backing away.

    “Fine! You two go, then.”

    “W-why would we do that? I’m sure he’s fine.”

    “Y-yeah, he’s totally fine. And once he brings that paper back, he’ll prove it!”

    “He should have been back hours ago!”

    Espurr recognized two of the voices as Deerling and Shelmet- but, the other, the third one, was foreign to her. She reluctantly followed Tricky as the fennekin snuck through the underbrush.

    Deerling’s ears pricked up at the sound of something sneaking up behind them.

    “Who’s that?” she yelled loudly, taking a battle stance. “Show yourselves!”

    Seconds later, she was greeted with the sight of Tricky stumbling out of the underbrush, followed by Espurr not a moment afterwards. Deerling relaxed. “Oh…” she dropped her battle stance. “It’s you two.”

    “You guys left without me…” Tricky infused her voice with extra sadness to get the specific effect she wanted.

    “Well, I didn’t see you signing up to help.” Deerling pointed out venomously, staring daggers at Tricky.

    “Yeah! We don’t need a loser like you taking up precious space when we’re short on time.” The third, new voice had come from a pancham who leaned against one of the trees, his arms folded. He was chewing a twig in his mouth like he thought it made him look cool, and just for a split second Espurr locked eyes with the miniature panda.

    “Who’s the new kid?” Pancham asked, twirling the twig around in his teeth.

    “Nurse Audino’s child,” everyone but Espurr replied in unison. A moment later, Espurr decided never to lock eyes with anyone ever again.

    “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!”

    Tricky’s ears quickly lowered at that sentence, and Espurr felt the sudden cloud of negativity e=invade her mind. She moved away from Tricky, and it lifted just enough for Espurr to think again. All the arguing was making her head hurt in more ways than one, and Espurr wanted nothing more than to be back safe in the house Tricky had dragged her out of. But at the same time… Espurr looked towards the forest ahead of her, and saw the dark, tangled mass of trees that lay ahead. Even from here, she could tell something was wrong with it. And there was a child just like her stuck in there…

    “He’s gonna be fine!” Pancham shouted in self-defense over all the yelling. “All of this because—”

    “—We’ll go.”

    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.

    “Well, we won’t stop you.” Pancham nodded gratuitously. Shelmet quickly followed in his wake.

    Deerling sent them a quick glance of annoyance, then cleared a path for Espurr and – reluctantly – Tricky.

    “Have fun getting killed!” Shelmet yelled after them.

    “Shelmet!” Deerling’s shrill scolding could be heard but not seen, as the bushes began to physically 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 jungle looked downright malevolent.

    Maybe it was.

    ~\({O})/~

    Foreboding Forest

    “I’m gonna be honest with you…” Tricky excitedly scampered all around Espurr as the pair made their way through the shadowy forest. “That was amazing! I didn’t think you were the exploring type! Now we can be fellow explorers together, and brave mystery dungeons together, and even join the Expedition Society together! When we grow up, of course. The Expedition Society doesn’t accept children.”

    Espurr tripped over her own feet again. Sure, the ground was littered with all manner of trip-friendly objects, but she could tell that wasn’t where the problem originated from. It felt like… It felt like her feet weren’t her own.

    She looked up at the woods, noticing the utter lack of wind, how the forest seemed to stare down upon them with a thousand evil eyes, the rancid scent that once again filled the air… Something was wrong here.

    “The forest doesn’t want us here,” Espurr finally concluded aloud. “I can feel it.”

    “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 someone’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 step in here if not for him. She just hoped he wasn’t too far from the entrance.

    “…And you know it’s time to leave once this really thick fog starts creeping in…” Words finally stopped sprinting out of Tricky’s mouth, the fox falling silent as she saw the same thing Espurr was seeing: A thick mass of fog slowly crept between the trees, almost impossible to see through.

    “…Exactly like that,” Tricky quietly finished. She suddenly looked a lot more frantic. “Already??” she asked; to no-one in particular. “We were only here for five minutes! How come there’s already fog?!”

    Espurr saw the treetops above crackle violently; blown away by a wind that had come out of nowhere.

    “Tricky?”

    “Yes?” The normally hyperactive fox glanced back at Espurr.

    “What happens if you stay in a mystery dungeon for too long?” Espurr asked, her voice wavering with just a hint of fear.

    “Well, first, this really freaky wind starts to blow out of nowhere,” Tricky started, ticking it off on her paw. “And it just gets stronger every time it comes back. And if you don’t leave after that, then the dungeon begins to lash out at you itSELF-“

    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.

    Shaken, Espurr shakily walked around the tree trunk to where Tricky was still picking herself up.

    “Maybe I should just stop talking…” Tricky finally conceded, still catching her breath from the sudden incident.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Goomy~

    This had all been such a bad idea. He’d only wanted to prove himself to the other kids. He was nine! That was… a big kid’s age for sure! But no-one ever seemed to realize that. Deerling only coddled him, and Pancham and Shelmet bullied him more than the others, and Tricky… It was taboo for anyone in Serenity Village to hold more than a minute’s worth of conversation with Tricky. (Not that he hadn’t tried. Yesterday – the first and only time he’d attempted making friends with her – she had roped him into stealing oran berries from her Pop’s berry patch. That did not end well for either of them.)

    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…

    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.

    Goomy didn’t like ghosts. He shivered even more then he already had been, keeping the paper close just in case a sudden wind came up and blew it away. Was he going to die here?

    “GOOMY!”

    Off in the distance, to Goomy’s left. He looked in that direction, but couldn’t see anyone through the unnaturally thick fog.

    “GOOMY! WHERE ARE YOU?”

    His heart leaping with sudden joy, Goomy realized where he had heard that voice before. It was Tricky!

    “I- I-“ Goomy’s voice stuttered and died in his throat. No! He couldn’t be too scared to call for help; not when it was so close! Too scared to move, too scared to talk… Pancham had been right. He really was just a little kid after all. Maybe he deserved to be teased. He’d take that over sitting alone in this cold and scary dungeon any day.

    “GOOMY!!”

    With a sudden pang of fear, Goomy realized the shouts were coming from his right now. They were passing him!

    “I- I… I- I’m HERE! I’M OVER HERE!” he yelled out, his voice returning to him in an instant.

    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. Old and rotting exploration bags adorned their backs, filled with the remains of exploring supplies long rotted away. Goomy couldn’t stand it anymore. He broke down in tears before the twin beasts. He was going to become some wild pokemon’s lunch!

    “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, as 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.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “In my fifteen years of service as the 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.

    Watchog suddenly spun on his feet, pointing a paw directly at Tricky.

    “Thievery, trespassing, cutting school… And now she’s corrupting the newcomers!” Watchog’s ranting took on a slightly paranoid tone; one not lost on any of the staff or students in the room. “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-“

    “I’m terribly sorry to interrupt your… maniacal rant,” Farfetch’d started cautiously, clutching his stalk in his wings, “But is there a specific reason you’ve summoned us teachers and these three poor students here after nightfall, when they should be sleeping safely in their beds right about now?”

    “Ha!” Watchog let out a sudden laugh, cutting Farfetch’d off. “Oh, I assure you, Farfetch’d; sleep is the last thing on these little demons’ minds…”

    “Wanna remind me why you elected him Vice Principal again?” Audino asked Principal Simipour in a hushed voice.

    “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!”

    He whipped out the paper with Goomy’s slimy handwriting on it, making sure the rest of the staff could see it.

    “And here’s the proof!” Watchog cried 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.

    “You said you found all three of them exiting the dungeon together;” Principal Simipour finally spoke up, his expression as infuriatingly cheerful as ever. “Yet only one has written their name on the sheet of paper?”

    Watchog suddenly looked a lot less confident in his deductions. “…Yes,” he conceded, a good amount of his bravado lost.

    “And assuming the point of this dare was to write one’s name on this sheet of paper and bring it back to the village…” Simipour turned to Goomy for confirmation, which Goomy readily provided with a nod. “…Then I think it’s safe to say these two were not part of the dare in the first place, wouldn’t you agree?”

    “…Yes,” Watchog concluded, looking suitably cowed.

    “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 uncomfortable passed passed through the teachers at the mention of dungeon pokemon.

    See?” Tricky questioned Watchog indignantly. “The dungeon was only one floor anyway…”

    “Then, I think it’s settled,” Simipour concluded.

    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.

    “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!”

    The door slammed shut of its own accord behind them, leaving only three teachers and two students in a silent office.

    “I-I think I s-should be going,” Goomy finally stuttered out, the excitement of the day’s events finally beginning to get to him.

    “I agree,” Simipour replied. “If I recall correctly, You live in the same area as Farfetch’d; correct?”

    Goomy thought about it for a second, then nodded. Simipour turned to Farfetch’d.

    “If you would do the honors…” he asked. Farfetch’d nodded and left without another word, Goomy sliming off in his wake.

    Now it was just Espurr, Watchog, and Simipour in the office. Espurr considered her options, looking at Watchog as he silently mulled over his apparent defeat. A moment later, he stormed out, letting the door swing shut behind him.

    “Espurr, was it?”

    Espurr glanced up at Simipour, who still wearing the same expression on his face.

    “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 your arm being what it is. However, your being here tonight is a convenience, if a minor one.”

    He opened a drawer below his desk and put the stack of papers in front of them into it.

    “The pokemon who chased you last night are known as Beheeyem, and they’ve been sighted several times in the past few days searching for you.” Simipour’s voice lost its airy quality for a more sincere tone. “That is why, for the time being, I strongly implore you to stay within the bounds of this village. I say this out of concern for your own safety; not to put a shackle on your freedom. We don’t need another disappearance on our hands.”

    “Disappearance?” Espurr suddenly felt like she wanted to puke. “You mean… someone already disappeared?”

    “We’ll discuss that another time.” Simipour closed the file, leaning 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.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “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.”

    Satisfied at the suitably frightened look on Tricky’s face, Audino draped a thick tarp over each of the high-up baskets containing luminescent moss that lit the room with a bright blue glow, then continued into the clinic’s other room, leaving the door open just a crack behind her.

    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 (if not a little messy). 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.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Paul Meets Chani - Toto
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Two - The Dazzling Debut Of the Dashing Wanderer!
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    2.

    The Dazzling Debut of the Dashing Wanderer!

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    ~Ampharos~

    "I'm happy to inform you all that I have safely made it to the boundaries of Serenity Village," the tall, yellow pokemon declared 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."

    He wore a thick cloak over his body, carrying a walking stick in one paw and fiddling with a strange gadget in the other.

    "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?"

    "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?"

    "Well, we tried to get Mawile to do the morning report," a new voice spoke up over the line. "But she went ahead and locked herself in her room with those old glyphs I dug up for her, so Dedenne's in charge of that now. I must say, she almost does it better than you, Chief."

    "Of course I do it better!" The second voice piped back up indignantly. "Who do you think arranges that report every morning?"

    "It's been a while since the last… incident, but we're all keeping an eye on Swirlix, just in case." A fourth, scratchier voice piped up near the back. "She's been looking a little… ravenous lately."

    "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 done it?"

    Another heavy pause, as everymon asked themselves whether they would have done it.

    "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 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."

    "Speaking of Mawile…" Ampharos mused.

    "Present, Chief."

    "Oh?" Ampharos raised an eyebrow, despite well knowing that they couldn't see him. "You've been quiet."

    He could practically see Mawile shrug from behind her clipboard.

    "There wasn't much to say. The wise 'mon speaks only when necessary."

    Ampharos was about to reply with a witty remark, but suddenly he found the gadget he held in his hand wildly flickering on and off without rhyme or reason.

    'Chief?" Dedenne's voice came through the speakers, so garbled up one would have to know her personally to tell it was her. "Ch-i-e-e-e-"

    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 his hubris, Jirachi's gadgets rarely ever 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…"

    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?

    And then, in an instant, they did. They hovered towards him, raising their arms with the rapidly flickering lights straight up and blinking him in the face.

    Blinded; Ampharos barely jumped out of the way of a large shadowy ball that suddenly flew straight out of thin air. He landed on his feet, only just managing to keep his bearings. That wasn't a Shadow Ball, and Ampharos doubted beheeyem could perform that move naturally anyway. Whatever that was… it was new.

    It 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.

    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 headed 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.

    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.

    He fiddled with the buttons, trying to find the one that activated the feature he wanted. He knew Jirachi had installed a camera function not too long ago… Ah, it was the blue one.

    After recording the strange anomaly, Ampharos hurriedly continued on his way, at a much faster pace than before. There was no need to risk a second encounter with those beheeyem tonight.

    ~\({O})/~

    School Grounds

    ~Espurr~

    "Look sharp, class!"

    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.

    "We have a new student joining us today," he began, scratching the student's names off the blackboard one by one with his wing. "Now, I'm told a good number of you already met her yesterday, but we'll introduce her anyways just to maintain proper form."

    Farfetch'd beckoned with his wing, and Espurr slowly walked out of the archway leading to the school clinic, stopping in front of the blackboard.

    "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.

    "Very well done!" Farfetched clapped in applause. He was the only one who did. He crossed the final name on the board out with his leek. "There's an empty seat next to Tricky right there. Why don't you take that one?"

    Espurr thought she heard Watchog mutter something along the lines of "Of course; put the troublemakers together… Not like I mind; I'M just the Vice Principal…" under his breath. She ignored it, walking over and taking the seat quietly.

    "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.

    "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 therefore couldn't be disappointed in learning it - and Deerling, who was more pre-occupied with scratching at her bright pink coat than much else.

    Tricky let her head flop to the desk in disappointment.

    "Aww… more school?" she complained dejectedly. "And detention? Not fair."

    In the distance, Watchog folded his arms triumphantly.

    "We will spend the first half of the week reviewing the curriculum," Farfetch'd began. "And the second half will subsist of an exam from all three of your teachers on each subject, so be prepared for that."

    A few more groans from the class, but no-mon outright objected (If only for the presence of Watchog).

    "Now… is the class ready?" Farfetch'd asked. The class was not by any means ready, but Farfetch'd began anyway.

    "History! So far, we've covered…"

    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 the year 1 B.C., or Before Crisis. It's been over 10,000 years since. 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 mechanical clocks to even- Deerling?"

    Deerling looked up, still mildly agitated from the constant itching of her coat.

    "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 Audino can do something for your molting."

    Deerling immediately stood up from her desk and made a beeline for Audino's office.

    "Thank you, Mr. Farfetch'd-" she briefly spoke in passing, dashing up to the clinic without another word or detour.

    Once she was gone, Farfetch'd returned to the book. "Now, where were we- Yes, Espurr?"

    The entire class glanced at Espurr, who had her good paw up. Noticing everyone was looking at her, Espurr promptly lowered it.

    "Where are the Humans now?" she questioned.

    Farfetch'd flipped through the pages of the book, getting increasingly flustered as he went. "I was just getting to that, if everyone would pipe down and let me tell the story…"

    He went back to trying to find his place again. Trying her best to ignore Tricky's dramatic 'dying' act right next to her, Espurr briefly wondered what a Human was. The name sounded familiar to her… but just like the rest of her memories, it floated off the moment she started to think about it.

    "…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.

    ~\({O})/~​

    School wasn't so bad, Espurr decided. At least, it wasn't the dread-fest Tricky had made it out to be. 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, so Espurr didn't think too badly of it.

    A break for recess was given before Watchog's class, and though Espurr didn't see Deerling during that period, she did take notice of the way the other teachers were all mentally preparing themselves for future headaches.

    Watchog taught the dungeon class, and it was safe to say he was not a very encouraging teacher at all. Quite the opposite; Espurr observed. 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.

    After Watchog finished his lecture, Principal Simipour came out and gave the Weekly School Announcements (Which weren't anything groundbreaking, Espurr noted with dismay; only minor announcements about the last week of school before Summer Vacation). Espurr noticed how tired he seemed, as if he had just woken from a deep slumber. Afterwards, everyone eagerly moved out of the hot sun to eat lunch in the Clinic Building.

    "I hate Summer Molting." Deerling grumbled, slathered from head to hooves in a greenish paste that clashed with her short pink fur and made it look like she was wearing a coat of mud. "It's already annoying enough when it's cold outside- but in the summer heat? It's downright unbearable!"

    She took a bite of her apple to drown her annoyance.

    "Remember to eat quickly, please," Audino called from another part of the clinic. "We need the paste in its prime to perform the second part of the procedure."

    Deerling grumbled under her breath, then went back hurriedly finishing her apple.

    Espurr noticed the way Pancham and Shelmet were eating quietly instead of causing the usual fuss they must no doubt have been responsible for in the past, and Goomy was staring at Deerling in pity. The sole oblivious mon was Tricky, who happily munched on her assortment of fruits, vegetables, and nuts without abandon.

    "Are you gonna eat that?" she asked, looking directly at Espurr's yet-untouched nuts and seeds.

    "Typical Tricky…" Pancham whispered to Shelmet in a jeering tone. "Never stops eating."

    "Well, we're in a heat wave right now!" Tricky retorted indignantly. "At a time like this, eating is important!"

    "Drinking is important…" Goomy added, shuddering. "A few times I thought I was going to dry out during class."

    That earned a brief worried look from Deerling, but she had to leave a moment later at Audino's call.

    Tricky stole another glance at Espurr's plate.

    "My question still stands. Ya gonna eat that?"

    Espurr took a nut from the plate, noticing how it didn't have a distinct scent to it. She put it in her mouth and bit down, enjoying the slightly sweet, slightly oily texture it had.

    "Yes," She answered, to Tricky's dismay. "Sorry."

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    "Now, Principal Simipour doesn't hold the same high standard to punishment as I do…"

    Watchog marched behind Espurr and Tricky as they walked down the path to the oran berry fields, Goomy sliming up in the two students' wake.

    "…But your detentions for the following week will be personally overseen by the law-upholding gaze of yours truly, Vice Principal Watchog." Watchog announced, his voice taking on a flamboyant tone. "And I assure you; I. Will. Be. Vigilant. In my supervision- Sharp left!"

    The three students stopped marching down the path at Watchog's shrill cry, taking a sharp left.

    "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 questioned him. "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. Everyone perplexedly took a sharp right.

    "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. Sue me. All straights from here."

    After a few more minutes of silent endurance as Watchog danced around them frantically to make sure they were keeping a perfect straight file, they finally arrived at the berry fields; long, open plains of bushes that stretched far into the distance, ending at the neatly-clipped trees that marked the entrance of the forest.

    "Here we are," Watchog drawled. "The three of you will be spending detention picking tomorrow's lunch. Here's a list from Principle 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!

    "Vice Principal Watchog?" Espurr raised her one good hand again.

    "FINALLY!" Watchog exclaimed loudly at the mention of his full title. "Yes? What is it?"

    Espurr showed him the sheet of paper.

    "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."

    Watchog's skeptical eyebrow nearly rose out the top of his head.

    "We don't speak dead languages here," he told Espurr, incredulous. A moment later, he sighed at her unwavering gaze. "If you can't read it, one of your partners in crime can help you out. But I still expect hard work from all three of you! If I catch any of you slacking, I have permission to extend your detention periods… Into Summer Vacation," he finished with a leer intended just for Tricky.

    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.

    Tricky grabbed one of the wicker baskets resting next to the large gate in her mouth, entering the fields with a bound. "Epferr! You're on reading dudie!" she yelled back through the basket, oblivious to any of her classmates' plights. "Goomy, help me pfick berrpfies!"

    Both Espurr and Goomy traded looks. Goomy looked at his slimy paws that weren't fit for picking berries in any way, shape or form.

    "Want to trade?"

    Espurr handed her list out to Goomy with her one good arm, heading over to the remaining wicker baskets. "I can't read it anyway."

    Goomy gave Espurr a grateful stare, bobbing his head readily and taking the sheet.

    "Okay… I- It says we need 50 oran berries from t-the orchard…" Goomy began, following Espurr through the gate and into the field, where Tricky was already busy shoving countless orans into her basket without rhyme or reason.

    ~\({O})/~

    "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…"

    As Watchog stumbled off to find a seat, Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy all took a well-deserved break in the shade.

    "T-that took l-longer than it s-should have," Goomy stammered, still panting from the heat.

    "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?"

    There was no answer, causing Tricky to do a double take in surprise.

    "Espurr?" she asked.

    Espurr quietly walked to the end of the fence surrounding the oran berry fields, oblivious to the concerns of her two classmates. In the distance, she could hear something noisily making its way through the trees, stepping on sticks and bumping into tree trunks as it went. It wasn't the beheeyem; she was sure of that much. She didn't even know if this was the direction she had come from anyway. But Principal Simipour's words still hang fresh in her mind: "I say this out of concern for your own safety. We don't need yet another disappearance on our hands."

    A gust of sudden wind ruffled Espurr's fur, the psychic kitten looking 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!"

    "OKAY, MR. WATCHOG!" Tricky yelled, immediately standing in front of Espurr to cover up the map. "WE'RE COMING BACK NOW!"

    The words "It's Vice Principal Watchog!" could be heard floating over the breeze towards them.

    "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.

    ~\({O})/~

    Baram Town ~ Air Continent

    ~Mawile and Archen~

    "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?"

    The many windmills of Baram Town stood proudly above them, lazily turning in the early morning breeze. On any normal day, seeing the windmills slowly turning in the morning sun would have been a breathtaking sight worthy of the expensive Air Continent Pass it took to get there. It was safe to say that Archen was more than a little peeved at the long journey ahead of them, as well as the fact they weren't going to be staying in town for more than an hour. He yawned, covering his beak with a wing. Maybe it was his lack of sleep that had him in such low spirits.

    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').

    "Trial and error," she replied, stowing the clipboard away in her exploration bag. "You learn quickly where the best spots to sleep on a Lapras' back are once you've tried it a couple of times."

    Archen shivered at the thought. He never cared much for water in the first place; let alone doing something as foolhardy as what past Mawile had apparently attempted. If only he could fly… This mission would be over already, he ruminated.

    The streets of Baram were still mostly empty for what was undoubtedly a major tourist attraction, currently belonging to the early birds, miscellaneous other early mons, and pairs of unfortunate explorers such as themselves. Even Kecleon was still hurriedly setting up shop as Mawile and Archen walked over to his stall.

    "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.

    "Welcome to the Kecleon Shop!" Kecleon chirped, straightening his apron discreetly. "What would you like to purchase?"

    "Everything on this list, please." Mawile handed him a sizeable list. "I assume you're fully stocked?"

    Kecleon suddenly looked far more distressed than what was good for business.

    "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 a week, I'm afraid…" He wiped his brow.

    Mawile took a minute to study the list.

    "…I suppose we can make a few exceptions, then," she conceded, pulling an inked pen 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. Or grunt work, more like. "We're investigating the sudden cut-off of communications in the area."

    "Perhaps you'll take a look-see for the lucario who delivers my stocks every week?" Kecleon asked hopefully, setting the last of the items on the counter. "I'll throw in a future discount…" he hurriedly added immediately afterwards.

    Archen rolled his eyes where the Kecleon couldn't see him. Typical shopkeepers. They only ever sold things at a gain to themselves.

    "We'll keep an eye out." Mawile's reply was short and prompt. "The bill, please?"

    "Oh- yes- I'm just forgetting things left and right lately-"

    Kecleon dived under the counter, emerging with a pen 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.

    "That'll be 550 Poke," Kecleon finished cheerfully. "Except for the tiny reviver seeds. I'm afraid I'm plumb out of those."

    Mawile dug through the bag Archen held for the money, handing it to Kecleon and placing the items in the bag. Archen slung it over his back as they left the stall.

    "Here." Mawile took the bag from Archen and handed him a chesto berry as they walked through Baram Plaza. "Breakfast."

    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 cringed through his beak at the sight. He grumbled quietly before taking a bite. This was going to give him indigestion later.

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

    ~Espurr~

    The village square, it turned out, was most packed just before sunset on a Monday evening. Serenity Villagers scrambled around in a hurry, trying to gather all their supplies and grab an early dinner before the shops and café closed for good. They hurriedly went about their business, narrowly skirting around Vice Principal Watchog and his trail of students; as well as the wooden wagon they carried their supplies in.

    "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.

    "Good evening, students."

    Al three students glanced up wearily at the pokemon who had greeted them, suddenly straightening up and leaping to their feet when they saw who it was. Audino adjusted her exploration bag over her shoulder, a smallish purse in her other hand.

    "N-Nurse Audino!" Tricky immediately made an effort to look awake, only succeeding in making herself look constipated instead. "We totally weren't sleeping on you right now. Trust us!"

    "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 on a slightly darker note, a small edge to her voice betraying her true feelings on the subject.

    "W-we know…" Goomy sighed dejectedly.

    "You all behaved yourselves?" A brash voice rang out behind them. Everyone turned around to face Watchog, who lugged back a week's worth of nuts in his hand. He glowered at all three of the students as he approached. "Did anymon move?"

    "Oh, put a wooper in it, Watchog," Audino retorted, her voice suddenly less cheery. "They were with me the entire time, and I haven't seen them move once."

    Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy were treated to the rare sight of watching Watchog's face drain white as he noticed Audino for the first time. "A-Audino!" He muttered nervously, tightly gripping the sack the nuts were held in. "Fancy seeing you here…"

    "Happened to be in the area; thought I'd lend a helping hand," Audino replied with just a little crossness in her voice. "Somemon has to look out for the students' health; after all, and it's not going to be you."

    "Really?" Watchog folded his arms defensively. "They're just as happy to cause trouble on any other day. The way I see it; this is a useful waste of their energy."

    "Oh; you did not just go there…"

    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.

    "You mean he's… new?" Espurr asked.

    "Well, duh." Tricky rolled her eyes as she sat. "Who runs like that?!"

    As if on cue, the pokemon stirred from the ground, picking himself up dizzily. Espurr's eyes widened.

    "He's about to charge straight at us." she suddenly said. Tricky opened her mouth to say something to the contrary-

    "-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.

    "Pardon…" he apologized, trying his best to regain his bearings. "I'm afraid I possess a natural predisposition towards clumsiness."

    "You wha?" Tricky's ears fell at the complicated vocabulary.

    "I have a horribly awful sense of direction." the pokemon tried his best to simplify the sentence. A second later, he shook his head.

    "Oh, where are my manners?" he lamented. "My name is Ampharos. A traveling pokemon, known far and wide as…"

    In a sudden burst of flamboyance, he whipped the cloak off, posing dramatically. "The Dashing Wanderer!"

    The noise managed to grab the attention of most of the square; save for Audino and Watchog. Poor Goomy, who had fallen asleep out of sheer exhaustion, was rudely snapped awake again.

    "I might ask your names now," the Dashing Wanderer inquired, dropping his pose now that he had unwittingly attracted the attention of half the pokemon in Serenity Village.

    "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?"

    "That…" the yellow pokemon said, for obvious lack of a better answer. "…Is classified!"

    "Oh…" The disappointment on Tricky's face set in faster than a flat cake. "…What are you doing here, anyway?" she asked him. "We're just a loo stop on your way over the Mountain."

    "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 bid you all adieu; goodbye; tally-ho!" he exclaimed, stumbling up towards the Café Connection. "I have some important errands to tend to."

    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 had been directly poised to elicit specific reactions from the right pokemon, thereby proving their humanity to him. But, so far every single adult pokemon in the village had answered his questions 'correctly', 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…

    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.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

    "I mean, we don't get a lot of tourists here," Tricky said, orbiting Espurr as they walked up towards the residential section of Serenity Village . "We're super out of the way! The last one was…"

    "…well… you," she finished, tilting her head at Espurr.

    Espurr declined to say anything in response, still inspecting the glassy blue orb their mutual acquaintance had dropped earlier. Tricky had a point; she realized. The 'Dashing Wanderer', whatever his true name and motives, was a shady character at best.

    "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!

    "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.

    "C'mon!" She yelled back at Espurr; a ways ahead. "You get to meet my Pops today!"

    Espurr looked up at the uniquely-decorated house, and then smartly stashed the orb in a nearby bush.

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    "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 plate(s) piled high with choice selections from every dish. Espurr sat next to her, a much humbler piece of fish on her plate.

    "Yep." Tricky replied happily between messy laps from a bowl of rawst berry soup.

    "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!"

    Tricky jumped, immediately straightening up and modifying her eating habits. Espurr was taken aback by the sudden outburst, but seeing that Tricky had already returned to normal calmed her down a little.

    "But I have to practice my Dungeon Eating, Pops… " Tricky said with a hint of manufactured gloom.

    "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 knew all too well by now.

    "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.

    "Well, it happens!" Tricky continued. "And that's what Dungeon Eating's for!"

    "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!"

    "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.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "And this is my room!"

    Tricky led Espurr into her bedroom; a quaint, empty room located on the western wing of the house.

    "It's rather quaint…" Espurr noted, taking in the bareness of the room.

    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, but at the same time not fully believing it.

    "Do you really wanna know the answer to that?" Tricky asked, foraging under her bed. "Or do you wanna see my secret?" Without waiting for an answer, she dived head-first under the bed, rummaging around in all the junk.

    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.

    Tricky threw open the box, and pulled out a pair of scarves. She proudly displayed them in front of Espurr, who didn't know what to think.

    "These are my most prized possessions!" Tricky declared happily, holding them in front of Espurr's nose. Espurr felt it twitch uncomfortably as the dust particles went up her nostrils.

    "That's… Nice…" Espurr choked out, trying to hold in a sneeze. Tricky's face fell.

    "Are you okay?" She asked, oblivious to the effects of the dust.

    Espurr's sudden sneezing fit even managed to reach Carracosta's ears from all the way from across the hall.

    "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.

    "…I like them," She said, looking up at Tricky."

    "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 Espurr found it clouded her thoughts until she moved back a bit.

    "Tricky?" she asked. The fennekin didn't even glance back 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.

    "Wanna help me clean up after dinner?" she asked. "Pops loves cooking, but he hates mess. And the best part is; he doesn't even notice when the leftovers go missing!" (Espurr didn't think this was the best part at all, but humored Tricky anyway.)

    "Sure…" Espurr cast a glance at the setting sun outside. "Mind leading the way?"

    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.

    ~\({O})/~

    Road to Pokemon Plaza

    ~Mawile and Archen~

    For a place referred to as the 'Air Continent', there seemed to be an amazing amount of forests and underbrush. Archen ducked for the umpteenth time that day as Mawile's back maw caught on a tree branch, nearly snapping it back in Archen's beak. (This happened often. Archen had already lost count of how many times.)

    "Are we at least a good part of the way there?" 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 snapped, in no mood for mincing words.

    "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 raised an eyebrow in skepticism, unable to see how that meant anything. Seconds later, the branch narrowly missed his face.

    "So what?" he asked, stepping around it.

    "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 responded. "Ever thought of that?"

    "I think not," Mawile replied. "We're on the main traveling route. These shrubs have been growing for a couple of weeks unchecked; minimum."

    "Then maybe you read the map wrong," Archen retorted. "Ever thought of that?"

    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.

    Next to the wagon sat a perfect stone statue of a lucario, posing dramatically for battle. Its back was turned to the pair of explorers, staring up at the sky in horror at something that was no longer there.

    Mawile and Archen approached the wagon quickly; Mawile attempting to stuff away her map as she went. The details on the lucario statue were near life-like. If it had not sat right before her, Mawile wouldn't have believed such intricate sculpting was possible…

    …Unless it wasn't. She recalled Kecleon's words of worry: "My shipments come from the Rescuer's Guild in Pokemon Plaza. I haven't had a delivery in over a week, I'm afraid…" Was it such a stretch to believe…?

    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 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.

    "Congratulations…" Archen muttered in the background, his voice now hoarse. "You're now singlehandedly responsible for depriving me of sleep and making me throw up, all in one day."

    Mawile set the berry back down, brushing her hands off as she stepped back.

    "A week old; by the looks of it," she said aloud for Archen's benefit. "This must have been Kecleon's shipment. And if this is the delivery…"

    They both stared back at the statue that sat in front of the cart as the full implications of that deduction hit them.

    Mawile inspected the statue carefully, noticing further all the life-like details the statue had to it. Far too many for it to be a statue.

    "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 their entirety, and then there was nothing to do but press 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.

    They could see the short buildings of Pokemon Plaza through the trees as they walked, the area around them eerily quiet. It was not long after that Mawile and Archen entered the main square of Pokemon Plaza, 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. None of them had seen it coming; judging by the looks on their faces.

    "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…"

    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. 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.

    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 hoisting itself onto 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 hands, aiming at Archen.

    "Look out-"

    Mawile dropped the 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, eyeing the blurred figure. Too dark to see; it looked like somemon had cut a pokemon-sized hole in the fabric of reality and pasted pure blackness in its place. The edges of the figure were too blurred to even make it out properly.

    "Expedition Society!" Archen shouted, showing the figure his badge. "Stand down and follow us!"

    It was a vain gesture. He barely jumped out of the way of another shadow attack. The pokemon started towards them unnaturally, its movements like the manipulation of a puppet rather than a living being. Mawile briefly wondered if it lived in the first place. It walked off the roof flawlessly, jumping onto the ground and heading straight for them. Mawile knew better than to stay put; lest they end up like the rest of the pokemon that had stayed and fought. As Archen began to conjure a Dragon Breath in retaliation, she grabbed her expedition gadget from where she had left it, and pulled a blast seed out of her backpack.

    Timing her throw to Archen's attack, Mawile hurled the seed directly in the shadowy pokemon's face.

    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 as well. But, when the explosion cleared, the shadowy pokemon was still standing all the same. Mawile almost lost her bearings in shock. What creature was it; to survive a tactic as powerful as that?

    The shadowy creature took a shaky step towards them, then another.

    It began to conjure a third attack. Mawile prepared to lure its aim elsewhere and dodge at the last second. But then, out of the blue, the figure stopped. Its body seemed to lock up just like one of Jirachi's malfunctioning robots. Mawile and Archen watched as it began to convulse violently, and then suddenly burst into tiny scraps of ash that floated off into the sky. Mawile saw that there was nothing inside its body but more of the darkness that encompassed its outer shell.

    Archen caught his breath heavily, picking up his fallen gadget from the ground.

    "Are those grounds good enough for you?" he asked, just a hint of snark invading his tone; as well as squawk.

    Mawile gathered her bag and gadget silently, still recovering from the event. Had it even been real? She wondered. It actions had proved very much so.

    Finished gathering their supplies, both explorers began the return trip to Baram Town. It would prove one of the Expedition Society's most bicker-free trips to date.

    ~\({O})/~

    School Clinic

    ~Espurr~

    "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.

    "Keep it still," Audino said. "It might grow back crooked if you move it too much."

    Using a pair of sanitized leaves, she cleaned the arm off before wrapping the new cast around it.

    "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 stared at the tarped mushrooms in interest. Was this what pokemon used for lights at nighttime?"

    There was a sudden rustling of straw behind her. Espurr jumped; startled, then tried to get a better look. Nurse Audino had said two, after all…

    "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.

    "Deerling… right? I don't believe we've properly met," she introduced herself. "I'm-"

    "Save it," Deerling hissed back. "I'm not in the mood. Go to sleep."

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Exodus - John Powell
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Three - Nuzleaf
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    3.

    Nuzleaf

    ~\({O})/~

    Baram Town ~ Air Continent

    ~Mawile~

    “…And that’s why the Expedition Society has declared 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 role-call.

    “Hmm… That’s certainly troubling…” Ampharos began, his voice crackling through the gadget. “But not unexpected, in the end. You’ll be meeting with law enforcement?”

    “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.”

    “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? Surely, they’d be inclined to 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.”

    “I’m afraid she has you there, Mawile,” Ampharos’ voice chimed in. Mawile thought she heard an air of mischief in that tone, but decided to write it off as voice distortion for his sake.

    “HAPPI is located on the Mist Continent,” she answered. “They’re currently having a snowstorm 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.”

    “What?” both Mawile and Dedenne said at the same time.

    “Is this because you’re worried you won’t make it back?” Dedenne asked. “Because we can send somemon. Buizel hasn’t had any serious missions in a week; I’m sure he’d be happy to go-”

    “-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, but not Mawile.

    “What?” she asked, her voice ridden with disbelief. “You’re searching for a Human? What led you to even consider something so ludicrous??”

    “Why not?”

    Ampharos’ cheerful reply left Dedenne – for once – speechless.

    “…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, mainly so Dedenne wouldn’t needlessly spill the news to the rest of the Society. “Both occurred exactly a week apart, and both landed in this area. Such energy has only ever preceded the arrival of a human, and the arrival of a human has only ever preceded imminent disaster; which I fear we may be on the brink of. That is why it is of the utmost importance to find this human and bring them back to the Society, where we can properly prepare them for the trials they were brought here to face.”

    “Oh… I guess that makes sense.” Dedenne’s cowed voice crackled through the line.

    Mawile finished her chesto berry, grimacing briefly at the dry, bitter flavor it had.

    “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.

    “All agreed, then?” Ampharos asked.

    It was all agreed. All three pokemon removed their connection orbs from the slots.

    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 pour through the audio, stopping it every few seconds 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…

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    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 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 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.

    Once Espurr came to that realization, everything around her became much, much easier to comprehend. It was still all black, of course. But now; at least, she had an idea of why that was, which was far more than she’d had just a moment ago.

    The only problem now was figuring out where to go. It wasn’t like there was a helpful sign to point her in the right direction, when everything was dark and black.

    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 read 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’s eyes locked on another sign, standing far away in the distance. It was practically identical to the one she was standing in front of. She blinked twice, and she could no longer see a difference. Follow the signs, then. Espurr figured that was simple enough.

    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 sat up, baring her fangs and hissing at the infuriating breeze. Her head and face stung madly, still bruised and battered from the other two times she had banged her face into something unwillingly. She briefly wondered how a dream could be this painful. Slowly getting to her feet, she stuck a paw out in front of her to see if the wall was still there. It brushed up against an immovable black surface; like a solid stone cave far, far underground. Espurr could hear but not see the chattering of the malicious breeze, growing more and more muffled until she couldn’t hear it at all.

    She removed her paws from the wall, deciding to see how far it went. She had not walked even three feet until she was met with the cold embrace of yet another wall. And another, three feet in the next direction. Every direction she went, she was met with cold, hard, pitch-black stone. The space was actively getting smaller, and soon Espurr began to feel rightfully cramped within the walls that didn’t even exist. Somewhere in her mind, she registered that it was all a dream and therefore she couldn’t possibly be hurt, but it all felt so real, and for all she knew she was actually going to get crushed by these walls! Her head bumped up against the wall from above she hadn’t even noticed was there, and she felt two other walls press in from either side as she quickly sat. They began to jut into her arms more and more with every passing second, and Espurr huddled down as far as she could. Soon, she felt the wall press down against her head again. These walls were getting too close for comfort. She wanted to wake up already!

    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-

    ~\({O})/~

    School Clinic

    “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.

    “Nnghh…” she moaned, falling back to sleep only seconds later. Espurr ignored her in favor of trying to listen to the voices right outside the clinic door.

    “You’ll get a curriculum, of course. None of our teachers are left without one.” That was Principal Simipour. Espurr recognized his voice from when he had spoken in the office that night.

    “But I ain’t one of them te-“

    “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?”

    “Just follow what’s in the book, and you’ll be fine,” Simipour assured the mysterious pokemon. “And if it’ll make your day any better…”

    Principal Simipour’s voice lowered into a whisper, and Espurr had to lean in to hear what he was saying. She almost toppled off the straw bed, barely catching ahold of the bed with her good arm and stabilizing herself. There was a loud scuffle against the floor that made Espurr freeze up in fear. She pulled herself up onto the bed, trying to make as few crackling noises against the straw as possible.

    The two adult pokemon outside the shack went silent, like they were onto Espurr.

    “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.”

    He walked over, taking a seat in the straw bed that had accommodated Tricky just a few days before and setting the book aside from him.

    “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.”

    And before Espurr could say a thing to the contrary, he lopped the heavy tome into her hands. Hand. Espurr had no chance of holding the large tome with only one good paw. It thumped to the floor of the clinic, jolting Deerling awake once more.

    “Huh?” she mumbled incoherently, gazing at Nuzleaf. “Who’s the… leaf-head…”

    A second later, she flopped her head down onto the straw, fast asleep once more. Nuzleaf picked the book up from the floor, glancing around to make sure he hadn’t broken anything or disturbed anymon else.

    “…Maybe we should do this outside,” he admitted.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “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.”

    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 could have asked any question in the world, and she knew it. But the second she was called upon, every possible question she could have come up with pertaining to the subject at hand flew out of her mind much like her former memories had, and she was left only with a single one; one that had absolutely nothing to do with the Unown Alphabet.

    “…Back there on the porch,” Espurr quietly began, almost in shock at her words. But she had to know. “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.

    “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…”

    ~\({O})/~​

    “M-morning, Mr. Farfetch’d!”

    “And a good morning to you, Goomy!”

    “Afternoon, Teach.”

    “Yeah. Afternoon, Teach.”

    “Well, it’s a while until afternoon yet...”

    “Hey! Look! It’s Deerling!”

    “Ugh… Please don’t make me do this right now, Pancham…”

    “Good morning, Deerling.”

    “Morning, Mr. Farfetch’d…”

    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, and she couldn’t shake the unnerving sense of familiarity that came from just looking at the strange alphabet.

    Farfetched let out a murmur as he finished crossing out the penultimate name on the blackboard.

    “it appears we are missing a student,” he began, his voice bearing no hint of surprise nor agitation. Espurr got the idea said student had been late before.

    ‘Of course we are,” Watchog grumbled from his spot near the entrance to the school clinic. “Leave it to the Troublemaker to be late. Again.”

    “I’m late I’m late I’m so totally late sorry Mr. Farfetch’d-“

    Tricky bounded in through the school gate, digging all four of her paws into the ground to bring herself to a halt before she hit the desks. For a moment, it didn’t look like she was going to stop in time, and the fennekin squinted her eyes shut to prepare for impact with the nearest desk-

    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 peaches…” he complained.

    “Hah! Here!” Tricky stuck her nose up triumphantly in Watchog’s direction as she walked to her desk. “And on time, too! So you can’t do anything about it…”

    “You were five seconds late…” Watchog growled under his breath.

    “Is that everymon?” Farfetch’d crossed Tricky’s name off with his stalk. “Very well, then. Let’s begin.”

    ~\({O})/~​

    “This year, we learnt about the properties of Medicinal Berries,” Audino began, putting three tarped baskets and an additional bowl on the teacher’s desk in front of her. “And how mixing the right berries can heal injuries, cure illnesses, and replenish energy, while mixing the wrong ones can make you feel ill, sluggish, or just awful all over.” The blackboard was now covered in a diagram showing which berries did what, and how they mixed together. Audino removed the tarps from the baskets one by one, revealing the assortment of berries hidden within.

    “Come on,” she beckoned the class to stand up from their seats. “Come closer.”

    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.”

    Most of the class went white through their fur/skin/slime at the realization (They must not have studied much on Berries, Espurr realized). Strapping on the gloves, Audino fished through the first basket, pulling out an oran berry.

    “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.

    “However…” She picked up the third and final berry, showing it to the students. “If I were to add this mago berry to our oran mixture, what do you think would happen?”

    Deerling was the first to raise her hoof among the silent class, who stayed that way for lack of a better answer.

    “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.

    “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.”

    Much of the class had a shocked expression on their faces. Tricky in particular looked like she wanted to faint.

    “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.”

    She set the basket down, and Espurr took a moment to digest the information. Why weren’t all berries the same? She wondered. Why did some cause such drastic changes when they were mixed together, while others were no more than basic foodstuffs? The question hung in her mind, baffling her completely.

    “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.”

    Espurr lowered her paw disappointedly, gazing up at the blackboard filled with the berry drawings and Unown numerals she couldn’t understand in the least. Perhaps the answer was hidden there. Espurr mentally steamed; frustrated. She wished she could read!

    “Now…” Audino moved to the side, letting the class finally see the blackboard in its entirety. “I’d like you all to study this blackboard, outlining a chart of which berries; when mixed, create what.”

    ~\({O})/~

    School Clinic

    “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 traditionally.

    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; and 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 hand…

    “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.

    “Yeesh…” Pancham muttered, sitting back with his hands behind his head. “Cut your poor classmate some slack! I just wanted to congratulate you on saving that wimp Goomy back in the Foreboding Forest. Instant respect. You’re his hero forever. But…”

    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?”

    Pancham had let his voice raise enough to grab Tricky’s attention. Her ears perked up as the words ‘mystery dungeon’ wafted by, and she dug her snout out of a peachberry, wiping her mouth off with her paw.

    “What about mystery dungeons?” she asked loudly, still savoring the sweet taste of the berry.

    “Nothing,” Pancham snapped at her; his voice immediately gaining a vicious bite. “’It ain’t for your ears anyway.”

    Tricky stuck her nose up at Pancham indignantly and returned to her peachberry, but it was obvious to Espurr that she was still eavesdropping.

    “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.

    “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.”

    “Didn’t I just say butt out?” Pancham asked. “You got a hearing problem? What I say goes ‘round here. Butt out.”

    Strangely, Espurr couldn’t get a single clue as to Pancham’s true intentions. When talking to other pokemon, Espurr had realized she could gauge their intentions and their emotions by tuning out the background noise and focusing only on their speech, but it wasn’t happening with Pancham. The words flew off his silver tongue flawlessly, and Espurr couldn’t detect a shred of… anything from them. It was like she was being blocked.

    “Just ignore the pest,” Pancham sighed, holding his hand out again. “I need an answer from you now. You in or out?”

    The smart thing, Espurr knew, would be to turn him down. To watch the smirk on his face turn into a scowl as he realized not all the students in the school were dim enough to fall for his tricks. For surely this was another one of his schemes! He wanted revenge for being made a fool of at the Foreboding Forest the other day. Revenge for being bested by the new kid and the village troublemaker on day one. And she wasn’t about to let him have it.

    “No thanks,” Espurr said, refusing Pancham’s outstretched hand. “I’d rather not get in trouble.”

    For just a moment, Pancham’s face faltered. Tricky looked betrayed.

    “But…” she stammered, the sentence dying in her throat. “B-b…”

    Then she was at Espurr’s feet, all splayed out on the ground like she was at the brink of death. “Please, you have to let us go! We can’t pass this kind of opportunity uuup! Pleeeaase?”

    “…I’ll let you two decide amongst yourselves. Catch me when you make up your minds.” With that, Pancham dove behind the straw. Espurr could hear hushed whispers coming from behind the straw (Pancham’s and Shelmet’s without a doubt, her mind decided).

    “Come on,” Tricky pleaded further. “It’ll be a fun adventure!”

    “But it could be dangerous,” Espurr pointed out. “We had to save Goomy just a few days ago. What if we end up needing saving?”

    “But it’s got to be more fun than detention,” Tricky said, rolling over onto her back and staring up at Espurr with baby doll eyes. “Besides, if we’re sneaky, then Watchog will never notice!”

    Espurr had to admit that she didn’t quite fancy the idea of another one of Watchog’s grueling detentions – far less so with what would undoubtedly be a day’s worth of grumbling from Tricky. Even if it was an obvious trap, she was sure she could outsmart Pancham. And they had just gone through a dungeon a couple of days ago… How much could it hurt?

    Thoughts of traps and Watchog’s wrath conveniently pushed to the back of her head, Espurr turned back towards the straw bed Pancham was behind.

    “We accept.”

    The hushed whispering from behind the bed stopped. A few seconds later, Pancham leapt back over, landing neatly in his seat again and relaxing.

    “Excellent,” he smirked. “You’re both on.”

    He ushered them closer, his voice falling into the lowest hush he had taken since the start of the conversation.

    “Now, here’s what’s gonna happen…”

    ~\({O})/~

    “Vice Principal Watchog’s gonna take you to the Drilbur Coal Mines today, whether he likes it or not. Be ready.”

    “Mr. Watchog?” Espurr asked as Watchog packed a large knapsack for the trip. Behind one of the straw beds, Pancham lay in wait.

    “Vice Principal Watchog.” Watchog muttered; trying to decide whether water or berries was more important, eventually deciding on both and stuffing them into the bag.

    “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.

    Espurr nodded animatedly. Watchog shook his head in disbelief.

    “Whatever,” he said. “I have to finish packing this vital supplies anyway. Five minutes. Understand?”

    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.”

    ~\({O})/~

    Library

    “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. She 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.” Tricky 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.

    “Not that they could stop me anyway,” She continued, righting herself and resuming her trot alongside Espurr. “but no-mon ever comes in here willingly, so they’ve never had to try!”

    “That makes us the first, then.” Espurr walked over to a ladder attached to the bookcase. She pointed at a golden plaque that had been bolted to one of the bookcases, several Unown figures engraved into its surface.

    “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 nonchalantly, like it was a matter of fact thing.

    Tricky’s eyes lit up in understanding.

    “Right this way…” she beckoned gleefully.

    Tricky led Espurr further down the hall, struggling to move slow enough to for Espurr and the heavy ladder to keep up.

    “There are two branches once you enter the mines. The one on the left is all boarded up; you take that one. It leads to a nasty mystery dungeon.”

    “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. “They refer to him as ‘Gabite’ instead of his real name.”

    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.

    “Maybe we can research him later,” she finished, eager to move on to the next subject.

    “Time’s up, troublemakers!” Watchog yelled from outside the library. “We’re leaving now!”

    Tricky hurriedly slammed the book shut and rushed back towards the door. The fennekin’s rough handling must have damaged the book somewhat, as it looked a little more tattered than it had been when they’d pulled it from the shelf, but Espurr wasn’t particularly concerned with that right now.

    Right now, she was about to go dungeon spelunking.

    ~\({O})/~

    Drilbur Mining Grounds

    “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.

    “W-well, see, we w-weren’t really expecting you for another t-three days,” The poor drilbur who had drawn the Social Interaction Rock stammered out in front of Watchog. He sent a pleading look back towards the other drilbur who stood several good feet away, receiving nothing but winces and looks of pity in return.

    “Psst. Over here!” Tricky quietly beckoned Espurr behind a largish rock, east of Watchog and the stuttering drilbur. Espurr cast a look towards Watchog to make sure he wasn’t keeping an eye on them, then quickly followed.

    “We can enter from there.” Tricky pointed to the main mine shaft, guarded by several drilbur who were desperately trying to avoid having anything to do with the group out front.

    “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!”

    Without another word, she leapt from the rock they were currently behind to another nearby boulder, landing cleanly and looking back at Espurr. Espurr quickly scampered from one rock to the next, tripping along the way. She still wasn’t over that yet.

    “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.

    “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.”

    “Now where did those two troublemakers get to?” Espurr’s ears pricked up, and she noticed Watchog glancing around the mine-yard angrily, the heavy bag still swinging from his shoulders.

    “Goomy! do you know something about this?!” her heart sank as she watched Watchog angrily interrogate poor Goomy, who seemed just as at a loss for words as the drilbur did. But it was too late to go back on the dare now, and letting Watchog catch them would just end up in summer detentions for all three students. Espurr didn’t think she could stand a single week of Watchog’s detentions as is.

    This had been a bad idea.

    “Tricky.” Espurr hissed quietly from the rock. “Watchog’s onto us. Hurry!”

    Tricky glanced at Watchog, mumbling something under her breath Espurr didn’t hear but was sure would have turned a few of the teachers’ heads. She resumed her trot towards the mine shaft a second later; just like nothing had happened.

    “So-o-o…. We’ll just be going now, if you don’t mind,” Tricky stated, cleanly cutting her theatrics short and passing several of the drilbur.

    “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!”

    Espurr kept an eye on Watchog’s movements, waiting for a safe opening to dart out. Goomy was confusedly loitering around where Watchog had previously been, and…

    …And Watchog wasn’t there. Espurr’s heart skipped a beat. While Tricky distracted the drilbur, she quickly scanned the mine-yard to see where he had gone.

    Until she realized with horror: He was heading right towards the mine shaft.

    “What was this detention, anyway…” Espurr heard him grumble, since he was now close enough to hear. “Perfect spot for troublemaking…”

    “Ha!” Tricky laughed, turning around to stare the drilbur down bravely. “I laugh in the face of trouble! See?”

    She nodded ecstatically to drive her point home; oblivious to the approaching Watchog. Espurr studied all the drilbur. They weren’t that intimidating… Espurr glanced back at Watchog, suddenly darting to a different position behind the rock just before he could catch a glimpse of her. It was her best chance.

    Tricky stopped mid-nod as she saw Watchog suddenly storm straight into her line of vision. Her face of assurance quickly morphed into one of surprised fear as Watchog caught sight of her standing in the middle of the mineshaft.

    “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!”

    “No can do, Watchog!” Watchog heard Tricky’s distant voice waft out of the mine and into his ears, making his face flush red with fury.

    “It’s Vice Principal Watchog, you lout!” He shouted after them in vain, furious.

    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.

    A very confused and slightly frightened Goomy reluctantly decided to get himself some shade from the broiling sun, despite Watchog’s strict orders not to move. It looked like Watchog was going to be a while, anyway. He wouldn’t mind… right?

    ~\({O})/~

    Drilbur Mineshaft

    “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.

    “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 wasn’t so sure it beat detention for the rest of their lives, a fact 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 found herself sorely wishing she hadn’t accepted Pancham’s dare just half an hour earlier. From the way Tricky was panting up ahead, Espurr could tell she was just as parched.

    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!”

    “Come on, guys…” Tricky moaned, letting her voice drawl. “We’re fine! There’s nothing to worry about!”

    As Espurr’s eyes adjusted to the dim light of the torch, she finally saw the drilbur clearly- saw their clearly frightened faces against the flickering flames, saw the way some of them were trembling despite themselves… And then, Espurr realized: They really weren’t that bad after all!

    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.

    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.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music Of the Week!

    Mine Escape - John Powell
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Four - Monster of The Mines
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    4.

    Monster of The Mines

    ~\({O})/~

    Abandoned Drilbur Mines

    ~Espurr~

    The other side of the mine shaft led not to solid ground, but instead onto a steep incline of dirt that suddenly carried Espurr and Tricky further down into the earth—

    Espurr closed her eyes in fear, refusing to scream loudly like Tricky was. She tried her best to roll herself into a ball, keeping her eyes closed as tightly as possible. She didn’t want to see what was coming, in case the thing she opened her eyes to would be the thing that spelled their deaths. There was only the majorly uncomfortable sensation of tumbling in a ball down an underground hill, and the sudden riiip! of her cast as it tore off—

    And then the whoosh of the air current leaving Espurr as the two students tumbled to a stop at the bottom of the cliff. Once everything had gone still, Espurr took a shaky breath. The air had gained a foul taste to it again- the trademark scent of a mystery dungeon. They had arrived.

    “Did we make it?” she shakily asked.

    “You can open your eyes now.”

    Espurr uncurled herself, met with the sight of Tricky’s snout right in her face the second she stood. She almost fell over again. Instead, she managed to settle for a slight jump back. Her arm dully ached, free from the cast once more. Espurr tried not to move it.

    If the tunnels of the mine above had been dark, they were nothing compared to the caverns of the mystery dungeon below.

    Not that the mystery dungeon was dark. Not by any means. In fact, it glowed with the luminescence of all the crystals anymon could ever wish for. Green and blue and pure white diamonds shone along the walls, and Tricky had sparkles in her eyes at the sight of all the gems.

    “Wow wow wow!” she exclaimed. “Look at all these gems! And in a mystery dungeon, too! Who would be stupid enough to board this off?”

    “..There’s no red.” Espurr’s response was quiet, as if it wasn’t meant for Tricky in the first place.

    “Hmm?” She turned around, barely keeping her excitement below a threshold safe enough to display in the dungeon.

    “Pancham sent us for red gems,” Espurr pointed out. “Well, there aren’t any red ones. Not anywhere.”

    It was true. The light from the glowing crystals cast all sorts of colors upon Tricky and Espurr’s coats, from blue to green to sparkling white… but no red. No red whatsoever.

    “Well…” Tricky’s voice faltered for a moment, but she regained her composure and shrugged immediately after. “…Maybe we need to go to the bottom of the dungeon for the red ones! I bet those drilbur were just silly cowards who were too scared to mine in a dungeon.” With that, she began to trot off without another care in the world.

    Espurr watched the crystals on the wall as they went. From what she had seen of the drilbur, she had to admit Tricky’s explanation mostly checked out. But Espurr couldn’t help but notice the unnatural, jagged gaps in between the crystals as they walked, as if somemon had torn them from the cavern wall themselves just that day. She wanted to think thieves… but nothing had been stolen in the village, and the drilbur should have toughened up by now if they were being stolen from all the time—

    “Espurr; watch out!”

    Tricky’s voice shot over from Espurr’s left, and she barely had time to glance in that direction before a brilliant orange ember flashed through the crystals, blinding the two students and an unruly-looking geodude.

    The geodude wasted no time getting back to its feet… hands, and skittered straight for Espurr like a deformed spider. Espurr quickly backed herself up against the crystal wall as the Geodude continued to run straight for her. And then she put two and two together.

    The brief look of relief at Tricky’s face at the element of surprise she had bought herself quickly faded into a look of terror once she saw what was happening right in front of her. But it was far too late for her to do anything, even as she began to charge an ember—

    The geodude let out a hungry snarl as it finally reached Espurr, but found itself with a face-full of blue crystal instead of a face-full of purple pokemon. Espurr, who had ducked at the last second, wasted no time kicking the geodude’s hand out from under it and getting a good distance away before it could retaliate. Tricky’s ember a second later spelled the end for the already-cracked crystal, and it shattered into pieces, expelling shimmering dust all over the cavern. A particularly large piece landed on the still-recovering geodude, who was knocked unconscious immediately.

    The entire thing had started and ended in seconds. Espurr tried to shake the sparkling dust from her fur. She had known wild animals in dungeons existed, but wild pokemon? Watchog hadn’t covered that yet.

    Watchog… Espurr mentally grimaced at the punishment that was sure to be awaiting them above ground, then walked over to Tricky. The fennekin was still staring at the sight of the conked-out geodude; her mouth hanging wide open and her eyes bugging out of her head.

    “Holy mystery dungeon…” she muttered out. “…we fought a dungeon ‘mon!! And WON!! This is amazing!”

    “About that…” Espurr began. The blink-and-miss-it strategy she had come up with on the spot had given her a few ideas she’d be remiss not to use.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “Stop that! It tickles!”

    “Sorry… I’m still trying to control it.”

    “…You really are weird.”

    “…What?”

    “Aren’t you psychic-types supposed to know how to do these things from birth or something?”

    Tricky barely suppressed a slight bout of involuntary laughter as the piece of floating crystal brushed the tip of her sparkling tail again. The two of them hadn’t been able to get that shimmering dust the crystal had expelled out of their coats, but they had managed to amass so much of it they might as well have been walking crystals themselves. Several other dungeon wildlings – all animals – had attacked Tricky and Espurr on their way further through the caverns. All had fallen to the irresistible strategy of bringing a crystal down upon one’s head. The entire thing had been Espurr’s idea: Once a dungeon wildling was spotted, Espurr would act as bait and lead them away, and Tricky would then leap out of hiding and collapse the nearest crystal with her ember.

    Espurr was currently toying with a piece of the original dark blue crystal they had broken, making it float in midair and dangerously swoop over Tricky’s head and tail, to the latter’s rare annoyance.

    “No,” Espurr carefully lied, choosing what sounded to her like the safest response while keeping her concentration tied to the floating piece of gemstone. “Not all of us. At least; not from birth.”

    Tricky suddenly gasped and scampered ahead, causing Espurr to almost drop the crystal in surprise.

    “Come on! I found the stairs!” Tricky yelled from the distance, bounding up to the entrance of another cavern. Espurr cast a quick look at Tricky’s route, then attempted to float the crystal up to her left arm-

    -But then a sudden sharp pain reminded her that she didn’t currently have access to a left arm, and the crystal fell to the ground and shattered into sparkling dust. Successfully managing to lose a few of the numerous sparkles hanging on her coat, Espurr hurriedly picked herself up and continued for the pathway that led onwards.

    Only then did the baffling implications of Tricky’s statement fully hit her: Mystery dungeons had stairs?

    ~\({O})/~​

    Mystery dungeons had stairs.

    Perfectly level, perfectly cobbled stairs, and Espurr couldn’t fathom why. Even as she navigated the steps, which just happened to be the perfect size for Espurr and Tricky to walk (Or in Tricky’s case; bound) down, the smoothness of the stone compared to the rough floors of the rest of the cavern both amazed and baffled her. Did all dungeons have these?

    “All dungeons have those,” Tricky said dismissively, once Espurr had asked. “Dunno why; don’t really care.” she shrugged, glancing around the cavern.

    “Is it darker on this floor?” She asked.

    Espurr saw that it was. The cavern they were currently traversing was just a little darker than the one they had previously made their way through, and the crystals here glowed a bit brighter in the growing darkness than they had on the last floor. And Espurr saw the red ones. They glittered in secluded spots amongst the many other colors, only truly visible if one was actively searching for them like Espurr was. And then she heard the distant skittering echoing through the cavern walls; the sound of approaching dungeon wildings.

    “I hear more enemies coming,” Espurr warned Tricky. “We’d better hide. It sounds like a lot.”

    And before Tricky could even open her mouth to protest, several moles skittered around the corner, rushing right past and around the two students without even paying them any mind. Espurr and Tricky shared a look of slightly weirded-out confusion. Then the armadillo rolled past. And the rabbits hopped on by.

    Tricky couldn’t contain her snickers at the goofy way the retreating herd of dungeon wildlings was running off, but Espurr cast a look to the cavern up ahead; the one where even the crystals dared not shed light. Something must have scared them. Something like a larger dungeon pokemon.

    And then she heard the distant stomping. And Espurr put it all together.

    “Hide!” Espurr suddenly yelped, pulling Tricky by her ear-fluff behind a teal-colored crystal jutting up out of the ground.

    “Oww… Watch the ear-fluff!” Tricky complained once they were safely in their hiding place. “How would you like it if I pulled your ear??”

    Espurr’s ears briefly tingled, and something instinctually told her that would be a very bad idea.

    The stomping slowly became louder. Both Espurr and Tricky could hear whatever was making them drag its feet across the floor.

    Thud. Thud. Thud. Louder and louder. Espurr dared not breath; nor peek out from behind the crystal and risk being seen.

    Then the thuds stopped, right by their hiding spot. Espurr froze in horror. Had they been found out?

    An excruciating moment of silence passed, in which Espurr could hear only the creature’s raspy breaths. Then the sudden scraping of claws against gemstone came from the opposite wall. The creature tore the gemstone out of the wall with its sheer strength, causing a loud crack and sending the shimmering dust all over the cavern. It repeated several more times. First the scraping against the gemstone. Then the resounding crack! of rock being torn from the cavern wall. Then the explosion of sparkles that erupted not a second later.

    Thud. Thud. Thud. The creature began to march on again; and only when it was well on its way into the cavern did Espurr get a good glance at it: A monstrous gabite, dragging its feet through the cavern like a zombie. Its head hung low; drooping down over its body, and in its arms were a collection of sparkling red gemstones. The same stones that had been mysteriously absent from the first floor. This must have been what was happening to them, Espurr realized.

    As the creature stomped off, Espurr and Tricky slowly emerged from behind the crystal, stepping on the sea of sparkling gemstone-dust that now littered the floor. They could still hear the distant thuds of the creature’s footsteps in the distance.

    “What was that?” Tricky whimpered, much of her bravado suddenly lost.

    Espurr picked up the blue crystal she had dropped to the ground earlier. It remained unbroken, but that was the least of her concerns.

    “But why did it only take the red ones?” she mused to herself. She couldn’t think of any possible reason the monstrous pokemon would only steal the red gems, and it bothered her greatly that she couldn’t.

    “Espurr!” Tricky yelped; her voice wavering with fear. “What was that??”

    “I think…” Espurr stared at the cavern behind, where the dull thuds of the monster could not be seen but just barely heard. “…That’s the explorer who got lost down here. He matches the picture in the book. Remember?”

    Tricky’s face went pale through her fur.

    “Is that going to happen to us?” she questioned, a frightened look on her face. Espurr didn’t know what to tell her. Before now, she hadn’t even known this could happen!

    “…Not if we move quickly,” she said, settling on what seemed like the least scary answer. Besides, Goomy had survived in a dungeon for upwards of hours, so that was already a notch in their favor. “Can we still go back up?”

    They both cast a look down the corridor, where; to Espurr’s dismay, the silhouette of the dungeon stairs was no longer visible.

    “Dungeons re-arrange themselves behind you,” Tricky explained. “So the only way out is down…”

    Espurr didn’t understand how travelling further downwards would bring them back up to the entrance, but so many things about mystery dungeons confused her already that she was able to simply add it to the growing laundry list of confusing things about mystery dungeons and move on.

    A distant roar and the agitated chitters of several dungeon wildlings sent both pokemon sprinting for the opposite corridor just seconds later.

    ~\({O})/~​

    They had found the stairs again. Just barely. Espurr wasn’t sure how long this dungeon went on for. They were currently on the third floor, by her estimates. Tricky had seemed to regain her natural disposition once the gabite was out of their senses, and the rest of the time had been spent walking through the labyrinthine caverns in search of the next stairway, the next floor down, and (Hopefully) beyond that, the way out.

    The ache had returned to Espurr’s left arm as they traveled through the hues of blue and green and white. Or maybe it had never left, and she just hadn’t noticed until now. She currently wasn’t calm enough to practice floating things in midair or hold a conversation with Tricky, whose efforts were wholly devoted to finding the next stairway anyway. But she couldn’t stop wondering about the crystals. She couldn’t stop wondering what the gabite’s obsession with the red gems was. Not knowing was killing her on the inside, and it managed to consume her thoughts for most of the trip.

    Until, captivated by the gemstones lining the walls and the unnatural spaces where the red ones had previously been, Espurr suddenly felt her legs get shoved out from under her and she landed face-first into the cavern dust. Espurr whirled around, fearing a dungeon wildling had gotten the slip on both her and Tricky, but she stopped once she realized she had actually tripped on an old, dusty leather bag.

    “Are you okay?”

    Tricky glanced back at Espurr, watching the psychic kitten untangle herself from the bag’s straps. Perplexed; Espurr struggled to lift the heavy bag that was easily half as big as she was over to Tricky, and they immediately opened it.

    Espurr didn’t really know what she was expecting. Once the pair of students managed to pry the bag’s straps open, nothing but the musty smell of dust hit them square in the face. It didn’t do wonders for Espurr’s throat, but once they had managed to dig past the decomposed berries and now-antique exploration equipment, Espurr finally managed to get her good paw on the one thing she was sure would yield some answers: An old journal.

    Only, she couldn’t read Unown.

    “What is it?” Tricky asked. “Does it belong to Gabite?” she tilted her head at the notebook, discreetly hiding her shudder at the mention of the pokemon’s name. Espurr handed the notebook to Tricky.

    “See for yourself,” she told the fennekin. “I can’t read.”

    Tricky took the notebook from Espurr’s paw, twitching her nose at the cloud of dust that erupted from Page One.

    “Entry #1; 2/11/10993,” Tricky read.

    “Wow… This was a long time ago,” she added, glancing back at the page.

    “I’m investigating a new dungeon that’s just popped up in the area at the request of a small little village nearby,” Tricky continued. “It’s nestled in the middle of a mine-shaft, and I have to perform a routine dungeon patrol before the place can be declared a class A dungeon, or off-limits. As I write this, I’m setting up camp in the dungeon. I got too caught up in my sight-seeing, and wasn’t able to make it out before dark. It’s not recommended to camp out in a mystery dungeon, but if it’s a class A dungeon like I suspect, then I should be fine.”

    “Signed, Gabite the Explorer,” Tricky finished. Both Tricky and Espurr shared a look.

    “He camped out in a dungeon?” Espurr asked.

    “Seems that way.” Tricky glanced around the cavern. “But I don’t see any camping supplies…”

    “Maybe it’s on page two.” Espurr knew they had struck metaphorical red gemstone with this journal. Surely; the answers to her burning questions would be revealed by the explorer’s logs!

    Tricky flipped to page two, wisely turning her head away to avoid the dust that fluttered off the pages.

    “Entry #2; 2/12/10993. I’ve been in this dungeon for far too long already. You can’t really tell time down here, but judging by the amount of time I slept, a full day since I entered the dungeon has probably elapsed. The dungeon’s already beginning to attack me. It sicced a horde of dungeon pokemon upon me as I slept, and I had to battle my way out before breakfast. I believe the proper term for such an encounter is called a ‘Monster House’. I wager I only have so long before the dust storms show up. That’s why I’m trying to get to the end of this dungeon as fast as possible. There are four floors, at the least. I’m hiding the Dungeon Anchor right now recording this. I estimate I can lay low here for a few hours safely before continuing on my way out. Going to sleep again won’t bode well for me. Oh, why was I stupid enough to believe this dungeon was Class A? At least the place if filled to bursting with gemstones. Maybe I’ll take a few of the red ones back out of the dungeon with me.”

    Tricky flipped the page again, but found it blank. Confused, she flipped to page four. And then leaved through the notebook clumsily. Nothing had been written on the book’s blank pages at all.

    “That was his last entry, wasn’t it?” Espurr asked. She couldn’t stop at least a little of the disappointment from creeping into her voice. Something must have happened between the writing of that entry and the present, and she wouldn’t be privy to it. That annoyed her, but also intrigued her as well. She made a note to ask one of the teachers about the prolonged effects of staying in mystery dungeons later. One of the teachers that wouldn’t want to kill her later…

    Tricky nodded; the book in her mouth. She grimaced and spat it back in the bag immediately after, cleaning her tongue off with her paws..

    “It even tastes old…” she complained.

    Thud. Thud. Thud. In the distance. Both Espurr and Tricky looked behind themselves in fear.

    “It found us.”

    Tricky sprung to her feet at Espurr’s comment, heading further into the dungeon. Espurr quickly tried to work the bag over her shoulder with just the use of one arm. It was just small enough for her to carry, but she had to get it over her head first.

    Thud. Thud. Thud. Espurr’s head spun back towards the cavern from which the beast was quickly approaching. She could even see its shadow on the wall now; shuffling along the cavern like a body possessed. If only she could…

    “Espurr; come on!” Tricky’s terrified voice echoed through the cavern after her. “You’re gonna get caught!”

    Torn between the bag and the monster, Espurr did what seemed the only logical option at the time- She balanced the straps of the bag over her head, quickly turning tail and running for the other cavern before Gabite could see them. She could have sworn it caught a glimpse of her; but only for a fraction of a second, and then she was panting for breath against the same crystal Tricky had hidden behind, the bag still swinging awkwardly from her head. Espurr carefully tilted it to the left, nudging the strap in the right direction-

    -It fell painfully on her left shoulder, sending bounces of pain through her broken arm. Espurr barely managed to contain her expression of displeasure to a mere hiss of pain.

    “You took the bag with you?!” Tricky exclaimed in a hushed voice.

    “It could be useful,” Espurr argued back. “Besides, we need to show the drilbur once we get out of here.”

    Thud. Thud. Thud.

    “You could have been caught!” Tricky hissed. Espurr could hear how much the fear had gotten to her in her voice. “What if it got you?! You’d— You’d—”

    Tricky went silent. Her ears drooped, and Espurr felt the corners of a foreign negativity cloud over her mind once more. She moved back from Tricky just to cope.

    “I don’t want it to happen again…” Espurr heard her whisper.

    Thud. Thud. Thud.

    Both pokemon promptly abandoned their argument in favor of the clearly audible stomps that were coming from just around the corner.

    “We can’t let it get ahead of us,” Espurr suddenly said, having just come to the realization. “Or we’ll be trapped behind it in the dungeon.”

    Thud. Thud. Thud.

    “You mean… Berry crackers… We have to sneak ahead of it?” Tricky’s fear openly shone through her voice.

    Espurr nodded. Tricky whimpered. She could see that Tricky was scared out of her wits, but lying wouldn’t help their situation. Not now.

    Thud. Thud. Thud.

    They could hear the gabite’s heavy breaths now from behind the crystal. Espurr realized it must have been just beside their hiding spot now, and Tricky was trembling in fear. It was their last chance to gain a head start upon the creature.

    Espurr didn’t see any other way of getting past.

    “Sorry, Tricky.”

    Without warning, she dashed out into the open-

    -Espurr had known Gabite was close, but she hadn’t properly estimated how close. She barely avoided being snapped up in Gabite’s jaws by only a hair’s length, barely keeping the bag on her shoulder and her wits about her as she dashed away.

    “Now dash past!” Espurr yelled back, as Gabite roared obliviously and began to stomp directly after her.

    Tricky watched bug-eyed from her place behind the crystal, equal parts awed and terrified. Even she wasn’t that reckless! Then she realized her window of opportunity was closing, and snapped firmly back into adventurer mode.

    The gabite was steadily advancing upon Espurr, even as she rushed around the corner and dashed through the cavern. There were only so many gemstones she could maneuver the zombie pokemon into before the gabite’s rudimentary mind caught on, and soon it began to weave around the boulders and crystals as it loped after her. Espurr was lucky to hear the scampering between the gabite’s thunderous footsteps and terrible roars, and was able to shield her eyes just in time to avoid being blinded by the ember that soared through the crystals and exploded against the back of Gabite’s head.

    Enraged; Gabite swiveled its head around. But it was promptly used as a launching platform for the fennekin, who stuck a landing several feet in front of the monstrous pokemon.

    “Why did you stop??” Tricky asked frantically. “I can see the stairs from here!!”

    And Espurr realized it was true- at the end of the corridor lay the perfectly cobbled, out of place stairs that would lead them to the next floor. They could escape!

    Gabite snarled, nearly recovered from being blinded and being hit by Tricky’s ember and taking a blow to the face immediately afterwards. The sound set both Espurr and Tricky into motion, and by the time Gabite was able to properly open its eyes again, the two pokemon were already out of sight.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The roars of the zombie pokemon raged through the caverns above as Espurr and Tricky rushed down the dungeon stairs. Espurr stopped and glanced back at the stairway, hoping she’d be able to witness them seal the two pokemon on the floor like the last two flights apparently had.

    “What are you doing?!!” Tricky cried out in terror.

    “The stairs-“ Espurr began.

    “-They don’t move if somemon’s watching them, you ignoramus!” Tricky screeched, rushing back and practically bulldozing the poor feline down the cavern hall.

    Espurr didn’t have the courage to turn her head back towards the cavern, even as Tricky pushed her down the hall. She heard the ‘thud’ of Gabite’s footsteps; the angry echoes of Gabite’s roar, and then what was no doubt Gabite taking his first step onto the staircase, and she wished more than anything that the stairs would just close up behind them…

    …And then, as if the dungeon had been feeling particularly generous that moment, Gabite’s roars suddenly became a lot more muffled, and the sudden cut-off of light from above threw both Espurr and Tricky into darkness. And then they stopped completely, and there was only the disappearing sound of Gabite’s thudding footsteps.

    Tricky stopped when she realized they could no longer hear Gabite’s enraged roars.

    “Did… Did we make it?” she asked, catching her breath and giving Espurr a chance to break free from the Fennekin’s grasp. Espurr looked backwards at the cavern they had just come from; the one that was now enshrouded in darkness.

    “I can’t tell…” she said, barely calm enough to even talk. “It’s too dark.”

    “Well, I can’t hear him.” Tricky attempted to shake herself off, the sparkling dust in her coat sending glimmers of light that reflected off the crystals and cast a dim glow around the cavern. Espurr noticed the red hue a few of the gems took. Could it be?

    Quickly, she went ahead, shuffling her fur on purpose as she went to set a dim light to the gemstones around her. They weren’t in a narrow hall shrouded by rock and crystal anymore. The cavern was wide and unfettered by obstacles. It was almost as large as the entire school classroom, and in the middle of the cavern sat the largest mountain of red gemstones Espurr had ever seen.

    Tricky trotted up, taking the cavern in with amazement.

    “Wow…” she began. “Remind me why I wanted to go home again? This is amazing!”

    “Let’s just grab some of the crystals and go home. Espurr didn’t fancy the idea of staying in the cavern any longer than necessary. As enthralled by the place as Tricky seemed to be, even she didn’t contest the idea, and the two set out to work picking a few of the better gems.

    Espurr opened the bag she had slung over her shoulder the best she could with her working arm, allowing Tricky to dump the stones into one of its many pouches. The bag settled onto Espurr’s left shoulder uncomfortably, and she laboriously adjusted to so that the straps wouldn’t dig into her bad arm as much.

    Thud. Thud. Thud. In the distance. Espurr wrote it off as her imagination. The stairs to this floor had been sealed. There was no way for the gabite to get back here before they left the dungeon... Right? All they had to do was find the way out, anyway.

    “I see some light!” Tricky announced, pointing ahead to where Espurr did indeed see a source of light in the distance. It wasn’t daylight, but it wasn’t crystal-light either, so it must have been the way out; she deduced.

    Thud. Thud. Thud. This time, Tricky heard it too. It echoed around the cavern, making it impossible to tell where the sound had come from. Both Espurr and Tricky hurriedly turned towards the underground hallway they had come from, expecting their pursuer to have somehow broken through the dungeon floor and arrived here.

    However, when the gabite attacked, it wasn’t from the front, but from the side. The only warning the two students had was the sudden sound of footsteps from the left-

    -Thud-Thud-Thud-

    “No fair!”
    Tricky whined, just before they were both forced to jump out of the way of the charging gabite. The shark-like pokemon slid to a stop, spinning on its toes and bellowing mindlessly at Espurr and Tricky. Tricky let out a squeak of fear, and quickly quickly made an effort to blend in with the red of the gemstones. Espurr stared at Tricky in shock, barely dodging a swipe from one of Gabite’s fins a second later.

    Enraged; Gabite began to charge after Espurr, who very nearly lost the bag as she ran. Espurr led Gabite around the mountain of gemstones, losing sight of the shark-like pokemon as she approached the cavern hall again. Before Gabite could round the corner, Espurr quickly dived into the same gemstone crater Tricky was currently huddled up in. Gabite roared as it dashed past; unaware that the pokemon it was pursuing had hidden.

    “Tricky!” Espurr prodded the cowering fox with her good arm.

    “I… I can’t…” Tricky shuddered, covering her eyes with her paws. “I can’t beat that thing…”

    “But we don’t have to beat it!” Espurr pointed out; half in confusion. Had Tricky really thought they would have to defeat Gabite? “We just have to leave the dungeon!”

    That made Tricky perk up a little, as she realized the obvious. “But…” she stammered.

    Gabite suddenly slid to a stop in front of the gemstone cavity, having caught on to the fact it was chasing naught but thin air by now. It let out a deafening roar at the two pokemon who had dared to intrude upon its lair, preparing to strike them down with a clawed fin. Espurr decided she’d had enough. Without thinking, she grabbed a big fat gemstone, and hurled it straight in Gabite’s face. It exploded into shards of sparkling dust, doing almost nothing to impede the encroaching Gabite’s attack, and then it was Espurr’s turn to cower as the feral pokemon brought its fin down upon her head-

    -A flaming ember whooshed past Espurr’s ears. It hit Gabite square between the eyes, and its impending attack slashed into the nearby red crystals instead of Espurr’s skull. Having unwittingly destroyed some of its treasure enraged the blinded Gabite even more, and it began to unleash all fury upon where it thought Espurr and Tricky were. Espurr suddenly felt Tricky chomp down upon her right arm, and she was pulled out of the way of an attack that probably felt less painful than her arm did. She looked into Tricky’s eyes and saw nothing but fire, as she was dragged a safe distance away from Gabite’s temper tantrum by the fennekin.

    Tricky had dragged Espurr a good distance away from the gemstone pile, where the gabite was still unleashing living fury upon its treasure. The sound of every new gem exploding into dust at the hands of another one of its attacks were met with more of Gabite’s thunderous roars, and eventually it gave up with the slashing and swiping and just charged headfirst into the pile. Espurr watched the mountain of gemstones sway dangerously. And then she put two and two together.

    Espurr focused on a single gemstone; located on the bottom of the pile. Surely; she could…

    …Her heart skipped a beat as she suddenly saw the gemstone move a little; a motion easily missed by those not looking for it. But it wasn’t coming out any further. It was too heavy. Espurr couldn’t free it on her own.

    Gabite sniffed the air; its sight finally returning once more. Its eyes fixed on Tricky and Espurr; and seconds later, so did its body. It let out a mighty roar once more, loping towards them with reckless abandon. Espurr poured all her concentration into one final mental pull-

    The gemstone soared free at the last second, whizzing through the air and knocking Gabite’s right foot off its mark. Suddenly sent tumbling to its side, Gabite could only brace for impact as its body clashed against its massive pile of loot. Espurr and Tricky could only stand back and watch in horror as the mountain of gemstones clicked and, and then buried Gabite under an avalanche of shiny red rocks.

    And then there was silence. A few of the stones clinked as they settled, and the gemstone dust rang heavy in the air.

    “…Did we… ?” Tricky asked in a small voice; the fire gone from her eyes. “Did he…”

    Espurr was sorry to say that she wasn’t sure. However, she could also admit with little guilt that she didn’t really care one way or another anymore.

    “Let’s just… go,” she managed to say with level tone.

    “Yes, let’s.” Tricky hurriedly agreed.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “I-is he still out there?” a drilbur asked, walking about the Mine Crossroads uncomfortably. The light from the flame illuminated many of the drilbur colony’s similarly anxious faces.

    “He’s still pacing around the mine shaft. We heard him grumbling about ‘no-g-good-troublemakers’.”

    Many of the drilbur drooped their heads in defeat at the scouts’ report. A new torch had clumsily been set up (For even if the drilbur could technically see in the dark, having the light around provided a sense of comfort for them), and the smallish cavern now acted as a hidey-hole for the Drilbur of The Mines. They were faced with a dilemma above-ground; an angry pokemon who was sure to let them have it if they came back empty-handed, and below ground…

    …The drilbur didn’t speak of what was below ground. And at the heart of it all was the cause: A pair of children from the Village had absconded into the mines, and gone to the one place no pokemon should ever go. The entire colony of drilbur had since assembled to debate the issue.

    “N-now what d-do we d-do?” One of them asked, the collective stutter beginning to return to their voices full-force.

    -“I supp-pose we c-could stay down h-here for the rest of-f our lives,” Another drilbur proposed. It seemed like the colony was actively considering it.

    Until suddenly, there came a rumbling from deep inside the boarded-off mine shaft, and the very two children the drilbur had been stressing over tumbled right out into their hands, both covered in sparkling dust and panting heavily. The Drilbur of The Mines glanced at both pokemon in complete and utter shock. The bag Espurr had been carrying suddenly began to tremble, and there were several muffled shattering sounds from within. Espurr winced at the sound. Those were the gems. Had everything they’d just gone through really been for nothing?

    “We… Defeated… Your… Monster…” Tricky spat out between gasps.

    “Y-y-you what?” A lone drilbur managed to utter out. This was apparently a shock to a select few of the drilbur clan, who promptly fainted on the spot. Espurr and Tricky both picked themselves up on shaky feet.

    “Yeah. We beat your monster,” Tricky repeated matter-of-factly. “Y’know… Gabite?”

    Several gasps rang throughout the drilbur clan, amongst shocked whispers of ‘It’s true!’.

    “H-how?” Another drilbur spoke up. “H-how did two children…?”

    “It was crushed by all the gemstones,” Espurr replied.

    “G… G-gemstones?” The word seemed to catch many of the drilburs’ interest. “W-what gemstones?”

    “Y’know…” Tricky muttered promptingly. “The gemstones?”

    One of the drilbur walked forward, picking up a few grains of the dust that had fallen from Espurr’s bag in its claws.

    “Emeras…” he quietly whispered to himself in silent joy. “We s-struck emeras!” He yelled to the rest of the clan. There were cheers everywhere, as the mood in the cave suddenly went from overwhelmingly anxious to undeniably joyful.

    “…What’s an emera?” Espurr asked Tricky.

    “Beats me…” Tricky yawned, falling flat on her haunches. “I was asleep that day in class.”

    “H-how can w-we ever thank you?” The drilbur asked. Espurr perked up. She saw the perfect opportunity! Tricky opened her muzzle, likely to demand unlimited candy for life, but Espurr spoke first.

    “There is one thing…”

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Goomy~

    Goomy wanted to go home. He should have gone home an hour ago. But instead, he was moping under the shade of a rock while Vice Principal Watchog paced the mine angrily. He’d wanted to ask what was wrong; where Tricky and the new student had gone, but Watchog seemed far too angry for Goomy to even consider it. Goomy was genuinely worried he might assign extra detentions for anymon who even talked to him at the moment. And so he’d stayed under that rock, feeling sorry for himself; and also very confused, and maybe even a little bit angry at his two classmates for putting him in such a position! Even if they’d saved him from the Foreboding Forest just a day ago…

    “Stupid troublemakers… I am going to give them both detention for a year when they get out of there!” Goomy winced as the sound of Watchog’s angry ranting shot through the air like an attack in Dungeon Class. “And I can do it; too… Ruin their whole summer for them… Maybe then they’ll think twice before crossing the Vice-Principal!”

    Watchog jumped in surprise not a second later, letting out a high-pitched shriek at a sudden bang that came from deep within the mine. He turned towards the cavern entrance, glancing into the darkness.

    “Troublemakers?!” he called out into the mine hopefully. “Is that you?!!”

    At first, Goomy dismissed it as yet another one of Watchog’s failed attempts to retrieve the other two students. But then he heard the faint reply:

    “It’s us, Mr. Watchog!”

    Watchog immediately stood back, resuming his brooding mood once more. “Finally decided to come back out; did you…” he audibly grumbled.

    Moments later; and Tricky bounded out of the mines, followed by Espurr and several drilbur.

    “Oh; you two are in a world of trouble,” Watchog sneered at the two of them, before taking notice of the bag on Espurr’s shoulder.

    “Where did you get that??” He snarled, roughly snatching the bag off Espurr’s shoulder.

    Espurr swallowed her pain, making eye contact with Watchog.

    “It’s my souvenir from the mines,” she said. It was only half a lie.

    “Troublemakers…” Watchog seethed. “Don’t get souvenirs.

    “B-but they weren’t t-t-troublemaking,” One of the drilbur piped up.

    “Yeah!” Tricky fired back at Watchog. “We weren’t troublemaking!”

    Watchog couldn’t contain himself. He let out a high-pitched chuckle of insane disbelief.

    “You expect me to believe that?” He wheezed, coming down from his laughing trip. “You probably just bullied the drilbur into saying it.”

    “No-mon bullied us,” The drilbur said, his voice suddenly losing all stutter. “Except you.”

    “You forced us underground!” Another piped up.

    “Barged onto our property!”

    “Kicked us out of our own mine-yard!”

    “Bossed us around!”

    Watchog’s face contorted into several twisted faces as he tried to individually battle the mounting accusations against him.

    “You can’t give us orders!”

    “You aren’t fit to give orders!”

    “ALRIGHT!” Watchog yelled; so loudly that even Goomy had to grimace in pain at just how loud the sound was. “Why don’t we just go home… and forget this all happened?” He asked, his face settling into something more appropriate for deal making.

    “And you’ll never come back??” The drilbur all collectively gave Watchog the stink-eye. Watchog opened his mouth, but then though better of it and nodded his head instead.

    “And you’ll agree that these two haven’t been up to any troublemaking at all today?” The drilbur remained no less hostile towards Watchog while saying it. Tricky had a goofy grin plastered on her muzzle, and Espurr had to admit the positivity was contagious.

    “They just helped us uncover a very large stash of unprocessed emeras today,” one of the other Drilbur mentioned. “And I believe you’re a large buyer of processed emeras…”

    Terrified, Watchog nodded his head ferociously.

    “W-we’ll just be going now,” he said with a shaken voice, picking up the bag and shuffling off in an unusually uptight manner for him. Espurr and Tricky shared a quick look of triumphant disbelief, then quickly followed before they could dock any more points against the angry Watchog,

    “Yeesh; I h-hated that ‘mon…” Espurr heard the drilbur begin to converse and gossip behind her.

    “T-tell me about it. T-talk about h-high horsea…”

    “Goomy!” Watchog snapped as they approached the slimy pokemon. “Did you move from that spot?”

    “N-no, sir,” Goomy stammered out, his eyes shimmering with fear of Watchog’s wrath. But to his surprise, Watchog relaxed, gesturing for Goomy to follow as he continued onwards. “At least somemon’s on my side today…”

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

    ~Espurr~

    “So.” Pancham smirked from his spot against one of the many buildings lining the Serenity Village Square. “Did you get them?”

    “You didn’t tell us the mines had a monster in there!!” Tricky yelled at him, then hurriedly checked to make sure Watchog was out of earshot first. Sure enough, the long, brown pokemon was moping his way home, after dumping them in the town square.

    For a split second, Pancham’s face gained a confused look to it, but it was gone with the blink of an eye, and he was back to his normal self again. He shared a look with Shelmet, who was loitering right next to him.

    “We… we knew about the monster,” Pancham said. “I was just testing you. Did you get the gems?” His voice took on an almost taunting quality towards the end, as if he knew something Espurr and Tricky weren’t supposed to.

    “We tried…” Espurr began. “But they exploded into dust the moment we took them out of the dungeon.” she showed them the dust in the bag for good measure. To her utter surprise, however, she was met with the downright mean laughter of Pancham and Shelmet.

    “You two are such dimwits!” Pancham gasped out between laughs. “We got you so bad!”

    “Everymon knows you can’t take emeras out of dungeons without processing them first!” Shelmet added, crying tears of laughter. Both Espurr and Tricky stared at the two them, half in disbelief. Espurr saw the darkening look upon Tricky’s face, and decided to end the conversation before it could turn into a fight.

    “Anyways…” Espurr said, closing the strap on the bag with her right arm. “Thank you.”

    “What?!” Both Shelmet and Pancham ceased their laughter to look at Espurr in shock. Espurr sent them her best attempt at a smile.

    “It was fun,” she told them.

    “You had… fun?” Shelmet gasped. “In a mystery dungeon?”

    By this point, Tricky had caught on, and she stuck her tongue out at Shelmet in passing before quickly nodding like Espurr had.

    “Doesn’t surprise me,” Pancham said, folding his arms. “I always knew you were a freak. Just like your ‘partner.’ Now the whole village gets to know, too…” He smirked nastily.

    Tricky gasped. “You wouldn’t!” she shot back at him. “You can’t prove it!”

    “Yeah,” Pancham brushed Tricky’s accusation off nonchalantly. “But who’s the village gonna listen to? Me… or the local troublemakers?” he sent Tricky a wink that made her look like she wanted to flamethrower him onto the next continent.

    Satisfied that he had humiliated the pair of them well enough, Pancham began to walk off, Shelmet following behind him.

    “And now, I must be off; ladies.” He bid them goodbye in the most obnoxious tone possible, blowing them a kiss and then sauntering off. Shelmet stuck his tongue out at Tricky before scampering after Pancham.

    Tricky was borderline growling at the pair of them as she watched their figures turn to silhouettes in the distance.

    “I hate them…” she snarled.

    Espurr merely wondered whether they would leave the two of them alone; now that they had gotten their ‘victory’.

    “I should probably get going,” Tricky said, turning to Espurr once the two bullies had disappeared. “My Pops is gonna make me clean the whole house from top to bottom if I don’t get home before dark. Also if he finds out what happened today; so don’t tell him.”

    She bid Espurr goodbye, and then ran off in the direction of her house. As Espurr started off towards the school, she briefly wondered where she would go once her arm fully healed. Would the school provide a place? Or would she be left to find one herself?

    ~\({O})/~​

    “I’ve had a talk with the Principal,” Audino said, trying to keep the anger out of her voice as she pulled yet another cast out of the medicine cabinet. “Watchog will no longer be overseeing your detentions. Not with that arm, at least.” She began to dry Espurr’s recently-washed fur off with a towel. Espurr could barely keep her eyes open; much less follow Audino around the clinic as she switched between tidying up and cleaning Espurr’s arm.

    “I always tell him; don’t overwork the students!” Audino continued as she worked. “Don’t make their injuries worse! And what does he do? He takes you to work at the mines! I’ve never seen dirtier pokemon in my life! And I’m the village doctor!”

    “Honestly…” Audino grabbed the cast and began to wrap it around Espurr’s arm. “It’s a wonder you didn’t split the fracture again.”

    She got up, closing the cabinet doors and picking up the mess after her. “IF you keep that cast on, you can take it off tomorrow night,” She told Espurr. “Report to me for the rest of your week’s detentions. If you can’t be trusted to keep yourself safe outside of this clinic, you’ll just have to serve them inside it.”

    She went around the clinic, covering the globes containing luminous moss with tarps.

    “All set, Deerling?” Espurr heard her ask the straw bed facing the other side of the wall.

    “Yes, Nurse Audino.” Deerling’s voice emerged from the bed; though Espurr couldn’t see her.

    “I’ll discharge you tomorrow,” Audino continued. “You should be past the worst part of the molt now.”

    “Thank you; Nurse Audino,” Deerling said, sounding relieved to be over molting. Espurr sat down upon the straw bed she had made her residence for the past two days, casting a look back at Deerling’s bed. She was tired and half-soggy from the bath that been required just to get the emera-dust out of her fur, and her throat still felt scratchy from all the dust she had breathed in that day.

    “Sleep well, both of you.” Audino picked up Espurr’s bag by accident, setting it down once she realized her mistake and taking her own. She continued into the back room of the clinic, leaving Espurr and Deerling alone for the night.

    “It’s not true, is it?” Deerling asked a moment later. “You didn’t go into the mines with Tricky?”

    Espurr froze. How had she known? Then she remembered a certain pokemon’s words, and the answer hit her.

    “…Pancham told you, didn’t he.” Espurr said.

    “He told everymon,” Deerling replied. “He said he’d sent the troublemaker and the new kid to the drilbur mines, and they fell straight for his trick.”

    Deerling sighed, readjusting herself on the bed so she could see Espurr properly. “Espurr, right?”

    Espurr nodded.

    “Listen… I don’t want to sound rude, or mean,” Deerling continued. “But I think you should stop hanging out with Tricky. Or just don’t humor her if she tries to get you to go into a mystery dungeon with her. We’ve all been there. It never ends well. And I don’t want to watch somemon else get hurt because they were reckless for her.”

    Espurr didn’t respond. She was too tired and beat-up to formulate any proper response right now, and what Deerling was sending her way sounded like something that required her full brainpower.

    “…Okay?” Deerling softly asked a moment later. But Espurr had already fainted from exhaustion.


    ~\({O})/~

    Café Connection

    ~Ampharos~

    Four hours. Almost four hours of searching through the footage backwards, and Ampharos had found nothing of consequence. About two hours into the footage he had heard the sudden sound of a voice and skipped it back, but only the distant, off-tune singing of a passing ‘mon with a heavy Grass Continent accent rang through the speakers. The entire four hours of footage seemed to be truly comprised of nothing but night noises. Ampharos sighed, switching the orb off for a break and rubbing his temples the best he could. He would need to recharge it soon anyway.

    A knock rang out against the door, causing Ampharos to perk up immediately.

    “Come in,” he addressed the piece of wood. Or, rather, the ‘mon standing behind the piece of wood.

    The door opened a crack, and Kangaskhan peeped her head in through the door.

    “Is everything okay in here?” she asked. “I’m about to lock up for the night, and the other guests have been complaining about hearing all sorts of noises coming from this room.”

    “Understood.” Ampharos expertly covered the Expedition Gadget with the covers as he got up from the bed. “Just a matter of an open window. You’ll hear nothing more about it, I hope.”

    He pretended to latch the window shut (Despite it not having been open in the first place), then drew the drapes closed. Satisfied, Kangaskhan began to shut the door once more.

    “Good night, then. I’ll see you in the morning for checkout.”

    Ampharos gave the pokemon a reassuring smile until he was sure the door had shut; and Kangaskhan would not open it a second time. He removed the covers and pulled the Expedition Gadget out again, setting the volume to the lowest setting above mute. One last broad survey of the footage, before he retired for the night. Just to see if his plan had really come to naught.

    Ampharos began again at the start. The very start. He sifted through the unrelated chatter of what sounded like Fennekin and Espurr (For of course, they had been the ones to take the orb), closely listening for any clues that might point him in the right direction.

    “Now that I think of it… you never told me where you came from, did you? That’s like, question number #2 on the list of things friends should know about each other!”


    That was Fennekin. Ampharos leaned in closer. Surely; this was his lead…

    “It’s like I said. I… Got lost in the woods, and Nurse Audino found me and took me here.”

    Espurr must have been holding the orb. Her voice blasted through the speakers louder than Fennekin’s had.

    “Yeah, but where did you come from?” Fennekin whined. “Come on- I want the juicy bits!”

    “I… don’t want to talk about it.”

    “Spoilsport.”


    Ampharos paused the audio. Then he rewound it and listened to that section all over again. This ‘Espurr’ was certainly dodgy in many ways. As Ampharos booted off the Expedition Gadget and tucked himself in for the night, he jotted down Espurr’s name in his mental book of suspects.

    He had a new lead.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Pirates VS Natives VS Heroes VS Chickens - John Powell
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Five - The Council of Baram
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    5.

    The Council of Baram

    ~\({O})/~

    Baram Town ~ Air Continent

    ~Mawile and Archen~

    “It’s too windy up here…” Archen commented as he and Mawile crossed yet another fenceless, sky-high bridge between the massive windmills of Baram Town.

    “You’re in a better mood today,” Mawile noted, tucking her journal back into her bag.

    “Yeah…” Archen ruffled his feathers nervously. “Well, sleep does wonders for the brain, it turns out. You could stand to get some every now and then.”

    Mawile chose to ignore his obvious jab. She knew that Archen simply didn’t like heights, and it would do them no good to get riled up before a meeting with the city council.

    Archen looked upwards, seeing not the shadow of another bridge above them but only the looming presence of the windmills’ massive vanes. The thought to look down briefly crossed his mind, but he immediately dismissed it and edged just a little farther from the ends of the bridge. Flying types were flying types, but somemon could have thought to install fences for those who weren’t blessed with the power of flight, he thought to himself.

    A pair of murkrow fluttered forwards as Mawile and Archen approached the end of the bridge.

    “Names; appointments,” one of the murkrow sighed, despite knowing well who the pokemon who stood before him were.

    “Mawile and Archen, Expedition Society,” Mawile responded without skipping a beat. “Here to provide testimony on the petrification of Pokemon Plaza. Appointments scheduled for 9:00 A.M. on Wednesday.”

    The murkrow checked his clipboard, routinely confirming Mawile’s information (which he knew to be true already), then stepped aside.

    “The mayor will be with you shortly,” The murkrow bowed, glad to be over yet another routine checking. “Until then, please enjoy your stay in the waiting room.”

    Mawile walked forward, throwing open the doors with proper grace as so to see they didn’t hit the wall when she and Archen walked in.

    The waiting room was suitably lofty for the space inside the highest windmill in Baram. Many open-paned windows decorated the wall, and the floor was decked out in an impressive display of ceramic tile-art. Archen didn’t like the way it felt against his talons, but he was happier to be over the fenceless bridges between the windmills than he was annoyed by the floor. Mawile, who wasn’t bothered by the tiles at all, strode over and promptly took a seat on one of the lobby’s backless stools.

    Archen didn’t have the patience to sit, and didn’t even consider the notion until he noticed he was getting several looks from the few other occupants of the waiting room. One of the windmill’s goliath weathervanes slowly turned over the windows and blotted out all light in the room. When the vane had finished its journey over the window, Archen was sitting near Mawile, with little evidence he had been loitering around in the first place.

    “’That right? Well, eat a mudkip for all I care! I’ll poop wherever I darn well feel like pooping!”

    Mawile looked up from her personal logs at the insult, watching a livid staraptor throw open the gem-encrusted doors that led further into the windmill and march out angrily. The staraptor made a gesture with its wings Mawile refused to record out of simple decency, then walked back out onto the bridge and let the large double doors slam behind it.

    “That was… irregular,” Mawile quietly commented to herself, marking down the broad outline of the event in her logs for future reference. Archen could just hear the bell ringing from below, chiming nine times to announce the arrival of 9:00 A.M.

    A third murkrow stepped out of the office, carrying a scroll in its wings.

    “Appointments scheduled for ‘Mawile’, ‘Archen’, at 9:00 A.M.?” he wearily announced.

    “Present.” Mawile stepped down from the stool, discreetly making sure Archen was tailing after her as she walked in the door. Archen ruffled his feathers once more as the doors closed behind the pair of explorers, and then they faced the immense gut of Mayor Honchkrow.

    Mayor Honchkrow gestured to a pair of stools with his wings, prompting Mawile and Archen to take a seat.

    “I must apologize for my previous client,” Honchkrow said, trying to hide the edge of embarrassment in his tone. “I’m sure you… ‘heard’ all about that on your way in.”

    Neither Mawile nor Archen spoke.

    “Did you know it’s customary on the Grass Continent to just do your ‘business’ wherever you please?” Mayor Honchkrow asked, after ten seconds of silence had elapsed.

    “…No. We did not,” Mawile choked out, causing Archen to spare her a confused look. She must have noticed but opted to completely ignore him, keeping her eyes trained on Honchkrow.

    “Well, neither did I,” Honchkrow continued; a false cheerful gait to his voice. “Until I became mayor.”

    He clapped his wings together, leaning forward.

    “Anyway… now that we have that behind us, let’s get down to the business at hand, namely: Why were two cartographers sent to scope out the crisis on the Grass Continent?” he eyed Mawile as if scoping her for falsehoods.

    Both Mawile and Archen shared an indecipherable look at the Mayor’s sudden turn in behavior. That was not the business at hand.

    Now, now, nothing wrong with maps,” Honchkrow corrected himself. “I love a good map. They make great napkins. But when mere map-making suddenly becomes interference on the level of a Rescue Federation, one has to assume…”

    Honchkrow let the sentence die in his gizzard, the implications ringing clearer than his voice.

    “I think you’ll find our alibi steady, both legally and in practice,” Mawile stated calmly, doing her best to keep her cool as always. “As the largest and nearest available registered Exploration Establishment, the Expedition Society was granted the legal power to act in HAPPI’s stead, due to weather blocking any teams arriving from the Mist Continent. Once we arrived and learned of what happened, we proceeded in accordance with the proper instructions issued by HAPPI guidelines via electrical transmission, and are here to deliver our eyewitness reports on the matter.”

    Honchkrow was left silent, trying to process the graveller-load of information he had just been saddled with. Mawile took the opportunity to capitalize upon the mayor’s moment of silence, digging in her large exploration bag and producing both her and Archen’s Expedition Gadgets.

    “That’ll solve your legal woes,” Mawile told the flabbergasted mayor, setting both Expedition Gadgets on the desk.

    “Don’t let it go to your head.” Honchkrow regained his composure at the last minute, staring Mawile down with all his girth. “Or… heads. Which one is it again?”

    “Head, thank you.”

    Without another word, Mawile clicked both gadgets on, pressing the photo button and slowly scrolling through the photos of the dilapidated Pokemon Plaza. Honchkrow began to fidget uneasily as he viewed the slideshow of perfect stone statues, taking a deep breath once it was over.

    “Something else you might want to know,” Archen began before Honchkrow could say anything. “We were attacked right after we took those photos.”

    Mawile mentally cursed. How could she have forgotten?

    “Is this true?” Honchkrow asked; one eyebrow raised.

    “It is.” Mawile scrolled back through the photos. “We were ambushed by what appeared to be a walking anomaly, for lack of a better term. You can see the very edge of it in a few of these photos.” She stopped on the photos for good measure, allowing Honchkrow to find the anomaly himself.

    Honchkrow leaned back in his seat, taking a deep breath and rubbing his temples with his wings.

    “I want those photos transferred to HAPPI. Send in the thingamabobs if you need to. And then… I want the Expedition Society to stay out of this. If I so much as catch any of you on this continent before this whole thing blows over; there will be consequences. For both you and your Society. Now be a good ‘mon and go tell your employees that for me.”

    Mawile gathered the Expedition Gadgets from the desk, stuffing them into her exploration bag and ushering Archen out. However, she could not help but stop at the doorway, making rare use of her back maw to speak to Honchkrow.

    “The Expedition Society is not under my jurisdiction,” Mawile’s maw rasped out, raspy and guttural from years of non-use. And if you were ever to meet the ‘mon with that power, you wouldn’t be so arrogant in his presence.

    Honchkrow jumped in his seat at the sound of Mawile’s second voice.

    “Oh! Silly me,” Mawile stated, hiding the smirk on her face. “It is heads. The back maw has a mind of its own sometimes. I’d be wary of making it angry, if I were you.”

    Honchkrow stayed frozen, as if unsure whether to believe the explorer or not.

    “S-same difference,” he finally managed to say.

    Mawile let the doors to Honchkrow’s office close behind her. And as the pair of explorers made their way down the massive windmills, even erudite, disciplined Mawile couldn’t help but hide the beginnings of a well-earned grin spreading across her face.

    ~\({O})/~

    School Grounds

    ~Espurr~

    “Not that one, dangnabbit!”

    Nuzleaf thwacked one of Farfetch’d’s spare teaching stalks into the board. “This one is ‘E’. Find ‘Z’ for me. Zzzz.”

    Espurr was reaching the end of her patience threshold. Nuzleaf was not a born teacher- he had apparently expected her to memorize the entire alphabet within one teaching session, which inevitably led to Espurr playing a large-scale guessing game as she tried to find the letters he asked for. She’d even avoided the ‘E’ for him as much as possible.

    Which; unsurprisingly, had led to disaster. Nuzleaf had not once asked for ‘E’ – The only letter Espurr was sure she knew – instead pointing her towards other obscure markings like ‘I’ and ‘M’ and ‘Q’. The class had gone on for the better part of an hour now, and both Espurr and Nuzleaf were well on the way to losing their cool.

    “Crapshoots.” Nuzleaf glanced at the sky, taking in the morning sun and gauging the time. “We’re outta time.” Espurr took that as cause for celebration.

    “Since ya still didn’t manage to find the darn ‘Z’,” Nuzleaf snapped, thwacking Farfetch’d’s stick to the board again. “It’s here.” He pointed to the very last letter at the end of the board, which Espurr had purposely avoided because it seemed too obvious. “The zigzagoon zigs an’ zags like a Z. See them zags??”

    “Mr. Nuzleaf?” Espurr raised her hand before the frustrated Nuzleaf could pack his bags and leave the school.

    “What is it?” Nuzleaf questioned sharply.

    “Why don’t you just do that for all the letters?” asked Espurr innocently.

    Nuzleaf didn’t answer that. He suddenly looked incredibly flustered, his face turning bright green.

    “...Didn’ think of it,” he sheepishly admitted.

    “Frakkin’ blue monkey…” Espurr heard him mutter to himself as he marched off. “Can shove his ‘guard duty waive’ up his arse. Didn’ tell me it was this hard ta teach pokemon how ta read the alphabet…”

    Espurr tilted her head in confusion as she watched Nuzleaf’s figure become smaller as he entered the village plaza in the distance. In the three days she had been here, she had not heard anything about ‘guard duty’... that would be something for her to look into later.

    Or now.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “I don’t know anything about that, why do you ask?” Deerling absentmindedly scratched at her tawny new dark green coat of fur with a hoof. Espurr sat in the unoccupied desk next to Deerling’s (that Pancham had been so insistent upon taking, but Deerling had requested remain vacant for her own sanity).

    “One of the teachers let it slip,” Espurr explained. “I’m still getting the hang of things around here, so I thought I’d ask around.”

    “That is really weird,” Deerling admitted, tilting her head. “Although… my parents are always out on ‘important business’ every few weeks… maybe they’re guarding the Ancient Barrow?” she shrugged the best she could. “That’s the only way I can explain it.”

    “Ancient Barrow?” Espurr asked.

    “Oh. Right. I keep forgetting you’re new. It’s the molt, I swear it…” Deerling massaged her forehead with her hooves briefly.

    “The Ancient Barrow is this creepy house that was already standing when the village was founded,” Deering continued. “No-mon knows who built it, or what it was even for. It’s on the outskirts of town, so you won’t see it unless you actually leave the plaza, but seriously. Not even Tricky’s been past the front gate.”

    Even Espurr knew that if Tricky refused to enter a building or other spooky place, that was a major red flag.

    The other students were beginning to file in now, supervised by Audino instead of Watchog. Espurr had to admit the change in atmosphere was pleasant.

    “Hey, Espurr! Over here!”

    Tricky, who had barged into the classroom at some point, waved back at Espurr from up-front. Deerling’s face darkened.

    “Remember our talk?” she nudged Espurr with a hoof for her attention, her tone suddenly hushed and urgent. Espurr nodded. It sounded like fair advice, especially after last night’s encounter. Espurr couldn’t deny that she still felt a little shaken from yesterday’s encounter. It was finally setting in that they could have died. They almost had died. Even Tricky had lost her bearings in there.

    “Yo Deerling!” Pancham hopped over his desk and into his seat, leaning back with his feet on the desk. “Looking good with that new summer coat—”

    “Go stick your head in a trash can and faint, Pancham.” Deerling fired back.

    “You aren’t switching seats, right??” Tricky called back. Espurr hopped down from the vacant desk and walked over to her own.

    “What were you doing with Deerling?” Tricky asked once Espurr had sat down.

    “Sometimes it’s enjoyable to spend time with other pokemon for a change,” Espurr told her. Tricky looked somewhat dejected.

    “Attention, class!” everymon looked up from their chatter as Farfetch’d took his place at the teacher’s desk. Watchog lumbered off towards his post. looking like he had lost an entire night’s worth of sleep.

    “As I’m sure I don’t need to remind you…” Farfetch’d picked up one of his trademark leeks from the ground, crossing off student’s names quickly. “...Tomorrow marks the date of the first of three pre-summer exams. Namely, my exam. As students, you have a right to know what to expect. And as a teacher, I have the right to brief you on it.”

    Farfetch’d pulled a paper out of the history book he had brought with him, straightening it and beginning to read off it slowly.

    “The history exam will consist of a set of problems on sheets of paper, written in the Unown language. Participation is mandatory for all students, and where you fall on the test will affect your curriculum next year.”

    Espurr quickly raised her hand.

    “Mr. Farfetch’d, am I to…” she began, without waiting for Farfetch’d to call on her.

    Farfetch’d held his wing in the air to silence her, his eyes remaining on the paper.

    “Students who feel they cannot complete the written exam for whatever reason may request an oral session from any of the teachers,” Farfetch’d finished, lowering his wing. Espurr quickly brought her hand down. She knew which teacher she wanted to ask.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “I’m afraid not,” Farfetch’d said, taking a sip from his recess wooden cup of tea. “I’ve already arranged a session with Goomy for the test. I will direct you to Nurse Audino, however. She’s popular with the less able students.”

    “I’m sorry, I just can’t,” Audino told Espurr, setting out the lunch prep. “Deerling came in and asked me only a minute ago. Writing with your nose can’t be easy, so I said yes. Why don’t you ask the Principal?”

    “Mine,” Shelmet growled, throwing open the door to the principal’s office with the pointy side of his shell and letting it whack Espurr in the face. Espurr, who was sick and tired of having her face shoved into things, had half a mind to drag him out of there herself and throw him into a wall just to see how he liked it.

    As the door closed behind Shelmet, the implication finally hit Espurr full-force. There was only one teacher left, and she surely wasn’t going to learn Unown in a single day…

    …Oh no.

    “What’s your excuse?”

    Espurr spun around, startled. Pancham leaned against the side of the School Clinic, his arms folded.

    “You’re a handsie. Just like me.” he made a point of wiggling his fingers just for emphasis. “You don’t need an oral session. Unless…” A cunning smirk spread across his face. “There’s something you’re not telling us?”

    Espurr wasn’t dumb enough to fall for that twice.

    “I have nothing to say to you,” she told him flatly, then left him on the spot.

    “Where’ve you been all recess?” Tricky fell into stride with Espurr as they walked down towards the classroom.

    “Trying to get an oral session for the test,” Espurr responded. She looked at Tricky’s paws, which looked in no way suitable for writing with. “Don’t you need one?”

    “Nah,” Tricky replied cheerily. “I write with my claws! It might come in handy, when you’re trapped in a mystery dungeon without a pencil, and you have to write a message to save your life...”

    “One minute!” Watchog yelled grumpily from below. “Everymon had better get down here!”

    Tricky spun on her heels, casually walking backwards down the path.

    “Oh- that book on mystery dungeons? I checked it out. And guess what? There’s a small dungeon right near Pop’s oran berry fields! It’s where all the combee make their honey, and they sell it to Kecleon every year, so there’s no way it’s dangerous. Wanna go exploring with me after detention?”

    “Tricky…” Espurr carefully skipped a lopsided step in the path. “I think it would be best to take a break, after what happened yesterday.”

    “But…” Tricky struggled to come up with an excuse. “Once we join the Expedition Society, we aren’t gonna get breaks, so why take any now?”

    There it was again. Expedition Society.

    “I never agreed to join the Expedition Society,” Espurr said matter-of-factly.

    “Sacrilege.”

    Tricky couldn’t help but stifle a laugh at Espurr’s shocked face. “C’mon- I’m kidding! You take jokes waaaay too seriously. Besides…” Tricky whispered, as they entered the classroom and took their seats. “I’ll convince you in time... ”

    The classroom went deathly quiet as Watchog lumbered up like a zombie possessed, then took his spot at the teacher’s desk.

    “May I have your attention, please,” he muttered out, looming over the students from the teacher’s desk. “Firstly, I’m sure I don’t need to remind everymon of what happens if I catch you using the skills taught in this classroom unauthorized outside of it.”

    “Detention for life,” the class wearily recited back in unison. “We know.”

    “Good.” Watchog picked up one of Farfetch’d’s leeks and whacked the blackboard unceremoniously like a gong.

    “Moves in dungeons,” he began loudly. “We already know that all pokemon can use Moves indiscriminately. What type you are affects what kind of Moves you can use: For instance, a fire-type will use fire moves; a water-type will use water moves; etcetera.” He paced the classroom from side to side frenetically like a military commander. “However, Moves also draw from pokemons’ bodies indiscriminately. The energy required to perform a single Move would be enough to completely consume the energy of a small animal.”

    A small bird chirped in the trees above. The class silently stared up at the canopy, wondering what a Move could do to it.

    “Lucky for you lot of troublemakers, however…” Watchog continued. “Pokemon have much higher energy rates than small animals. Or any animals in general. As pokemon, you can both use and endure Moves… up to a certain threshold. Every time you use a Move, that depletes some of your internal energy. It also requires the same energy to properly defend yourself against Moves.”

    In the back of the classroom, Shelmet lay asleep in his seat, having snuck in and dozed off at some point in the class.

    “Everymon awake in the classroom!!” Watchog yelled at him. Shelmet snapped awake, quickly sitting straight up in his seat. Espurr took the opportunity to raise her hand, and since she was at the front of the class, Watchog had no choice but to call on her.

    “What is it?” he asked.

    “By that logic, it’s possible to die by using a powerful enough move, right?” she asked nonchalantly.

    The entire classroom looked somewhat shocked by Espurr’s casual use of the word ‘die’. Watchog quickly wiped the momentary surprise from his face, returning to business immediately afterwards. “I’ll give you that one,” he responded after a moment. “It is theoretically possible for a pokemon to use a move powerful enough to consume their entire energy force. However, your body will shut down long before that happens.”

    Watchog addressed the entire class. “What happens when your body is pushed past its energy threshold?” he asked loudly.

    “You faint,” most of the class replied back.

    “Fainting.” Watchog struck the blackboard like a gong again. “Fainting is what happens when your body loses too much energy. You can Faint from hunger, Move fatigue, or by getting hit with enough Moves. In civilized settings, making your opponent Faint is the universally accepted method of winning a Pokemon Battle. But in Dungeons, Fainting can mean the difference between life and death.”

    Watchog cast his intense gaze towards Tricky. “And that is why none of you should be playing around in mystery dungeons,” He finished, glaring at the fennekin accusingly. At Tricky’s determined smirk of ‘Never!’, Watchog changed gears, chucking the leek to its side by the teacher’s desk.

    “While going into an actual mystery dungeon is far too unsafe for the likes of you right now,” Watchog went on, “the Principal has given me express permission to use my Vice Principal Powers-” Tricky fail to suppress a loud snort of laughter “-to turn this classroom into a Fully-Safety-Regulated Mystery Dungeon! Ping-Shapow-Whazam!”

    Watchog snapped and clapped his fingers together repeatedly, the sounds coming from his mouth devolving into indistinguishable sputtering noises as he continued.

    “We’re still in the classroom,” Tricky pointed out after Watchog had finished.

    “Yeah. Lame.” Pancham traded looks with a still-sleepy Shelmet.

    “Use your imagination,” Watchog grumbled. “It’s not like you’re in any shortage of that.”

    He walked in front of the teacher’s desk, staring down the students in their seats.

    “Pair up! All of you!” Watchog clapped his hands together. “We’re going to be practicing using Moves today.” And then he looked Espurr’s way, and Espurr thought she noticed a glint in his eyes.

    “I need a couple of volunteers…” Watchog began, his eyes gliding to two of the seats at the front of the class. “Espurr, Tricky!” he snapped. “Would you like to volunteer to demonstrate?”

    “Why not.” Oblivious to whatever Watchog was planning, Tricky got up from her seat, tapping Espurr on the shoulder with her tail as she passed. Espurr got up from her desk, not taking her eyes off Watchog the entire time. She’d play along until she had an idea of what he was doing.

    Watchog positioned them on opposite sides of the teacher’s desk, making them back up until they were standing against opposing sides of the classroom.

    “On my mark!” Watchog began, raising his arm into the air. “I want you both to hit each other with your strongest Moves.” Espurr moved her eyes from Watchog to Tricky, who was busy conjuring an ember in her chest. Tricky opened her mouth, and Espurr saw the flickering flame that burned in the back of her throat.

    “Entire books have been written on the art of learning Moves,” Watchog declared for the benefit of the class. “But my opinion? The best way of learning moves is in practice. Start!!”

    Watchog’s arm came flying down, and in an instant, Tricky planted her paws into the ground and shot a blast of flame straight at Espurr. At a loss for ideas, Espurr did the only feasible thing she could think of in the moment- she ducked. The Ember went straight over her head and dissipated in the distance as it flew off.

    Espurr slowly picked herself up from the ground, ignoring the way her coat stung where she’d hit the dirt.

    Watchog sputtered in annoyance. “What was that??” he questioned annoyedly. “Again!”

    Espurr and Tricky took their positions once more. Watchog stood against the teacher’s desk, raising his arm once more.

    “On my mark!”

    It was at that point that Espurr realized she had no idea what she was doing. This must have been his plan. He must have known that she didn’t know how to use Moves somehow!

    “Ready?” Watchog surveyed the both of them. Tricky nodded readily, practically bouncing in place. Espurr resumed her fighting position. Watchog had said that all pokemon could use Moves indiscriminately, right? Well, she was a pokemon. Logic dictated that she could use a Move.

    “Start!”

    Once more, Tricky launched an Ember straight at Espurr. And this time, it didn’t miss its target. Espurr was sent flying, landing a good few feet back against the edge of the blackboard tree.

    “And that is how to properly use a Move!” Watchog clapped his hands together in applause. Espurr slowly picked herself up from the tree, biting back the dull ache that had popped up where the fracture in her arm used to be.

    “Alright; next pair, over here!” Watchog pointed to the ground in front of the teacher’s desk. “You two. Up against the wall with everymon else!”

    Pancham and Shelmet rudely pushed Deerling and Goomy aside as Espurr and Tricky took their spots against the notice board next to the steps to the clinic.

    “No misbehavior; either of you.” Watchog raised his arm again, eyeing both of them suspiciously. “Three… Two… One…”

    “Start!”

    Tricky fired another Ember from her mouth, which Espurr narrowly avoided. Watchog gazed down at her disapprovingly as she picked herself up from the ground.

    “Again!”

    Espurr was hit in the face.

    “Again!”

    Espurr was sent flying against the desks.

    “Again!”

    Espurr charged forward with a stick in her hands-

    “That’s cheating!”

    “My throat hurts,” Tricky complained. “Can we do somemon else for a while?”

    “Switch!”

    “Wow,” Pancham smirked as Espurr and Tricky took their places against the wall. “You guys are getting beat. I’d hate to see you have to go up against me.”

    “I don’t understand it…” Espurr stared down at her paws, frustration building up in the back of her head. Why wasn’t she able to use any Moves? She didn’t have an explanation, no matter how hard she thought.

    She looked up at the sounds of crashing coming from the front of the classroom, where an obviously faking Deerling had just let Goomy tackle her to the ground. Espurr thought back to all the training rounds she had been forced to endure in the last fifteen minutes. She ran a mental tape in her head, perusing everything that had transpired in that time. Watchog’s pomp… getting pummeled to the ground… all the getting pummeled to the ground… and Tricky’s warmup.

    And then it clicked. Maybe she needed time to warm up!

    “Mr. Watchog?” Espurr raised her paw once more. Watchog looked like he wanted to correct a certain honorific, but bit it back for the sake of the class. ”Yes?” He asked; a hint of suspicion in his voice.

    “I’d like to try one more time.”

    Watchog thought it over for the better part of a minute. Then, he sighed, and pointed to the space in front of the teacher’s desk. Tricky let out a wordless groan, slumping her head in defeat. She began to trudge towards her spot in the classroom slowly.

    “Not you.” Watchog verbally stopped Tricky in her tracks. “I promised Audino I’d leave you all relatively unharmed, so up to the clinic you go. Now!”

    Without another word, Tricky changed her course towards the school clinic, bounding up the stairs quickly.

    “Any volunteers?” Watchog asked the rest of the class.

    “I’ll do it.” Pancham’s smooth voice rang out against the silence of the other students. Espurr watched him saunter up to the other side of the teacher’s desk, taking a fighting position confidently.

    “One more time! On my mark!” Watchog raised his arm, glancing at both students. “Everymon ready?”

    Espurr closed her eyes, blotting out the world. There had to be something she could use. Perhaps her mind trick she had picked up yesterday… except that she couldn’t seem to get ahold of him, and she didn’t want Watchog to accuse her of cheating if she lifted anything else.

    “Start!”

    Pancham wasted no time charging towards her, his fists brimming with colorless energy. He was going to use a Physical Move on her. But Espurr wasn’t going to let him. Something twitched in the back of Espurr’s mind, and she grabbed it-

    -And suddenly, there was the sound of a large ‘boom!!’, and Espurr felt herself get blown to the ground, and then she couldn’t bear to open her eyes again for several more minutes.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “...Safety. Regulated!”

    The rantings of Watchog slowly trickled through the ringing fuzz that was Espurr’s hearing. “Because what could a bunch of kids do?? But no…”

    “Oi! Watchog! Calm yourself!” Farfetch’d squawked in the background.

    “Calm myself?!” Watchog sputtered. “Look at the classroom! Just think of the carpenting bill for all this! What Move even was that??”

    “It wasn’t a Move.” The principal’s voice rang out near Espurr. She could hear his footsteps near her ear. He must have been nearby. “This is what happens when a psychic type pokemon lets their mental power run amok. Luckily for both us and her, she is still young, so the blast wasn’t fatal. However… most psychic types master their talents before they even walk. To see somemon of her age with so little control over her mind is curious; to say the least. Nurse Audino, if you would like to do the honors?”

    “Yes, Principal.” There was another set of footsteps, and then Espurr felt herself get lifted off the ground.

    “Not fatal; my tail…” Espurr heard Watchog mutter in the distance. “Piece of the blackboard nearly got me in the heart.” She tried to move, but felt Audino adjust her in her arms to stop her from falling out.

    “Stay still for me, please,” she heard Audino whisper in her ears.

    A single thought plagued Espurr’s mind as she was carried up into the clinic: Logic was infallible, but also ruthless.

    And then: What an idiot she had been.

    After that the ringing and the headache took over for a little while.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “Holy mystery dungeon!” Tricky hollered; leaning out the window. “The classroom is wrecked!”

    “So wrecked…” Shelmet said in between bites of food, “That school should be cancelled for the summer?”

    “Nice try.” Audino said, setting Espurr’s lunch aside and taking a bite of an apple. In the corner, Watchog stared out the window and sputtered to himself in disbelief.

    Principal Simipour poured himself a wooden cup of Orangeberry Tea and blew on it to cool it off.

    “The classroom’s destruction should do nothing to impede our regular school schedule,” he said. “Classes will continue as normal.”

    That garnered collective grumbles from all the other students. Simipour took a sip of his tea indifferently.

    Espurr slowly felt the effects of the headache coming off her, until she was able to sit up properly without the entire clinic spinning in front of her.

    “Doing better now?” Farfetch’d looked down at Espurr.

    Espurr nodded. “I think so.”

    “Atta girl.” Farfetch’d lightly tapped Espurr on the head with his leek, before moving off to another part of the clinic.

    “Espurr!”

    Espurr barely had time to glance in the direction of the voice before she was tackled by Tricky. Soon after, she was swarmed completely by the rest of the students.

    “You totally destroyed the classroom!” Tricky exclaimed.

    “It was awesome,” Pancham said. “You get that.”

    “It was not awesome!” Deerling glanced at Pancham angrily. “Somemon could have been seriously hurt!” She looked at Espurr. “Are you alright?”

    “I think I swallowed a wood chip,” Goomy complained.

    “Maybe it’ll stay in your belly forever and ever…” Shelmet hissed to Goomy. A scathing look from Deerling a few seconds later made him retreat into his shell.

    Audino placed Espurr’s lunch in front of her.

    “Seeing as you’re doing better,” she began. “You should be well enough to serve detention after school as well.”

    Watchog suddenly stood up.

    “That reminds me…” he muttered to himself, before pushing open the door and heading towards the supply building in the distance.

    Tricky flopped down upon the bean bag next to Espurr.

    “I wonder what detention’s gonna be today?” She mused to herself idly.

    ~\({O})/~​

    “Separate detentions??” Tricky howled as Watchog pushed her out the door. “But why??”

    “Doesn’t matter why,” Watchog grunted. “Any chance to separate troublemakers is a gift to me.” With that, he managed to push the fennekin out the door; Goomy sliming off in their wake.

    “You’ll be helping me clean up the clinic today,” Audino said as Espurr approached. “Start by picking up all the bits and pieces of food strewn around the place. I’ll clean the back room.”

    With that, she pulled on a pair of gloves and continued into the backroom. Espurr saw a bed and a wall of wooden filing cabinets as it closed after her.

    Left to her own devices, Espurr got to picking up all the stray bits of food that had been scattered around the clinic by the rest of the students. There were copious amounts of nuts and seeds scattered everywhere (Because all pokemon ate like hooligans; apparently), the splotchy remains of an oran berry that looked like it had been stepped on, and an entire discarded apple core that was probably Shelmet’s. Espurr even picked out all the small bits of food that had landed in the straw beds (A task spent sorely wishing she could just rip all those bits and pieces out of the straw mentally without suffering a headache).

    By the time she was done setting the empty wicker baskets on the counter that was almost taller than she was, Espurr felt thoroughly exhausted. She cast a look at the stack of baskets sitting on the counter to her right. They… had hidden something there; hadn’t they?

    That stray thought was enough to jog Espurr’s memory. She had completely forgotten about it in the mess of a day that followed! Casting a look towards the back door of the clinic to make sure Audino wouldn’t suddenly burst in and catch her unawares, Espurr slowly pulled the stack of woven baskets towards her, being careful not to let them topple everywhere as she removed them from the countertop.

    She found it stuck to the underside of the penultimate bin at the bottom of the stack; a folded piece of paper that had been glued there with some of Goomy’s slime. Espurr knew the baskets were recycled every three days. One more day; and Audino would have found it. Whatever ‘it’ was. Espurr neatly stacked all the baskets again (For they were quite the mess; just strewn all about), and was in the process of trying to scoot them all back up onto the counter when she heard the door open behind her. It took all her willpower not to jump and accidentally spill the baskets everywhere.

    Audino, who had just exited the room and shook her duster off into the wastebin, caught sight of Espurr and quickly ran over to right the baskets.

    “Oh, honey! You don’t need to do that part.” Audino took the baskets off Espurr’s hands and set them safely on the counter. She looked down at Espurr. “You should have asked me!”

    Espurr quickly stepped on the paper so Audino wouldn’t see it. Audino handed Espurr a smaller duster, picking up her own once again. “The next step is dusting. I’ll get all the high places. I need you to dust in the lower spots for me. Can you do that?”

    Espurr thought that was a strange question. She also thought she sensed Audino looking at her strangely as she hobbled off, doing her best to keep that paper out of Audino’s view. Once she had ducked behind the straw beds under the pretense of dusting there, Espurr was finally able to pull the paper off her foot. Not a few seconds later, Audino came dusting around the ceiling in that area, and it was all Espurr could do to slot the paper under the straw and make it look like she had been working.

    It was going to be a while before she’d be able to sneak a peek, wasn’t it?

    ~\({O})/~

    Café Connection

    ~Tricky~

    “Just some regular old cleanup at Kangaskhan’s,” Watchog said as he made Tricky and Goomy march ahead of his through the square. “What could go wrong? Everything. Everything could go wrong. But nothing. Is going. To go wrong. Or I’m not Vice Principal Watchog- Sharp left!”

    Tricky and Goomy both made a sharp left, heading up the steps and into the candle-lit interior of the Café Connection.

    “And what can I get for y- Oh! Watchog!” Kangaskhan almost dropped the stack of seashells she was drying as she caught sight of Watchog approaching the counter. “It’s not like you to bring students along for your evening drink.”

    Ampharos, two seats away, set down his menu at the sound of the word ‘students’. He then slowly raised it up again, just until he could see over the top. Discreetly, he eyed the pair of pokemon by Watchog’s side. There was a goomy (That, Ampharos was not too concerned with), and the fennekin from before. And… nothing. Perhaps the espurr was late? Going off what he had heard from the townspeople, Fennekin and Espurr were like glue- they had rarely been seen apart ever since Espurr arrived in the village… three days ago.

    “Alas, duty calls,” Watchog told Kangaskhan. “I’m here on official school business. These two troublemakers have landed themselves detention. I don’t suppose you have some chores they could help out with?”

    “Doesn’t the school usually handle detentions?” Kangaskhan cocked a rocky eyebrow.

    Watchog leaned in close over the counter.

    “I’m not supposed to tell you this,” he began, his voice dramatically low. “But just between you and me: One of the students had an ‘accident’ in the classroom. A big accident. Boom.”

    “Boom… ?” The other eyebrow went up.

    “Boom.” Watchog waved his hands out, exaggerating the effect as much as possible.

    “Well…” Kangaskhan set the stack of seashells aside before she had another chance to drop and crack them. “I guess I could use some help behind the counter. A-“

    Tricky suddenly blanched at the word that was about to leave Kangaskhan’s mouth. Kangaskhan quickly corrected herself before the word was uttered in its entirety, sending Tricky a brief apologetic look.

    “I mean, Tricky could do that. And Goomy could help me with the dirty dishes. Sound all right?”

    Watchog leaned back, taking a seat on one of the stools next to the counter. “Sounds wonderful. And I will have that drink, by the way. Mago berry, please. Here- I’ll pay you-”

    As Watchog searched the small bag he had brought along for his money pouch, Tricky quietly slunk off into another section of the restaurant. She never ever got to come in here. It was going to be fun to see what made this place tick!

    “H-hey! Wait for me!” Goomy called over the hustle and bustle of the restaurant. Tricky looked back, tilting her head at Goomy in confusion.

    “What’s the problem?” Tricky asked.

    “You can’t just leave me alone like that…” Goomy said, sliming up to Tricky. “Not like what you did yesterday.”

    “What did we do yesterday?” Tricky’s voice oozed with confusion.

    “You left me! All alone in the heat with the Vice Principal!” Goomy said; appalled by Tricky’s ignorance.

    “Oh, that…” Tricky’s eyes suddenly lit up. “That was fun. You should have joined in!”

    “I spent three hours in the hot sun waiting for you guys!” Goomy snapped. “I almost dried out! That wasn’t fun! That was unpleasant! And dusty!”

    Their argument was beginning to turn the heads of a lot of serenity villagers. Tricky’s ears slowly lowered at Goomy’s comments.

    “Sorry…” she muttered, turning around and trudging back to the front of the counter. Glancing back at Watchog, Goomy began to follow.

    Tricky quickly scampered around the corner of the counter at Watchog’s silent command, where Kangaskhan propped her up on a moving cart against the counter.

    “Don’t get too rowdy, okay?” Kangaskhan told Tricky. “I won’t have accidents in my restaurant. You’re my waiter for the night. Just take everymon’s orders and bring them to Houndoom in the kitchens. He’ll take it from there. You can start with this one: ‘One Mago berry drink; fermented.’ Got it?”

    Tricky nodded so vigorously it unsettled Kangaskhan a little. “Alright then. Go!”

    Tricky hopped down from the cart and sprinted into the kitchens, where a houndoom was mixing and chopping and simmering several different things almost simultaneously.

    “Oi!” He paused the heating of one dish with his breath to snap at Tricky. “No kits in the kitchen!”

    “But I’m the waiter!” Tricky announced with a slight air of pomp. “Also, I have all your orders, so you don’t wanna kick me out.”

    Houndoom raised an eyebrow, taking a second to continue simmering the dish again. “Let’s see them, then.”

    Tricky cleared her throat. “One Mago Berry-“

    “Not like that!” Houndoom snapped. “You’re supposed to write them down first!” he went back to simmering the dish full force, ordering Tricky out with his eyes. Tricky was gone faster than a speeding Thunderbolt.

    ~\({O})/~

    Baram Town ~ Air Continent

    ~Mawile and Archen~

    “Once we get back to the Society, I am taking a long, long nap,” Archen announced as he and Mawile idly strolled through the streets of Baram Town. “And then I’m not in charge of any off-continent missions for the next week.”

    The lapras Mawile had chartered was running late, and the next wailord liner to the Water Continent wasn’t for another six hours. That left Mawile and Archen with nothing to do until their lapras arrived for them, and while Mawile would have much preferred to prematurely record the day’s events in her explorer’s log, Archen had almost forcefully dragged her out to see the town’s sights while they were here. In hindsight, Mawile couldn’t really complain. Baram Town was a tourist location for a reason, after all, and it even made Mawile a little wistful that they wouldn’t be able to return for a while after this.

    “Count your lucky wooloo, that’s all we’ll hear about it politically.” Mawile held on tightly to the exploration bag as they passed through what looked like a disassembled bird pokemons’ choir. “We’ll be officially out of HAPPI’s snouts once we hand over those photos to Cloud Nine, and then it’ll be down to Dedenne and the Chief to handle Meowth and the local news outlets.”

    “Wherever he is.” Archen added candidly.

    Mawile simply chose not to respond to that.

    “I wonder that caused the delay?” Archen wondered as they passed a stall of dungeon supplies. “This particular Lapras is almost never late.”

    “I wouldn’t worry too much on it,” Mawile responded. “We all run a little late on occasion.” She sent a pointed glance towards Archen with that last comment. Archen ruffled his feathers and annoyedly shrugged the comment off.

    A sudden commotion that erupted from the docks only seconds later turned both Mawile and Archen’s heads. Without another word between them, the two explorers rushed in the direction of the harbor, pushing past several other ‘mon who were fleeing in the opposite direction.

    A panicking swirlix pointed a trembling limb towards the water as they and a mob of other pokemon arrived. “look…” she gasped out.

    The source of all the commotion made both Archen and Mawile’s hearts skip a beat. For floating on the water was the stone statue of a lapras on a wooden barge; a note stuck to its chest in thick, loopy handwriting:

    Your sins have risen from the grave to drag you back down with them. I am this world, as it lives and breathes.

    Revel in the little time you have left; for your day of reckoning is nearly upon you.

    Mawile dug in her bag with haste. She pulled out an expedition gadget – it didn’t matter which one – and snapped a photo of the atrocity floating before them. Then two others. And a fourth, just to be safe. Then she quickly pulled Archen away by the wing, the avian pokemon scrambling to keep up as she walked away from the docks at a brisk pace.

    “W-what’s this about??” Archen squawked, trying not to end up with his poor feathers pulled out.

    “This is better discussed at the inn,” Mawile said; but even her steady tone couldn’t help but betray the slightest hint of unease. “We don’t want to be standing here when the police show up.”

    Even stubborn Archen had to admit that was advice best taken. He made more of an effort to catch up with Mawile, and neither of them cast a single look back on their hurried path to the inn.

    “I know this may be a bad time,” Kecleon asked hopefully as the pair of explorers walked by his stall. “But have you heard any word on when my supplier will—“

    “Don’t count on it,” Mawile told him flatly. And then they were gone.

    ~\({O})/~

    School Clinic

    ~Espurr~

    If there was one useful thing Espurr had learned all day, it was that so much work went into cleaning a single room she almost didn’t want to use rooms anymore; just for fear of messing them up. Audino hung the pair of feather dusters back up on the hooks jutting out the side of the school cabinet, finally sitting down on one of the straw beds.

    “That’ll be the end of your detention for today.” Espurr, who had just finished emptying the contents of the wastebin into the compost out back, nodded in acknowledgement. She cast a glance at Audino to make sure she wasn’t looking, and then immediately ducked under the opposite straw bed in excitement. She removed the folded piece of paper she had slipped under the bed, holding it in both her hands. It was the moment of truth. She was finally going to see what had flown in on the breeze by chance. Unfolding the paper slowly, Espurr spread it out in front of her…

    It was – or at least it looked like – a map. It wasn’t like she could read any of it, but the pictures of towns and small trails snaking every which way made it obvious what it was. Espurr wasn’t sure if that upheld her expectations, or let them down completely. What was such a thing doing flying around on the breeze? And who did it formerly belong to?

    Never mind the fact that the largest town on the map was marked with a sigil that looked like a golden butterfree, and above it; more of those pesky Unown symbols that annoyed Espurr so. She could sound out a few of them, like ‘Live Town’, and of course Serenity Village, but the rest of them remained a mystery to her.

    A route marked in bright red led all the way from Live Town, up into a mountain-surrounded basin and then down to what looked like (And Espurr assumed it was) Serenity Village. So that settled it. Whoever had previously been in ownership of this map had wanted to get from Live Town all the way here. And that somemon was either stuck wandering around the mountains without a clue as to where they were going, or they had turned back, or maybe; just maybe, they had already made it here…

    …Ampharos. Of course. He seemed like exactly the kind of ‘mon who would need a map. Exactly the kind of ‘mon who had lost a map. This must have been his. Espurr sat back against the straw bed, folding her arms and feeling quite the clever conspiracy theorist for figuring all that out. And now that she had deduced the owner of the mysterious map… only the one burning question remained: What was she going to do with it?

    “…Ms. Audino?”

    Audino looked up from the book she was reading, which had some complicated title in Unown that Espurr couldn’t even hope to decipher. “Is something the matter?” she asked.

    “Could I walk around town for a while?” Espurr asked, peeking up from behind the straw bed. “The sun won’t go down for another hour.”

    “I don’t see why not…” Audino glanced out the window to check the sun. “Just make sure you’re back by sundown.”

    And with that, Espurr suddenly was out the door so fast Audino couldn’t help but wonder if Tricky had been a bad influence on her.

    ~\({O})/~

    Café Connection

    ~Tricky~

    The normal waiter was an inkay, so there was no ink anywhere around the Café Connection to write with. But Tricky had found a fix for that. Oran berries were kind of like ink, and yes; she had used up like ten of them (And nibbled a few when Kangaskhan wasn’t looking), but now she had something to write with! It was just a problem of remembering everything long enough to get it all down on paper, and hoping that Houndoom wouldn’t chew her out for misspelling a little something here and there.

    Tricky scooted the moving cart over to the last pokemon currently in the café she hadn’t taken the order of yet, trying to get a good look at the pokemon who was obscured behind the giant menu.

    “Can I get your order?” she asked cheerily.

    “A plate of the vegetable pasta, please.” Ampharos put down the menu, clearing his throat politely. “And a raspberry sorbet- those always have been my guilty pleasure; I’m afraid…”

    Tricky’s eyes practically bugged out of her head. “No. Way!” she exclaimed, barely keeping her voice down to an excited hiss. “You’re Ampharos! We totally met in the square two days ago!!”

    “That; we did.” Ampharos folded the menu and set it aside. “I must say, I was looking forward to meeting the two of you again. What kept your friend?”

    “You mean Espurr?” Tricky tilted her head. “She got stuck with detention somewhere else…”

    “How very unfortunate.” Ampharos had half a mind to ask what had gotten the two of them in detention, but decided to shelf the question in favor of more important things. “See,” he continued. “After our chance meeting, I got in touch with a close friend in the Expedition Society.” Tricky’s eyes widened and sparkled. “They pulled some strings with the top brass, and brought into my possession a pair of Junior Memberships.” Ampharos sighed. “I was going to gift them to the two of you, but presenting them with only one of you around… that just won’t do! It’ll have to wait until I can meet you both.”

    Tricky almost yipped for joy with excitement! Her dream was finally coming true and she couldn’t believe it!!!!! She just stopped herself from throwing a joy tantrum in the middle of the restaurant, instead taking a deep breath and asking Ampharos the world’s most important question—

    “Whencanwemeet?? I know this really good place and it’s quiet and there’s a nice view and—“

    “Hmm…” Ampharos thought on it. “How about… in three days? I hear that’s when your schooldays end. I’ll be waiting for you at the hill with the tree at sundown.”

    “Done!” Tricky excitedly shook Ampharos’ paw before the yellow pokemon could say another word, perching herself back on the metal cart immediately afterwards. “Now… what was that order again? I… kinda forgot.”

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    ~Espurr~

    It was getting close to sundown now. Espurr wandered the streets of Serenity Village, drawing the attention of no pokemon as they chattered amongst themselves and enjoyed the sunset breeze. The place wasn’t large, she concluded. The main plaza in the center of the village took up a good amount of space itself. There was the school to the north, the residential sectors to the south and west, and the village entrance lay to the east, all broken up by small rivers through the entire town. Simple, without a doubt. Espurr had taken the southern pathway, because that seemed like the most interesting place of the village but also because Carracosta’s was to the east and she had been there, seen that already.

    The houses got sparser as she continued; within less than a minute, she had completely outstripped all buildings.

    Except for the villa.

    It stood all on its own out on the bay, on a small, swampy island that was only large enough to cover the house itself and the end of the dock leading to it. Espurr was sharp enough to figure out what it was: This was the Ancient Barrow.

    She cast a furtive look both ways, just in case somemon caught her staring at the taboo location unawares. There was no way the old house was actually haunted, of course. And even if it was, the ghosts obviously preferred to keep to themselves. The entrance to the house, sealed off with several large wooden planks, made that much clear.

    It wouldn’t hurt to peek, half of Espurr’s mind said.

    The other half told her to pack up those idiotic thoughts and march right back to the school.

    The first half countered with the logically sound argument that she was never going to sleep until she knew exactly what was up with this house.

    The second half reluctantly allowed a single peek.

    And so Espurr slowly crept along the creaky, moss-covered dock, testing each new board hesitantly with her foot before she stepped on it. Why did this dock have to be so long?

    It didn’t get any better as she went. Some of the boards had literally rotted away, and Espurr was almost lost to the waters below when a board she stepped on snapped off and tumbled down into the river. And that was to say nothing of the desolate feeling that pervaded the entire island. It made Espurr feel like she was constantly being watched, and regardless of whether she was or not, it solidified one chief concept in her mind that she accepted as fact: There was something wrong with this house.

    With this place. The entire island was evil; a blight upon the village and she was sure of it, and she just wanted to leave before something bad happened…

    …And then she looked at the Ancient Barrow itself. It would be folly not to at least take a look while she was here. It would spare her the return trip, at least.

    Espurr trudged through the mud towards the crooked house. It stuck to her fur as she walked, and she brushed off a grimace at the mess that must have been her feet.

    It was only then that she noticed the door of the Ancient Barrow was open.

    But it had been sealed. There were boards nailed to that door!

    …And yet it was open.

    Against all better judgement, Espurr slowly trudged up near the Barrow’s sagging porch. She gazed into the darkness that crawled out of the Barrow’s front door, and her eyes locked on the softly-flickering blue flame that danced in the middle of it.

    There was a gurgling deep within the Barrow. And then a wet POP, and the sound of liquid being sprayed every which way met Espurr’s ears. But all she could focus on was that the light wasn’t illuminating anything around it but more blackness, and there were windows, and why wasn’t there more light in there??

    And then the blue light was snuffed out, and an endless torrent of swamp water shot out the doors of the Ancient Barrow, engulfing Espurr completely and sending her skidding back across the dock covered in nasty-smelling water.

    Espurr picked herself up, coughing from the mouthful of swamp she had accidentally inhaled – swamp tasted disgusting - , and tried to rub the water out of her eyes with her wet fur. She was back on the mainland, apparently, and the Barrow stared her down like the monolith pillar of evil she knew it was.

    And the boards were back on the door. Like nothing had happened. That was the point where Espurr decided it was officially too weird for her. She had to get as far away from that house as possible.

    But first she was getting cleaned up.

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

    ~Tricky~

    “Freedom!!” Tricky gleefully announced to the world as she bounded out the doors of the Café Connection.

    “Your tail is still mine for the next three days; you hear that??” Watchog grumbled after her; still half-drunken.

    Goomy silently slimed around Watchog, keeping to himself as he headed west. He didn’t want to rack up any extra detentions.

    Finally over her burst of energy, Tricky spun in a circle in the middle of the square, then fell on her haunches dizzily. Glancing offhandedly to the south side of the village, she thought she saw…

    …No way… Was it…

    “Espurr!” Tricky called out, immediately making a beeline for her classmate. “You’re never gonna believe this-“

    For a second, it looked like Espurr was running to catch up with her too-

    -But then she rushed right past the fennekin; her coat smelling of wet fur, and Tricky’s face fell as she watched her only friend catch up with none other than Vice Principal Watchog.

    “Excuse me, Vice Principal,” Espurr said as she caught up to Watchog.

    “So now you use my title,” Watchog snapped, and it became clear to Espurr that he was not fully himself right now. “After you colluded with the Troublemaker, ran off during detention yesterday – made me worried sick - and blew up the entire classroom.”

    Espurr was left speechless. That… was a lot of trouble.

    “So what do you want??” Watchog’s harsh tone slapped Espurr back to reality. “Did you just come here to gloat? Or was Audino too much of a bore for you.”

    “Actually,” Espurr began. “I’m here to apologize.”

    Watchog came to a halt; so suddenly Espurr outstripped him by a few steps before she realized he had stopped. His face twitched slightly; a look of disbelief covering it completely.

    “You want… to apologize?” He asked slowly. Espurr nodded. Watchog sighed in disbelief.

    “I’ve never had a student apologize to me before,” he said. Espurr wasn’t sure it was meant for her. “I-is that all you want?”

    “That…” Espurr began. “…And maybe an oral session for the test tomorrow,” she finished quicker than she probably should have.

    “I knew there was a catch.”

    Watchog continued walking, but didn’t seem to object to Espurr following.

    “So…” she began trepidaciously.

    “Yeah; I’ll do it.” Watchog muttered. “Happy now? Cheater.”

    Espurr wanted to say something, but she couldn’t think of anything that wouldn’t spoil Watchog’s rare calm mood. Instead, she silently broke off at some point, running in the other direction and back towards the school.

    In her haste, she forgot to acknowledge Tricky standing off to the side at all, even as the fox started to call out for her.

    Tricky’s ears and tail drooped. Slowly, she began to trudge back towards Carracosta’s place. She knew what was happening. Deerling… Watchog… Espurr was making new friends, and then she wouldn’t want to spend time with the Village Troublemaker anymore. That was what happened to all the new pokemon who came to stay in the village. Why would Espurr be any different?

    But the sun was beginning to set, and Tricky knew Carracosta’s strict curfew rules, so she set out for home a little quicker, and resolved to think about it more on a full belly.

    ~\({O})/~

    Baram Town ~ Air Continent

    ~Mawile and Archen~

    “I- I- I don’t get it,” Archen said as he paced the hotel room anxiously. “Of all the lapras in the sea- why our lapras? Why us?”

    Mawile didn’t have an answer for him, and she told him as much. “The most important thing we can do right now is make copies of the pictures we took, and contact the Chief,” she told him, taking the connection orb out of her expedition gadget and slotting it back in again.

    “Yeah- and has he picked up yet?” Archen half-squawked. “You’ve been doing that for almost an hour.”

    “Give it time,” Mawile calmly said. “He’ll pick up sooner or later.”

    “How long before it comes for us??” Archen wrung out his head feathers with his wings. “How long before whatever got to all those pokemon in Pokemon Plaza – whatever petrified that poor lapras – comes for us?”

    “If you’re that concerned over it, then help me make copies of all these photos.” Mawile set the second expedition gadget on the table and scooted it towards the pacing Archen. “That’s what I’ve been doing all this time.”

    “But…” Archen stammered. “I- …fine. I need to sit down anyway.”

    “That, we agree on.” Mawile never even looked away from her expedition gadget as Archen reluctantly sat down at the table.

    A sudden knocking at the room door roused both their attention. “I’ll get it,” Archen announced, standing up a little too readily.

    Mawile spared a rare glance up from her gadget as Archen slowly opened the door a crack, and peeked out.

    “M-Mr. Mayor!” he suddenly stammered out. That phrase caused Mawile to stuff both gadgets in her bag and stand up, posthaste.

    The door was opened wide, and a pair of murkrow fluttered in, preceding Mayor Honchkrow himself. The mayor sighed.

    “I thought I told you to leave,” he said, a weary tone cracking through his voice.

    “Well,” Archen began, his voice beginning to rise into a squawk. “Maybe-“

    “We experienced a hold-up at the docks, Mayor.” Mawile smoothly cut in, neutering whatever petty insult Archen might have had at hand. “One I have no doubt you’re aware of by now. Given that all transportation to or from the Air Continent was cut off… We didn’t have much choice but to stay.”

    “Well, it’s too late to do anything about that right now.” The mayor walked towards the table, picking one of the complimentary berries off the plate in the middle and eating it. “Stay here the night. There’ll be a sharpedo waiting for the two of you in the early morning tomorrow. I want you to take it.”

    “We’ll be out of your feathers first thing tomorrow,” Mawile replied cordially, setting the exploration bag on the opposite side of the room from the mayor. Satisfied, Mayor Honchkrow turned around and left, the murkrow closing the door after them.

    “Another early morning,” Archen grumbled, falling back on the room’s cot and folding his wings. “Can this day get any better?”

    Mawile held back a sigh, taking out her expedition gadget and formally beginning another attempt to contact Ampharos. This was going to be a long night.


    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    The Consul of Wizards - Benjamin Wallfisch
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Six - Exam Day
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    6.

    Exam Day

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    Slowly coming to. Espurr's eyes were disgraced by the blackness of the void.

    Another dream. She pulled herself to her feet, surveying the darkness with purpose. There was nothing around.

    But of course there wouldn't be. She hadn't created anything yet. The familiar whispers slowly began to invade the back of Espurr's hearing once again, and Espurr decided she wasn't going to be thrown for a loop a second time. This was her mind, her dream. The logical conclusion was that she had complete control over everything in here… right?

    They took the form of lights. Blue, flickering wisps of flame that danced around her and remained just outside of her reach. Espurr stayed perfectly still, lest she scare them off. Carefully, she raised her hands to the sides of her head; as if that would shelter her from any potential headaches she might get, and tried to grab one with her mind.

    Bright images suddenly flashed through the darkness- the nut. The torch. The gem. The flames danced out of her vision while they had the chance, taking their incessant whispers with them…

    …And then they were gone, save for the lone one struggling in midair. Espurr took deep breaths and tried to contain her excitement as she reeled it in mentally.

    And soon, she was able to hold it in her hands. It didn't burn like normal flame did. There was no feeling of intense heat against her skin; no smell of singed fur. It just flickered above her palms, struggling less and less the closer she brought it to herself. It whispered things to her. Things that didn't make sense to her. Things in a language she barely even had a ghost of an understanding.

    And Espurr listened. There was somewhere in the back of her head where she understood the words she was hearing, where the gibberish that was being whispered to her meant more than just gibberish. And then, once the whispers had died down, and silence overtook the dreamscape once more, Espurr did something on instinct- she leaned in, and softly blew it out.

    She didn't even know why. It just seemed like it was the right thing to do. Smoke spiraled upwards from the place in midair where the flame had once sat, and then Espurr was left in total blackness again.

    Then the headache started. The absolute, mind-crunching headache. It brought Espurr to her knees in pain. She clutched her head tightly, curling up in the middle of the unnaturally black floor. It was all in her head, she thought. Pain was in her head. She could just wish it away. She could pretend it didn't exist and just like that, it wouldn't, because it never had existed anyway, and she was going to refuse to acknowledge it in three… two… one…

    It still hurt. It hurt more than any surreal excuse for pain a dream could come up with. This was real. This must have been real. She had to wake up!

    Espurr began to hyperventilate. How to wake up?

    Maybe she needed to shock herself.

    A nightmare.

    That would do.

    What nightmare?

    What scared her?

    The house.

    The Barrow.

    Make the Barrow.

    Make something…

    With that dying thought, another searing strike of pain flashed across Espurr's forehead, and she barely bit back a loud yowl of pain.

    ~\({O})/~

    School Clinic

    ~Audino~

    Nurse Audino had just finished converting the inside of the School Clinic into a makeshift classroom. Normally, the clinic would be considered too small for such a thing (Especially considering how rowdy some of Watchog's classes tended to get), but with the actual classroom still in shambles, the only other available building was the Principal's Office.

    They definitely weren't using the Principal's Office.

    Espurr slept curled up on the straw bed Audino had gently pushed out of the way to make space for everything else. Audino had tried to be quiet in order not to wake her, but that Grass-Continent Unown tutor was due soon… It probably wasn't best to continue to let the student sleep any longer.

    Audino sighed and turned back towards Espurr to wake her. That was when she noticed that Espurr was groaning in her sleep. And clutching her head.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    Espurr heard but didn't see the creaking of doors in front of her. It was all she could do to look up at the blurred sight of the Barrow staring her down with its open doors, and suddenly-

    -The floor opened up beneath her, and she was unceremoniously dropped into a pit full of water.

    There seemed to be no bottom and no top in sight. The shock of being dropped underwater so quickly meant Espurr was able to forget her headache for one second, and try to swim up to the top.

    She found herself blocked. Where there had been a hole, there was now nothing but solid black wall. Espurr knew it was a dream, if she tried to breathe in water in the dream she'd just breathe in air in the real world, but for some reason she couldn't seem to breathe. She couldn't seem to breath, and she was trapped underwater with no top or bottom in sight! Espurr could feel the very beginnings of air deprivation begin to take hold. This no longer seemed like a good idea. She would rather have the headache than this. She wanted out!

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Audino~

    Audino had never been properly trained for something quite like this. Especially since something quite like this wasn't on the list of recognized maladies. It seemed like Espurr's body had seized up while asleep, and she wasn't getting any sort of air at all! There was no obvious treatment at hand, and truth be told Audino was beginning to lose her cool.

    This must have been some psychic-type mojo. But she wouldn't be able to get another psychic-type on campus for another half-hour. By then it would be too late. Audino needed a fix now.

    Wait a minute. There was one thing she could try. But it would require using the rest of the medicinal herbs she had picked in the School Forest.

    Audino quickly undid the padlock on the cabinet (That she had put in place since the Clinic was about to become the new classroom), and pulled out the rest of the herbs. She separated the herbs that would be counteractive to the remedy from the ones she needed, and sat the rest on the clinic's only metal tray.

    Then she lit them on fire.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    Espurr couldn't believe she was going to die in a dream. That wasn't how dreams worked! She had to think her way out of this. But she couldn't seem to muster up the energy to conjure up anything else. Perhaps it really would be better to float away…

    …What was she thinking!?

    That sudden pulse of fear was enough to jolt Espurr back to her senses, and then there was a sudden flash of white-

    ~\({O})/~

    School Clinic

    Espurr jolted awake, her body snapping out of its rigid position and sending her sprawling to the floor, gasping for air. The whole room smelled like pungent roots… it smelled. She could breathe again!

    "Oh my goodness!" Audino quickly ran over to Espurr, picking her up from the floor. "What happened?"

    "Dream…" Espurr managed to spit out between gasps. "I… Was… Underwater… Couldn't breathe…"

    Audino helped Espurr sit back down on the straw bed, where she proceeded to catch the rest of her breath.

    Finally rejuvenated and not sleepy in any way, shape, or form, Espurr cast a wayward glance towards Audino's book that lay on the counter. Her eyes flicked over the title, then went back for a second round, and a third one too.

    But that wasn't possible.

    "The Adventures of an Intrepid Psyduck," Espurr said; half in shock. "That's the title of the book."

    ~\({O})/~

    "Tell me this one." Nuzleaf pointed to a random letter in the large textbook the Principal had given him.

    "J," Espurr told him, without any hesitation.

    "An' this one."

    "D."

    "An' what about this one?"

    "Z."

    Nuzleaf closed the book with a snap. He showed her the front cover. "An' you can read this?"

    "The Beginning 'Mon's introduction to Unown," Espurr read.

    "Well, that settles it." Nuzleaf set the book aside, wiping his forehead in disbelief. "I reckon you're all studied up an' everything."

    "Damn psychic-types…" Espurr thought she heard him mutter to himself when he thought she wasn't looking. "If I'da known she could learn the entire language in a day I'da jumped on that sooner."

    So would she.

    But she hadn't known, and that rattled her.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

    Nuzleaf left the textbook behind on his way out. It was a gift from Principal Simipour, but Nuzleaf had insisted it was school property, so Audino had to shelf it. And since Nuzleaf's session had finished far, far earlier than expected, that left Espurr with a good hour of free time before the start of school. It was time she used to get as far away from the School Clinic as possible. She had no idea how she could possibly have learned the entire Unown language in a single night without even intending to, and when combined with the strange dreams she had been having, it made the problem simply too broad for her brain to wrap itself around.

    And so Espurr went to the place she considered to be the farthest from all of that: Tricky's house.

    She stood on the doorstep of Carracosta's place, her paw an inch away from the door. Was this too early? Should she even be here? She cast a furtive glance around just in case she shouldn't. How would Carracosta react? Eventually she summoned up the rest of her mental fortitude, and knocked on the door.

    Only a whole moment later, it swung open, and the bulky form of Carracosta stood in the doorway.

    "…Tricky's new friend, right?" he grunted out after a minute.

    Espurr quickly nodded, and held out her hand. "Espurr, Mr… ?"

    "Carracosta." The large blue turtle took a second to clear his throat. "Tricky's not up yet. I always wake her up at the crack of dawn, but she sleeps until the last minute anyway. There's no winning that with her."

    Espurr shut her eyes and quickly rolled them so Carracosta wouldn't see. That sounded like Tricky.

    "How long until she gets up?" she asked.

    "About an hour."

    "…Oh."

    ~"By tha trees; through tha air"~

    Espurr's head spun at the sound of the scratchy, off-tune lyrics. She knew that voice… It was Nuzleaf.

    He sang?

    Carracosta quickly ushered her aside, worming his way out the door and lumbering down the path towards the sound of the voice.

    ~"Roots of time flow ev'rywhere"~

    Slowly, the figure of Nuzleaf hiking up the hill became visible to Espurr, and Carracosta suddenly drew him into a hug before he had any idea of what was happening.

    "Hah… Neighbor…" Nuzleaf patted Carracosta's back desperately; wheezing for breath, and Carracosta let him down.

    "You were here three days; and you didn't come visit me?!" Carracosta boomed flippantly.

    "I… I was busy." Nuzleaf scratched the back of his head. "Just got back from the Grass Continent an' all."

    "Come inside!" Carracosta ushered him up towards the house. "I was just making breakfast."

    Espurr suddenly realized that Nuzleaf; who had just been her language tutor for the past two days, was coming towards the house. Towards her. She then decided to make herself scarce, and fast.

    "Huh." Carracosta muttered as he approached the door. "Wonder where that whippersnapper went."

    "Whippersnapper?" Nuzleaf brushed his leaf out of his face.

    "Nothing."

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    ~Tricky~

    Tricky's nose twitched.

    Which was an odd thing indeed, because she was currently beating the holy mystery dungeon out of a Monster House right now (A term so obscure and specific only the most dedicated Explorer knew its name! Probably.)!

    Another really odd thing was that all the dungeon 'mon suddenly smelled like pancakes.

    Pancakes… She was kinda hungry.

    Tricky opened her eyes lazily, then yawned. She was lying flat on her back in her bed in her room in her house, and not roasting several dungeon 'mon at the same time with Flamethrower like she had been dreaming about.

    …Come to think of it, could fennekin even learn Flamethrower? She distantly recalled something about Watchog saying the move required too much power for unevolved pokemon to use.

    Eh, whatever. It was a fun dream anyway. Tricky burst out of her room like a Quick Attack and practically flew straight into the washroom without even bidding Pops good morning. The door softly slammed shut after her.

    "Wha- What in tarnation was that?!" Nuzleaf flipped out at the red-and-yellow blur that had just shot past his eyes, almost jumping out of his seat in shock.

    "The whippersnapper." Carracosta flipped the pancakes he was currently griddling on his gas stove (A rare commodity he had acquired from a chance visit to Lively Town).

    "Aha... righ'." Nuzleaf took a sip of tea, shooting the washroom door a glance uncomfortably.

    Pops had a method for washing the face, but Tricky thought it was super complicated. And dunking your head underwater for a few seconds made it all nullified anyway, so Tricky did that. She shook herself off, took a few laps of the water in the bowl, gargled with that, then spat it out the window like Pops had told her never to do. She stuck her head out and let the morning breeze dry her fur off. She enjoyed that, even though she was a fire-type and could just roast it all out of her fur whenever she felt like it.

    That was when her eyes caught sight of something really odd, crouching near a bush on the hill on the way to her house.

    Was that…

    …No way.

    It was!

    Carracosta had just finished setting three plates of pancakes on the table when the washroom door suddenly bounced open again.

    "I smell pancakes!" Tricky announced as she entered the dining room.

    Carracosta turned to Tricky. "Don't-"

    Tricky bounded forward, took a seat, snatched the pancakes off their resting place on the plate, left her seat, and headed for the door.

    "No- You fool!" Carracosta yelled after her. But Tricky was long gone.

    Nuzleaf set his tea on the table.

    "Whippersnappers. Nothin' but trouble, if ya ask me."

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Epferr!"

    This time, Espurr had the foresight to causally step out of Tricky's way, who stopped just short of colliding with the bush with an entire pancake hanging from her mouth. Espurr's eyes never left the blue orb she was holding.

    "wapf-" Tricky stopped – inhaled the pancake – swallowed – and began again. "What are you doing here?"

    Espurr looked up from the orb with that same indecipherable face Tricky could never make sense of. "I can't come here if it suits my fancy?"

    Tricky slowly paced circles around Espurr. "Come on…" she drawled. "You totally came here to see me. Admit it."

    Espurr instead brushed some dirt off the strange blue orb, showing it to Tricky. "We forgot all about this."

    "What does that matter?" Tricky tilted her head.

    "Everything! This is the answer to all our questions."

    "Um, no…" Tricky gave Espurr her best skeptical look. "That's a blue glass ball."

    "It's Ampharos' blue glass ball," Espurr stressed. "This- along with what I found at the school earlier- leads me to believe that Ampharos-"

    Everything clicked in Tricky's head all the sudden. She gasped loudly, cutting Espurr off mid-sentence.

    "OhmigoshAmpharos! I totally forgot! The most amazing thing happened yesterday! It was Ampharos!"

    Espurr looked at her funny. Tricky took a deep breath-

    "HewasinthecafeyesterdayandItookhisorderandhesaidtomeethimafterschoolgetsoutatthestartofsummersohecangiveusthejuniorexpeditionsocietymembershipshegot!"

    Espurr just stared at Tricky. And stared. For like a good ten seconds.

    Then, finally, she said: "We're meeting him after the last day of school?"

    Tricky nodded so fast she thought her head might fly straight off her shoulders.

    "Aanywaaays…" she began, suppressing a sudden yawn. She wasn't used to getting up this early. "There's still an hour before school starts. Watcha wanna do? Go exploring? There's still that mystery dungeon on the other side of town…"

    She thought she might have seen Espurr's eyes suddenly widen at 'mystery dungeon'. But whatever it was was gone just like that, and then Espurr politely shook her head no.

    "I… still need some time after what happened in the Drilbur Mines," was what she told Tricky. "Besides. If we turn up late for school on a test day, the Vice Principal will give us detention all summer."

    That was a good point, Tricky reluctantly admitted to herself. But still… she had that nagging feeling that Espurr wasn't telling her everything. Pops always said that came with being around Psychic-Types, but it didn't make Tricky feel any better.

    All those thoughts came to a screeching halt when Tricky's ears picked up on a sound she never thought she'd hear from Espurr- the sound of a belly rumbling. Espurr looked half-embarrassed, half caught by surprise- had she even noticed it was coming from her stomach?

    Without another word, Tricky suddenly began to push Espurr back up towards her house.

    "C'mon- Pops is making breakfast now! I… sorta ate my portion early, but still!"

    ~\({O})/~

    School Grounds

    ~Espurr~

    Ring~Ring~Ring

    "Around the wood chips. Around them! That means you, Tricky!"

    Vice Principal Watchog brandished a suitably ping-y bell on a stick, herding all the students around the mostly brushed to the side wreckage of the classroom and ringing it whenever somemon got too close. Although he seemed to focus mostly on Tricky, who was practically drunk on pancakes and didn't seem to care much where she was going. That left Espurr to walk with Deerling and Goomy as they headed up towards the School Clinic.

    "…Morning, I guess?" Deerling said after a moment's silence. Espurr said nothing, instead gazing up at the clinic absentmindedly in thought. None of her classmates really had to know what happened up there… Perhaps it would be better that way.

    Deerling slowly continued. "Goomy and I were wondering if you wanted to come over later today? We found this old board game in my parents' closet, and we were going to try it out later. Without, y'know, Pancham. And Shelmet. And… Tricky."

    Realizing she had been ignoring Deerling for the last few minutes, Espurr turned her attention back towards her classmates.

    "But I have detention," she said. "I won't be able to make it."

    "And that's why I asked Watchog about the detentions earlier today," Deerling responded. "He said they were cancelled today, because the school ordered some 'mon to come and rebuild the classroom and he's in charge of directing them. He also asked if I had detention somehow, but that's paranoid and beside the point." she looked at Espurr. "So, are you coming?"

    Espurr thought on it for a minute. "…I don't see why not." she finally decided. "Where should I go?"

    "Oh, it's…" Deerling tried to think of a proper set of directions off the top of her head. "…You know the plaza? In the middle of the village?" Espurr nodded. "Start there. Head south, but not so far that you outwalk the houses. My house is on the on the right. It's got the pink roof. You'll find us quickly."

    Ring~Ring~Ring

    "How can you not see the wreckage?!"


    ~\({O})/~​

    Exam day had begun. Pancham and Tricky got their exam booklets, and Farfetch'd sordidly stuck the rest of the handwritten exams into a bin for next year. Espurr's first instinct was to ask for one, now she had the ability to use it. But her second instinct (Which luckily overrode her first) was to notice that Watchog was in the room. She had already asked him for a session. If she tried to back out now, he would accuse her of lying. And if she read something to him to prove that she was telling the truth, he would accuse her of taking him for a loop. It seemed the only option that didn't involve upsetting Watchog some way was to fly under his radar.

    Once the booklets were handed out, Pancham and Tricky were given run of the clinic, while Audino took Deerling to the Clinic's back office. Farfetch'd and Goomy went to a pair of comfy-looking stumps outside, and Simipour and Shelmet got to go to the Principal's hut. Espurr was arguably not so lucky.

    "Hope you like the smell of old paper," Watchog grumbled as they entered the school's storage room. "Because that's both our lives for the next hour." Espurr briefly wondered if he was always moody by choice and not because he actually had anything to be moody about.

    Watchog took a seat on a slightly sagging box of files, and gestured to a smaller one for Espurr to sit on. He pulled out a copy of the same piece of paper Espurr had seen all the other staff take, and set that by his side. The second sheet he pulled out he held up to his face, and began to read off it.

    "Question one: How far back does the earliest known Human artifact date to?"

    "2050," Espurr answered. That was easy. She remembered her first day at the school like it had happened less than a second ago.

    Watchog pulled up the second sheet of paper and read something off it. He marked something down with a quill on the paper, and sat it down once again.

    "Question two: Where did pokemon civilization first begin to establish itself?"

    That made Espurr blink twice. She remembered it, of course. It just required a little digging.

    "The earliest known pokemonic civilization started on the Mist Continent," she said. "The other continents were colonized based on how much resources they had."

    Watchog looked over the paper at Espurr. "In what order?"

    "Water, Air, Grass, and Sand."

    Watchog marked another sentence into the paper, carelessly setting it down next to him with only the quill and the inkwell as a paperweight.

    "Question three," he read. "Give an estimate of the dates each continent was colonized."

    Berry crackers. Espurr didn't remember that one. Watchog waited, an expectant expression upon his face. Espurr needed a moment to think. Watchog wasn't that patient. She need to stall.

    "That isn't a question," Espurr said.

    Watchog tapped the paper expectantly. "Yeah, well, I'm not here so you can argue about a bloody question that was punctuated with a dot. Answer it."

    "I don't know." The rational side of Espurr's brain decided that pulling random dates out of nowhere would look bad on her grades, so she gave the most honest answer she had. The expression on Watchog's face was indecipherable. He said nothing further to her, instead grabbing the paper-

    -And flipping the inkwell onto himself in the process. An entire vial-full of bluk berry ink splattered all over Watchog's chest, leaving him covered in dripping ink.

    Watchog sputtered. He looked at his chest like the ink was his own blood. He sputtered again.

    "…Ha! I have to wash this off before it sticks. Don't. Move. Understand?!"

    Espurr nodded, and Watchog made a beeline for the door, trying at the last second to make his exit as dignified as possible. And then Espurr was left all on her own. With two sheets of paper.

    The longer she waited, the harder it became to resist looking at them. She tried so hard to look somewhere else; anywhere else, but the drabness of the endless paper-filled filing boxes kept leading her eyes back to the only two sheets of paper in the room she cared about. The only two she wasn't supposed to touch.

    She didn't know how long the test was, or how hard the questions would be.

    But she wouldn't be able to live down cheating, especially if Watchog found out.

    Who cared? She had more important things to worry about than a history test.

    Like what?

    Like figuring out where she was, and why. She couldn't ignore it forever.

    Then it wouldn't matter if she failed the history test, right?

    Maybe she'd just look at the questions. That'd be fair. Anymon with the booklets had the questions, so it wasn't cheating. Watchog would never know, and it wouldn't even matter if he found out.

    Espurr hopped off her seat. She carefully stepped around the pooling puddle of ink, and grabbed one of the papers off Watchog's bench. The third question was…

    10,016 Post Humanity.; 10104 Post Humanity; 10156 Post Humanity.; 10175 Post Humanity.

    Espurr froze. This was the answers sheet. She had picked the wrong one!

    …So why didn't she let go of the paper? Curiosity won out over willpower, and before she knew what she was doing Espurr was already near the bottom of the page. Only then was she able to break free from her frozen stupor, slamming the paper back in its resting spot and heading back towards her seat as quickly as she could go. She rubbed her eyes in desperation. She wanted a brain cleanse. She couldn't believe she had just done that! Espurr closed her eyes, willing her mind to 'forget!'

    But the answers burned in her head clear as day. She hadn't forgotten a single one. There was no way she was going to pass this test on fair terms now.

    That was how Watchog found her when he walked back in, sitting down on the bench and covering her eyes and hoping she could just wipe those answers from her brain. But she couldn't.

    "Hey."

    Espurr quickly snapped back to attention. Watchog stepped over the already-sticking puddle of berry ink, an exhaustible charcoal pen in his hand now for good measure.

    "Ready now?" he asked, the paper at the ready.

    Espurr nodded. If she had the answers anyway, there really was only one thing to do.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Fail.

    She would purposely fail the test. She'd probably score lower than Pancham and Shelmet (Who she knew for a fact didn't pay a lick of attention in anything but Dungeon Class), but she'd be using the right answers to do so, and that counted for something, right?

    "Question 23: Name the three most famous exploration facilities in the world."

    The Rescuer's Federation on the Air Continent, the Wigglytuff's Guild on the Grass Continent, Pokemon Paradise Inc. on the Mist Continent.

    "The…" Espurr feigned. "…Expedition Society? And... I don't remember the rest."

    Watchog sighed, marking yet another question off on the sheet with the answer.

    "Question 57: The species of the pokemon directly involved in the Time Crisis were…

    Meowth, Riolu, Litleo, Shinx, Grovyle, Celebi, and Dusknoir.

    "I think… Chimchar, Piplup, and Dialga."

    Scritch-scratch: Another question marked off.

    "Question 80- this is the last one -What did the treaty signed in the wake of the Bittercold incident entail?"

    The Global Exploration Accords, signed 11083, placed every exploration establishment in modern pokemon society under the control of HAPPI (Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute), in the hopes that they could better co-ordinate for another potential disaster in the future.

    "They… removed all regulations from exploration teams and establishments, and made it legal to explore every corner of the world."

    Watchog crossed the final question off the list, and sighed as he collected all the papers.

    "You're free to go," he said. Espurr politely walked to the entrance of the warehouse, excused herself, and then was off like a shot.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The 'mon who was supposed to fix the classroom came a couple of hours early. Farfetch'd had spotted the 'mon making its way up towards the school. Audino ushered the rest of the class out the back doors of the school clinic, and led them around the classroom quietly while Watchog and Principal Simipour met with the repairmon. He was a fletchinder, and somehow didn't really strike Espurr as the builder type. He was sharper than he looked, however. No sooner had the class quietly absconded onto the path behind them that Fletchinder turned around, eyeing them interestedly.

    "These your students?" he asked. His accent was Serenity Village (Or at least he didn't sound like Nuzleaf). Perhaps he was local? It didn't take long for the ever-sleep-worn Simipour to engage Fletchinder with another side tangent of the required finances, which gave Espurr and the rest of the students just enough time to slip off and out of Fletchinder's sight.

    "Was he local?" Espurr asked Deerling once they were a good distance away from the school.

    "Never seen him," Deerling replied. "But the Principal trusts him, so he can't be that bad. Are we still on for today, by the way?"

    "On for what?"

    Tricky happily scampered up to Espurr and Deerling, falling into a jolly trot alongside them.

    "I can't believe Watchog let us off like that," she bragged. "We got so lucky! Now we can explore that mystery dungeon together!"

    "Actually…" Espurr felt almost ashamed of what she was about to say. "I… already agreed to go with Goomy and Deerling. Sorry."

    "Well, can't we go together?" Tricky asked. "It's only a class A mystery dungeon. That means there's no wild dungeon 'mon in there!"

    "No, Tricky… I agreed to do something else with Deerling and Goomy."

    Tricky's face fell faster than a bag of rotting berries.

    "But… I thought we were going to spend after school together…" she complained.

    "Well… sometimes it's enjoyable to spend time with other pokemon for a change."

    Espurr had not meant that as a hurtful comment, only a harmless fact. That was not how Tricky took it.

    "Fine…" she said, the disappointment hanging through her voice. "I'll just go exploring on my own, then." And with that, she was gone. Espurr couldn't help but cast a look back at Tricky.

    "Look," Deerling said. "She'll be fine. She's been exploring on her own for years. One more day won't kill her. And besides, now I can show you the way to my house! It feels good not to get lost, right?"

    "Hey."

    Tricky looked up from her moping. On one side of her loomed Pancham. On the other side, Shelmet rather creepily lurked.

    "…What do you guys want?" she asked, just a tiny hint of suspicion in her voice.

    Pancham didn't let his gaze falter for one moment. He looked her straight in the eye. "I noticed your friend found somemon cooler to play with. That's all. Moving up in the village ranks, amiright? No need to hang with the troublemaker anymore."

    "'Tis a shame," Shelmet added socratically.

    "I don't wanna hear it from you guys," Tricky said, marching ahead of Pancham and Shelmet adamantly.

    "But you get us all wrong, dear 'Tricky'," Pancham said, slyly falling into Tricky's new pace effortlessly. Shelmet bobbed along in the background, obviously not able to keep pace with everymon else easily. "See, we aren't like Deerling and Goomy. One little mistake doesn't make a difference in our books. Heck, we've made many, and look at us!"

    "…What are you saying?" Tricky asked, curiosity inevitably beginning to overtake the suspicion.

    "What I'm saying, dear Tricky…" Pancham smirked. "Is that I've had a change of heart about exploring. My bro Shelmet has too. Right, Shelmet?"

    "Ha… Ha… Yeah! Whatever Pancham said." It was like Shelmet was further behind than he was before, even though he was moving as fast as his shell would take him.

    "Really?" Tricky was half-optimistic, half-suspicious. Even for her, that was a little too good to be true.

    "Yeah!" Pancham elbowed Tricky. "We fugitives gotta stick together, don't we?"

    "…Yeah," Tricky admitted. "I guess we do."

    "Alright then! And here's the best part: Me and Shelmet found the best spot for exploring! It's some sick dibs. You'd have never found it. Trust us."

    And just like that, with the mention of a new location to explore, the dark spot in Tricky's day became a little brighter.

    ~\({O})/~

    Deerling's House

    ~Espurr~

    "So… Apparently the pawniards are all in front… And the golurk are on the sides." Deerling looked up from the instruction manual. "Did you get all that?"

    Espurr had not gotten that. For the fifth time, she removed all the pieces off the board and began to reset them all again. "I thought you said all the pawniards were in the back."

    "Yeah, this thing says everything but the pawniards are in back. That's like the stupidest thing ever! You could just say they're in front! And don't even get me started on why half this manual is written in footprint runes…"

    Espurr began to set all the pawniards in front. "And where do the bisharp go?"

    "Um…" Deerling quickly returned to the manual again, flipping through it with her nose. Espurr went back to neatly rearranging the different wooden pokemon in intricate patterns until she received further instructions from Deerling, or Goomy got back from the kitchen. Whichever came first.

    The door to Deerling's bedroom slowly swung open, and Goomy slimed in with a plate full of what looked like… crackers. Espurr's mouth watered. The stress of the test had done a number to her stomach.

    "Y-your mom's really nice…" Goomy said through a mouthful of cracker. "She handed out crackers for all of us. Want one?" He held the plate out towards Deerling.

    "You mean the stale ones in the pantry she's been trying to get rid of for weeks?" Deering never even looked up from the manual. "I'll pass."

    "They taste fine to me…" Goomy slimed over and took a seat the best he could across from Espurr. He set the plate of crackers on the table, and Espurr discreetly snatched one when Deering wasn't looking, Stale for sure, but they tasted amazing. It wasn't like beggars could be choosers, anyhow.

    A loud bang drew both Espurr and Goomy's attention. Deerling had just headbutted the manual in frustration.

    "Ugh…" she grumbled in anger. "Why are there so many pawniards and only two bisharp?"

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    ~Tricky~

    "Just a little longer…"

    Pancham cleared himself a path through the bushes, letting Tricky duck under the ferns before they snapped back and blocked Shelmet's path.

    "Where are we headed?" Tricky asked as they headed further westwards. They were way past the Village outskirts by now. "If there were any mystery dungeons here I would know about them."

    "What we found is better than a mystery dungeon," Pancham declared. "And it's just around the corner… Ah, found it."

    Pancham stopped, smirking confidently as Tricky and Shelmet finally caught up with him. Tricky's eyes widened. Located atop the trees of the forest was the wreckage of a small house, cobbled together from all sorts of raw material. Some even looked like they had come from pokemon Moves.

    A tree-house.

    "This is amazing!" Tricky declared. "How did you find this?"

    "Oh, nothing," Pancham waved it off. "Just that we're good detectives is all. Go ahead! We want you to take the first peek."

    Tricky couldn't believe her eyes. Or her ears, for that matter. This was like a dream come true! She quickly scampered up the conveniently-placed pawholds of the tree, which would have seemed almost like steps if Tricky didn't know better.

    The house itself looked like it might collapse any minute. Tricky wobbled on the branches, doing her best to keep her balance despite knowing she was like 20 feet up in the air and could fall at any given moment…

    "You're doing great!" yelled Pancham from below. "Just keep going!"

    Tricky used the short boost of confidence from that to quickly scamper across the rest of the branch, and jump safely in the treehouse though one of the windows. Once inside, Tricky quickly tiptoed up to a window and threw it open, planning to wave out at Pancham and Shelmet-

    But the moment she leaned out, the house suddenly collapsed in on itself without warning. A rope suddenly tightened around Tricky's hind legs, and she was left dangling from the treetops as most of the house fell to the ground, leaving a few choice pieces of wreckage in the trees. Tricky tried in vain to get herself upright, but was left helpless to Pancham and Shelmet's snickers.

    "Guys…" she spat out. "I think the 'mon who built this place left a booby trap!"

    "That's weird!" Pancham yelled up at her. "Just wait a few minutes- you'll get down!"

    But instead of climbing the tree and getting her down, Pancham and Shelmet did nothing. Tricky watched Pancham bend over, pick a rock up off the ground, and hurl it straight at her-

    -The rock whizzed by her face, but thankfully missed. Tricky looked straight at Pancham in sudden horror. Of course. Why had she trusted them?!

    "…Eventually," Pancham whispered to Shelmet in a low, jeering voice. Then he threw another rock.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    "No-mon touch anything…" Espurr slowly stepped away from the board as Deerling looked up from the manual. "I think we finally got it."

    All the pieces on both sides of the chessboard were finally in their proper positions, and a quick look at the picture in the back of the manual that they hadn't discovered until after the fact confirmed it.

    "Gee, that would have been nice to have like, an hour ago," Deerling muttered sardonically.

    "I-is it done now?" Goomy asked.

    That was when Espurr realized…

    "Do we know how to play chess?"

    There was silence.

    Then Deerling slammed her head into the wall and let out a wordless groan of frustration.

    "Deerling! Headbutting is for outside!"

    "Sorry Mom!"

    ~\({O})/~​

    Another hour passed, in which Espurr, Deerling, and Goomy all fiddled with the manual and tried to get a good idea of how the game worked. Pretty soon, the sun was about to dip into evening, and Deerling's Mother walked into the bedroom to tell them that they'd best get back to their houses before dark.

    "Well, that was a waste of time," Deerling announced in frustration as the four of them entered the living room.

    "I warned you it wasn't going to be easy for you three to play," Deerling's Mother; a sawsbuck, said. "Now tell your friends goodnight, please. Their parents probably want them back before dark."

    Espurr didn't have any parents to put that particular curfew over her head, but she kept that fact to herself.

    "Have a nice night," Deerling said, trying to cover up her annoyed mood with a happy face. And then the door was closed in Espurr and Goomy's.

    "I-I live east," Goomy said.

    "I live north," Espurr said. "We can walk to the plaza together."

    Goomy wasn't very opposed to that idea at all, especially since night had almost fallen.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Tricky~

    It was sundown. Tricky would have enjoyed it a lot more if she wasn't currently hanging upside down from a tree.

    Pancham and Shelmet had never gotten her down like they had said they would. Although that was no surprise. They had thrown a lot of rocks at her, and then left once it began to get dark. Tricky had been left hanging in the tree, desperately trying to get herself loose. And now she was in trouble. The vines she had been tethered to were beginning to come loose from the tree, and it was a 20-foot drop to the ground. She didn't wanna fall from that height!

    The wreckage of the house was still caught on the branches around her, but there was no way for her to reach it all tied up like she was. It wasn't like she hadn't been trying for the past couple of hours.

    Snap. The vines became a little more frayed, causing Tricky to gasp. She had to start thinking fast, or she was doomed. Any explorer worth their salt could do it…

    Tricky glanced at all the wreckage around her, looking for the nearest one. Her eyes settled on a piece of the wall that had become speared on one of the branches not-so-far below. She could make that.

    She began to rock herself back and forth in ways she knew would twist the vine and make it break faster. Slowly, but surely, the vine was becoming less and less steady. Any minute now, it was going to break and send her tumbling towards the ground. Tricky just shut her eyes, and tried to relax. It was a trick written in the book by Wartortle of Team Go-Getters. If you closed your eyes, and tried not to overthink it… it would turn out just fine. And that was why Tricky did her best to turn off her brain, and allow herself to work unfettered by dumb thoughts.

    Except for the fact that she was hanging over 20 feet above the ground, and trying to make herself fall…

    Calm thoughts… Think about what Pops is making for dinner tonight… Yeah, that!

    …Ugh, it wasn't working! What did Wartortle know, anyway?

    Then the rope snapped, and there was no time for thinking. Tricky only did, and less than a second later she found herself digging her claws into the soft material of that wrecked wall. Maybe Wartortle had a point after all.

    The drop to the ground was a little less than 15 feet now. Tricky silently hopped from branch to branch with her back legs bound, trying to keep her mind clear and focused as she made her way down to the ground. When she finally felt her paws hit solid dirt again instead of the rough surface of another tree branch, it felt immensely liberating, and Tricky was then able to focus on biting off the binds on her hind legs.

    It took a while to get home. Tricky spent much of the sundown trying to make her way out of the ambient forest before she got lost in the dark, and night had already fallen by the time she entered Serene Village. All by herself. There weren't any streetlights like there must have been in Lively Town, and the only light came from the buildings around the square that were quickly darkening. Even Kecleon's was packing up on a weekday like this.

    She felt beat-up and tired. Pops' rule was no eating after dark, so she was probably dinner-less too.

    It was then that she realized that none of this would have happened if Espurr hadn't gone to Deerling's house. If Deerling hadn't stolen another one of Tricky's friends. Again. It wasn't fair! What Pancham and Shelmet had said was true, even if they had tied her to a tree and thrown rocks at her. Deerling still hadn't forgiven her, had she?

    Tricky spotted Espurr bidding goodbye to Goomy on the other side of the square, and this time she didn't let it go so easily.

    Espurr heard the slow brushing of footsteps behind her, and turned to see Tricky trudging towards her through the streets.

    "Oh! Tricky." Espurr turned around completely. "You should have joined us for chess."

    "I wanna know something." Tricky's voice didn't waver, although she felt all beat up and on the verge of crying. "What did Deerling say to you? About me?"

    "Why do you assume Deerling said anything? Maybe I just like chess."

    "Because she always does this! She tells the new pokemon to stay away from me, and everymon always listens to her! It's not fair!" Tricky yelled at the top of her lungs. Maybe she was blowing her breath in Espurr's face. She didn't really care.

    "Deerling thought your style of exploring was reckless," Espurr said. She weighed her next words carefully. They would bite, but they had to be said.

    "And… I agree. It's a miracle no-mon's gotten hurt from your hijinks yet, Tricky. And if they continue, some-mon might."

    That was the point where it became too much for Tricky to bear. She took off in the direction of home as fast as she possibly could, lest Espurr see her crying her eyes out near a bush.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    Logically, it wasn't Espurr's fault. Those were the five words Espurr used to console herself as she walked up towards the school. Fletchinder had obviously been up to something in the few hours they'd been gone. All the rubble that had littered the classroom was completely gone now, and it looked like little more than an empty pasture.

    She'd laid out the truth, plain and simple. It would have hit Tricky in the face sooner or later. Better a friend break it to her than somemon like Pancham.

    Audino was standing outside the door to the clinic by the time that Espurr had finished climbing up the stairs. "Oh! Right on time," she exclaimed. "I just finished locking up for the night." Audino dusted off her exploration bag and ducked in as Espurr walked in through the doors. It was true. The luminous moss orbs around the clinic had even been tarped already.

    Once they were inside, Espurr sat down on one of the straw beds, watching Audino put her exploration bag away. She glanced at Espurr, clasping the bag shut and setting it on the ground.

    "Something wrong?" she asked. Espurr found herself unable to answer, staring up at Audino silently as she tried to decide on something to say. Audino read Espurr's eyes instead.

    "I saw Tricky run off before you came up here," she added for clarity. "Wondered if something was wrong."

    "…If somemon doesn't care about the trouble they cause, does that make them a bad pokemon?" Espurr asked.

    "Not necessarily," Audino said. She took a seat on the straw bed opposite of Espurr. "Maybe that somemon just needs to grow up a little bit. Or maybe they need a helping hand. Or a friend. Somemon who will listen and treat them fairly, when no-mon else will. Friends lift each other up. The effort has to come from both sides, not neither."

    Espurr was silent for a moment longer. She looked away from Audino's eyes, retraining them on the ground instead.

    Audino contemplated for a minute.

    "I think I know what this is about," she finally said. "I've only been a teacher at this school for about a year, but I've never seen Tricky as happy as she's been this week. You mean a lot to her right now. Don't push her away."

    It was a moment before Espurr finally responded again.

    "I won't. I promise."

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Tricky~

    The dormant connection orb lay next to Tricky's bed, swept under in a place where no-mon was likely to trip on it. Tricky entered her room silently, trying to keep it all together so Pops wouldn't try to console her any further. He thought she had gotten over this almost a year ago.

    The case containing the pair of scarves she had shown Espurr was at the front of the pile of junk that was under Tricky's bed. Tricky pulled it out with her teeth. She opened it. That pair of dusty scarves stared her right in the face. As if asking her: 'Why? Why did you lock us away for so long?'

    Tricky slammed it shut, and slid it back under the bed with so much force it pushed the other junk up against the wall. She wanted to forget about the stupid scarves. She wanted to forget about all of it.

    But she couldn't. She hadn't even gotten rid of the scarves. She wasn't strong enough to. She hadn't been then, and she wasn't now. Tricky hopped into her bed, and buried her head under the pillow in a vain attempt to flush it out.

    That was how she spent the night.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    The End of Childhood - Dario Marianelli
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Seven - Maelstrom
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    7.

    Maelstrom

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    ~Tricky~

    A second rock whizzed by Tricky's snout. She looked down at Pancham and Shelmet in horror. All tied up in this tree, she was a sitting ducklett! She was gonna get pelted!

    "How do you feel about exploring
    now?!" Pancham yelled up at her. "Doesn't feel so good, does it?!"

    Tricky tried to respond, but Pancham's next rock caught her in the nose, and she could only let out a strangled yelp. When she was finally able to open her eyes over the pain again, Pancham had another rock in his hand.

    He nailed her in the ear. It felt like a white-hot blow against the side of Tricky's head. At this point, she was desperately flailing, trying to nudge herself in a random direction and hoping she was moving out of the way of Pancham's impeccable aim.

    She wasn't. The next rock hit her square in the side. Pancham ignored Tricky's pained whimper, picking up a fifth rock and playing catch with it in his hand.

    "Deerling was right," Pancham said. "You really
    are dumb. What, you thought you'd just change your name and that'd be the end of it?! Huh?!"

    Another rock whizzed by and painfully knocked Tricky's tail flat. Tricky was helpless, but she wasn't
    helpless. Using the momentum she had gained from being hit with Pancham's rocks, Tricky began to swing herself steadily around in uneven circles. Sure, she was still a target, but now she was a moving target.

    "What you did is unforgivable!" Pancham chucked another rock straight up into the air, and Shelmet batted it towards Tricky. It zoomed high above the fennekin's head, but clipped the vine she was bound to and sent her flailing in midair. "You deserve this!"

    And Tricky didn't even try to dodge that one, because she knew she deserved it. What Pancham had said was true.

    Pancham smirked as he gazed up towards Tricky, watching her grow still with her head hung downwards. That was enough punishment for today. She'd do the rest herself. They should probably get back to the village now; before it got dark… right?

    …Nah. Pancham picked up another stone from the ground. One more throw.

    Tricky didn't try to dodge the next one either. Not even when it made contact with her forehead, and then she felt dizzy and woozy off and on for the next hour.


    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    Tricky didn't show up for class the next day. Espurr had considered going over to her house the morning of, but figured that she would show up for school anyway, and they could talk then. She instead spent her time reading everything she could get her hands on until Watchog arrived on campus.

    After taking a second to inspect the newly cleaned-out classroom in appreciation for a 'mon's hard work, he entered the clinic and stumbled upon Espurr going over Ampharos' borrowed map.

    "Now where did you get that?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow at Espurr suspiciously. "Did you swipe it from the storage room yesterday?"

    "I've had it for almost a week," Espurr replied. "It was on the ground in town."

    Technically half a lie, but half a lie meant half a truth, and it wasn't like Watchog was going to see right through her or anything.

    Just like she suspected, he didn't. There was a brief 'I'll be checking the storage room later' before he moved on, but he didn't try to confiscate it, so Espurr counted it as a victory.

    With Farfetch'd's class out of the way for the summer, the first event of the day was Audino's exam, which Audino had upturned most of the School Clinic to prepare for. The straw beds had been pushed aside to make way for spare tables brought in from the storage building, and twin baskets of Medicinal Berries had been set on each tabletop.

    And now the test had been postponed almost ten minutes, because Tricky had never shown up. At some point, Watchog had said something about 'starting without her' and stepped out of the clinic, and Audino decided to start the test anyway.

    "On the board are the final versions of three different mixtures you will need to create to pass the test," Audino said, pointing to a portable blackboard that had been wheeled in for the purposes of this class. "You have all been provided with the right berries and equipment to make them. Outside of that, you will need to rely on the knowledge you've gained from this week's classes, and make the decisions you believe are best for your mixtures. And remember the three rules of berry safety:"

    "Smell, don't taste, oran berries make the base, and always mash everything into a paste," the class recited.

    Audino nodded, flipping an hourglass from the storage room and setting it on the table.

    "The test ends at noon. You have one hour. Best get mixing."

    And then the class was left to their own devices. Pancham and Shelmet took the table on the right (Which had the best-looking berries) before anymon else could even protest, and Goomy got an entire table's worth of supplies all to himself. Espurr sat at the table to the left, eyeing the blackboard from her uncomfortable stool position. It seemed a skin lotion, a psychic-muffling paste, and a sour elixir were needed to pass the test.

    Espurr decided to start with the skin lotion, since she still remembered the recipe from Tuesday's class. She fished in the berry basket for an oran, but none were turning up.

    "The oran berries are in this basket."

    Deerling, who had taken a seat next to Espurr, pushed the separate basket of oran berries towards Espurr. "Audino didn't want them to get mixed up with the others, since the orans are special."

    Espurr took an oran from the basket, and put it into the bowl. "Thank you."

    She quickly snatched a bluk berry that was on the top of the other basket and put it aside for later.

    "Deerling?" Espurr asked a moment later.

    Deerling looked up from her work, staring at Espurr questioningly. Espurr mashed the oran berry to bits with the wooden masher, not really paying attention to what she was doing at all.

    "Did… something happen between you and Tricky?"

    Espurr never thought she would see Deerling blanch the way she did.

    Deerling's unnaturally cheerful response: "W-what makes you think that?" only served to reassure Espurr that something was indeed going on.

    "It was something Tricky let slip," Espurr decided to go with. "I thought I'd ask around. Especially since she didn't show up to class today."

    "Well, did you guys fight or something?" Deerling asked. "You wouldn't know, because you've only been here a week, but Tricky usually doesn't show up to school the day after a fight."

    Something about that answer didn't quite sit right with Espurr. She briefly paused to gauge her oran berry – which was now just a sorry pile of mush – then dropped the bluk berry into another bowl and started mashing that.

    "Tricky asked me about you last night. She said that you try to discourage new pokemon from talking to her."

    At that point, Deerling lost it. She slammed her hooves into the desk, a seething expression on her face.

    "Tricky is mad because I don't want to see pokemon get hurt because of her, and I'm picking up the responsibility she doesn't want to touch!"

    "Deerling! Calm down, please." Audino put her book down from the other side of the clinic.

    Espurr silently mixed her two berry mixtures together, and covered the bowl.

    "I'm sorry." Deerling had her head hung in shame. "It's… not a pretty thing. I… I can't. I just can't. Please don't ask me."

    Deerling turned away from Espurr after that, and the rest of the test was spent in silence.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr barely passed Medicinal Berries. And only because she had arguably performed the best out of anymon in the class, on account of having one perfect mixture.

    Deerling had used the right berries, but had gotten a thousand tears in her mixtures, which caused them to come out wrong and left her without a replacement before the test ended. Goomy seemed to be entirely lost, and Pancham and Shelmet together had flubbed all three mixtures, then proceeded to create a custom mix so foul and pungent that Audino could barely stand the smell.

    Tricky, who was absent, automatically failed.

    The fifteen-minute recess period between Audino's exam and Dungeon Class was spent in silence, as three of the present students reviewed their test scores from yesterday and the other two were in no mood to converse with each other. Then Watchog forced everymon in the stools for Dungeon Class. He prattled on loudly about pokemon types and how they matched up with and against each other, but Espurr found that for possibly the first time ever, she wasn't interested in the class at hand. The events of the previous day hung over her head, and she couldn't stop thinking about it all – cheating on the test, getting a perfect score anyway, her argument with Tricky… and now Tricky hadn't shown up to school. Espurr wondered if she were responsible.

    "..And that's how type matchups work." Watchog brought his lengthy speech to an end, stepping in front of the blackboard. "Any questions? Better ask now."

    No-mon cared enough to have questions.

    Then class ended. Everymon went home, while Espurr was kept behind for detention. Tricky still hadn't shown.

    Espurr weighed her options carefully. There would no doubt be punishment if she just up and left, but detention would be unbearable without knowing what had happened to Tricky. To her partial shame, it came not only from a concern for Tricky's well-being, but also from a general hunger to know things, and the subsequent annoyance that came from knowledge's deprival.

    Eventually, Espurr came to the conclusion that logically the safer bet was to stay in detention for the day. She could always jot down to Tricky's house afterwards, anyway. Which was why she was still sitting in one of the straw beds, deep in thought by the time Watchog came out to herd her off to detention.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Watchog was uncharacteristically silent the entire way. Something about Tricky's departure had seemed to affect him, too. Espurr didn't try to provoke any conversation. She was already on thin ice with him, just for things she knew and he didn't. And so the trip to Foreboding Forest was silent as well.

    "Start picking up all the mess in the area," Watchog said curtly, handing Espurr a rake and a potato sack. "Tell me when you're done. I'll be waiting outside." And with that, he was gone.

    Espurr didn't know why it continued to bug her. She'd made the sound choice… hadn't she? It made more sense to stay in detention, not leave on some random trip to Tricky's house and score herself a weeks' more in the process. But the way she was going about detention meant it would stretch far into night, anyway. If the small, illogical part of Espurr's brain was right, and Tricky really was into some kind of danger, then sitting around here and shoveling up leaves was the worst thing she could possibly do.

    That stray thought was the reason she quietly set down her rake and the potato sack, and took the long way back into the village. She'd only check. That couldn't hurt, right?

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    Knock~Knock~Knock

    Espurr knocked on Carracosta's door. There was no answer, but Espurr figured it would take him a minute to get there.

    A minute passed. There was still no answer.

    Knock~Knock~Knock

    Espurr tried again. She pressed her ear to the door, lest she catch a tidbit of what might be going on behind it. She heard nothing (which only cemented her concerns).

    She walked around the house to the window where Tricky's room must have been (if she remembered the layout properly), and attempted to peek in. The window didn't have any panes like the ones in the School Clinic, but Espurr couldn't see very much through it at all. There seemed to be nothing out of the ordinary, except for the fact that Tricky's case of scarves lay out in the open – empty – and a tattered old book lay on Tricky's messed-up bed.

    Espurr looked left, then right. She was sure she wasn't being watched… So no-mon would mind if she quickly broke in, right?

    Slipping through the window bars was easy, and Espurr had no doubt Tricky had used that as a means of escape several times. The hard part was getting up there. The sill was high enough that Espurr could barely even peek over it, and there was nothing in sight for her to realistically stand on.

    Eventually, she came up with the rather clever plan of using her newfound lifting abilities to levitate herself up there, but her mind began to spike with pain before she was even half a foot off the ground. Luckily, half a foot was all she needed. Catching the window bars with both her paws, Espurr gave herself one last boost with the rest of her mental energy—

    —Which was enough to get her through the bars, and somewhat neatly into Tricky's room.

    Once inside, the first thing Espurr did was check the book on Tricky's bed, which she thought she recognized. Those tatters around the corners only meant it could be one thing, after all…

    "A Complete Guide to Mystery Dungeons", the title read. Espurr reveled in silent triumph. She knew she had seen it before! She held it in her paws, looking at the page number:

    Page 26: Nectar Meadows – Water Continent

    Espurr read through the page, her eyes flicking over the text as fast as she was able to read it. Nectar Meadows was a Class A Mystery Dungeon, which meant that pokemon which became stranded or lived in it didn't turn into rabid monsters like Gabite. Class A dungeons were usually the homes of pokemon who didn't feel at home living in civilizations such as Serenity Village. However, Nectar Meadows was the home of a beedrill colony that had a reputation for being quite vicious in the nectar-gathering stage of the year, which was… just around summertime.

    Espurr set the book down, taking a minute to clear her thoughts. If Tricky had gone to Nectar Meadows – assuming she even had gone to Nectar Meadows – she would have had to leave about four hours ago to skip school like she had. Which either meant that she was still in the dungeon heading back home, or… something had happened to her.

    "We don't need another disappearance on our hands."

    The last thought made Espurr a little queasy. She put the book back on Tricky's bed just like she had found it, then shut the scarf case and moved it up to the window so she could climb out.

    On her way down the hill, she noticed a note tacked to the door of the next house over that she hadn't caught before:

    Gone lemonberry picking with Carracosta. Won't be back until sundown. ~ Nuzleaf

    ~\({O})/~​

    "And guess what? There's a small dungeon right near Pop's oran berry fields!"

    Tricky's words from Wednesday rang in Espurr's head, and so to the oran berry fields she went. She still remembered the way there from her first detention- through the village gates and down the path until the forest gave way to fields of farmland and the hot summer sun. Nectar Meadows was somewhere around here, if Past Tricky was to be trusted.

    The fields ended at the base of a large mountain, where a small alcove lead off into a dimly-lit cavern of flora that Espurr assumed must have been the dungeon. But there was only one way to find out, so she walked up to it and crept inside.

    ~\({O})/~

    Nectar Meadows

    Espurr knew it was Nectar Meadows from the moment she walked in, simply because there was nothing else it could be. The entire cavern (Which was much more spacious and well-lit than the caverns of the Drilbur Mines) was filled from ground to roof with all sorts of plants, from moss to tall grass to various flowers that lined the walls and roof of the cavern. The sweetness of the flowers mingled with the foul after-scent of mystery dungeon, and as Espurr stepped under one of the holes in the dungeon's sunlight-filtered canopy, she knew she had arrived.

    There were no wild 'mon in the dungeon, at least from what Espurr could see, and she was allowed to ascend to the next floor on that infuriatingly perfect stairway unhindered. On the second floor, she thought she caught the eyes of several other pokemon quietly observing her from the darkness. But if they were even there, they did nothing but watch. Espurr paid them little mind in her search.

    At some point in her silent journey through the dungeon, it struck her that it had been a little too quiet. Where were all the beedrill the dungeon book had said would be here? And where was Tricky? Something didn't add up.

    Espurr cautiously pressed on, keeping a close eye on her surroundings as she went. If she was going to be found out, it wouldn't be due to a lack of attention or foresight. That; she was sure of.

    That is, until she was hit with the Pin Missile she had never seen coming. The sheer force of it sent her flying back until she hit the dungeon wall hard and tumbled to the ground. Espurr pulled herself back up as quickly as possible. Her assailant was a large, hovering, insect-like creature she assumed was a beedrill. Espurr stood her ground. She could fight one off, she thought.

    She hoped.

    She quickly abandoned such foolish thoughts when the first beedrill was joined by two others. The best idea was to run-

    "Begone, foul beast!"

    Both Espurr and the beedrill spun to look in the direction of the voice. For a split second, Espurr thought she saw an offended expression on one of the Beedrills' faces, before it was swallowed up by anger.

    An ember flew out of nowhere, sending the beedrill flying back in kind. Tricky bounded out of a side route in the mystery dungeon and dashed up to Espurr, and it was all she could do to keep up with Tricky as they ran as far away from the beedrill as they could get before it came properly came to its senses.

    "What are you doing here?" Tricky yipped excitedly. She sounded hyper. Espurr shot her a rare look of incredulity. She had come here to make Tricky answer that very same question!

    "I skipped detention to come here and look for you," Espurr hissed back. "And what about you? You never even showed up for class today. I'm sure you worried almost half the teachers-" Espurr had the foresight to duck under another one of the beedrill's Pin Missiles as it whistled past them –"And terrified the rest! What would they say if they found out you'd just been frolicking around in mystery dungeons all day?"

    "Touché." Tricky didn't seem particularly bugged by any of it. "I just woke up with so much energy today I had to run it off somehow, so I went exploring!"

    She was panting and looked run ragged. Suddenly, she made a detour into a right-hand dungeon path, and Espurr had choice but to follow or suffer the wrath of the several beedrill that were approaching from the direction they had been heading in.

    After running down that path for a while and taking a couple more rights and a left, Espurr and Tricky hid in a dead end as the beedrill buzzed right past their hiding spot. Espurr waited until she could no longer hear the sound of buzzing to release her breath. She collapsed against the wall of the dungeon in relief. Tricky did no such thing.

    "I was thinking we could go exploring in the Foreboding Forest next," she said, chasing her tail in circles as a placeholder exercise. "And then we could run the School's dungeon!"

    Two thoughts came into Espurr's mind: The school had its own mystery dungeon? And more importantly, had Tricky gone mad?

    Espurr asked Tricky if she had gone mad. Tricky stared at her with a confused look, then burst into awkwardly fake laughter a seconds later.

    "Of course I'm not mad!" she force-laughed out of herself. "What makes you think that?"

    Espurr flicked her eyes over Tricky's twig and dirt-ridden coat, then gave Tricky a stare so dry there was absolutely no confusing its meaning.

    "I mean yeah, I probably need a bath," Tricky went on. "-Oh wait. No I don't. I don't need a bath! I'm fine. I'm really fine! I'm totally fine! See?"

    She pranced about in the nook of the dungeon she and Espurr were camped out in for five seconds just to show Espurr how fine she was. Then she gave up and collapsed in the middle of the ground.

    "No I'm not," she admitted quietly.

    Espurr crawled forward, quickly checking when Tricky wasn't looking to make sure they wouldn't be surprised by any unwanted visitors.

    "So say something," she said, crawling to Tricky. "It's not good to keep things like that bottled up."

    If only she was as good about following her own advice.

    Tricky let out a sharp sigh, and then she was silent for a minute longer. Espurr took a seat on the dungeon floor, casting her attention towards a mildly pretty flower growing on the ground until Tricky was ready to speak up.

    "Tricky's just a nickname."

    Espurr looked back towards Tricky. Her ears drooped, and she had her face hidden behind her tail… but she was talking.

    "My real name is Artemis Carracosta Duringshell," Tricky began. "That's what my Pops named me when he adopted me. I… had another friend before you. He used to go exploring with me all the time. And…

    She took a long shaky breath, as if to prepare for what she was about to say next:

    "And I killed him."

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    "Budew! Hurry up already!" Budew dashed through the underbrush, barely keeping up with the fennekin that was right ahead of him. "We're supposed to go check out that mystery dungeon today!"

    "Hah… Can't you go a little slower?" Budew asked. "I'm dying back here."

    "Fiiine…" Artemis whined, falling back into a trot instead of a frolic.

    "I thought we weren't supposed to go into mystery dungeons," Budew said once he had caught his breath. He adjusted the blueish-green scarf he wore around his neck, quickly fixing Artemis' in kind before she recoiled on instinct.

    "Yeah, but it'll only be in and out, and the adults won't know a thing!" Artemis chirped. "Besides, don't you wanna see what it's like?"

    "I guess…" Budew admitted. "Where do we go, though? Is there even a name for it yet?"

    "It's called Poliwrath River," Artemis said. "Look- I know the way! I snuck a look at Farfetch'd's maps today in class.

    "Then what are we waiting for?" Budew asked.

    "I was just gonna ask you that," Artemis said with an evil smirk on her face, and then she was off so fast that Budew had no hope of keeping up.


    ~\({O})/~​

    "I'm not so sure about this anymore…" Budew looked up at the entrance to Poliwrath River anxiously. "Can we go back now?"

    "Nope! No take-backsies! You promised you'd go exploring with me today!" Before Budew could even protest, Artemis planted her head against his backside and began to push him up there herself.


    ~\({O})/~​

    "NOW can we go back?" Budew asked, glancing back forlornly at the entrance of the mystery dungeon that they had just walked into.

    "You can't go out of a mystery dungeon the way you got in, silly," Artemis waved him off. "The only way out now is upupup!"

    Besides…" Artemis added, countering Budew's fearful face with a contagious grin. "This is a water-type dungeon! You have a type advantage here! Don't you get how awesome that is?"

    "I guess…" Budew said.

    "Wait. You know type matchups?" he asked a second later.

    "Yep." Artemis trotted next to Budew, looking like the smuggest fennekin in the world.

    "I can't believe you actually
    paid attention in dungeon class!"

    "I try."

    All the chatter was making Budew less and less anxious. That, and the fact that they had not encountered any enemy pokemon yet.

    "So what kind of pokemon live around here anyway, 'dungeon master?'"

    "What's 'dungeon master?" Artemis shot Budew a quizzical look.

    "Y'know, 'dungeon master'? 'Cause you know a lot about dungeons? Get it?"

    Artemis got Budew's joke, but she didn't really 'get' it. Not even when she burst out into awkward fake laughter only a moment later.

    "Oh, I get it now!" she fake-laughed. "That's hilarious!"

    Budew shook his head. "Never mind."

    They continued onward in silence for a little while, but Artemis could see that Budew had lightened up a lot.

    Finally, Budew perked up again and turned towards Artemis. "I wonder where all the enemy pokemon are-"

    That was when the enemy pokemon attacked. Artemis' scream of surprise was drowned out by Budew's cries as he was picked up and fought amongst by several feral Poliwrath. Artemis hit the ground rolling, falling in a patch of golden weeds and out of sight. She wanted to do something, anything, but she was frozen to the spot and could do nothing but watch as the Poliwrath all fought over and pummeled Budew. She stuck her paws over her eyes when it became too painful to watch, and she could only hear the sound of Budew's cries and leaves tearing apart and bones cracking. She must have stayed in that position for hours, just huddling there, because a wall of mist was beginning to encroach upon the room by the time Artemis had stopped crying. Slowly, she lifted herself to her paws and climbed out of the foliage.

    "Budew?" she called out.

    There was no answer.

    "Budew?!"

    She bolted forwards, to the area where she knew he and the Poliwrath had been.

    The Poliwrath were gone. Probably long gone, and they hadn't even known she was there. And in their place lay what remained of Budew, a mangled pile of leaves and blood and bone all punched into a soup. It took everything Artemis had in her not to scream in horror, even though she had never been more horrified in her life. And next to his corpse lay the scarf Artemis had bestowed him as a sign of their friendship. There was only a single nick in it. He must have lost it early on.

    That was the point where Artemis couldn't hold back the tears anymore. She grabbed Budew's scarf in her mouth, and ran like the wind in the direction that would take her the farthest away from Budew.

    Somehow, she managed to blindly stumble her way out the dungeon by dark.


    ~\({O})/~

    Nectar Meadows

    "Pops said it wasn't my fault," Tricky continued. "But I'm the one who asked him to go in there. If I hadn't asked him to go exploring with me, he would have gone home! He'd still be alive! It's my fault he's dead! I killed him!"

    Too broken to go on anymore, Tricky collapsed in a cacophony of quiet sobs. Throughout the entire story, Espurr sat and listened quietly. She didn't say anything- how could she? There was nothing to say. She couldn't even imagine what such an experience was like, let alone try to comfort Tricky with words. Instead, she settled for just comforting Tricky.

    Eventually, Tricky was able to stop crying. Or maybe she just didn't have the energy to cry any longer. She dried her eyes, but couldn't bring them to meet Espurr's own.

    "You probably don't want to be friends with me anymore," she said bitterly. "No-mon does."

    And with that, she spun around and bounded off down the dungeon tunnel before Espurr could so much as say a word in denial.

    Espurr had to go after her. Tricky was going to get herself caught in her current condition for sure. She hopped to her feet and started running after Tricky the best she could. There was still a little trip in her steps.

    Tricky ran down the dungeon aimlessly, the two scarves bound to her neck rustling from her movements. Where she went, she didn't care. She'd find her way out! …Somehow.

    Bzz~Bzz

    Tricky ignored it. She could outrun them! They were only stupid bees, after all. But they were right in front of her. But she could outrun them! She could do it! She was good at running! Really!

    Not that good. They converged upon her as soon as she got close enough, and even though she fought and raged and tried to destroy them with an Ember like the Poliwrath had destroyed Budew, it was all for nothing; because she felt a sudden painful prick in her side from one of the beedrills' stingers, and then she was suddenly too dizzy to stay awake anymore.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr watched from a hastily-chosen hiding spot as the trio of beedrill made off with Tricky; who lay unconscious in the middle beedrill's arms. As they buzzed off, she silently followed. They went up one floor, then the next, until on the fifth floor they reached an open room that didn't seem mystery-dungeonish at all. In fact, it looked like the most stable patch of land she had seen in a while, and as she set foot on it while the beedrill's backs were turned, she got the feeling it didn't even belong in a mystery dungeon at all.

    Then she quickly hid behind a bush, as the beedrill set Tricky's unconscious body down with a loud 'thud!'.

    "So what do we do with it?" One beedrill asked.

    "It's a honey thief," the second one buzzed back. "The townymons never set foot in here unless they're trying to steal our honey." It folded its arms defensively. "I say we kill it."

    "OR…" the third beedrill gave the other two repugnant looks. "We can take it back to the Hive. And maybe NOT get in trouble for defecting the third time in a week?"

    Espurr cast her focus away from their meaningless chatter. She had to figure out a way to get both her and Tricky out of the dungeon, without alerting to the rest of the beedrill that they were ever there in the first place. That was definitely the priority. It seemed impossible, but Espurr held in her mind that there must be a way.

    And she was beginning to see the inklings of one.

    After analyzing every rock, nook, cranny, and groove of the situation thoroughly, Espurr came up with a relatively stable logic structure that was sure to produce a plan to her liking. The ground facts were simple. Nectar Meadows was anywhere from six to nine floors, if A Complete Guide to Mystery Dungeons was to be trusted, and the Hive had to be located somewhere between Floor Five and the exit. Espurr could not let the beedrill reach the hive before she and Tricky had made it out of the dungeon. And perhaps most importantly, Floor Five was just one large room. The staircase even sat to the left invitingly. It was the perfect place to cut the beedrill off and split their groups up for long enough to escape. Espurr made that her base.

    But how? It wasn't like Floor Five was replete with obstacles to hide behind, and Espurr wasn't nearly as proficient in her Move studies as Tricky was. That meant she'd either have to take them head-on, or use a more indirect method of attack. And since she wasn't willing to try a risky method like attacking them unarmed and untrained, it would need to be the latter.

    All the rocks and debris on the floor meant that she could misdirect them away from Tricky via levitation, then drag Tricky up the stairs and hope she was fast enough to lose the beedrill for good. It was a flimsy plan at best, especially if the beedrill didn't react in the way Espurr had predicted they would, but it was the best option she had given the circumstances and the only one that was somewhat salvageable if she failed early enough.

    That seemed good enough. Now it was time to put her strategy to the test.

    "I'm sick of this." One of the beedrill hovered above Tricky, pacing in midair with its arms folded behind itself. "I'm so sick of this. This always happens. Something derails our jobs as guards – which is the easiest job in the world – I propose the sensible solution, and the two of you come up with the dumbest ideas possible and out-rule me!" It directed its scathing gaze towards the other two beedrill, who were currently giving third one the silent treatment. "So what are we gonna do?" The third beedrill flapped its arms in frustration. "Are we just gonna wait for the honey thief to wake up? It has the Type Advantage-"

    Clatter. All three beedrills' heads spun to the other side of the room, where a rock had just skidded out into the open from behind a few bushes. A pair of sticks that danced at Espurr's whim shook the bush and made it look like somemon was hiding in it.

    "Come on." Beedrill #3 slapped his left stinger into his forehead at the sight of the bush. "Another one?" With his head, he silently motioned for the other two beedrill to approach the bush from either side as he buzzed forwards.

    And as they slowly approached the bush at the other end of the room, Espurr ever-so-quietly slunk out towards Tricky. There was no way she was going to lift the fennekin on her own, so she'd be making use of her one mental trick. At Espurr's command Tricky began to unsteadily rise off the ground. She was heavy. Espurr didn't know how long she was going to make it like this, so she temporarily abandoned stealth for speed. Stealth wouldn't matter as much at this point anyway.

    The trio of beedrill approached the bush, stingers raised. They traded looks with each other silently. Then they dove in with their stingers out.

    Espurr heard the sound of the bush's destruction from behind her, and she knew she was running out of time.

    "Nnghh…" Tricky slowly shifted in midair, as the effects of the sedative in the beedrill's poison slowly began to wear off. Things were turning sour for Espurr; fast. She was nearly out of time! The best she could do now was make it to the stairs before the beedrill could.

    "…What's happening…" Tricky slowly blinked herself awake. All she could see was the sunlight-filtered canopy of Nectar Meadows. "…Espurr?" she tried in vain.

    The beedrill finally finished wrecking the bush, then flew back out to make a proper observation of their handiwork. It was only then that they realized they had been well and truly duped. The bush was empty! Turning around on instinct, all three of them caught sight of Espurr running off with Tricky.

    Espurr felt a sudden spike of pain flare up in her head, and she realized she could no longer hold Tricky up anymore—

    "Hey!" Beedrill #3 yelled, and Espurr tripped over a rock and was sent to her knees. Tricky fell unceremoniously to the ground.

    Both Espurr and Tricky picked themselves up from the ground. Tricky, who was still feeling a little woozy from the poison, stood wobbly on all four legs. Then she noticed the beedrill that were heading straight for them.

    "Espurr run!" was the only thing she had time to say before turning back towards the stairs and bolting up the staircase, and Espurr was more inclined than anything in the world to follow that piece of insight.

    The beedrill quickly picked up the chase, zooming after them at speeds that seemed impossible for creatures of their sizes, and as Espurr and Tricky ran up the stairs and set foot on the next floor, one of the beedrill was fast enough to make it through. The staircase warped and disappeared behind them, the warping of space sending out a wind through the mystery dungeon that threw the pair of beedrill off-point for a few seconds.

    Espurr and Tricky wasted no time trying to get farther away from the beedrill, but even with their newfound head start they were no match for the beedrill's speed, and soon they were run down by the oversized insect and sent tumbling into a dead-end to the left.

    Beedrill #3 fell back into a hover as he watched Espurr and Tricky slowly try to pick themselves up from the dungeon floor. He looked left, then right just to make sure he wasn't being watched, then began to prepare his stingers.

    "Alright then. I'm just gonna get rid of you myself. No-mon need even know you were here…"

    Tricky attempted to hurl an Ember at the beedrill, but found that she couldn't summon one without coughing and rasping herself to pieces. She groaned incomprehensibly, and then both of them were barely able to duck out of the way of Beedrill #3's stingers. Espurr picked up a rock off the ground and threw it at the beedrill. Her aim was spot on, and it clipped Beedrill #3 in the face. Espurr and Tricky used that confusion to get as much headway as they could.

    "My throat hurts…" Tricky complained as they ran into the dungeon's main hall and took a quick left turn.

    And that was when Espurr decided to use her last resort strategy. As the beedrill zoomed out of the dead end and began to run them down once more, Espurr pulled Tricky's ear close and whispered: "I know how to get rid of the beedrill. Can you get us both out of the dungeon?"

    Tricky looked at her in horror.

    "Why would you ask something like that?" She half-asked; half-yelled Espurr's way. Espurr cast a look back at the Beedrill, who was only half the distance he had been and was closing fast.

    "Just trust me," she said, and that was the last say Tricky got in the equation. And with that, Espurr shut her eyes and began to concentrate upon building up power in her mind.

    If what she had done to the classroom the day before was any indicator, Espurr wondered what she could do if she actively harnessed and directed such a blast- could it make an effective weapon? She was about to find out. The downsides were that she was likely incapacitated the moment she tried this, and if it failed to stop the beedrill she and Tricky were both dead. But it beat certain death, so Espurr was willing to try. She just needed to find the right mental snag once more…

    Beedrill #3 was almost close enough now. The suckers were fast, but he was faster. Soon, they'd be dead.

    It was funny to think that just ten minutes ago he'd have decried such a strategy. But it was better than letting them get away. He reached out with his stingers in the hopes that it could help him close the distance faster. So close…

    Espurr could feel the power building in her mind. She opened her eyes, and just avoided tripping on a rock as she stumbled onwards. She ducked as Beedrill #3 jabbed at her with his stinger. He was too close for comfort! Espurr felt around in her mind for a snag, and once she found one – any one – she pulled at it with all her might-

    -And nothing happened. Espurr's foot caught on an upturned tree root, and she unwillingly faceplanted into the ground. Tricky spun around and stopped a few yards away, panting as she looked back.

    Beedrill #3 hung frozen in the air. He fought and raged against the barrier that was all around him, but it held him in place firmly. He quietly seethed at Tricky from his prison.

    Espurr picked herself up from the ground, wiping the dirt off her face. She had a bit of a headache. She glanced at Beedrill, then saw that he was trapped. It took her a few seconds to realize what had happened.

    Once Espurr did, the barrier faltered a little. Espurr quickly focused on holding it together, walking towards Beedrill #3 curiously. This would hold him until they were able to escape to the next floor… but it wasn't enough. Beedrill would just rat them out before they even left the dungeon.

    So instead of focusing only on the prison, Espurr continued to batter her mind energy at Beedrill. She needed something; anything, to make sure he wouldn't rat on them, and she imbued all her mental energy with that wish…

    Still panting, Tricky tilted her head in confusion at… whatever seemed to be going on between Espurr and the beedrill. Neither of them had moved in almost a minute, and she could see Beedrill's eyes kinda turning glowing purple-ish? Was this some kind of psychic-type thing?

    And then Espurr suddenly fell to her knees, and the psychic prison vanished. Tricky let out a sharp gasp now that the beedrill was free, but it didn't seem to be doing anything… it just floated there. So Tricky bounded over to the second most important thing in the room- Espurr. Espurr clutched her head like it was hurting, but the rest of her body stayed as still as stone.

    "Espurr?" Tricky waved a paw in front of Espurr's face. "You in there? Huh?"

    When there was still no response from Espurr, Tricky began to get worried. She agitatedly paced between them for like five minutes, but nothing changed. Then she sat, after a sudden dizzy spell overtook her. Then she got bored and made googly faces at the beedrill.

    It must have been about half an hour when something finally happened. Tricky, who had curled up in a ball somewhere off to the side due to feeling not-so-great, was suddenly roused to awakeness by the sound of the beedrill lifting off. It fluttered up into the air, silently heading back where it came from. And then Tricky saw no more of it.

    "Espurr?" she hopefully asked, turning back to the psychic kitten- who had promptly collapsed the ground behind Tricky.

    "Espurr!" Tricky quickly ran over to Espurr, nudging her the best she could with her nose. There was no response, but she could tell Espurr was still breathing. It looked like she had Fainted. Which meant it was left to Tricky to get them both out of here.

    Tricky thought she could do that. Sitting on her haunches for a moment, she removed one of the scarves off her neck, and fitted it over Espurr's instead. There. Now they were both fellow explorers.

    And with that, Tricky began to tug Espurr along the best she could. There were only three more floors to go. They could make it!

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily.

    Unless she hadn't. For she was, once again, surrounded by nothing but all-encompassing black. Another dream. Espurr brought herself to her feet, dismissing her weariness as the dream's attempts to convince her it wasn't one. As far as she knew, they were still in the mystery dungeon, so she just wanted to figure out the reasons she had been summoned here once more and get over with it.

    Espurr looked around (For that was all she could really do), and came to the sudden realization that perhaps her mind was not in the best shape it could have been. Little shards of purple were floating around everywhere, and reflected within them she could see slivers of memories- one of attacking a smaller pokemon, one of… making honey (Espurr shuddered at that graphic display), one of eating honey… They must have belonged to the beedrill. And at the same time they didn't seem genuine- these must have been copies.

    Oh, right. That was what she had been doing. The last thing she properly remembered was tapping into the beedrill's memories, and then everything sort of became a slurred-together mess. From it, she gathered that she had somehow erased herself and Tricky from the beedrill's mind, but the memories of doing so were quite literally untappable to her. They just didn't make sense.

    And yet they played before Espurr anyway, like the television box she had seen in Deerling's house. They mingled with the broken copies of Beedrill's memories, and turned the entire display into a fragmented light show. Sometimes the memories popped with color, and other times they became a dull grey, and sometimes they popped with color and didn't have any all at once, until it made Espurr clutch her head and will them all away with all her might. But they didn't leave.

    Espurr could feel a low growl building in her throat. Then there was a particularly bright flash from the memory-screen, and she couldn't take it anymore. She hissed viciously, and lashed out at the display with every bit of mental energy she had. Everything around her shattered with a brilliantly blinding – and also immensely satisfying – crash, and when Espurr opened her eyes once more, she was standing once again in the blackness. Her outburst had caused some damage to her surroundings- all around her, glowing white cracks wisped all throughout the air. Espurr was horrified- if this was a dream, then had she somehow broken her mind?

    But she didn't feel weird. She felt just fine. Espurr inspected her dream self, which was devoid of the cracks that lined her surroundings. Maybe she'd just broken her dream; the one that had been torturing her for the past week.

    She could live with that.

    Slowly, Espurr began to hear hushed voices slipping in and out in between the void. They swirled around her, mumbling and whispering phrases incessantly. Espurr quickly singled one out from all the others. The one that whispered a word she DID understand: 'Human.'

    As if it had noticed it was being watched; Espurr felt the wind descend and spin loops around her. It strongly ruffled her fur, but didn't go back up to join the others that were spinning above her like a cyclone. Espurr made no sudden moves. She closed her eyes, and let her ears do the seeing for her.

    "Human…"

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Tricky~

    This was it. The exit was just up ahead! Tricky was ready to celebrate.

    But her previous experiences in Dungeon Exploring told her that celebrating before leaving the dungeon was always celebrating too soon. She just had to avoid the beedrill a little longer…

    Tricky quickly hit the ground as another dizzy spell overtook her. She panted for a good five minutes; her tongue paper-dry. She was really not feeling her best today.

    That was when Espurr's eyes suddenly snapped open. She took several long breaths; a shocked expression upon her face, then sat up like nothing had happened. She looked dizzy. Tricky stared at her in shock.

    "Is something wrong?" Espurr asked; quickly feigning ignorance to cover up the issue of what she had just learned- and was still trying to parse. But none of that mattered until they left the dungeon.

    "N-no," Tricky stammered out. "Just resting. Look- the exit's just up ahead!"

    Espurr got to her feet, wobbling a little before righting herself. Her vertigo left her after a few seconds, and she was able to help Tricky all the way to the entrance before it could disappear or re-arrange itself once more.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    They came out the same way they had gotten in. Espurr didn't understand it at all, but added it to her growing laundry list.

    "Okay…" Tricky panted as she and Espurr both caught their breaths outside the entrance to Nectar Meadows. "Admit it. That was awesome."

    Espurr didn't entirely agree, but just decided to let Tricky have that one.

    "So…" fully rejuvenated, Tricky played with the ground uncomfortably. "Are we still friends?"

    Espurr thought on that a minute. Sure; Tricky was reckless beyond belief… but that didn't mean she had to be friendless.

    "Of course," she replied. "We're still friends."

    Espurr had never seen a brighter look on Tricky's face, even as she was suddenly pulled into a tight hug by the fennekin, which she returned. All seemed to be well in the world.

    Until Tricky quickly backed up with a scared look on her face, and threw up on the ground in front of her.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

    "I have ta wonder," Nuzleaf turned his head towards Carracosta as they both walked up the hill. "Lemonberry pickin' is fun an' all… but what're we gonna do with so many lemonberries?"

    "You don't worry about that," Carracosta replied. "I'm always in short supply of these. I'll be sure to use them all up before they rot-"

    The two neighbors were suddenly interrupted by Espurr running past with Tricky, who had her head down and her tail stiff. They continued down towards Carracosta's house without even bidding Carracosta good evening.

    "That's… not good," Carracosta admitted. He'd been her Pops long enough to know what Tricky's tells were, and he could tell she wasn't in a good state.

    "Should I leave you two to it, then… ?" Nuzleaf offered his basket of lemonberries to Carracosta, who took them.

    "…Yeah. You'd better."

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    "You FOOLS!"

    Carracosta stood in his study, leaning over the desk that also doubled as a dining table. On the other side stood Tricky and Espurr, who both looked suitably cowed.

    "Just what were you thinking, wandering off into a mystery dungeon like that?! You could have died! You could have been trapped in there! And you are both lucky I keep pecha berries around, because Tricky would not have made the night without them! Have I imposed upon you the seriousness of what you have done?"

    Too scared to let out anything more than a terrified squeak, Tricky nodded her head as fast as it would nod. Espurr slowly nodded her head in kind, before she inadvertently set off Carracosta even more.

    "Good!" Carracosta turned to Espurr. "Now the school tells me you're under their custody until the start of summer, so I'll leave your punishment to them. But you…" he glared at Tricky. "No sweets for a week! Vegetables and berries only!"

    "But Pops-" Tricky whined.

    "AND an early bedtime! Go!"

    Seeing that arguing back was futile, Tricky slunk off to her room dejectedly.

    "And you!" Carracosta boomed at Espurr. "Out!"

    ~\({O})/~​

    The last rays of sunlight were disappearing over the mountains to the west when Espurr stepped out of Carracosta's house. Nuzleaf's place was unlit and idle; she suspected he was an early sleeper.

    "Psst."

    Espurr heard the sound whistle out of the bushes just outside the door to Tricky's house. For a split second, Espurr thought that the beedrill from Nectar Meadows had returned to hunt them down, but to her utter relief, Tricky stepped out of the bushes, shaking a stray leaf out of her fur.

    "Shouldn't you be in bed?" Espurr asked without thinking first.

    "Nah." Tricky took a seat next to the porch. "Pops never thinks about the windows. I use them to get out all the time and he's never guessed a thing!"

    "I… see, then." Espurr gave Tricky her full attention, as Tricky began to dig through the bush she had been hiding in.

    "I just wanted to give you this," Tricky said through her teeth, pulling an entire appleberry out of the bush by the stem. "Pops gave me two, but I'm not that hungry tonight, so I wanted you to have it!"

    She handed it to Espurr the best she could with her mouth. Espurr took it in her hands. Now that Tricky mentioned it, she really was famished.

    She also felt guilty. Guilty, that Tricky had placed enough trust in her earlier today to tell her one of her darkest secrets, and Espurr still held on to hers tightly. She decided it stopped. Today.

    "Tricky?" Espurr called after the fennekin, who was padding back to her bedroom window. Tricky looked back, then walked back. "There's something you should know about me,"

    Tricky cocked her head. "What is it?"

    Espurr took a deep breath, then blurted the phrase out:

    "I'm Human."

    ~\({O})/~

    Open Seas ~ Water Continent

    ~Mawile and Archen~

    "Let me ask this again, just to make sure." Archen tried his best to keep the water out of his eyes as he squawked over the wind and held on for dear life. "Do you have any idea where you're going?!"

    Like the other times Archen had asked, he got no response from the sharpedo they were struggling to hold on to. A nasty freak storm rolling in from Mist had delayed their progress over the ocean by a day's margin, forcing them to camp out on one of the Water Continent's more remote islands for the night. Now they were heading full-speed ahead for the Water Continent, but Archen was convinced that they were in fact going in circles. He hadn't even seen a hint of land for ages, and already the weather was beginning to seem colder all over.

    Mawile was much in the same spot that Archen was. Hanging on for dear life, she also had to make sure their bag of supplies wasn't swept away in the winds. Already they had lost a few things before Mawile was able to properly zip the bag, but nothing of major importance was lost… yet.

    Archen was nearly thrown to the side as the sharpedo made a sudden bank to the right.

    "What gives?!" Archen cried, but his shouts were lost to the winds and forgotten when he saw what Sharpedo was heading away from: A boat. An actual, wooden boat.

    He glanced towards Mawile the best he could over the splashing water. Mawile leaned in towards the sharpedo, and whispered something in its earhole. The sharpedo nodded the best it could, then made a left-hand bank for the ship. Archen stared at the earhole on his side in disbelief. That was all it took?!

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Welcome, members of the Expedition Society!" Ambassador Primarina spread his fins in a welcoming gesture, bowing his head dramatically as Mawile and Archen stepped aboard the lavish ship. Braixen, who had a far more neutral expression on his face, retracted his mechanical pen and stuck it back in his fur. Archen felt a sudden whoosh of dizziness upon stepping onto the ship. Looking at Mawile, he could see that she had suffered the same thing. Although she made a better attempt to hide it then he did.

    "Thank you for hosting us aboard your ship, Ambassador," Mawile politely said, shaking off the last remnants of dizziness.

    "Oh, it's no problem at all," Primarina said. "I always bring aboard any struggling seafarers the Exeggutor may come across aboard."

    "And how many times has that worked out well for you?" Braixen folded his arms nonchalantly, leaning against the Exeggutor's mast. "It's best to dump them. That sharpedo is more than capable of taking them to land-"

    He was suddenly interrupted by the sound of a sharpedo turning around and skidding back out to sea. Archen had always known it was a little shifty.

    "…I stand corrected," Braixen admitted reluctantly, although he seemed no less grumpy for it. "I don't object, then." And with that, he silently walked past Primarina and into the ship's cabin. "We'll dock at Lively Town at 1200 hours."

    "Please excuse Braixen," Primarina said. He massaged his temples with one of his flippers. "He's my… secretary. He can be a little foul-tempered when the whim strikes him."

    "It's no bother at all," Mawile responded politely, but Archen could almost see the gears whirring in her head through her eyes, which fixated on Primarina skeptically. She knew something.

    And as Primarina led them into the Exeggutor's main cabin, he thought he did as well.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Malcom is Dead - James Newton Howard
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Eight - The Dungeon Test
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    8.

    The Dungeon Test

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    ~Espurr~

    There was a long bout of silence between Espurr and Tricky, in which Espurr feared the worst. Had she said something so ridiculous-sounding that even Tricky wouldn't accept it as fact?

    Then Tricky let out a snicker. She couldn't hold it in anymore.

    "Bwa-ha-ha!" She laughed. "That's good!" She looked up at Espurr, who was staring at her with that same unreadable expression she almost always had on her face.

    "…Wait. You're serious?" Tricky looked at Espurr, bug-eyed. If Espurr was human… than it made way too much sense. "No way! You're totally serious!"



    This was awesome!

    Tricky resisted the urge to prance around in excitement (A rare thing for her not to act upon) and leaned in close to Espurr.

    "You can't tell anymon else about this," She said, her voice dramatically low for secrecy. "Not under any circumstances!"

    "Wait. You… believe me?" Espurr looked surprised.

    "Well duh I believe you! Don't you see how awesome this is?!" Tricky pranced back towards the room, then back towards Espurr, then back towards the room, then back towards Espurr, then back towards the room, then back towards Espurr again.

    "Meet me at the school library an hour before school begins! I'll be there I promise!"

    ~\({O})/~​

    Tricky wasn't there. In fact, she was almost an entire hour late. Which left them just ten minutes before the last day of school officially began. Espurr, who had been examining the subtle cracks in the building's wall for the last ten minutes, glanced up as Tricky stumbled up the hill and into Espurr's personal space.

    "Sorry…" she panted. "I overslept. I came here as fast as I could!"

    The library itself was just an old warehouse full of dusty old books, so Espurr and Tricky had no trouble slipping in through an unlocked window and searching the shelves until they found the book Tricky wanted.

    "See this team?" Tricky shoved a book titled 'Mons and Mystery Dungeons: A Complete History' into Espurr's face. There, on the page Tricky had opened the book to, lay a hand-drawn painting of a charizard, wartortle, and bayleaf. "That's Team Go-Getters! They saved the entire world from a meteor almost two centuries ago! Wartortle writes books. I have all of them under my bed."

    Espurr didn't see how Tricky's fangirling was making Team Go-Getters relevant in the least, and she told Tricky as much.

    "Well, get this:" Tricky put her front paws on the book and leaned in close. "Wartortle was human!"

    Tricky's loud voice at close quarters rattled Espurr's hearing a little, but all the sudden it all made a little more sense to her.

    "Don't you get what this means?" Tricky went on.

    "That the world's about to be struck by another meteor?" Espurr made an educated guess.

    "No! Wait-" Tricky stuck her nose in the book once more and leafed to another page, where an artist's impression of a meowth, a litleo, and a shinx sat. "Look at these guys!"

    "…Also humans?" Espurr guessed.

    "Nope, just Meowth," Tricky replied. "These guys – Team Ion – were the ones who restarted Time a century ago! And- And-"

    She leaved even further into the book-"

    "Them- the Pokemon Paradise Crew – They defeated the Bittercold 50 years ago!" Espurr looked at the pikachu and the dewott on the page. "Dewott's the human."

    Tricky snapped the book shut; her tail wagging excitedly. "NOW do you get it?"

    Espurr still didn't understand how that was a good thing at all.

    "But if I'm here… doesn't that mean the world is about to be destroyed again?" she asked Tricky. "Which isn't a good thing? I don't see how that's awesome."

    "Well…" Tricky's happy look faltered. "Maybe,- but still! This means we have to go on an adventure and get strong enough so we can defeat whatever's coming to destroy the world this time!"

    Espurr just stared at Tricky with a look of incredulous disbelief on her face. That was not happening.

    "…What?" Tricky asked. "It's a good plan…"

    It wasn't.

    "Alright; everymon front and center!" The shrill sound of Vice Principal Watchog's voice drifted in from outside the window, and both Espurr and Tricky scrambled to get out of the library, tripping over as few books as possible.

    ~\({O})/~​

    On their way back to the school clinic, Tricky suddenly stopped short.

    "Berry crackers," she swore aloud.

    "What is it?" Espurr came a stop much more gracefully than Tricky had.

    "You cut detention yesterday!" Tricky explained. "And I cut class! Watchog's gonna have our tails!"

    Berry crackers. That was true. If only…

    If only…

    …If only Watchog never even noticed them in the first place.

    "…You leave that to me," Espurr decided. "Just walk in when I tell you to and he won't even notice we were there."

    Tricky gave Espurr a weird look, but didn't object.

    As they both crept up to the school clinic, Espurr peeked in through the window while Tricky hid behind the opened door. Watchog was pacing the classroom, while the other four students sat on the straw beds. Espurr took a deep breath to calm herself, and carefully inserted herself into Watchog's mind.

    "Who do those two troublemakers think they are, anyway?" She heard him think in his head. "I'm gonna have their tails for cutting class yesterday."

    Espurr quickly ducked before she could be seen by Watchog as his pacing took him near the window. She shut her eyes and quickly tuned out his thoughts. Those would just distract her right now. She didn't need to do anything fancy. It didn't even need to be particularly well-done. She just needed to give that one memory of her and Tricky being late a small tweak…

    Watchog suddenly clutched his head; a strange headache having come over him.

    "Now!" Espurr hissed to Tricky, who dashed into the classroom like a yellow blur and took a spot near the back. Espurr wasted no time in following her.

    Watchog rubbed his head for ten seconds longer, then returned to his normal routine. He glanced at the blackboard, then realized the sun was just a little higher than it should have been.

    "Wha- H- How are we five minutes late?" he asked himself aloud. There were a few giggles and snickers from Pancham's side of the classroom, but a single glare from Watchog shut everymon up.

    "What's so funny?! Huh?" He asked. He received no answer.

    "…Yeah. I thought so."

    "Holy mystery dungeon." Tricky gleefully leaned in towards Espurr. "What did you do?"

    "That's classified," Espurr told her.

    "Alright; listen up!" Watchog returned to his militaristic pace of the classroom. "The final exam before Summer Vacation isn't a berry party like the other two. You're going to be heading into the school's very own mystery dungeon, and you will need to rely on the things taught in my class if you want to clear the dungeon with a passing grade. We only use this dungeon for the final exam, so you will be forced to deal with things you've only been taught about in books and school."

    He suddenly pivoted towards the class, leaning in intimidatingly.

    "First rule! Teams of three! Why? Go!"

    Deerling raised her hoof. Watchog waited expectantly for an answer.

    "Three is considered the optimal number for a mystery dungeon team, sir?" Deerling maybe guessed.

    "That's correct!Second rule! Dungeon safety kit! What's in it? Go!"

    Shelmet got that one.

    "Two oran berries, a pecha berry, and an escape orb," he answered. "Easy."

    "Wrong!" Watchog barked at him. "You forgot the elixir! The paralysis wands! The warp seeds! What's it gonna be like if you're in a dungeon and you run out of those things?"

    Shelmet shrunk back into his shell; partially cowed. That was the point where Espurr decided Watchog was enjoying having the floor a little too much.

    "Third rule!" Watchog returned to his pacing. "What do you do if you get cornered by an enemy? Go!"

    Tricky raised her paw excitedly.

    "Use an item!" she called out. That was when Espurr's spell broke. Watchog's attention turned to Tricky and Espurr, and Espurr froze. Watchog narrowed his eyes, but he didn't say anything to them.

    "Correct. You'll find supplies in the Principal's office," he said. "Go on! Get out!"

    ~\({O})/~​

    "I can't believe I'm with Pancham!" Deerling stormed. "And Shelmet! They're both creeps!

    "I'm afraid the teams were drawn randomly," Farfetch'd said, fiddling with his leek. "Even if you didn't get the pokemon you wanted to be partnered with, you'll still be expected to work together as a team."

    "Well, can't we have a redraw?" Deerling complained.

    "No redraws!" Watchog countered. "You know as well as I do this test takes all day," he told Farfetch'd. "And if one student gets a redraw..." He let his sentence hang in the air to draw out the impact.

    In the corner, Pancham and Shelmet silently did a high-five.

    Since Deerling was with Pancham and Shelmet, that left Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy on the other team. Each team was allotted by Audino one bag filled with all the supplies they'd need, under Watchog's pretense of 'all real exploration teams having only one supply bag'. Tricky insisted she was going to be the team's bag carrier despite Espurr being best equipped for the job, and eventually both teams were at the foot of the dungeon and ready to proceed with the test.

    "Just… be careful, okay?" Deerling silently conversed with Goomy in the couple of minutes they had before Watchog walked in to start the test. Goomy nodded, and Deerling reluctantly backed off to join Pancham and Shelmet.

    "Everymon ready?" All heads turned, as Watchog and the other teachers walked into the clearing, followed by none other than Principal Simipour himself.

    Simipour took all the sudden shock at his appearance in through sleep-ridden eyes.

    "It's only fair that I should be here to see all the students off for the final exam of the Spring Semester," he explained.

    "Now I don't wanna hear anything about fights and foul play; you hear me?!" Watchog barked. "You encounter each other in the dungeon; you just walk. Away. Your mission is to capture one of the two flags placed at the dungeon's anchorstone by myself and Farfetch'd last night. First team to return with their flag wins."

    Watchog stood back, and silently shooed them all off into the dungeon. Deerling's team went first, and once the entrance had finished warping around them and had returned to normal, Espurr's team followed.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "You know we need a team name, right?" Tricky eagerly pranced about with the exploration bag slung over her back as they walked through the school dungeon. "Maybe something like the Adventurous Exploration Squad! Or- ooh- the 'Dungeon Runners'!"

    Her two teammates were nowhere near as eager. Goomy looked more than a little frightened of the woods around him, but Espurr was worried for a completely different reason: This was it. This was the forest. The one she had woken up in just a week ago. The one where she had been hunted down by the beheeyem. The one where she had broken her arm. It had been the school's very own mystery dungeon!

    And now she was back. What if the beheeyem were back too? What if they had never left?

    She didn't want to risk it if she didn't have to. Espurr cast a look behind them; just in case the entrance to the dungeon might still have been open.

    It wasn't. And using the escape orb to magic herself out of the dungeon meant a failing grade from Watchog for sure.

    "Tricky?" Espurr began, but then she cut herself short. Tricky wouldn't understand. More likely; she'd think it was awesome and dismiss Espurr's concerns. No; the safest bet right now was to have the exploration bag in her possession, and that was exactly what she requested of Tricky.

    Like Espurr had expected; Tricky was less then ecstatic at the prospect of losing the exploration bag.

    "I guess…" she mumbled, making her disappointment apparent. "Why do you need it, anyway?"

    "Just a bad feeling," Espurr said.

    Lugging a heavy exploration bag through the dungeon's many twists and turns was less-than-convenient, Espurr soon found out. By the time they reached the second floor, she was already sagging under its weight. She thought she'd caught Goomy looking at her worriedly a few times, but for the most part he was busy just sticking with her and not getting himself lost.

    Now freed from the bag's weight, Tricky constantly pranced ahead of Espurr and Goomy, peeking around corners for dungeon 'mon and giving them paw signals when the coast was clear. Espurr thought it was a little dramatic, but it had saved them several times from passing wildlings they might otherwise have walked right into.

    The dungeon anchorstone, as Tricky explained it, was the patch of land a mystery dungeon formed around. An anchorstone could be a cave or a rock or a tree or a grassy field, but it would always remain the same; and since the dungeon revolved around it, it was always located plum in the middle.

    "Everything in a dungeon is made from parts of the anchorstone," Tricky went on, "So you always know what to look for when you find it!"

    Espurr replied by pointing out that the only thing they needed to look for were the flags the teachers had placed earlier that day.

    "Unless Pancham got to them first," Tricky spat.

    Espurr wanted to know why that was such a problem.

    "Well…" Tricky began.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "But dear Deerling," Pancham began; using one of his lame pick-up lines for like the tenth time. "-Or should I say; 'Dearling'?"

    "Please stop," Deerling groaned. "Don't make me murder you."

    "But you wouldn't do that, Dear Deerling," Pancham continued, snuggling up close to Deerling's earth green coat as they walked.

    "Try me." Deerling swiftly sidestepped Pancham and let him hit the ground.

    "Now that- that was just cruel." Pancham picked himself up, trying to make it look like it had never happened in the first place.

    In the near distance behind them, Shelmet struggled to keep up. Every time it seemed like he was going to catch up, he just fell behind another yard, and he was beginning to feel like he might never catch up with Pancham and Deerling. Oh; the woes of having a shell… even if it DID make a decent lockpick.

    "You know," Shelmet panted out once he had gotten within reasonable earshot of the group. "I was thinking… maybe we should have a team name of some sort. Like 'The Serenity Village Squadron' or something. Whadyaguys think?" Only seconds later, he regretted ever letting those words leave his mouth. Pancham spun around, giving Shelmet the obscenest look he could muster.

    "Really?" he lectured Shelmet. "You really wanna be like the pest?"

    Shelmet shook his head fearfully.

    "Thought so." Pancham turned his head back around and began to look far too proud of himself, and Deerling saw the perfect opportunity to strike back.

    "Actually, Shelmet," she began. "That sounds like a wonderful activity to pass the time."

    "Wait- what?" Shelmet eyed her suspiciously in confusion.

    "You heard me. Let's brainstorm some names." Deerling trotted down the path, smugly disregarding the rare cowed look upon Pancham's face. "Me… I think 'The Merry 'Mon' sounds like a good nickname."

    "You wouldn't dare," Pancham seethed.

    "Watch me," Deerling shot back. "Don't you want to be a Merry 'Mon?"

    Pancham looked somewhat horrified at the prospect of being a Merry 'Mon, but he simply growled and folded his arms annoyedly.

    "Dungeon 'mon ahead!" Shelmet yelled loudly. "To the west! Look!" Both Pancham and Deerling's heads spun around to see what Shelmet was looking at. In the distance, a trio of pokemon were making their way through the dungeon tunnels. Deerling's breath caught; as she realized those weren't dungeon 'mon- they were the other team!

    Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy all stopped short at the sound of distant yelling to their left.

    "I-is it a dungeon 'mon?" Goomy asked.

    "No; it's…" over by the corner of the hallway ahead, Tricky craned her neck and squinted her eyes to get a better look.

    "…Holy mystery dungeon. That's Pancham's team!" she quickly scampered back to where Espurr and Goomy were standing. "And they're heading this way!"

    Sure enough, Deerling, Pancham, and Shelmet were in fact heading straight towards them. Espurr had the creeping feeling it wasn't going to end well.

    "Are you sure we should be doing this?" Deerling lectured Pancham as he strode towards Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy. "You heard what Watchog said- walk away!"

    "What Watchog doesn't know don't hurt him," Pancham replied. "This is revenge for the mines."

    Shelmet was too busy trying not to get left behind to add anything of substance to the conversation.

    "Well, well, well." Pancham came to a stop in front of Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy, who were all standing their ground at the dungeon crossroads. "If it isn't the pests. It seems like we've come to an impasse."

    "Just let us pass, you big meanie!" Tricky yelled at Pancham. Espurr silently prepared for a fight; if it was going to come to that.

    "As much as I hate to agree with Tricky, she's right," Deerling said. "You guys all know what Watchog told us! Just walk! Away!"

    "Y-yeah! Listen to Watchog!" Goomy added in from Espurr's side.

    "Y-yeah," Pancham mimicked, making a crude imitation of Goomy's voice. "L-l-listen to Watchog. You guys walk away, and maybe we'll return your flag in one piece."

    Something snapped. Tricky stared Pancham dead in the eye. She took an attack stance. Espurr shot Tricky a worried look. That wasn't going to end well.

    "Guys?" Tricky asked; her tone making it clear that it wasn't a question. "When have we ever listened to Watchog?"

    There was a brief moment of silence, as all the students tried to think of a time that they had listened to Watchog. Espurr resisted the urge to slap her paws into her face and groan. Did everything have to end with a fight?

    "…Good point," Pancham said, and then he punched Goomy clean across the wall.

    "Dungeon war!"

    Tricky's declaration of war was cut short when she received another one of Pancham's rocks to the snout, and then everything became chaos. Tricky attacked Pancham. Shelmet attacked Tricky. Pancham attacked them both. Espurr tried to get to Goomy, who was currently trying to make sense of being knocked flat into the dungeon wall. The exploration bag she was carrying bounced heavily against her side as she ran, and she found it hard to keep her balance with the bag and dodge the stray debris and Move energy from the ongoing fight at the same time.

    "Stop this!" Deerling shouted, stamping her hooves into the ground. "Stop this right now! Pancham!" A loose Ember from Tricky hit her square in the face and sent her reeling back.

    "U-ugh…" Goomy was still a little dizzy by the time Espurr reached him. She quickly made to grab him- looked for a tangible place to grab – then finally settled for one of his slimy flailing paws. Quietly; they both huddled behind a rock until the fighting subsided.

    "That's it! You guys made me do this!" Deerling took a battle stance. She took a deep breath, then charged headfirst at Pancham, Tricky, and Shelmet. All three of them were knocked apart by Deerling's headbutt. Tricky fell on her back, spitting out an ember into the endless canopy in surprise. A tree branch came falling down, and Espurr realized almost too late it was coming down upon her and Goomy-

    She did the first thing she could think of. She summoned some of her mind power and shunted Goomy out of the way.

    Espurr was lucky enough to avoid being crushed by the branch. The exploration bag was not so fortunate. The seams ripped out from under the branch's weight, sending the combination of an escape orb and a warp seed hurtling right to the ground in front of Espurr. There was a bright flash, and then Espurr was gone.

    The dust settled. Everymon picked themselves up. Goomy slimed out from around the branch and looked at the contents seeping out of the crushed bag worriedly. Pancham got up from where he had landed, right on top of his own team's exploration bag.

    There was a moment of silence; as everymon took in what they had just done.

    "Aww,-"

    Pancham then said a word that made Deerling gasp in shock.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The two teams agreed to walk away after that incident. Pancham, Shelmet, and Deerling had walked off in a huff (All three for different reasons), while Tricky and Goomy trepidaciously continued down the hallway. The stairs had been grimers and moved themselves while Tricky wasn't looking, which meant that both teams were now blind again. Espurr probably would have said that was a blessing in disguise.

    Espurr… just the thought made Tricky's stomach do a little loop-de-loop. But she had teleported out of the dungeon when the tree hit that bag… right? Right. Especially because if she didn't it was Tricky's fault but Tricky didn't want to think about that.

    Tricky tried not to think about Goomy, either. He looked scared, but that came with exploring and he clearly wasn't cut out for it. He was just slowing her down. She even had to go back for him a few times; having left him behind in her hurrying onwards. She hoped the stairs were near…

    The stairs were in what Tricky had assumed was a dead end the first time around because there was little else it could have been. Except the hiding spot of the stairs.

    Tricky wanted to climb them so badly. She'd get ahead of Pancham's team soooo easily. She'd get the flag first! She'd win! She and Espurr would get perfect grades!

    But she couldn't.

    She couldn't; because Goomy was taking a full hour to get his slimy behind over here.

    Tricky wondered where Goomy was, actually. She hadn't really noticed him for the past few turns…

    "GOOMY!" Tricky called out into the dungeon. There was no answer. Tricky even went up to the very edge of the passage and peeked out both ways. Nothing but dungeon.

    Should she go back for him? Probably. Would she lose the staircase again? Definitely. What were the chances of Goomy magically showing up? Probably zero. Tricky looked back at the staircase in longing. Then she couldn't hold herself back anymore. If Goomy wanted to be a dewott-downer, then he could deal with the consequences.

    "Sorry; Goomy…" Tricky muttered; more to console herself than to apologize to Goomy. Then she scampered up the stairs.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily.

    She didn't fully remember the last time an escape orb had spirited her away, but she hoped it had not been as uncomfortable as that. She felt dizzy and like puking.

    The first thing she noticed was that she was lying on her back. She rolled over and tried to pull herself to her feet, but she was still too disoriented to stand properly. The second thing she noticed was the sound of the river rushing in the distance.

    A river. Espurr's ears pricked up, and that was when she truly opened her eyes.

    She recognized this patch of the forest. And although she couldn't see the river, the sound of it rushing by clicked in her head, and then so did everything else: She was back. And all alone.

    Half of Espurr's mind wanted to freak out and hide in a tree until somemon found her. The other half pointed out how badly that had gone the last time, and proposed that she blindly stumble around for help instead. The third; mostly overlooked part cordially suggested that she use her newfound knowledge of mystery dungeons to try and find her own way out, and that was the plan Espurr decided to go with.

    Her dizziness had alleviated enough or her to be able to stand properly. She slowly walked through the woods, ready to unleash her mental fury upon the first thing she saw or heard move.

    As she walked through the woods, she soon found that the place didn't have the same feel to it that it had a week ago. It wasn't deathly quiet either; and the sounds of what sounded like the local wildlife slowly lowered Espurr's guard a little as she went on.

    Until she met the ants. Once they began to crawl up into her fur Espurr had no mercy for them.

    It didn't take Espurr long to figure out that this was the dungeon's anchorstone. It explained why it didn't look anything like a dungeon, for starters. She had no way of knowing how long that uninterrupted rushing river she was currently following was; but now that Espurr had some (rudimentary; but still) mystery dungeon education, she couldn't believe she hadn't figured it out in the week she'd had.

    This was good. This made things so much easier now. One-by-one, all the other students were going to enter this floor – the anchorstone – and then it would be easy cruising to the top. And Espurr hadn't even seen a single trace of the beheeyem, which only made her day better.

    Now all she had to was find the flags. Part of Espurr wondered if this dungeon had been crafted from an entire forest simply due to how big the anchorstone was; but she also knew Watchog and Farfetch'd wouldn't just drop the flags in any old place. The river was the only thing that acted anything like a map. So Espurr continued to follow it.

    Eventually, she thought she saw them- two red flags, waving in the air from their spots in the ground. Espurr began to run up towards them. As she got closer, she could make them out better – they were the flags! Now all she had to do was stakeout for the other teams.

    Until suddenly she felt the heart-wrenching lack of sensation beneath her feet, and suddenly she was falling, and then Espurr hit the ground several feet down. And then she blacked out.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The entrance to the dungeon warped. Then it burst open for a split second, and spat out Tricky. Tricky hit the ground rolling; a red flag hanging out of her mouth.

    "Ab Team Dungeof Rubbers tafes tha prise!" Tricky declared in triumph through a mouthful of flag. She spat it out for good measure, even though she didn't seem to have an audience. None of the teachers were here. But none of the other students were here either, so Tricky could count that in her favor-

    "-Actually, that's us," said Deerling from the trees. Seconds later, she strode into view, accompanied by Pancham and Shelmet. "The Merry 'Mon."

    Pancham opened his mouth to say something to the opposite effect, but just closed it, folded his arms, and pouted.

    "But… I was supposed to make it back first!" Tricky angrily declared. "I even got the first flag and everything!"

    "You and what army?" Shelmet bounced back.

    "Yeah…" Deerling's eyes narrowed; scanning Tricky and realizing something. She slowly clopped forward. "What about Espurr? And Goomy?"

    Tricky's face visibly fell. She slowly began to back away as Deerling approached.

    "I… lost them?"

    Deerling stopped. It was hard for Tricky to tell what she was thinking, but it was clear that cogs were turning inside Deerling's head.

    "…You sick ANIMAL!" she suddenly shouted, sending Tricky reeling back against the nearest tree for balance.

    "You lost them?!" Deerling continued; her face practically red as she stormed towards Tricky. "Espurr and Goomy are living, breathing 'mon, and you LOST them like toys?!"

    Tricky's ears could not have drooped any lower. She lay curled up at the foot of a nearby tree, pleading for Deerling's mercy with her eyes. Deerling had none.

    "I can't believe you did that," she seethed. "Oh; wait. Yes I can. Because that's what you do. You lose pokemon. Just like you 'lost' Budew. You know that's why Mrs. Rosiela moved away, right?! Not because she couldn't handle winter; but because she couldn't handle winter without Budew! I am not letting you do the same thing to Goomy and Espurr. Find them. Now." Deerling stamped her hoof into the ground.

    Tricky did nothing but huddle down further and whimper. She didn't want to think about this anymore. She just wanted to go exploring and make friends and not… think…

    "Alright, that's enough!"

    Everymon looked up. Deerling quickly backed away as all four of the teachers entered the clearing.

    "Is that the other team?" Watchog asked. "Can we start grading?"

    The teachers stopped short once they caught sight of Tricky, but not Goomy and Espurr. Watchog sputtered for a second.

    "Wh-where's the other team?" he asked.

    "They got left," Deerling spat. "in the dungeon."

    The reaction between the teachers was split. Audino and Farfetch'd both looked quite horrified, while Watchog's annoyance intensified and Simipour's reaction was nigh-incomprehensible.

    "Leave it to the troublemaker to lose her entire team… Alright, somemon needs to go in after them," Watchog began. "The dungeon's probably already fogged-over by now."

    "I'll volunteer."

    Everyone looked at Audino, who was returning with Gabite's old exploration bag slung over her shoulder. It took all of Tricky's willpower not to point that out.

    Watchog didn't seem too thrilled at the prospect of spending over an hour alone with Audino, but he didn't contest it. Instead, he silently walked over to the entrance, brashly gesturing for Audino to follow.

    "All students; follow me, please..." Simipour's voice rang out in the silence that fell once the dungeon had fully warped around Watchog and Audino. "Let's go back to the school and wait for them to return."

    Tricky marched with the rest of the students as they made their way back up to the school clinic with Farfetch'd and Simipour, but she couldn't help but glance back wistfully at the dungeon anyway. If only she could help somehow…

    ~\({O})/~​

    "A-anymon? P-please h-help?"

    Goomy was beginning to get scared. He had been wandering the tunnels of the mystery dungeon for what felt like hours. First Espurr had disappeared, then he had gotten left behind by Tricky… Not even Deerling had stayed behind for him! Goomy was losing hope that anymon was coming back for him. On one paw, he could stay in one spot until a dungeon 'mon found him… but that very much didn't appeal to him right now. The fog hadn't set in yet, so he still had a chance to get out before the Dungeon Wraith came searching for him. But on the other paw… did he dare to go searching for the stairs? Did he dare to go hunting, where he might end up being hunted himself? Did he dare to get himself deeper into the dungeon, when he found the stairs?

    Did he?

    Well, a dungeon 'mon was bound to find his crummy hiding spot sooner or later, so… Goomy guessed he did. He did dare. That felt good to think. He dared. He was brave. He could do this. He slimed out into the dungeon hallway, heading in a random direction with purpose. He could do this. He could find the stairs. He could-

    -He couldn't do this. He had been wandering around the dungeon for what felt like hours, looking for the stairs. The stairs he hadn't found. He had been lucky enough to hide and avoid the few dungeon 'mon he had encountered, but now the fog was beginning to descend upon his head, and Goomy was sure the Dungeon Wraith would follow soon enough. There were so many twists and turns on this floor that he was sure another dungeon 'mon wouldn't find him in all this fog, so he could hide for a little while, right?

    And so Goomy hid in a little crevasse in the wall, hoping that somemon would come rescue him soon. If only they would come before a dungeon 'mon did…

    ~\({O})/~​

    Light slowly trickled into Espurr's eyes. Groggily, she sat up. What had happened? Had it all been a dream? And why was she sitting at the bottom of a tunnel…?



    Oh no. Now she remembered. She had fallen. Down several feet; it looked like. Espurr looked up at the hole she had fallen down. A thick wall of mist obscured her vision up. Had she really been in there that long? Espurr got to her feet, then looked at where the cavern she had fallen into went. A tunnel just large enough for a pokemon of her size twisted along in the other direction. Espurr decided to follow it. After all, a potential way out was better than none at all.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The students that had made it out of the dungeon all sat in the school clinic, watched by the sleep-ridden but ever-vigilant eyes of Principal Simipour. He said nothing; only sitting on the stool in front of them with a spaced-out look on his face, but the students all knew better than to try and get away with things under his watch. Because he was watching.

    And no-mon regretted that more than Tricky. Deerling was giving her death looks from her spot on the other side of the clinic, but that wasn't what Tricky was concerned with right now. What she cared about was that Deerling was right- it was her fault that Espurr and Goomy were trapped in the dungeon. And if one of them – gulp – died in there, then it would be her fault too. She couldn't bear going through that again. This wasn't what explorers did! Explorers didn't let things like that happen to other pokemon! Explorers were supposed to stop those things from happening in the first place! And if she couldn't do that… then she may wear a scarf, but she wasn't an explorer.

    And maybe that was the hardest thing to admit after all. Maybe she really was just a kid. Maybe Deerling was right…

    …No.

    She could do it! She could live up to her title! She could rescue Espurr and Goomy, before Audino and Watchog even knew what had hit them!

    But if she wanted to rescue them, she needed to move now.

    "…Principal?" Tricky asked. Principal Simipour lazily opened one eye.

    "Yes, Tricky?" he asked.

    "I need to… go…" Tricky did what she thought was a good impression of needing to use the washroom, but in reality just made her look constipated. At least this time she wanted to look constipated.

    At the very least; it seemed to be enough to convince Simipour.

    "Very well, Tricky," he sighed. "You may… 'go'."

    And with that, Tricky was up and out of the clinic faster than a shot.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr stumbled down the tunnel as fast as she could go. She wanted to make it out before the rest of the students made it to the anchorstone. Otherwise, she was going to be stuck in the dungeon herself again. And it seemed like the tunnel was never going to end. It continued further and further; looking hastily-dug the entire way. Whoever had dug this had wanted to get away from something fast, Espurr concluded.

    Eventually she saw light. It was distant; at the end of the cavern, but it didn't flicker like the mines, so Espurr stumbled in its direction. It turned out to be a ramp heading up to the surface, and Espurr readily climbed up it. Emerging into daylight once more (Or whatever the dungeon's substitute for daylight was), Espurr immediately had to shield her eyes from the brightness. But once the temporary blindness faded Espurr realized that she was no longer near any part of the anchorstone that she recognized.

    She now understood where the green, icky parts of the dungeon came from. It looked like a swamp, if only there had been some water to justify that title. But soon Espurr became thankful for the lack of water, because just like she wouldn't have wanted to walk through a flooded tunnel she didn't want to trawl through flooded trees either. The sun was blotted out under the trees her just a little more than in the dungeon, but the place still had not taken on the malicious tone that it had when she last woke up in here. It was only when she saw the familiar wall of fog beginning to encroach upon her position that she blanched. Had she really been in the dungeon that long? And if so, who else was still in here with her? Had everymon already gotten the flags and moved on? Had the stairs moved too?

    In her thoughts, Espurr unwittingly walked into something. She whacked her head against it, quickly moving back and clutching her face.

    When the sudden pain between her temples had lifted enough for Espurr to be able to open her eyes, she finally got a good look at what she had walked into- in front of her was what seemed to be a perfect stone sculpture of a riolu (She knew it was a riolu because one was on the cover of a book on Nurse Audino's bookshelf, and she had read that it was so). The riolu seemed to be running, as was this sculpture. Espurr was even mildly impressed that the artist had found a way to keep the sculpture's balance without a base… although she was horrified by their product placement. Who was going to stare at their art in the middle of a mystery dungeon? It was even collecting dirt around its paws; almost like it had… Espurr looked back in the direction of the tunnel. But that was silly. It was just a statue.

    But it was so weird for it to have dirt collecting there.

    But dirt got in weird places.

    But still… something didn't seem right.

    And with all this fog around Espurr really wasn't going to bother playing detective. Once a prolonged creaking noise sounded off from the treetops above she decided to book it out of there, and fast.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "I can't believe this is happening," Watchog muttered to himself as he continued through the dungeon with Audino. Already, a sea of mist had descended upon the dungeon, making it extremely hard to see more than two feet ahead of oneself.

    "Well, remember; it IS your test," Audino said from beside him, gingerly walking around an ickier patch of the dungeon she had barely avoided stepping in.

    "So what?!" Watchog retorted. "Your test could literally end with somemon making poison! What do you say to that?!"

    "I take precautions so that kind of thing doesn't happen," Audino shot back. "What did you give the students? A bag of items?"

    "A bag of items should be enough," Watchog grumbled.

    "Well, maybe it wasn't," Audino said. "They're kids, Watchog; not an exploration team!"

    "Well, that Tricky seems to think she's one all by herself," said Watchog.

    "We aren't talking about Tricky. And Tricky's gotten herself into a fair number of scrapes too," Audino replied.

    "It's Tricky's fault we're in this situation," Watchog grumbled back. "And you say she's not a troublemaker?"

    "Tricky is a kid. They're all kids, Watchog!" Audino replied, having come to the absolute edge of her temper. "That's your problem- you can't seem to wrap it around your head that kids aren't invincible!"

    Watchog simply 'harrumphed' and folded his arms. "I'll believe it when I see proof."

    "There."

    Watchog opened an eye. "Where?"

    But Audino had already run ahead, and Watchog found himself with no choice but to follow.

    Soon, they stumbled upon what Audino had spotted- what looked like the wreckage of a battleground. And smack-dab in the middle of it was the pair of exploration bags both teams had been given, laying on their side and leaking with the juices of the smashed items inside.

    "There," Audino said, picking up the bags and emptying them to the side. "There's your proof."

    Unbeknownst to the two, another 'mon quietly slunk through the dungeon, making sure to stay out of sight. Tricky took a few seconds to make sure the 'mons in the hallway were indeed Watchog and Audino, then continued on her quest for the stairs. While she wasn't a full-blown genius, she knew she could count on Audino and Watchog to bicker and slow themselves down enough for Tricky to pass them. She could also count on them not being perceptive enough to notice Tricky sneaking past, which was imperative to her plan. On both counts, apparently, she had been right.

    Now to find Espurr and Goomy.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The fog was just getting thicker and thicker. Goomy huddled into his hiding spot a little further. The Dungeon Wraith was due any minute now. Any minute now he was going to begin to hear its horrible roars and screeches, and then he would be too scared to move until somemon came to find him… or a dungeon 'mon came to eat him. That last thought made him shiver with fear.

    But there came no roars. The Dungeon Wraith didn't rear its ugly head. There were no unearthly screeches from the depths of the dungeon. Every passing second without those things filled Goomy with cautious optimism. Maybe the Dungeon Wraith had taken a day off. It must be tiring; scaring all those other pokemon after all. Maybe it had decided to go on vacation! He knew if Deerling was here she would just tell him that the Dungeon Wraith wasn't real, but Deerling wasn't here, so he was on vacation.

    Slowly, Goomy unpeeled himself from the crevasse he was hiding in, and began to slime through the fog. He could do this. He would do this. He would find the stairs, fog or no fog. He would escape all on his own, even if the Dungeon Wraith came out of the depths of hell to stop him! Goomy only flinched when the dungeon began to let out a blood-curdling howl-

    ~\({O})/~​

    -That Espurr heard through the woods she was desperately trying to get out of. She spun. Whatever had made that roar… it had come from right behind her. She made a left turn on instinct, half because the woods looked lighter there and half because it was the opposite direction the roar had come from.

    She really hoped the stairs weren't the other way.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "What was that?" Audino asked, carrying no less than three exploration bags (Although two were thankfully empty).

    "Just the dungeon," Watchog replied. "Let's keep going."

    ~\({O})/~​

    Goomy was gonna keep going. He slimed as fast as he could through the dungeon (Which wasn't very fast at all), checking through corridors and back-alleys for sight or sound of the dungeon stairs.

    Around the fourth corridor, he found what he had been trying so hard to avoid all this time: a pack of dungeon 'mon.

    Goomy quickly slunk back. It wasn't like their corridor was the only corridor in the entire dungeon… he could go another way, right? Then he looked again, and he realized that he couldn't- for just past the dungeon 'mon was the very thing he had been looking for: the dungeon stairs.

    Goomy went over his options. He'd go another way, but there was no other way. He looked again. There were five of them, all huddled over something in the corridor. A… dead bird- Goomy lurched back. He picked up a stick from the ground with his slime. The dungeon 'mon scared him… but the prospects of being trapped in the dungeon scared him more. He took the stick, and threw it at the dungeon 'mon with all his might.

    He couldn't see it, and he was sure the dungeon 'mon couldn't see him. But he heard their horrible cries upon getting hit with the stick, and he wondered why this had ever been a good idea.

    It was all or nothing, and if Goomy was ever going to make it, now was the time. He dashed (Or slimed) out into the corridor, where he found to his elation that most of the dungeon 'mon had fled.

    Except for the blitzle. It stood to face him, mane glowing. Then it charged.

    Goomy didn't know where he pulled it from. He only knew that one second, the dungeon 'mon was charging full-force at him, and then the next thing he knew he had tackled it to the ground. Seeing that he was a force to be reckoned with, the blitzle quickly got back to its feet (dumping Goomy to the ground), then ran off into the dungeon without even looking back. Goomy decided not to push his luck. He hurried for the stairs as fast as he could.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr could still hear the roars. She ran through the forest as fast as she could. She had been through what looked like the clearing with the flags at least two or three times, but the flags weren't there. Which led Espurr to believe (As much as she didn't want to) that the others had already passed through here and left her behind.

    A sound to Espurr's left drew her attention- the sound of somemon warping in from another floor. She quickly changed her trajectory that way.

    Stumbling into another clearing, Espurr's eyes settled upon the 'mon that had warped in- it was Tricky!

    The moment Tricky noticed Espurr she quickly tackled her to the ground.

    "Espurr! Where have you been?"

    Realizing that Espurr had not expected to be tackled, Tricky quickly moved back. Espurr got to her feet and tried to brush the dirt out of her coat.

    "Looking for you," she said. "Where've you been?"

    "Looking for Goomy. You don't know where he is?"

    Espurr looked around. "If he's on this floor I haven't found him."

    They were both distracted by the sound of somemon warping in to their right.

    "That must be Goomy." Both pokemon immediately scrambled in the direction of the noise.

    However, upon reaching the area the sound had come from, Espurr realized that it was not Goomy; but in fact Audino and Watchog-

    "Get down!"

    Espurr didn't have any time to react before Tricky quickly pushed her to the ground. She did her best to get back up as Tricky peered over the bushes at them melodramatically.

    "Why?" was all Espurr could muster through her confusion and momentary shock.

    "Because…" Tricky began. "If we go with them we'll never find Goomy!"

    Espurr finally managed to get into a comfortable spot behind the bushes. "But shouldn't we at least try to look like we've been found?"

    "We can't let Goomy wander around here any longer than he already has!" Tricky shot back. "…and-I'm-not-supposed-to-be-here-but-that's-not-important-right-now."

    Espurr gave her a dry stare.

    "Look-" Tricky began. "Did you see him pass this floor while you were here? Going with Watchog is the absolute worst thing we can do right now! We can't leave the dungeon without Goomy!"

    The dungeon let out another bloodcurdling roar, but Espurr barely flinched at this point. It seemed the dungeon was all bark and no bite anyway.

    "You don't care about Goomy anyway; do you?" Espurr accused Tricky. "You just don't want to get in more trouble!"

    "Why would I be here again if I didn't care about Goomy?" Tricky hissed.

    "Because you probably got into trouble out there, and you're trying to get out of it by rescuing him." Espurr folded her arms in finality. Surely that was true.

    "That's not true!" Tricky howled as well as she could under her breath.

    "Then what is?"

    "I'm here because…" Tricky began. "…Because that's what explorers do! They rescue other pokemon! They don't leave them behind in mystery dungeons! And if that means getting in trouble then I get into a lot of trouble anyway! I… kinda forgot that. But if we leave Goomy behind… then everymon todays fails as an explorer. So tell me, as an explorer: Is Goomy safe?" Tricky peeked out at Watchog and Audino, then slowly lowered her gaze. "If you think he is… then we'll go with Watchog. I promise."

    Espurr took a moment to think on it. Could she say, with all certainty that Goomy was safe? That he hadn't climbed past this floor while she was unconscious? Or stumbling through the woods? But then again… If pokemon were searching for Goomy, then could she say with all certainty that he had?

    Then she remembered what had happened in the Foreboding Forest, and somehow she knew that he wasn't. And that was why she shook her head no.

    "He isn't safe," Espurr finally decided. "We'll stay."

    She half expected Tricky to have a joy tantrum right there and then and unwittingly give away their location to Audino and Watchog; but nothing of the sort happened. Tricky was all business. She led Espurr through the bushes, making sure to avoid low patches of shrubbery where Watchog might catch a glimpse of them.

    "C'mon! We don't know where Goomy will appear, but we need to be ready to hear him when he does!"

    ~\({O})/~​

    Deerling had said the dungeon was big, but Goomy hadn't fully grasped just how big until he took the stairs and ended up on yet another dungeon floor.

    His first reaction was one of despair- he had thought that if he found the stairs, he'd be able to leave the dungeon! But instead, he found himself aimlessly sliming through the fog, looking for the next set of stairs. Maybe this time.

    He wanted to hide. He wanted to just find a corner or a crevasse and curl up in it until somemon found him. But somehow he just knew no-mon was coming. Or maybe they had already come and gone. If he wanted to escape before the Dungeon Wraith got him, he would have to escape himself.

    Even the dungeon 'mon knew better than to be out; it seemed. Goomy had not encountered a single one since entering this floor. He was thankful for that, of course; but it unnerved him all the same. If even the dungeon 'mon were hiding… what were they hiding from?

    But luckily for him, it seemed he wouldn't have to find out. Goomy saw through the fog – to his joy – a set of perfectly-carved stone steps. The stairs! He had found the stairs! Goomy wasted no time heading towards them.

    He didn't even notice the creaking that emerged from the dungeon's canopy until it was too late, and a large tree branch suddenly broke off from the trees above and landed on his head-

    ~\({O})/~​

    It must have been five minutes; maybe more so. Goomy found the sensation of being hit on the head… dizzying. He had been crushed by the tree branch, yes. He probably would have died if he wasn't goo-based.

    But luckily for him he was goo-based, which meant that he could stretch and twist his body into unusual shapes for occasions exactly like this one. Once he had gotten over his dizzy spell Goomy was able to pull himself out from under the branch, but he understood what the incident implied: it was time to go. He quickly made his way towards the stairs, eyes peeled for a glimpse of a dungeon 'mon or perhaps another tree branch falling from above.

    Luckily, he encountered neither.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Audino and Watchog had already gone to the next floor, it seemed. It wasn't for lack of trying- they had certainly searched the anchorstone for Espurr and Goomy. It was just that Tricky was very good at taking pokemon for a loop (Although the fog certainly helped as well). They had never even suspected that Espurr and Tricky were on the dungeon floor.

    And now the two pokemon had the run of the place to themselves. Until the dungeon began to lash back at them. Already, they had had to deal with two trees spontaneously falling down upon their heads- two incidents they had barely escaped with their lives intact. Espurr was beginning to worry that Goomy had not made it; that they should just go ahead. She knew that would destroy Tricky; but if it came down to destroying Tricky or destroying them both, Espurr was willing to make the sacrifice.

    Until they heard a loud sound to their left through all the fog- the sound of somemon warping onto the dungeon floor. Tricky, who had been almost as ready to give up as Espurr, suddenly perked up.

    "That must be Goomy- C'mon Espurr!" she shouted gleefully, bounding off into the fog so fast it was all Espurr could do not to get lost again as well.

    Sure enough, once Espurr and Tricky arrived at the area the sound had come from, they were met with the pink-purple visage of Goomy. It was a sight Espurr was elated to see.

    Goomy was panting; no doubt from the ordeals he had endured down in the dungeon. He slowly looked up at Espurr and Tricky, his face rising in joy as he realized who the 'mon standing in front of him were.

    "Espurr! T-tricky!" He cried, throwing himself against them the best he could. On any other occasion, Espurr might have worried about getting Goomy's goo in her fur. But right now, she simply didn't care.

    The dungeon roared. It howled so loudly Tricky's ears lowered in pain, and another tree fell right beside them.

    Espurr, Goomy, and Tricky stared at the tree in shock.

    "…Okay. That's bad," Tricky finally admitted.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The entrance to the School Forest warped, and Audino and Watchog stepped out. They were met with the faces of Principal Simipour, and the rest of the students.

    "They wanted to wait out here for the rest of the students' return," Simipour explained. "And who was I to stop them?"

    Both Watchog and Audino traded looks.

    "We… couldn't find them," Audino admitted.

    "Got attacked by the dungeon several times on the way out," Watchog admitted. "It'd take nothing short of a miracle for them to get out alive."

    Audino directed her gaze down towards the ground, and then she was silent.

    Until, a minute later, The dungeon entrance began to warp again. Everymon stood back, giving the entrance a wide berth; until the dungeon finally spat out Espurr, Tricky, and Goomy in a pile.

    Everymon was silent for ten more seconds, gazing at the students in shock. Then everything exploded into chaos. Audino quickly flocked over to them, helping the three students up and getting them to the school clinic. The other three students quickly followed along, bombarding them with questions. Simipour folded his arms behind his back. Watchog just viewed the whole scene, and sputtered in disbelief.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "You three should count yourselves lucky," Audino warned, putting away her medical supplies. "I'm amazed you three got out of that with as few injuries as you did, but that is not a normal occurrence. You just might be the single luckiest kids I have ever seen in my entire career. A bill of clean health for all three of you!"

    Once Goomy was released, he was almost immediately pounced upon by Deerling, who began bombarding him with a thousand questions all at once. That left Espurr and Tricky all alone, and for once with nothing to do.

    "So… now what?" Tricky asked. Espurr didn't know.

    Then Tricky caught a glimpse of the sun, which was beginning to set.

    "Ohmigosh!" She yelled. "Look at the sun! We're gonna miss Ampharos! Let's go!"

    Both Espurr and Tricky turned to leave the school clinic, but suddenly they both felt the sensation of a hand clamping down upon their head.

    "Not so fast," Watchog growled. "You know; I was going to let it slide today; it being the last day of spring and all. But then you missed it for the last two days…"

    Both Espurr and Tricky froze. Oh, m-

    "Detention," Watchog snarled.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Sunset was nearly gone by the time Espurr and Tricky made their way up towards the Hill With the Big Tree. As promised, Ampharos was indeed waiting for them under the tree's branches; a smallish box tucked under his arm. A westwards wind was blowing, causing him to fiddle with the cloak he was wearing.

    "We… we made it…" Tricky panted out after she had caught her breath enough to talk.

    "So I see," Ampharos responded. "And you brought Espurr with you too- how splendid! Although I must admit… I've a bit of a confession to make."

    "Confession?" Tricky glanced at Ampharos in confusion; tilting her head. "What kind?"

    "See, I might have lied when I said there were two Expedition Society Memberships…" Ampharos quickly laughed it off, setting the box down in front of them.

    "Behold!" he shouted, opening the box. "One Expedition Society Membership, because one is all you will ever need." Espurr and Tricky gazed inside the box, where a small, hexagonal device sat.

    "With this, you can officially register an Expedition Society dungeon team," Ampharos continued. "You just insert your blue orb of choice, type in the name, save it, and you're good as a gastradon!"

    That made Espurr pause. Ampharos knew… he did, didn't he. He must not have dropped that orb by accident. He must have known. He must… He must not be who he claimed to.

    "…Who are you?" Espurr asked, her eyes trained on Ampharos suspiciously.

    "Why; dear Espurr…" Ampharos started. "You already know the answer to that. I am… the Dashing Wanderer!"

    And with that, he attempted to throw his cape back flamboyantly, but the wind kicked it up over his face.

    "Ah… never mind that," Ampharos said as he messed with the cape, adjusting it into a more comfortable position. Tricky was too busy fawning over the gadget to notice. "As of today, you two children can be proud to call yourself Junior Expedition Society Members!"

    Tricky was over the moon at the idea of having anything to do with the Expedition Society, and there was nothing Espurr or Ampharos could do to calm her down. She pranced around the tree until the sun began to sink a little low into the sky, and even Ampharos had to leave for the night. Then she calmed down, sitting next to Espurr and watching the sun go down.

    It was going to be a great summer for exploring.

    ~\({O})/~

    The Exeggutor

    ~Mawile and Archen~

    Ambassador Primarina was obviously far less pleasant than he seemed, but Archen had a feeling Mawile knew that already. He lounged around in a luxurious bath (On a boat; of all things!), lazily enjoying the water until the boat made its dock at Lively Town. Braixen had disappeared off to lurk somewhere, while Mawile went over the photos one last time with the now-dying expedition gadgets and Archen milled around the room uncomfortably.

    There was the sound of water swishing around, and Primarina rolled himself into a position fit for talking.

    "As you know; I've been made aware of the fact that you have photos meant for the possession of Cloud Nine," he said. "In fact, the Exeggutor was just sailing to Lively Town to pick those photos up. Is there any chance we can quicken this exchange?"

    In what was a suitably rare occasion for her, Mawile froze. Unlike Mayor Honchkrow, Ambassador Primarina had complete jurisdiction over her, and could even overrule a direct order from Ampharos if need be. When Primarina wanted something, he got it. But there was no technology on this ship to extract those photos; meaning she'd need to relinquish the expedition gadgets to him. He would see everything. He would see that she had been making copies. And that was a line Mawile wasn't willing to cross.

    "…You wouldn't be able to make any use of them," she finally said. "They're buried deep in the photo archives by now. I intend to send them by Pelipper Post once we arrive at the Society and I can use proper technology to sort them out."

    "Nonsense!" Primarina waved a flipper in what looked like amused dismissal. "I shall sort them out on Cloud Nine."

    "Oh, I assure you Expedition Society technology is quite incompatible with the tech on Cloud Nine," Mawile responded. "Our engineer designed them that way on purpose to ensure no-mon would copycat."

    Primarina couldn't stop a scowl from building on his face. "Troubling…" he muttered.

    Archen knew that the tech on Cloud Nine was very much compatible with the Expedition Gadgets, but for some reason Mawile didn't want Primarina to know that.

    "Very well, then." Both Mawile and Archen's heads turned towards Primarina, who lay his flipper back down in the bath in defeat. "There is no need for the Pelipper Post. I shall await at the Expedition Society myself for the photos. I assume you can host me?"

    Mawile jumped upon the offhand comment like it was an escape rope. "We will do everything in our power to make your stay at our Society a pleasant one, Ambassador. Is there a transmission device we can use to notify the others? Our gadgets are out of power; I'm afraid."

    Primarina sighed.

    "That way," he said, pointing towards an inconspicuous side door. "Braixen will help you if you have trouble. It was his idea to install it."

    Mawile politely nodded her thanks, getting up and walking through the door. Archen reluctantly followed.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of The Week!

    Launch Vipers - Bear McCreary
     
    Last edited:
    Interlude the First - Strange Things on The Horizon
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    9.

    Interlude the First

    Strange Things on The Horizon

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Headquarters, Lively Town – Last Day of Spring

    "Five minutes until the ambassador gets here- Everymon hurry up! Where's Nickit?!" Dedenne had received a fuzzy transmission from the Exeggutor at half-past-noon stating that the Ambassador of the Water Continent would be staying several nights at the Expedition Society – although the transmission itself had been sent hours earlier, from a completely mechanical transmission machine aboard the ship itself. (Dedenne cursed those machines with all her heart- Why couldn't the snobs on Mist get their paws dirty and send transmissions via electrical pokemon like everymon else?)

    But the real kicker was that the Ambassador was due in half an hour, which naturally turned the Society upside down the moment it finally came through. That was 25 minutes ago. Now, Dedenne was scampering down the hall at a brisk pace, rapidly assigning orders to whoever she came across.

    Bunnelby, who had just stumbled out of the observatory and spotted Dedenne from across the hall, quickly hopped into pace with her.

    "Where is everymon?" Dedenne hissed, pulling herself to two paws. "It's gonna look bad on us if we can't even organize ourselves properly!"

    "Half of us just got done dealing with Jirachi," Bunnelby panted – Dedenne was just noticing that he looked mighty beat up – "And Torracat's team left on a mission. They aren't gonna be here for the ceremony."

    Dedenne resisted the urge to slap her paw into her face. Of course they would do that. One; Two; Three… that was five members missing now. And the Chief. She was going zu-bat crazy trying to keep the Society in check, which wasn't getting any easier when the engineer needed a remedy to keep himself on a nine-hour sleep schedule, the chef ate everything in sight, and the medic kept disappearing to probably play cards with Murkrow! Why; oh why, did the rest of the executive faculty decide to leave on a pair of farfetched missions?

    "Find Nickit," She told Bunnelby. "Try the vault first- she's probably in there." Bunnelby nodded and hopped off as fast in the direction of the vault as his legs would take him.

    "Pokemon incoming!" Buizel yelled down from the observatory.

    "Is it the Ambassador?!" Dedenne screamed back up.

    "No! It's… Mawile! And Archen!"

    Dedenne perked up with new life. Oh, thank god. That made her day so much easier.

    "Well, help me get them inside!" She promptly bossed up at Buizel.

    Mawile slowly came to a stop, folding her arms behind her back as she looked up at the Expedition Society. She and Archen traded looks at the faint yells and crashes that were coming from inside the building. Not a good sign.

    The double doors of the Society slowly opened one after the other, and then Dedenne and the rest of the Expedition Society slipped out through them and lined up on the pavement outside. Bunnelby stumbled out after them, followed by a murkrow wearing a tie and an unruly-looking Nickit.

    Mawile quickly took her place next to Dedenne as Acting Chief of the Expedition Society, and together they welcomed Primarina to the Expedition Society.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "God; I just wanna sleep." Archen dragged himself into his allotted bedroom in the Society – which, like all the other bedrooms, had a view of Lively Town at Ampharos' request – and flopped down headfirst on one of the two straw beds in the room.

    "That one's mine."

    Archen pulled his beak out of the straw, gazing at the pokemon who had just stepped into the room irritably.

    "Since when?"

    Nickit strode over, maybe-on-purpose nudging a potted plant dangerously close to falling out the window with her tail.

    "Since you left for nearly a week and I switched the beds around, birdbrain. Yours smells like bird dander, by the way. Might wanna look into getting it cleaned."

    Archen just rolled over and folded his wings. Seeing that she wasn't going to be humored anymore, Nickit trodded over and flopped on the other bed.

    "Can't have the window forever, you know."

    Archen opened his eyes and stared at her annoyedly.

    "What is it?" he asked. "What's bugging you so much that you need to come here and ruin my nap for me?"

    "Well firstly, it's my room too," Nickit ticked it off on her paw; a smirk on her snout. "I can come here if I want."

    Archen's eyes narrowed.

    "And… I don't like the way that Braixen guy looks at me," Nickit admitted. "Okay? I just think he doesn't like me very much."

    "I don't think he likes a lot of pokemon very much," Archen grumbled. "What makes you special?"

    "Don't you ever just 'know' something?" Nickit asked. "Even though you can't prove it- and then later, it turns out to be true?"

    "Never had that feeling."

    "Huh," Nickit trilled. "Must be a fox pokemon thing."

    "You'd better get used to it." Archen rolled over the other way. "Because he's staying with us for the next week."

    And then he left Nickit in silence.

    "One more thing."

    Archen turned over one last time.

    "What?"

    "Come nightfall, that window bed is mine, sucker."

    ~\({O})/~​

    Ampharos was lucky that the inn rates in Serenity Village were low. Well, at least compared to places like Pokemon Paradise (That Swanna drove a hard bargain). He had needed to leave the hill with the big tree before Espurr and Fennekin could to collect his supplies, but he had found that they were gone by the time he had gotten back.

    And this time, he was leaving.

    He had to admit, he would miss this cozy little village. It seemed to be the perfect little slice of everything- he hadn't been entirely lying when he had said he'd come to see the sights. Maybe he'd make this his retirement spot when he decided to officially duck out of the mapping business.

    But that was far off into the future, and Ampharos needed not think about it now. He adjusted his cloak and his bag, and officially set off for Lively Town.

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

    The end of Part I.

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

    Music of The Week!

    Something Dark is Coming - Bear McCreary
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Ten - Deerling's Day
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Do Psychic-Type Pokemon Dream Of Electric Sheep Part Two Poster.jpg


    ~Sparkleglimmer~

    I've always wondered why pokemon give away so much of their lives to others. Why they toil away and work themselves to the point of death for other pokemon, only to be stepped on and forgotten once those other pokemon move on to bigger things. Why pokemon whine and complain about being trampled upon when they should have seen it coming from a mile away.

    Selflessness is rewarded with betrayal in this world. Kindness is met with hate. And if another pokemon tramples all over you, you have no-mon to blame but yourself because you didn't do it first. Because that's how you win. By gaming the system. Sucking up to the right pokemon. Stepping on the heads of others. Making sure the public never sees any of that and continues to believe you are as innocent as they are. Not because you're rotten to your core, but because you know the world is. And you have to stoop to its level if you wish to be successful.

    As current director of the Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute I've done everything in my power to help adventurous pokemon prosper. Ranked missions; regulations and standards imposed upon rescue establishments; rescue team auditions. But I cannot do everything. I know the system will go bad- it always does. And when it does, the old ways of the world will return; in which pokemon step all over one another with nary a regard for their partners and friends. And when that day comes it will only be one more reminder for the history books that there is no such thing as a fair system- there only exists the timeless wicked way of the world.

    Hate.


    "If a tree falls in a forest and no-mon hears it, it still fell. The only difference is that no-mon cares."

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

    PART II: THE SUMMER

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

    10.

    Deerling's Day

    ~\({O})/~

    Open Pass ~ Water Continent

    ~Audino~

    It was nighttime.

    Audino had always been a bit of a superstitious 'mon. She had depleted her store of herbs early this month, but dared not return to the School Forest to collect new ones before the full moon had come again lest she break her lucky streak and find herself awash without a paddle.

    Luckily, she had a backup in place for this very occasion (Although such a situation had not occurred before now). The Open Pass; a dungeon that lay to the west of Serenity Village, had a few choice bushes of herbs that Audino could easily use as substitutes until the next full moon. And in a brilliant stroke of luck, the dungeon was only four floors long. She would be gone almost the whole day just getting there, but Simipour knew where she was going and she had never been much for noisy holiday celebrations anyway.

    The bad news was that all the escape orbs in Serenity Village had been used by the school for the end-of-semester Dungeon Class test, which left Audino without an escape plan should trouble find her once more. Not that she couldn't defend herself if it came to it, but she preferred to avoid fights entirely whenever she could.

    It was a long way out, and it had taken her nearly all day to reach the dungeon. And it seemed the dungeon was making her work for her herbs as well. She had searched the first and second floors thoroughly before moving on; nearly confident that the bushes weren't there. But at the same time; doubts plagued her head- she didn't know every nook and cranny of the Open Pass like she knew the School Forest. Perhaps she had missed them; or they simply weren't there and all her efforts had been a waste. And when she stepped up the stairs and ascended to the third floor of the dungeon, she shivered as she felt the air suddenly change. The dungeon was evil here. Even the ferals had taken note; for Audino was not accosted once as she walked through the semi-labyrinth that the forest twisted into.

    Every so often she would hear a Swish in the distance; as if somemon was walking through the tall grass that dotted the dungeon here and there. But no other 'mon ever greeted Audino's eyes when she glanced in the sounds' direction, and so she made the hesitant assumption that it was simply a hiding dungeon 'mon, and continued on her way.

    An hour later; when Audino had nearly finished exploring the third floor completely and was beginning to lose hope of there being any medicinal herbs within the dungeon's boundaries, her eyes caught sight of a bush that matched the ones in the School Forest- an herb bush. She quickly kneeled over it, rooting around in the dirt to make sure they were the right herbs. Upon finding that they were, she began to uproot them from the ground and stuff them in her bag as fast as possible. The sooner she could get out of here; the better.

    Swish. Audino froze. She whipped her head around. There was nothing there. At least; it seemed like there was nothing there.

    It was only thanks to Audino's stellar hearing that she managed to notice the pokemon sneaking up upon her from the other side. The only warning she had was the sudden change in the way the air sounded, and she only had the time to quickly duck as what looked like a large shadow ball flew over her head. From out of the shadows flew a beheeyem, hurtling towards her like a speeding haunter with its limbs held out in front of it. Audino rolled out of the beheeyem's way and watched as it uncontrollably flew past her, then picked herself and her bag up and ran in the opposite direction. The stairs were just down the hallway anyway. It was time to get out of here.

    By the time the mid-air-beheeyem was able to turn itself around and come back for Audino, the pokemon was already quickly closing in upon the stairs. It didn't try to go after her just yet.

    Audino didn't even spare the beheeyem a look as she ran for the stairs. She was too close to bother with that. Just a few seconds more-

    -Audino suddenly dug her feet into the ground, trying to stop until it was too late. Where the stairs had been there was now nothing but the twisted barrier of tree roots that made up the absolute ends of the dungeon. Audino put her hands up against the roots in horror. Where had the stairs gone?!

    The air shifted – once more, then twice – and she spun around to notice that she was being approached on all sides by the trio of beheeyem. They closed in; faster and faster, until they were so close it was practically impossible for Audino to escape at all. She would have fought them like any other dungeon 'mon, but something in the way they moved threw her off from it; back then in the School Forest and now.

    "What do you want from me?" she asked them in the most level voice she could summon. They had to be intelligent- dungeon 'mon would have attacked her by now.

    The beheeyem said nothing. Instead, all three of them slowly raised their limbs in her direction. The lights attached to the ends of their wrists flashed, and even though they had said nothing Audino somehow knew what they wanted: Espurr. The child that had woken up in her clinic a week ago. They wanted Espurr.

    And she wasn't exactly in a place to refuse them.

    "Alright," she breathed, carefully shouldering her exploration bag. "I'll take you to her."

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village ~ Morning

    "It's summertime!"

    A well-placed Ember sent several ducks and geese flapping over the fences of their enclosure, honking and quacking loudly. Seconds later, Tricky sent the entire flock scattering in an even louder cacophony of noises.

    "Vat?! Vat iz the meaning of zis? Tricky! You monster!"

    "Sorry Hippopatas! I forgot about the- ack! Geese! Geeses!" A particularly largish goose had taken the opportunity to chomp down upon Tricky's tail, and began to run her down the moment she bolted back towards the pen.

    Hippopotas glared daggers in Tricky's direction as the geese continued to exact their revenge upon her.

    "Zerves 'er right."

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open wearily to the grating tune of somemon banging on the windowpanes of the school clinic.

    Wearily, she glanced at the window. Her vision was too blurry to make out who was currently banging on the window, but… the sun shouldn't have been that high.



    She'd slept in!

    Espurr quickly sat up in her bed, brushing the straw out of her fur. She had wanted to visit the library today... How come Nurse Audino hadn't woken her? In fact, where was Nurse Audino? The clinic was completely deserted.

    "Espurr!"

    Almost completely deserted. Espurr blinked a couple of times to clear her vision, then looked at the window despite having a good idea who was banging on it.

    Sure enough, Tricky was outside, waving frantically at Espurr from the other side of the window. Espurr spent a few seconds catching her balance, then got the door for her.

    "What are you doing still sleeping?" Tricky quickly asked once Espurr had let her inside the school clinic. "It's summertime! We should be going exploring! We won't have time to later today!"

    Espurr hadn't even eaten breakfast yet. She stared at Tricky with a sort of half-confused stupor that could only be managed by a 'mon who hadn't fully woken up yet.

    "Aren't we gonna use the expedition gadget?" Tricky asked; oblivious. "We can do real missions now! You don't just get that kind of awesomeness and not use it all at once!"

    "Tricky…" Espurr groaned, resisting the urge to sleepily bang her head into something- however tempting it was. "We can't use the exploration gadget if we don't know how it works yet…"

    And she wanted to go to the library.

    Espurr and Tricky had agreed beforehand that the expedition gadget Ampharos had granted them would stay at the school (Not least because Carracosta would ground Tricky for the entire summer if he were to ever find out they had it). Which meant that for the time being, Espurr was its caretaker. She had stashed it inside one of the three packed straw beds that lay inside the clinic (Which in hindsight was a terrible decision, but at the time it had seemed like the best option for a hiding spot).

    Seeing that Tricky would not be dissuaded, Espurr wearily dug the gadget out of the straw, setting it on the ground and looking over its sleek – dead – surface with Tricky.

    "Well…" Tricky was clearly digging for ideas at this point. "Um… wow. I guess we do need help... What- what did Ampharos say again? Something about a blue orb? And gastradon?"

    "He said…" Espurr tried to remember exactly what Ampharos had said. Which was a bit hard when her mind was sleep addled as she was. "I think… 'just insert a blue orb and you're as good as a gastradon!'"

    It wasn't a very good impression of Ampharos. Really kind of squeaky, and Espurr felt a little embarrassed immediately after she had said it. Tricky's ears perked up at the sound of 'blue orb'.

    "You mean the one you left at my house two days ago?" she asked excitedly.

    Espurr suddenly felt a lot less clever. It was all she could do to slip the gadget inside Gabite's old exploration bag in time to follow Tricky out the door.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The townspokemon of Serenity Village seemed extra jolly today. Everymon was out in the village square, chatting with each other and hanging decorations from the luminous moss streetposts and buying things from Kecleon's stall. Espurr had only been here a week, and yet she had never seen things so… lively. She shouldered Gabite's old exploration bag, which she had barely remembered to pack before they left.

    Perhaps it was because it was just the start of summer and this was how the village looked in summertime, but Espurr wanted to ask about all the decorations that were being hung. Was this some kind of special event? Tricky seemed to be right at home, prancing through the square (And occasionally into other pokemon) without a care in the world. It was all Espurr could do to keep up and sightsee at the same time.

    "Oh! Hi, Espurr." Deerling tried to greet Espurr the best she could, who had briefly stopped for a moment to catch her breath and untwist her legs (She was still getting used to her legs). Deerling was with her mother, who was currently waiting in the long, long line for Kecleon's. Tricky, who had backtracked her way over to Espurr after noticing that she was no longer keeping up, did not receive the same warmness. Deerling simply turned away and refused to acknowledge her at all.

    "These are your friends from school?" Espurr looked up to see that Deerling's mother had turned away from the line to look at Espurr and Tricky. She looked at Espurr. "I think you came over once, right? To play chess?"

    Espurr nodded. "I'm Espurr."

    "She's new," Deerling added helpfully.

    "I see. Are you excited for the festivities tonight?" Deerling's Mother asked.

    Espurr was sorely inclined to ask what festivities were taking place tonight, but she didn't want to weird Deerling's family out, so she settled for a vague nod instead.

    "Alright then. Go play, you three. You don't need to stick with me." The comment was directed towards Deerling, and she was gently nudged towards Espurr and Tricky. Deerling's Mother turned back towards the line, and then it was clear there would be no more talking with her. Deerling quickly shook herself off, then walked around Tricky gingerly.

    "Mom thinks the shopping goes faster without me," Deerling explained as soon as they were on the other side of the square. "She's been trying to find an excuse to get me away from her ever since we started. She doesn't think that, y'know, maybe I actually like shopping…"

    Deerling shook her head. "Anyways- where're you headed?" she asked Espurr.

    "We're going exploring!" Tricky helpfully added from behind Deerling. Deerling waited for Espurr's answer.

    "To Tricky's house. Then the library." Espurr's response was curt and simple. Tricky danced all around them, trying to find a good place to slot herself in. Eventually she just settled for walking on the other side of Espurr, which was as far she could get from Deerling's wrath while still remaining with the group.

    Deerling tilted her head at Espurr. "You… don't know what's happening today, do you?"

    Tricky's eyes practically bugged out of her head with disbelief.

    "You don't know?" she couldn't help but blurt out. "It's Deerling Day!"

    "What's Deerling Day?" Espurr had to ask. Finally; she was going to know why all the lampposts were being strung up with decorations!

    "Deerling Day celebrates the start of summer," Deerling cut in before Tricky could respond. "Since Deerlings' coats change with the season, when Deerling Day is celebrated depends upon when a Deerling's coat changes. But nowadays mostly everymon just celebrates it at the start of Summer Vacation. It makes more sense that way."

    Tricky was looking extremely peeved at Deerling's silent treatment.

    The three of them walked past 'Hawlucha's Slam School', which (Unlike the Café Connection and Kecleon's) wasn't getting business at all. The sight of the tent turned Deerling's head for a moment.

    "I wonder what's in there…" she muttered to herself, before looking back at Espurr.

    "I think I'll go see the inside of that tent for a minute," Deerling said. "Mom never goes in there. Coming?" she asked Espurr.

    "But Espurr…" Tricky whined. "We're supposed to go get the-" realizing what she was about to say at the last second, Tricky quickly covered her mouth and cleared her throat dramatically. "The thing…"

    Deerling gave them both 'you're weird' glances. "Anyways… have fun 'exploring'," she said; making her disdain of the last word evident, and then she turned around and walked off towards Hawlucha's (still empty) Slam School.

    "Are you hungry?" Tricky blurted out in Deerling's absence. "'Cause I… sorta skipped breakfast too. Summertime and all that. I'm sure Pops will make us some!"

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Good morning Mist, and welcome back to another episode of the Jellicent Show, where we pair a hotshot reporter with a couple of celebrities and let the sparks fly! Sometimes literally. Wink-wink."

    "We're coming to you today from Cloud Nine, currently cruising over the tourist hotspot that is the Great Glacier. For anymon in the possession of a TV set, you can see for yourselves just how stunning the Great Glacier really is! For those of you tuning in on the radio… well, you'll just have to take our word for it."

    "Oh, but what a word it is. On the reporting side of things, we have Meowth, the leader of an up-and-coming news outlet in Lively Town. Meowth; do you have anything to say to our viewers here?"

    "Well, I'd like to say that it's a pleasure to be here, Jellicent. And I'd also like to urge our viewers to check out the Lively Town Times-"

    "Alrighty; moving on~"

    "And for our celebrity fix, we have… the famed magnagate researchers who've been in a tizzy ever since their field of research was banned, Espeon and Umbreon!"

    "Thank you for the introduction, Jellicent; although 'tizzy' isn't the word I believe either of us would use to describe our current state of minds."

    "Really? Tell us more, please."

    "We'd use… 'cautiously optimistic.'"

    "We're planning to appeal in favor of the ban's removal in less than a month. We're hopeful the council will see things from our point of view, and lift the ban."


    "…I see. Am I correct in my assumption that the initial ban had somewhat of a negative effect on you two?"

    "Oh don't even get me started."

    "Well, I'm sure our viewers would love to hear the story behind that…"

    "Breakfast time is over," Carracosta grunted in answer to Tricky's question (plea). He deftly moved the large cooking spoon he was using to stir whatever was in that big pot of his to his right flipper, using the left to turn down the dial of the radio on the kitchen counter (Also a commodity from Lively Town).

    "But Pops…" Tricky whined, her tail flat against the kitchen floor. "I didn't eat breakfast yet!"

    "You should have eaten when it was breakfast time," Carracosta replied.

    Tricky made a show of pouting on the kitchen floor. Espurr stood beside her, taking in Tricky and her pseudo temper tantrum. She discreetly sniffed the air. Carracosta's place smelled good. There were all sorts of smells in the air – some she recognized, like berries and cakes and even a fish, and others she didn't, but all of them made her mouth water equally. There was one smell coming from the pot simmering on that stove that smelled absolutely divine, and Espurr was now sorely wistful that she hadn't grabbed something from the school clinic to eat on the way down to the village. Her stomach remembered it was hungry and grumbled. Tricky's ears twitched at the sound of it, and she abandoned her forlorn puppy act immediately.

    "But Pops," Tricky began. "Espurr hasn't eaten yet. You can't let two children starve. That's kit abuse!"

    Espurr could tell from the way Carracosta moved that he didn't buy that for one minute. He let out a throaty sigh of defeat anyway, like this was the only way he was going to get Tricky out of his face for the day. "Fine. Have some berries. Then you wait until dinner."

    Tricky immediately leapt to life, scurrying over to the table where several large pans of un-iced cake layers sat.

    "And no touching the cake!" Carracosta yelled after them. Tricky's ears drooped for a second. She grumbled. Then she snatched a couple of berries from the bowl on the counter and handed one to Espurr the best she could with her mouth.

    The front door opened again; albeit less forcefully than when Tricky had practically kicked it in. Espurr's head turned towards the door- who else would be inside Carracosta's house?

    "I got tha- tha things from tha pantry," a voice rang out from outside the doorway. Espurr's ears perked up. She knew that voice… (Or rather; process of elimination dictated there was only one 'mon that had an accent that thick and had any reason to be in Carracosta's home.) It was Nuzleaf!

    And just like that, Espurr quickly took off for the hall. He couldn't see her!

    Nuzleaf bumped the door closed behind him and set down the sacks of ingredients he was holding. He looked at the slowly settling kitchen.

    "…Di' I miss somethin'?"

    ~\({O})/~​

    Tricky rolled upside down on her bed, staring at Espurr flatly.

    "Are you gonna stay there forever, or what?"

    Espurr slowly peeked out the doorway, where Nuzleaf had thankfully moved out of the doorways' view of the kitchen (For now). Setting the core of the appleberry she had just finished eating aside, she quickly darted to the other side of Tricky's room, unloading Gabite's tattered old exploration bag next to Tricky's bed and pulling out the expedition gadget.

    "Where's the orb?" Espurr asked.

    Tricky froze. "I… Wait just a sec."

    Quickly, she rolled off her bed and half-dove under it in one fluid movement, rifling and rattling through junk until she finally emerged with a transparent blue orb clutched in her paws. "Here!"

    "Ah- Fire! Fire!" Nuzleaf's voice suddenly emerged from the kitchen, accompanied by sudden scrambling movements, the clatters of a few pans, and then the sudden sizzling of water against a hot surface..

    "It's out; it's out now. Calm down."

    Espurr heard Nuzleaf pant in relief. "Ruin'd tha soup, though…"

    "It's alright. We have ingredients for more. Let's just work on getting back on track."

    Espurr quickly moved a bit closer to the wall.

    "Ya gonna take this thing or not?" Tricky was still stretched out on the floor; the orb in her paws dramatically. Espurr quickly took it once she noticed. Tricky hopped back on the bed, trying to get a better look from above than she could from below.

    There was a large, sphere-sized indent in the middle of the gadget that looked just about the right size for the orb Espurr held in her hands. Carefully, she stuck the orb in, hearing a resounding 'click' as it connected to the machine.

    The gadget suddenly sprang to life, startling both Tricky and Espurr and causing both to jump back a bit. It whirred silently for a second, and then suddenly Tricky's room was filled with bright blue light.

    It took Espurr a second to realize what it was, and where it came from. One minute; the room had been lit normally, and now the upper walls and the roof were covered in an ocean blue the same as the orb. Tricky rubbed her eyes, then gazed up at the roof along with Espurr.

    "Wow… this is aMAZ-" Tricky lowered her voice at the last minute. "-I mean, wow… holy mystery dungeon…"

    A few pots crashed from the kitchen, causing Espurr to glance hurriedly at the doorway for a second. It was still weird to believe that Tricky's room didn't have a door.

    "Think we can set it up on the wall?" Tricky asked.

    Half a minute later, the expedition gadget was projecting its display onto the wall instead of the roof. Espurr and Tricky sat on Tricky's bed, studying it from afar. It hadn't taken long for Espurr to guess that the overing portraits that now decorated the wall were missions of some kind.

    "I wanna study it up-close…" Tricky grumbled.

    "But we'll block out the light if we do that, Espurr pointed out. It wasn't like they hadn't tried already. More than once. With a broom, unexplainably.

    "I know…" Tricky mumbled.

    "Look at that one." Espurr pointed to the top-left portion of the wall, where just one of the many, many hovering portraits on the wall dwelled. Spread out all large on the wall like this; the text was just large enough for Espurr to read. "Retrieve bag of poke from Wooloo Plains. Client: Eevee. Mission Rank: A. Reward: Half the bag of poke."

    Tricky's ears shot up straight, and then she sat up straight. Her face gleamed with both excitement and mischief. "Did you just say wooloo?"

    ~\({O})/~​

    "…That's the last of the soup vegetables."

    Carracosta uncurled his flipper from around a large knife, removing the cutting board filled with neat piles of vegetables from one side of the counter and dumping them all into the large stock pan that currently sat beside the stove. Nuzleaf, who had just finished preparing one of Hippopatas' large geese, hesitantly tried to figure out how to set it over the fireplace without burning himself as well. Carracosta set the cutting board on the counter and quickly tromped over to the fireplace.

    "I'll stick it in there. Why don't you go check if the cakes have risen yet? It's about high time we start icing them."

    Nuzleaf gratefully handed the pan of goose to Carracosta, then haphazardly wiped his hands off on the apron he was wearing. "Y-yeah… I'll jus' go do tha' instead."

    No sooner had Carracosta set the goose properly in the oven and Nuzleaf walked off to check on the cakes did Espurr carefully walk towards the door, apparently trying not to be noticed. Carracosta humored her.

    "Epfur waiffor meeeee!"

    Carracosta saw Espurr glance back towards the hallway; her cover blown. Tricky bounded into the kitchen; the scarves Carracosta hadn't seen for so long hanging from her mouth. He hadn't seen those scarves since… Carracosta continued to play dumb, sautéing the soup vegetables purely from muscle memory. One eye discreetly stayed trained on Espurr and Tricky the entire time.

    "Take one!" Tricky spat out the scarves and pushed one towards Espurr. She worked the other one around her neck, shaking herself off to let it settle properly.

    "What's it for?" Espurr asked cautiously.

    "It's an explorer's scarf!" Tricky explained to Espurr excitedly. "Pops got them for me from Lively Town when I was five. Now I want you to have one!"

    It took a minute, but eventually Carracosta saw Espurr pick up the scarf and fit it around her neck. "Thank you," he heard her say.

    Carracosta didn't even make an attempt to move until Espurr was outside the door and Tricky was about to follow.

    "Remember to be back before dark," he warbled before Tricky could exit the door.

    "Uh…" Tricky stopped dead in her tracks. "…Yeah! We'll do that! Bye Pops!"

    And with that, she was gone before Carracosta could blink. He shook his head in dismissal, then curled his flipper around the radio's volume dial once again and turned it up.

    "…And now a final question from your hosts! Can you authenticate the claims from my source that things have been getting a little… 'steamy' between you two; shall we say?"

    "Who told you that?!"

    "W-who told you
    that?!"

    "And that's the end of this episode of the Jellicent show! Tune in next week for more celebrity shenanigans~"

    "Alright; listen up! You'd better 'authenticate' the name of your source to me right now so I can claw their eyes out!"

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Lively Town

    ~Mawile~

    It was Dedenne's day off from the Expedition Society, and that meant Mawile was doing a lot more walking around the base than she was used to. The experience gave her a new appreciation for all the jobs that Dedenne performed throughout the day; when expedition gadget communications were temporarily down and there was no-mon to transport Mawile's dictations around the base for her. Not to mention that she had found several deficiencies in places Dedenne would not have thought to look (Like how one of the large vents near the food vault had become partially clogged, or the barrel of half-eaten leftovers in the kitchen that was tucked away in what had initially seemed like a dish cupboard).

    And after the week-long trip she had just underwent to the Air Continent and back, Mawile was beginning to feel as if she should extend her one period of sleep a week into two periods (However far that would knock her off her schedule).

    She and Jirachi had begun to convert the photos into physical versions of themselves in the observatory (Which was currently off-limits to all but the Executive Staff). Which, Jirachi being Jirachi, would take upwards of a day to complete once they had fed them all into Jirachi's outdated printer. Just about three days with copies. And that left Mawile to deal with bigger fish to fry:

    Primarina.

    Mawile was more than convinced at this point that Ambassador Primarina drove his servants insane daily. Every day at exactly 11:00, he required that a cold bath be drawn for him; lest he 'dry out' in the harsh summer heat. After marinating in the bath for almost half an hour, Primarina demanded breakfast, but would not have anything from the luxurious breakfast spread Swirlix had cooked just for him that day (Mawile dearly hoped she wasn't going to try something drastic like giving Primarina food poisoning). Buizel had ended up going down to the market to purchase a supply of fresh-caught oysters, which were what Primarina subsisted on for breakfast every morning.

    At 12:30, Braixen had emerged from the guest room that had been set up for him (Primarina was using Ampharos' vacant office/bedroom) and eaten Swirlix' breakfast spread before Swirlix herself could, which led to one of Swirlix' food-related temper tantrums and the chef swearing revenge upon the food thief (Mawile was now worried enough for Braixen that she had his meals purchased separately from whatever Swirlix was serving that night).

    Around 3:00, the majority of the Expedition Society was out doing activities of their own choice. That was around the time Primarina had declared that he was bored and needed entertainment. Mawile had directed him to the Expedition Society's library as well as the drying facilities, but Primarina had claimed he 'didn't read'. Mawile had politely informed him that he was out of luck, then, and returned to her work with Jirachi. Primarina had promptly taken a trip around Lively Town, and it later took the combined efforts of Buizel, Bunnelby, and Dedenne (Who happened to be with her family in the restaurant across the street and did not appreciate her day off being disturbed so rudely) to get him out of a bar fight he had caused during a drunken bar stupor he had also caused.

    The bar tab Primarina had racked up was large enough to put a sizeable dent in the Expedition Society's funds.

    It had apparently affected his health as well. He could barely balance himself when Buizel and Bunnelby hauled him in through the doors, and he was muttering all kinds of inane gibberish Mawile couldn't even hope to decipher. She inwardly sighed. It looked like he would need the medic. Insticntively Mawile reached for her expedition gadget to call Nickit, but then remembered that communications were down today and everything was being done manually. How silly of her.

    (Jirachi really needed to fix that intercom.)

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Vault

    ~Nickit~

    Cards were a game best played over the course of hours. At least, that was how Nickit liked to play them. It was a game where you kept your hand secret, stalking ever-closer to your unwitting prey like a midnight lycanroc; the winning card in your claw. But you had to be careful about how you did it, because if the other players were to figure out you had the winning claw, you got sniped. And Nickit hated being sniped. She did that to other pokemon, not the other way around!

    Alternatively, you could play your claw all at once and steal the catch for yourself (Like Murkrow almost always tried to do), but Nickit preferred the long con. The trick was to draw it out until everymon else was high-strung and on their last strings, and you could be sure no-mon else could snipe you. Except that Murkrow had pitifully tried to play the long con once, and Nickit had still sniped him anyway.

    "Prepare to suffer," Murkrow suddenly stated; somehow smirking with a beak. "Weep at the sight of my great orange wings!" he slammed a card down on the table; face-up. Nickit looked at what it was.

    Moltres. Murkrow ruffled his feathers in smug satisfaction. Nickit almost snickered and let the jig up. He really thought that would save him.

    "But if I cry, you'll die," she told him.

    "Dying builds character."

    Nickit sniped him. Silvally. She had gotten the card during a random redraw of claws, and had been holding on to it for a moment exactly like this. Silvally was the most powerful card in the deck, after all (And the only way Murkrow had ever won against her).

    Murkrow breathed in deeply, then out again. Nickit could tell he was calming himself.

    "This always happens," he grumbled. Like a mannequin, his body began to stiffly reach for the empty card box.

    "You never try," Nickit drawled. "Always the same thing; every time. You're even beginning to bore me a little."

    "But no-mon else will play cards with you, so I guess you're stuck with boring old me," Murkrow said as he put them back in the box.

    "Ain't that a shame."

    Murkrow set the card box back in its place behind the chests of poke. "I assume our plans for tonight are still on?"

    "Duh. Spinda's?"

    "I was actually thinking of the place where they only serve vegetarian noodles."

    "You hate me."

    "You do not like noodles?"

    "…You know what? How does a bird even eat noodles?"

    "How does a fox eat noodles?"

    "From a plate. Your turn."

    "…Not very cleanly."

    "Alright. We'll go eat vegetarian noodles, and I will take embarrassing pictures of you eating on the expedition gadget."

    "-Spinda's is fine."

    A loud 'bang' from outside the door of the vault startled both Nickit and Murkrow. They quickly looked towards the door of the vault, as a series of clicks came from the outside and the large metal door slowly opened.

    "Somehow I knew I would find the two of you in here," Mawile stated aloofly as she walked in. she turned to Nickit; her hands formally clasped behind her back. "Your presence is urgently required in the main hallway, Nickit. That'll be all."

    And then she left.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "I had to tell him it was a poffin – and he was drunk enough to believe me – but I managed to knock him out with a sleep seed." Nickit, Mawile, Bunnelby, and Braixen all stood at the foot of the straw bed in Ampharos' vacant office, where Primarina currently lay. "He'll be like that until tomorrow," Nickit added. "Ooh, he's gonna feel bad tomorrow. But he'll sleep it off. Just don't give him any medicinal berries for the next couple of days and he'll be fine."

    "That doesn't look 'fine'." Braixen glanced over Primarina's comatose body anxiously. Nickit felt woozy for a minute just looking at him.

    "He'll be fine," Nickit snapped at him. "I'm the doctor."

    Braixen looked like he wanted to argue on that, but glanced at the other two pokemon in the room and decided against it. He silently bared his fangs at Nickit, then abruptly left.

    "…'Don't think I like him much," Bunnelby decided once Braixen was out of earshot.

    ~\({O})/~

    Wooloo Plains

    Espurr didn't know how she had managed to let this happen.

    Actually- scratch that; she did know. She was just in disbelief at the fact that it had happened in the first place.

    By using the exploration bag to catch the gadget's display as they walked, Espurr had been able to find a brief description of the mystery dungeon on the gadget's logs- Wooloo Plains had originally been a field of grasslands before a mystery dungeon had formed over it and tragically ensnared an entire flock of wooloo (who were now the dungeon's inhabitants) within it. Its placement blocked off the straightest line to and from Serenity Village, and even the beaten path gave it a wide berth.

    The dungeon itself was only about a fifteen-minute leisurely walk away from Serenity Village; however, and the two explorers had found Eevee waiting there for them outside the dungeon's entrance. She hastily explained to them that she was in a hurry and she wanted to have her money back by nightfall. Which didn't seem too hard, considering that it was still afternoon.

    The vast plains that stood before them had been barely recognizable as a mystery dungeon from a distance, but now that Espurr had seen it up close she could see it reflected in all the little things. The little bits and pieces that added up to tell you that the place was just wrong. She could even taste the tiniest hint of the mystery dungeon's foul scent on her tongue.

    However, Tricky was not disturbed by the dungeon's wrongness in the slightest, and Espurr was almost unwillingly pulled along into the dungeon before Eevee could even bid them good luck (Although it didn't seem like she was going to).

    "Aww, come on…" Tricky groaned once they had entirely combed the dungeon's first floor (There were three and the anchorstone; according to the expedition gadget). "Where are all the wooloo?!"

    Espurr said she'd rather they didn't run into the wooloo before they ran into the bag of poke. Which was fair.

    "Are they all sleeping?" Tricky whined; her cries reverberating through the dungeon's deserted second floor. "It's not even dark yet…"

    By the third floor she was just grumbling to herself. Espurr was overjoyed to find the bag of poke hanging from a low tree branch shaped like a hook. Perhaps they wouldn't even need to deal with the wooloo!

    "Tricky I can see the stairs from here," Espurr said; having stopped in front of an offhand dungeon corridor that Tricky had rocketed past without a second thought. The fennekin backtracked, glancing down the same corridor Espurr was.

    "Oh. There they are. Hah…"

    The anchorstone looked almost nothing like the rest of the dungeon. True to its name, it really was a large, rolling plain, with scattered trees all throughout. It looked from the inside just how Wooloo Plains had looked from the outside – breathtaking. Barren. Dead. Despite all appearances it was clear to Espurr that they were still in the mystery dungeon. And they still had no idea where all those wooloo were.

    Espurr glanced up at the sky. She looked at the position of the sun. It was… almost evening. Had they really spent that long in there? Even if they had combed all that ground… now that she thought about it, the journey had been longish and tiring. She even felt a bit fatigued all over.

    The same couldn't be said for Tricky.

    "How big is this place?" Tricky asked excitedly. "Ooooh- do you think the wooloo are here, Espurr?" she couldn't help but let her tail wag furiously in excitement. Espurr, however, had her sights set on a dead tree in the distance.

    "We can find out," she said, pointing straight at it.

    Tricky climbed the tree first. It took Espurr (who was carrying all the supplies and was a mite bit slower than Tricky) a minute, but eventually she managed to pull herself up into the barren canopy along with Tricky, who was glancing ahead astutely.

    "I don't see any…" Tricky murmured with disappointment. Espurr quickly crawled beside her and began to study the distance from the branch they were both current perched behind. If she squinted, it seemed like she could almost see the ethereal barriers of the anchorstone in the distance… but all those smaller branches were in the way. She could barely see over them all. She needed to get a little closer.

    Looking left and then right to make sure that nothing would take her by surprise, Espurr carefully began to crawl out onto the branch. The exploration bag she was wearing threw her off her balance a little, but she was quickly able to regain it. If only there weren't so many in the way… maybe she could break a few off.

    And then Tricky gasped.

    "Look!" she screeched, pointing with a paw in the direction opposite Espurr. "Wooloo!"

    Espurr could already feel the faint vibrations reverberating through the tree branch. She turned her head to look in the direction that Tricky was pointing, and then she saw it: An entire massive flock of wooloo, all charging as one directly in their direction.

    Berry crackers.

    Before Espurr knew it the stampede was upon them, and once they reached the tree the vibrations were so bad it was all Espurr could do to hang on for dear life. And then the exploration bag began to slip. No- no no no no-

    Espurr barely caught it just as it slipped off her arm. The bag hang from the tree unsteadily, suspended in midair only by Espurr's grip. Espurr glanced down at the stampeding wooloo below her, trying to pull the bag back up onto the branch. But it was so heavy now that it had both the expedition gadget and the sack of poke and all Gabite odd and ends inside it, and Espurr suddenly realized with horror that she was sliding off the branch instead-

    "Tricky- help!" Espurr called out, unwilling to sacrifice the bag but not wanting to fall either. Tricky snapped out of her amazed stupor to snap her head in Espurr's direction, but she was too slow- before Tricky could reach the tree branch, Espurr fell.

    She landed on the back of a wooloo in the middle of the herd. The exploration bag landed a second after her and smacked the wooloo in the face. It brayed loudly, losing control for a second and bumping into the wooloo to its left before steadying itself. Espurr quickly grabbed the straps of the exploration bag before it could fall off and dug her fingers into the wooloo's wool so she wouldn't slip off completely.

    The herd continued on without another care in the world at the same fur-rippling speeds they had been going at beforehand. Espurr used both the exploration bag and her grip on the wooloo's fluff to pull herself properly onto its back. She looked behind the wooloo, taking in all the others flocking in the same direction exactly behind it. There was no way out. She would just have to wait until the herd calmed down.

    And that was how Espurr ended up riding on the back of a stampeding herd of wooloo for all of half a minute. She had barely begun to catch her breath when she realized something was happening at the front of the flock- it looked like the wooloo at the very head of the herd was now… rolling. And then two. And then three. And then too many to count, all travelling through the herd… and down to her. Espurr's eyes widened. Could she just not catch a break?

    The expedition bag jostled a bit, and Espurr remembered it was still sort of lodged on the wooloo's head.

    That gave her an idea.

    Steadying herself on the wooloo's back, Espurr carefully nudged the bag over the wooloo's eyes. It brayed loudly again at the loss of its vision, but Espurr kept it steady. If the wooloo couldn't see what was happening in the flock ahead of it then it wouldn't roll itself up into a ball and crush her. That was what she was gambling on. It spread further and further down through the flock, until Espurr could see exactly what was happening in up-close detail. The wooloo's ears twitched. Espurr's eyes darted over to those, and then she grabbed them. The wooloo brayed perhaps the loudest Espurr had heard it yet, and then began to shake its head around wildly in an attempt to throw Espurr off.

    Espurr barely held on. And even then, it was by letting go of the creature's ears and hoping that its wool was a good enough cushion to catch her (It was). And then the wooloo shook off the expedition bag. It hit Espurr smack in the face, but she had more important things to worry about- it could see now! It was going to-

    And then Espurr's face suddenly ate dirt. It took her a moment to figure out what had happened, and in that time she was trampled by so many rolling wooloo she couldn't even hope to have counted them all.

    And for some reason, she wasn't dead. Espurr then realized- wooloo felt like the softest thing in the world! It was like being trampled by a herd of blankets, and she didn't feel crushed in the slightest. By the time Espurr had regained enough of her bearings and energy to even try moving again, the herd was past. She turned herself over in the soggy dirt, gasping for air. That had been the most… exhilarating moment of her life! (At least; as much as she could live in about a week, but still.)

    She was disturbed from her thoughts by a sudden chill that ran through the air. To her right, a massive wall of mist slowly encroached. It would have been breathtaking if it were only anywhere outside of a mystery dungeon, but Espurr wasn't going to fall for that. They were done here.

    The lengthy trudge back to the tree they had been both perched on took a full five minutes, and it was more than enough to fully calm Espurr down. Her breath no longer came back in shaky, ragged gasps, and her limbs weren't trembling from excitement anymore. She exhaled one final time as she glanced up at the tree, which was empty-

    "Espurr!"

    Tricky pounced on Espurr out of nowhere, knocking her to her side unceremoniously.

    "What happened to you?" Tricky asked. She looked like she was trying to keep up appearances for appearances' sake, but Espurr could tell she was shaken. "I was gonna go look, but I thought- I…"

    She shook her head. "…Nothing. Can we go now? I think I've seen enough wooloo for today…"

    "Agreed." Espurr nodded, then got to her feet. They both looked at the ominous wall of fog that currently loomed over them. "I think I saw the stairs in that direction."

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

    Eevee had definitely parted with a little less than half the bag of poke. However, Espurr didn't think it was worth haggling out and Tricky just plain hadn't noticed, so no other words were exchanged over it, and the mission was considered a success. Eevee had accompanied them back to Serenity Village (as she had been on her way there in the first place before losing her bag of money), but she was silent the entire way and wouldn't speak a word even though Tricky kept bugging her.

    The sky was already beginning to get dark by the time that they could see the wooden archway that stood above the village's entrance, but the village was already in full celebration mode. Colorful decorations hang from the houses, the streetlamps had been pre-emptively uncovered, and a large bonfire burned in the center of the plaza. The square was replete with pokemon who were talking with each other in groups, warming up by the bonfire, or eating something they had taken from one of the food tables. Some were even dancing. Espurr didn't think she had seen so many pokemon out and about in the village in… ever. She tried her best to shoulder the exploration bag (Which wasn't very easy when it was half as large as you were), feeling both the weight of the expedition gadget and the half-sack of poke rattling around in it.

    Kecleon's stall had been rolled back, and so had Hawlucha's Slam School. A trio of long, tree-carved tables had been set up all along the borders of the square, all filled to the brim with eateries of every kind. Espurr and Tricky both glanced longingly at all the food- they hadn't eaten since breakfast! Eevee just gave them a weird look, walked over to the bench, discreetly snagged a bread roll, and trotted off somewhere.

    The mud from Wooloo Plains had begun to clump up and stick to Espurr's coat, and it bugged her. She didn't want to be walking around town with unkempt fur in general, especially not like this! She'd have to wash it off in the river. Preferably before she ate anything. Espurr carefully removed the exploration bag from her shoulders, and handed it to Tricky.

    "Want to carry this for a while?" she asked.

    Like she suspected, Tricky was ecstatic at the prospect of carrying Gabite's old tattered bag for a while. But then she tilted her head in suspicion. "Where're you going?" she asked.

    "Elsewhere," Espurr quickly answered. "I want to go get cleaned up."

    ~\({O})/~​

    The luminous lights and the spiderweb of decorations that hang above extended all the way along the beaches to the shore, but there were few if any pokemon loitering about there at all. Fine by Espurr. She didn't want anymon gawking at her as she washed all this nasty mud off anyway.

    Tricky's scarf rustled against her neck, and then Espurr remembered it was there- she didn't want to ruin that. Undoing the tie and pulling it off, Espurr saw to her dismay that it had gotten dirtied just like the rest of her. She tried to brush the clumps of mud and dirt off, but to little avail. There were still small brown stains and clumps on the scarf by the time that she had accomplished all she could with her paws.

    Oh, well. Assuming Tricky didn't ask for it back, Espurr could deal with that later. There was probably a way to wash them. There had to be.

    The water of the shores was ice-cold to the touch, and it even made Espurr recoil the second she touched it. But it couldn't be helped. She needed to get cleaned up. She took a deep breath, made sure the scarf wouldn't blow off when she wasn't looking at it, and then she jumped into the water.

    The mud came off easily underwater, even if it left Espurr's coat of fur soaked. Espurr almost forgot about the need to breathe for a minute, but she was reminded once the instinct to breathe began to kick in and she quickly resurfaced without hesitation, pulling herself back onto the beach and shaking her body off the best she could.

    Maybe this had been a bad idea in hindsight. She felt freezing.

    "I didn't know cat pokemon liked water."

    Espurr gasped – actually gasped. Her head snapped in the direction the voice had come from. Deerling sat next to a few wooden crates that had been hastily lopped just out of the reach of the tides. Espurr straightened up immediately.

    "W-what are you doing here?" she asked, trying to recover from the shock of being startled.

    "Stargazing," Deerling replied. After Espurr's glance made it clear that she wasn't satisfied, Deerling continued: "Really I just wanted to get away from the party for a bit. You can only get hit on by Pancham so many times before you want to bash his head in with your own hooves… he didn't follow you here, right?"

    Espurr quickly checked to make sure that Pancham indeed hadn't followed her, then shook her head no.

    Deerling relaxed. "That's good, then. What about you? I don't see Tricky anywhere."

    "Tricky's off eating," Espurr said.

    "Somehow that doesn't surprise me." Deerling toyed with a large splinter in the box she was leaning forward on. She looked Espurr's soggy coat up and down uneasily. "Did you go exploring again?"

    Espurr didn't see the point in lying. She causally nodded yes. Deerling's face sunk.

    "You're… not being careful, are you?" she asked. "Tricky's rubbing off on you."

    Espurr realized she didn't have a counter for that. Mostly because she had realized she couldn't deny it. And she didn't like the direction this conversation was going. "Perhaps… mystery dungeons are just dangerous," she improvised. "You come out of one squeaky clean and then talk to me."

    Deerling sighed. "You're new. You probably don't know what hap-"

    "Tricky told me already," Espurr interrupted. Deerling was silent for a moment; trying to process it all.

    "I just…" Deerling paused, taking a deep breath. "I just don't want to see another Budew. I don't want to see another pokemon get hurt. You might thinkTricky learns from her mistakes but she doesn't. She always falls back into them. You're just going to get hurt. Please sto-"

    "I'll do what I want; thank you," Espurr said, and then she snatched Tricky's scarf from off the sand and briskly walked off. Away from the beach. Away from Deerling. Back into the light. Back into the noise. She still felt cold. Maybe she could sit by the bonfire and warm up as she ate something. Espurr carefully retied the scarf around her neck so that she wouldn't lose it somewhere.

    The pot of that soup that had smelled oh-so-heavenly earlier that morning sat on the middle table, and there was a makeshift set of stairs made out of a few boxes for pokemon too small to see over the top of the pot. Espurr carefully climbed to the top of the staircase and ladled herself some into one of the remaining wooden bowls that sat idly by the wayside.

    "No! You will NOT eat like a dungeon feral in front of all these pokemon!"

    "Buff Popff…"

    "No buts! We practice manners here! You can eat like a civilized pokemon, or not at all!"

    Espurr looked to her right, where Tricky and Carracosta were in the middle of a heated argument with each other (that was quickly turning into a lecture from Carracosta). By the time Espurr had managed to successfully transport herself and the bowl of soup off the makeshift crate staircase, Tricky looked like she had had enough of Carracosta's lecturing for the time being. Espurr didn't hear exactly what went on between them (Carracosta had made sure to lower his voice after the initial outburst), but she saw Tricky trot off in the opposite direction, and then Carracosta began to trudge in Espurr's.

    "Espurr," he grunted in brief greeting as he passed her. Espurr watched him as he went. Yet another draft of summer evening breeze blowing through the square reminded her that her coat was still a bit damp. She needed to warm up. Taking a sip from the bowl (It tasted just as good as it had smelled), she began to walk towards the bonfire, looking for an unoccupied place she could sit. In the distance, Carracosta was talking to Nuzleaf, who seemed to be as far away from the fire as he could get, and Espurr couldn't see Tricky.

    There was a spot on that currently empty log by the fire. Espurr quickly made a beeline for it, making sure to edge far in enough so that she couldn't see Nuzleaf or Carracosta anymore. And then, for the first time that day, Espurr relaxed. She took another sip of the soup. Somehow she had forgotten how pleasant it was to just 'sit' every once in a while, instead of trying to keep up with the world constantly. She could already feel the effects of the fire warming away the moisture on her coat. It was even a bit too toasty, now that she thought about it. Maybe there was a way to move this log out-

    "Epferr there you are!" Tricky quickly trotted up to the log, an entire piece of a goose hanging from her mouth. She passed the log, curling up nearer to the fire than Espurr thought was safe for anymon and letting the goose piece fall to the ground in front of her. "I feel like I haven't eaten all day…" she proclaimed to no-mon in particular. Espurr felt the same way (And in a way it was true), but she was too busy drinking soup from the bowl to answer her. Tricky quickly did a perimeter check to make sure that Carracosta couldn't see her, then proceeded to tear into the piece of goose with a ferocity that would have scared off a dungeon 'mon.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The sky got darker, and the lights of Serenity Village shined brighter; long into the night. The bonfire was continuously fed and controlled so that it wouldn't burn out or burn down the town, and Espurr and Tricky were able to eat their fills from the various foods and drinks that had been laid out by both Carracosta, Nuzleaf, and Kangaskan's crew (Who were the only pokemon in the village with a lick of cooking sense; Espurr found out from a random liepard on an off-chance).

    Sometime after the sky had fallen, four or five pokemon walked out into the square and began to play lively music for the inhabitants of the village. Some pokemon danced. Others ate. Still others loitered. A good few were holding conversations that quickly turned into yelling conversations against the music (And the music was beginning to win).

    Eventually more and more pokemon began to dance, and even though Tricky thought it looked fun and wanted Espurr as a partner to join, Espurr could barely stand straight at that point. As fun as this had been, she wanted to rest now. She told Tricky as much, and went to grab the exploration bag that had been ignored next to the table where Tricky had left it.

    On her way out of the square Espurr and Tricky managed to cross paths with Deerling once more. Deerling said nothing, simply taking in the two of them condescendingly, and then she walked off.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "I mean, what's her deal?!" Tricky spat as she followed Espurr up through towards the school. "Why does she hate us so much?"

    The school looked just as deserted as it had this morning. Not even the lights in the School Clinic had been uncovered, and under the shade of night the entire school looked almost as creepy as the Ancient Barrow. Not that Espurr cared much. She just wanted to make it indoors at this point.

    "So anyways," Tricky continued, as oblivious as ever. "Where d'you wanna go tomorrow? We can "

    "Tricky…" Espurr wearily attempted to interrupt. She was ignored.

    "Ooh- I've got this place- You're gonna love it-"

    "Tricky!" Espurr half-yelled.

    "What?" Tricky came to a stop; genuinely confused.

    "I just want to go to sleep," Espurr mumbled, trying not to make it sound like she was on the verge of collapse. "Please."

    "Oh," Tricky muttered, backing off a bit. "You could've just said."

    Behind them, a light went out. Both Espurr and Tricky looked back at the sudden loss of light. The bonfire in the middle of the square had been extinguished, and the sounds of lively dancing music no longer drifted out from the square. The party was over.

    "…I better go," Tricky said after a minute. "Pops probably wants me to help with the food pack-up. Night Espurr!"

    And with that, she scurried off down the pathway, heading down the square with enough energy packed away that one would almost believe she hadn't been doing cartwheels in mystery dungeons the entire day. Espurr tried to return the favor by waving back, but Tricky didn't see it.

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Nighttime

    The celebrations in Lively Town were quieter this year. There hadn't been a parade or festivities of any sort, and for the most part Lively Town was looking particularly unlively tonight. Normally, the Expedition Society would have had fireworks imported from the Grass Continent to fire, but there had been a shipping delay and they hadn't arrived in time. The great big double doors of the Expedition Society's lobby closed after Murkrow and Nickit, and then Mawile had the base to herself.

    Mostly to herself. She caught a glimpse of Braixen uneasily pacing outside Ampharos' office as she passed the hallway leading to it. She rubbed her forehead for a second to clear the sudden head rush, then left him alone. It looked like he needed some time to calm down, after all. Mawile walked over to the stairs that led to the third-floor observatory, and swiftly climbed them.

    ~\({O})/~​

    A gong crashed, unceremoniously rousing Jirachi from his sleep.

    "Wha- wha…" he sleepily asked. "…Wha?"

    "I assume you haven't talked to Nickit about replenishing that remedy yet?" Mawile asked, carefully setting the large gong-stick under the gong.

    "…Yeah," Jirachi answered once he had assembled enough of his brain to do so. "I'll go talk to her later…" He yawned and stretched. "…Was gonna do it yesterday, but I fell asleep."

    The observatory was currently a tangled mess of clotheslines that were empty and looked like a spiderweb. "Don't touch anything!" Jirachi called down to Mawile as he zipped up through the observatory to places only he could reach. "I know it looks like a mess, but I have a system!"

    Any efficient system didn't entail covering the entire observatory in a mess so tangled even Jirachi had to jump hoops to navigate it, but Mawile wisely kept that to herself. Less than a moment later, Jirachi emerged once again from behind the brass telescope, descending to the ground with a few photos in his hands.

    "See?" he asked. Newest photos up where no-mon'll see 'em, oldest ones near the bottom. And this is what I got. For now," he quickly added on at the last second. "Printer's still scanning the rest."

    Mawile took the photos in her hands, and leafed through them. There were only twenty so far; out of the combined fifty that she and Archen had took together. Some general shots of the devastation, a few shots of petrified pokemon up-close; but the last one was what caught Mawile's attention: A picture of the entity that had attacked them that day. It wasn't the main focus, but a good portion of its body was in the photo. Mawile held the photo up in front of her, and studied it closely. She clutched that one in her right hand, handing the others back to Jirachi.

    "I'll be keeping this one," she told him. Jirachi looked slightly hesitant, but what was he going to say? He just nodded and flew off to re-hang the photos before they could be lost.

    Mawile entered her office (library), the photo still in her hands. Outside, she could hear Braixen endlessly pacing, but if that was how he wanted to spend his holiday then so be it. Mawile reached in her drawer and pulled out a chesto berry. She could subsist on one period of sleep a week after all. Tonight, she had research to do.

    ~\({O})/~

    Open Pass

    Audino was aware of the fact that for all intents and purposes; she was a prisoner.

    She had been left the exploration bag once the beheeyem had gone through it and realized it was filled with nothing but harmless plants, but that was the only illusion of freedom that she got. She was made to walk ahead of the beheeyem as they made their way through the dungeon, with her hands clasped behind her back so that she wouldn't try to attack them out of nowhere. It just so happened that the beheeyem had already found the dungeon's third floor staircase – the real third floor staircase – which had crunched the time she had to come up with an escape plan of some sort by half. By now she was leading them around in circles and hoping they wouldn't notice as she looked for a chance to break away and run to where she knew the stairs out of the dungeon were.

    The beheeyem's lights flickered behind her as she walked. Audino focused on them discreetly. The beheeyem had forgotten to close the psychic link to her brain. Which left her just as open to attack as it left them open to her spying efforts, but they didn't seem to realize it existed so Audino made no effort to clue them in on it. Instead, she focused on what they were saying; her mind unconsciously translating it into a mental imprint upon her brain whenever the lights on the end of their arms began to flicker again.

    And what they were saying didn't put her any more at ease. They were getting tired of her leading. They were beginning to catch on to the fact that she was leading them around in circles. They were beginning to consider the idea of disposing of her. Audino very much didn't like the sound of those thoughts. She would have quickened her pace towards the stairs or possibly tried to make a run for it in any other situation, but with the mental link open it was too risky. From what she knew of psychic-types; a powerful-enough one coupled to your mind would be able to lock up your body in seconds. She'd never make it far; once they realized.

    And then, a plan began to form. She'd have to break the mental link before they came around to the stairs again. Otherwise, she was done for.

    Audino didn't expect the beheeyem to do it for her- even if she was crafty enough with words to convince them, she got the feeling they weren't open to talking. But she had read in a book she'd picked out from the library several months ago about a technique that helped the mind repel psychic-type pokemon. Calm Mind; it was called. And so; taking the utmost care to keep her pace across the dungeon floor steady, Audino closed her eyes, and tried her best to clear her head.

    Psychic-type meddling reveled in a cluttered head, because the mental probes of a psychic-type could easily slip in unnoticed amongst the thoughts and noise. Calm Mind trained a pokemon to clear their head; to make the brain silent enough so that those psychic probes had nowhere to hide. And then the pokemon could snuff them out.

    Unluckily, Audino had never been good at clearing her head. And she was on a time limit. She didn't think that the beheeyem would tolerate another round of the dungeon. She tried and tried; but to no avail- the thoughts of all the danger she was in weighed over her mind like an immovable wall, and she just couldn't make it disappear. Audino began to breath faster in fear despite herself. How was she going to get out of this?

    No. She had to calm down if she wanted to maintain any hope of escaping. Surely there must be something else she could try. Audino adjusted the bag strap on her shoulder, and she suddenly felt the mental link in her head spike as one of the beheeyem snapped its head towards the movement. It faded almost as quickly as it came, but it gave Audino an idea. Slowly, Audino rustled the bag on her shoulder again. It was meant to look like she was uncomfortable with the strap on her shoulders, but if she could just locate that mind link again…

    The mental spike came again, and this time Audino jumped on the opportunity. She couldn't clear her mind well enough to locate the psychic link on her own, but now that it had been brought to the forefront of her mind Audino quickly focused on that, and that alone; like it was her one chance at survival (Because it was). Within seconds, she had it in her mental grasp. But now what?

    Audino kept her eyes closed, focusing on the link alone. How did she get rid of it? Could she cast it out with her mind alone? Audino doubted that was possible. Her feet stepped on a familiar twig, and without opening her eyes Audino knew that the stairs were coming up just ahead. How was she going to get rid of the mental link in time? She needed to get it out somehow. She wished she could just get rid of it-

    -And then suddenly, it was gone. Audino opened her eyes once again. The lights of the beheeyem flashed, but she didn't understand them. The link was gone. She had done it. But there was no time nor cause to celebrate yet. She was still in danger. Audino cast her eyes towards the hallway in which she knew the staircase lay. It was a long corridor, and she needed to be ready to move at a seconds' notice.

    A minute of walking passed, in which Audino felt like her heart might explode. She was sure that any second, the beheeyem might catch on to her and then she'd be done for. But it was just a little further. Just a little further, and then she'd be ready. Just a few more seconds…

    Audino stopped at the corridor she had seen the stairs in. It was now or never. She just had to hope that the staircase wasn't another illusion, and take a leap of faith. Audino made to turn towards the right-hand corridor, then in one fluid motion pulled the exploration bag off her shoulder and whacked the beheeyem nearest to her with it straight in the grills. Caught purely off-guard, the beheeyem stumbled backwards into its companions, and Audino immediately began to run for it.

    The wind whistled against her sensitive ears. Leaves rustled and sticks snapped under her feet. The exploration bag was carried less by Audino's arm and more by the air. Audino heard the attack the beheeyem fired, and there was no way to dodge it. She just had to reach the staircase first-

    -Audino didn't know which had happened first. Perhaps they had both happened at the same time. But somehow, Audino had found herself deposited on her back outside the Open Pass, completely untouched. And if she remembered mystery dungeons, that staircase had moved, so the beheeyem weren't following her anytime soon. She took a moment to calm down, then grabbed her bag and began to exhaust the rest of her energy generating a Quick Attack back to Serenity Village. There was no need to waste her head start on them.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

    By the time that Audino finally staggered into the clinic, Espurr was already fast asleep in one of the straw beds. Not even bothering to close the door behind her, she let the exploration bag she had been carrying for the entire trip fall to her feet haphazardly. It hit the floor with a muffled 'thwip', but Audino barely cared anymore. She still couldn't believe that she had made it out of that dungeon safely.

    As she trudged off to her room Audino's ears suddenly picked up on the sound of somemon rushing towards the clinic. She spun around just as Watchog slid to a stop in front of the entrance.

    "Hey; what's the-" Watchog stopped short at the sight of Audino. "W- what happened to you?!" he sputtered.

    Audino didn't have the energy left to answer him.

    ~\({O})/~

    Principal's Office

    The torches in the Principal's Office were never lit after dark except in the case of an emergency; because the Principal's Office was never occupied after dark except in the case of an emergency.

    The torches were lit. All three of the on-campus teachers had gathered in the room after Audino had been given a chance to clean herself up. She sat in the stoll in front of the teacher's desk, looking over a short pile of Water Continent outlaw posters.

    "And you're absolutely sure these are the same beheeyem?" Simipour asked. "Are you certain we aren't dealing with different outlaws of the same species?"

    "They wanted Espurr," Audino stressed. "They said it to my face. Why wouldn't they be the same beheeyem?"

    Simipour sighed thoughtfully. He rose from his seat and walked up to the window. A moment later, he spoke:

    "I understand you have a house near the center of the village?" he asked.

    "Yes; for emergencies," Audino responded.

    "Consider this an emergency." Simipour walked back to the desk. He grabbed a sharpened stick, dabbled it in the inkwell for a moment, then drew a straight line from the Open Pass all the way to the School Forest. "The school grounds are no longer safe for either of you. It is my opinion the beheeyem latched onto you because they saw you with Espurr. That puts you in as much danger as Espurr currently is."

    "And I'm just fine in this?" Watchog asked; his voice beginning to squeak a little. "I'm guarding the bloody school- I don't want these things coming after me!"

    "I'm afraid they don't want you," Simipour told him. He rolled up the map, and stashed it with two others next to his desk.

    "I'll have to ask you that you pack up and move first thing in the morning," he said to Audino on the way out. "As I'm sure you've figured out by now; time is of the essence."

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    The Dance - Bear McCreary

    Travel Delays - Alan Silvestri
     
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    Chapter Eleven - The Dungeon Runners, Part I
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    11.

    The Dungeon Runners, Pt. I

    ~\({O})/~

    Principal's Office

    ~Artemis~

    Everything felt cold. For once, Artemis didn't feel like bouncing off the walls or sneaking out after school to explore mystery dungeons.

    She sat on the floor of the principal's office, still slightly shivering all over. Not from the cold – she was cold, but that wasn't why – but from the events of the day. In the other room, Pops was talking with the principal. Even though the door was closed, she could still hear their hushed voices. They were talking about her. They were talking about what to do with her, now that she had killed Budew.

    Now that she was a murderer.

    She should have been crying. She should have been doing something, now that her friend was dead. But she felt nothing. There wasn't even anger, just… nothing. Just… sadness. Crushing her inside. And nothing to do but wait for Pops and the Principal to finish talking and think about what she had done.

    Her ears pricked up as the sound of a stool sliding back came from inside the Principal's office, and then the door slowly opened. Pops trudged out, followed by the Principal. Artemis did her best to make it look like she cared what their decision was anymore. If she was going to spend the rest of her life locked up in an apricorn ball, she probably deserved it.

    Pops sighed. He looked at Artemis, and his eyes did the talking for him: "Why?"

    "As you know," Simipour began, "the penalty for killing another pokemon is lifelong imprisonment via apricorn ball, regardless of age. Effective only when undeniable proof of the murder has been presented… or if the pokemon accused confesses to it."

    Simipour walked forward, and sat on the bed next to Artemis.

    "This will hurt, but that is why I have to ask: Did you murder Budew?"

    Artemis had known the question was coming from the moment Pops had dragged her to the Principal's Office, but she wasn't prepared for it. Her body locked up, and even though she knew that she was guilty, that she deserved to go in that apricorn ball for the rest of her life, she was so scared and she couldn't bring herself to say it…

    "N-no", she managed to stammer out, quivering all over. She felt like the world's worst pokemon ever.

    There was silence as Simipour thought for a moment. Then he cleared his throat.

    "I don't wish to see two students of this school be lost to unfortunate circumstance," he spoke. "And you and Budew were the victims of unfortunate circumstance. Budew went into a mystery dungeon. Budew never came out. Artemis refuses blame, and there is no evidence to convict her. The only entity that can be blamed is the mystery dungeon. No-mon here is a murderer."

    For a brief moment, there was silence between all three of them. Artemis just felt cold. Nothing but cold.

    Then Pops began to trudge towards the door, motioning for Artemis to follow him.

    "No more mystery dungeons," Pops muttered as he walked out the door after Tricky.


    "Never go into one again."

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    "Faster! Faster, I beseech ye!"

    Ponyta charged through the dungeon as fast as he could, as well as he could with a crazed psyduck riding upon his back. He was quite mortified, really, but what could he do? The psyduck had threatened to light his tail on fire if he stopped even for a moment. He wasn't that kind of ponyta!

    "I implore you to stop," Ponyta gasped out, his hoofbeats already beginning to feel heavy under him. But nay, the psyduck paid no mind of Ponyta's woes. A bag of rocks in a sack swung from psyduck's side, and insanely he did laugh as he scooped them out of his bag and pelted them at the nearby dungeon ferals (who all ran off the moment they heard the ponyta's approaching hoofbeats and the psyduck's howls and hoots of laughter, wary of the rider's insanity).

    Ponyta's ears lowered as he ran. Why had it been he entrusted with looking after the Human? Of all the ponyta in his vast tribe, why him? Why did he need to suffer under this vile psyduck's mis-care? Ponyta reckoned he could do a better job of preventing whatever disaster was about to strike the world better than this psyduck ever could.

    "Onwards!" Psyduck yelled. Ponyta looked ahead, and then realized he was charging right towards the dungeon stairs. "Steady now Ponyta. This may be our most fearsome enemy yet!"
    "Yes," Ponyta sighed, if only to accommodate Psyduck and get them both out of this vile dungeon faster. "They might be giants."

    It was the end of the prologue. Espurr turned the page of 'The Adventures of an Intrepid Psyduck (And his Ponyta Escort)', reaching the header for 'Chapter One' on the next page. Technically it was Audino's book, but… Espurr cast a glance towards Audino, who had long since collapsed in her straw bed without even closing the door to the back room behind her. As long as she didn't disturb the bookmark, Espurr didn't think Audino would even notice.

    "Chapter One: A-"

    A sudden muffled banging from the windowpanes caught Espurr's attention once again. Espurr didn't think she had to hazard much of a guess at who that was.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Are you just gonna read all day if I don't come get you?" Tricky asked as she and Espurr walked down the pathway leading to Serenity Village. "We're part of a mystery dungeon team! We have responsibilities now!"

    "But we haven't even registered as a team yet," Espurr pointed out, shouldering the exploration bag she had taken to carrying around with her. "So technically we have no responsibilities at all. We should spend the day doing tha-"

    "Good point. I have something better than a dungeon!" Tricky gleefully announced. With that, she began to prance down the path faster than Espurr could keep up with her, and she was almost the entire way downhill before she noticed Espurr was lagging behind.

    "Come on!" she yelled back at Espurr. "We'll never reach it at this rate!"

    ~\({O})/~​

    Tricky guided Espurr through the village plaza (Which was almost completely deserted after last night's party), and down southward, until the buildings began to disappear in place of lush scenery, rivers, and foliage. Espurr had been here before. It was the same route she had taken back on Wednesday. And that meant…

    When they passed the villa Espurr briefly stopped to study it. It stood proudly like the dark pillar of evil it was, its doors boarded over with rotting wood like they always had been (until they weren't). Espurr wondered if it had any of its tricks ready today. Or if they even were tricks at all.

    Tricky backtracked over to where Espurr stood, staring at the Ancient Barrow as well.

    "…No-mon goes in there," she said. "Ever. I don't like that place."

    Espurr agreed.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    The grove of trees stood before Espurr and Tricky, the remains of Pancham and Shelmet's treehouse still hanging from its branches and littering the grass around it. They were a ways out from the village, so much so that the buildings were only tiny specks in the distance and could fit in Espurr's palm if she held it out in front of her.

    "It was Pancham and Shelmet's work," Tricky spat, staring up at the wreckage from below. "But I was thinking- what if we had a team base? Like a treehouse or something? All the great teams had one, and this place is perfect!"

    Espurr looked up at the trees, observing their branches. It was true that the placement of the branches made for a very promising treehouse… but the materials Pancham and Shelmet had apparently used were less than ideal. There was even a scrap of paper in there somewhere. Which begged the question: How were they going to build a treehouse if they had nothing to build it with?"

    "…Maybe we should just stick to exploring for now," she told Tricky. "It's not like we have to build it today, right?"

    Tricky's face slowly fell.

    "I guess you're right…" she said. "I still call dibs on this spot though."

    Luckily for the both of them, Espurr had had the foresight to grab Gabite's expedition bag, which still had their expedition gadget, the sack of poke, and miscellaneous other odds and ends that hadn't rotted away with the rest of Gabite's supplies. Espurr and Tricky made haste to dispose of a few rotting berry husks that had somehow made it all the back to Serenity Village, then pulled out the expedition gadget and activated it. Espurr set it up so that it projected its display onto the shaded trunk of the tree, and then they sat down in the tree's shade to study the gadget's offerings.

    There were quite a few missions up for offer around the Serenity Village area, it seemed. Somemon wanted a rescue team to accompany them to the Foreboding Forest and help them evolve, there was a mission to prosecute a salamence who was currently camping out in the Lush Forest, and a cinccino had even lost an entire exploration bag in the Lively Mountain Range and would pay dearly to get it back. Espurr looked up at the large mountains that loomed over Serenity Village in the distance (more specifically, at the one that stood above the others like an arrow). That was way out of their bounds. Anyway, the mission was crossed off, so it must have been taken already.

    In the corner at the bottom, Espurr spied something that didn't quite look like the other missions. It wasn't displayed in big text like the missions were, so she crept as close as she could without getting in the way of the light. It was futile. She still couldn't read it. Frustration began to stew in Espurr's head. This gadget had been hard enough to set up in the light. How did anymon work with this thing!?

    There had to be a way. There just had to. Maybe one of these buttons… Sparing a brief glance at Tricky, Espurr crawled over to the expedition gadget, and pressed the button closest to her. The display dimmed. Tricky suddenly looked up, as if roused from a trance.

    "What're you doing?" she muttered, a little bit annoyed.

    "Making it bigger," Espurr responded. Then she clicked the button above it, and the display disappeared entirely.

    Tricky sat up straight. "What did you do?" she asked, horrified. Espurr hurriedly clicked the button again, and the display returned to the screen.

    "One of these makes it bigger," Espurr announced with utmost confidence. "We have to figure out how to use it eventually."

    "But now?" Tricky whined. "What if you break it?"

    "You can't break something by pressing a button," Espurr pointed out. She clicked the blue one, and suddenly the gadget produced a loud 'click' that startled both Trick and Espurr and sent them both scrambling back a little. The gadget fell on its face, and then it was silent.

    Espurr and Tricky shared a look. Slowly, they crawled back to where the gadget sat. Espurr carefully sat it up straight again.

    "What was that?" Tricky finally broke the silence between them.

    Espurr had no clue. The display was back, but after that she wasn't very inclined to touch the gadget again.

    "…I have no idea," she said.

    ~\({O})/~​

    It had been an hour. One hour since Espurr and Tricky had decided to bench missions for the day. After the incident involving the expedition gadget neither of them had wanted to touch it again, so they had both mutually agreed to put it away for the day.

    They both sat on opposite sides of one of the log benches from last night that still sat in the middle of the square. The square was filled with pokemon (as usual), but they avoided the area where the bonfire had once been, which left a nice cozy space for Espurr and Tricky to sit until somemon came to pick up the logs and wash away all the remains of the fire.

    And for the first time since arriving in Serenity Village, Espurr felt boredom. There had always been too much to do and not enough time to do it in, and then all of the sudden there was nothing to do and all the time in the world to do nothing with… it was grating.

    "Are you bored?" she asked Tricky.

    "Yep," Tricky lazily answered back.

    They sat in silence for a minute.

    "…Think we should do a mission?" Espurr finally asked.

    "I thought you were never gonna ask that!"

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Eevee~

    A pebble whizzed through the air and clipped the tip of Eevee's ear. She flinched and grit her teeth. Stupid darn wind… And even stupider floppy long ears. Debris was always getting caught in those things. And she worked in lumber. The noisiest pokemon profession in the world. In other words, a pokemon with ears as big as hers was bound to go death sooner or later. If not from those pebbles – ow, another one – it would be just from hearing things. Oh, she couldn't wait to evolve (preferably into something with smaller ears).

    "Oi," Eevee called out, walking up to the fletchinder that had currently taken a seat off the left of an obscure, strange-looking tent marked 'Hawlucha's Slam School'. "You that 'mon from the construction company?"

    Fletchinder looked up from the leaf-full of seeds and berries he had his beak halfway dug into, staring up at Eevee.

    "Yeah, that's me," he said once he had swallowed all the seeds in his beak. "And you are… ?"

    "Eevee to you. I'm representing Lively Town Lumber." Eevee held out her paw to shake the best she could. Fletchinder carefully set his leaf of seeds and berries aside, then shook Eevee's paw the best he could with a wing (Which wasn't very well at all). Both pokemon awkwardly retracted their limbs and backed off for a second.

    "So…" Fletchinder began. "I assume this has something to do with why the lumber for that classroom hasn't arrived yet?"

    Whizz- crack. Another pebble. Eevee lowered her right ear annoyedly, then cleared her throat. "Alright, so technically I'm supposed to be all formal about this, but I'm tired, you're probably tired, so I'm gonna give it to you straight: Big storm last week. Lumber from Grass Continent. Barge sank. Lapras barely got everymon out of it safely. Lumber shortage. No lumber."

    Fletchinder sighed, and covered his face with his wing. "…And how long until lumber becomes available again?" he asked.

    "This week," Eevee answered. With great difficulty she managed to work her four-legged-friendly bag over to where she could remove the sack that was in it, then set it on the ground in front of Fletchinder. "There's a fraxure travelling into town on Thursday. He has the last supply of lumber south of the Lively Mountain Range. On behalf of Lively Town Lumber, I'm here to provide you with the necessary funds for purchase…" she paused for a moment. She still couldn't believe what she had been told to say next. "…And help you pay for it myself."

    Another pebble whizzed through the air, clipping both Eevee's ears. That one was too large to have just been propelled by the wind. "Alright, who's throwing those pebbles?!" Eevee yelled in the direction the pebble had come from.

    Realizing he had been caught, Pancham quickly dove back behind the back of the Café Connection with his slingshot in hand. He was gone before Eevee could even get a good look at him.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    "But… aren't you just kids?" Teddiursa asked in confusion. "I appreciate the gesture… but I kind of wanted a real rescue team to help me out with this."

    "We are a real rescue team!" Tricky gleefully announced. Espurr showed them the expedition gadget as proof.

    "We're here because of the mission you posted," she said, letting the gadget project the mission straight onto the ground.

    "Huh." Teddiursa looked at the sigil on the gadget skeptically. "I didn't know they let kids join the Expedition Society."

    "They don-"

    "-If we want to make it through Foreboding Forest before dark, it's best to leave now," Espurr cut in before Tricky could finish her sentence. It had taken them a good hour to find Teddiursa in the first place, and the afternoon was already beginning to fade. "Unless you don't want our help?"

    Teddiursa seemed to actually consider that question for a moment. "…I guess if you have the gear…" she finally concluded. "…Alright, fine. Let's do this. Just… please don't make me regret saying that."

    ~\({O})/~​

    Now that Espurr thought about it, Foreboding Forest wasn't all that foreboding after all. It was run-of-the-mill mystery dungeon, after all. And even though there were actual floors this time instead of just the one solitary anchorstone, Espurr found that she and Tricky had little to no trouble traversing the dungeon's insides. In fact, it was just a little too easy. There were no dungeon ferals out and about like Espurr had hoped there would be, which left her and Tricky at a loss. How were they supposed to help Teddiursa evolve if there wasn't anything to beat up?

    "Oh, pokemon don't have to evolve during battles," Teddiursa quickly said once Espurr brought it up. "You just… really have to want it. And your body has to be ready for it. Me? I've been training for months. I want this so badly. Hoping beating up some dungeon thugs'll finally let me get it."

    "Why don't we just make some noise?" Tricky asked.

    Then, halfway through the dungeon, they took a short break to rest. Espurr had not properly gone through Gabite's supplies ever since she'd swiped the bag from that cursed mystery dungeon. Inside, she found a couple of very peculiar sticks with intricate markings etched onto their sides. It looked like somemon had worked hard on those. But they had been rotting away in a dungeon for about forty years, and Espurr doubted anymon cared anymore.

    "Hey, Tricky?" she asked.

    Tricky quickly looked towards Espurr.

    "Can you light this on fire for me?"

    Tricky's face lit up. She gleefully grinned and nodded. "Tell me when you're ready!"

    Teddiursa, who had been in the middle of eating a quick lunch she had packed for the dungeon, looked up at what Espurr and Tricky were about to do. Her eyes settled upon the stick that Espurr held high above her head. Then they widened.

    "Wait NO-"

    Too late. Tricky took a deep breath, and then spat out an ember that caught the top of the stick perfectly-

    -It burst into bright green flame at the top, burning brightly enough to illuminate the entire room they were in.

    "Put that out!" Teddiursa cried.

    "Why?" Espurr tilted her head in confusion.

    "Yeah, why?" Tricky echoed.

    "That's not a stick!" Teddiursa continued. "That's a-"

    Then the stick began to fizz. Then it popped. Sparks flew everywhere like it was the bonfire back at the Deerling Day festival, and then the stick exploded. Teddiursa took cover. Some of the fire caught Tricky's tail as she ran, but her fur was immune to burning. Espurr was thrown back by the blast. She landed by the dungeon wall, rolling to a stop.

    Espurr carefully caught her breath. Most of the fur on her arm had been singed, and her paw stung like something vile. The smell of burning plant drifted by Espurr's nose, and she quickly looked up from where she had been thrown to see that some of the sparks from the exploding stick hand landed on the dungeon and caught fire.

    Espurr began to panic. What was going to happen if the mystery dungeon burned down while they were in it? She… she didn't have an answer. And that scared her. Forgetting the stinging from her hand, she immediately leapt up from her spot on the ground and got to snuffing out the fires the best she could.

    "Help me!" Espurr yelled to Tricky, who was still cowering by Gabite's exploration bag. Tricky peeked out from behind the bag, and saw the fires. Her ears flattened in panic.

    "What do we do?" she asked.

    "Help me stamp them out!" Espurr yelled back.

    "I… I…" Tricky glanced around in panic for a few seconds at the fires that were rapidly catching onto the shrubbery on the ground, then tried leaping straight into one of the larger flames in front of her. "Ow-ow-ow-ow-ow!" she gasped, leaping off the flame just a few seconds later. "That hurts!"

    Espurr wasn't having any luck at all quelling the flames that were getting larger by the second. Teddiursa was petrified, and could only take a few shaky steps back as the flames spread.

    And then everymon went quiet as a low roar began to rumble through the dungeon. It got higher and higher, until an ear wrenching high-pitched shriek wreaked havoc on the false canopy above them. A strong wind suddenly ricocheted through the dungeon's corridors, and once it reached them it blew all three pokemon off their feet. It was strong enough to snuff out all the fires, and then only the acrid smell of burning plant and mystery dungeon greeted Espurr's nose as the dungeon's screech died down.

    Espurr pulled herself off the ground once again, not met with the sight of orange flickering flames but instead with blackened shrubbery and the dim blue light that filtered in from the false canopy above.

    Teddiursa got her feet and checked her coat for dirt and plants. "I can't believe you guys—" she brushed some grass off her arm "—lit a wand on fire! You nearly killed us!"

    Espurr didn't know what a 'wand' was.

    "Look." Teddiursa looked shaken. "The mood's gone. I'm not gonna evolve today, thanks for that. Let's just get out of this place-"

    -She was interrupted by the echoes of countless loud snarls and barks from the distant halls. Everymon fell silent, listening to the noise and trying to figure out where it was coming from. It sounded like it was coming from everywhere all at once. Tricky's ears went flat against her head.

    "Dungeon 'mon," Espurr said.

    Those two words sent everymon into a frenzy. Teddiursa grabbed the unused wand. Espurr ran for and grabbed Gabite's exploration bag. Tricky ran over to Espurr, and all three pokemon quickly grouped together in the center of the room.

    "How many is that?" Teddiursa loudly asked, brandishing that stick like a weapon. Espurr didn't know. She could barely hear Teddiursa over all the dungeon ferals' howls and screeches; let alone tell how many there were past 'a lot'.

    And they were coming from everywhere.

    Espurr waited with bated breath for the mob of ferals to converge upon their stretch of the dungeon. For almost ten seconds there was nothing but the sound of the ever-closer screeches, and then it got deafening to hear and just seconds after that the mob arrived-

    There were so many Espurr couldn't even count. It must have been all the ferals on the floor. All three of them were swarmed before Espurr even knew it, and it was all she could do to do the first thing she could think to do- shunt out as much mental power as she could. Several of the ferals closest to her went flying back into the ones behind them, but others quickly moved in to fill the gap. A loud bark flew past Espurr's ears amongst the other noise and she turned to see a rabid furfrou that was quickly stumbling its way towards her in all the chaos. Its eyes stayed trained on her no matter what. Espurr picked up a rock from the ground and nailed the dog pokemon's face with it. She was violently pushed to the ground by another feral who wasn't even after her in the first place.

    Espurr did her best to stay low and hope the others would survive until the swarm had passed. There were so many! Where had they all come from? This floor had been deserted five minutes ago!

    And then there was the sound of Teddiursa yelling. Not in fear or pain, but… Espurr quickly snapped to attention.

    "Hey!" Teddiursa yelled, deftly fighting against the ferals that were attacking her. She still had the wand in her hand, and her eyes were split between the ferals she was fighting and Espurr. "You! Get your friend to help me light this!" she slashed the face of an encroaching bellsprout, then sent Espurr a quick prompting look.

    Espurr quickly ducked just in time not to get knocked unconscious by the hooves of a stantler, quickly scanning the swarm of ferals. Where was Tricky?

    "Espu-"

    Now that she was actively looking for it, Espurr could hear Tricky's faint cries over the noise of the battle that was taking place. Northeast of where she was standing.

    "Epferr-" Tricky briefly managed to get her head over the swarm of pokemon taller than she was, but she was dragged down almost immediately after. Espurr immediately hit the dirt. She took a deep breath, and focused on the furfrou that was currently between her and Tricky. If she could just…

    The furfrou let out a confused yelp as it was dragged away by an invisible presence. Tricky was quick enough to take advantage of the escape route she had been given- she dove out from the circle of dungeon 'mon that had been attacking her, running over to Espurr was. Espurr rolled to her feet and pointed to Teddiursa-

    "Espurr watch out!" Tricky suddenly screeched. Espurr turned around to see what was happening, but she wasn't fast enough and the stunky that was behind her clipped her on the head.

    "Espurr no!" Tricky screamed. She spat out a flame that sent the stunky reeling back, then sprinted straight over to where Espurr had landed. Espurr managed to sit up. She felt dizzy.

    "Hey!" Teddiursa screamed at Tricky, waving the wand up in the air. "Light this for me!"

    Tricky didn't ask questions. She took a deep breath, and exhaled an ember that caught the top of the stick and set it alight.

    "Now get down!" Teddiursa yelled, and then she threw the stick as hard as she could. It soared off into the hallway, catching the attention of many of the dungeon ferals. Espurr heard it go boom only a few seconds later.

    Nearly all the ferals took note. They looked up from what they were doing, and then the swarm continued down through the hallway and left Espurr, Tricky, and Teddiursa all alone.

    Teddiursa slowly looked up from her spot on the ground. So did Espurr and Tricky. The howls of the swarm faded into the distance, and then the dungeon was deserted.

    "…Is that all of them?" Teddiursa dared to ask once they could no longer hear the howling.

    Espurr slowly got to her feet again. "I think so."

    Then the furfrou attacked. It came from behind, so Espurr hadn't even noticed it. There was a loud snarl, and then suddenly she was pinned under the dog pokemon as it attempted to maul her-

    Espurr suddenly saw a bright flash, followed almost immediately by a loud boom. The furfrou looked up from Espurr, suddenly worried, and then there was large stomping and the furfrou barely jumped out of the way of a large ursaring's claws. It scampered down the hallway away from Espurr, whimpering in fear.

    "Espurr are you okay?!" Tricky was suddenly all over her, checking Espurr for cuts and scratches. Espurr barely managed to nod amongst all Tricky's prodding.

    "Yeah. I think I am," she said.

    "Huh," Ursaring said, examining her new claws. "Sick."

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

    "Oh, Uncle's gonna be pissed." Ursaring lazily stretched her arms as she, Espurr, and Tricky all walked back through the underbrush to Serenity Village. "But you know what? He can go suck on a lemonberry. This is hecking awesome."

    Tricky had been silent the whole way back. Espurr was beginning to get a bit concerned. The Tricky she knew wouldn't have allowed silence to live this long (if only because she'd be the only one talking). But instead she was busy studying the ground the entire way back. Eventually, Tricky's mood began to affect Espurr's, and she felt somewhat depressed by the time they finally walked into the village square.

    Ursaring turned to leave, but then she stopped. "…Oh, I forgot. I know I have it on me somewhere…" she clumsily pawed through the bag that was now far too small for her to use, eventually pulling out a leaf-sewn tube of something Espurr didn't recognize. "It's not much, but… here's the thing. The… the mission reward."
    Espurr took it in her hands, looking it over. "…What is it?" she asked. Now that she thought about it, she hadn't taken a look at the mission reward before they had taken the mission.

    "It's a tube of bluk berry toothpaste," Ursaring replied. "I took it from Uncle's room. Just don't get the stuff in your eyes. I did that once and they stung for days."

    Then Ursaring went home, and Espurr and Tricky were left to their own devices for the rest of the day.

    "I think I'm gonna go home now," Tricky muttered. "Night."

    And then before Espurr could say anything to her, she left.

    ~\({O})/~

    Café Connection

    "Your order?" Kangaskhan looked down at Eevee from the other side of the counter.

    "Just wait a minute. I've got to get this stupid bag off me first." Eevee struggled with her bag (Which had been advertised as quadruped friendly, but was actually on the lower side of quadruped tolerable), finally managing to slip it off her back and root through her personal belongings for her wallet. Kangaskhan waited patiently while she dug.

    The sound of something loud clattering to the floor rattled through Eevee's ears. She lowered them annoyedly. At least the restaurant wasn't as noisy as it could be. She extracted the necessary poke from her wallet, then pointed out the dish she wanted on the menu to Kangaskhan, who jotted it down on a note and passed it off. Eevee slumped down against the counter, looking to her right where a Watchog was taking a long swig of a mago berry drink. He looked at her out of the corner of his eye, then quickly set his drink down so fast he nearly spilled it.

    "You're new in town," he slurred after a moment.

    "I'm not staying," Eevee replied. "I'm just here to help a client."

    "Yeah?" Watchog took another swig of his drink. "What do you work?"

    "Lumber," Eevee replied. "Well, actually I'm just the secretary, but I still hear the noise, so I might as well work in lumber. But of course I'm the 'mon who gets to come out here because 'Well, four paws equals twice the speed! Be a good 'mon and do what you're told!'" she coughed, then switched off the impression of a deep voice she had been doing back to her normal one. "You?"

    "Education." Watchog curtly answered.

    "You don't look like the kind of 'mon who works in education," Eevee replied.

    "I'm in charge of discipline," Watchog said.

    Eevee raised her eyebrows, staring at Watchog dryly. That made more sense.

    "Guarding the school right now," he continued. "Sundays and Thursdays. Sometimes work sucks. I've got better things to be doing with my summer."

    Eevee couldn't disagree with that.

    "Well, that makes two of us," she said.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    The dark silhouette of the school clinic up on the hill stood before Espurr once again. It was almost nighttime, and she could clearly see the building displayed against the pink and orange-toned sky; its lights still covered. Espurr briefly spared that a look as she walked up the forest-y path to the school. Usually the lights were uncovered by now. Was this just how the clinic was left in the summertime? A pity. Espurr had had designs on the library after she got herself cleaned up.

    "There you are!"

    Audino ran down the path towards Espurr, a menagerie of herbs and belongings Espurr assumed must have been from the medicine cabinet stashed in the exploration bags she carried. "I've been looking for you all day!"

    Espurr said nothing. Audino ushered her along. "We're relocating for the summer. I have a house in the middle of town." Espurr took a breath to ask why, but Audino answered for her: "Before you ask why; I just wanted a change of scenery. You can't be up in the school all by yourself."

    Espurr stayed silent for a minute as they walked. "…What about the library?" she asked.

    "You'll have to get somemon older to go with you," Audino responded. "Watchog has guard duty most days this summer. He'll probably help you."

    Espurr remembered Watchog, and his disproportionate reactions to everything under the sun.

    She thought not.

    ~\({O})/~

    Audino's House

    The door clicked open- the first time it had done so in almost a year. Audino walked in, setting the bags of supplies against the wall next to the door. Espurr followed after her. Her nose wrinkled at the smell of dust that pervaded the air, and she could even see a light film of it on the floor.

    "We'll clean it up tomorrow," Audino said once she noticed Espurr's disgust at her surroundings. She pulled the old, ragged cover off the lights, and the luminous moss inside the orbs weakly glowed.

    "Hmm," Audino muttered. "We'll need to replace those too."

    Now that Espurr could see better, she could make out the interior of the house. It looked the same as Tricky's house- the parlor that they were standing in, a small kitchen to the left, and a hall down to the right with a washroom and a bedroom on either side.

    "When I lived here about a year ago, I always kept this room tidy just in case of emergencies," Audino said as they walked down the hall. "Hopefully, it's still usable." She turned to the bedroom on the left, allowing Espurr to walk in before she followed. Like the rest of the house, the bedroom was covered in a light layer of dust that managed to cover everything. There was a straw bed in the middle of the room that somehow hadn't been eroded or fallen apart with time, Espurr caught sight of a tarped luminous moss orb sticking out of the wall above.

    "You'll sleep here tonight," Audino said. "And then tomorrow we'll have a housecleaning. I'll be in the other room if you need me." And with that, she began to leave the bedroom.

    "Ms. Audino?" Espurr asked before Audino could step out the door completely. Audino, half out the doorframe, turned back to look at Espurr.

    "How long can I stay here?" Espurr asked.

    There was a moment before Espurr got her answer, as if Audino had been considering it.

    "…As long as you like," Audino finally replied. "Good night."

    And then she left the room, and Espurr was left in silence for the night.

    A large bang came from the wall, jittering Espurr in her bed a little. She stared alertly at the wall for a second, but it remained silent. Espurr flopped her head back down on the bed. She was too tired for this.

    ~\({O})/~​

    It was almost dark by the time Tricky made it back to her house. Pops was already setting dinner on the table when the door slammed open with enough force to slam into the wall and shut itself and Tricky entered. He looked at her coat, which was dirt-ridden and covered in grime.

    "Clean up before dinner," he said. Tricky hurriedly trotted off to the washroom.

    ~\({O})/~​

    It was leftover night once again. The leftovers being made up of whatever the other pokemon of Serenity Village hadn't wanted of the Deerling Day feast. (It was also Tricky's favorite night of the week.) Their dinners were completely silent most of the time. Pops wasn't one for talking much. Which was why when she heard Pops draw his raggedy breath as if to say something, she gave him her full attention.

    "So… what did you do today?" Carracosta asked. He took a sip of the soup from his spoon.

    "…Not much," Tricky answered, taking care to eat her food respectfully instead of the right way. "I just played with Espurr. Fell down a hill. Got dirty." She looked up at Pops to make sure he was buying it.

    "You and Espurr…" Carracosta began. "You're friends now?"

    Tricky pulled her face out of her bread roll, then nodded and trilled in confirmation. Carracosta slowly took another sip of soup.

    "…Be careful."

    "I will, Pops."

    That was all that was said between them for the rest of the meal.

    ~\({O})/~

    Those two words hung in Tricky's head, even as she went to her bedroom and flopped down upon her mattress. Could she be careful? Could Espurr?

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village School

    ~Artemis~

    Everymon showed up for school the next day. Everymon but Budew. Principal Simipour must have told the other teachers, because Farfetch'd left her alone, and Watchog was giving her suspicious stares the entire time.

    Pancham and Shelmet talked in the back. Deerling just waited patiently at her desk. Tricky was slumped against hers.

    Eventually Farfetch'd walked up the desk and began the class. Artemis saw Deerling raise her hand.

    "Where's Budew?" Deerling asked. Farfetch'd didn't answer her.

    Classes went on like they usually did, but Artemis couldn't bring herself to care about any of them; not even Dungeon Class. All her ears heard were the words of the teachers which got filtered out into mumbling, and how Deerling was getting more and more uneased with every single moment Budew didn't come back.

    He wasn't coming back. She wanted to scream that at Deerling. She wanted Deerling to feel stupid for not knowing that he was dead, he wasn't ever coming to class again, and it was all her own fault, and-

    -And then classes ended, and Artemis was no longer chained to a desk. Before yesterday, she would have pranced off to a mystery dungeon and ignored Pops when he admonished her about how dangerous that was. But today she didn't really feel like doing much of… anything.

    Her ears pricked up as she caught a snippet of a nearby conversation. Between Deerling and Farfetch'd. Tricky quickly looked in their direction. She didn't hear everything Deerling said, but she got enough: Deerling wanted to know where Budew was.

    Farfetch'd hesitated, clutching his leek in his wings. "I… think we should discuss this up in the school clinic," he said, and then he led Deerling up there and out of earshot from all the other students still packing up.

    Artemis was still collapsed against the desk when Deerling came out. Deerling didn't say a thing. She just gave Artemis a look that said 'I'll never forgive you', and then she walked out of the classroom without a word.

    Artemis went straight home.


    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week! :D

    The Friends - Nicholas Hooper
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter Twelve - The Dungeon Runners, Part II
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    12.

    The Dungeon Runners, Pt II

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    ~Tricky~

    Tricky felt better when she woke up the next day. It was summer, so she got to sleep in a little. The sun was already higher up in the sky than it should have been if it had been a school day, but it wasn't a school day, so Tricky didn't bother moving.

    It was only when the smell of simmering berries and vegetables came from the hallway that she finally moved in her bed, stretching and then plodding across the hall to the washroom.

    Dunking her head underwater for a second brought clarity back to Tricky. Now she remembered what had happened yesterday, and why she had been so shaken up. In the Foreboding Forest. That dungeon 'mon swarm. Espurr had almost died- Tricky had almost died. It was almost Poliwrath River all over again!

    For the first time in what felt like years, Tricky wanted nothing to do with mystery dungeons. She had only been friends with Espurr for nine days- she didn't want a repeat of Budew! Not so soon… not ever. They were getting too reckless. It had to stop. Before…

    Tricky sat in the middle of the bathroom, breathing hard. Thinking about this was depressing. She just wanted to move on.

    Maybe breakfast would help. Those berries smelled good.

    And with that, she quickly took a large gulp of water from the pot, spat it out the window like Pops had told her never to do, and trotted off to the dining room.

    Breakfast was sautéed vegetables and berries, which Tricky wasted no time eating her portion of (She hated those when they got cold). Then she left the house, heading down towards the village square and quickly taking a hard left up towards the school. It was her little shortcut. She'd go get Espurr, and then they'd find something fun to do in the village square for the day! Something that didn't involve dungeon exploring.

    ~\({O})/~

    School Grounds

    The School Clinic was deserted. Tricky banged upon the window, peering in through the windowpanes the best she could (They were made for pokemon at least twice as tall as she was!).

    "Hey Espurr!" she called out.

    "Is anymon in there?" she asked when no answer greeted her back.

    The clinic was silent. It seemed like there really was no-mon in there. Tricky backed away from the door, staring at it in confusion. But if no-mon was here, then… where was Espurr?

    ~\({O})/~

    Audino's House

    ~Espurr~

    Espurr was cleaning. Audino had woken up and roused Espurr at the crack of dawn (But Espurr was used to waking up early at this point anyway), and after eating a quick breakfast made up of whatever Audino had managed to pack from the School Clinic, they had begun to tidy up Audino's old house.

    And now, after about an hour's worth of hard work, the house was finally beginning to look presentable. The dusting had been long and rigorous (And Espurr's throat was still scratchy from all the dust particles she had inadvertently breathed in while cleaning), but Audino had opened the windows to air the place out, and the rest of the cleaning had gone over fairly well. After the straw beds had been sorted, cleaned, and re-packed, the last thing to do was polish the luminous moss orbs and replace the cloths (Something that Audino would do herself later when she went out for supplies).

    Which left Espurr free for the time being. She was currently playing with the expedition gadget, clicking buttons to see what did what. The button at the bottom both dimmed and raised the power of the display, while the top two on either side helped maneuver the display the connection orb broadcasted, and the one at the very top gadget took pictures (As Espurr had found out when she'd pressed it a few moments earlier and had the gadget blink her straight in the face). The green one near the bottom turned the display off… which meant that the only one she hadn't pressed was that red one on the other side. Espurr had no idea what it did, but there was no better time to find out. She clicked it. The gadget whirred for a bit, but it didn't seem to do anything.

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Lively Town

    Dedenne had been going about her morning affairs when she suddenly felt that familiar tingling feeling- somemon was calling via connection orb.

    Only she didn't recognize the frequency. It didn't feel like any of the Expedition Society 'mon, and it definitely wasn't the Chief, so… who was it?

    Dedenne shrugged it off. Sure; the Expedition Society had a closed orb network, but it wasn't that hard for somemon to game the system and get in. It wasn't her problem either. That was what the telephone Murkrow was supposed to sit by and answer was for. If somemon wanted to contact the Expedition Society, they could do it the right way, or just not bother at all. Dedenne didn't need anymon to make her job harder for her.

    ~\({O})/~

    Audino's House

    The gadget stopped whirring after a moment, but nothing had happened. Espurr tilted her head in confusion. What was that button for, anyway? It seemed pretty useless.

    And that was the last of the buttons. None of them had made the screen bigger. Espurr was perplexed, and beginning to get a little frustrated. Why hadn't this thing come with an instruction manual? She hovered her paw over the orb, preparing to pull it out, but then the display suddenly changed.

    Espurr quickly took her paws off the gadget. She looked at the display. It was smaller. Even projected up on the roof like it was, it was now so small she couldn't even read it. Part of Espurr told her to freak out, but then the other half of her brain offered the next rational conclusion that immediately convinced her to calm down: If it could get smaller, then it could also get bigger.

    …This was what she had been looking for!

    Slowly; methodically, Espurr sat back down again. She began to hover her paw over the connection orb, just like she had last time. Then she slowly closed her fingers. Just like she had predicted, the display got smaller. It was now so small Espurr could catch the entirety of the mission roster in the palm of her hand. Espurr took a deep breath to calm herself down. She was getting somewhere with this! Now to make it bigger.

    She slowly unclenched her paw, spreading it out wide. The display widened with her fingers, and by the time Espurr had completely opened her paw again, the display was back to the size it had been before Espurr had messed with it at all.

    She took her paw off of the connection orb only to lower it once more and repeat the same action. Just like she had predicted, the display became larger. Large enough to read the missions. Large enough to see the bar on the side that had their team credentials displayed.

    That bar was blank. Espurr used the buttons to maneuver over to it, looking over what was required for the box. They needed a team name, and a list of pokemon who were currently on the team. That was easy, so Espurr filled it in without even thinking twice: 'Espurr; Fennekin'. But then she stopped at the team name. That was something she'd need to decide with Tricky. Wherever Tricky was. Audino had taken her to this house after Tricky had left for the night. She probably didn't know Espurr wasn't still sleeping at the school. Maybe Espurr would need to go looking for her.

    Audino was at the fire-lit stove, cooking a pan of chopped things Espurr didn't know the names of but smelled good.

    "I'm going out," Espurr announced, the exploration bag slung over her shoulder.

    "Don't you want lunch?" Audino asked. "We've been cleaning most of the day."

    "I'm not hungry," Espurr said. And she wasn't; not really. The real reason was that it felt wrong to eat between breakfast and a mystery dungeon trip, but she didn't want to fill Audino in on all her mystery dungeon exploits with Tricky either.

    "Well, alright then," Audino sighed. "Just make sure I see you by dark."

    Espurr nodded cryptically, then ducked out the door.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Espurr!" Tricky called out as she walked through the village square, looking around for her friend. Where was she? Espurr's sudden absence was beginning to bug Tricky a little.

    She flinched as a pebble suddenly whistled through the air and caught her ear. Tricky glanced in the direction it had come from, but there was nothing there (Not that she could see well through all the pokemon who were currently in the square, but still).

    "Espurr!" Tricky called out again. By the time she had reached the end of the village square, she still had not seen hide nor hair of the psychic cat. Tricky lowered her ears glumly. That was the whole village combed. Oh well. She guessed Espurr would turn up sooner or later. Unless something bad had happened to her… Tricky quickly shook her head to clear her brain of those thoughts. Nothing bad was going to happen. Nothing bad had happened. She was sure of it.

    "I-I Just want to be left alone…" Tricky's ears pricked up once again. She looked to her left. On the southern side of the square, Goomy was sliming up towards the eastern exit of the square (And toward Tricky!); Deerling following in his wake.

    "Are you sure?" Deerling asked. "You'll be all by yourself all day…"

    "I-I'm sure." And with that, Goomy slimed up past Tricky and continued on his way towards the eastern side of the village. Deerling clopped up near where Tricky was standing, but reluctantly didn't follow Goomy. Noticing Tricky, she promptly turned her nose up at the fennekin, then walked away in the opposite direction. Tricky sat on her haunches for half a minute more. Then she took off in Goomy's direction. There was something to do!

    Goomy was busy making his way up through the houses when Tricky caught up with and fell into a trot beside him.

    "O-oh. Hi, Tricky," Goomy said.

    "Have you seen Espurr?" Tricky panted out. "I can't find her!"

    Goomy shook his head the best he could. "N-no. I haven't s-seen her. Not since summer s-started."

    "Oh…" Tricky let the dejection seep into her voice. "Can you tell me if you see her?"

    "I-I'm going back h-home," Goomy said. "I'm hungry."

    Now that Tricky thought about it, she was kind of hungry too (never mind the fact that she had just eaten half an hour ago). "Well… wanna stay at my place for the day?" she asked. "You can have lunch there!"

    Goomy looked like he was thinking it over.

    "…W-where do you live?" he finally asked. "I-I never saw your house."

    Tricky immediately perked up. "It's this way!" she yipped excitedly, heading straight down the path faster than Goomy could ever hope to keep up with. "Just follow me there!"

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr decided to take a trip to Tricky's house first. Audino already lived in the eastern section of town (Although they may as well have been in the village square for how close it was), so it was more of a breezy stroll than anything without the walk down from the school grounds and through the village square first.

    It took about five-or-so minutes of walking to get there, but eventually she saw Carracosta's house peeking out among the others; its roof decorated the colors of his shell. She quickly ran the rest of the way there.

    Knock~knock~knock

    Espurr knocked on the door. She waited for an answer. After a moment the door swung open, and Carracosta glanced down at Espurr.

    "Tricky's not here," he warbled out before Espurr could ask. "She left almost an hour ago. Didn't say what she was doing; just said she was going out with friends."

    Espurr felt like the word had been snatched straight out of her mouth (And they had). It was almost ten seconds before she was able to reply to that intelligently: "…Oh. Thank you anyway, then."

    Carracosta grunted in reply, and then the door closed behind him. Espurr was left there on the porch, wondering where Tricky could have gone. Then she set out back towards the village.

    Ten minutes later, Tricky bounded up towards the house, spinning around and waiting for a panting Goomy to finish sliming up onto the hill.

    "C'mon!" she yelled. "You're a slowpoke!"

    "N-not everymon was blessed with legs to w-walk on," Goomy stuttered. "I-I can only go so f-fast…"

    Tricky waited impatiently for Goomy to finish making his way up the hill, and then immediately ran to the door and began to push down the knob with her paw.

    "Pops, I'm back!" she yelled into the house. She trotted in, followed by Goomy. Carracosta was in the parlor, jotting down a recipe with a pen made specifically for his large flippers. He looked up at Tricky, and then his eyes veered down towards Goomy. Tricky quickly took the opportunity to introduce Goomy. "This is Goomy, Pops."

    There was a moment before Carracosta said anything.

    "…I see." He let his eyes remain on Goomy a little longer, then went back to his recipe writing.

    "Are there any leftovers from breakfast?" Tricky asked. (She didn't like them cold, but she wasn't the one eating them.)

    "Have berries," Carracosta grunted. Tricky shrugged. She jumped up onto one of the chairs, then realized Goomy couldn't get up onto the seat. She glanced down at him.

    "What kind of berry do you want?" she asked.

    "A-appleberry," Goomy replied.

    Tricky nicked an appleberry from the bowl on the table with her teeth, then hopped down from the chair and handed it to Goomy.

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

    Espurr couldn't find Tricky. She sat just outside the village square, under the front window of Audino's house where Audino couldn't see her. How large was this village, anyway? It seemed almost ridiculous when Espurr got down to thinking about it; how two pokemon could stay separated in a town this small. She supposed she could have just waited at Tricky's house, but that would be wasting the entire day. She wondered if she could go up to the library – but then she remembered she'd need Watchog's help to do that, and she was currently spying on him standing in the ever-present line to Kecleon's in the near distance. Espurr sighed, then pulled the expedition gadget out of her bag. Even without Tricky, she could still probably take a mission. It was better than wasting a day sitting around in the village, at any rate.

    It seemed like the number of missions in the Serenity Village area was beginning to multiply, now that somemon was actually taking them instead of leaving them on the shelf to collect dust and rot. One caught Espurr's eye quickly- it was another retrieval mission just like the one in Wooloo Plains; only this time it was a scarf that was lost. Espurr was supposed to retrieve it from Poliwrath River, and the reward listed was a pair of psychic papers. Espurr had no idea what those were, but they sounded useful.

    Alright then. That'd be her mission for the day. It sounded easy, anyway. Espurr just had to do one thing first.

    Audino had already finished eating by the time Espurr walked in. "Can I borrow a piece of paper?" she asked.

    Audino looked up from the book she was reading. "There's some in the bag, if you want it. Why?"

    "Just writing a note," Espurr responded.

    "To whom?" Audino asked.

    "Tricky." Espurr dug in the pair of stuffed exploration bags, finding the pieces of paper that were crumpled up inside and extracting one. Once the note was written, she packed up the quill and ink the best she could. And then she was out the door again.

    She left the note stuck to the door on her way out:

    "Living here now. Gone to Poliwrath River on a mission. ~ Espurr"

    ~\({O})/~

    Poliwrath River

    Espurr walked through the woods, trying to crush as little foliage as possible with the exploration bag. It was a ways out from the village (to the south), and the ground was muddy here. She checked the sun. Afternoon. And it looked like she was almost there.

    The breeze blew in her direction, and Espurr caught a whiff of that familiar stench- the stench of a mystery dungeon. The wind was blowing from her right, so she looked that way. Just through the trees, she could see what looked like an unusually shrouded grove of forest; all viny and tangled. That must have been it. Espurr trudged through a small stream as she headed for that.

    It was definitely a mystery dungeon. And a powerful one too. Espurr could feel its presence practically hovering in the air around her. Even from outside, the dungeon felt malevolent. Maybe this had been a bad idea. Maybe it was better to go back. She could tackle this another time with Tricky.

    But could she? For all she knew this mission wouldn't even be here the next time she looked. And how much of a difference would Tricky make? It wasn't like Espurr was helpless herself. She took a deep breath, then stepped forwards, and felt the air vanish into Mystery Dungeon.

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    Tricky was getting bored. She had shown Goomy all around the house, he had eaten lunch, and then he'd left (He mumbled something about 'not telling Deerling' on his way out). Then Pops had made her clean up the slime Goomy had inadvertently tracked everywhere. And now it was at least in the middle of the afternoon, and Tricky was plumb out of things to do. Aside from sit in her room and mope about having nothing to do, but that was boring and she had been doing that for ten minutes anyway.

    Pops would just assign her more chores if she asked for something to do. And Espurr had the expedition gadget, so even if Tricky hadn't decided not to take a mission today, she'd still need to find Espurr to go. Where was she? This village was only so large! It was ridiculous that they couldn't find each other.

    Oh, why not. She'd go looking again. Anything to stave off the boredom.

    Tricky quickly leapt up from her bed and left the house.

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

    Tricky walked down towards the village square. If Espurr was going to be anywhere, she'd be there. Right?

    In passing, she noticed that the old vacant house next the village square that had always been empty had its windows open. That was worthy of Tricky's attention. Had somemon broken in?

    She walked up towards the house, glancing up towards the window. Inside, she spied… Nurse Audino! Reading a book! Tricky gasped sharply, then quickly dived down under the window before Audino could notice her. This was Nurse Audino's house!

    Then she noticed the note taped to the door. She walked over to it, and read what was on it.

    Tricky's heart skipped a beat. Then sank. She wanted to scream in horror. She began to shake all over with terror, her mind running in circles. Espurr had gone to… she couldn't have! She just couldn't!

    But the note was there, right in front of her, and no matter how much Tricky wished it would change it didn't. Espurr had gone to Poliwrath Woods. Tricky eventually broke out of her stupor, taking a deep breath and trying to hold in a sob of horror. She had to help Espurr! But she couldn't go back to Poliwrath River… But she had to! She just… she'd die if another one of her friends died in there too, and she knew it. It was better if they both died instead of only her living.

    And with that one thought lingering in her mind, Tricky quickly took off in the direction of Poliwrath River. If she kept her mind straight, she could almost remember the way there.

    ~\({O})/~

    Poliwrath River

    The place was deserted, even for a mystery dungeon. Espurr trudged through the march that was doing a horrible job of masquerading as mud, looking for that scarf. She hoped she found it soon. This place was absolutely putrid.

    Every once in a while, Espurr got the feeling she was being watched by something. Things that swam in the water, taking care to stay far out of view. Even though she never caught full sight of any creature other than herself, Espurr kept a wary eye on her surroundings anyway. She didn't want to get jumped by a dungeon 'mon in this nasty sticky marsh.

    The first floor of the dungeon was cleared without any major occurrences.

    On the second floor, the dungeon suddenly went cold. It wasn't the cold found on top of a frigid mountain- rather the kind that sent chills down one's back and made them feel like they were being watched from all sides, and that was how Espurr felt as she traversed the dungeon's second floor. This was an evil place. More evil than all the mystery dungeons she had encountered so far. And she still hadn't found that scarf. Maybe it had been lost to the marshes long ago. And Espurr wasn't so interested in completing the mission anymore as she was just clearing the dungeon and getting out. She passed the second floor without finding the scarf as well.

    Maybe something had happened here, Espurr wondered as she walked through the third floor. The absence of dungeon 'mon was beginning to unnerve her a little. Dungeons were almost never deserted like this. Not unless there was something worse around. And there was something worse lurking around- Espurr could feel it in the air; getting closer with every floor. And eventually, she'd have to pass it. All she could do was be ready.

    The dungeon only got more overgrown as she went, and the marsh deeper. It almost sucked in her whole legs now, and the bottom of the exploration bag was practically dragging through the muck. The only relief was that it seemed to be thinning out into swamp water instead of just thick mud, and it was getting easier and easier to walk through the dungeon. But even so… any higher, and Espurr might not be able to cross. She'd be trapped.

    She did not find the scarf on the third floor, either. Instead, she found the stairs, half-submerged by the marsh. Espurr didn't ask questions. She just pulled herself out of the mud, and hurried up to the next floor as quickly as she could.

    The next floor led onto dry land, and Espurr was finally free to move her mud-caked legs again. But her relief didn't last long- if the last couple of floors had crept her out, then this floor terrified her. It seemed like the dungeon was practically looming over her, and Espurr was hard-pressed to keep her wits about her as she traversed the soggy wet land. Where was that stupid scarf?!

    And then she came to the borders of a proper marsh. It was expansive, and looked too deep for Espurr to trudge through even if she submerged herself all the way up to her neck. Espurr took a step back. How was she going to get past that? Her eyes wavered to one of the ridiculously big lily pads floating on the water above. Could she… it seemed ridiculous.

    But could she?

    The dungeon suddenly roared. It was all Espurr could do to turn around and face the wind as it buffeted her towards the marsh ahead, but it didn't knock her to her feet or blow her back like the winds of Foreboding Forest had. And then just like that, it died. Espurr slowly uncovered her face. That hadn't sounded good. there was no time to waste.

    Espurr snapped a vine off a low-hanging tree. She picked a stone up from the ground and tied it to the vine. Then she threw it. It landed on one of the lily pads in the distance. The stone caught on the edges of the lily pad, and stayed there. Espurr tugged gently on the vine. The rock didn't budge. That seemed like a good sign. Slowly, Espurr began to pull the vine back towards her, tugging the lily pad across the river as it went. Soon, it was close enough to the shore that Espurr could touch it if she reached really hard. Then it bumped up against the shore. It was close enough. Espurr took a deep breath, and then slowly put her front paws on it.

    It felt fragile, but it didn't break. That was a good sign. Espurr slowly climbed onto the rest of the lily pad, staying on all fours to spread out her weight. She put a paw in the marsh, and gently began to paddle across.

    She had paddled for almost five minutes when she thought she saw something ripple in the marsh to the left. Espurr barely held in a sharp gasp. There was something in the water with her. And on this lily pad she was almost helpless to do anything about it. Except keep calm. And get to the other side. And so Espurr began to continue paddling like she had been before, breathing a little harder this time.

    A minute later she saw the water ripple ahead of her, and it occurred to her that whatever was in the water might just be toying with her. If that was true… she might never reach the other side of the marsh. But she was so close… Espurr began to peddle faster.

    Then the poliwrath attacked. A blue slimy fist suddenly punched through the underside of Espurr's lily pad and grabbed Espurr by the stomach-

    -Espurr screamed and bit down on the hand with her fangs. It let go of her stomach and sank back into the water, but its absence left a large hole in the middle of her lily pad. And she was taking on water fast. Espurr began to scramble for something to do – something to fill the hole with, but there was nothing. It was going to sink and then she was going to die and-

    -And the shoreline was just over there. If Espurr swam for it she could make it. She was sure of it.

    Another blue hand suddenly grabbed the edge of the lily pad behind her and then before she knew it Espurr was flipped into the water-

    -She caught her bearings fast and began to swim for it. The shore was right over there. She was going to make it.

    Not fast enough. Something grabbed her and pulled her underwater and then Espurr finally saw the poliwrath in all its glory for the first time. And she hated it. She directed all her mental energy in a straight beam towards the poliwrath, and it was knocked back a good six feet in the water. Espurr didn't waste any time getting to the shore.

    She pulled herself onto dry (muddy) land, grabbing the waterlogged exploration bag from the water and standing up, but then she found herself face to face with another poliwrath. Espurr let out a whimper of fear, and then in the space of a second the poliwrath kicked her straight back into the water.

    The water was cold and foggy, and Espurr felt herself sink down into it; still woozy from the punch to the gut she had taken. She saw the underwater poliwrath swim up towards her, and it made to grab her head-

    -But then there was a muffled explosion from above. The poliwrath looked up. Espurr, who was not suited to underwater conditions at all, tried not to die. And then the poliwrath swam up towards the surface. Like Espurr had never even existed in the first place.

    Fine by Espurr. She was finally beginning to collect her bearings again; most importantly the fact that she was completely out of air. She began to swim towards the top, trying not to lose the exploration bag in the process.

    Espurr pulled herself onto the shore once more, checking around the immediate area for any more poliwrath. The sounds of a battle reverberated behind her. Espurr turned to look. Both poliwrath were on the shore, being barraged with attacks from…

    …Was that Tricky?

    Espurr quickly stood up, coughing a bit but keeping her balance. "Tricky!" she yelled.

    Tricky looked up at Espurr, but then the poliwrath took the opportunity to land a pair of twin attacks against her. Espurr took a couple of steps forward. She had to help!

    Tricky tried to get up from the muddy ditch she had been punched into, but the poliwrath were already on top of her before she could. She was punched again. Then suddenly an invisible force yanked one of the poliwrath back away from her, leaving one side completely open for Tricky to escape. She looked in the distance- it was Espurr! But there was something Tricky had to do first. he spun and spat an ember into the second poliwrath's face, scampering away before it could do anything. Espurr's hold on the first poliwrath slipped – it was too strong! But it couldn't stop what it had been trying to do for the last ten seconds and it collided headfirst with the other poliwrath that had been charging after Tricky. Tricky ran across the length of the shore towards Espurr.

    "Go! Run!" she screamed. Espurr unfroze. She didn't question those orders. She quickly shouldered the exploration bag, and then the both of them bolted off into the foliage together.

    Espurr didn't know how close the poliwrath were to them; only that they were following them and that she could smell the small of something burning in the distance, and that was what she asked Tricky as they quickly made their way to the forest: "Is something burning?"

    "I…" Tricky panted as they ran. "I kind sorta maybe by accident… set something on fire a few floors down.

    The burning smell was coming from ahead. Espurr and Tricky suddenly stopped short- it looked like the dungeon was on fire! And through the burning plants and trees and vines Espurr saw them: A pristine set of stone steps sitting amongst the burning shrubbery.

    "Look!" she shouted, pointing into the fire. "The stairs!"

    An entire tree was thrown to the wayside behind them. Espurr's head snapped around, and she saw the slimy blue hides of the Poliwrath as they approached from the other side. Espurr looked between the two hazards- death by poliwrath, or fire?

    At least they had a chance of living through the fire. Tricky didn't even think twice- she bolted off into the inferno, sparing only a single look back at Espurr as she ran.

    "Come on Espurr!" she yelled, sounding genuinely horrified. "It's just fire!"

    Tricky didn't seem to understand that not every pokemon was fireproof. But the poliwrath were practically on top of Espurr, and she didn't have much of a choice. She dashed into the flaming part of the forest, and the poliwrath went after her. Espurr carefully edged and shimmied around the flames- she didn't want to end up roasted! The poliwrath snuffed out the flames as they went and threw aside entire flaming tree branches and objects. Espurr saw a stone go soaring towards her-

    -but it went over her head and landed in a ditch a couple of feet ahead of her. Espurr kept her head down.

    She was nearly at the stairs now, where Tricky was waiting impatiently. "Come on!" she yelled once more. Espurr wanted to say that she was going as fast as she could, but that would have taken up too much time. And then she was at the stairs, and the poliwrath entered the clearing, and they began to charge-

    -One almost got Espurr's foot. But then the stairs began to warp, and suddenly Espurr and Tricky were all alone in the cold, dark marsh. And yet Espurr could still smell the burning. It was distant, but still there.

    Tricky caught her breath from before. "What… what were you doing in here?" she half-yelled at Espurr. "You scared me to death! Don't ever do that!"

    "Do what?" Espurr asked; genuinely confused. All she had done was take a mission. How was she supposed to know the dungeon was going to be this terrifying!

    Realizing how crazy she sounded, Tricky tried to calm down. "This… this is the place where Budew died," she said.

    Then all of it suddenly made sense to Espurr. No wonder Tricky had come all this way after her!

    "…Sorry," she finally said. "I didn't know."

    "I never told anymon." Tricky began to trot off. "I just wanna get out of here," she said hurriedly; her voice shaking. "Can we do that please?"

    Espurr nodded.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The dungeon was absolutely overgrown with vines and tangleweeds, which twisted over the dungeon so badly that not even dungeon 'mon could survive in it anymore. Even the dungeon itself was deserted. Espurr and Tricky traversed the marsh, searching for the staircase to the next floor. The burning smell had gotten stronger; so much now that Espurr was sure the fire was on the floor somewhere. She wondered why the dungeon hadn't put it out yet. Then she looked at some of the vines hanging off the dungeon's gnarled walls; how dead they were. She remembered the wind. This dungeon was a place of death and decay. It must have been dying too. It was too weak to put itself out.

    Good. Espurr didn't want to see this place ever again. Only she didn't want to be caught in its downfall, and neither did Tricky.

    Places all along the floor were even beginning to smoke and smolder now, and the bristling heat of the fire had evaporated almost all the water in the marshes. Espurr was even beginning to feel too hot for comfort. She hoped they found the stairs soon.

    "I see the stairs!" Tricky announced a little while later, pointing down the hall. Sure enough, there was the staircase. But no sooner had they begun to walk towards the stairs there came the sound of heavy stomping behind them, and both Espurr and Tricky turned to see only one of the poliwrath from before charging towards them.

    "Berry crackers run!" Tricky yelled, and then they both wasted no time getting to the stairs and climbing them before the poliwrath could reach them instead. The stairs warped, and then the poliwarth's unholy screech of rage was cut off like it had been hit with a brick. Espurr and Tricky both caught the breath in the marsh once again.

    "…So it can chase us across floors," Espurr finally concluded. Tricky nodded hurriedly.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Three more floors passed in silence. They didn't see either of the poliwrath again, but Espurr was more than sure that the one they had just narrowly escaped from was following them closely. The fires were more persistent. More than once Espurr saw parts of the floor smoldering away or just plain on fire, and the ambient heat that pervaded the entire dungeon was beginning to make her nauseous. On floor seven, there were fires in so many places that Espurr had been genuinely scared they wouldn't find the staircase before the flames consumed them in the first place. And now she could see the stairs to floor nine (Which she hoped was the anchorstone).

    "Tricky the stairs are that way!" Espurr pointed to the right before Tricky could go too far in the wrong direction. Tricky said nothing, just backpedaling and trying to get to the stairs as hastily as possible. Espurr didn't blame her. The distant screech of the poliwrath sent them both sprinting to the staircase as quickly as possible. It had caught up with them!

    And then they were deposited on Floor Nine. It didn't have walls. There was no labyrinth filled with endless dead ends and a perfect stone staircase hidden within its many twists and turns. There was only a thick, overgrown wilting swamp, and at the other side of the swamp in plain view lay the staircase. Both Espurr and Tricky couldn't help but grin widely. They were going to get out of this mess!

    But then Espurr heard a very familiar sound, and her blood turned to ice. Oh, no way.

    But it was. The poliwrath was behind them. It looked like it had been burnt badly by the fire, but that was just making it more angry than anything else. Both Espurr and Tricky looked up at it with wide-eyed horror.

    "Oh, COME ON-" Tricky yelled- and then it kicked her straight into the marsh. Espurr ducked and barely avoided one of its punches. She knew she couldn't beat that thing. Not if she fought fairly. She looked at the burnt spots on the poliwrath's body and arms. Maybe those… maybe she could do something with those.

    And so Espurr stayed perfectly still. Like she predicted, the poliwrath raised its left fist to punch her into mush on the ground, and then it brought its powerful fist down. Espurr grabbed a pointy rock from the ground, and before the punch could land she stabbed the poliwrath right where the fire had seared away some of its skin. The poliwrath screeched in rage, and used its other fist to punch Espurr to the side. Espurr recovered quickly – she had to – and glanced at the riverbank that Tricky was quickly pulling herself out of. She didn't want to bring attention to Tricky. Tricky briefly glanced at Espurr, then quickly began to charge an attack. Espurr tried to make it look like she hadn't seen Tricky as the poliwrath advanced upon her. Just a second longer…

    …And then Tricky spat an ember. It landed against the poliwrath's back. The poliwrath let out a screech of rage. It spun and began to charge for Tricky-

    -Espurr was quick. She grabbed the stone again, and jumped forward and slashed Poliwrath in the ankle. All the sudden Poliwrath was brought down to its knees. An ember from Tricky sent it reeling onto its back, and then both Espurr and Tricky backed a good distance away for good measure.

    The poliwrath lay on the ground for a moment, completely silent. Espurr brandished the stone anyway. Was it dead? She and Tricky shared looks, both breathing hard. Espurr looked at the stairs. That marsh looked deep. How were they going to cross it? Carefully, she began to move away from where poliwrath lay on the ground, edging over to the marsh.

    "Is it dead?" Tricky asked.

    "I don't know," Espurr whispered back. She could already feel the floor beginning to heat up under her feet. "Can't you feel the fire?"

    Tricky looked down at the ground. She said nothing, but Espurr could see in her eyes that she did. They needed to get out of this place.

    There were vines hanging all over the anchorstone (Just like there had been vines all over the dungeon), and Espurr broke off yet another long one, pulling its long, snaking form out of the trees and tying it to that pointy rock. Then she and Tricky together both hoisted a pair of lily pads over to their side of the marsh.

    Slowly, they climbed on the lily pads and began to paddle their way to the other side. Not another word was exchanged between them.

    Then, when they were halfway across the pond, the sudden sound of something bursting into flame caught Espurr's ears. She and Tricky looked back to see that the fire of the dungeon had spread into the anchorstone- the very fringes of the back foliage were beginning to burn; having caught fire as if out of nowhere. Espurr began to paddle faster, but then it was Tricky's question that made her look back a second time: "Hey Espurr? Where did the poliwrath go?"

    Espurr snapped her head back- it was true. The poliwrath was gone! That made her paddle so fast she was practically splashing water everywhere.

    Then her lily pad imploded. Espurr was cast into the water in horror, and she emerged from it with her neck stuck in the grip of the poliwrath- the poliwrath that was staring at Tricky with a demonic glare. Tricky gave Poliwrath the same glare back. All around them, the trees that hung over the marsh had caught fire.

    "You killed my friend," Tricky snarled. She began to charge an ember in her throat. "It was you!"

    Poliwrath locked eyes with Tricky. She didn't see remorse in them. Or anything at all. Just plain hate. Slowly; deliberately, it began to tighten its grip around Espurr's neck. Espurr was left defenseless; not able to do a thing to stop it but attempt in vain to pry the poliwrath's fingers off of her.

    "No!" Tricky shouted. "I won't let you!" She spat an ember in Poliwrath's face, but it didn't even phase Poliwrath. In Poliwrath's fingers, Tricky could see that Espurr was beginning to truly suffocate. Her eyes narrowed. Then she spat another ember. It flew over Poliwrath's head. It looked at her with a flash of incredulity- 'was that your big plan?'

    "Nope," Tricky responded to Poliwrath's imaginary sentence. "This is."

    Then the tree fell. It hit Poliwrath over the head , knocking the pokemon into the water and causing it to release its grasp upon Espurr. Gasping for air, Espurr fell into the water, but Tricky quickly reached out and grabbed Espurr with her teeth-

    -And then the lily pad capsized; unable to hold both their weight combined. They had floated nearly all the way to shore.

    Tricky emerged on the shore just a moment later, pulling out Espurr with her. Espurr was all woozy from having been punched and kicked and strangled and dunked underwater… berry crackers; she couldn't even remember how many times now, but after a minute of catching her breath, coughing up water, and the heat of the fire to dry their fur off, she was ready to sit up again. Then Espurr realized the meaning of that last sentence. The entire anchorstone was on fire! They had to leave!

    "Can you walk?" Tricky asked worriedly. Espurr got to her feet, grabbing the waterlogged expedition bag and nodding. And then they both ran for the exit.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr and Tricky were sent careening to their sides out of the dungeon. Even from outside, they could both see the smoke rising, and plumes of flame flickering from within. And then the dungeon let out one last ear-wrenching shriek, and both Espurr and Tricky were buffeted with wind that smelled like the nastiest mystery dungeon in the world, and then the dungeon imploded upon itself. It collapsed into the ground, leaving nothing but the blackened, twisted remains of a swamp in its wake. The shriek died down into a withered croak before disappearing completely, and then Poliwrath River was no more.

    For a moment, Espurr and Tricky didn't move. They just laid on their backs, staring up at the sky. Then Tricky giggled. And couldn't stop giggling. And then Espurr began to laugh; because Tricky was laughing and the whole thing was just so stupid. And then neither of them could stop laughing, for a full two minutes. And then suddenly, it wasn't funny anymore.

    "…Let's get out of here," Espurr said; completely serious. Tricky agreed.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    "It wasn't like that when… when me and Budew went in," Tricky said as she and Espurr both walked down the road back to Serenity Village. "It wasn't a swamp. It had plants. It had ground. It was lighter. And now…" Tricky glanced back towards the distance, where they both knew the smoldering remains of Poliwrath Woods lay.

    "It was evil," Espurr said. "You could taste evil in there. I'm glad it's gone."

    "Me too," Tricky replied.

    They never had found the scarf.

    Espurr set the exploration bag down once they reached the stream just outside Serenity Village and dumped out its contents. The waterlogged expedition gadget fell out, followed by Gabite's now-unusable journal and that sack of poke Eevee had given them. Espurr and Tricky both stared at the expedition gadget.

    "It's wet…" Tricky said dejectedly. She shared a look with Espurr.

    A moment later, Espurr and Tricky both slotted the connection orb into the indent in the middle of the gadget. There was half a moment filled with bated breath – had the water broken it? – and then suddenly the orb lit up (Although they couldn't see anything because the gadget was face-up). Both Espurr and Tricky sighed in relief. At least it was that durable.

    It was the beginning of sundown. Espurr and Tricky used the rest of the daylight to wash all the mud off their fur in the stream, and then they dried off in the wind that blew by the big tree on the hill.

    "We still need a team name." Espurr broke the silence that had been held between them for the past five minutes. "We can't be nameless forever."

    "That's true..." Tricky sighed. Then she groaned. "Ugh. Why is coming up with team names so hard?! It sounds fun and then you can't think of anything and your brain hurts and…" her words devolved into another groan. She massaged her head with her paws; frustrated.

    "What about Team Determination?" Espurr asked.

    "Nah," Tricky answered quietly. "Team Incredimon?" she propositioned.

    "Too weird," Espurr said. "Team Anthem?" (Espurr had overheard the world anthem somewhere and she didn't remember where but she liked the way it rolled off the tongue.)

    "Too stuck-up. What about Team Scarf Scouts?"

    "But what if another pokemon joins our team and doesn't like scarves?"

    "Then they don't join! We're the Scarf Scouts! They can make their own stupid team if they hate scarves so much."

    "Team Ion?" Espurr asked. Tricky batted at her.

    "That's already a team, you doofus!"

    Espurr knew she had heard that one somewhere before.

    "Team Hellraisers."

    "Too much Pancham."

    "Team Quest."

    "We go on missions, not quests."

    "Team Shine?"

    "That sounds dumb. We should call ourselves Team Team!"

    It was Espurr's turn to bat at Tricky for something up with such a stupid name. A voice flashed in Tricky's head-

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Y'know, 'dungeon master'? 'Cause you know a lot about dungeons? Get it?"

    ~\({O})/~​

    Dungeon Masters.

    …Nah, that sounded stuck up too. Tricky and Espurr weren't dungeon masters, but they did a pretty good job of clearing dungeons. Maybe running dungeons. So obviously that made them…

    "The Dungeon Runners," Tricky said with an air of finality. "We're Team Dungeon Runners."

    That was the best name they had come up with the entire evening.

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    ~Artemis~

    It had been a year since Budew died. That was how Artemis told time now. Three years before Budew Died. Six months after Budew Died. One week from fifty-one weeks after Budew Died. And yet, somehow Artemis felt like she was finally getting over it.

    It felt almost like a distant memory. She had shut it out so much; made every attempt to forget; and it was finally working. At least it didn't hurt as much if she didn't try to remember it.

    Deerling was finally talking to her again. Artemis had gotten the silent treatment from her for almost an entire year, but then Goomy had become a student and Deerling clung to Goomy and slowly got better. And the first time Deerling had talked to her in a while was yesterday, so Artemis was sure she was getting better.

    Farfetch'd had asked the students yesterday to pick a book of their choice and try to read it before summer vacation started. Artemis had picked a fiction book out of the school library, and taken it home with her. She didn't have much to do nowadays, so she didn't put off reading until the last minute like Pancham and Shelmet were doing (They tried to pick out picture books anyway until Farfetch'd stopped them).

    It was called Ocean's Descent, and the main character was a lapras outlaw who had to flee across the world to escape a sharpedo who hunted and ate other sea pokemon. To cover up what she had done Lapras went by a nickname. A different name, so no-mon would ever know what she had done in the past. A clean slate. A new beginning.

    Artemis wondered if she could have that. If she could walk around town and not have to think about that poor pokemon she had killed ever again. If she could pretend it had never happened, just like Lapras in the book pretended she wasn't an outlaw…

    Artemis spent the rest of the evening coming up with a suitable nickname. It could be anything, after all, and she only had one chance. She didn't want to mess it up!

    It wasn't going to be something stuck-up like her real name., She wanted something cooler. More flashy. Fun to say! She wanted something more like herself.

    And then, right before dinner, the perfect nickname popped into Artemis' head.


    ~\({O})/~

    "Pops?" Artemis asked as they ate. "Can I have a nickname?"

    Carracosta looked up from his bowl, looking straight at Artemis. "Why do you need a nickname?' he grunted. "Your real name works just fine."

    "I…" Artemis didn't have a comeback. And she
    really wanted this! "I… just want a nickname!" she looked at Pops in the hopes that it would be enough to sway him.

    Carracosta just shrugged. He ladled himself some more soup. Artemis took that as her 'yes'. She cleared her throat dramatically.

    "I wanna be called… Tricky."

    There was half a moment of silence. Then, Carracosta shrugged.

    That meant yes.


    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Smokers Sighted, by James Newton Howard
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 13 - Photos And Conspiracy
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    13.

    Photos and Conspiracy

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Base – Lively Town

    Primarina

    It was morning.

    Primarina lay in the oh-so-uncomfortable bed of straw, unwilling to move. He had the worst earsplitting headache in the world, and it hurt to do anything but lay there. Secretary had told him that was what he got for drinking so much alcohol in one sitting, but Primarina had dismissed him. He didn't have time to listen to such things when his head felt like it was splitting apart and he needed the most luxurious water bath in the world but didn't feel good enough to get up and request one.

    Destroy the photos.

    Primarina stopped rattling through complaints in his head. That last one hadn't been a complaint. It wasn't even on the subject of complaints. It had come out of nowhere. It wasn't his. Whose was it the-

    "Oh," he muttered lazily, coming to the realization. "It's you again."

    destroy the photos.

    There it was again. Primarina had heard it before, but it had only informed him of things in the back of his head in the past. Things like what the pokemon he was talking to was thinking, or how many jars of shellfish Secretary had bought for breakfast on any given day. And it had always been right, so when the voice had told him to position the Exeggutor in a certain spot between the Air and Water Continents, he sailed there at its behest. But it had never been this forceful before. And truth be told, that worried Primarina a little.

    "Secretary?" he weakly called out. Maybe it was high time he did something about it after all… Secretary would help him. He always had something handy. He would-

    he will not help you.

    Primarina decided he'd had enough. He tried to raise himself from the bed of straw, but found that he couldn't move- he was paralyzed!

    Destroy the photos. Rip them tear Them KILL THEM TO SHREDS.

    Primarina was horrified – not about the photos; he couldn't care less – but at the fact that something was in his head and controlling him like this! He wanted to scream but not even his mouth worked anymore.

    Destroy the photos. It is in your best interest.

    There was nothing Primarina could do. Nothing but listen to the voice. Maybe try to bargain with it. And then that last sentence caught his attention.

    "…What?"

    It is in your bEst interest. What you see on those photos will destroy life as you know it. destroy the photos, and you never have to see it. Destroy the photos, and you can continue living. Destroy the photos, and you can PRETEND IT NEVER HAPPENED. You can do that… can't you?

    Perhaps it was the hangover, or maybe the dream-haze Primarina was currently in, but something about the voice's words sounded very agreeable to Primarina. Of course that made sense. He had a good life. Why would he want to mess it up? He was finding himself agreeing with the voice more and more by the minute.

    Destroy the photos.

    Destroy the photos. He could do that.

    you can do that.

    But how?

    You KNOW how. Leave no traces behind. they must be gone for GOOD, or you have FAiLED.

    Primarina couldn't move, but in his mind he nodded. And then, just like that, his earsplitting headache cleared up. He could think clearly once again.

    Allow me to aid you.

    And then movement returned to Primarina. He sat up straight in bed, blinking his eyes. He felt no traces of the hangover he had been suffering previously. In fact, he had never felt this healthy in years!

    remember your mission. You know what must be done.

    Primarina nodded. He did.

    Destroy the photos.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Mawile~

    The single photo was pinned to the wall, all on its lonesome. There had once been a lot of things pinned to that wall, but Mawile had taken them all down just for this occasion. They currently lay in a big fat messy pile on the other side of the room, untouched.

    Mawile had foregone her hypothetical period of sleep that week in favor of research. Over the years, the Expedition Society (Mainly Mawile) had traded, bought, and bartered their way into a vast collection of old, ancient, and new books- and now that Mawile had what was likely the closest thing that existed to a photo of whatever had attacked them in Pokemon Plaza, she planned to use it.

    And so far, she hadn't had any luck. She had cross-referenced and pulled open books galore, following any lead she could possibly find, but so far it had all come to naught. A small settlement that had disappeared off the shores of Sand turned out to be the work of a nasty spiritomb that had since been slain by a pair of Sand-native explorers, and a group of travelling cannibal pokemon were responsible for a slew of murders across the Grass Continent only a century ago (They were long imprisoned and dead now), but there were apparently no existing records of pokemon spontaneously becoming stone statues recorded anywhere in history. And Mawile had spent the whole night researching. Water. Grass. Mist. Air. Some lore and slight digging into Sand, but that was barely scratching the surface when it came to Sand.

    There was nothing. No evidence. No clues. No leads. Nothing to go on. For the first time in a long, long while, Mawile found herself at a loss. Had it all really been a trick of the light? Did it exist at all? It had felt real.

    But even so, a psychic skilled enough could make one believe anything was real. What if they had just been throwing attacks out at thin air the entire time?

    But the photos didn't lie. There it was; displayed clear as day on the photo's sleek surface: The proof that it couldn't be an illusion of some sort.

    But then what was it?

    A sudden knock on the door rang out amongst the quietness of Mawile's personal office/library, making her jump (Loud sounds always startled her; for reasons she had been neither able to determine nor remedy).

    She cleared her throat, attempting to look composed as she turned towards the door. "Come in."

    The door opened a crack, and Dedenne peeked her head in.

    "I would have called you…" she panted – it looked like she had run the entire way there – "but I just got a call from the Chief! He's in Lively Town!"

    ~\({O})/~

    Lively Town

    ~Ampharos~

    Ampharos could see the familiar observatory tower of Headquarters stretching above all the other buildings of Lively Town. It was a welcome sight indeed. He kept the earth-green hood of his cloak up as he walked through the streets; for what good it did him- many of the pokemon in Lively Town had all seen that cloak enough times to hazard a pretty good guess at who was underneath it (And his tail was peeking out; an instant giveaway).

    Beside him, Torracat's team walked, looking almost as weary as Ampharos felt. He owed them a healthy round of thanks, in fact. He would have been stumbling around the Lively Mountain Range for at least another day if he hadn't run into them by pure chance in the middle of the morning. Torracat could read and keep track of a map better than Ampharos could, and they had made it back to Lively Town within the day.

    They stopped just outside the Lively Town market. Torracat wanted to return the exploration bag they had ventured out into the mountains to retrieve to the cinccino that owned it and collect the bounty, and he said Ampharos could leave without them. Ampharos said he'd rather wait for their return but declined to accompany them to the client's house, which left him loitering around the marketplace until they came back. He estimated about five minutes.

    There was still a little poke in his sack. Ampharos had expected Kangaskhan's rates to be much, much steeper, but even with the much cheaper Serenity Village inn rates staying almost thrice as long as he had originally planned to had put quite a dent into the funds he was carrying. Not enough to spend it cleanly, though. Ampharos had to remember that not every motel in the world had rates like Swanna Inn did. He pulled the remaining poke out of his sack. It jingled in his hand, and there was also little enough of it to fit in his hand. Ampharos frowned. It might buy a few apples.

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Headquarters

    "Chief!"

    "How go the missions?"

    "It's good to see you all again!"

    The pokemon of the Expedition Society excitedly greeted Ampharos and Torracat's Team as the four pokemon entered the Society's lobby.

    "Are you guys feeling alright?" Dedenne asked. "Any cuts? Scratches? Feeling sick? I can wire you through to Nickit; just say the word."

    "I think if anymon here was sick it would be obvious," Torracat yawned dismissively, a piece of apple still in his mouth. He padded around Dedenne lazily, puffing out his fur as he went.

    "That's not always true-" Dedenne began angrily, but Torracat had already prowled off. Vulpix and Rockruff shared looks.

    "Do you wanna get poked with metal things for an hour while bandit-fox makes nasty comments about your fluff?" Vulpix asked Rockruff in a hushed tone. Ampharos sent them both a disapproving look. Vulpix's eyes widened in realization, and she muttered a quick 'sorry' before scampering off down a hallway. Rockruff just pawed the ground for a minute, then walked off in some random direction before anymon else could accost her.

    ~\({O})/~​

    How did the map work?" Dedenne asked, scurrying after Ampharos as he walked down the hallway. "You still have it, right?"

    "That… is… classified," Ampharos announced.

    Dedenne looked like she wanted to mutter something foul.

    The second-floor hallway opened up into the second-floor hub, where Ampharos and Dedenne finally split paths. Ampharos made a left-hand turn for the library, depositing the miniscule stem of what used to be an apple in the second-floor-corridor waste bin and making to knock on the door.

    The door opened before Ampharos' paw made contact with it, and Mawile stood there

    "Chief," she said in acknowledgement, stepping to the side to allow Ampharos in. The door closed behind them, and then they were in privacy.

    "Shall we compare notes?" Mawile asked, stepping over to where her open books of research lay. Ampharos noticed the way she looked extremely sleep-worn.

    "Have you been sleeping well?" he asked.

    "One period a week," Mawile answered offhandedly, shuffling a few books. "Chesto berries work wonders for the mind and soul." There was a half-eaten chesto berry on the desk, which Mawile discreetly finished in one bite.

    Ampharos ultimately decided to hold off from commenting on the way her back maw looked like it was drooping over from exhaustion. He took a seat in a chair near the door where a few dusty cloaks (That may or may not have fallen off his own back during previous meetings just like this one) were draped. After standing all that time, Ampharos had almost forgotten what sitting was like. He took a moment to relax before speaking.

    "…Through no small effort, I have managed to locate the Human," Ampharos finally began. "A child; about 13. Female. Species; Espurr. Almost always seen with a fennekin friend. Currently safe and sound in the secluded Serenity Village. Through a couple of 'chance meetings' I gifted them a connection orb and an expedition gadget, so they should be trackable on the Pokemon Nexus. We'll know their every movement from here on out."

    "A child…" Mawile rapidly jotted it all down on a piece of paper. "None of the others were children when they arrived."

    Ampharos leaned forward in his seat. "I am almost certain we have the right one," he spoke in a low voice. "You can see it in the eyes. This is the only Human we're due to get."

    "There were two energy surges," Mawile responded. "Common sense dictates that two humans entered this world."

    "Then why not send them both at once?" Ampharos asked. "Why space them out when there is strength in numbers? No; somemon is trying to clean up a mistake. One human. I'm sure of it."

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Dedenne~

    Dedenne walked down the first floor of the Society's west wing, filled with left-hand doors to bedrooms galore. She scampered towards the one room that didn't have its curtains drawn back yet.

    "Time to wake up!" Dedenne called into the room. "It's already afternoon!"

    Some blankets rustled, but there wasn't an answer.

    "I'm gonna open the curtains!" Dedenne called out. "Five… Four… Three… Two… One…"

    She whipped the curtains back-

    -The most peculiar sensation struck her; like blood was rushing to her head and making her all woozy. Dedenne even lost her balance for a moment. And then it was alright, and she shook her head and shrugged it off like it had never happened. Dedenne peeked into the room, where Braixen had sleepily sat up in his pile of straw. He rubbed his eyes lazily, looking at Dedenne with a glint of annoyance in his eyes.

    "Who sleeps until noon?" Dedenne cried in exasperated response.

    ~\({O})/~

    Residential Wing

    ~Torracat's Team~

    The curtains were drawn over the room's entrance, but the window was wide open.

    "This place needs fresh air," Holly said, swinging her tails around to expel some dust from the windowsill. "And don't either of you deny it."

    "I'm not denying it…" Rockruff whined, covering her nose with her paws. "What happened here?"

    "Dedenne said the room was used to house a skuntank or something," Torracat grumbled.

    "Our room?!" Holly moaned, slapping a paw over her face. "We'll never get it ooouuuut…"

    "Just deal with it," Torracat grunted. He didn't seem to be bothered by the stench at all. "At least the mission loot is sick. We can buy something even smellier and block out the stench."

    "How is something smellier going to help?" Rockruff cried.

    "We'll never smell a thing again," said Torracat. The look Holly gave him reeked with the lowest form of hate.

    Then the curtains suddenly whooshed back; causing the three of them to jump.

    "Alright," Nickit said, trotting into the room. "Little birdie told me the three of you didn't show up for your post-mission checkups."

    "Was this 'birdie' a mouse?" Holly asked, laying upside down on one of the straw beds yet completely unamused. "Tell her to die for me; thanks."

    Nickit sniffed the air. "Smells like a skuntank died in here," she commented offhandedly.

    All three pokemon shared an uneasy glance; as they realized they hadn't checked for bodies under any of the beds.

    "Eat this," Nickit plopped her bag on the ground, opened it, and handed an oran berry to Torracat. "Eat this; eat this." Rockruff and Holly got oran berries too. "Don't make me shove it down your throat," she snapped upon seeing Rockruff's look of disgust. Rockruff quickly ate it.

    All three members of the team were then made to sit, stretch, and stand in awkward positions as Nickit poked and prodded them with the many apparatuses in her bag.

    "Eat this," she said, handing a rawst berry to Torracat. "And for god's sake; stop eating spicy foods! You're making that heartburn problem of yours worse."

    "Have you been taking those dust baths?" she asked Rockruff. "Remember those pictures I showed you? Do you wanna end up like that? No? Then take dust baths." If the smell of their bedroom wasn't enough to ruin Rockruff's day, then that comment drove it in.

    "Less water means less ambient coolness means more suffering for you," Nickit said, sprucing the fluff on the top of Holly's head and watching closely to see how it settled. "Drink more water. Or maybe you'll melt! Don't ask me what happens; I've never studied a melting vulpix before. So don't make me."

    "But none of us are sick?" Holly questioned as Nickit trotted over to her bag and began to pack up her kit.

    "Nada," Nickit said, grabbing the bag in her teeth and throwing it on her back. "You're clean."

    "And remember; nothing with medicinal berries in it for the rest of the evening," Nickit called out as she trotted towards the door. "'Nless you wanna wake up tomorrow and spend the rest 'f the day in my office."

    And then, just as quickly as she had arrived, Nickit was gone. All three members of the team stared at each other in befuddled silence for a moment. Then they quickly hopped into action.

    "Berry crackers check the beds!"

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Midday

    Clack. Mawile rolled the shutters over the windows, casting the room into darkness. The doors on all sides were closed, including the almost-never-used gate that barred the second floor from entry via the stairway. The entirety of the Expedition Society had gathered in the room by now (Ever since Mawile had sent Dedenne around with a roll-call sheet half an hour ago). Braixen leaned against the wall to the side, his arms folded.

    Mawile directed her eyes towards him, and then she spoke: "Would you kindly get Primarina for us?"

    Braixen didn't answer that. He just unfolded his arms, and walked off in the direction of Ampharos' office silently. Ampharos shook his head to clear it of the sudden dizzy spell.

    "What a strange 'mon," he commented offhandedly to himself. And it was true. Something about that braixen he found concerning. He almost looked too young to be an adult; even if he was the Ambassador's secretary. And learning that the Ambassador had travelled all the way from Cloud Nine just to pick up these photos was even more concerning. Ampharos knew that wasn't standard procedure; the Ambassador had no business meddling in affairs that didn't concern the well-being of his continent. If Cloud Nine even knew about the photos, they would have sent a sanctioned rescue team from Pokemon Paradise to pick them up, not Primarina.

    Which begged the question: Why was Primarina here?

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Primarina~

    Primarina was in the middle of hurriedly packing his bags when he heard a knock on the door.

    "Come in!" he announced, moving in front of the bags as if to hide them. The door opened, and then Secretary peeked in.

    "Um… yeah," he said. "They want you for some kind of event out there. Looks important. You should probably go."

    Primarina quickly nodded, as if he wanted Secretary out of the room. "Tell them I'll be there shortly," he said.

    Secretary closed the door, and then Braixen walked back down the hall to the room where the rest of the Expedition Society waited.

    "He'll be there shortly," Braixen said, and then he folded his arms and went back to leaning against the wall.

    ~\({O})/~​

    There was a small indent in the floor of the very middle of the room; just large enough to fit the bottom half of a connection orb. Mawile carefully slotted an orb into the opening, then stood back. There was the sound of several large clacks from under the pokemons' feet, and then the floor began to roll back from the center. Mawile stepped back behind the hexagonal circle of safety tape that decorated the floor, and made sure that everymon else had done the same.

    The connection orb rose up into the air on a pedestal, and a six-sided console followed by a railing both slid up out of the floor as well. The large clack of something slotting into place below them reverberated throughout the room, and then all was silent. Mawile stepped forward, pressing something on the console. Ocean-blue light shot up out of the pedestal and through the connection orb, illuminating the white draw-down projector screen ahead of them with light.

    "Slide one." Mawile clicked something on the console, and a skyline photo of the devastated Pokemon Plaza appeared where the connection orb's ocean-blue glow had been. "Approximately two weeks ago, communications in and out of Pokemon Plaza halted completely. The Expedition Society was drafted at the behest of the Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute to investigate the issue, and our findings have proved sufficiently disturbing."

    Mawile clicked the button again, showing a close-up picture of a petrified zangoose with a terrified expression on its face. "Slide two. Here we see the anomalous phenomenon that has managed to affect every pokemon within a mile-wide radius of Pokemon Plaza. While I hate to present such speculation as fact without conclusive evidence, it seems as though the affected pokemon have been turned – inside and out – to solid stone. Not even the rock types have been spared. Mawile clicked the button. Slide three: A petrified geodude.

    "The Expedition Society has reason to believe that this is not the cause of a natural disaster," Mawile continued. "Somemon is behind these attacks. Slide four."

    Mawile clicked the button. Slide Four was a photo of a wrecked storefront.

    "Observe." Mawile pointed to the upper left-half of the photo, where the blurred image of a shadowy leg could be seen. "What you are currently viewing is the best existing photo of the anomaly I can only assume is behind these incidents." Mawile turned back towards Primarina, Braixen, and the rest of the Executive Staff. "While performing reconnaissance, Explorer Archen and I were ambushed by this creature, which used an attack I have yet to identify. This creature is not a pokemon. It is not a known construct of any mystery dungeon on any continent. It did not make any attempt to communicate with either myself or with Archen before attacking us. And I can only assume—" Mawile quickly rifled through the rest of the photos; showing the devastation of Pokemon Plaza from all sides and angles "—that it caused the destruction seen in these photos. If any of you are to encounter a creature that looks, acts, or even sounds remotely like the one shown and described here, you are to abort your mission, return straight to Headquarters, and report to either me or the Chief. Is that understood?"

    The room was punctuated with nods and hums of acknowledgement. Primarina stared up at the projector, his face constantly contorting between different expressions. Sense was returning to him. He was finding it harder and harder to listen to that little voice in his head. He… This wasn't his business. Yeah; it wasn't. He had no business being here. He shouldn't be here. He should leave. He should…

    …No. He was in too deep now. It had to look like he left with them.

    Remember your mission.

    It was too late. Too late to back out. Too late to get help. Primarina was trapped and he knew it.

    "Good," Mawile said. And with that, she reached over and pulled the connection orb out of the pokemon Nexus. Stepping onto the floor as it slowly slid back in and walking past the tape, she slipped the connection orb in her bag. "That'll be all. Thank you for your time." And with that, Mawile threw open the shutters, blinding half the pokemon in the room and causing the rest of them to quickly hide their eyes.

    "Apologies," Mawile stated at the light-induced groans that pervaded the room, blinking rapidly herself as her eyes tried to adjust to the light. "I'm afraid that was a mistake."

    "A little more than a mistake…" Buizel groaned, his eyes over his paws. "You ruined my eyes…" Mawile courteously ignored him. She walked up to Primarina, who had barely recovered from the sudden flood of light into his eyes. "As promised," she began, digging into her bag. "physical copies; to be taken back to Cloud Nine for processing." Mawile's hand emerged with a short stack of photos, handing them to Primarina. Primarina reluctantly took them in his flippers, handing them off to Braixen. He whispered something in Braixen's ear, who nodded and quickly opened the gate leading to the bottom floor and slipped through it.

    "I- I do ask that you provide me and Braixen with lodging for one more night. The Exeggutor has not been fully prepared for sea yet; it's been a while since I've had any maintenance done… you understand."

    Mawile nodded cordially. "Of course." she then turned and briskly headed towards the library. Ampharos took that as his chance to step in.

    "Afternoon," he cut in with his jovial tone, slipping in front of Primarina before the seal could move anywhere else. "I don't believe we've met. Care to shake paws for a minute or two?"

    If Primarina had any overt objections, he was good at hiding them (Although Ampharos could tell he had them anyway). He held out a flipper, which Ampharos heartily shook.

    "You're the 'Chief' everymon here reveres so much; correct?" Primarina kept his tone regal, bearing Ampharos' vigorous paw-shaking as best he could.

    "Correctomundo!" Ampharos exclaimed, continuing to shake Primarina's flipper. "And you're our beloved guest, who has taken up residence in my office for the time being. We're chuffed to have you!"

    Primarina retracted his flipper as soon as he could pry it out of Ampharos' paw. "…I am very pleased to be here as well," he said, sounding like each word of that sentence was a slight against his very being. "…'Chuffed', if that's how you 'mon say it in Lively Town."

    "Chuffed to meet you! You may call me Ampharos." Ampharos said. "and to echo the words of my vice-chief, on the behalf of everymon in the Expedition Society I wish you a grand rest of your stay."

    "…So do I," Primarina replied after a moment. "In fact, I'm enjoying it so much I must get to packing my bags in excitement. There is a long journey back to Cloud Nine ahead of us; after all."

    "Be my guest!" Ampharos declared. "Literally."

    Primarina grimaced. Then he slowly slid himself along back to Ampharos' office. Once the door had closed behind him, Ampharos leaned back against the wall; folding his paws behind his back. Very suspicious indeed.

    ~\({O})/~

    Mess Hall ~ Evening

    Swirlix had spent the day cooking up (and also eating) a storm ever since Ampharos had returned, and despite Mawile's concerns over general supplies a feast decorated the tables of the Expedition Society that night. Everymon had gathered around the table, eating heartily from the literal piles of food that decorated the plates (And yet; Mawile never saw any leftovers) and conversing with each other. Even 'mon like Nickit who preferred to keep to themselves had shown up for the feast; since Swirlix had long since made it clear that if one did not make dinnertime, one would be making their own dinner. Dinnertime was the one event at the Expedition Society that everymon in Headquarters could be trusted to regularly show up at, and so lots of trading and bartering and gossip went on between the constant chomping and slurping at the dinner table.

    "Found a mission on the board," Bunnelby said to Buizel in between bites of several different vegetables and berries. "Looks like something you'd be into."

    Buizel nodded, but he was too busy taking a bite out of a piece of fish to respond.

    At the head of the long table, Ampharos noticed Mawile taking a bite of a chesto berry. That had been her second one today (That he knew of). She was attempting to go without sleep for too long; he knew. But that wasn't as important right now. Certainly not anything to disrupt kind Swirlix' feast over. Instead, he discreetly scanned the dinner participants for either Primarina or Braixen.

    Neither were there.

    ~\({O})/~

    Ampharos' Office

    ~Primarina~

    "Do you really want to do this?" Secretary asked. On the other side of the office, Primarina, picked up his fully-packed bag in his flippers.

    "Wait until everymon here is asleep, then meet me on the Exeggutor," Primarina said. "If you're not there by morning I'm taking off without you."

    And then he walked straight past Secretary and out into the hall.

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Hallway ~ Nighttime

    Dinner was over. Mawile walked down the hallway, struggling to keep herself upright. She felt tired beyond comprehension, but there was important work to be done. That trumped sleep.

    There was the sound of somemon walking up the stairs – tripping – and then stumbling onto the second floor. Soon after that Ampharos caught up with Mawile and joined her in stride. They walked in silence for a moment. Then, Ampharos spoke:

    "You need to sleep," he said, his voice completely serious.

    "I have important things to do," Mawile muttered.

    "Like what?" Ampharos asked shrewdly.

    "Research. I have to go through the archives on the Sand Continent-" A yawn grabbed Mawile, cutting off her sentence "-and see if I can find a passage on that anomaly there."

    "Things like that are done better when one is refreshed and awake," Ampharos stated.

    "Sleeping wastes time," Mawile responded.

    "Sleep is important," Ampharos said. "And you are in dire need of it."

    "I'll survive," Mawile slurred. She was having trouble making it to the end of the hall. Ampharos said nothing. He walked with her at the slow pace she was going, and it got slower and slower until eventually Mawile's legs gave out from under her-

    -Ampharos caught her before she fell. Silently, he helped her all the way to her office and laid her down on her bed. Sleepily, Mawile grasped for one of the few remaining chesto berries on the bedside desk, but Ampharos removed them from her reach.

    "Sleep," he whispered, and then Mawile did.

    Once he was sure that Mawile had fallen asleep, Ampharos picked up the chesto berries once again, walked out with them, and let the office door close behind him.

    ~\({O})/~

    Observatory ~ Late Night

    It was late at night. Jirachi slept.

    Unaware of the world outside the frame of his dreams. Unaware of the battered old printer, which had finally finished making the copies of the photos he had put on yesterday.

    Unaware of the door to the observatory slowly creeping open. Somemon nimbly hopped in, quietly brushing the doorstopper into place with their bushy tail.

    They slowly crept across the room, making sure not to disturb Jirachi as they went. Until they reached the printer.

    They left that well alone.

    The pokemon grabbed a connection orb out of its bag. The click of the orb as it slotted into Mawile's expedition gadget reverberated throughout the room. The pokemon's head snapped back towards Jirachi. Had he heard… ?

    Still sleeping. Still safe. The pokemon turned back to what it was doing. Downloading something. Deleting it from the gadget. The pokemon repeated the same thing with Archen's expedition gadget. Insert orb. Make sure Jirachi is still sleeping. Download. Delete from gadget.

    The pokemon quietly slipped the connection orb back in its bag, and strode back across the room. Past the sleeping Jirachi. Still sleeping.

    Mawile carefully adjusted the bag so it wouldn't knock any of the dusty books laying around, then let the door quietly close behind her.

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Lively Town

    ~Braixen~

    Braixen stepped out the doors of the Expedition Society. He took a slow, long glance around at the town below him. This place was the highest vantage point in the city. Even in the nighttime, he could see the Exeggutor from here. That was good. He was close. From the bag that hung from his shoulders he produced the photos that Primarina had given to him earlier. They needed to be disposed of quickly. Braixen kneeled over the sewer monhole that was in the middle of the square, hastily dropping the photos into the depths through the metal plate's slits. The muks could have them. Braixen stood back up-

    "-Leaving so soon?" Ampharos asked from behind him, leaning against the side of the doorframe. "How very unlike you. I would have thought you'd want to cover up your tracks a little more first."

    Braixen stopped, trying not to look like he was guilty. "I don't know what you're talking about," he repeated mechanically. He almost believed it. "'Thought I saw something in the sewers."

    "Oh, but you do," Ampharos said. "Lying does you no good here."

    Something in Ampharos' tone told Braixen that the jig was up. He had been caught. His first instinct was to run for it, but then he wondered if Ampharos expected him to do that. How many Expedition Society members were waiting for him just outside that plaza?

    "…Did I at least get away with it?" Braixen asked, not even turning around.

    "Ah, but you almost did!" Ampharos replied jovially. "I must admit that was clever of you; impersonating the vice-chief. If only I didn't know my colleagues as well as I do. Just like I know your true species. We have no need of illusions here, either."

    Common sense told Braixen not to be difficult before he knew what he was dealing with. His form began to shimmer, and for a second it hurt Ampharos' eyes to see. And then, in Braixen's place there stood a zoroark. Ampharos could tell he was young; barely of age.

    "So now what?" Zoroark asked, still facing away from Ampharos.

    "Nothing!" Ampharos responded in that same cheerful tone. "The Expedition Society will do absolutely nothing. Who are we to act in the stead of our superiors? I'll even stay silent for you."

    "What's the catch?"

    "There is no catch."

    That was enough to make Zoroark turn around in surprise.

    The only thing I ask of you," Ampharos continued, "is that you consider what you're about to do very carefully. You're a bright kid. I think you know what the right thing is."

    "What does that mean?" Zoroark asked.

    "That's for you to decide," Ampharos stated. From out of the bag he was holding he pulled an identical connection orb, showing it to Zoroark. "You can smash that orb on the ground, or you can hand it to me and smash this one instead. Either way; I will not lift a paw to stop you. You're free to do as you wish."

    Zoroark paused. He looked at the orb in his hand. Then at the one in Ampharos' paw.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~The Exeggutor~

    "Did you get it?" Ambassador Primarina asked as Zoroark-as-Braixen stepped onto the ship. He held out the orb for Primarina to see.

    "Good," Primarina barked. "Now smash it. As far as anymon outside this room is concerned it never existed."

    Zoroark-as-Braixen nodded. He stood back, raised his arm, and then hurled the orb straight at the floor. For all its resilience the connection orb was still a fragile piece of technology, and it smashed apart into tiny little bits against the hard, wooden floorboards of the cabin. Zoroark ground it into dust with his feet. Now no-mon would ever know what had been on it. And neither would Primarina.

    Zoroark was counting on that.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Pegasus - Bear McCreary
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 14 - The Clubhouse
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    14.

    The Clubhouse

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village ~ Morning

    ~Espurr~

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

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

    Had they been waiting there all morning?

    "I don't normally trade with kids," he said, clearing his throat once more. Then he looked at Tricky. His eyes narrowed. "Hey… aren't you the one who st-"

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

    Next in line; Fletchinder and Eevee glanced at the two pokemon in front of them uneasily.

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

    Espurr set another sack of poke on the counter. "This should cover it."

    Kecleon almost didn't look like he wanted to know where all the poke had come from.

    "…How much lumber are we talking?" he asked.

    "How much do you have?" Espurr replied; nonchalant.

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

    "Hey- HEY! We'll buy some of that off you! It's for your classroom!"

    Tricky immediately began to push the wagon faster.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Deerling~

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

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







    What the m-

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

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

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

    "I think—" she gasped, trying to calm down "—I think it's this way."

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Why don't we just ask?" she pointed out.

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

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    "Oh, they are not getting away with that," Eevee stewed as she and Fletchinder walked into the woods with the sack full of nails.

    "Do you want to remind me what was the point of buying so many nails?" Fletchinder asked.

    "Well, they bought all the lumber," Eevee said, "So they must need nails too. And now we have all the nails. We'll track them down and then trade."

    "But they didn't buy nails," Fletchinder pointed out. "What happens if it turns out they already have them?"

    "Well, then, we just wasted half a sack of poke," Eevee snapped. "But it's going to be mukking worth it."

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

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

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

    "…Maybe we'll find them tomorrow," Tricky helpfully offered. "Let's just get the other stuff and then we'll worry about nails."

    That was fair.

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

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

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

    "I'll be counting!" Watchog yelled after her. Espurr did her best to ignore Watchog's cynical comments.

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

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

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

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

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

    Maybe Tricky was faring better than her.

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

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

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Pancham~

    "You bored?" Pancham idly strung another rock up in his slingshot, laying on his belly on the roof of the Café Connection. He briefly glanced at Shelmet, who was lazily watching all the passing 'mon below.

    It was a moment before Shelmet answered: "Yeah."

    "I've got something you two can do."

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

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

    Espurr looked back towards the other end of the roof. "The same way you did," she replied calmly. "I climbed the ladder around the back."

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

    "Alright; we're bored anyway. Watchu got?"

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

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

    "Go on."

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Tricky~

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

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

    Diggersby looked around. "…Where's the wagon?" he asked. Tricky's ears suddenly shot up.

    'Berry crackers,' she mouthed.

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

    Diggersby waited a minute, whistling in boredom. When Tricky still didn't show up, he sighed and then placed the shingles on the ground. She'd find them there when she got back for them.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Goomy~

    It was high noon.

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

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

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

    "Watch it…" the swadloon muttered annoyedly as it righted itself. There was no change in its facial expression (Swadloon were a dull lot).

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

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

    "H-hey! Can I c-come along?"

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

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

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

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Espurr blanched. That wasn't part of the plan! She looked at the underbrush at Pancham, who followed Watchog up to the library. At least the coast was clear now. She quickly slipped in once they were out of sight, hiding behind the path that led up to the school clinic. She watched Watchog march Pancham and Shelmet up towards the library, lying in wait for her moment to strike.

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

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

    "I get it, but…" Shelmet grimaced. "Books?"

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

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

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

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

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

    The library was to the right of the deserted clinic, and the door had been left wide open (Apparently, Pancham and Shelmet didn't think much of closing doors behind them). Espurr ducked in through the door and wasted no time locating the ladder over by the G section like it had always been. She quickly began to move it as fast as she could, ignoring the heart-wrenching number that the squeaking of the ladder was doing on her heart. What if Watchog heard? If she was caught she'd be in more trouble than she could even fathom; no doubt.

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

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

    -Footsteps.

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

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

    "Hey! Is somemon in there?!" Watchog shouted from outside, and Espurr nearly jolted. This was scaring her almost too much for her to remain calm. But she stood still with the book clutched tightly in her paws as Watchog entered the library.

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

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

    Then Espurr realized she was standing next to a source of light- A window! That was her chance to escape!

    …If only she could somehow throw Watchog off.

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

    "Come on out," Watchog trilled, sounding almost maniacal. "Or it'll be a world of hurt for you~."

    He was still close to the bookshelves. Closer than she'd thought. Espurr's breath caught again. She needed a distraction, and fast. She turned her head over to the other bookcase, focusing her mental powers onto that instead. A random book – she didn't care which book – on the top shelf began to tremble. Slowly, it pulled itself out as if dragged by an invisible paw. Espurr watched it carefully through a crack in the bookshelf. And then gravity did its work, and the book toppled all the way to the floor. Espurr saw the way it had landed and she was *sure* that something had happened to the binding, but she didn't particularly care as long as it drew Watchog's attention away from her.

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

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

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

    He was waiting for her.

    Espurr wanted to freeze, but she didn't. Watchog would catch her if she did that. Slowly; quietly, she began to edge towards the other end of the wall- the one that lead to the backside of the library. (The library was a long building.)

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

    "Aha!" Watchog cried. "Found y- …Oh."

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

    "Stupid ghosts," he muttered to himself. Then he quickly marched off; slightly embarrassed. Espurr wasted no time scurrying around the back of the library and rushing off into the east, where she was able to cut back around to the Village Square through the forest.

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

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

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

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

    "Hey, actually," Shelmet began loudly. "Whatever you're doing; we want in."

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

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

    "And what makes you think I'd do that?" Espurr asked. She still didn't trust them; not after that stunt they had pulled with the Drilbur Mines.

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

    Espurr locked up. Berry crackers. There was no way out of that! At least, not one that didn't involve trying to scare the two of them and hoping they would back down (And somehow, she didn't think they would). Better to just go along with it and hope they got bored, she thought.

    "…Fine," she said, trying to keep up appearances and preserve her dignity at least a little longer. "It's right this way."

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Deerling~

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

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

    "Hey Mom-" she called. "I'm going out!"

    "It's about time," Mother called from another room of the house. "I don't know what you've been doing in here; holed up all da-"

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

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    ~Goomy~

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

    "Goinff to pick uph fingles," Tricky said; her mouth full with the wagon's pull-along handle. "why foo 'ere?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Alright then!" Tricky exclaimed gleefully. "We're going straight there!"

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

    "A-are we there?" he asked.

    "Yep," Tricky replied. She yawned. "We're just waiting for Espurr now-"

    "-Present."

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

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

    Pancham leaned against a tree. "We're bored," he said. "What are you doing here?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "…N-no," he said. "I-I don't want to."

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

    "N-no I won't," Goomy said.

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

    Deerling scoffed. "No he can't. Not if it's dangerous for him. That's something you could stand to learn, 'Tricky'."

    "You just can't move on from that, can you?!" Tricky yelled at Deerling.

    "You killed a 'mon!" Deerling screamed back. "How could you expect anymon to trust you ever again?"

    "Espurr does," Tricky retorted.

    "Espurr doesn't count!"

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

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

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

    "I accept," Tricky said. "Bring it."

    The next half-hour was spent clearing all the supplies back into the woods so that it wouldn't get destroyed. Which made Espurr just a little uneasy.

    "What's a duel?" She asked Pancham as the two of them moved the lumber back into a safe spot behind some ferns.

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

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

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

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

    Deerling looked a bit surprised by Tricky's proposal, but she didn't comment on it. "It's settled, then. I hope you were paying attention in Dungeon Class."

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

    Tricky moved first. She dashed towards Deerling; her mouth alight with flame-

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

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

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

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

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

    "You can't keep running!" Deerling yelled as Tricky ran. "This is going to end eventually!"

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

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

    Espurr watched the entire thing; horrified. Several times she had contemplated intervening, but she wasn't stupid. Intervening probably meant that Tricky forfeited the duel. There was nothing she could do. Nothing but watch and endure.

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

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

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

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

    "Are you down?" Deerling asked. Tricky didn't respond. Maybe…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

    "I don't know," Espurr replied. She honestly didn't. "What if neither of you won?"

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

    "…Both pokemon have to… what?" Espurr prompted.

    "Both pokemon have to obey the other's claim," Tricky said.

    "Oh." That wasn't as big a deal for Espurr as it seemed to be for Tricky, who stayed silent for the rest of the trip home.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Square

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts ~ Morning

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

    "Hopefully it doesn't rain tomorrow," he commented sardonically.

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

    Pancham shrugged. "What? It's my thing."

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

    It was sundown, and everymon was getting ready to pack up and go home. Tricky took a seat next to Deerling, panting from all the work that she had been doing. Deerling didn't move.

    For a moment, the both of them sat in silence, tolerating each other's presence but refusing to acknowledge it. Then, Tricky spoke: "I'm really sorry for what happened with Budew. I… I'll try to be more careful in the future. So it never happens again."

    They sat in silence for a couple more minutes.

    "…Are we friends now?" Tricky asked uncertainly. For a moment, Deerling didn't answer.

    "…It's a start," she said. And then she got up and silently walked away, leaving Tricky sitting on the forest floor all on her own.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week! :D

    Jaws: End Titles – John Williams
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 15 - Fright Night
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    15.

    Fright Night

    ~\({O})/~

    Capim Town ~ Grass Continent

    ~Buizel~

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

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

    Buizel liked to let his thoughts wander when he shot across the sea faster than any lapras in the world could take him. He probably could get Archen's spot if he asked for it. It was technically a rank above him, but Buizel had been performing missions with a near-perfect track record for just about a year, and a promotion was probably in order (His track record was better than Archen's anyway). But on the other hand, getting a promotion meant getting on the executive staff. And being on the executive staff meant paperwork. And missions with Mawile. And everymon knew Mawile was just no fun to go on missions with.

    Besides, for all the bird's grumpiness, Archen was still a valued and respected member of the Expedition Society, and Buizel wouldn't seriously think of trying to get him demoted on purpose. Surfacing briefly for a breath of air, Buizel took in the large landmass he was currently jetting towards. He abruptly changed his direction, rocketing due east instead. It was the Grass Continent; alright. All he had to do was find a dock to properly surface on.

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

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

    The dock was made of unvarnished, unsmoothed wood. There weren't even any steps to climb up onto it easily from the water. It took Buizel a while to get up onto the dock, and a few seconds more to keep his balance on the uneven surface. He quickly shook himself off when no-mon was looking, and continued on into the town in the distance.

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

    "Looking for a water-type willing to recover my lost heirloom for me," the note read. "3000 Poke reward. Will give more details in person. I will be waiting in the tavern in Capim Town for the next two weeks to see if anyone accepts my request. Sincerely, Quilava."

    Buizel relaxed. His client was in the tavern, then. He stuck the paper back in his bag and re-zipped it, looking around at the buildings in the square he was standing in. Let's see… he had only bothered to even try to learn footprint runes at Mawile's request, but he was pretty sure footprint runes for 'tavern' were-

    Squish. Everything in Buizel's head came to a screeching halt. God no. He hadn't stepped in…

    He had. Buizel slowly lifted his foot out of a pile of dung that sat straight in the middle of the street. He grimaced and carefully wiped his foot off on the 'ground' beside that. He had forgotten pokemon on the Grass Continent did… that… now he remembered why he hadn't taken a mission here in so long. No-mon around him seemed to care that he had just stepped in a large pile of pokemon trash; the few inhabitants of the place (There was much less hustle and bustle here than there was in Lively Town) going about their days relatively carefree.

    Luckily, Buizel had remembered the footprint runes for 'tavern', and the sign was just to his left. That was a stroke of luck. Buizel gingerly stepped around the pile of dung he had just stepped in, and walked off to the tavern before anymon could question him.

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

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

    "Is this you?" he asked, making no attempts at subtlety or tact. A straight question was ruder, but it got to the point.

    Quilava slowly took the slip of paper in his hands, holding it up to his face. After an abnormally long amount of time, he set down the paper, and looked up at Buizel: "Yes. Tha's me."

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

    Quilava looked down awkwardly at his plate of roasted berries. Buizel felt a mix of impatience and annoyance flood him. He glanced around the bar quickly, then took a seat on the stool opposite the quilava. "Alright then. Brief me. That way we can save time once we reach the coast."

    Quilava looked down at his plate once more. He picked up a fork, speared a strawberry, and put it in his mouth. Buizel inwardly wilted from impatience. Was this going to go on all day?

    "I' was five days ago," Quilava started; having swallowed the berry while Buizel was stewing. "Ah was fishin' off tha coast to tha east of Capim Town."

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    He wanted to see no more of it.

    Staying wet was a hazard for fire types; so susceptible to water-borne diseases. Quilava tried shaking himself off like he had seen the animals in the wild do, then ran back to Capim Town as fast as all four of his paws would take him.

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


    ~\({O})/~​

    Buizel sat back in the stool; his arms folded as he listened to Quilava's story. It was the same old story many of his clients gave him- they were going about their day, something unfortunate happened, they got away but lost their valuable thing that they were willing to pay poke to get back. Cue the explorer. He nodded intermittently to give Quilava the impression that he was listening, since it seemed like the pokemon would take offense to being ignored. Buizel had gotten the necessary details, anyway. A run of the mill retrieval mission. Solid gold necklace. Fire stone in the middle. No biggie. He looked at Quilava's plate of berries, which was empty at this point (The quilava had alternated between telling the story and eating; not that Buizel cared).

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

    "Alright then. Let's stop wasting daylight."

    "Bu'…" Quilava looked down at his empty plate. "Ah haf' to-"

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

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

    ~Espurr~

    A loud bang woke Espurr from her slumber. She sat up straight in the bed of straw, looking around the room that had recently become hers only two days ago. No-mon was there. She could make out the outlines of the room's sparse furniture (What amounted to a dresser and a vacant bookshelf), but no-mon currently shared the room with her. Espurr kept an eye on her surroundings anyway. This was not the first time that she had been woken like this.

    For a moment, there was silence. And then the dresser began to rattle. Espurr jumped in her bed. She braced herself; just in case she'd have to fight. If something was in that dresser…

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

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

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

    "What happened?!" she cried out. "Was it- was it… oh." She slowly calmed down, taking in both Espurr and the overturned dresser. "What happened?"

    "The dresser fell down," Espurr responded. She'd had half a mind to tell Audino about what had knocked the dresser over, but there was no need to stir up even more commotion. She'd tell Audino tomorrow.

    Audino walked over, looking at the damage.

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

    Espurr tried to, even after Audino had gone back to her room and Espurr lay curled up once more in the bed of straw. Had she just been lucid dreaming somehow, and the dresser had fallen as a co-incidence? She glanced back at the overturned dresser. It was a very convenient coincidence.

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

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Square ~ Afternoon

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

    "It's hot out today; isn't it?" she asked. Espurr hadn't remembered a day in which it hadn't been hot outside of a mystery dungeon. At some point the waiting in Kecleon's line began to bore her, so she quietly slipped away when Audino wasn't looking and walked over to the empty portion of the square to observe from a distance. The logs were missing from the square today; Espurr noticed. She was a bit disappointed- it had been a nice place to sit, while it had lasted.

    Things were much quieter on the other side of the square, and it wasn't long before Espurr's ears began to pick up the sound of distant, off-key whistling. Getting closer. She turned to see who was making all that noise, and then suddenly she dived behind Hawlucha's Slam School. She knew she had recognized that melody from somewhere- it was Nuzleaf's song! She just couldn't avoid him, could she?

    Sure enough, the whistling got closer and closer until Nuzleaf walked by, carrying an empty sack of supplies on a stick slung over his back. Espurr relaxed as he passed. He hadn't seen her.

    "Espurr!" Audino called out, from the other side of the square. Espurr's spirits fell. How was she going to- She spotted a gap in between two buildings outside the square. Never mind,

    She took the long way around back to Audino, who had the now-filled to bursting exploration bag firmly strapped to her shoulder. "I wonder where all your friends went?" she asked. "I usually see one or two of them hanging around by now. Espurr suddenly perked up. Did that mean…

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    "…And that's a job well done." Pancham brushed off his hands and gazed up at the finished treehouse. It looked sturdy. Enough.

    "Are you guys sure you followed the manual?" Tricky asked suspiciously. "The roof doesn't look right…"

    "Hey," Pancham said. "Me and Shelmet have built treehouses before. We know what we're doing."

    "I don't think that was the right way to put the shingles on," Tricky said.

    "Whatchu talking about?" Pancham asked, leaning against a tree. "The shingles look fine. Want my opinion? That manual can go m-"

    ~\({O})/~​

    "That looks wrong," Espurr said, glancing up at the roof shingles.

    "See?!" Tricky cried triumphantly. "I told you!"

    "Guys," Pancham insisted. "It's fine."

    Deerling shook her head. "No it's not," she said.

    "Yeah it is."

    "No, it's not."

    "Prove me wrong."

    "Prove you wrong?! Have you ever been right?"

    "Go out with me and I'll let you win."

    "Ha! You wish."

    "G-guys-"

    "That's not the right way to apply roof shingles!"

    "There's a manual!"

    "G-guys-"

    "Alright!" Pancham threw up his hands. "Have it your way. I'm not putting them back straight."

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

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

    ~\({O})/~​

    "What's that thing?" Pancham put down the picture book he'd gotten tired of staring at, glancing lazily at the other side of the treehouse where Espurr and Tricky were fiddling with the Expedition Gadget.

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

    "What's it do?" Pancham asked; obviously not satisfied.

    "I just told you," Tricky said. "We use it for exploring."

    Pancham was silent for a minute.

    "So what do you do when you go exploring?" he asked.

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

    Tricky eventually broke the silence between them. "Stuff," she said.

    "What kind of stuff?" Pancham pressed.

    "Stuff," Tricky repeated. "Exploring stuff."

    "So tell me what exploring stuff is."

    "Let's talk about something else," Deerling quickly cut in before anymon else could say anything, directing most of her gaze at Tricky. "I'm not in the mood to have this conversation."

    Tricky went silent, and then everymon stayed that way.

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

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

    Just as she expected, Tricky quickly looked towards her like she was crazy.

    "Did you just say salamence?" she asked, barely keeping her voice down.

    Espurr nodded. The mission reward was a large-ish amount of poke, and came accompanied by a sack of something called 'blast seeds' (Which Espurr thought sounded useful, even if she didn't know what they were).

    Tricky stayed silent for a minute, but Espurr could already see the gears whirring in her head. She yawned. "We can go tomorrow, right?" she asked.

    The answer seemed so obvious that Espurr didn't even grace it with a verbal response.

    The six of them all split up at the village square, and then the haze of feel-bad thoughts that had been plaguing Espurr's head for the last hour or so finally lifted. She could think clearly again for what felt like the first time in hours, and she was riding the high spirits as she walked into Audino's house.

    She was not visited again that night.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    ~Eevee~

    Thankfully, it was not the new moon. Eevee quietly trotted through the forest, followed by Fletchinder. The moonlight was just bright enough that they could see where they were trudging, as well as where all the trees were.

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

    "Don't you get it?" Eevee hissed at him. "We were supposed to get all the lumber from Fraxure! I'm representing the lumber company; it was my responsibility to get it for you! And now all we have is half the lumber we need, plus those logs we pilfered from the town square! No-mon's gonna notice if we chop down a tree here or there. You get your lumber; I file some paperwork; that's both our tails covered. No-mon's gonna know."

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

    "If a tree falls in a forest and no-mon hears it, it still fell," said Fletchinder.

    "Uh-huh. Except no-mon is gonna care," Eevee hissed back. She walked up to the base of a tree and swiped some of the bark off with her claws. "This one. You chop it down; I'll debark it."

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

    "You're a carpenter; how do you usually chop lumber?" Eevee responded.

    "Well, I have tools I use…" Fletchinder said.

    "And you didn't think to bring them?!" Eevee stressed. "I told you what we were going to do before we walked out all this way to do it!"

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

    "Did you hear that?" Fletchinder whispered.

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

    She stopped abruptly. A frozen expression hung on Fletchinder's beak, and he stared ahead of her. It was then that Eevee noticed the lights reflecting off his face. She quickly turned around, and then they both screamed.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village ~ Daytime

    "Wanna join us."

    Tricky did not sound enthused at all about asking Pancham to come along on their mission. Espurr had made sure they packed well and with everything they might need to combat a salamence. After the disaster that had been Poliwrath River, she was loath to take any chances (Even if she and Tricky cleared standard dungeons every other day).

    "Join what?" Pancham asked, twirling his slingshot by the sling.

    "Our mission," Tricky said flatly. "We need at least three pokemon on our team to take it."

    Pancham thought for a minute.

    "I don't know…" he said. "See, I'm a 'mon who likes to be appreciated. And I'm not vibing the proper appreciation from you; you catching me?"

    Smoke started to curl up from Tricky's ears. She glared daggers at him.

    "I-I'll join."

    All three pokemon quickly looked to the left, where Goomy had slimed up without them noticing. "I- I'm not fast," he said, "But I wanna g-go anyway. I c-can take it."

    "Sold!" Tricky chirped, her bad mood evaporating on the spot. She immediately pranced over to Goomy, when began to trot off at his pace like Pancham had never existed.

    "I assume you're coming?"

    Pancham, who was busy fuming at Tricky, jumped. He looked at Espurr, who was standing off to the side with the overstuffed exploration bag and staring directly at him.

    "Yeah; I- I'm coming," he said. "What do you think I am; stupid?"

    Espurr didn't answer that for his sake.

    ~\({O})/~

    Lush Forest

    The salamence roared. All four pokemon scattered.

    "You didn't tell me we were going to be fighting a mukking salamence!" Pancham yelled over the noise. "I would have stayed home!"

    "I thought you knew!" Tricky yelled back. "We talked about it on the way!"

    "Everymon duck!" Espurr yelled at them both, brandishing her hands in front of her as if her mental power was a physical weapon. The salamence blew a mighty dragon breath in their direction, and everyone but Espurr ducked. Only seconds later they all peeked out from the foliage they had hid behind to see that she had conjured up a barrier and blocked the attack. And then they all scattered again once the salamence began to come at them itself.

    "Run!" Tricky yelled, running. Pancham didn't even say anything, hurry-scurrying away as fast as he could.

    Espurr spared a look at the other three retreating pokemon, then saw the salamence that was almost upon her and reluctantly retreated.

    The four of them quickly dived in a bush behind where Salamence was looking around for them, and quickly huddled together in a circle.

    "What's the plan?" Tricky asked.

    "One of us needs to get close enough to land an attack," Espurr said. "Or we'll never beat it."

    The salamence roared, realizing that it had been tricked.

    "Or we can hit it from a distance," Pancham replied. He showed Espurr, Trick, and Goomy the slingshot that he had brought along.

    Tricky's eyes bugged out of her head. "You brought that along and didn't tell us?" she chided.

    "It doesn't matter anyway," Espurr said. "We don't have anything to shoot."

    Pancham picked up a couple of stones from the ground. "We do now. Listen up." He leaned in closer. "here's what we're gonna do…"

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Hey! Ya big lunk! Here's a wake-up gift from your neighborhood gangster!" A pebble struck the back of Salamence's head. It turned around, looking at him fiercely.

    "Y-yeah," Pancham stuttered once the salamence's attention was on him. "T-that's right. Follow me! …Dung-head!"

    The salamence screeched; enraged by Pancham's insult, and it began to lumber after him.

    From a little distance aways, both Espurr and Goomy were perched on a largish boulder. Espurr quickly fished in her bag for something last minute. "Make sure you're ready," she said to Goomy. "We both need to jump at the same time for this to work."

    Goomy looked slightly annoyed, but he set his sights on the salamence instead.

    "I-I don't need help," he murmured. "I can do it on my own."

    "Yeah! Keep following me!" Pancham yelled. He shot his last pebble at the salamence, which landed right between its eyes. Realizing he was out of pebbles, Pancham quickly course-corrected for the large boulder.

    Espurr braced herself for the jump. Goomy looked at Espurr, then copied her. The salamence lumbered closer and closer towards them, but just before it could pass it Tricky suddenly leapt out of the underbrush and spat an ember straight into Salamence's face. By the time that Salamence's vision recovered, Tricky was gone; and so was Pancham.

    "Over here!" Tricky yelled from behind Salamence. Salamence turned its head, opening its mouth to snap at Tricky, but Tricky was too fast and dove under its belly before the salamence could get her.

    It was now or never. Espurr jumped, and so did Goomy. Espurr landed on Salamence's back. Goomy got in its face. All as planned. Salamence threw Goomy off easily, but it was too late- Espurr had already uncapped the tube of toothpaste, and squirted some onto her paws. She leapt onto the salamence's head from behind, jabbing her toothpaste-covered paws directly into Salamence's eyes.

    Salamence reared back, letting out

    "My eyes!" it roared. "Why won't you stupid dungeon 'mon just leave me alone?!

    All four of them stopped where they stood; mortified. Espurr discreetly slid off Salamence's back and wiped the toothpaste residue on the ground.

    Tricky let out a nervous laugh after a minute.

    "Ha… Ha… Funny thing… …We're not dungeon 'mon," she said.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Haaa!"

    Fraxure had practically fallen against his half-empty wagon of supplies, wheezing in laughter. "Oh my god that's good. You guys- you- you- Haaa…" he wheezed.

    Salamence simply growled, narrowing his eyes at Fraxure.

    "See?" Fraxure said, still wheezing. "I told you- I told you that you're like a dungeon feral when you wake up! And this just proves it!"

    "That was uncalled for," growled Salamence.

    "You also promised you were going to help me with that delivery two days ago and guess what? Nothing," Fraxure pointed out, folding his arms and leaning against the cart. "That's what you get for lazing off in a mystery dungeon."

    "So you sic a rescue team on me?" Salamence retorted.

    Fraxure shrugged his arms. "You owe me; by the way."

    "For what?" Salamence snapped.

    "That bet you made when you got drunk at Spinda's in Lively Town." Fraxure.

    "What bet is that? I don't remember making any bet!" Salamence asked.

    "Wanna take a stab at it?"

    "Hey," Pancham began, just before Fraxure began to grab the reigns of his cart again. "Don't you owe us something?"

    "Oh-" Fraxure smacked the side of his head with his stubby fists. "Pardon, I forgot all about that. Let me get that for you. Thanks for reminding me."

    "Such newfound politeness," Salamence grumbled to himself.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

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

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

    "Exactly," Pancham stressed.

    Espurr really should have figured out what blast seeds were once she'd heard the name 'blast seed'. She eyed Pancham concernedly the entire way home.

    "If you wanna use our stuff, you've gotta be on our team," Tricky said. "And you're not joining."

    "Aww, why not?" Pancham mock complained.

    Tricky didn't answer that. She just trotted ahead of him. Espurr silently took the bag of blast seeds in her paws before Pancham could think about stealing one.

    ~\({O})/~

    Audino's House

    "I moved the dresser out of your room, by the way," Audino said as they ate.

    "What happened to it?" Espurr asked.

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

    "There's still the bookshelf," Espurr answered.

    "Yes," Audino replied. "There's still that."

    ~\({O})/~​

    Slowly coming to.

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

    Then she wasn't weary anymore.

    Espurr immediately stood up in her bed, bracing herself for a possible attack. It was back again, wasn't it? She spared a quick look over towards Audino's room. The sound wasn't loud enough to wake her. Espurr considered doing it herself. But then the bookshelf stopped rattling.

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

    It suddenly took a single step towards her. Espurr took several backwards, until she was backed up against the wall under the windowsill. She was out of ground, but the creature quickly advanced upon her, until it stood right in front of her. And then it stopped. It tilted its head, like it was just as confused as Espurr was. Espurr didn't dare move as the creature studied her, lest she upset it somehow and incur its wrath.

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

    "I'd prefer to sleep in here tonight," said Espurr, trying to keep the waver out of her voice. "If that's alright with you."

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

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr woke up a bit later than usual the next day. The sun was already shining in through the window and hurting her eyes, which signaled to her that it was much, much later than it should have been. She quickly sat up in bed. She wasn't used to sleeping in like that!

    But then she remembered what had happened last night, and why she was sleeping in Audino's room in the first place. Espurr glanced toward the now-empty room across the hall. Then she quickly got up and walked down the hall.

    ~\({O})/~

    Deerling's House

    "Do you want to come to our sleepover?"

    Espurr stood outside doorframe of Deerling's house; the exploration bag strapped firmly to our shoulder. Deerling, on the other side of the doorframe, traced circles in the ground with her hoof uneasily.

    "Is Tricky coming?" she asked after a minute.

    "I invited everymon," Espurr said matter-of-factly. "I thought we'd give the treehouse another shot."

    "…Did everymon else say yes?" Deerling asked.

    Espurr nodded. "You're the last. We're going to bring berries and tell scary stories until it gets too dark."

    "Where's this happening?!" Deerling's mother called from inside the house. Espurr froze. They had been talking in hushed voices.

    "…It's happening at my house!" Espurr yelled back after a brief pause. Deerling gave her a 'stop!' look.

    "Alright then!" Deerling's mother yelled back. "Deerling, you should go!"

    "But what if I-"

    "Don't be rude to your friend! When was the last time that you had a sleepover, anyway?"

    Deerling sighed in defeat. "Fine…" she muttered. "When's it happening?"

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

    "In an hour."

    Deerling shifted in place. "I'll come. Just don't expect me to stay or anything.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

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

    "But…" Tricky could barely see the torch in the dark. "Won't the treehouse catch fire if I do that?"

    "Eh, I'll be careful. Now light it."

    Tricky reluctantly blew heat-charged breath over the stick, and soon it began to glow with the very first embers of a fire. Pancham whipped back the fur-woven cover he had been crouching under, making the torch suddenly flare up as a result. Everymon jumped back. "Don't do that Pancham!" Deerling gasped.

    Pancham made the tiniest shrug, and then he was all business again.

    "The Ancient Barrow," he began. "It's been standing since before half the village was born. Farfetch'd won't talk about it. Watchog won't even go near it. Some say it's built on a rift between dimensions. Others say the pokemon who founded this village built it. But I know the truth. The truth about the Ancient Barrow."

    Espurr slowly leaned forward. Pancham was probably full of it, but she remembered the terrifying pillar of pure evil that had been the Ancient Barrow. If there was even a grain of truth to what Pancham was saying, she'd gladly take it.

    "Every summer, the thing that lives in the Ancient Barrow awakes from its slumber. It descends upon the town and wakes pokemon in their beds. Pokemon have disappeared from their houses in the night and woken up the next morning just outside the Barrow's entrance. It's said… that the Ancient Barrow does something to them. Maybe it's making them into zombies-"

    "-Pancham." Deerling interrupted flatly. "Literally no-mon says that."

    Pancham would have folded his arms if he wasn't holding the torch. "You're no fun."

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

    "…Yeah. I'm done. Next 'mon." He held out the torch awkwardly.

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

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

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

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

    Tricky was better at telling a story than Pancham was, and the others were beginning to realize it. She had no interruptions as she continued.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "…Interesting," Deerling said, breaking the silence. "I've never heard that one before."

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

    Goomy opened his mouth to begin-

    -But then the torch blew out all on its own, and everymon was cast into darkness. Espurr felt the air shift drastically. It felt like… she hadn't felt that since…

    Swish.

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

    Slowly, silently, Espurr crept towards the treehouse window. She had to know. She just had to. She wasn't going to be able to sit still and await her fate if the things she thought were out there really were out there.

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

    But there was nothing to do but wait. Wait, and hope that they moved on. Espurr quietly clutched the straps of the exploration bag. If worst came to worst… then they could battle. Right?

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

    "Pancham!" Espurr didn't see the need for subtlety anymore. "Did you bring that slingshot?!"

    Pancham quickly dug it out from behind his ear. "Yeah."

    The treehouse shook again. Espurr dug in the exploration bag for the sack of blast seeds. She had to have brought them. They had to be in here. They just had to-

    -She finally fished them out of the bag, and thrust them to Pancham. No words needed to be exchanged between them. Pancham opened the sack, pulled out a couple of blast seeds, and stuck one in his slingshot. He pulled it back, and then aimed directly at the beheeyem.

    "Gotcha."

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

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

    All six of the children watched them go. Uneasily

    "They'll come back," breathed Espurr. "We need to get back to the village."

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Go!"

    Everymon in the treehouse hurried down the ramp that was (thankfully) not damaged by the Beheeyem at all. Deerling helped Goomy along, and Espurr kept track on the woods all around them. She had given the blast seeds to Pancham, who had his slingshot. Tricky lead them all down the ramp, checking ahead just in case they came back.

    Espurr happened to look behind them. She saw the lights approaching from the woods.

    "They're back," she called to Pancham, spinning and charging up a mental blast of her own. She was done dealing with these 'mon-

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

    -The Beheeyem attacked. Espurr used the mental energy she'd been reserving to pull the same barrier trick she had pulled with Salamence. The attacks were weakened, but Espurr's barrier broke apart. None of them hit. Espurr saw that they had been weakened by the blast seed's explosion. But not by much.

    Everymon had gotten up by now. Pancham launched another blast seed over everymon's heads, and it hit the middle beheeyem directly in the head and sent all three careening apart.

    "Run!" Tricky screamed. Everymon obliged.

    They ran. They ran, through the woods until they reached the big tree on the hill. And only then did they stop to catch their breath.

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

    "Don't let your guard down," Espurr said, facing back in the direction of the woods. "They're still coming."

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

    "Keep going!" Pancham yelled out. "We can lose them if they don't see us here!"

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

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

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

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

    ~\({O})/~​

    The house was deserted. Audino was nowhere to be found. That worried Espurr just a bit, but she was quite winded from having run all the way back to Serenity Village while being chase, and it was clear that so was everymon else.

    Eventually they all fell asleep in a pile on the floor of Espurr's bedroom, all keeping an eye on the window until they drifted off to bed… just in case.

    ~\({O})/~

    Capim Bay ~ Grass Continent

    "This is the place?"

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

    "Ah was fishin' here when tha' thing-"

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

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

    The quilava nodded; a cautiously hopeful look on his face. Buizel effortlessly walked from the rock they were standing to another, bridging the gap with ease. "Alright then. Stand back while I get some traction."

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

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

    Perfect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "I assume I'm going to be paid?" he asked. A few pokemon had tried to commission his services and dock the pay in the past. Buizel didn't fall for that anymore.

    Quilava quickly shook his head. "Ah have tha pay in my house," he quickly began. "Ah can take you there-"

    'Yeah, let's do that." Buizel began to march back up towards the cliff without even waiting for Quilava to lead the way first. He didn't want to admit it, but truth be told… he was a more than a bit shaken. It just didn't make sense. It just didn't. Who would go to the trouble of making such an intricate statue just for the purposes of some kind of twisted prank? And why drop it all the way out of the sky? Even though he knew it was probably just the work of some busymon with nothing better to do, Buizel felt a little jittery just thinking about it. Maybe he ought to call it in. Yeah; he'd do that. He'd leave a message with whatever authorities existed in this village, and then he'd be on his merry way; thank you kindly sir; no weird prank statues here.

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

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week! :D

    Labor Intensive – Marco Beltrami
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 16 - Revelation Mountain
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    16.

    Revelation Mountain

    ~\({O})/~

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

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

    The Demetrius and the Gardevoir – Mechanical machinations created by the pokemon on Mist – both stood proudly in the waters off the bay of Capim Town, and the beaches had been blocked off by pokemon who had come out of those ships. All the villagers had flocked to the cliffs off the side of the bay to get a good look (There was a fletchling spy who was taking discreet rounds every so often and filling everymon in on what was happening), but Quilava preferred to stay in the town, far away from whatever was happening on the beach. Not that he could escape it that easily. Papers – actual papers; not papyrus – had been strung up against the bark of the houses all over Capim Town, and even though they were in unown and not the preferred footprint runes they all read the same thing:

    ATTENTION: As of 7/3/11133 Capim Beach has been declared a QUARANTINE ZONE until further notice. All unauthorized pokemon are barred from entry. All due regards, Helping Adventurous Pokemon Prosper Institute

    Quilava could still see the ships from in town – that was how large they were. He turned away from them and began to stroll further inland. Maybe he'd go hunt something. Something to make up for that long-lost fish. Everymon was up on the cliffs, so he wouldn't have competition. That sounded like a plan-

    "'Ey, Quilava!"

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

    "Quilava!" Duskull yelled. "the others sen' me! They said there's somethin' you should see!"

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

    "I's abou' the thing that caugh' you while you wen' fishin' last week!" Duskull yelled back at him.

    "I don't wanna see it," Quilava said.

    "I really think you shoul'!" Duskull yelled.

    "Wha's so importan' that ah have to see it?!" Quilava snapped, turning around.

    "I's Lugia."

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

    He'd bite.

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

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

    "'E's here; 'E's here!" Duskull announced excitedly, doing a spin in the air as the others turned around to look at Quilava.

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

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

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

    But it was.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village

    ~Espurr~

    Slowly coming to. Espurr sat up in her bed as her ears were greeted with yet another round of rattling from behind that shelf.

    And just like that, after a week of quiet, the hauntings began again.

    Espurr stood. She scanned the room for that dark figure again. She didn't see it. But the shelf still rattled.

    That was the last straw. Espurr was tired of being plagued by this thing while she slept. She wondered if she could locate and boot it out instead. Taking a breath, she closed her eyes and let her other sense take over.

    She couldn't see with it. Not the way she could with her eyes. But she could feel. And she felt that there was something else in the room with her, and she knew that she could grab it.

    Espurr took another breath to keep herself calm, and then let her mind's grasp close around the entity. And then she yanked.

    It yanked back, but Espurr was prepared for that. She didn't let go. And slowly, from behind the shelf, she extracted with her mind's grip a single lone blue flame. It hovered in the air statically for a second, desperately trying to escape Espurr's psychic pull in whichever direction it could, and then Espurr lost her grip upon it and it zoomed out the window.

    Espurr ran up to the window and watched it go. But by the time she spied it, it was just about gone. She saw it fly down the square's south exit and disappear from view. It seemed familiar to her.

    Slowly, Espurr's adrenaline-fueled energy left her, and she realized how weary she was. She stumbled back to her bed, and collapsed in it. And only in her sleep did she realize where she had seen that flame before.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The incident with the treehouse had made a lasting impression upon Espurr, Tricky, and all the others. It had been a week since, and in that time Espurr and Tricky had not gone on any missions at all nor talked to any of the other kids. And halfway through the week, Tricky had caught a cold, which left Espurr all on her lonesome. She had spent the remaining days reading the few books in Audino's meager library, as well as helping out with the general chores and Audino's cooking. The day before last had been Errand Day.

    Today, Audino was gone, and Espurr had the run of the house to herself. She donned her exploration bag, grabbed an apple on the way out (Audino was always in abundance of those; she'd found), and ate it on the way down to the south side of town.

    The Ancient Barrow. That was the only place (Outside Espurr's dreams) where she had seen one of those flames before, and she intended to investigate. It was close enough to town that if the beheeyem came looking, she'd be able to flee and get help before they caught her.

    The villa stood on its island of evil, isolated from the rest of the world by nothing but a lake of water and a rickety old bridge. Espurr still remembered where all – snap – most of the rotting spots were. She only snapped one board on her way across the creaking bridge, and was able to keep her balance on the rest of the tilted planks easily.

    Espurr set foot onto the muddy island, and made note of the fact that the doors were boarded over again. There would be no distractions this time. She marched right up to the Barrow's door, and placed her paw on the wood. It felt hard. Espurr pressed harder, putting both paws on it. She pressed as hard as she could, and then all of the sudden the rotting wood snapped forward and she fell straight onto the Barrow's dirty porch.

    The seal is broken.

    Espurr rolled to her feet as quickly as she could. The door had broken apart! She stared into the Barrow's depths, trying to discern something out of the darkness within.

    "Get out," the Barrow growled in its booming scary voice. Espurr didn't flinch. She didn't move either.

    "No," she said calmly. "I'm not leaving."

    "Get OUT!" the Barrow screamed, and all of the sudden a massive flow of swamp water jettisoned from the Barrow's open doors and blew Espurr back. She skidded to a stop halfway across the bridge, coughing and trying to catch her breath. She stared at the Barrow intensely in frustration, noticing that the door had sealed itself over again. No. That wasn't going to work twice. Espurr stood up, and marched across the slippery bridge all the way back to the Barrow.

    She put her paws on the sealed door again. It held. She pushed. It held. She pushed as hard as she could. The door didn't move an inch. It almost didn't even feel like a door, although Espurr wouldn't have been surprised at that point if it wasn't. She tried the windows. Those were boarded over too, and they didn't budge at all. At some point Espurr considered smashing them in, but then she realized she didn't have anything on paw to do that with. Reluctantly, she concluded that she'd either have to come back later or another day.

    She was halfway back across the bridge when her ears picked up the sound of somemon whistling off-key to themselves.

    Nuzleaf. Espurr didn't have time to properly make her way to either side of the bridge before Nuzleaf walked into her line of vision. He turned his head to see Espurr slightly wobbling in place halfway across the bridge.

    "Hah?" he asked, looking at Espurr. "What'r you doin' on there?! Get off!" He looked genuinely angry. Cowed; Espurr silently did as he said. Nuzleaf grabbed her arm once she was off, and began to tug her towards the village.

    "Come with me," Nuzleaf said. "We'e gonna have a talk."

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

    Nuzleaf and Espurr entered the village Square, and Nuzleaf sat Espurr down on the ground off to the side and crouched down in front of her.

    "I don' wanna ever see you goin' near tha' thing again; you unders'and me?" he said. "You can go into any mystery dungeon ya want; I don' care, bu' you stay away from tha' place. Unders'and?"

    "…I understand," Espurr said.

    She didn't understand. She wanted to know why; why the Ancient Barrow was so feared; why phantoms kept returning to haunt her in her sleep every night; why no-mon else seemed to even realize it existed! And if Nuzleaf had any of those answers for her, she made it her intention to wring it out of him. One way or another.

    "Good," Nuzleaf said. He stood up straight, and stretched. "Glad we coul' settle this peacefully."

    He began to walk off, but Espurr followed.

    "What's in the Ancient Barrow?" Espurr asked. "And what were you doing over there?"

    Nuzleaf stopped. He was silent for a brief second.

    "…I was checkin' something'," he said, and then he began to walk along once again. Espurr followed.

    "I'm coming along," she said matter-of-factly.

    Nuzleaf shrugged. "I won' stop ya," he said. "Jus' stay away from tha' house."

    ~\({O}/~

    Simipour's House

    "I think we've put this off long enough," Audino said, following Simipour around the house as he walked. "You weren't having these fatigue problems two months ago; you need a checkup."

    "What did the last checkup do for me?" Simipour yawned, discreetly fleeing to the kitchen. Audino followed him. "I feel fine. I appreciate your concern; but it is wholly unneeded here.

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

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

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

    Simipour shrugged stubbornly. "Not me; I am content to sit right here on this couch for the entire evening."

    "Perfect. Then you'll be content to sit on that couch while I give you a checkup."

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

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

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

    Simipour yawned. "I've been sleeping just fine."

    "Do it anyway; starting today. Just before bed."

    Audino packed up the quill and ink and rose from the couch. "Now if you'll excuse me, I have another appointment to get to. There's an ursaring having some trouble with evolution adjustment."

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

    It was worth a shot.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr and Nuzleaf wandered southwards once more, with not a word exchanged in between them. When Espurr passed the villa, she eyed it with a look of hateful curiosity – what was it hiding, that was so frightful all of Serenity Village wouldn't talk about it?

    At some point, not long after they had passed the town limits, Nuzleaf suddenly veered off the path. Espurr watched as he picked up a couple of bushes and set them aside (They were fake, she later concluded), and then began to walk down the hidden path that they concealed. Nuzleaf silently ushered Espurr along, before replacing the bushes, furtively glancing around, and continuing up the path silently.

    "Where are we going?" Espurr finally asked, once they had walked a fair bit into the path and were surrounded on all sides by lush forest. Nuzleaf pointed above them both, at the large mountain that outclimbed all the others in the near distance.

    "See tha'?" he asked. "Revelation Mountain. Tha's where we're headed."

    Espurr looked up at Revelation Mountain. She had seen it several times from a distance, but never up close. It had been lost on her before just how large the mountain was. It didn't look like it was even possible to climb it in a single day.

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

    "Revelation Mountain is an ol' village tale," Nuzleaf said as they marched up the path. "Legend says there's somethin' at tha top of tha' mountain; somethin' we were never supposed to see. So tha's why every night one of us village 'mon stands at the base o' the mountain an' stays guard. No-mon's ever been up there."

    "And are you standing guard?" Espurr asked.

    "I ain't," Nuzleaf said.

    "Then what are we doing?"

    "I wanna see it. Wha's at tha top of Revelation Mountain. I've been all over tha Grass Continen'; left this place when I was still a child."

    "Why?"

    "Why?" Nuzleaf shrugged. "Well, I fel' like it. Was barely a child no more anyway. An' I wanted to go explorin'. Travelled to the Grass Continen', and saw all the sigh's to see. I'm old now."

    He pointed up at the mountain again as they walked.

    "Tha' mountain- tha's my last expedition. My las' mission before I retire for good." He shrugged once more. "'Least I don' have ta spend it alone."

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

    "Drink. I's clean," he said. "Water 'round this mountain's always clean."

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

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

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

    "We're here," he whispered sharply. "Hide."

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

    Hippopatas.

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

    "Mornin', neighbor!" Espurr heard Nuzleaf call jovially as he walked towards her.

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

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

    Hippopotas' eyes widened.

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

    "Go for i'."

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

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

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

    ~\({O})/~

    The Demetrius

    ~Ninetales~

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

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

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

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

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

    "I guess we've both been naughty today," Ninetales breathed.

    "I won't talk about the paperwork if you don't talk about the Gardevoir."

    "Deal."

    "Ah… excuse me?"

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

    "Yes?" Ninetales asked before Sparkleglimmer could scare him off. He knew she had a bit of a short temper at times.

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "I had paperwork I needed to do anyway," he muttered to Sparkleglimmer on the way out.

    ~\({O})/~

    Revelation Mountain

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "Even I don' know tha'," he said. "I jus' know whenever I go near tha place, I get this feelin'. Like i's evil. Like i' should be lef' well alone. Everymon jus' leaves i' be for tha' reason. I's still standin's 'cause no-mon's brave enough ta tear i' down. And tha's all I know." And then he continued hiking again without a word.

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

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

    "…Nah. Ain't worth it." Nuzleaf turned around. "We're goin' home."

    Espurr agreed.

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

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

    "Well…" he started. "Ah… Good run today. We'll go again next month when I have guar' duty again; soun' good? Maybe you can bring your fennekin frien' along for tha ride too."

    "Perhaps," Espurr said. Tricky would love that; she knew.

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

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

    "I don't feel like cooking tonight," she said after a minute.

    "Come on." She got up, stretching. "We're going to Kangaskhan's."

    ~\({O})/~

    Café Connection

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

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

    "What?" he asked flatly. "Don't wanna be around me?"

    Audino didn't answer that.

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

    "How's guarding the school been?" she asked.

    "Painful," said Watchog. "I've been seeing things around the grounds. Blue flames. Couple of weeks ago somemon broke into the library. I think there's a thief in the village. And mark my words: next time it shows up I'll be ready for it."

    He punctuated his statement with another swig of the drink. Audino fell silent after that, but Espurr could sense her discomfort. She got down from the stool, unwilling to be stuck between the two teachers any longer.

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

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

    "Hey!"

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

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

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

    "Uncle," Usaring urged after a bit. "Say hi."

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

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

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

    "It… It had its moment," Espurr said, slightly uncomfortable before Uncle's demeanor. "I was just about to get some fresh air. I'll go do that now. Bye."

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

    "…Weird kid," Uncle said, after she had left.

    ~\({O})/~

    Cloud Nine

    ~Sparkleglimmer~

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    "This storm is something awful," she breathed in his ear. "You want to get inside before you're caught in it."

    Relief spread through Sparkleglimmer (But she was careful to keep it out of her feelers) when she saw Ninetales slowly nod. She removed her feeler, and slowly Ninetales began to return to his normal state of mind. But the suggestion was still there. Nine times out of ten he would follow it.

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

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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

    "It's only a storm," Ninetales muttered from his desk. Whether that was meant for her or himself, Sparkleglimmer would probably never know.

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

    "Only a storm…" Ninetales muttered to himself.

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

    ~\({O})/~

    Audino's House

    ~Espurr~

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

    …Wait. That wasn't right. It was never this dark at night. There was always some moonlight filtering in, or at least the glow of the luminous moss streetlamps outside to offset some of the darkness. This darkness was like being trapped in a box. Something was wrong.

    And so, using her knowledge of the room's layout to navigate, Espurr headed for the window to see what had happened to all the light. Gazing out through the window's crossbars, she saw nothing but more blackness.

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

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

    This was the Dream. It was back.

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

    And then the louder voice, the one that had been torturing Espurr for the past few weeks, spoke in its cacophony of raspy howls:

    Hello.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week! :D

    The Woman of Balnain - Bear McCreary
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 17 - The Calm and The Storm
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    ~\({O})/~

    17.

    The Calm and The Storm

    ~\({O})/~

    Open Waters ~ Nighttime

    There was a storm building on the waters that night. It had been building for almost a week before, and it would continue to build tonight. There was nothing to keep it in check now. Nothing to stop it from growing out of control. Nothing to stop it from being controlled. Being shaped into something more malleable. A natural disaster. A distraction. A trap.

    A single flake of blackness flew through the air, mingling with the clouds. Once it reached them, it began to spread out. Corrupting them.

    It controlled the wind and the sea now. The very storms acted at Its whim. And act they would.

    Grow.

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

    …And then the storm wasn't a storm anymore.

    ~\({O})/~

    Monday

    Pokemon Plaza ~ Air Continent

    "Picture this."

    Several wagons encrusted with the HAPPI sigil were parked outside the entrance to Pokemon Plaza. Simisage walked through the overgrown ruins of the town, filled with HAPPI 'mon that were taking photographs of everything. Directly behind him, Vaporeon followed. The square was littered with small shards of stone that covered almost every flat surface in the town, and both Simisage and Vaporeon had to be careful to step around the sharp pieces so they didn't cut their paws on them as they walked.

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

    "I see something funny going on," Vaporeon said, looking put-out. "You aren't wearing your badge."

    Simisage shrugged. "I forgot it," he said. "Everyone does that once in a while. Now, where was I…"

    Vaporeon took a deep breath, but decided to hear Simisage out anyway.

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

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

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

    Vaporeon puffed out her cheeks in frustration.

    "That sounds great!" she said, with a tone of false amazement. "There's just one problem: How do you intend to prove they turned all these pokemon to stone? Have you got an answer for that?"

    "That…" Simipour held up a single finger, stopping in thought. His mouth hung open. "…Is TBD," he said. "Point is; they're guilty. And we're gonna prove it."

    ~\({O})/~

    Tuesday

    Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Lively Town

    ~Mawile~

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

    Any other member would have been harshly disciplined by Swirlix for this. The chef kept an iron grasp on the Society's food stocks (so much so that there had to be separate stocks for travelling supplies and normal foods), and guarded it like a persian's hoard. The last time somemon had tried to sneak something from the kitchen had been when Bunnelby had nicked a few cucumbers for a midnight snack, and while Mawile did not know exactly what Swirlix had done when she had found out, the entire Expedition Society had seen the effects – Bunnelby never ate cucumbers again.

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

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

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

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

    ~\({O})/~​

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

    It had been nearly two weeks since they had returned from the Air Continent and Mawile was still at a loss as to whatever had attacked them in Pokemon Plaza. The photo of the anomaly was pinned at the top of the wall, all on its lonesome with no connections. A couple others, various shots of the stone lapras they had encountered a few days after, were pinned near the original photo, but Mawile had not found a way to connect them yet. She relished the day that she would be able to pin them all together. Maybe tonight, that would happen. Mawile turned the page in the book, reading up on an entire new section of Sand Continent lore. Maybe tonight.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Ampharos~

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

    He grabbed an apple from the larder in the kitchen, making sure not to disturb Swirlix on his way out. Special privileges of being Chief. As he walked into the lobby, he caught sight of Mawile loitering around aimlessly near a window. Ampharos walked up to join her.

    "Morning," she said without even looking back at him. She didn't have to to know that he was there.

    "Likewise." Ampharos took a bite of his apple, chewing noisily.

    "Did you find anything?" he asked a moment later. Mawile knew what he was talking about. They went through this exchange every morning, to the point where it may as well have been scripted.

    "Nothing," Mawile replied. "If Sand Continent history doesn't pan out I'll be combing pokemon moves and energy next. Perhaps there's something we've missed."

    Ampharos nodded silently, taking another bite of his apple. They stood there in silence for a few minutes, watching the sun rise from the east.

    Around eight-o-clock, the large double doors clacked open and Dedenne walked through to begin her shift. At eight-thirty the process of waking everymon up began. Some were already awake (like Nickit, who liked to sneak off to the vault in the mornings and Buizel, who hated wasting time), while others were asleep as usual (Bunnelby and Jirachi were big offenders of this). Ampharos often wondered why they hadn't all gotten on a more normalized schedule after years of the same routine. Then he remembered that one time the entire Society had stayed awake for nearly a fortnight while completing a particularly nasty mission and dismissed his first question entirely. But through the combined efforts of Buizel, Dedenne, and Bunnelby (once he was awake), all twelve members of the Expedition Society stood in front of Ampharos, ready for the morning briefing.

    Ampharos cleared his throat, preparing to read the first line of the paper he had been given aloud, but suddenly he was interrupted by a loud knock that reverberated from the door. Everymon turned their heads towards the door in unison. Sure enough, it came again, a loud knocking that sent echoes all through the hall and signaled impatience. The Expedition Society exchanged looks.

    "Somemon couldn't wait five minutes for us to open?" Bunnelby asked, half-curiously and half in annoyance. He was met with silence.

    When the knocking came again with a vengeance, Ampharos decided to step forward. He walked through the row of Expedition Society members that parted for him, letting one of the large doors creak inwards and peeking out.

    A simisage and a vaporeon stood outside. Ampharos took one look back at the rest of the members and signaled for silence, and then slipped out the door completely. Seeing that he now had Ampharos' attention, Simisage stuck out his paw for Ampharos to shake.

    "Mornin'," he said. "I understand you're the chief of the Expedition Society?"

    behind Simisage, Vaporeon stood, giving him the same suspicious look that flickered in Simisage's eyes for just a second. Something was up. Ampharos decided to put on a cheerful face anyway.

    "Correct you are!" he said, shaking Simisage's paw. "We aren't open for another five minutes, I'm afraid. Perhaps I can ask you to come back later or set up an appointment?"

    Simisage cleared his throat. "I'm afraid you don't understand," he said. "I'm Simisage, co-leader of Team Cobalt, and this is my partner, Vaporeon." He gestured to Vaporeon, who nodded quietly in Ampharos' direction.

    "Myself and Vaporeon work in a very 'specific' line of profession," Simisage continued. "In other words, it's our job to find things. Or find out who might be responsible for things. And this-" Simisage dug in his bag, producing a leather envelope and handing it Ampharos "-Is a warrant issued by Cloud Nine on behalf of HAPPI."

    Ampharos would be lying if he claimed he wasn't shocked. But he kept his cheerful face up anyway.

    "May I ask what this is for?" Ampharos asked nicely.

    "All will be explained in due time," Simisage drawled. "Now gather your flunkies for me. We need ta have a talk."

    "They're… already gathered," Ampharos said, for once at a loss for words. "Just in there."

    "Splendid."

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Here's the deal." Simisage stood at the front of the stairs, where Ampharos usually stood for the daily morning briefing. Near the back, Vaporeon guarded the front doors as if the Expedition Society were a bunch of fugitives just waiting to make a break for it.

    Simisage pulled out the leather envelope, showing it to everymon in the room.

    "This warrant here authorizes a twenty-four-hour lockdown of the property; effective immediately," he said. "No-one is allowed to leave the premises until this time tomorrow."

    Much of the Expedition Society suddenly looked quite worried.

    "On what charges?" Bunnelby asked.

    "Yeah. Where's this coming from?" Buizel added.

    "The Expedition Society is suspected of 'monslaughter on a mass scale, fraud, and breach of contract," Simisage said. "I and my partner have been granted the authority to determine if there is any evidence of your guilt, which will be done through a series of investigations performed by myself, my partner-" Simisage gestured to Vaporeon "- and other, optional personnel, should it prove necessary."

    The lobby was suddenly filled with several loud, angry pokemon all shouting over each other.

    "'Monslaughter?!" Bunnelby cried out. "That's crazy!"

    "But what if we need to go shopping for food!?" Swirlix cried out. "I'll go mad from hunger; I will!"

    "Somemon was murdered!?" Archen shouted in terror.

    "You can't confine us here all day!" said Buizel.

    "Actually," said Simisage, "I think y'all will find I can." He shook the contents of the envelope.

    Then the lobby exploded into racket again.

    "What's the matter?' Nickit asked over the noise. "It's a day off. Are you really complaining about a day off?"

    "It's not a day off if someone is guilty of… whatever blue monkey guy said, Nickit!" Holly chided.

    Jirachi just yawned.

    "But no-mon here is guilty," Nickit said coolly, staring Simisage in the eye.

    Simisage stared her right back. "I'll be the judge of that," he said. And then he clapped his hands together.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Ampharos~

    It was 10:00, and Simisage had well and truly derailed the entire day. He and his partner had contained the Expedition Society to a single bedroom in the residential wing, while the lobby had become a 'sacred place of investigation' (as Simisage had put it). Really, he had just set up a few chairs and a couple of connection orbs that belonged to Vaporeon. Ampharos distinctly remembered Vaporeon asking him why he hadn't brought his own.

    "Is the connection orb recording?" Simisage asked, leaning to the side in the chair with a back support. He had a clipboard in his paw (also Vaporeon's).

    Vaporeon double-checked, then clumsily tapped the orb with her nose. It began to glow.

    "Now recording," she said, sitting down behind it.

    "Al'ight." Simipour leaned back in the makeshift chair that had been set up for him. "Interview the first: Expedition Society; Chief Ampharos. Tell us about yourself."

    "What do you want to know?" asked Ampharos, who cheerfully sat opposite of Simisage and Vaporeon.

    Simisage leaned forward. "Everything."

    "Well," said Ampharos. "Everything might take quite a while! And I understand you only have twenty-four hours. I suggest you lower your scope."

    Simisage frowned flatly. "Start at the beginning, then."

    Ampharos shrugged. "If you insist…" he said. He leaned back against thin air, acting as if there were back support behind him.

    "It was dark inside the egg."

    Vaporeon barely held in a groan of frustration.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Mawile~

    "Interview the second: Expedition Society; Vice Chief Mawile." Simipour leaned forward in his seat. "I trust you'll be more co-operative than our last subject."

    "To be fair," Vaporeon grumbled, "You didn't have to let him go on for four hours either."

    "Ah- ah- ah! Quiet! Quiet! You're messing up the tapes!" Simisage snapped. He readjusted the way he was sitting in his seat. "Now. Mawile. I understand you migrated over from the Grass Continent before you joined the Expedition Society?"

    Vaporeon caught the tiniest hint of a snarl that emerged from Mawile's back maw before it stiffened up and she spoke, a forced neutral look upon her face: "Yes. Yes, I did."

    "And are there any latent feelin's of anger or insecurity pertaining to how Grass Continentials are viewed by the other continents?" Simipour asked.

    Mawile took a deep breath through gritted teeth before answering.

    "No," she said.

    "Hmm." Simipour marked something down. "And do these feelin's that don't exist sometimes influence the way you do your jobs?"

    Mawile immediately rose form her seat and walked off.

    "This interview is over," she said firmly.

    "It isn't over 'till I say it's over-" Simisage began.

    "It's over," her back maw snarled at them.

    Simisage sat back in his seat after she had left, an oddly satisfied look coming over his face. "Yeah. It's over," he said. "Roll next!"

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Jirachi~

    "Interview the third: Expedition Society; Engineer Jirachi. Are we rollin'?"

    "We're rolling," said Vaporeon.

    "Jirachi," Simisage clapped his paws together. "Complimentary question: How does it feel to be the only mythical pokemon currently working for a HAPPI-endorsed guild?"

    "Why," Jirachi yawned. "It feels great."

    "Sorry," he said, a minute later after he had finished yawning. "I'm not really awake until I have my remedy."

    "Stay awake enough to answer these questions and you can be asleep for all I care," said Simisage.

    Jirachi took him up on the second part.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Archen~

    "Interview the fourth: Expedition Society; Off-Continent Explorer Archen." Simisage set down the clipboard he had been writing on, and then he leaned forwards. "Now I'm gonna ask you as a confidant," he said. "I understand you were one of two 'mon to lead the expedition to the Air Continent a week ago?"

    "Unfortunately," Archen said, ruffling his feathers stiffly at the memory. "Who's asking?"

    "I want the rundown of how that mission went. Leave no details out."

    Archen rubbed his wings together nervously. "Well," he said. "It all began when we had to take a lapras all the way to Baram Town without sleeping for the night…

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Jirachi~

    "Interview the fifth: Expedition Society; Engineer Jirachi, continued. I assume you won't fall asleep on us this time?" Simisage asked.

    "Nah," said Jirachi, doing a lazy cartwheel where he floated. "I've had my remedy now. That'll keep me going through the night."

    "Amazin'," said Simisage. "Now tell me. What's the Expedition Society's process for makin' copies of photos?"

    ~\({O})/~

    Residential Wing

    A single scarf sat on the windowsill, looking completely innocent.

    "That is what it took. To get rid of the stench." Holly enunciated slowly; her voice dangerously calm. "A scarf infused with Sweet Scent. You would not believe. The hoops we had to jump through to get this thing. So kindly do not touch or sniff it, please."

    "Wasn't dreaming of it," said Nickit. The rest of the Expedition Society lounged about in the room, where Simisage had told them to wait while they weren't being interviewed.

    "My belly hurts…" Swirlix groaned. Everymon collectively ignored her.

    "I wonder why we haven't gotten interviewed yet," Bunnelby pondered to himself.

    ~\({O})/~

    Lobby

    "And that's break time!" Simisage clapped his paws twice, hopping down from the chair and collecting the connection orb. He gestured for Vaporeon to follow him out the doors as he went. The large doors closed behind them, leaving them in the Society's empty outdoor square.

    "Alright, so what do we know?" Simisage asked in a hushed voice. "We know that their chief likes to dodge things. We know that the vice-chief has some hidden bias. We know their mission to the Air Continent gets fantastical once they reach Pokemon Plaza, and we know that it should only take half a week to print those photos. Somethin' we aren't getting' here."

    "And we also know that they checked in with Mayor Honchkrow of Baram Town, and were picked up by the Water Continent's Ambassador on the way back," Vaporeon added. "Isn't a more prudent question what the Ambassador was doing here? Or perhaps a more prudent action to interview the mayor? I'm surprised you didn't try to follow up on that at all."

    "But see, that's where you're wrong," said Simisage. "I already know what the ambassador was doin' here."

    "And what's that?" Vaporeon asked skeptically.

    "He's in on it. A better guild gets better votes. He remains in power. It's all one big conspiracy."

    "It's all one big conspiracy in your head!" Vaporeon pointed out. "All of this – this entire investigation – it's all been based on guesswork you came up with! You wouldn't have done this a week ago! How did we even get this warrant? And-" her eyes veered to his chest "-And you're not wearing your badge again!"

    "How do you explain shadow creatures that come out of nowhere?' Si