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Pokémon Do Psychic-Type Pokemon Dream of Electric Sheep?

Chapter 19 - The Door to Hell
  • SparklingEspeon

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

    19.

    The Door to Hell

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    ~Espurr~

    The Villa stood on its island of evil, pointing up out of the ground like a pillar of death. Espurr ran down the pathway, sliding to a stop right outside the entrance to the bridge. She saw that the previously sealed doors now lay wide open.

    Something had changed. And she was right.

    "We have to go… in there?" Tricky squeaked in fear, looking at the house.

    "This is where it went," Espurr said, slowly but firmly. "If we want to rescue Vice Principal Watchog, then we have to go in."

    She stepped onto the bridge, which creaked under her, then looked back at the rest of the children. They all had doubtful (and fearful) looks on their faces, but there were no objections. Espurr took another step, then hurried across the bridge, making sure to avoid all the rotting spots.

    The island was muddy, as always. Espurr trudged across it without complaint, even though the mud felt gross stuck to her fur. As she approached the Barrow, she caught wind of a familiar scent – one that had often danced around her nose, and was never more pleasant to smell no matter how many times she smelled it – this was the scent of a mystery dungeon. And this one was strong.

    Espurr stepped onto the Barrow's porch, then looked back at the rest of the children who had just crossed over the bridge and were now uncomfortably trudging through the mud. She shouldered her bag.

    "It's a mystery dungeon," she said. "Heads up."

    "Are you sure about this?" Pancham asked, looking up at her warily.

    "Positive." Espurr nodded.

    "T-the place smells evil," Goomy said in fear.

    "All mystery dungeons smell like that," Tricky added in a hushed voice.

    "Are we going or not?" Shelmet asked, perhaps the only one of them that wasn't frightened out of his wits.

    "Yeah," Pancham said, rolling his shoulders and stretching his slingshot. "Let's do this."

    "All at once, then," Espurr said, turning towards the entrance. "Otherwise we'll get lost."

    Soon they were all gathered on the porch, standing in a row.

    "On three," Deerling said, unable to keep the waver out of her voice. "One… Two…" Espurr could feel Pancham trembling.

    "Three!"

    They all stepped in through the doors at once, and slowly, the mystery dungeon closed up behind them.

    ~\({O})/~

    The Ancient Barrow

    Just like all the mystery dungeons she had entered, Espurr felt all drafts dissipate upon entry. This dungeon was windless like all the others, but evil reverberated in the air.

    "What is this place…" Tricky muttered.

    The halls were narrow and cramped, and sticky black goo covered them from top to bottom. The floors were swamp water, and the roof extended into inescapable blackness up above. It wasn't an earthly place. And yet, there was nothing to do but press onwards. And so, without a word exchanged between them, the six of them silently continued through the halls.

    The dungeon was devoid of any ferals; Espurr, Tricky, and the rest of them were left well alone. But there was no sign of Watchog either.

    "How long is this dungeon?" Deerling asked after a while. "You'd think we'd be on the third floor by now."

    But they hadn't even crossed the first stairway yet. They'd gone a while without seeing anything but gooey black walls and trudging through nasty swamp water, and still there was no hint of the stairs. The areas were getting more and more mazelike as they continued, and they'd gone down several dead ends at this point. Espurr was beginning to get doubtful they'd make it out before dawn. And that wasn't good.

    It was after the fifth dead-end that something changed. It had just been for a second, but Espurr, Goomy, and also everymon else had caught the shape of something quietly slinking around the corridor ahead.

    "W-what w-w-was t-that?" Goomy asked, terrified. Espurr quietly shushed everymon. Slowly, they continued down the corridor, heading for the corner. Espurr carefully peeked around the edge, but she saw nothing.

    "There's nothing there," she whispered to the rest of them. "It must have been a trick of the light."

    No-mon looked particularly convinced, but it was the least scary option, so everymon went with that for the time being.

    Espurr lead them further down the hallways, in search of the stairs. The lack of anything around unnerved her quite a bit. Why was there nothing here?

    The only warning they had was a distant whoosh from up ahead. But that was enough for Espurr.

    Tricky's ears twitched. "Everymon duck!" she yelled, and they all ducked just in time to avoid the sight of a large, shadowy ball flying directly over their heads. It flew straight past them and exploded distantly at the other end of the corridor.

    Just like that, the monster was already in front of them. Espurr wasn't having it. She unleashed her raw mental power upon it and blew it back across the corridor. She was sure a fair few 'mon screamed around that point.

    "Run the other way!" Tricky yelled, and everymon made to do that—

    "Wait!" Espurr yelled. "Don't!"

    "What do you mean 'don't'?" Deerling yelled, stopping for one brief moment.

    Espurr quickly checked to make sure the monster was still down.

    "I have a plan," she quickly stated. "The monster's fast, but it can't be in two places at once. If we split up into groups, it'll have to choose. And then we attack it."

    "Great. You can be a group," Deerling said. "I'm going the other way."

    And with that she galloped off, following the rest of them. Espurr was left all alone in the corridor. She steeled herself, even though it was taking every ounce of her bravery to remain in place.

    "Hey! I found the stairs! Everymon this way!" Shelmet's voice echoed across the corridor and caught Espurr's ears. She looked at the creature, which was silently pulling itself up from the ground. She watched in horror as it stepped towards the wall, and slowly began to absorb itself into it.

    That was the last straw; Espurr turned around and ran for her life.

    The monster was fast. A pair of clawed arms suddenly shot out of the wall goo to grab Espurr—

    Espurr rolled to the ground, barely avoiding being scooped up by them. The clawed hands receded back into the wall.

    "Where's Espurr?" Tricky's voice echoed through the hallway from up ahead. Espurr pulled herself out of the swamp, choking and sputtering from all the swamp water she had gotten in her mouth. They were up ahead! She just needed to…

    The monster was behind her. Then in front of her. Then it grabbed her and lifted her up into the air. Espurr tried to repel the creature with her mind once more, but she felt a headache coming on just from trying to start.

    "Help!" she rasped, fighting against the monster as it pushed her towards its belly. A gaping hole opened up within the creature itself, and inside there was nothing but blackness, and Espurr was being forced towards it. She tried to push and escape, but the monster was just too strong this was the end wasn't it she should have listened to Deerling and told somemon—

    Fire arched through the hallway and slammed against the creature's back. It let out a loud, droning screech, dropping Espurr back down into the water as it writhed in pain. Espurr wasted no time getting to her feet and running around the creature before it could recover, closing the gap between herself and the rest of them.

    Tricky had darted out of a small, left-hand passage just after where they had first caught sight of the monster. No wonder they hadn't seen it. Espurr glanced back at the monster as she ran. The shrieking had stopped, but it wasn't coming after her. She caught the last of it slowly absorbing itself into the goo on the wall. The monster's black slime still covered Espurr's fur where it had grabbed her. Was this where all that goo was from? She felt suddenly and oddly drowsy.

    Espurr slid to a stop, then splashed through the water and into the dead end. Everymon else stood by the stairs, glancing at her worriedly. Espurr took a moment to catch her breath (She hadn't run that fast since she had woken up in the School Forest three weeks ago), then quickly got to the stairs as fast as possible. They led downwards, but the bottom was enveloped completely by darkness.

    "All together," Espurr panted, holding out her arms for the others to grab.

    A gurgling noise suddenly erupted from right behind them. Everymon turned around to see that a black, gooey arm had erupted from the wall, and the rest of the monster was quickly following.

    "GO!" Deerling yelled, and everymon dashed for the stairway. The monster hissed, and Espurr heard several 'mon scream. Loudly. The monster lunged—

    —But it was too late. Deerling hit the stairway first, followed by Pancham and Shelmet, then Tricky. Goomy barely avoided the monster's lunge, but he was too slow and wasn't going to make it! The stairs were already closing up by the time that Espurr reached the stairway. She quickly grabbed ahold of Goomy, but the stairs separated them just before the monster lunged again and they closed up.

    Everything immediately went black.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Goomy~

    Goomy slowly opened his eyes, and his body solidified back into its usual shape once more. Everything was quiet, and so was he. Slowly, he looked around, trying to figure out where he was. Everything around him was…

    …Grassy and green. Goomy looked down at the roots he was currently on top of. This looked like…

    …This was the School Forest.

    Goomy slowly slimed backwards in fear. But it couldn't be the School Forest. They had just been in the Ancient Barrow!

    He looked around once more, taking in the gnarled root walls of the dungeon that were still sealing over. Sure enough, it was the same dungeon. But how had he gotten here? Had the Barrow somehow transported him here?

    But there was no time to worry about that. It this was the School Forest, then soon there would be dungeon 'mon. And Goomy knew he wasn't fast enough to avoid them. He had to get somewhere safe!

    Goomy slimed down the hallway as fast as he could. Could he look for the stairs? He glanced at each of the walls from left to right, but they were perfectly smooth (or as smooth as roots could be). There was nowhere to hide. So after looking behind him to make sure that he wasn't being tailed by anything, Goomy continued into the next hallway.

    The hallway led into split corridors that branched off in opposite directions. Goomy went down the right-hand one without question. Only then did he realize that he had not looked the other way before entering like he should have. A loud roar suddenly erupted behind Goomy, ricocheting down the hallway and battering him as it passed. It smelled of something rancid, even worse than Tricky's breath!

    And the worst part was when Goomy turned around, he saw the fog. It crept down the hallway towards him, its tendrils reaching out almost as if grabbing out for him. Goomy didn't waste any more time gawking at it. He immediately began to slime down the hallway as fast as he could in the other direction.

    Goomy was going as fast as he could, but the fog was faster. And even at Goomy's top speeds he couldn't outrun it. He frantically glanced around for a place to hide; a chance to get away, and then all of the sudden he saw it: the entrance to another corridor, not that far off! It was perfect! Filled with re-invigorated hope, Goomy quickly changed his course.

    Goomy slimed around the corridor, evading the fog at the last minute. He watched as its tendrils spread out like a living being, feeling the ground and roots of the hallway around it before moving on. It did not spread into the hallway Goomy was in at all. Goomy stared at in in confusion. Fog wasn't supposed to work like that…

    Another – softer – gust spread through the hallway, invading Goomy's nose with that rancid smell again. He quickly looked around, then behind him. He saw more of the fog, engulfing the corridor behind him as well. And this time, there was no way out.

    Another loud roar suddenly emerged from the fog. Goomy looked back to the previous corridor. That roar had come from inside the fog. There was something in there! Maybe it was a large feral. Maybe it was the mystery dungeon. Maybe it was the Dungeon Wraith… just its name was already sending chills down Goomy's spine. He really hoped it wasn't that.

    Goomy decided to focus on the situation at hand. He wasn't going back to that corridor. Not after what he had heard. But soon he would be enveloped by the fog anyway, so…

    Goomy took a deep breath and steadied himself. Then he bravely slimed into the encroaching fog.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Deerling~

    Deerling slowly pulled herself to her feet amongst the swamp. All she saw were the cramped halls of the Barrow, but she was alone. She looked all around, trying to catch a glimpse of anymon, but no-mon was there. She was all alone.

    "Guys?" Deerling called out. "Can anymon hear me?"

    Deerling got no answer. She clip-clopped further from where she was standing, looking around in vain. "Is anymon out there?!"

    There was no answer.

    Deerling suddenly heard the sound of somemon sniffling behind her. She turned around, and noticed Tricky all curled up in a pile. Tricky was far from Deerling's favorite person, but right now she was happy to see anymon. She quickly galloped up to Tricky, slowing down once she reached her. Only then did she notice that Tricky was crying. Deering sat down next to her.

    "Are you… okay?" she asked. Just a week and a half ago she would never had dreamed of asking Tricky that. Just the words felt weird on her tongue.

    Tricky didn't answer with anything coherent. She just let out something that sounded in between a sob and a snort, and continued to silently bury her face in her tail. Deerling just adjusted her position to become more comfortable.

    "Well… talk to me when you're ready."

    Tricky wasn't ready for a while. When she finally did speak, it was through a cracked and hoarse voice: "We lost him."

    "…What? What does that mean?" Deerling asked, confused.

    "We lost him," Tricky said louder. "Goomy."

    "…What are you talking about?" Deerling asked, narrowing her eyes.

    "He's gone," Tricky whined. "The Barrow separated all of us. It put us on different floors. There was fog on Goomy's. He walked in, and… by the time we got to him, he…"

    Tricky broke down into sobs after that, burying her face into her tail once more.

    "It happened again," she moaned. "I lost another friend…"

    Deerling stood up in the swamp, suddenly feeling woozy. No. This wasn't happening. Goomy wasn't dead. Not him. Not him too. It all had to be some sort of trick, right?

    But the facts didn't lie. There was Tricky, right in front of her, and Goomy was nowhere to be found. And it was all because of…

    Deerling ground her hooves into the mud under the swamp.

    "Tricky," she said firmly. "Where are the others?"

    "I… I don't know," Tricky sniffled. "I couldn't find them."

    "Well, we need to," said Deerling. She took a few deep breaths before answering again: "We can't let anymon else get killed."

    It was a minute, but Tricky slowly lifted herself off the ground to face Deerling. She drooped everywhere in sadness, but followed Deerling regardless.

    Deerling could barely contain her anger as she walked. Her grief. Her hate. Her pure, unfiltered hate. Hate for that one pokemon who had been responsible for Goomy's death. Hate for the one pokemon who had gotten them all into this mess.

    Hate for Espurr.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Pancham~

    Pancham slowly picked himself up off the ground. He looked around, but couldn't find his slingshot. Somehow he was back in the Village Square in broad daylight, but everymon was passing around him without even noticing. Pancham was confused.

    "Hey," he said to a passing swadloon. "The swadloon tromped off dully, not even paying him a glance. Pancham tilted his head. Okay. Well, swadloon were dewott-downers. Maybe somemon else. Instead he set his sights on a mudkip instead.

    "Oy," he said, attempting to get the mudkip's attention. The mudkip didn't notice him either. Pancham was left with his jaw hanging open. He couldn't believe this! Why was this happening to him? And why was he here in the first place? Wasn't he supposed to be—

    Pancham was suddenly kicked to the side by a passing ursaring, who also didn't notice him. He was now beginning to get scared. He dashed from villager to villager, attempting to get some sort of reaction, but none did. None even noticed he was there. Pancham was actively freaking out now. He was a ghost!

    "Hey! Anymon? Is anymon out there? Somemon answer me!"

    Pancham turned at the sound of somemon yelling through the crowd. That was… Shelmet's voice. Shelmet was here too! That was just what he needed. Pancham began to charge towards the voice, pushing aside villagers who paid him no mind at all.

    He found Shelmet in the area outside Hawlucha's Slam School, which for some reason was actually getting business. (But Pancham didn't care about that right now.)

    "Shelmet!" he cried, waving his arm. "I'm over here!"

    There was no answer. Shelmet continued to mill around, looking for somemon who would hear his cries.

    "It's- it's me!" Pancham cried. "Your friend Pancham! Answer me!"

    Shelmet didn't even hear him.

    "Answer me…" Pancham pleaded, on the verge of tears.

    "He can't hear you.'

    "Augh!" Pancham spun around, coming face to face with Espurr. She was missing her scarf and her bag, but stared at him with the same emotionless stare she gave everymon else. He took the time to calm down for a minute before speaking.

    'What do you mean?" he asked once his jitters had faded enough for him to properly form words.

    "He can't hear you. No-mon can. I've tried talking to all of them," Espurr said. "It's a miracle we can even speak to each other."

    Pancham spent a minute trying to wrap his head around that. It lined up with what he had seen, sure, but still...

    "How did we get here?" he asked, asking the question he should have asked a while back.

    "I don't know," Espurr replied. "Something about the stairs… We didn't all enter at the same time. That must have blown us all to different floors of the dungeon. I imagine this is a lower floor. And these…" Espurr nonchalantly tripped a passing pikachu, which fell face-first in to the ground, then picked itself up and continued walking like nothing had happened. "These aren't real either. They're just tricks."

    But… Pancham looked at Shelmet, who was still looking around helplessly. "What about Shelmet?"

    "He's a trick too," Espurr said firmly. She grabbed his paw. "We have to find our way out of here so we can find the others. Like the real Shelmet."

    "Agh! Auggh!" Shelmet cried, falling on his side. "They're all over me! They're- They're- Somemon help me!"

    Pancham was torn, but he couldn't take his eyes off Shelmet. Espurr tugged him by the arm.

    "We're on a clock," she said. "You know what happens when pokemon stay in mystery dungeons too long." She tugged on Pancham, and slowly – reluctantly – Pancham let himself get pulled away.

    "No- Stop! Help me!" Pancham heard Shelmet cry one last time before Espurr briskly led him into the Café Connection.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The inside of the Café Connection looked like a mirage. Everything after the entrance doors looked like it was trapped behind a wall of distant haze, and even as Pancham bumped up against one of the counter seats as Espurr pulled him along, it didn't feel real. He never saw this many pokemon go in and out of the café anyway. All the patrons were scooping picturesque food out of the table and into thin air, and though their mouths opened to speak, Pancham heard nothing.

    Espurr walked around the counter, where Kangaskhan was robotically arranging dishes and seashells in intricate patterns on the countertop, then pulled Pancham into the kitchens.

    Pancham had never known what the chef looked like, and he didn't even see a chef in the kitchen. In fact, he didn't even see half the kitchen. It tapered off into nothingness halfway through the room, seeping into the blackness like tendrils of reality reaching out into nothingness. And beyond its barriers, Pancham could see nothing. Espurr pulled him towards it anyway.

    "Where are we going?" Pancham asked, a bit agitated now. He tried to separate his paw from Espurr's, but her grip was too strong for him to pull out of.

    "Beyond," Espurr answered.

    She pulled him into the blackness, and slowly they walked on. Pancham couldn't see what was under him, but it was completely smooth. Espurr pulled him along like he was just a stray feather floating in the wind, and soon he could barely see the Café Connection behind him.

    It was about five minutes of walking before Espurr said something.

    "Look," she said flatly. "The stairs."

    Sure enough, there were the stairs, right ahead of them. Espurr dragged him over to them, then stopped. Pancham couldn't see the bottom.

    "You first." Espurr pushed him forward to the foot of the stairs.

    Pancham looked back. "Aren't we all supposed to go at the same time?"

    "Maybe that doesn't apply here," Espurr answered cryptically.

    "Wasn't that what got us into this mess in the first place?" Pancham asked.

    Espurr pushed him.

    Pancham had no time to react. He fell down the stairs, rolling and tumbling down to the bottom—

    And he kept tumbling. Down, down and further, until he landed on the cold, hard stone ground that lay at the bottom of the stairs. Pancham picked himself up, coughing. He looked around. He was in a prison cell. It was a perfect box made completely of cobbled stone, and the only openings were for two sets of stairs. Pancham looked at the one that lay further downward. What that led to, he didn't know. And he was loath to find out. A more dangerous dungeon? Something worse? Nothing at all? The decision wasn't hard to make. Pancham turned around, and headed all the way back up.

    The stairs kept stretching onwards, and Pancham felt like he'd been climbing for a while. He was even beginning to get a bit tuckered out.

    "Espurr?" he called out, his voice echoing up the stairs. "Shelmet!? Anymon?"

    No-mon answered his calls, except for his own echoes that reverberated through a chamber ahead. Filled with new hope, Pancham continued to climb. Soon he emerged into a room, the same room that he had been trying to escape from in the first place. Pancham blanched. No, That didn't make sense. Stairways didn't work like that. Maybe if he... Pancham ran over to the other entrance, gazing up at the same staircase that he had just climbed. They were both the same. He was trapped in here!

    Pancham returned to the center of the room. He began to pace uneasily, his arms shaking n fear. Oh, how he wished he'd just stayed home…

    ~\({O})/~

    'Espurr' didn't see the point in being Espurr much longer. It shed its false form, and the distance visage of the village square crumbled to nothingness behind it. It could hear the cries of that pancham's friend as he succumbed to his own fears, but that had never been very important, because he had never been very important. He was insignificant, just like all the rest of them were. The mystery dungeon had spread them out far and wide, but It would find them all soon. And once It had them all in one place, It would end them. Just like Its creator wished It to.

    It saw the stairs – the real stairs – just up ahead. It didn't have a mouth to grin with, so instead it just marched towards them and descended. It felt the stairs warp into nothingness behind it, and a new scent invaded its being: There was another on this floor.

    So be it.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Tricky~

    Tricky coughed herself awake, slowly pulling herself to her paws amongst all the swamp water and marsh. What had happened? The last thing she remembered was going down the stairs, and then… A sudden wave of dizziness hit her, causing her to stumble back a bit in the mud. And only then, after the dizziness had left her, did Tricky fully realize where she was.

    The gnarled trees hung over her claustrophobically, vines hanging down from their branches like nooses. And the marsh was nearly up to her belly. Tricky looked around in fear. This couldn't be possible. That place was gone. She had seen it collapse, right in front of her. So how was she here now? Was this where mystery dungeons went after they died?

    But if there was anything Tricky knew, it was that a place like Poliwrath River was never a safe place to stand still in. She removed one of her forelegs from the mud with a loud squelch, then slowly pressed onwards through the muck. It was just like all the other dungeons. Find the stairs, find your friends, get out alive. Find the stairs, find your friends, get out alive. Find the stairs, find your friends, get out alive. Tricky repeated those three sentences over and over in her head as she marched through the swamp.

    Tingles suddenly ran up and down her spine, and she saw hints of flickering lights that blinked through the trees. Red, yellow, and green – sometimes in that order, sometimes not – and they moved. Tricky caught the outlines of something sneaking through the treeline and up ahead. Tricky shivered. Those weren't what she thought they were… right?

    But they weren't heading towards her. They were heading towards something in the distance, and they went much faster than Tricky could ever manage slogging through this marsh. Before long she couldn't even see the lights anymore, and she was left all alone to handle the horrors of Poliwrath River by herself.

    Silence greeted her ears as she travelled. The marsh was sticky and pulled her paws back into itself with every step she took, and aside from the occasional splash in the distance there wasn't a sound to be heard. Tricky could barely even see anything as she walked.

    Until she suddenly could. Between the trees ahead of her, something glowed. Slowly it floated out from behind the trees, and Tricky could almost see it clearly—

    And then it was snuffed out, just like that.

    "Heeeeelp!"

    A voice called out distantly in the woods. Tricky recognized it; a voice she hadn't heard for almost a year.

    "Budew?!" Tricky cried out hopefully. If this was where mystery dungeons went to die, then… maybe pokemon who died in mystery dungeons came here!

    "Heeeelp!"

    The sound of Budew's pleas were more distant this time, as if he were being dragged further and further away by something. Tricky began to slog through the marsh once more with renewed vigor. She could catch up!

    But soon, Tricky was faced with the situation she had secretly been dreading all along: the marsh had gotten too deep. Tricky – whose belly was half-submerged at this point – was loath to go any further on foot, and both paths around the marsh were blocked by the gnarled tree trunks of dying trees. Tricky's ears lowered. How was she going to find Budew now?

    And just like that, she could see again.

    A single lilypad floated in the middle of the lake, a mysterious air surrounding it. It illuminated everything around it with an ethereal glow, and the light quickly caught Tricky's eyes. She watched as slowly; it began to drift towards her as if guided by an unearthly force. Soon it was at the very bank of the lake, and it stopped right in front of Tricky. The glow was almost hurting Tricky's eyes at this point. Her heart leapt in joy – Budew was trying to help her! But she didn't want to go on the river… but there was no other way. Out of options, Tricky hesitantly stepped on the pad, laid down, and began to paddle with one of her paws.

    The lilypad floated back out onto the lake with Tricky on top of it. Despite all her efforts to make the paddling go faster it went stressfully slow. Tricky could barely see the other end of the lake, and in a place like Poliwrath River that was too scary. She attempted in vain to make the lilypad go faster.

    It wasn't long before she began to notice ripples in the water ahead of her, like something coasting just under the water's surface. Tricky barely caught the movement over the lilypad's glow, but it was there and she saw it. She watched it coast out further into the lake with bated breath, hoping that it wouldn't notice her floating along. The water quieted down a moment after, and then Tricky saw fit to continue paddling.

    The lilypad had continued floating by in the absence of her paddling, but now it seemed that no matter how much or how hard she paddled it was slowly coming to a stop. And soon it came to a standstill in the middle of the lake. Tricky looked down at it in fear. This was bad. She was as far out from either side of the lake as she could get! And this stupid lilypad—

    There. She caught it again. Something rippled through the water in the dark distance, coasting right through. And it was heading right for her lilypad. Tricky watched it with horror. This was the end wasn't it…

    As it approached the ripples disappeared, and for a split second, Tricky wondered if it had lost interest and was leaving. Then the bottom of her glowing lilypad suddenly tore open, and a mottled blue hand shot out and pulled Tricky into the water.

    Underwater she couldn't breathe. Tricky had just enough time to take a breath before she went under, and then she was in the grasp of a skeletal poliwrath. The glow of the lilypad illuminated it from above, and she saw that half its skin was missing; seared off by flame. Tricky just stopped herself from screaming underwater and releasing all her air, but did her best to get away anyway. The poliwrath wouldn't let her go. It grabbed her and began to pull her apart. Tricky felt it she felt all the pain and it was horrible. She couldn't stop herself from screaming, and she released all her air.

    But it wasn't water that flowed into her mouth. Air didn't flow in either and Tricky felt like she was suffocating, but she knew what water felt like in her mouth and there wasn't any. And even through all the pain she was experiencing, that one thought stayed in Tricky's mind: No water…

    She took a breath, and air flowed in. And even though all her other senses were telling her that was underwater and she couldn't breathe, she was breathing. And if she could breathe she could—

    Tricky snapped her head forward, took a deep breath of air underwater, and then blasted the poliwrath in the face with fire. It dropped her, and Tricky fell to the bottom of the lake like a deadweight. The poliwrath screeched loudly as it covered its face in pain, and all around her Tricky saw the Poliwrath River begin to crumble away.

    The trees dissolved upwards, taking the vines with them Tricky couldn't see the lilypads or the mud of the marsh anymore, and within minutes even the lake itself had become nothingness. The poliwrath had disappeared long ago. And all that was left was blackness. Blackness all around, and Tricky was once more alone. And then, the blackness began to take shape…

    —Tricky violently snapped awake. She saw the narrow, goo-covered hallways once more, and Tricky realized she was laying against one. Half her face was covered in the goo! She sat up like a shot, quickly trying her best to rub it off her in disgust. Gross!

    It was about a minute before full clarity returned to Tricky again. It must have all been a trick! But if it was a trick, then… Budew… Tricky's ears lowered ever-so-slightly. What a mean thing to do.

    A sudden glow caught her eyes. At the end of the hallway, that same ghostly glow that the lilypad had shone from around the corner. Tricky glanced at it, first in confusion and then in hope. Maybe, just maybe…

    She got up and followed.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Pancham~

    Pancham had been stuck underground for a while. Actually, was this underground? The answer eluded Pancham, but it didn't matter – he was trapped nonetheless. There had to be some way out – he'd gotten in, after all – but no matter how many times he had rushed up or down the two stairways that led in and out of the room, they all led back to the same stone chamber that Pancham had been stuck in forever. He had tried everything: he'd searched for secret passages, went back up and down the stairs in patterns, and even tried pleading with the stairs at one point (that one was something he would never tell Shelmet, no matter what). Nothing had worked. Somehow, he had been thrown in here, and there was no way out.

    He'd taken to just leaning against a wall, staring at nothing in particular. This was his nightmare come to life, being trapped all alone with no-mon to talk to forever! But right now all he felt was boredom. A lack of anything to do that cut through his fear and turned it into indifference.

    Maybe it was just the way that the dim light in the cavern reflected off the stone walls, but Pancham could have sworn that the cavern was slowly getting smaller – no, it was definitely getting smaller. The amount of wall between the stairway and the roof had decreased by quite a bit. Pancham sat up quickly. That put him on a clock. He didn't know whether to be terrified by the fact that the room was shrinking or invigorated that he finally had something to do now. It was then that he noticed the room was a bit lighter than it had been before. Light! And light had to come from somewhere…

    Pancham spotted a crack in the ceiling, one that was slowly opening up as the room got smaller. But it was too high and too small; Pancham would never fit through that!

    Pancham took a few deep breaths in fear. What was… what was he going to do?

    The room got smaller and smaller, and the crack didn't get any larger. And there was nothing that Pancham could do but watch as the roof slowly descended upon his head. He shut his eyes and hit the ground as the roof became too low for him to stand. No this wasn't real this wasn't real this wasn't real it wasn't it couldn't be it was all a dream—

    The room collapsed into nothingness. Slowly, Pancham looked up. He glanced around in confusion. All he saw was blackness. Why wasn't he dead?

    The room was gone entirely, and in its place were the cramped halls of the Ancient Barrow once more. Pancham picked himself up, brushing a copious amount of black goo from his arm and the right side of his face as he did. He slowly stood up, marveling at the fact that he was still alive. Had it all been a trick?

    He glanced over. On the other side of the hallway, Shelmet lay against the wall, fast asleep. He was writhing in apparent pain, murmuring unintelligible gibberish to himself. Pancham wasted no time. He crawled through the swamp over to Shelmet, shaking his shell violently.

    "Shelmet! Wake up!" he yelled, his cry echoing through the dungeon's halls. Shelmet stirred once more, and then his eyes opened.

    "…Pancham?" Shelmet asked wearily. Pancham wrapped him up in a large bear hug.

    "Ugh… save it," Shelmet struggled to say through Pancham's . "We don't even know where we are yet…"

    "There you guys are!"

    Pancham quickly looked behind his shoulder, noticing Deerling and Tricky running up behind him. Shelmet took the opportunity to squirm out of Pancham's arms while he was distracted.

    Pancham quickly got up, just noticing that he had gotten his legs completely covered in swamp water. He grimaced.

    Deerling silently counted them.

    "That's four of us," she muttered. "Where's Espurr?"

    "She pushed me down the stairs," Pancham said, standing up once again.

    "...Wha?" Shelmet asked, still trying to regain his bearings.

    "Somehow, that doesn't surprise me," Deerling said, and then she marched past Pancham. Pancham quickly ran to catch up.

    "Wait! Shouldn't we be focusing on getting out of here? I've seen a lot of weird stuff!"

    "We've all seen weird stuff today," Deerling said, and then she gave Pancham the cold shoulder. Pancham stopped walking with her, allowing her to continue on. Tricky gave him an oddly smug look as she passed him.

    A few splashes from behind Pancham, and Shelmet quickly hopped up.

    "Did you think something was off about that?" he asked. Pancham nodded.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Goomy~

    The fog closed around Goomy, and then he was lost in endless blankets of white mist. Unsure of what to do, he continued to slime through it in a straight line, keeping an eye out for anything he could see in the fog.

    The mist was thick and invasive, and it was impossible to see anything until Goomy was almost close enough to touch it. He had almost slimed into a wall more than once. But what he heard in the mist was more unnerving by far. Every so often in the distance Goomy would catch wind of a growl or a screech, and he'd course correct to avoid it. But they only got closer, no matter which direction he slimed in. Goomy had taken to the walls, checking for places to hide as he continued. But there was nowhere to hide. No holes were large enough for him to hide in.

    The sound of several screeches behind him caught Goomy's attention. He quickly turned around the best he could, glancing down the long, long hallway he had just crossed.

    Dungeon 'mon.

    Goomy could hear them rioting just around the corridor – and there were more than Goomy could count. There was nowhere to hide.

    Goomy began to panic. Where was he going to go what was he going to do how would he get out of this? But there was nothing to do but wait.

    He saw them as shadows in the fog first. Shadows that quickly grew in size and intensity, until a pair of furfrou broke the mist—

    The furfrou were not okay. They were half-decomposed all over, and Goomy could even see the bones in some places. And then they attacked. Goomy, who had never had to fend for himself, had no line of defense – he was snapped up and mauled like a chew toy. One of the furfrou shook him in its mouth and then threw him against the wall. Goomy slowly splatted to the floor, then weakly reformed himself. Thankfully, his body wasn't solid enough to be mortally damaged by mauling, but it had still hurt him.

    Hoots and hollers and screeches abounded in the distant fog. Goomy began to tremble. He was going to die, wasn't he?

    No. There had to be a way out of this! There just had to be! If he just tried hard enough….

    With determination, Goomy slimed back out into the middle of the corridor. He was going to fight this time, not run and hide like a scared rattata.

    The next pokemon that dashed out of the fog was a zebstrika. It was mottled and rotting in all the same places the furfrou had been, but Goomy held his ground this time. He tackled the zebstrika to the ground just as it reached him. As scary as it looked, the pokemon was frail, and Goomy watched in awe as it degraded into dust.

    He looked at the fog ahead of him. He could see the outlines of many more pokemon advancing through the mist.

    Goomy braced himself. That was too many to deal with all at once. He looked around. There was no way out; he wasn't fast enough. There was nowhere to hide; he was too large. And if he tried to run now he'd be cornered. There was only one option.

    Before Goomy even knew what had hit him, he was swarmed by dungeon ferals galore. They piled on top of him, all snapping at him with their rotting mouths and skeletal claws. Their claws hurt, but Goomy continued to fight back as best he could. He wasn't taking it lying down anymore! He was going to fight until he couldn't fight anymore!

    With that thought, Goomy suddenly began to glow. He saw his body light up with a bright flash, and the bright flash was the last thing he saw, before his surroundings went black.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Pancham~

    Led by Deerling, the four of them travelled through the Barrow's cramped halls silently. The floor was long and expansive, and perhaps more like a labyrinth than any of the floors above it. Pancham would never admit it, but all the silence was beginning to put him on edge more than everything that had happened tonight did. No-mon was talking to each other, instead just stewing in their own negative thoughts. Pancham didn't know how, but he could feel it. Something about the dungeon made him able to feel it, and maybe everymon else felt it too.

    The only 'mon who seemed perky was Tricky. Tricky, who had the greatest negative energy of them all. It almost repelled Pancham with how strong it was.

    But worst of all was that feeling of something being wrong. Something that neither he or Shelmet or even Deerling knew about. And Pancham couldn't keep it in much longer.

    "We should talk to each other."

    "What?" Deerling turned her head back at him, and Pancham saw that she'd been silently crying the whole way.

    "I said we should talk to each other," Pancham repeated. "Can't you feel that energy in the air?"

    He waved his paw around just to make a point. "That's us. And the longer we're walking here in silence the worse it's gonna get."

    "You're gonna stop us from finding the path," Tricky suddenly butted in. "If we're talking all the time, we're not looking!"

    "I agree with Tricky," Deerling said. "We should be focusing on getting out, not talking."

    Tricky sent Pancham another smug look, before continuing with her nose in the air. And slowly, the group returned to silence.

    Every so often Pancham would look at Tricky, who was prancing along gleefully without a seeming care in the world. It infuriated Pancham. How could she be so happy in their dire situation! The last thing he knew about Tricky was that she was a total wuss about this place.. was she just so carefree that she genuinely didn't care if they get out or not?

    Slowly, Tricky began to fall slightly behind. Soon she fell behind Shelmet, and trotted right next to Pancham, humming a cheerful tune and eyeing him almost tauntingly. And then, Pancham came to realization: Maybe it was in the way she moved, or the fact that she wasn't wearing the scarf she had come in with, but Pancham realized all the same. This wasn't Tricky.

    He acted quickly, grabbing 'Tricky' by the throat and pinning it to the side of the wall.

    "Who are you?" he yelled in the creature's face. "And what are you doing pretending to be my friend?"

    "Pancham!" Deerling and Shelmet quickly turned around and ran back to where Pancham was. "What are you doing?!" Deerling cried out in horror.

    "That's not Tricky!" Pancham yelled.

    "What are you talking about?" Tricky feigned, squirming in Pancham's grip. "I- I'm Tricky! Your best friend!"

    Even Deerling was caught off by that. She kept her attack position, but stayed still. Shelmet relaxed as well once he saw Deerling.

    "What happened to your scarf?" Pancham asked.

    "I… lost it," Tricky said. "in the dungeon. But that's not what's important now, right?"

    Pancham wasn't satisfied.

    "Then tell me your name," he said. "Everymon knows that one."

    "Duh." Tricky rolled her eyes. "It's Tricky."

    Deerling couldn't take it anymore.

    "Pancham, just let her go," she said loudly.

    "That's not the real Tricky!" Pancham yelled back, saying it in a panic as if on repeat. "It's not real! It's not real!"

    "Pancham! Stop this!" Deerling yelled louder.

    "Guys!" Shelmet tried to interject. He was ignored.

    "I won't! That's not the real Tricky!" Pancham continued to yell.

    Unnoticed, Tricky grinned with a mouth full of fangs. This was exactly what It had wanted, and that panda bear was dumb enough to fall for all Its traps. They had broken free of the nightmares, but the negative energy from this argument alone was giving It all the energy It needed to finally finish them off. Slowly, It sank into the goo-covered wall when no-mon was paying attention.

    "Guys!" Shelmet loudly yelled, cutting both Pancham and Deerling off. They both looked at him with the same annoyed face: "What?"

    "Tricky's gone."

    Shelmet gestured to the wall where Tricky had been. Sure enough, there was nothing but black goo in her place. Both Pancham and Deerling went silent.

    A sudden splashing from around the corridor caught the attention of all three pokemon.

    "There!" Deerling yelled. "Follow it!"

    Pancham, Deerling, and Shelmet all ran down the corridor and towards the noise.

    Deerling was faster than Pancham and Shelmet combined. She rounded the corridor first, followed by Pancham and soon after Shelmet. Deerling froze. Her legs trembled for a minute. Then she quickly bolted forward.

    "Goomy!" she called out as she ran. Sure enough, once Pancham looked, he saw Goomy slumped against the black goo of one of the walls.

    A sudden gurgling stopped Deerling in her tracks. She watched in horror as slowly, the monster pulled itself out of the wall. It stood over the sleeping Goomy, reaching down for him menacingly…

    "No!" Deerling ran forward, her head down. At the last minute, she came to a screeching halt, opened her mouth, and shot a beam of green energy directly at the monster.

    "Hey—wait!" Pancham called out as he and Shelmet tried to catch up. "Wait for us!"

    The monster was barely fazed. Ignoring Goomy, it began to step forwards, focused on Deerling instead. All her bravado suddenly lost, Deerling began to back away.

    "Hey!"

    A voice echoed down the hall, drawing the attention of both Deerling and the monster. Pancham dashed forward, his fist glowing with black energy. "You stay away from her!" he cried out valiantly, dashing forward and striking the monster in the chest.

    The monster reeled back a bit, and Deerling took the opportunity to blast the monster with another Energy Ball. That sent the monster careening backwards.

    Pancham, Shelmet, and Deerling stood together as it got up, ready to attack once again. But the monster didn't attack. Instead, it studied them as if it were slightly wary of their power.

    Then, without warning, it suddenly scooped up Goomy in its claws, and dove into the wall, taking Goomy with it. Deerling's cry of horror was lost as the last of Goomy's lavender goo disappeared into the wall along with the monster.

    And then all was quiet.

    Deerling's legs trembled. Once. Then twice. Then, she collapsed to the ground. Pancham didn't hear her say anything. He walked over.

    "We're gonna find it," he said.

    "It took Goomy!" Deerling yelled at him. "What do you think there's going to be to find?"

    "Didn't you see?" Pancham asked. "We scared it off! It's running from us!"

    "What does that matter?" asked Deerling forlornly.

    "If we're fast enough, we can still get Goomy back!" said Pancham. "Espurr and Tricky too."

    He began to trudge forward in the muck, looking back at Deerling and Shelmet. "Even if it looks like it's all been for nothing… don't you at least want to try?"

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Tricky~

    Tricky ran through the hallway, carelessly splashing through the muck. The glow was disappearing. She had to keep up with it! Tricky rounded one corridor, then the next. In the distance, she heard what sounded like a large gurgle, and only then did the glow begin to stay in one place.

    She slowed down as she approached it. Carefully turning the last corridor, Tricky finally laid eyes on what had been casting that ghostly glow all this time: in the middle of the hallway floated Budew.

    Tricky didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. So she did the first thing she could think of – she bolted forward and hugged him tightly.

    "Budew…" she half-laughed, half-sobbed. "It's really you…"

    "All I remember is… dying," Budew said, in a small, cracked voice. "And then I ended up here. I've been here for years… wandering around all in the dark… I had to drink swamp water!"

    "I know…" Tricky still hadn't released him from her hug. A single tear slid down her cheek. "I'm sorry I got you killed."

    Budew was the one who eventually parted them. He looked at her with big, pleading eyes. "Have you come to take me out of here?"

    Tricky's face lit up with what was perhaps the most joyful expression she'd ever had. "Of course! Of course you can come back! You can come back to school, and meet Espurr and Goomy and…"

    Tricky's head tilted, as she looked behind him.

    "…Huh," she said. "Is that Goomy?"

    "What?' Budew looked behind himself as well. "Who's Goomy? I don't see anymon."

    "But he's right there, Tricky said, beginning to pad around Budew. Budew quickly made to stop her.

    "Aren't you going to take me out of here?" Budew asked, louder and more firm this time.

    "But we've gotta get Goomy too!" Tricky pleaded.

    "There's no-mon there, Tricky," Budew said sternly. "We should go."

    Tricky was silent. Slowly, her ears drooped, and a few tears fell from her eyes silently. But she didn't cry.

    "Alright," she said. "Lead the way."

    Budew happily veered off in the opposite direction, heading down the hallway she had come from. But Tricky didn't follow. Budew looked back in confusion once he had reached the corridor's entrance.

    "Are you coming with me?" he asked. Tricky shook her head.

    "You're not the real Budew," she said.

    "But I am the real Budew!" Budew yelled. "I am! I am! i Am!"

    Tricky just hung her head and shook it.

    "I'm so sorry," she breathed. And then she took a deep breath, and spat an ember directly at Budew.

    The fire was hungry, and soon Budew was completely alight. Tricky tried to drown out his screams by covering her ears, and soon with her own. But they didn't last long. The familiar voice of Budew droned on longer than it should have, increasing in pitch until it was a loud, demonic screech. And then it cut out entirely, and Budew was gone.

    Tricky sniffled, then blinked the tears from her eyes.

    "Goomy!" she yelled, running over to his sleeping form. She quickly nudged him with her paw, then her nose. "Wake up!"

    It was a minute, but Goomy stirred. He blinked his eyes open wearily, looking at Tricky.

    "…T-Tricky?" he asked hopefully. Tricky nodded ecstatically.

    "Come on- get up!" she hissed, barely able to sit still. "We've gotta find the others!"

    "Hey! Over here!"

    Both Tricky and Goomy turned to see a welcome face: Pancham ran around the corner, followed by Deerling and Shelmet. Everymon was there, except for…

    …But Espurr was smart. Tricky was sure she was fine. She quickly ran to join the other three 'mon, looking back to make sure that Goomy was keeping up.

    "How'd you guys find us?" she asked.

    "We heard the screeches," Pancham said. "We just followed the sound. What were thos screeches, anyway-"

    "GOOMY!" Deerling cried out, galloping over to meet Goomy in the middle. She quickly checked him over to make sure he was fine. "Are you alright? Did that monster do anything to you?"

    "I-I'm fine," Goomy said, shrugging off the attention. He didn't like it when Deering fawned over him like that. He was big enough to care for himself!

    A sudden gurgling from the wall stopped everymon in their tracks. They all watched in horror as a clawed arm erupted out of the wall, followed by another. And then a leg. And then the monster stood before them in Its full glory. Enraged.

    Pancham, Deerling, and Shelmet took attack positions.

    "Behind me, Goomy," said Deerling. Goomy was going to object, but then saw the monster and did exactly as Deerling asked.

    "Now what?" Shelmet asked, as Tricky charged up and ember too.

    "On three, we all attack," Pancham said. "One… Two… Three!"

    Tricky fired an ember. Deerling fired an energy beam. Pancham grabbed ahold of Shelmet, and ran straight for the beast with the pointy end of Shelmet's shell. The energy ball and ember combined sent the monster reeling back, but it was quick. It grabbed Shelmet, stopping Pancham in his tracks.

    "Hey- stop!" the monster lifted both Pancham and Shelmet up into the air. Deerling lost it. She put her head down, and charged for the monster once more, intending to headbutt it. Her head became stuck in the goo.

    Tricky fired another ember at the monster, but it blocked the attack with Shelmet's shell. Tricky growled and charged forward, , biting the creature in the leg, But her muzzle went all the way through, and Tricky found she couldn't remove it. Muffled, she screamed in horror as she tried to pull her nose and muzzle out. She was suffocating!

    Goomy watched in terror as the monster dealt with all his friends. He couldn't… he couldn't take this anymore! If no-mon was going to help his friends, then somemon had to step up! And he was going to.

    The same spark Goomy had felt in the nightmare resounded within him. There was a sudden flash, and for a few seconds Goomy felt nothing. And then everything went black. Goomy could feel his eyes, and he could hear his friends scream, but he couldn't see them!

    And then his antennae twitched, and suddenly Sliggoo saw everything. He looked around, his antennae focusing on the monster. Somehow, he knew what to do. He opened his mouth, and he felt a newfound energy build up within. And once it became too much for his mouth to bear, he spat it out. The ground suddenly boomed, and the creature was thrown back to the end of the hallway. All of Sliggoo's friends fell back into the muck, catching their breath from the harrowing encounter. They all saw Sliggoo and gazed in awe, but their attention soon returned to the creature at the end of the hallway.

    It was gone.

    ~\({O})/~

    The In-Between

    ~Espurr~

    Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked her eyes open. She sat up in the blackness, looking around. The all-too-familiar blackness of the In-Between met her eyes. She stood up, looking around.

    Foolish girl.

    A wind began to howl in the distance, and suddenly Espurr was knocked backwards, falling on her behind. She glanced up at the howling wind above her, staring up in wordless horror.

    Oh so FOOLISH… you make my job too easy. All it took was one dream, and you came skittering into my lair without another thought to pay.

    Espurr stayed quiet as she looked for a way out. Just the thought of pulling another psychic trick made her head want to explode, but there had to be another way out!

    "Wake up…"

    A new voice reverberated in her head. Espurr quickly stared up at the sky in hope. "It's coming…"

    The winds suddenly picked up, the howling drowning out whatever she could hear of the voice.

    Now your friends will die… and you will die with them. My shadow will consume you ALL.

    "…Wake up! Wake up wake up wake up—"


    Espurr felt herself suddenly get violently shaken, and all of the sudden she was in—

    ~\({O})/~

    The Ancient Barrow

    The cramped halls of the Ancient Barrow greeted her eyes once again. Espurr was lying against the black goo that coated the walls, and a good amount of her fur was covered in it. Over her stood a riolu. Espurr was startled; she almost yelped in surprise. But the riolu frantically gestured for silence with his paws.

    "Quiet! It's coming," he hissed.

    Sure enough, Espurr's ears caught the sound of something gurgling in the distance, and then a large splash echoed through the hallway. Riolu began to panic- he looked this way and that, his eyes finally settling on a dead-end corridor nearby.

    "This way!" he quietly hissed, and then he quickly led Espurr towards it anyway.

    They both sat down in the swamp water, hiding themselves from sight. Riolu motioned for silence, and Espurr stayed as quiet as she could. They quietly listened as outside the passage, something large tromped by.

    Slowly, it passed, and only after it had been gone for a good minute did Riolu uncup his paw from over his mouth.

    "Who are you?" Espurr hissed, once she was sure that the monster wouldn't be coming back for them.

    "I'm Riolu," he said. "And I'm the one who's gonna save the world."

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Babyproofing/Bonfire – Marco Beltrami
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 20 - Salutations From the Other Side
  • SparklingEspeon

    Insquisitabilitating
    Pronouns
    She/Her
    Oh, you're up now.

    Salutations from the other side, dear traveler! Sorry for putting you under. Trust me, you'd have gone crazy if you were awake.

    …Hmm? Who am I? Well… I'm a friend. And there's an entire world out there that needs your help. In fact, you're their last hope.

    You want what?

    I'll have to erase your memories of this conversation, so you won't keep any of it. But we have a little time. Sit down— oh. Wait. You don't have a body yet. Silly me! Just float there, then.

    It all started very long, long ago…


    ~\({O})/~

    20.

    Salutations From the Other Side

    ~\({O})/~

    School Forest ~ Four Weeks Ago

    ~Riolu~

    Riolu opened his mouth, and his tongue flopped out. Everything felt weird. He could smell the forest around him in much more detail than he was used to, and he was sure his tongue wasn't supposed to be hanging out of his mouth like that. It was only when he heard the rushing of the lake that Riolu thought to open his eyes.

    He couldn't see as well, that was for sure. But his smell and hearing more than made up for it. He could hear the lake, and he could smell the lake, and his nose and ears together told him it was less than three feet away. That would take some getting used to. His feet, however…

    Riolu cast a look at his hind paws, realizing that he didn't have the faintest idea of how to walk on those. All the while his tongue had been flopped out of his mouth, and it was beginning to drip slobber onto him. Riolu did his best to pull his tongue back into his mouth, but it took a few tries to get it right. And then, Riolu noticed: he was parched.

    Luckily, that was what the lake was for.

    Riolu crawled over to it on his elbows and knees, and after casting a look around and realizing there wouldn't be any ready-made cups waiting around for him in the middle of a forest – damnit – he gave up and stuck his tongue into the water to drink. He was able to drink his fill that way easily, although the water flowed too fast for Riolu to see his reflection.

    Swish.

    The thing that jarred him out of his stupor was the sound of something approaching from behind him. Riolu quickly turned over, looking in the direction of the noise. In the distance (although he couldn't tell for sure; the distance was a bit blurry), there stood what looked like a trio of cone-headed creatures with softly-flickering lights on their arms. The flickers made it hard to see. Riolu tilted his head for a minute. Were these natives? Maybe they could help him!

    "Hey!" Riolu called out cheerfully, waving at them. "Hullo! Over here! Anyone think they can give me some directions!?"

    They didn't answer. Riolu's waving stopped for just a second. He was beginning to get a little unnerved. Maybe they couldn't hear him or something. He'd just wave harder.

    "I'm a bit lost!" Riolu called out, unconsciously wagging his tail behind him. "Can you help me?"

    The trio of pokemon turned to each other, and Riolu saw for sure the flickering lights on their hands. Red yellow green yellow red and then yellow again…

    And then, just like that, they all turned back to face Riolu. Riolu gave them a complimentary wave. Just in case. Maybe…

    -All thoughts and hopes of a civil exchange were suddenly dashed from Riolu's mind. The creatures raised their arms, and then a large shadowy ball materialized out of nowhere and flew straight at Riolu—

    —Riolu barely dived out of the way as it flew over the bush he was next to and exploded against something on the other side of the lake.

    "Hey! Not cool!" Riolu yelled back at them. If the strange pokemon heard him, they didn't acknowledge it. They started to come towards him, and as the bushes pushed apart Riolu saw that they had no legs. They floated.

    Riolu quickly glanced down at his own legs. He didn't know how these even worked, much less how to walk on them! But then one of the strange pokemon's lights flickered bright yellow again and blinked him in the face, and Riolu decided that now was as good a time as any to learn. He hopped to his feet – stumbled a bit – then ran off into the woods as fast as he could.

    He didn't get far. He tripped on a root, which sent him tumbling down the forest floor until he landed in the middle of a ditch.

    After half a minute of lying there, Riolu groaned. His leg hurt. It wasn't broken, but it wasn't in running condition either. But there was no time for this! He was being chased! Maybe – maybe he could-

    Riolu looked down at his paws, then at all the mud under him. He didn't know how, but he knew: His hands were made for digging. And he was in a ditch. He could dig his way out.

    Above him, the strange pokemon passed over, looking for him in vain. Riolu held his breath until they had disappeared (Or at least he couldn't hear them anymore). Then he sat up. His leg wasn't throbbing as much anymore. It was time to get to work.

    Riolu spent the next few hours digging a hidey-hole for himself. At several points, he had to stop whenever he heard the swish of ferns being pushed aside, or the tell-tale beeping that came with the strange pokemon's presence. But Riolu was a diligent worker, and by the time that night fell Riolu had dug himself a large tunnel.

    Before long, he felt hungry. He lay in the small, underground passage he had dug that was just big enough for him, clutching his belly in mild pain. He'd been working hard all day, not to mention the nagging feeling that something was off about him that he couldn't quite put his finge- paw on. Above him, he heard distant beeps in the distance. He couldn't just go out and forage for things, because then he would be caught and he didn't have the skill to fight or evade those strange pokemon yet.

    Riolu decided to keep digging. He needed food sooner or later, but staying in this tunnel forever and waiting for the relentless pokemon to leave would just mean starving to death in here. Riolu was going to dig outside of their boundaries, and hope they didn't discover the tunnel in the ditch before he did.

    And so he dug. For ages, until dirt piles littered the passage behind him and Riolu was sure it was sunrise again (although he couldn't tell because he wasn't above ground). He was almost ready to collapse. He looked back at the tunnel entrance, which he could still vaguely see from far away. He hadn't dug as long a distance as he had thought. Riolu leaned against the cavern wall in despair. He was so tired, and so hungry, and so thirsty… Perhaps he'd just dig up here. This must be outside the strange pokemons' boundaries. And if not, maybe they were sleeping. Or maybe they'd moved on, thinking he was long gone at this point. Either way, this couldn't go on for much longer. Riolu needed out, and he needed out now.

    Riolu dug up. It was hard at first, but he soon found that he was able to cling to the walls with his claws and bat the dirt down, and soon the entire ground above fell onto the floor of the cavern below and Riolu saw daylight; beautiful daylight, and he rejoiced, climbing out of the hole.

    Swish.

    In the distance. Riolu's head snapped back towards that. Did those pokemon never quit? He didn't think beyond that – he ran. The pokemon emerged from the treeline behind him, almost like they had known he was there, and as he glanced back towards them Riolu tripped.

    He hit the ground hard. Riolu groaned, feeling all the aches and pains of his body come back to hit him full-force with that one collision against the ground. The strange pokemon didn't wait for him to recover. One of them raised its arms in his direction, and before Riolu had a chance to react a large shadowy ball flew out of nowhere and collided with him.

    Riolu's body was pain, then stiff, and then everything went black.

    ~\({O})/~​

    It was a while before Riolu could wake up again. He was still parched, but everything felt hotter. Much hotter. He opened his eyes, and saw the blood-red sky above him.

    That wasn't right.

    Riolu sat up, looking around. All around him was a forest of dead trees. No leaves were anywhere to be seen, and the bark was pitch black. It rotted off the trees and curled up on the ground.

    Riolu slowly got to his feet. This wasn't right. And he needed something to eat. And drink.

    Something caught the corner of Riolu's eye. Something blue amongst all the crimson. Riolu turned to see a blue flame dancing deeper in the forest. It flickered weakly, almost half-gone. Riolu could even see through it.

    It danced around in the air gracefully, then zipped off in a different direction as if bidding Riolu to follow. Riolu stopped for a minute. Was this really the best option? The last pokemon he had tried to trust had brought him… here. But where was 'here'? Riolu looked around at the dead trees and the red sky. He needed any help he could get. He'd just have to be on the lookout for a trap. And so Riolu reluctantly decided to follow it. There wasn't another good choice, in hindsight.

    As Riolu walked he noticed that the flame was beginning to get stronger. He couldn't deny that he was scared right now, and maybe that was making him see things, but it looked like the flame was slightly more solid. Less see-through. Maybe even the flame was a hallucination.

    Riolu's stomach growled. He clutched it in hunger as he went. Boy, he hoped he could find something to eat soon.

    The flame entered a large clearing in the middle of the dead woods, and then it stopped. Riolu followed it into the clearing, but no further. The flame was completely stationary, dancing and flickering brightly in place. It looked a lot more energetic than when Riolu had first seen it. A wave of fear came over Riolu suddenly. Had he just walked into some kind of trap?

    Riolu wanted to run away, but then a thought occurred to him: what if that was what they wanted? (And he didn't want to get lost either.)

    Slowly, Riolu peeked his head out into the clearing, both ways. He didn't see anything but the trunks of more dead trees. And that flame, which had not moved an inch. Slowly, Riolu sighed in defeat. If this was a trap, he'd just have to spring it. He was too hungry to come up with a better solution right now.

    Riolu took a single step out into the clearing, then quickly pulled his foot back. Nothing happened. Arrows didn't fly from the trees, and no monster emerged from the forest to devour him. Riolu mustered up all his courage, and then put his foot out again. And this time, it stayed there.

    Riolu took another step. Then another. And another. Soon he was all the way out of the tree-line, and nothing had changed. Riolu let out a quiet sigh of relief. Then he quickly scampered up to the flame like the ground behind him was lava.

    It stood still in the air, same as it had since he'd seen it. Riolu tentatively reached out a paw to touch it, but his paw went through completely. Riolu pulled it out then looked down at it, noticing how it was completely unharmed.

    "BOO!"

    "Aaauggh!" Riolu fell backwards onto the ground, edging away towards the treeline in fear. Slowly, he watched as the blue flame materialized completely, a candle forming at its base. A candle with a face.

    "Oh, tasty, tasty beautiful fear!" the candle cried out in joy, seemingly devouring something that Riolu couldn't see. "For a moment…" the candle gasped between bites. "…I thought I was going to disappear…"

    "Fear?" Another voice piped up from a distance.

    "Fear?"

    "Where is it?"

    "We can eat?"

    "We can eat!"

    "We're saved!"

    Several more voices whistled through the bare treetops, and Riolu could only watch as more of the blue flames arrived to feast upon an invisible luncheon. And Riolu was terrified. He curled up in a ball on the ground, waiting for it all to be over, for this all to be just a dream-

    "You can get up now. We've had our fill."

    Riolu slowly peeked out from the ball he was currently curled up in. The candle that had led him here – he could tell because the flame on top was larger than the others – floated over him, a friendly expression upon its face.

    "Yeah!" another candle piped up from amongst the horde of candles that were now watching him (Riolu became a little uncomfortable in just that moment). "You saved us!"

    "I… what?" Riolu asked. His voice was raspy from lack of water, and it felt weird just talking. Never mind the fact that he was talking to floating ghost candles.

    His stomach suddenly flared up, and Riolu clutched it in pain. The candles all exchanged looks.

    "Well, he fed us," said one. "'s only fair."

    ~\({O})/~​

    "So what are you guys all about?" Riolu asked, happily gnawing on a few carrot-like roots that the candle-things had picked for him. They barely had any taste and they smelled awful, but Riolu was just happy to eat something at this point.

    "What do you mean?" one of the candles asked, lazily floating in the air.

    "Like," Riolu said before biting off a large piece of the root. "What are you?"

    All the candles exchanged weird looks at that line.

    "Well…" one candle started. "We're Litwick. The former and forever occupants of the Ancient Barrow!"

    "Well, until recently," said another.

    "What's that mean?" Riolu asked.

    "It's an unfortunate misconception," said the litwick who had led him here. "The public thinks we're soul eaters, and that we have to kill somemon every time we want to eat. Really, we just feed on negative auras. But all the superstition got troublesome to deal with, so we locked ourselves away in the Ancient Barrow and posed as ghosts. A little 'boo' here, dishes re-arranged there, and we ate well. We were eating well. And then…" the litwick shuddered, too scared to go on.

    "And then we were attacked," another, braver litwick continued in his place. "All this icky black goo came down the wall! None of us saw what it was. We were just hit by a strange attack, and the next thing we knew we were all here."

    "There's nothing to eat here," a smaller litwick piped up. "We almost disappeared from starvation!"

    "But then you showed up," said a fourth, more mature litwick. "A lot of us owe you our lives."

    Riolu set down what was left of his roots.

    "So there's really nothing for you guys to eat here?" he asked.

    One of the litwick shook their heads. "No living creatures," they said. "Nothing to scare. Nothing to feed off of."

    Riolu stared at the ground. "And if I leave you…" he began. "…You'll just starve again?"

    There was silence, but everymon knew the answer to that question.

    "…How about we make a deal?" asked one of the litwick. "You just woke up here, right? You must think this place is pretty strange. We'll protect you! We'll teach you how to survive here! And all you have to do is feed us!"

    "Yeah!" the smaller litwick piped up. "The only pokemon you still have to meet is Solosis! And she'll be back soon!"

    "Who's Solosis?" Riolu asked.

    "Our leader," the first litwick said. "You'll meet her tonight, after she gets back from There."

    "Where?"

    The litwick pointed directly behind Riolu. "There."

    Riolu looked behind himself, to where Litwick was pointing. And then he saw it: A large mountain, wreathed in flame. He quickly stood up and looked up at it. And then he didn't want to look at it. Riolu shut his eyes and turned away, but the image of the demonic mountain was burned into his brain now. Slowly, he opened them, making sure to look in the other direction.

    "W-what is that?" he stammered.

    "We call it the Bad Place," said one of the litwick. "Solosis has another name for it."

    "Another name for what?"

    The voice reverberated through Riolu's head. It came from everywhere and nowhere at once, but Riolu only had to glance where all the other litwick were glancing to find out who was speaking.

    It looked like nothing he had ever seen before; a small ball with eyes encased in a larger coating of thick green slime. And it floated.

    The large green ball of slime looked around, its eyes settling on Riolu.

    "You're new," she 'said'. Despite the distance Riolu heard it as if she was standing right in front of him.

    "Uh… hi." Riolu didn't have the energy to wave in greeting.

    Solosis sighed in exhaustion (or as close as it could get to that, Riolu assumed), then floated over.

    "Did you find anything?" one of the litwick asked.

    "Not yet," Solosis broadcasted. "I haven't been able to get close."

    Noticing the falling look upon the litwick's face, Solosis quickly floated over.

    "Cheer up! We'll figure it out soon enough. Maybe I'll bring some of you with me next time; see if we can make it up that cliff easier."

    There were various murmurs of disappointment and interest from the litwick, but they soon dissipated. Nothing had changed, after all. Solosis herself soon fluttered over to Riolu, then lowered herself to his height.

    "So what brings you here?" she asked. "Wait—don't tell me. You got zapped here too."

    Unsure of what to say, Riolu nodded silently.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "We haven't got much, but… we're the only living things for miles out. Trust me. I've searched."

    Solosis floated next to Riolu on one end of the clearing, where he sat against the trunk of a dead tree. Out in the middle of the clearing, the litwick amassed in a large flurry of floating candles and blue flames, flying around and socializing with each other at speeds Riolu couldn't even possibly imagine.

    "I've been feeding them as much as I can, but I'm only one pokemon when it comes down to it," Solosis said. "And litwick can't eat their own negative auras, or we'd never have to worry about this. They were all starving to death until you showed up."

    Riolu connected the dots quickly.

    "And…" he said. "You want me to help out?"

    Solosis sent him a pleading look he wouldn't have thought was possible with those beady black eyes.

    "Would you?" she asked.

    Riolu was silent for a minute. That should have had an easy answer. He didn't have anywhere else to go. And… they'd fed him. He'd probably die on his own. But at the same time… did he want to be stuck here for the rest of his life? He looked up at the blood-red sky.

    "…Is the sky always like that?" he asked. "It doesn't feel right."

    "It's been like that ever since we've been here. And wouldn't you believe it, this is the daytime."

    "Really? What's it like at night?" Riolu asked.

    "Black," Solosis answered. "Even this place can't take that away."

    Riolu snickered through his nose. It sounded more like a snort.

    "So, what do you think?" Solosis asked, giving him that pleading look once more. "Will you stay with us? Just until we find a way out of here?"

    Riolu shrugged. "I guess."

    "Great!" Solosis suddenly sounded much more energetic.

    "Oh, and one more thing you should know," she quickly said before Riolu could open his mouth in response. "You might hear things in the distance at night. Howls, screeches, pokemon crying out for help… whatever you do, don't leave the clearing. Got it?"

    Riolu slowly nodded, looking a lot more fearful. "Yeah."

    "Good, then!" Solosis broadcasted into his head cheerfully, leading him through the clearing. "I'll show you where you'll sleep."

    ~\({O})/~​

    Riolu slept in a pile of dirt near the far side of the clearing that had been bunched up to look like a bed. He felt his stomach grumble a little, but clutched it in silence. The roots had filled him for a bit, but now he was hungry again. He gritted his teeth and bore it in silence. It could wait until morning.

    And yet, as the hours ran on, Riolu found himself still wide awake. He had no right to be this wide awake – he should have been exhausted from everything that he just happened in the past day – but it felt like his body didn't want to loosen up. He was still tense, like something was going to spring on him any moment and he had to be ready.

    Maybe it was this place that was making him feel like that. Everything was deathly silent. At least, back in the other place, he could hear things chirping as he dug. Here… nothing. It was dead. Everything here was dead.

    "Heeeeeeeelp!"

    Riolu immediately sat up in his bed of dirt, staring directly at where the voice had come from. It sounded like… he couldn't really tell what it sounded like, but it had come from very deep in the woods.

    You might hear things in the distance at night.

    Riolu stared at the trees intently, trying to see anything that might be in the distance. He could only see the absolute darkness that crept out from the treeline.

    Whatever you do, don't leave the clearing. Got it?

    That was suddenly a much harder set of instructions to follow. Riolu was scared out of his wits, sure. But if there was somemon that needed help out there…

    Riolu slowly rose from his position, taking care not to upset the ghostly forms of the sleeping litwick all around him. Slowly, he tiptoed towards the treeline, trying to get a better idea of what might be out there. His ears pricked up, able to hear the cracking of sticks as something prowled in the distance far off. Another living creature?

    He sniffed the air, remembering his heightened sense of smell. He smelled… eww, that was rancid. A disgusting scent wafted in through the trees, regaling Riolu with its foulness. He wrinkled up his nose and stepped back. It smelled like somemon had died long ago and was rotting. Riolu stood in place, not sure what to do with this information. Maybe he should go wake Solosis—

    A loud roar echoed through the trees, hitting Riolu's ears with the force of a hammer. It heightened in pitch until it was the screech of a demon, and then Riolu heard whatever had been prowling through the woods suddenly romp off.

    Without thinking, he quickly got back to his bed of dirt and laid down upon it, wide awake and scared witless.

    He stayed awake the whole night.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Rise and shine."

    Slowly coming to. Riolu blinked himself awake, staring up at Solosis. He looked up at her briefly, yawned, then let his head fall back down against the dirt again. He felt tired. What had happened last night?

    Slowly, it all came back to him. All the memories of his frightening encounter last night. What was that thin—

    "BOO!"

    Riolu jolted awake with a yelp, and the litwick feasted.

    That was how it went for the next few days. The litwick, experienced and ever-creative in the art of frightening pokemon, found new ways to scare Riolu each day. In return, Riolu got roots to eat from them twice a day and water to drink, and so his belly stayed relatively full. He quickly made friends with a few of them, having nothing else to do all day as they waited for Solosis. The one who had led him here was called 'Tall-Flame', as he soon found out, and the other three litwick in Tall-Flame's gang were Small-Light, Flicker-Stem, and Violet-Fire. Small-Light had haunted a library for a while, and read a lot of things in books when he wasn't busy scaring the librarian. Violet-Fire would scare him the worst but ate very little herself, while Flicker-Stem was very young and had known little else but this place. Tall-Flame was adventurous, but also reckless. The other three constantly had to talk him down from pulling several reckless stunts, and it soon became obvious to Riolu that Tall-Flame had found him by chance.

    This wasn't meant to be permanent. Every day, Solosis would wake Riolu and then leave early, and she would come back an hour before darkness fell, because it wasn't safe to go out at dark. Riolu had questioned her on several occasions, but Solosis was always very coy about the answers she gave.

    "What are those noises?" Riolu asked one day, just after Solosis had come back from wherever she went all day. "I hear them every night, just like you said. But if everyone can hear those things, then that means there has to be some other sign of life out there, right?"

    Solosis sighed, like she wasn't prepared to answer that question.

    "Promise me you'll never go after those voices," she said, just to him. "They aren't what they pretend to be."

    "What does that mean?" Riolu pressed, but Solosis refused to communicate with him beyond that.

    "So," Riolu asked as he bit into a root. His nose wrinkled as he did. They smelled more and more awful with each day, but they were the only thing he had to eat at this point. "What's up with Solosis? You guys know why she goes to that mountain every day?"

    Flicker-Stem floated next to him, staring at the same thing he was: the demonic, flame-wreathed mountain in the distance. It was colored the dark shade of rust that everything in this place was colored, and from a distance it seemed almost peaceful. Almost.

    "Solosis calls it Reverse Mountain," Flicker-Stem said. "She said that in the world – the real world, not this place – there's a mountain just like it standing right there. And on top of Reverse Mountain is the way back to the real world."

    Riolu chewed his roots silently as he gazed up at it.

    "…Then why haven't we left already?" he asked.

    "Because there's no way up the mountain," Flicker-Stem said.

    That made Riolu glance at Flicker-Stem in shock.

    "Then…" he said, with a mouth full of awful-smelling root. "...We're stuck here?"

    Flicker-Stem frowned. "We're stuck here anyway," he said. "Every day Solosis goes out to the mountain and looks for a way out of here."

    "But she hasn't found one yet," Riolu finished.

    "You're getting it," Thin-Stem said.

    It was a week before anything notable happened.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "You're awake. Good! I've been waiting so very long…

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

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

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

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

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

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


    ~\({O})/~

    Litwick Campground

    ~Riolu~

    Riolu lay on his bed of dirt, with his eyes squeezed shut. He still heard the voices, but it had been a week, and he'd learned to ignore them at this point. Or at least sleep while he heard the howling and screeches that reverberated through the woods. He didn't think Solosis knew what they were. Maybe she had spent too many nights listening to those voices as they kept her up at night. A few nights of hearing them and Riolu never wanted to go near them again. He rolled away from the woods in front of him, gazing at the sleeping pile of litwick that cast a soft blue glow over the campsite. He was beginning to feel sleepy, and finally the woods had gone silent around him. Perhaps he could get a good night's worth of sleep this time—

    A low rumbling caught Riolu's ears, and then the sharp noise of something blasting up into the sky made them lower in pain. Riolu quickly sat up, looking around in confusion. His eyes settled in on the new direction: It was due south.

    Opening his eyes, Riolu was met with the image of a thin pillar of light streaking up into the sky. That was… Riolu quickly checked. That was to the southeast.

    ~\({O})/~

    Somemon very, very far away glanced out from his tent to watch the large pillar of light brightening up the sky to the southwest.

    "Interesting…" Wartortle muttered to himself.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Riolu~

    Riolu looked one way, then the other. Then back at the stream again. It didn't look that far off, but… Didi it make sense to leave the clearing to go looking for it? Riolu was torn.

    It was a few minutes before he properly decided. Quietly, Riolu crept off his bed of dirt, and took a few hesitant steps towards the treeline. It would just be there and back again. No sweat. And if he found something, then it was even better! That made up Riolu's mind. He took a few more confident steps, and then sprinted for the treeline.

    He ran through the woods, heading due south. Looking up, he could still see the stream flaring up in the sky. It looked no larger than it had before.

    Riolu closed his eyes and let his legs take over for him. He hadn't run properly since… ever, and it felt amazing—

    A tree branch sent Riolu stumbling to his feet, and he struggled to pick himself up and continue onward. Okay. He'd keep his eyes open from now on.

    Before long, the forest ended. Riolu found himself stumbling to a stop in a second large clearing. He looked around in confusion.

    He stood in the middle of what looked like a village, but it was completely leveled – no building stood more than half a foot's worth off the ground. Which was half as tall as he was, but several feet short of a complete building.

    The light slowly died down. Riolu looked upwards towards the sky to see that the large flare of light was thinning. It threatened to leave Riolu in complete darkness, but lit up the area just enough for him to see.

    In the distance behind him, a stick snapped. Riolu glanced back towards the woods from which he had come anxiously. Was something there?

    On instinct, Riolu hid behind one of the building's walls, crouching down to avoid being seen. Something was out there and there was only one thing it could have been.

    Slowly, he heard it stomp around. The footsteps were heavy, like the creature they belonged to was bulky. Riolu barely dared to breathe.

    He stayed like that for a minute, breathing as silently as he could with his paws clenching the rust-red dust on the ground. He heard the monster stomp around a bit more, almost like it was looking around for something. It sniffed the air audibly. It smelled him.

    Riolu decided to take a peek. If he was going to decide on a good course of action, he at least needed to know what he was dealing with first. Ever-so-slowly, he twisted his head around the stone wall he was hiding behind, trying to get a good look at what was in the middle of the village square.

    The only reason he could see it was because it was blacker than anything else. It looked without a stable form, and Riolu saw it dripping black fluid onto the ground as it walked. He took a heavy breath, trying to stomach what he was seeing. His teeth began to chatter, and he realized his whole body was trembling.

    The monster suddenly snapped its head towards where Riolu was hiding, and Riolu quickly pulled his head back behind the wall. He heard the monster begin to stomp again, and each stomp was getting louder and louder…

    …It knew where he was. Riolu had to act. He sprung up from where he was sitting, dashing down the beaten path southwards once more. He heard its horrible screech sound from behind him as he ran.

    So focused on getting away, Riolu didn't see much of where he went. It was the ruins of a town, that much he knew – a destroyed house here, the ruins of a bridge there – but he was more focused upon outrunning the thing that had taken chase after him. He could hear it galloping after him as he went. And it was gaining ground. If Riolu didn't do something fast to throw it off, he was going to get caught.

    A sudden scent invaded his nostrils, the same one that he'd smelled in varying quantities as far back as he could remember. But this one was incredibly strong. Maybe… Riolu quickly took a hard right, heading southeast into the forest, and then dived behind the trunk of a dead oak. He remained completely quiet. The monster galloped past, not even sparing a look towards the forest as it passed. Riolu waited half a minute to uncup his paw from over his nose. Then, once he was sure it was safe (or about as safe as it was going to be in a place like this), he continued onward.

    Riolu walked now. He stepped through the woods carefully, too afraid to do anything that could lead to making noise and setting the monster back on his trail. As he walked, he followed the smell of slow decay, which was only getting stronger as he headed southwest. And soon, he came upon the source of the smell: What looked like a strange amalgamation of a tree and a beating heart. Riolu watched it perplexedly as it slowly thumped, and his eyes followed it downwards to all he roots snaking out from under it.

    Most of the roots had been chopped and severed off somewhere, and when Riolu leaned over to investigate he realized the smell was coming from there. He quickly sat up, actively repelled by the stench. These were the same roots he'd been eating since he got here. Was this where they all came from? He looked up at the beating heart once more, noticing how it was beginning to shrivel up at the bottom from lack of nutrients. Riolu tilted his head, perplexed.

    As disgusting as the roots looked, they were there, so Riolu – reluctantly – ate. And once he was sure that the monster wouldn't be coming back for him, he slept.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~?~

    For so long It had gone without any other creatures within its domain. For 10,000 years It had traversed the cursed lands It inhabited all alone. It had been 10,000 years since It and Its brethren had last feasted. And now they would feast again.

    Living beings were returning to the Voidlands, a sign of much greater things to come. It salivated at the prospect of even more creatures to devour. It prowled through the woods, tracking the scent of the one It had chased. The scent reached a dead end once the smell of a distortion hub nearby became too strong, so It followed the track leading the other way. It travelled up through the remains of the wrecked village, and over the hill, up towards the direction of the burning mountain. The creature's stench lead a clear path back to where he had come from. It grinned as it grew eyes and saw light, and then it was Riolu.

    Solosis was roused by the sound of somemon pattering around the camp. She blinked her eyes open sleepily, her gaze settling on Riolu.

    "Ugh.." she groaned, still trying to get her mind into a state awake enough to deal with the matter at hand. "What are you doing? It's not like you to be up this early—"

    Riolu suddenly sprouted a large black gooey clawed arm, and Solosis barely had any time to react before it slammed down upon her.

    Psychic power glowed from under Its arm, and then It was blown back by Solosis, who floated.

    "It's going to take a bit more than that to get rid of me," she broadcasted. "Everymon awake! We've been found out!"

    It growled, before a searing pain burning into Its head for a second. All of the litwick were jolted awake by the sudden sharp signal, and once they saw It the situation was clear. All of them quickly began to flee through the woods as fast as they could. The clearing was empty of litwick within seconds.

    It snarled through a muzzle that was only barely riolu. Its feast was escaping! Not if It had anything to say about it. But a sudden Psybeam sent It reeling backwards, and It realized perhaps an appetizer was in order instead.

    Solosis shone with light, and then suddenly in her place stood a mighty giratina.

    "Have at you!" the giratina yelled. Then she charged forward.

    ~\({O})/~

    The Ancient Barrow ~ Present Day

    ~Espurr~

    While Riolu told his story, Espurr took a moment to catch her breath and let her brain catch up with the rest of her body. This was obviously a deeper floor of the dungeon, but none of her friends had caught up with her yet. She briefly wondered if they were all oka—

    A gurgling noise came from the wall right above Espurr. Riolu glanced at it in confusion, and Espurr turned around. Not a second too soon. An arm erupted from the wall and grabbed for Espurr's head. Espurr barely scooted back enough for it to miss, then stumbled to her feet.

    "Run!" she cried out, pulling Riolu to his feet and fleeing the dungeon. She heard the shadow exit the wall completely as they both sprinted into the main hallway and took a hard left, but it soon went silent. Espurr heard the echoes of a silent pop reverberate through the hallway, the signal of the monster slipping back into the wall.

    "Keep clear of the walls," Espurr said once she could no longer hear it. She gravitated towards the center. "It's not gone. It's just waiting for a moment to grab us."

    Riolu nodded, still breathing heavily.

    They continued down the hall in single file. Espurr made sure she was behind Riolu, just in case. Riolu didn't seem to mind (if only because he didn't have to worry about the monster attacking him from behind as much). After a while, Espurr spoke.

    "That thing," she said. "You knew what it was. Mind explaining?"

    "Yeah. We had a name for them," Riolu said. "We called them Void Shadows."

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Riolu~

    Slowly coming to. Riolu yawned himself awake.

    After a week of being woken up by somemon scaring him back into existence, it felt weird for Riolu to wake up on his own accord. The blood-red sky greeted him instantly, red once more. Riolu stretched, then slowly rose from his position against the weird heart… tree thing. He wrinkled his nose up at the smell. It seemed much more pungent than it had been yesterday, and the strange beating heart looked just a little more shriveled up.

    He ate some more of the roots for breakfast. They were still edible even though they rotted. After finishing the roots, Riolu felt a bit parched. The litwick had always given him some water whenever they had gone out to collect roots, and he'd taken it for granted. But clearly they hadn't gotten the water from here.

    He had a choice now. Go back to Solosis' camp, or continue onwards. Riolu looked ahead, where he could still see the remnants of flickering light in the sky. He'd come this far… going back now was a waste. He had to see what had made that light! And more importantly, if it was the key to a way out of here.

    And so Riolu made his choice. He turned southeast, checked to make sure the coast was clear, and then hiked off in that direction.

    It felt like he travelled for hours, across desert dunes of rust-red sand and the occasional ruins of other buildings and forests. Every so often he would come across more beating heart-trees, their roots snaking through the ground in twisted layers almost twenty feet out. Riolu steered clear of them, mostly.

    For a while, that was all there was – a desert of red dust. Riolu was beginning to feel hopeless – maybe he'd run out of luck. He was stranded all the way out in the middle of nowhere, with no cover to take, nothing to drink, and no-mon to keep him company. He was all alone. Riolu was really beginning to regret leaving the litwick camp…

    And then he heard noise. Distant noise. The noise of two pokemon talking to each other. Riolu didn't think twice. He sprinted towards the sound, running up a large red dune of sand.

    "Hey!" he yelled, waving his arms up in the air as he ran. "I'm over here!"

    The pair of pokemon who had been making the noise, a brionne and a seviper, turned to look at him as he ran. But suddenly their expressions hardened, and they began to charge up attacks—

    Riolu only had a second to change his joyous look to one of fear before he was hit with the combined power of pure beams of water and grass energy. Unequipped to handle such a pair of attack, they both sent Riolu flying straight back down the dune he had been climbing. The two pokemon were on him in an instant, and the next thing Riolu knew he was coiled tightly in Seviper's grip.

    "So what do you think?" Seviper asked Brionne. "Is he for real?"

    Brionne looked at Riolu, tied up in Seviper's grip. "I think he would have changed by now if he was one of Them."

    Seviper looked at her disappointedly. "And that's what Eddie said the last time we saw him! And when was that?"

    "A week ago," Brionne sighed through gritted teeth.

    "Point in case." Seviper said. "We need to get 'rid' of him."

    Brionne looked horrified.

    "But what if he's for real?" she asked in horror.

    "We can't take that chance!" Seviper shot back. "Do you not grasp the situation we are in?"

    "What are you talking about?" Riolu muttered, regaining his bearings enough to speak again.

    "See?" Brionne stated, brashly gesturing to him with her flipper. "He speaks."

    "They all speak," Seviper shrugged. "At first."

    "Give him a chance to explain himself before killing him!" Brionne hissed. "You yourself said you could tell a Shadow alibi from a real 'mon."

    Seviper pouted for a moment. Then she hissed in annoyance.

    "Fine," she said, turning to Riolu. "Talk. Fast. Who are you?"

    "Hurting," Riolu muttered, still flat on the ground. Seviper squeezed him for a second, causing Riolu to gasp in pain.

    "Not. Cool. Talk. Who are you?" Seviper stared him down. Riolu stammered.

    Riolu looked into Seviper's slits-for-eyes, and came to the conclusion that the best option was to talk.

    "I- I- I'm Riolu," he said. "Just Riolu. I've been here for a week."

    "And?" Seviper prompted.

    "And what?" Riolu asked.

    "Where were you before that?" Seviper hissed.

    "I…" Riolu stammered. "I… I don't know. I think I hit my head pretty badly. Everything's new to me."

    Seviper sent Brionne a silent 'I told you' glance. Brionne looked down to the ground. Riolu glanced at her pleadingly. She took a deep breath, then looked him in the eye.

    "Oh. Well, that sucks." Brionne frowned. Her eyes darkened. "But you see why we have to be suspicious of you, right?"

    She began to charge up an attack, and Seviper did the same. Riolu scrambled backwards in fear.

    "You don't believe me?" he asked in horror.

    "You know what the biggest tell is when somemon's a Shadow?" Seviper asked. "They never remember anything. They copy the body but not the memories. If you're dumb, you never see it coming until it's too late. If you're smart…" she took a fighting stance. "You nip it in the bud before it can happen." And with that, she began to charge up an attack of her own. Riolu looked down at his paws. Could he fight? Should he fight?

    "W- Wait!" he called out, just before the two of them could fire. "I can prove I'm who I say I am!"

    That made Brionne hesitate for a minute. She eyed him suspiciously. "Then Talk."

    "I-" Riolu began, trying to organize his thoughts. "I didn't wake up in this place, I got zapped here! I woke up in a forest in the middle of nowhere, and these weird pokemon with lights on their arms chased me and hit me with this attack. The next thing I know I'm here. I really have been here for a week."

    "A week? All on your own?" Brionne scoffed. "Likely story."

    "Not alone," Riolu shook his head. "There's a whole clan of litwick back in the woods that looked after me. They were looking for a way out of here, but they eat fear. They needed me to give them fear to eat."

    Brionne kept her attack stance, but Riolu could tell she was having second thoughts.

    "Why'd you leave?" Seviper asked firmly.

    "Last night, I saw this pillar of light appear in the sky. I wanted to go investigate," Riolu said. I thought I would be there and right back, but it was farther away than I thought. And then I came across this place."

    "And you don't remember anything."

    Riolu shook his head. "Nothing before I woke up in those woods. I'm telling the truth; I swear! If I was one of those monsters that attacked me last night I would have attacked you by now!"

    Seviper and Brionne exchanged looks. Then Seviper sighed.

    Fine," she said. "But we're taking him to Wartortle."

    ~\({O})/~​

    The two of them hoisted Riolu up with flippers and tails, and began to drag him across the dunes of red sand. It wasn't five minutes of walking (or slithering, or… whatever that hopping/sliding thing Brionne was doing was) before the sounds of distant noise began to reach Riolu's ears. They pricked up, and then so did he. That sounded like…

    All the way from where Riolu was to the coastline, long, paw-made tents covered the dusty ground, and occupying those tents were hundreds of living, breathing pokemon, wonderful living beings! Noticing that Riolu was fidgeting a lot in excitement, Brionne and Seviper let Riolu down.

    "Don't run," Seviper hissed in his ear, and then they continued into the settlement.

    All around there were pokemon going about their day, but none of them paid Riolu any mind. They all looked like they had just reached the end of a very long journey. Seviper and Brionne dragged Riolu towards the center, where a somewhat grander tent stood.

    "Where are you taking me?" Riolu asked, looking at the tent.

    "Quiet," said Seviper. "We need to make sure you're the real deal. Wartortle will see to that."

    They approached the tent, where a line of pokemon had already amassed. They took issue as Brionne and Seviper pushed past them.

    "Hey!" one of them, a joltik, squeaked out angrily. "What's the deal? No pushing in line!"

    "This is important," Seviper hissed back.

    "We found an outsider," Brionne quickly added, hoping to avoid a conflict.

    The joltik looked mighty annoyed, but settled for growling to itself instead. It cleared the way for Brionne and Seviper to pass.

    They dragged Riolu into the tent, and it took a moment for his eyes to adjust to the candle-lit darkness. Inside, a largeish, turtle-like pokemon was studying several charts and stone tablets intently.

    "Hmm?" he asked as Brionne and Seviper entered. "Blaze? Is that you?" He looked up, his face immediately falling when he saw the three pokemon staring at him from the doorway. He set the tablet aside. "And do what do I owe the pleasure of the two of you? And… apparently a strangled riolu," he added, glancing at Riolu in confusion.

    Brionne nudged Riolu forward.

    "Explain yourself."

    Riolu did. He told Wartortle about waking up, the strange pokemon who had hunted him down, the litwick, Reverse Mountain, the pillar of light, and his amnesia. All through the story Wartortle nodded and hmmm'd in thought, but he stayed interested. His eyes looked like they were piecing things together even as Riolu said them. At the end, when Riolu had finished talking, Wartortle set aside the stone tablet he had had in his lap, and stared directly at Riolu.

    "I think the both of you should stay for a little while," he said.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Every so often, the world we live in is struck by a major crisis," Wartortle began. "Natural disasters, the decay of time, an apocalypse of ice and snow. I've lived through it all, and I fear that we are in the midst of another. But for every apocalypse, there is a savior. A single Chosen One who must bear the burden of saving the world for all pokemon who live on it. I was the first of these saviors, sent in to combat a meteor that ran off its natural course. The second worked at the most prestigious exploration guild of its time, and the third helped found the largest city on the planet. And if your story is true, then you may very well be the fourth."

    Riolu and Brionne didn't make a sound as Wartortle spoke. He picked up one of the tablets, and set it down in front of them. "These tablets were found on the Air Continent, where I and everymon in this encampment come from. They were written in ancient human; thus, I am the only 'mon present who can decipher them." He pushed it towards Riolu. "Read."

    Riolu looked at the tablets, staring at nonsense. He didn't recognize any of the markings, but when he read over the words he somehow knew what they said.

    "We have been here forty-two days now," Riolu said, his eyes flicking over the nonsense as he read. "There's no internet. No power. No cell-phone reception. Not another person to be seen. These stone tablets are the only method of preserving information now. At night, they come for us, and we cannot keep driving them off. I fear we will not see the morning at this rate. There's nothing to eat. Nothing to drink. No way out."

    Riolu looked at Wartortle, who cleared his throat.

    "…It's an improper translation, but close enough." Wartortle took back the tablet, but even Riolu could see that his face lit up with hope. "Your story checks out. You are the chosen one. You are the fourth Human. And…" Wartortle's claws began to shake with excitement.

    "There's a lot we have to go over. If the three of you will stay just a little longer…"

    ~\({O})/~​

    Wartortle hopped to life like a slowpoke who had just been given all the energy of a young pichu. He sprinted to and from all the old books and tablets that lay around his tent, arranging things like a presentation. The line outside had been called off long ago. Off to the side, Riolu and Brionne were made to sit. Seviper had left long ago.

    "So who is Wartortle?" Riolu asked as he leaned against the tent. "He looks important."

    "He is important," Brionne said. "He's the leader of the Rescuer's Guild in Pokemon Plaza. Or… he's the last living leader. This is the happiest I've seen him in a while."

    "Last living?" Riolu asked. "What happened to the others?"

    "What do you think happened?" Brionne lowered her voice, then looked at Wartortle to make sure he hadn't heard. He was still stacking books. "Shadow got 'em."

    "Are the Shadows those monsters that come out at night?" Riolu pried.

    "Yes," Brionne answered in a hiss. "They… they absorb pokemon. Wartortle has a few theories, but we don't know where they go. And his theories are… far-fetched, for lack of a better word. I think he's too hopeful, honestly."

    Riolu nodded silently.

    "There's one Shadow in particular you need to watch out for," Brionne continued. "Wartortle calls it Nyarlathotep, from some book he read. It's bigger than all the others. Stronger. We think it commands them." She leaned in close. "That's what killed the rest of Team Go-Getters."

    "All ready!" Wartortle gestured from the other side of the tent. "Both of you, over here. I need to show you what I've been planning to get us out of here."

    He pushed another tablet towards Riolu. "That last tablet I gave you wasn't the whole story. There is a whole series of these, which I have poured over relentlessly. This is the only one that matters. Read."

    "Last week one of ours went on a journey towards the mountain," Riolu read. "Today we saw it erupt in a pillar of light that stayed in the sky for over a day. Tomorrow, we hope to complete the same journey. This will be the last entry I leave here. I wish well to any others who find this stone. May you also escape this evil place."

    "Now initially my plan was to give us some time to rest before we continue on towards the mountain. Our journey here was long and relentless. But then that beam of light shooting up into the sky! And then we met you… it must be a sign. We set out tomorrow. Huzzah!" Wartortle jumped into the air in joy, then quickly hurry-scurried towards the entrance of the tent.

    "Hey," he said to the furret guarding the tent, his voice hushed and joyful. "Give the order. We leave tomorrow, for a way back to the real world! Spread the good news!"

    The furret's dull face brightened up. It nodded, before scampering off in manic excitement. Wartortle turned back to Brionne and Riolu. "Bryony, you are not to let him out of your sight the whole way there!"

    Riolu looked at Brionne after Wartortle had gone. She grinned sheepishly; whether it was out of embarrassment or general excitement Riolu couldn't tell.

    "And… yeah. Bryony's my name," she said. "Might as well learn it."

    ~\({O})/~

    The Ancient Barrow

    ~Espurr~

    "So you're a human," Espurr said as they hiked. "Just like me."

    "Yeah," Riolu breathed. "Been here a month." He took a turn down another corridor, and Espurr followed. Then it clicked. He looked back, staring at her in shock.

    "Wait- you're a human too?" he asked in shock. Espurr nodded. Riolu quickened his pace.

    "Then you need to stick with me," he said. "The sooner we can leave this place, the better," he said. "We just need to find the stairs."

    "I can't." Espurr shook her head.

    "Wha-" Riolu turned around. "Why not?"

    "I came here with five other pokemon," Espurr said. "They're still up in the dungeon. I'm not leaving without them."

    Riolu was still for a minute in indecision. There was a brief silence in between them.

    "It's here in the dungeon, you know," Riolu said. "Nyarlathotep. And if you guys got separated, then… your friends are probably dead. Sorry."

    No. That wasn't true. Espurr refused to believe that. She shook her head silently. There had to be a way to tell. There just had to be…

    Espurr shut her eyes, and reached out with her sixth sense. Somewhere, if she reached far enough, there just had to be some kind of tell, some evidence that they were still alive. Because if they weren't she didn't…

    Espurr experienced something completely foreign to her in her three weeks of life – a single tear fell down her cheek. And her eyes were brimming up with more of them. She squinted them shut, forcing the tears out. Breathing heavily, she wiped them from her eyelids. No. She couldn't break down. Not here. Not now. Not when she knew they were still alive. And she knew they were still alive. They had to be. She'd figure out why later, she'd find some reason—

    "I'm sorry, but it's true," Riolu stressed from where he was standing. "if we don't get out of here, then none of us will live—"

    The walls began to shift again around them, accompanied by a gurgling noise. Espurr's head snapped towards it; she gladly took the opportunity to banish the grief from her head.

    "We stayed still too long," she said. "Run!"

    And arm shot out of the goo, and both Espurr and Riolu sprang into action.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Riolu~

    Wartortle's Colony

    Riolu awoke to the distant sound of pokemon screaming outside. He rose alongside Bryony, staring out the tent flaps. The tent itself was filled with crates meant to hold all Wartortle's books, but Wartortle himself was not there. The sky was still dark, and the only lights were coming from outside whenever somemon passed with a torch. Riolu and Bryony exchanged looks.

    Emerging from the tent, they saw that the entire camp had devolved into chaos. Pokemon scurried everywhere from to and fro in a panic, and soon both Riolu and Bryony saw the reason: A dust storm was on the way. It howled and raged in the distance, colored the same rust-red as the ground below it, and it was going to swallow their camp in just—

    Riolu's sight was suddenly engulfed by rust red. Dust flew everywhere, and it was all Riolu could do to keep it out of his eyes. Many of the pokemon around him were doing the same, and even Bryony was squinting.

    A loud screech reverberated through the storm in the distance. Riolu's heart skipped a beat,. He recognized that screech. It was..

    "VOID SHADOW!" One of the pokemon in the group, a zangoose, screamed, and then everything became chaos once more.

    "It's Nyarlathotep!" another cried out.

    "It's come for us!" another yelled.

    "That's enough!" Even the howling and raging of the dust storm wasn't enough to curb the voice of Wartortle, who stepped through to the front of the storm. "They're still far out. We have time to prepare. Everymon prepare yourselves!"

    "What's happening?" Riolu asked.

    "Shadows," said Bryony. "They're attacking."

    They were quickly interrupted by a bunch of pokemon that pushed through them, tromping off to the front lines.

    "You two!" that was Wartortle. Riolu's head looked back towards Wartortle, who was ushering them both back to his tent. "With me."

    They both followed.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The tent offered reprieve from the storm, if only a little. Wartortle stood in the tent, looking at them both.

    "I want you both to stay here," he said. "We can't risk a void shadow getting either of you. And that's what's going to happen if you're on the front lines."

    "What's happening?" Riolu asked. "No-mon is explaining this to me!"

    "It's an attack," Bryony explained. "If we don't ward them off, then they'll ravage the camp to the ground. But they've never had a storm before…"

    "If this was a co-incidence I'll be darned," Wartortle said. "They even brought the storm with them. Lower our visibility. We'll be lucky to escape with half the camp if we don't flee effectively."

    "Wartortle." The furret from before poked its head in through the tent. "They're getting close."

    "Acknowledged." Wartortle nodded off the furret, which scurried off. "It's about time I got going," he said to Riolu and Bryony. "New plan. The two of you: head north. We'll catch up. Don't dawdle."

    Riolu and Bryony nodded.

    "Good luck," Wartortle said. "I'll see you on the other side." And then he ducked through the tent, and he was gone.

    Riolu uttered a single word: "Go."

    A sudden explosion of noise from outside caught both their attention. It was the sound of several pokemon's screams, and it was too close for comfort. Riolu hesitated.

    "We'll worry about that as it comes," Bryony hissed. "Move now."

    Riolu nodded in agreement, and they both continued towards the tent flaps.

    Riolu peeked out, looking both ways. "I don't see anythi—"

    Down the left path, he heard an explosion of noise. The battle was that way.

    "This way, he said, pointing to the right. Bryony nodded, and they quickly slipped out the tent.

    The storm had gotten stronger; it was almost impossible to see anything in it. Riolu could barely see the outlines of the other half-packed tents through all the rust-red dust, and he had to squint to keep it out of his eyes.

    They ran, away from the battle and all the screaming. Riolu heard the shrieks behind him as he ran, and he tried to blot it out with his paws. But his nose and mouth needed the attention more. He covered his nose with them instead.

    Something enormous suddenly crashed into the tent up ahead of them—

    Riolu and Bryony stopped in their tracks. The monster reared its head, and Riolu saw that it looked like a blaziken but something was seriously off—

    "This way!" Bryony shouted, and so Riolu did. They went left, hoping the shadow didn't notice them.

    The camp was completely ruined by now. Everything was in shambles, and the few pokemon that could be seen were either running around in terror or helplessly looking for others in vain. Riolu and Bryony didn't know which direction to run in anymore. Where was the front line- no, where had it been? And where was Wartortle?

    "Which way do we go?" Riolu yelled out to Bryony over the howling of the wind.

    Bryony looked around. "There has to be somewhere!" she yelled back to him. "I- I don't' know! I don't-" she continued to stammer to herself, looking for a way out. There was a loud thud behind them. The thud of a loud footstep. Riolu spun around to see that the void shadow from before was stomping towards them. It had dropped its fake guise, letting its ugly true form show for the world.

    "Look…" Riolu stammered out. Bryony turned around to see the void shadow.

    She fled as fast as possible, and Riolu followed. But the shadow was faster than they were , and all of the sudden it was right in front of them looking down—

    A water beam suddenly struck it out of nowhere. Riolu and Bryony turned around to see Wartortle standing a fair distance behind them, limping towards them.

    "Oi! Nyarlathotep! Are you looking for me?!" Wartortle called out, staring the void shadow down. Nyarlathotep grunted loudly. Then it warped over to Wartortle and grabbed him by the neck.

    "No! Stop!" shouted. Nyarlathotep's attention snapped back to Bryony, but then wartortle bit down upon its hand. His eyes focused on them both: Run. Nyarlathotep screeched in pain. Then it squeezed its claws, and then there was a sickening snap and Wartortle went limp.

    ~\({O})/~

    Pokemon Plaza ~ Air Continent

    In the deserted main square of Pokemon Plaza, hundreds of stone statues began to quiver in place. Then they all exploded into shards of stone.

    ~\({O})/~

    Ravaged Colony

    Nyarlathotep's body seemed to expand. The mangled remains of Wartortle was sucked into it, and then Nyarlathotep itself turned back to look at Riolu and Bryony.

    But they were already gone.

    They both ran, though the wreckage of broken and burning tents. Through the relentless dust storm. Through the silence, the everlasting, ever-burning silence, until there was nothing but dust and the howling of the wind. All the void shadows were gone. Riolu and Bryony collapsed in the sand hovel on the other side of the hill.

    Silence remained, because there was nothing to say. They fell asleep exactly where they sat, riding the terrible storm out.

    Only Nyarlathotep's horrific screeches kept them company.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Gehenna – Thomas Newman
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 21 - Void and Shadow
  • SparklingEspeon

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

    21.

    Void and Shadow

    ~\({O})/~

    Ruined Colony

    ~Riolu~

    The storm was gone the next morning, when the sky turned blood-red again. Riolu rose, staring blankly into the distance and waiting for the events of the day to inevitably come back to him. When they did, he suddenly felt much less peppy. Next to him, Athena slept, looking much more tired than he felt.

    "Come on…" Riolu muttered, shaking the sleeping form of Bryony awake. "Get up!"

    Bryony stirred, groaning incoherently. She slowly sat up, looking at Riolu wearily.

    "Wha… What happened?" she yawned. "I had the worst nightmare last night."

    Riolu frowned, then took a deep breath. "I'll bet it was more than just a nightmare," he said.

    Exiting the hovel they had fallen asleep in, Riolu and Bryony walked (or, in Bryony's case, slid) back to the wrecked remains of the camp that had once held everymon in Pokemon Plaza. Bryony's pigtails flopped down in horror as she gazed around at the ruins of the camp.

    "They…" she gasped, but couldn't bring herself to say anything further. Riolu walked forward towards, the camp, undisturbed.

    "We should scavenge before we go," he said. "Maybe they left something for us to eat."

    Bryony's flippers trembled. Then she yelled to the blood-red sky wordlessly in grief.

    "I just need… five minutes… will you let me have that, please?"

    She didn't even look at him. Riolu nodded, then walked off into what remained of the campsite. He'd find some food while they waited.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Just like Riolu had thought, the camp had a lot of food lying around, ripe for the picking. Unfortunately, little of that food was still in edible condition. Withered roots and what looked like the husks of what once was fruit lay on the ground, bruised beyond repair. The portable silo that held the water had collapsed in the night, and had turned a good portion of the ground to mud. Riolu picked whatever bits and pieces he could get off the ground in edible condition, and eventually gave up on the prospect of water that wasn't from the sea.

    He handed a smelly root to Bryony on his way back from the camp.

    "…What's this?" she asked after a minute, looking down at it.

    "Food," Riolu said. "I ate them for a week, and others must have been eating them too."

    "There were fruits on the Air Continent," Bryony said, sniffing the root. "I know because we took some with us."

    "Well, not anymore," Riolu said. "They were all smashed to mush."

    He took a bite from his own root, grimacing slightly at the taste before walking forward in the direction of the mountain.

    Reverse Mountain became a beacon for them as they travelled; a final destination that was always visible and ever-present. Riolu walked back through the seas of rust-red sand, passing the tree-tangled hearts without much commotion. At one point, he bent over and began to hack away bits and pieces of the roots with his paws. Bryony watched him in silent horror as he chopped away at the roots, finally picking up one very large one and hauling it over his back.

    "Did you just…" Riolu heard Bryony mutter in shock behind him, but she was quickly silent after that.

    It was half a day's journey back to the ruins of that old village, and Riolu quickly led Bryony towards where he knew the Litwick's clearing was.

    "It's just this way," he said to her as they walked. The mountain's large figure loomed above them, much more ominous now than it had been from a distance. Riolu entered the clearing with the large root, but found that it was empty. Just like when he had first entered. Maybe they were just hiding because of Bryony.

    "I'm back!" he hollered out. "Sorry for leaving!"

    Only silence greeted him. Riolu tilted his head. No, that wasn't right. They were hiding.

    "Anymon there?" he called out again. Silence greeted him. Not even the wind whistled through the rotting branches of the trees.

    "C'mon guys!" Riolu yelled. "This isn't funny!"

    He couldn't hear any answer. Bryony tilted her head at him.

    "Solosis?!" Riolu called out. "Anymon?!"

    "There's no-mon here," Athena said.

    "But there was!" Riolu argued, spinning around to look at her. The expression on his face was worried and desperate. "There were over a hundred litwick here just yesterday! And somemon called 'Solosis' too! Where could they all have gone?"

    "You won't like the answer," Bryony said, folding her flippers in a huff.

    "What does that mean?" Riolu yelled at her.

    "It's just like what happened to my pokemon," Bryony said. "There's only one reason over a hundred pokemon disappear in one day: A Shadow got 'em. That, or they all decided to move at once. But that's unlikely. You have to assume the worst."

    "They have to have moved somewhere," Riolu said. "I'm not going to believe a Void Shadow got them. Not until I see it with my own eyes."

    "You're seeing it now!" Bryony snapped at him. "Did anything you saw last night stick? They carve destruction in their paths, and they leave nothing behind. They're gone, Riolu; you have to assume they're gone. You have to assume the only way out is up there." She pointed to the mountain above them. "Keep it together. We both have to keep it together."

    Riolu's gaze lowered, and he was silent. He began to trudge off in the direction of the mountain.

    "I still want to look for them."

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Solosis – the leader of that litwick group – she said she would come up to that mountain every day and look for a way out," Riolu said, as they headed up a largish hill on the way to the mountain. Riolu could see a trio of buildings at the very top, and Reverse Mountain loomed over it all in the distance. "But she always came back at the end of the day empty-handed."

    "Did you ever go there with her?" Bryony asked, inching her way up the hill after him with her flippers.

    "No, I only stayed a week," Riolu muttered. They reached the top of the hill, stopping at a fork in the road.

    "Around that building," Riolu said, pointing at the ruins of the building directly in front of him. To both the left and right lay two other buildings, both in similar condition. A path led around the remains of the middle one and straight down the hill. Riolu braced himself, and then slid down the hill on his rump.

    He left Bryony behind. She tried to slide after him, but ended up hitting a rock and tumbled all the way down instead. She crashed into Riolu from behind, and they both tumbled to the ground in a heap.

    "Ow..:" Riolu grumbled, rubbing his head and looking down at the ground. He saw large roots, staring him straight in the face. And they smelled putrid. Riolu's eyes followed the roots are far as they could, watching them snake and tangle their way through the ground until they spiraled up and around another beating tree-heart in the distance.

    Bryony lifted herself back up, gazing at the same thing Riolu was.

    "What are those things…" Riolu muttered to himself.

    "It was only a theory," Bryony began, but then paused for a minute. "But I think they're mystery dungeons."

    "What's a mystery dungeon?" Riolu picked himself up and began to walk through the mess of roots. Bryony followed, but she had a harder time of navigating the roots than Riolu did.

    "Mystery dungeons are… places that don't make sense. They form over completely ordinary spots of land and then they twist them. The insides look like a maze, made out of whatever the mystery dungeon formed over. And at the center, there's an Anchorstone – the original spot of land that the dungeon formed on, hidden deep in its depths. There are land dungeons, water dungeons, sky dungeons… Wartortle was even considering the possibility of a space dungeon."

    Riolu thought for a moment. "You think that's what's on top of Reverse Mountain?"

    "No-mon knows," Bryony said. "I'd prefer the way back, myself."

    There was nothing else to say, and they walked at a steady pace in silence. Soon, they reached the base of Reverse Mountain.

    Even from this close, the mountain shone, and Riolu could feel the heat pulsing from it. It reverberated through the air, and all of the sudden Riolu felt like he was standing in a desert. And then he saw what had puzzled Solosis all this time: From the very bottom of the mountain up to a point that Riolu couldn't see was a smooth, insurmountable cliff. No ledges to climb on, and no

    "How do we climb that?" Bryony asked.

    "I don't know if we can," Riolu answered.

    ~\({O})/~

    The Ancient Barrow

    ~Espurr~

    Riolu and Espurr ran down the Barrow's narrow halls, splashing in the swamp water as they went. They could still hear the Shadow lurking in the distance behind them.

    "Where are you taking us?" Espurr called out as they ran.

    "The next floor up!" Riolu called back.

    The goo ahead of them sudden began to bubble. Espurr directed a beam of mental energy directly into the water, which flared up and slammed into the wall. The Shadow retreated into the goo just long enough for Espurr and Riolu to pass and round a corner.

    "But the floors go down here," Espurr yelled to Riolu as they ran. "Not up!"

    "Think again," Riolu replied, not even looking at her. "Look!"

    He pointed ahead, and then Espurr saw what he did: just ahead of them was the Staircase. It led up, its perfect steps shining despite being surrounded on all sides by filth.

    "What are you waiting for?!" Riolu yelled, noticing that she had slowed down. "Do you want Nyarlathotep to get you?"

    Espurr considered her options. The Stairs weren't supposed to lead up. What if that was the final Staircase, and they both exited the dungeon? That would mean Tricky and the rest of them were still behind her. But at the same time… being caught by Nyarlathotep over a whim wasn't an option either.

    "Hey!" Riolu called out. "Creepy cat! Snap out of it!"

    "It's Espurr," Espurr said. And then the walls began to shift again, so she ran like the wind. She reached Riolu, grabbing his arm and pulling them onto the Stairway. They vanished together, and the next thing Espurr and Riolu knew they were deposited straight onto the swamp water of another dungeon floor. Espurr let out a breath of relief – they must have been deep in the dungeon after all.

    They both sat there in the swamp for a moment, catching their breaths. Nyarlathotep didn't follow.

    ~\({O})/~

    The Voidlands

    ~Riolu~

    It had been roughly a week, and both Riolu and Bryony had come to the depressing conclusion: There was no way to scale Reverse Mountain. The cliff was made of solid rock; there would be no digging into it. It had no ridges or ledges, so there was no climbing it the conventional way. And neither Riolu nor Bryony could fly. Riolu was stumped, as was Bryony; soon they fell into a routine of collecting roots from heart-trees in the area for food and searching for another way out in the meantime. Riolu took to sneaking away in the morning and exploring the remains of the nearby village during the day. Perhaps there might have been something he could find there!

    As the week passed, he found things. Ruined things, but still things he could use to build with. He didn't know what Bryony was up to, but Riolu came up with a nifty plan on his own: If he couldn't pierce the stone of Reverse Mountain with his own claws, he'd do it with a grapping hook! Now all he had to do was build one.

    The wrecked buildings in what was obviously the center of town had many more odds and ends to choose from than the ones on the town outskirts. Riolu nicked a few sharp knives from the large building in the center, and some rope from the stall to the left. There was a burnt tent to the southeast side of the square that held nothing useful. Riolu kicked some of the ruined tent remains aside, slinging the rope and knife over his shoulder. It didn't look like there was anything else here, he decided. He looked up at the sky; it was beginning to turn black. He should have left an hour ago.

    Riolu turned around, but caught sight of movement from behind him. He spun around – had a void shadow snuck up on him unawares?

    But what he saw was the fuzzy, faint outline of what looked like a pokemon, heading into one of the ruined houses in the square. It spared a look outside, glancing in Riolu's general direction for a second. Riolu quickly hid behind the tent with his rope and knife. It was a few moments before he peeked out again.

    Curiosity overtook him – what was it? Slowly, Riolu crept out of hiding and tiptoed over to the house. He stepped over what little remained of the wall, heading down the hallway once he realized what had been the living room was empty. He peeked into the room on the left, and caught sight of the shadow—

    Startled, Riolu lost his balance for a minute. He stumbled into the dresser on the right, creating a loud 'bang!' before quickly darting out of the room. The last he saw of the shadow was it quickly sitting up.

    ~\({O})/~​

    "What's that?" Bryony asked, eyeing the rope and knives Riolu had slung over his shoulder. She had a sack (also collected from the nearby town), filled with more of the gross-smelling roots.

    "It's something for the mountain," Riolu said, trying to fiddle with it. "Maybe we can pierce it this way."

    "What about that house?" Bryony asked.

    "What house?"

    "The house on the island. Y'know, the one that's still standing?"

    That was news to Riolu. The one thing he hadn't seen for a while (besides other pokemon) was a completely standing building.

    "Where?" he asked.

    "To the south," Bryony said. "There's just… there's something about it. You can feel it there. I feel like it's worth checking out. You think we should do that when…" she looked up at the black sky, hesitant to say 'day'. "…When the sky's red again?"

    Riolu just nodded.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Slowly coming to. Daybreak came earlier than Riolu thought, but he rose with it anyway. Bryony was still asleep, and Riolu didn't try waking her. She'd just slow him down.

    He made the trek up to Reverse Mountain with his knife and rope in hand. Riolu had spent last night tying them together, even though he didn't know the first thing about tying knots and his stubby paws didn't help with that in the least. He just had to hope it held together well.

    The base of Reverse Mountain was as hard and volcanic as ever. Riolu flinched just from the heat. He looked up, and saw the stop of the mountain was wreathed in burning flames, just as it had been from afar. Was this really a good idea? The heat was beginning to make Riolu pant.

    But there was nothing to do but try. Riolu let the rope he held go slack until the knife hit the stone below him with a clang. Then he started swinging. Over and over in circles, the knife gaining more momentum as it went—

    —Riolu's eyes widened and he quickly ducked just before the knife could clip off a good portion of his ear. The knife flew over his head and embedded itself deep into the stone behind him.

    Losing his balance, Riolu fell backwards onto the ground. Hearing the sound of the knife embedding itself into the stone, he looked around and saw the knife's blade sticking out of the rock. Had it… had it been a success?

    Riolu quickly jumped to his feet, scurrying over and pulling on the handle. It gave, but not without some resistance. Riolu pulled out the knife, but the momentum sent him falling back and landing on his tail. Riolu flinched from the pain, but then looked down at the knife in his hand. It had worked. It had really worked! This was a breakthrough! He… he had to get back to Athena. Riolu jumped to his feet, grabbed the rest of the rope, and began to run back towards the forest clearing.

    He felt an urge to close his eyes while running, and so he did. Riolu felt the feelers on either side of his head begin to vibrate, and all of the sudden he couldsee – the knife in his hand, where everything in the forest was, and a tree he was heading right towards – Riolu course-corrected just in time. He felt everything. This was amaz—

    —Riolu hit a tree root he hadn't seen and tripped. He landed on the knife, but thankfully it was flat. Riolu slowly picked himself up, a bit shaken. He'd walk the rest of the way.

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

    By the time that Riolu made it back to the forest clearing, Bryony was already long gone. For a moment, Riolu freaked out- had she left him to fend for himself? Had she been… taken? Were the Shadows already here?

    But if they were here, then Riolu knew this clearing was no longer safe. It was better to go to the ruined village.

    It wasn't until he reached the deserted village square that he caught sight of Athena sliding herself down the pathway towards the south side of town. He quickly ran to catch up with her.

    "Bryony!" he called out, catching up. Bryony looked back at him, her face relaxing as she saw who it was.

    "Where were you?" Riolu panted out as he caught up. "I saw the camp deserted and I thought…"

    "I thought the same thing." Bryony continued to slide herself along, not even sparing another look at Riolu. "If you were going to leave, you should have said something to me. I had no choice but to assume a Shadow got you."

    "Well…" Riolu muttered. "You left me too."

    "You did it first."

    Riolu folded his arms, puffed out his cheeks, and made a loud 'pffffffft' noise.

    "So where are we going?" he asked a moment later.

    "I'm going to check out that building I told you about last night," Bryony said. "I just… I have this feeling about it. I want to check."

    Riolu was silent after that. Only the knife, swinging idly from the rope slung over Riolu's shoulder, made any noise.

    "There it is," Bryony said after a while. They had outwalked nearly all the houses at this point, and the biggest thing ahead of them was a hill with a large dead tree on it. Out on an island right in front of them was what looked like the creepiest house Riolu had ever seen. A rickety bridge led all the way across the lake of water onto the island. Riolu stared at it hesitantly.

    "…Are you sure?" he asked.

    "Why not?" Bryony answered. "What have we got to lose?"

    "You two are wasting your time."

    Both Riolu and Bryony spun around. Bryony's eyes lightened at what she saw.

    "Charlotte!" she gasped. Seviper Charlotte slithered up from the path ahead of them, a pissed look upon her face.

    "I… have been tailing you guys… for almost a week now…" she gasped out.

    Bryony suddenly rushed forward and enveloped Charlotte in a hug. Riolu was suspicious.

    "I thought you were dead!" she bawled out, burying her face in Charlotte's scales. Charlotte bore the hug as well as she could, but Riolu could tell she wasn't remotely in the mood for hugs.

    "Anyways," Charlotte said, gently shaking Bryony off herself, "There's no point in entering that building. I camped out in there once. It's all just swamp water and muck."

    "But…" Bryony wiped the tears from her eyes and looked at the house. "There's no hurt in looking, right?"

    Riolu's head tilted.

    "yeah," he said. "Why only say that now?"

    Charlotte didn't answer.

    "So where do you guys camp out?" she asked. "I haven't had a comfortable place to sleep for over a week."

    "We don't exactly sleep in beds…" Bryony said.

    "What about my question?" Riolu asked. Charlotte glanced at him.

    "I didn't hear you ask any question."

    "I asked why you're so intent on us not going into that house," Riolu said. He gripped the rope the knife was attached to, just in case. Charlotte's eyes followed him.

    "Like I said," she repeated harshly. "There's nothing in there but muck."

    "Then you won't mind if we go in and look," Riolu said. And with that, he turned around and strode towards the house.

    "nO—" Charlotte suddenly screamed, and she slithered towards Riolu quicker than Bryony could react.

    Riolu acted fast. He grabbed the rope and threw.

    Bryony screamed and then edged herself away from Charlotte, who now had Riolu's knife stuck halfway through her head. She looked at Riolu in horror.

    Why would you do that?!" she screeched at him.

    "That's not who you think it is," Riolu said.

    The knife slid out of Seviper's skull on its own and it the ground with a thump. 'Seviper' – very much alive – looked up at them both with eyes that weren't right. She grinned at them with a mouth full of too many fangs.

    "gOt Me."

    And then its face split open. Bryony yelped and edged all the way back to where Riolu stood on the bridge. Quills grew out of its back. It grew limbs, and then claws. The last of the dull blue and yellow scales were eaten up by murky black goop, and then Nyarlathotep stood before them in Its full glory.

    A silent understanding was reached between both Riolu and Bryony – run. And so they did. Riolu ran like the wind; he could outrun a Shadow! But it was only a few seconds before he noticed that Bryony wasn't keeping up with him. She had to slide her way across the ground – that wasn't fast enough! Nyarlathotep took chase, and Riolu gave in. He ran back, scooped Bryony up, and began to drag her along. What was left of the rope on his shoulder began to unravel.

    They were fast, but not fast enough. Nyarlathotep charged. A swipe of its claws, and Bryony was knocked to the side. Riolu was pinned to the ground.

    Nyarlathotep leaned over Riolu, and the nightmare goo that dripped from its body stained Riolu's chest. Riolu struggled furiously, but it was all in vain. Nyarlathotep opened its mouth of fangs that took up its whole face, and began to lean in towards Riolu. Riolu closed up his eyes and scrunched up his nose to avoid the putrid smell, turning away. He couldn't believe he was going to be eaten…

    Water drenched him—

    "Over here!"

    Bryony's voice rattled through the sound of Nyarlathotep's breath, and in an instant its head turned towards the other pokemon and its ginormous hand was off Riolu's chest.

    Riolu acted fast – he reeled in the rope, until he could grasp the handle of the kitchen knife. Nyarlathotep began to romp towards Bryony, who couldn't get away in time, and that was when Riolu made his move. He took aim, and threw the knife as hard as he could.

    It embedded itself in the back of Nyarlathotep's head. Nyarlathotep turned its head to look at Riolu, and Riolu saw the tip of the knife sticking out of its jaw. He tugged on the rope.

    Another stream of water hit Nyarlathotep, but before the void shadow could react Riolu ran up and shoved one of Nyarlathotep's legs out from under it. The shadow lost its balance, narrowly avoiding falling on Riolu or Bryony. It collapsed on the ground with a loud thud, and Riolu quickly got to his feet.

    Already, the goo was beginning to lose its shape and reform into Nyarlathotep's standing position. Riolu forgot about retrieving the knife and rope, and picked up Bryony instead.

    The path would be too easy; Riolu bolted off into the woods instead. He knew where he was going. The distant screech of Nyarlathotep rang out from far behind them.

    A hunting call.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Riolu could tell he had made it just by the smell. He sped into the clearing where the heart-tree he had slept by the night he had left the litwick camp was, collapsing to the ground and dropping Brionne the second he was out of the trees. He panted in exhaustion, then wrinkled up his nose. This place smelled more awful than he remembered.

    Bryony picked herself up from the ground, dusting her flippers off. She said nothing. The two of them sat there for a few seconds, completely silent. Neither commented on the smell.

    Bryony sniffled.

    "I just really wanted to believe it," she mumbled. "I really wanted to believe she wasn't dead."

    She curled up on the ground and stuck her head in her flippers, and then all was silent.

    ~\({O})/~​

    They slept in the trees that night, using what little branches remained as cover. Every so often a pidgeot would soar over the forest, scouting out below. The instinctive urge to call out for help every time he saw the bird-shaped silhouette fly across the night sky came to his mind often, but Riolu knew better. He knew what it was, and it wasn't a pidgeot.

    The sky began to slowly turn red again, but Riolu hadn't slept a wink.

    Bryony still wasn't talking in the morning. Even when they both climbed out of the tree they were sleeping in. They ate a silent breakfast of roots and drank some water that Riolu had collected from the riverbank by the ruined village, and then they went their separate ways. It was dangerous, now that they knew what was lurking nearby, but they couldn't just wait around and do nothing. They knew Nyarlathotep wouldn't stop until it had found them.

    Riolu went back down to the town to see if he could gather some more knives. He had taken the biggest one yesterday, but surely the others would work. He just needed two (and some more rope). He made his way down to the center of the village just like he had the other day, and entered the large café building to the north.

    The knives had been lying around in a pile next to all the other silverware. That was where Riolu had left them yesterday. That was why he tensed up when he entered the kitchen, and saw that all of it was gone. Riolu quickly looked around to make sure nothing else was gone. There was only one reason those knives would be gone. Had it known that Riolu was going to come back here?

    All of the sudden he scrambled over and his under the counter. He could hear something approaching from outside – heavy breathing. Damnit – it hadknown. This was a trap! Riolu knew he couldn't stay here; Nyarlathotep would find him at this rate. There had to be a way out.

    Riolu's ears pricked up as, above the counter he heard Nyarlathotep enter the room. It looked around, sniffing. It smelled him. Riolu looked around for a moment, looking for something – anything = to use. His eyes settled on a frying pan.

    There was a hole in the wall to his left. From what Riolu remembered Nyarlathotep's true form didn't have any eyes. It navigated from memory, smell, and hearing. He slowly crept over to the frying pan and picked it up from the ground, making sure to make as little of a sound at possible. He glanced at the hole, and he heard Nyarlathotep begin to tromp towards his position. It was now or never Riolu aimed for the hole, and then he threw the pan. It clanged against a building in the distance, and Riolu heard Nyarlathotep snarl. It leapt over the wall, heading out in a different direction after where it thought Riolu was going.

    Riolu wasted no time. He picked himself up from under the counter and quickly looked around the kitchen once more. Come on – where were the knives?

    Not here, it became obvious. Riolu decided to continue onwards. He quickly sped out the back door of the building and headed around the left side to the front. He quickly stopped when his eyes were met with the very sight that he didn't want to see: a void shadow prowling around in the middle of the square. Riolu froze. Had Nyarlathotep come back that quickly?

    Sniff.

    Riolu's head turned towards the alleyway where he had come from, where heavy sniffing sounds were emerging. There was another one! It dawned on Riolu: Nyarlathotep had brought friends.

    How many? And how to get out of this? Riolu silently leapt the next wall.

    He found the knives in a pile in the middle of the living room. A bang from behind him, and he realized he had to keep moving. He snatched up two of the knives and ran down the hallway. He made a left turn into one of the two bedrooms at the end, and took a moment to relax. A sudden screech from one of the void shadows outside shocked Riolu and made himself tumble into one of the bookshelf at the very end. It rattled noisily, and Riolu did his best to stop it from rattling.

    Then he noticed the ghost had sat up.

    Riolu was slightly scared, but he was scared of the Void Shadows more. He set the knives on the floor and then walked out from behind the bookcase. The ghost continued to stare at him. It looked about his height, and it distorted the background around itself a little, but what was it? Riolu took a step closer. The ghost stumbled back until it was leaning against a wall. Or rather, thin air where a wall once was. Riolu walked forward, up until he was face to face with the shadow. He tilted his head when it didn't react. Why wasn't it responding?

    moving through the floorboards.

    smelling the air for him.

    Riolu knew what it was, and he realized he had no more time to waste on this ghost. He charged straight through it, but he felt nothing. Landing on the ground outside of the house, he quickly got to his feet, picked up the knives, and began to run into the square again. Not a second later a Void Shadow charged through the wall Riolu had just jumped over, setting its sights on him. It was Nyarlathotep.

    Nyarlathotep screeched, and all of the other void shadows focused on its call. They saw Riolu. Riolu took a right turn into some of the other houses. He ducked and dodged through the alleyways, looking for ways to evade them. How was he going to escape. Just… just think. Riolu ducked into an empty house for a minute and collapsed against the wall where no-mon could see him. The void shadows… they followed their noses, right? So all Riolu had to do was mask his scent. But the only way he knew how to do that was with water. And…

    …And he was near a riverbank. It all clicked. If he could get to the riverbank, then…

    Riolu quickly sat up with the knives. He could hear the Void Shadows getting near. It was time to go. If he had any hope of reaching the water before they caught him, he had to leave now.

    Riolu weaved through the town, heading in a loop back to the town center. He could see the riverbank from here, and it was just a few meters away… Riolu began to full out sprint. So close; he closed his eyes as he ran. One of the knives nicked his leg. Riolu hit the ground hard. The knives went flying and landed hilt-up in a nearby ditch. Riolu pulled himself to his feet and groaned. A roar sounded from right behind him. How had they gotten so close? Riolu looked back, and saw that a Shadow was galloping right for him. He forgot all about the knives and dived into the rivier.

    It was dark and silent under the riverbank. Riolu couldn't hear the screeches of the void shadow from under here, but he also couldn't breathe. Speaking of… he needed to get some air. Riolu swam towards the surface, breaking it and gasping for air. He floated along, paddling occasionally to stay afloat.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Bryony~

    Bryony slid herself through the landscape, yawning. She didn't know where she was going, just that she needed to take a stroll. Something to clear her mind of… yesterday. Something to help her forget. She'd been at it for she didn't know how long either, but it had been a while. She didn't even know where she was now. She had abandoned the forest long ago, and instead a long field of half-charred dead bushes lay in front of her.

    She trudged on in silence for a while, until the sound of voices caught her ears. Brionne looked towards where they were coming from in confusion. More shadows?

    "Look at the mukking sky, Eevee! Does that look normal to you? I'd rather have had a markup over this!"

    "Stop lecturing me like it's my fault! Do you think I brought us out here with the intention of getting us stranded wherever this is? Who does that? Not me! Back off!"

    "I have every right to lecture you! This was your idea in the first place! If not for you I'd be sleeping in a bed right now, all comfy! Instead I slept on the ground, like an animal!"

    If these were Shadows then this was the most elaborate ruse Bryony had ever come across. She decided to investigate further.

    "Hey!" she called out, approaching the arguing 'mon from a distance. A fletchinder and an eevee quit their argument for a second to stare at her.

    "Quiet!" they both told her in unison, and then went back to arguing. Bryony slid herself closer to them silently. She was sure they weren't Shadows now.

    "We thought we told you to muk off," Eevee hissed at Bryony as she slid herself up to them.

    Bryony tilted her head. "Do you guys realize where you are right now?" she said.

    "I wish…" Fletchinder grumbled.

    "Okay. This is going to sound weird," Bryony said, "but the both of you need to come with me. For your own safety."

    Both Eevee and Fletchinder looked at each other.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Riolu slowly floated down the river, bobbing along and paddling himself towards the nearest shore away from town. He pulled himself out onto the riverbank, shaking himself off. He was soaked, but it was also hot enough here that the water felt more refreshing than anything else. He cast a look back towards the village in the distance. He'd lost the Shadows… for now. It was time to get away from here, before he was caught again. Riolu passed a large, destroyed archway on his way out of the town. He'd never been down this way before, and in the distance he could see what looked like a field of charred plains.

    He walked for a bit, letting the ambient heat dry his fur off. Soon he was among the field of dead bushes, and he stopped. This looked like a good place to turn around and figure out where he was. He needed to go… north. Yes. Riolu turned towards Reverse Mountain, and began to trudge in that direction.

    Then his ear twitched.

    In the distance, he heard what sounded like voices. One of them was Bryony's.

    Bryony was here? Riolu spun in the direction of the voices, and saw Bryony leading what looked like two other pokemon onwards. And they were heading in the direction of the village. Riolu's tail went flat in horror. They were going the wrong way! They were going to—

    Without thinking, he took off after them.

    "Hey! Wait!" he called out at the top of his lungs as he ran. Whether that would attract that Shadows; he didn't care. He just needed to make sure they didn't walk into the trap.

    Bryony didn't hear him. Riolu called out again, even louder this time. He was gaining ground on them, but not fast enough. They were nearly at the village gates.

    "Stop! You're walking into a trap!" Riolu yelled, running towards them as fast as he could. Finally, Bryony turned around to look at Riolu, having heard him yelling but heard what he said. Copying Bryony, Fletchinder and Eevee turned around.

    "Who's that?" Eevee asked.

    "That's my friend," Bryony answered. "But what's he doing?"

    It was too late. A Shadow romped down the path towards them, and only Riolu could see it. He pointed behind them and shouted desperately, but he was still too far away. They couldn't hear him.

    Bryony didn't realize what was happening until it was too late. She was suddenly snatched up by a large, black hand, and when she turned around the maw of Nyarlathotep stared her in the face. Extra limbs shot out of its body and snared Eevee and Fletchinder as well. And even through they protested, it was all to no avail. Nyarlathotep's body split open into teeth, and all three pokemon were engulfed.

    Riolu made a hard left and hid behind a bush before Nyarlathotep could see him. He was crying, but he did all he could to stay quiet. He couldn't be found. He just couldn't. He had to find a way out of here.

    It was a few moments, but eventually he heard Nyarlathotep let out an abominable screech, and then it galloped away from where Riolu was.

    Riolu clenched the rust-red dirt under his paws. This place… it ground you down until you were all alone. Hopeless. And that's when it got you. This was hell. There had to be a way out. There just… there had to. Riolu refused to believe he was trapped here. And if he was, then maybe being devoured by a Void Shadow was a merciful death.

    And then the full force of reality hit him: He was all alone. Forever. Bryony… Solosis… Wartortle, who he had only known for a day but still enjoyed the company of… the litwick… all gone. Only he was left.

    Riolu curled up in a ball, and for the rest of the day, he sobbed to himself.

    ~\({O})/~

    Forest Clearing

    One Week Later

    ~Riolu~

    The sky boomed, and Reverse Mountain erupted in volcanic flame. Riolu fled through the woods, trying to get out of range from the falling bits of ash and fire.

    It had all been so sudden. Previously, not a sound was to be heard rattling through the Voidlands. Even the void shadows had backed off after a while, grown disinterested with the prospect of having Riolu for lunch.

    Riolu lived near the decaying heart tree in the woods southeast of the ruined village now. It was the only place his scent was stamped out; the only place that the void shadows wouldn't follow him. And none had. He ate what little roots had still grown from the tree's dead remains (it had died roughly a week ago), and drank from the lake. Every so often, he would sneak down to the village when the Shadows weren't looking and look around. The knives were long gone.

    He still felt dizzy just at the thought that he was all alone here. He would see hallucinations in the woods – maybe Bryony's flipper, or the flame of a litwick – But they'd all be gone at a second glance. Not the tricks of a Shadow, but rather the tricks of a mind. Riolu needed an escape. And it was the ghost that provided it.

    Riolu still had no idea what the ghost was. He could see it, but apparently it couldn't see him. The patrolling Void Shadows meant that he couldn't study the ghost full-time, but Riolu still went down to the ruined village every once in a while to study it. It slept during the day, for some reason.

    And then… this. Riolu had been nibbling the last of the roots left on the dead heart-tree, when suddenly everything around him had suddenly exploded into noise. A pillar of flame erupted from the top of Reverse Mountain, and the sky rumbled and boomed with unseen thunder.

    hUnt.

    FiNd.

    kILL.

    Riolu heard the words, and they came from the skies. And then he heard a worse sound still: The sound of tens of Void Shadows all screeching in unison. It came from everywhere, and it uffeted Riolu's ears and he couldn't stop hearing it but it was unbearable—

    Riolu crouched over, covering his ears the best he could. Ut the debris from above was beginning to land. A slab of burning rock crushed a couple of trees near him out of nowhere. It was several times bigger than Riolu was. Shaken, Riolu quickly continued onwards.

    He fled south, until he could barely see the burning trees or the ruined village behind him. It was a place of death and despair, and once the fires hit it would e unlivable. Riolu was glad to leave it behind.

    Eventually, he lost track of where he was going. All he knew was that it would be a while until the fires reached here. He had at least a few hours to a day. Riolu sat down against a dead tree, and gazed up at the erupting mountain in the distance. Every day, it seemed like his hopes of leaving got farther and farther away. His only way out, on top of that mountain; everymon said. Well, now it was going up in flames.

    Riolu didn't cry. He didn't have any left in him. He took a deep breath, and simply watched the mountain erupt for a bit. He felt a peace that was foreign to him.

    Slowly, the figures of several blue flames began to become visible once again. Riolu saw them flicker in the woods, but he ignored them. More hallucinations.

    But were his hallucinations ever so clear? Riolu shot a second glance at them. They didn't disappear when he looked. He slowly rose from his sitting position. Was it true?

    He watched as slowly, several candlestems followed the flames in visibility. His heart soared,a dn the next thing the litwick knew Riolu was running towards them in joy. He hugged the closest one – it didn't matter which one – tightly.

    "I thought you guys were gone…" he muttered out, eyes closed.

    "We nearly were," one of them said. It sounded indignant. Riolu looked up at it in confusion.

    "We had a deal," another one of them continued. "Where did you go? Why did you leave us all to die?"

    "I- I-" Riolu couldn't come up with a proper response. "There was this thing in the sky, and—"

    He stopped, looking down. There was no excuse, he knew.

    "I'm sorry."

    There was silence between them for a moment. Then Riolu looked up.

    "So where are the rest of you? Where's Solosis? How come you guys weren't at the camp when I came back two weeks ago?"

    Tall-Flame came forward.

    "This is all of us," he said. "All of us that are left. A monster attacked our camp. Solosis was eaten so we could get away. We…" Tall-Flame shuddered, reliving horrible memories. "We had nothing to eat. All those weeks of hunger… most of us disappeared!" he bawled, then broke down entirely into tears.

    No-mon else spoke; they watched Tall-Flame cry, mourning all the dead litwick. Riolu was the first pokemon to break the silence.

    "You guys don't have to forgive me. I… I don't know if I deserve it anyway."

    He had the litwick's attention. They stared at him, skeptical but waiting for him to go on.

    "I think I know where the way out is. Not on top of that mountain. But we have to wait for nightfall."

    "You know for sure?" one of the litwick asked skeptically.

    "Not for sure." Riolu shook his head. It's just a hunch of mine. But we've got nothing left to lose. Nothing but each other. Why not try?"

    The litwick exchanged looks.

    "Well…" one of them said. "I guess it's better than trying to go up the mountain of fire."

    Tall-Flame slowly picked himself up off the ground and began to float again.

    "I'm okay now," he said. "I still have breakdowns sometimes."

    "So where's this way out you speak of?" another litwick piped up.

    "I'm about to tell you now," Riolu said. "Gather around. Here's what we're going to do…"

    ~\({O})/~​

    "If we're going to get past the Void Shadows and escape this place, then we're going to have to be clever about it. That's why we use the fires to our advantage."

    The fires quickly spread throughout the woods, catching from tree branch to tree branch and burning them all to the ground. Up above them, Reverse Mountain slowly began to return to a fiery simmer, but the damage was done – everything around it was alight.

    "It'll reach the village by nightfall, and I'm willing to bet that fire hurts these creatures. We'll use the opportunity to slip past them."

    It was nightfall, and the village burned. Void Shadows had prowled it relentlessly for the past week – the flames had sent them into hiding. Riolu slowly crept through the forest towards the fire. He could see the outskirts of the burning buildings, and he silently waved the litwick after him. They followed.

    The Fires burned the trees all around them, and the fire burned brighter than Reverse Mountain did. Riolu took a step onto the pavement, flinching at how hot it was. Then he stepped ont it entirely. There was no time to complain about those things.

    He didn't see any void shadows. Riolu crept forward into the village square, looking around at all the burning buildings.

    "It's to the south," he said. "There's a house. It's the only one still standing, and it's on an island. It's there. That's the way out."

    The litwick looked at each other.

    "That's the Ancient Barrow," they said.

    A board suddenly snapped amongst the burning structure. Riolu turned, and he saw it – standing amongst the flame was a void shadow. It leered at him menacingly from behind the wall of flame that separated them. But it didn't charge.

    Go on, it taunted. See how far you get.

    Riolu stared back in contempt. The Shadow couldn't see him, but he didn't care anymore. He turned around and began to walk towards the southern entrance. Then he broke into a run, ushering the litwick after him.

    The buildings flew by as he ran, burning and bright. Riolu paced himself so that the litwick wouldn't be left behind. He closed his eyes, but then opened them wide.

    He was just in time to see a Void Shadow sprint out of the wreckage, obstructing the path ahead. Riolu hit the ground and rolled under its legs, not skipping a beat. The litwick soared over it. The Void Shadow gave chase, but Riolu took a right turn into a building.

    "Hide!" he hissed to the litwick. They did. The Void Shadow came barging in through the doorway, but it hit the top of the doorframe. The wall collapsed in on it, covering it in flame. It screeched.

    Riolu quickly picked himself up and sprinted for the house's back door.

    "Go!" he yelled, and the litwick zoomed out of hiding.

    The buildings beyond their location had all been half-destroyed by the fire. Riolu crept through the alleyways, keeping clear of the flames that licked out into the street and keeping his eyes peeled for Shadows. There didn't seem to be any here. Riolu ushered the litwick all on.

    "This has to be the south side of town," Riolu said after a while. They had maneuvered through the village for about five minutes, and seen neither hide nor hair of another Void Shadow.

    "We're just a few buildings away, one of the litwick said. Riolu nodded, and crept up to the burning building ahead of him. He could see the main path just head. It was empty, but something wasn't right—

    —The structure next to him was suddenly bowled over. Riolu barely jumped clear of the wreckage. He stuck the landing, but a Void Shadow swatted him to the ground just a few seconds later. It let out something between a screech and an angry roar. Riolu picked himself up and began to run for it.

    He made his way onto the main path, but then realized the litwick weren't with him he looked back.

    "Hey!" he called out to them. "Over here!"

    The Shadow took notice. It glanced at him and snarled, but it was suddenly buffeted over the head with the attacks of the three litwick. They soared back onto the main path to join Riolu, and all four began to run south again.

    "I can see it!" one of the litwick exclaimed as they ran. He pointed to an island in the distance, illuminated by the fierceness of the fire that it was engulfed in. For just a second, Riolu stopped in horror. The bridge was on fire too – that was the only way across! He had to get there before it collapsed. Fear overcame Riolu. He began to take off at high speeds, running towards the bridge as fast as he could. He forgot about the litwick, which he had left behind.

    Riolu closed his eyes, letting his nose and his feelers do the seeing for him. He was almost there, so close—

    Riolu tripped over a rock and hit the ground hard. He groaned, and tried to lift himself up. Over where the island was – he was halfway there – the last of the bridge crumbled away into the water below. Riolu looked back at the litwick, then at the house. He could swim across. Freedom was so close…

    Riolu looked back at the litwick. They'd catch up. Even now, they were floating right towards him. They'd be fine. He just had to get there himself—

    The Void Shadow charged back onto the path, and it was livid. It smelled the litwick, and it heard them. It began to gallop in their direction, and only Riolu could see it. And that was when he made his decision.

    Riolu leapt up, running back towards the litwick. He wasn't letting this happen again, not matter the cost—

    With that thought, he felt something begin to collect in his paws; a foreign energy. It surged, and just before Riolu collided with the Shadow his paws met its chest. The attack sent them both flying backwards from each other. The litwick flew clear of the explosion.

    Riolu pulled himself to his feet once more. He was dizzy. He could feel the energy leaving his paws, and smell the burning all around him, and see the brilliant orange flames and his ears were ringing. He was suddenly punched to the ground.

    The Void Shadow picked him up, swung him around, and then batted him into the ground again. It swatted him into a house, and then pinned him to the ground again. It leaned in over him menacingly, but Riolu fought back. He clasped his paws together again, and managed to produce enough energy to repel the Shadow from his body. Riolu crawled along the ground, coughing, but he felt the Shadow's gooey claws wrap around his legs again and drag him back violently. It flipped him over, and then pinned his arms to the ground.

    The Shadow didn't waste time. Its face split open into jaws and teeth, and they converged around Riolu—

    A trio of embers suddenly batted the Shadow's head off of Riolu. Riolu looked where they came from, and he saw the Litwick swooping in from above! The next wave of embers hit a nearby structure, which collapsed on the void shadow. Riolu took the opportunity – he began to crawl away from the Shadow and got up to his feet. The Void Shadow was still struggling under the flaming wooden beam. Riolu struggled onto the path, but then he looked back at the litwick.

    "Go!" one of them shouted at him. "We'll catch up!"

    Riolu turned and ran. He ran, and he didn't look back. When he reached the water, he jumped into it without thinking and paddled his way across. He clawed his way onto the mud of the island, shaking himself off and pulling himself to his feet. He ached all over, but he was so close and he wasn't stopping now.

    Finally, he reached the Barrow's doors. Riolu looked back at the burning village in the distance behind him. He couldn't see the litwick. Riolu scanned the sky, but he didn't see them there either. Had they been killed?

    They'd catch up. They said they would. Riolu decided he'd take them up on it. He ducked in through the doors of the Ancient Barrow. The darkness dissolved after him.

    Up above, Reverse Mountain erupted once more, sending fiery chunks up into the sky. Down below, the village continued to burn in silence.

    The screeches of several Void Shadows could be heard.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Riolu stumbled into gooey black corridors full of messy swamp water. Behind him was more of the same. Where there had once been a door, there was now nothing but darkness and silence. Then it clicked for Riolu: Was this a mystery dungeon?

    And if so… he looked up at the ground, realizing he couldn't see the roof. Maybe this was the way out.

    In front of him sat a staircase. It was smooth as marble, and shone with a ghostly glow in the darkness. Riolu headed for it without question. It was time to escape this awful place once and for all.

    ~\({O})/~

    The Ancient Barrow

    ~Espurr~

    The dungeon was quiet as Espurr and Riolu walked through its hallways. It seemed that Nyarlathotep hadn't figured out where they were yet. As they walked, Espurr noticed that Riolu's body was getting less and less real-looking. Soon she could see the wall through him. She was about to say something, but Riolu suddenly broke out into a run. Espurr saw why: There was light ahead! This was the exit to the dungeon! Espurr's heart leapt, and she ran after him through the muck. How she wanted to escape from this place so badly! And yet…

    The entrance was up ahead; a single doorway illuminated by morning daylight. All around them was the inside of an old and battered house, covered in black goo.

    Riolu approached the doorway without hesitation. And the more of the light that spilled out onto him, the more of his body disappeared. He reached a paw out towards the door, watching it vanish completely.

    "Come with me." Riolu looked back towards Espurr, holding a paw out.

    "I told you I can't." Espurr stayed where she was, folding her arms. "I'm going back for my friends. If you want to leave, go ahead."

    Riolu looked at the door. Then at Espurr. He groaned. It should have been a no-brainer! The door was right there. He was free! So… why did it make him feel crummy inside to leave?

    "You're going to be alone out there, you know." Espurr stayed where she was, staring him directly in the eye. Her gaze was calculating, but Riolu saw a glimmer of daring in there as well. "There'll be no-mon out there for you. No-mon to keep you company. No-mon to help you when youreallyneed it, because you weren't there for them first."

    Riolu was – for once – silent. Espurr took a deep breath in.

    "My friends are still down in that dungeon," Espurr said. "I can feel them. I got them in this mess, and it's my responsibility to get them out. I'm not giving up on them. That's why I'm going back. If you want to run, I can't stop you. Run. But everymon stops running someday. You only get to choose when."

    "So choose. Now." Espurr straightened herself up, brushing her dirty fur off and adjusting her scarf out of habit. "Are you coming with me, or are you running away?"

    It was a moment before Riolu decided. Slowly, he trudged back into the dungeon, and Espurr saw his legs become visible again.

    "Fine," he said. "Let's do it."

    "Great." Espurr turned away from the dungeon entrance and began to jog back into the hall. "I think I saw another hall back this way!" she called back to him. "That's a good place to start."

    Riolu cast one last glance back at the dungeon exit. He didn't want to die, but he didn't want to live all alone either. He hoped this 'Espurr' knew what she was doing.

    And with that thought, he took off after her before he lost sight. They weren't out of the woods yet.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Murder (In Four Parts) - Thomas Newman
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 22 - All Together Now
  • SparklingEspeon

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

    22.

    All Together Now

    ~\({O})/~

    The Ancient Barrow

    ~Espurr~

    The light of the way out that had been nearly blinding soon faded into darkness. It was the dark of distance, as Espurr ran back into the halls covered with viscous black goo. Looking for any sign of the hallway she had seen before.

    Behind her, Riolu tried his best to catch up. He made noisy splashes as he ran.

    "Hey!" he called from behind her. "Wait up! I'm gonna lose you!"

    Reluctantly, Espurr slowed down. It wouldn't do any good to lose her only ally, no matter how panicked she was. She took a deep breath, and tried not to be.

    It didn't work.

    "What are we even looking for?" Riolu panted out as he caught up with her. Espurr sped up again, forcing him to abandon catching his breath to keep pace with her.

    "A way up, preferably," Espurr answered. "If the anchorstone is in the middle of the dungeon, and the stairs at the entrance went down while the ones we've been climbing went up, we can probably assume this dungeon doesn't work like all the other ones do. And that means there's probability of stairs leading up onto the floor above. It's an easy way to get to them. All we have to do is find the stairs."

    She had ad-libbed all of that. More hopefully than based on any reasonable predictions, but Espurr was willing to accept almost any fragment of hope she could grasp at, even if she had to make it up for herself. Alongside her, Riolu nodded along, looking like he didn't understand any of it.

    Good.

    Up ahead in the corridor, Espurr caught sight of a small hallway to their left. She pointed at it, making sure that Riolu could see. "We're headed that way first."

    "But shouldn't we scout the floor and come back to this late—"

    "We might not find it again later." Espurr cut him off, taking him by the paw and almost forcefully dragging him into the hallway.

    The theory was their lucky break. It had to be. Or Espurr didn't know what she would do.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~'Goomy'~

    Goomy felt wrong. He saw wrong. The antennae constantly twitching atop his head were wrong, and so was the gooey snail shell on his back. He couldn't see colors anymore. He saw, but he saw in vibrations. Everything around him was illuminated in black and white; a fading image renewed with each twitch of his antennae. He didn't even know where he had pulled that attack from – something he wouldn't have fathomed doing just a few seconds before. Goomy stayed still in shock for a bit.

    "Goomy!"

    Deerling galloped through the muck towards him, then threw herself into him the best she could. Goomy did his best to not collapse into formless goo upon impact, but now that he thought about it he couldn't do that as well now either.

    "Aw, berry crackers. He's the first to evolve? He's the youngest out of all of us!"

    "Oh, stick a wooper in it, Pancham," Deerling hissed at him. "You nearly died! We. All Nearly. Died. He saved our lives! The least you could do is thank him instead of treating him like Muk!"

    "Sooo cool!"

    That was Tricky. She bounded around him, checking his new body out from all angles. "What does it feel like? Can you see? Ooh- Ooh- Watchog said that sliggoos dissolve everything with killer slime. Can you dissolve a dungeon 'mon?"

    "T-that's a myth," Goomy stuttered out, still trying to figure out how to speak with his new mouth. He knew that much. Although he guessed he was Sliggoo now.

    "Hey," Deerling said, trying to stabilize the wobbling Sliggoo. "You feeling alright? Do you need to rest for a moment?"

    "This is great and all," Shelmet interjected loudly, "but I propose we get a move and get out of here before, y'know, the scary monster thing comes back to get us?"

    "I- I'm f-fine," Goo- Sliggoo stuttered, stabilizing himself without Deerling's help. "I just want to get out of here."

    "True that," Pancham muttered. "How many floors is this place, anyway. It's gotta have been at least fifteen."

    "Try five." Deerling clopped past him, leading the group onwards. "It can't be that many now. The only 'mon we're missing is Espurr."

    No-mon saw it in the darkness, but Tricky's ears flopped back as they continued on.

    "You don't think we left her behind, right?" she asked. Deerling didn't answer. No-mon did. No-mon knew. There was only hope to guide them.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~?~

    This was less than optimal. They were in two groups now. If It allowed them to progress unhindered, soon there would be only one. They knew. They weren't like the pathetic beings that had ended up in the Voidlands; pathetic beings filled with hate and discord for It and Its brethen to leech off of and grow stronger from. They were a measly seven, but together they had hurt It.

    It had never liked children. They were too hopeful, too filled with positive emotions that burned it like fire. And yet they posed the biggest threat to It.

    It lay in hiding, healing its wounds and plotting its next move. Maybe this was more optimal than it had originally thought. In one group, they were a dangerous but easy target. And now that It had fought them a few times, It knew which ones to eat first. It would devour the psychic cat and the goo snail, leaving the rest of them powerless to Its strength. And then It would eat them too.

    All along the walls of the Anchorstone, goo shifted and squelched in preparation. It was time to set a trap.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    There was nothing at the end of the hallway. Espurr hadn't wasted time making it back to the main corridor, pulling Riolu along with her. Riolu had made a few efforts to slow down, but Espurr wasn't having it. They found another corridor, and she checked that one too. It was only after a few more hurried searches of hallways that Riolu finally sat down in the muck, all puffed out.

    "I need a minute," he puffed out. "To… catch my breath…"

    Espurr reluctantly stopped. She folded her arms, marched back over to him, and sat down opposite him silently.

    Nothing was said between them; they sat together in silence. For the first time since being separated from her friends, Espurr noticed the distinct lack of a tattered old exploration bag hanging from her left shoulder. Her stomach suddenly fell – that bag had everything in it! But she had bigger priorities right now. She'd pick it up on the way.

    "Ready yet?" she asked Riolu. Riolu nodded.

    "Almost," he said, still sounding tuckered out. "I can get up no—"

    Something changed. Both Espurr and Riolu noticed. He stopped mid-sentence, and they both silently looked in the direction of the distant rumbling that came from deeper within the dungeon. It was getting closer.

    "Move."

    Both Espurr and Riolu got to their feet, but it was all they could do to jump clear of the stairway before the walls suddenly became fluid. Goo shifted along the walls at high speeds, and soon the walls themselves began to change. The dungeon itself began to roar – it was not happy. The sound resounded through the air around Espurr and Riolu, and a sudden gust of rancid wind blew them both backwards. And the walls weren't solidifying.

    Espurr got back to her feet, helping Riolu up as quickly as she could. A sudden pillar of goo shot out of the wall, and they both ducked just in time to avoid it. The area closed up into a full wall, and Espurr and Riolu scrambled away from it. More and more pillars of goo shot out from all directions, while walls all around them collapsed.

    "What do we do?" Riolu yelled over the noise of the shifting dungeon. He and Espurr were pressed as close together as they could possibly be. The muck around them churned, and they parted just in time to avoid a pillar of goo shooting straight up out of the ground. And then Espurr saw it: Behind a collapsing wall, the stairs stood. They glowed brighter than anything else, and most importantly: they led up.

    She called out to Riolu just before the wall sealed up and separated them. "Head that way! I see the stairs!"

    The wall finished forming, and they were both cut off. Espurr didn't waste any time running forward. A corridor was forming around the stairs, and Espurr ran directly for it. Another pillar of goo shot out of the ground and began to form a wall between her and the stairs – she was going to be cut off!

    The dungeon roared a second time. Espurr knew that the dungeon winds would follow. She sped up as fast as she could, but then she began to feel a draft. She noticed her fur blew in the direction of the sealing up wall, and she jumped—

    —The gust of wind blew through the nearly completed hallway, and its power blew Espurr off her feet and sent her flying through the gap just before the wall closed up. She hit the muck on the other side of the hallway and got a mouthful of swamp water. At this point, she was beginning to get used to how it tasted.

    "You okay?"

    Espurr looked up to see Riolu standing over her. He held a paw out, and she took it, bringing herself to her feet. Ahead of them, the stairs lit the hallway with a luminous glow. Behind them, the dungeon slowly settled into an uneasy peace. The rumbling ceased.

    "I'm not waiting around for something else to happen," Riolu said. "Let's go."

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Tricky~

    Tricky worried about it the whole way there. She worried about what had happened to Espurr, who was her friend when no-mon else would have been. Espurr, who was the only 'mon still separated from the group. Espurr, who Tricky worried had been left behind in the dungeon. She knew there were no answers for her, but the worry hung over her like a cloud as they walked.

    'Espurr can take care of herself,' Tricky's brain told her. She used that like a shield, hiding herself away from all the worry behind it. But that didn't stop her from knowing it was there.

    "Hey," Deerling spoke after what had felt like hours of silence. "I found something."

    She sped up, and all the others did their best to follow.

    Sitting against the goo-covered wall was the tattered old exploration bag that belonged to Espurr. Deerling stopped right in front of it, and looked down at the bag. It floated in the muck, its strap stuck to the goo and holding it in place. If it weren't waterproof it would have been ruined long ago.

    Tricky quickly pushed past Pancham and Shelmet to look at the bag. She was the first one to point out the obvious.

    "That's Espurr's!"

    Everymon else exchanged looks in worry. Tricky's fear nearly overcame her – Espurr wouldn't just leave the team bag like that. What if something had… had… good thoughts…

    Tricky stared down at the muck for a moment, trying to think of something positive to make of the situation.

    "Well…" she began after a moment. "If the bag is here, then Espurr has to be further down in the dungeon. So we didn't leave her behind."

    More silence. No-mon had anything to add, but the unspoken words hung in the air over them: She's dead, isn't she.

    "…We should collect it," Deerling said. Her voice was low. "It's got her things in it. We don't want to leave those behind."

    Pancham – the only one with hands – stooped over and picked it up. He slung it over his back, and they began to continue on again in silence.

    Tricky wouldn't believe it. Not until she saw it with her own eyes. That perked her up just a little as they trudged further into the dungeon.

    ~\({O})/~

    ~Espurr~

    The stairs deposited Espurr and Riolu onto the next floor up with little ceremony. They picked themselves up and began to trek through the dungeon's hallways once again with little complaint. Their fur was matted with swamp water and bits of black goo. Espurr didn't think she could ever clean the filth out of the scarf Tricky had given her. It hung around her neck, soggy with swamp water and almost brown from the dirt that had accumulated into it over the past three weeks. Tricky…

    Espurr closed her eyes, and reached out with her sixth sense once more. If they were on this floor, and she tried hard enough…

    "Hey, do you hear voices?"

    Riolu's comment snapped Espurr back to reality. She glanced at him.

    "I wasn't paying attention."

    "Voices. That way." Riolu pointed towards the end of the corridor that they'd been travelling down. When Espurr strained her ears, she could hear it too.

    "I think the stairs are this way. It's the only hallway we haven't checked."

    That sounded like… Deerling. Espurr immediately broke out into a run, dashing down the hallway and making splashes in the muck behind her. She just stopped herself from calling out to them, in case it was an enemy she hadn't been aware of.

    She slowed to a stop just outside the entrance to the main hall, glancing in the direction she'd heard the noises from. Her eyes widened. She saw all five of the other village children, in a group led by Deerling.

    "Espurr!"

    The cry was loud enough to pierce the ears of everymon in the dungeon. Tricky pushed past everymon else and quickly embedded herself into Espurr. "Where were you all this time?" she asked. "We found your bag, and we thought you were…" Tricky couldn't go on. Espurr hugged her back.

    "Here's your bag." Espurr's bag went sailing through the air and landed in the muck with a splash in front of her. Tricky backed off, and Espurr picked it up.

    Deerling walked forward. Espurr thought she was about to say something, but suddenly Deerling lowered her head and headbutted Espurr right in the chest. Espurr landed in the muck with a splash, too surprised to make her landing graceful. She looked up at Deerling in shock.

    "That's for getting us into this mess." Deerling flicked an ear indignantly. "Now get up. We…" she looked down. "We need somemon who can get us out of it."

    Espurr rose from her position, pulling her bag back onto her shoulder. It felt good, having that there again.

    Riolu finally made his way to the end of the corridor, stumbling to a stop awkwardly and catching his breath. The rest of the children looked at him in alarm.

    "…This is Riolu," Espurr said. "He got lost in the dungeon, just like us. We found the way out. It's only a floor down. The bad news is…"

    "There's a monster after us," Deerling said. "We know."

    "We didn't find Watchog," Shelmet pointed out.

    "I say let Watchog rot," Pancham said dismissively. "We'll be lucky to get out of this with our own fur; forget his. Besides, we would have found him if he was here."

    That was met with uneasy agreement from everymon else.

    "So now what?" Tricky asked, much more chipper than before.

    "Now…" Espurr turned back towards the hallway ahead of them. "We look for the way down, and then the way out."

    ~\({O})/~​

    The halls of the Anchorstone were completely different when Espurr and her friends stepped onto its grounds. It almost looked like a whole new floor. Around them, the dungeon settled silently, with only a short rumble or hiss as the new hallways finished slotting into place. Espurr slowly led them down the corridor, being as silent as possible. The goo on the wall popped once as they continued on, startling Espurr. There was a hole in the center of the wall that led into blackness. But nothing came out of it, so she decided to move on. None of them noticed the eyeless face that silently emerged from the hole to spy on them after they'd passed it. Satisfied, it retreated back in, black goo swarming over to cover it up.

    The hallways were perhaps darker than they'd ever been, and Espurr had trouble seeing the way ahead properly. Several times she almost walked straight into a wall. Eventually, she led them into what looked like a large room where all the hallways led. Espurr stopped, unsure of where to go next. Everymon looked around, taking in the sheer number of hallways all around them.

    "Now where do we go?" Tricky asked. The walls moved silently all around them, and Espurr took a fighting position.

    "Get ready to fight," she said. "We aren't alone in here." And with that, she fired a mental blast at the wall.

    Nyarlathotep abandoned the element of surprise immediately. Goo began to collect in the middle of the floor, assembling itself into Nyarlathotep's body—

    An ember from Tricky sent the lower half of the body reeling back before it could finish building itself.

    "Get it!" Everymon rushed forward, ganging up upon the shadow before it could assemble itself completely. Riolu pushed one of its legs out from under it, causing it to stumble forward. Pancham climbed on top of it, beating it over the top with his fists. Shelmet charged forward and stabbed the pointy edge of his shell into its leg. Tricky shot another ember, hitting it in the center. Espurr ran forward and used her mind to pull the shadow's other leg out from under it. It collapsed completely. Sliggoo unleashed a dragon breath, sending the body stumbling back further. Deerling spun around and kicked it with her hind legs.

    It fell back against one of the walls, and was silent. Everymon held their breath, watching it lie still for a moment.

    "Did… Did we beat it?" Tricky asked hesitantly after a minute. Espurr looked over the shadowy body, studying it intently. She looked at how the goo flowed off the walls and down into its body. And then she realized.

    "No," she said quickly. "It's just recovering. Let's finish it off before it has a chance to." She began to charge another mental blast, aiming it directly at the recovering Nyarlathotep.

    But it was too late – Nyarlathotep was up faster than Espurr could blink, and the last of the goo had assembled into the Void Shadow's monstrous body. Its quills stood alert, and before Espurr could unleash her mind attack it had already charged forward and grabbed her by the throat. Espurr wasn't having it. She directed her attack directly at its claws instead. The raw power was enough to blow the shadow's hand temporarily apart, and she slipped back to the ground.

    One by one, everymon launched an attack against the shadow. Its arms shot out and whacked Tricky aside. It dodged Riolu, then kicked him into a wall. It took the brunt of Sliggoo's dragon breaths, walking towards him without any harm. Pancham and Shelmet were both thrown aside. Deerling stepped in to defend Sliggoo, and the shadow began to charge straight for them. One more mental blast sent it careening to the side, and Espurr slid to a stop right where it had been.

    She looked at her fallen friends, then straight at Nyarlathotep. She could tend to them later. Right now, there was a bigger priority. And so Espurr began to approach the Void Shadow once more. She began to charge up an attack, but suddenly a sharp headache struck her. She couldn't summon the energy to do it.

    Nyarlathotep shot up and grabbed Espurr once more, and this time there was no hope of escape. She struggled the best she could, but she wasn't strong enough to pry herself from Nyarlathotep's claws.

    "Help!" she looked back at all her classmates desperately. None of them would reach her in time, not even Tricky.

    Espurr felt Nyarlathotep's breath on her face. It ruffled her fur, and it smelled of mystery dungeon. Nyarlathotep's maw opened up, and it spoke in a voice only Espurr could hear:

    YoU aRe At ThE bRiNk Of DeAtH. My SeRvAnT sHaLl DeVoUr YoUr MoRtAl FrAmE, aNd YoU WiLl Be DoOmEd To KnOw OnLy BlAcKnEsS FoReVeRmOrE. uNlEsS

    Espurr didn't want to hear whatever the monster had to say to her. Frantically, she began to search for a potential way out. Her headache was waning, but it wouldn't be enough.

    OnCe AgAiN, I PrEsEnT mY oFfEr To YoU: LeAvE tHiS bOdY. rEtUrN tO yOuR hUmAn LiFe. ReGaIn YoUr MeMoRiEs. eScApE dEaTh. Do ThIs, AnD yOu HaVe My WoRd ThAt YoU sHaLl NoT bE HaRmEd By My SeRvAnT'S hAnD. I aSk OnCe MoRe: dO wE hAvE a BaRgAiN?

    It took everything Espurr had not to accept the offer. She was scared, and tired. Tired of all the mysteries. Tired of the mystery dungeons. Tired of everything. A way out would be everything she'd ever wanted, and it came with the added bonus of not being eaten. But Espurr couldn't rid herself of the underlying guilt and horror at what she was thinking: Was she really considering this?

    Then a cough sounded from behind her. Tricky. The shadow's head snapped towards it, but Espurr quickly faked a cough herself to draw its attention back. She noticed it was eyeless. It must have been relying on sound to sense things. She turned her head towards the rest of the children, who were silently rising from the muck. They assembled in the middle of the room wordlessly, taking attack stances. Espurr took the cue, and found that her headache had waned enough for her to begin charging her own attack.

    I rEqUiRe An ANSWER.

    Nyarlathotep leaned in closer. Espurr stared it down.

    "I'm sorry. We don't have a deal," she said, her face quickly returning to her former smugness. "And you really should know by now: threats don't work on me."

    With that remark, Espurr blew apart Nyarlathotep's hands. The monster lunged forward, its jaws clamping shut, but Espurr tumbled to the muck and rolled away from the shadow just in time.

    "Now!" she yelled to all the other children, jumping out of the way just in time. Everymon fired their attacks all at once, and they all hit the same target: the center of Nyarlathotep's chest. It left a hole clean through Nyarlathotep. One that didn't fill itself in.

    Nyarlathotep took a step towards the village children, and all of them balked in fear. But then it stopped. It twitched, then began to tremble. And then it burst into tiny flakes of black goo and ash, that began to rise up into the air until no-mon could see them. And then there was only silence.

    Espurr slowly raised herself from the muck, picking her bag up with her. She rejoined the rest of her classmates, and they all silently continued towards what was now the only hallway left out of the clearing. Just around the corner, there was daylight.

    A figure lay slumped down against the wall, fast asleep. Its body was half covered in black goo. Vice-Principal Watchog was slowly roused from his sleep by the sounds of seven children tromping through the muck towards him.

    "… Huh?" he muttered. "What are you troublemakers doing… here… blurgh… more mago berries… the good shtuff…"

    He was asleep once again.

    Espurr and Tricky exchanged looks.

    "We'll just have to carry him out," Espurr stated. No-mon objected.

    Daylight was just around the corner.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Possession - Thomas Newman
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 23 - What Came After
  • SparklingEspeon

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

    23.

    What Came After

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    ~Espurr~

    Espurr was rudely deposited into the thick mud of the island that the Ancient Barrow sat on. Tricky quickly followed, then Deerling, then Pancham, and all of the others. Riolu was nowhere to be found.

    For a moment, Espurr couldn't see anything. Her eyes had become accustomed to the darkness of the Barrow's hallways, and it took a minute for the morning sun to not feel like it was burning her gaze into oblivion. But slowly, her surroundings became more and more bearable to look at, and everymon on the island was met with the familiar sight of Serenity Village in the distance. All of the village children cheered – Tricky loudest of all. Espurr didn't cheer, but she couldn't help but grin too. It was truly a relief to see the daylight once more.

    A loud sputter suddenly came from next to them, sending all the children into silence. Watchog – laying flat on the mud nearby – coughed once, then twice, then sputtered himself awake. He looked one way, then the other. He saw the morning sun. He saw the Ancient Barrow. He saw that he was positively filthy. And most importantly, he saw all six of the village children sitting next to him, suddenly fearful looks on their faces. They were right to be scared.

    Watchog suddenly jumped up, pointing an accusing finger in alarm. "You- You-" he sputtered. "What are you kids doing here?!"

    No-mon answered him. Several of them looked down at the mud in shame.

    "All of you go home!" Watchog cried. "Every single one of you. Go home! And-" he cleared his throat, trying to look dignified at the last second. "If anymon asks, none of this ever happened. Kapeesh?"

    "Kapeesh." The answer was unanimous; everymon could agree with that.

    "Now scat!" Watchog cried, shooing them all with his arms. All six of them were back on the path to the village faster than Watchog could say 'troublemaker'.

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    ~Tricky~

    "YOU FOOL!"

    Carracosta punctuated his outburst with a stomp of his feet against the floor. Tricky cowered in front of him, looking suitably ashamed.

    "I have two rules," he boomed. "One. Don't go out after dark. Two. Stay out of mystery dungeons. Last night you broke both."

    "Actually, you have three rules—" Tricky piped up, but she was quickly cut off again.

    "SILENCE!" Carracosta yelled. "I'm disappointed in you, Tricky. Since you can't seem to follow the rules correctly, you don't need special privileges either. You're grounded for a week."

    "Grounded?!" Tricky exclaimed in horror.

    ~\({O})/~

    Pancham's House

    ~Pancham and Shelmet~

    "I swear we can't keep you two in the same room together and expect you to behave," Pancham's mother sighed, scrubbing Shelmet down. He and Pancham were in opposite tubs, facing away from one another as they washed off all the muck that had stuck to them.

    "I wish your dad was still here," Pancham heard her mutter as she cleaned off Shelmet's shell. "He'd know how to keep you two in line."

    ~\({O})/~

    Sliggoo's House

    ~Sliggoo~

    "Son, we…" Sliggoo's father, a gallade, said. He sat on a stool in front of Sliggoo, who was silent. "We think it's great that you wanted to evolve, we do," he continued, then trailed off. Clearly the subject made him uncomfortable.

    "—We just wish you'd done it while we were there," Sliggoo's mother, a goodra, finished for him.

    Awkward silence ensued.

    ~\({O})/~

    Deerling's House

    ~Deerling~

    "Mooooom," Deerling pleaded, all sprawled out on the floor. "Just punish me."

    "Why would I?" Deerling's mother asked, genuinely confused. "You've made such a large step forward into becoming independent!"

    "I went out of the house after bedtime," Deerling said. "I broke a rule! You're supposed to punish me!"

    Sawsbuck deliberately ignored her, humming as she went back to whatever she was doing.

    "At least do something!" Deerling cried out. "Put me in my room for the day. Take away my dessert rights. Send me to bed without dinner. Anything works. Just don't tell me you think this is okay. Please."

    "Hmm," Deerling's mother hummed. "I think this is the first time I've ever seen a child beg for punishment."

    "…That means you're going to punish me?" Deerling asked hopefully.

    "Eh," Sawsbuck said, not even looking at Deerling. Deerling blinked once, then twice. She opened her mouth, but then realized arguing was useless. Instead, she stormed off in annoyance.

    "Don't headbutt the walls, please!" Sawsbuck yelled after her.

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

    Espurr walked into the village square, her fur still soggy and drooping from the self-imposed dip in the lake she had taken. She got a few looks from some of the passerby pokemon in the square, but no-mon approached her or said anything. Espurr would have washed it out, but she was just too tired to.

    She trudged up to the front door of Audino's house, which she had purposefully left unlocked for herself the night before. She pushed down on the knob. It gave. Still unlocked. Espurr pushed it open with a loud creak, and wearily trudged in.

    "Where were you?!"

    Espurr looked up in shock – Audino stood right before her, looking at Espurr. "And how did you get so dirty?" she questioned. "What were you doing all night? Explain. Now."

    Espurr didn't have an excuse for Audino, and she was too tired to make one. She went with the truth instead.

    "We- I was searching for Watchog last night. He hasn't been seen since Thursday."

    Audino leaned back against the wall of the house, covering her face with her hands out of frustration.

    "Watchog was out of town. He just said so, when he passed by in the square."

    Espurr blinked in shock. So that's how it was…

    "If you thought he was missing, why didn't you tell an adult?" Audino questioned. "You put yourself in danger!"

    "The adults won't understand." Espurr looked up at Audino.

    "We won't understand if you never tell us anything," Audino seethed. She sighed. "Just- just go to your room until supper." She was at a loss for anything else to say. Espurr wasn't complaining. She felt tired enough to collapse where she stood. She trudged off to her room, where the bed of straw was still unmade from where she had left it last night. She yawned, shuffled over to the bed, and collapsed with the sun in her eyes.

    ~\({O})/~​

    In the village square, a lone riolu dashed out into the sun. He looked around, taking in the bright blue sky and all the passerby pokemon, laughing loudly in joy. His legs shook, his eyes fluttered, and then he slumped over in exhaustion. Several pokemon gasped, and gathered around him in worry.

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Lively Town

    ~Mawile~

    It was business as usual at the Expedition Society. After the morning briefing, everymon had gone their separate ways, and the building was left deserted all except for Swirlix, Nickit, and Torracat's Team – who had taken an off-day and were instead sparring in the training hall. Mawile could hear the sounds of their battle from one floor above. (This meant they'd carelessly left the door open, but so long as it didn't become a repeat offense Mawile was willing to let it slide.)

    Content that things would stay peaceful at least for a little while, Mawile let the door of her office slide to a shut behind her. She had more important things to do right now.

    A second sighting of the entities that had caused devastation in Pokemon Plaza meant more than ever that action was required as soon as possible. Mawile wasn't confident in HAPPI's ability to act in time. She'd been pouring over and re-reading dozens of old texts in her miniature library, hoping to find something that she had missed. Something had to rear its head eventually. It wasn't possible that there were no accounts of these beings throughout history. (Or rather – Mawile didn't want to accept the possibility that there was nothing she could do from an administrative position.)

    However, days after days of examining every word she could find had run her down – Mawile was relishing the idea of finally moving on from this project. Or at least, getting herself some new material to read over. She walked around the gigantic pile of books and scrolls that lay on the desk. Her eyes settled on an old book that lay on the bottom shelf next to the desk – it hadn't been visible for a while because of an errant pile of books that had blocked it. The sight of the book jogged Mawile's memory: Ampharos had given it to her, claiming he'd negotiated it from Rayquaza, who kept a lot of Human texts and ancient scrolls.

    "I couldn't hope to find a use for this," Ampharos had said the day that he'd given it to her. "But when Rayquaza bid that I took something, I grabbed the first thing within reach out of politeness. Perhaps you'll find it useful where I couldn't."

    Mawile doubted the answer lay with the Humans of old (as fascinated as she was with them). But at this rate… she reached for the book, and grabbed it from its perch on the shelf. It couldn't hurt.

    The text was the unpublished ramblings of a porygon, who had lived long ago at the very start of Pokemon Civilization. Surely a gem, and Mawile was sorry she hadn't opened it earlier. She made a note to visit Rayquaza at a later date and gain his opinions on some of the book's topics.

    The passage on the next page made all thoughts of leisurely philosophical debates fly from Mawile's mind:

    Humans.

    9,000 years dead; 9,000 years our senior. 9,000 years a myth. No-mon has ever seen a human, yet the grounds of this world are replete with the ruins they leave behind. The crumbling remains of their cities, soon to be overgrown for all time. Years upon years of obsessive studying has granted me perhaps the best recollection of what happened to their kind.

    The Humans were a warlike species. An ambitious species. Their technology built them towers that scraped the sky. Their wars shook the world and made all others cower in fear. And when the human leaders spoke, everyone listened.

    But too much power is never a good thing, and pride always comes before the fall. Slowly, the Humans destroyed their planet. Pollution blotted out the sun, and toxins seeped down into the very ley lines of their Earth. Soon they knew they would all die if nothing was done.

    On every continent Humans convened to search for the only answer the Human Leaders could provide: A new world. A new place to colonize and corrupt and build their metal cities over. They soon discovered the stars held no secrets for them, so they began to burrow into the ley lines of Planet Earth. And soon, they drilled a hole straight into Hell.

    By the time the Humans realized what they had done it was too late. They were destroyed by the foul creatures that emerged from this hell realm. In a bid for survival, the final remains of their species constructed three seals to cover up their mistake. One on the Water Continent. One on the Sand Continent. One lost to the tides of the sea. If any of these were to break, surely the wrath of hell would be inflicted upon the world again.

    I have determined the best we can do is to leave these seals to lie in peace. If, for any reason one should shatter, the signs will make themselves clear. And it will fall to the pokemon of the world to unite and take action, before they are destroyed as well.


    Mawile could barely sit still. Thoughts flew through her head at the speed of light – if this wasn't her answer, it was a step in the right direction. Although foul creatures and ancient seals felt a bit fantastical. Mawile pulled out a map of the Sand Continent – the continent most mapped by other cartographers – to investigate.

    Immediately, she found what she was looking for. The Sands of Time, an important historical landmark further inland on the Sand Continent, had boggled explorers for decades. Everymon who had entered noted one detail in common – a large, arcane room with what looked like a massive hatch in the middle. A seal by any name. Brimming with excitement, Mawile checked the porygon's text again just to make sure, and then immediately got to work, ignoring the dulled sounds of the battle taking place a floor below. To quote an old Human idiom: she had struck gold!

    ~\({O})/~

    Audino's House

    ~Espurr~

    Espurr had slept through the day, and then the night. It was a dreamless sleep; her mind was too tired to entertain mind boggling fantasies or alien presences encroaching upon her head. Espurr sat up in her bed of straw, glancing at the sunlight pouring in through the window. It felt like she had slept for five minutes.

    A loud snoring sound came from beside her, causing her to gasp in fright. She looked to her right, realizing that she now shared the bed with a noisily snoring Riolu. Espurr let out a sigh of relief. At least he had made it back out safe.

    There would be no more sleeping with Riolu's noisy snoring habits, so Espurr yawned, stretched, and pulled herself off the bed. Her stomach growled and she felt a bit dizzy, so she devoured an apple in the kitchen. Audino wasn't there. Espurr assumed she was out tending to a doctor's appointment.

    For the next ten minutes, she sat around the empty, quiet house. This was her home – she was safe here, right? All the bad memories of the last few weeks flashed through her head – the beheeyem, the gabite, the strange dreams, Nyarlathotep. Would any of the adults understand? Would any of them even believe her? Watchog was the only one who had any reason to believe her, and he was far too pompous to do anything about it. But above all, Espurr knew that she couldn't sit around the house doing nothing all day. She had to take a hike.

    Espurr grabbed her dirty exploration bag, donned the scarf caked with mud, and slipped out through the door.

    She walked through the village with all its pokemon walking by, but they didn't interest her. She needed to go somewhere quiet. She walked south, until she had outwalked all the houses. The dark visage of the Ancient Barrow demanded her attention. Espurr refused.

    She continued to walk south, past the tree where Ampharos had gifted her and Tricky the expedition gadget. She walked past the forest path that led to the treehouse they had all made, and walked until Serenity Village could fit into the palm of her paw. Up ahead, the path led into the Lively Mountain Range, but that wasn't where Espurr was going.

    Espurr rooted around in the bushes until she found the fake ones Nuzleaf had set aside that one day. She walked around them, leaving them undisturbed.

    Watchog was at the guard post for Revelation Mountain that day. Espurr momentarily stopped in surprise – she hadn't thought about the guards – but then she noticed that he was fast asleep. That simplified things. She crept past him, leaving a trail of muddy pawprints behind her as she scampered up the mountain.

    She stopped at a cliff near the base of the mountain, and sat on a ledge. She could see the village from here, as well as all its forested surroundings and the mountain ridge in the distance. It took her back to a time when her largest worry was what place Tricky would drag her off to today… had that really only been a few weeks ago? Espurr let her bag drop next to her, and eventually she laid her head down upon it, staring up at the sky with folded arms.

    "I wasn't aware this was where all the kids went when school was out," Principal Simipour said.

    Espurr jumped – she hadn't even seen him! She hadn't felt him either. She quickly sat up, looking at him. Simipour took a seat next to her, staring at her with that ever-weary gaze. Espurr cleared her throat?

    "…What are you doing here, Principal?" she asked.

    "I come here sometimes for an afternoon stroll when Vice Principal Watchog's on duty, Simipour answered. "Adult's privilege. Hmm, now that I think of it, should you be here?"

    Espurr Blinked, trying to come up with a good counter for that.

    "I'll allow it," Simipour cheerfully shrugged it off before Espurr could say anything. "Why deprive a pokemon of this beautiful view, after all? Just don't make a habit of it."

    Espurr still couldn't feel him. She couldn't feel anything on him, which was strange. She knew from Watchog's type matchup class that psychics couldn't perceive the minds of dark-type pokemon, but Simipour was supposed to be a water type… right?

    Then she remembered the paper she had snitched from Simipour's office just last night, and she remembered what was on it. It was still in her bag, wasn't it? Disguising it as a causal rummaging through her bag, Espurr zipped it open and sifted through the items until she found what she was looking for. The paper still read, in large words:

    MISSING: Beheeyem x3

    If found, please contact the Merchants' Guild on the Grass Continent.


    Espurr remembered her first night at the school—

    ~\({O})/~​

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

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


    ~\({O})/~​

    That stack of paper had been missing posters. And Simipour had been collecting all of them. For what?

    "Is something the matter?" Simipour asked Espurr. Espurr quickly closed her bag so that Simipour wouldn't see what was inside it. She set it aside, and stared him in the eye.

    "The night I got here," she said, "You told me that there was another disappearance before me. Who disappeared? And why does no-mon talk about it?"

    In an instant, Simipour's posture seemed to change. He slumped over, and his expression became much less cheery.

    "So that's how it is…" she heard him mutter. Espurr mentally prepared herself to be on her defense. This didn't look like it was going good places.

    "Peer into my mind." Simipour's voice didn't sound anything like Simipour. He had lost his airy voice for something more serious. The sudden change sent chills through Espurr, but she had no choice but to comply – not when the consequences for disobeying her could be far worse.

    Not when she was so close to getting her answers.

    Espurr took a deep breath, and reached out with her sixth sense. Some of the fog over Simipour's mind had lifted, allowing just enough for a clear path through – what was this? For a moment, their heads merged, and Espurr saw what 'Simipour' had seen.

    ~\({O})/~

    Village Square

    Three beheeyem were travelling through town that day, five weeks ago. They brought wares from the Grass Continent – dried berries, roasted insects, the works. It was enough to put Kecleon out of business for the day, but he was an honorable shopkeeper and wouldn't sabotage their business if they travelled out of town by next week.

    Simipour didn't remember much of what happened that day. But something else did. Something else – for that brief moment – took complete control. Something else used Simipour's charisma to lead them up to the school and then into the School Forest.

    "I…" one of the beheeyem glanced around in confusion. "So what was that thing you wanted to discuss? And why lead us into a mystery dungeon? Are you a robber?"

    All three of them took a battle stance, preparing for the worst.

    Simipour opened his mouth, and an ungodly voice branded itself upon their brains.

    I have a different purpose in mind for youthree.

    He raised his arms, which then crackled with energy the color of a void shadow. The beheeyem panicked, abandoning fighting and trying to get a safe distance away. But there were only so many places to go in mystery dungeon.

    Cease.

    The energy hit all three beheeyem, and they convulsed violently.


    ~\({O})/~​

    Simipour never felt his best after that. He did what he could to hide it – the school principal had to be at his best, after all – but his endeavors to hide his sudden weariness failed often. When Audino offered, then insisted that he receive a mental checkup, something in his brain told him it was a bad idea. The same thing in his brain that told him to collect missing posters up around the town. The same thing that told him to keep an eye upon any new arrivals to the village. The same thing that had told him to be here now. Now Simipour had a mission. To kill—

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr forcefully separated her mind from Simipour's. Something was very wrong; what she had just witnessed told her that. But it was amplified when she saw Simipour's arms, which crackled with the same black energy they had in the memory, and they were closing in around her in a deadly embrace—

    Espurr ducked at the last second, rolling out from under Simipour and grabbing her bag. Simipour – or what was controlling him – lunged for Espurr, but she pulled herself out of the way at the last minute. Dashing further in towards the mountain and spinning on her feet, Espurr prepared to blast Simipour off the side of the mountain with her mental powers. Then, she faltered – what was she doing? She didn't want to kill him!

    But right now, he wanted to kill her. A concentrated ball of dark energy blasted against the cliff, and Espurr dodged it just in time. The best option here was to run. So, she did.

    She ran down the trail, and Simipour bounced after her as fast as his body would take him. He was faster than her – Espurr wasn't even going to make it to the base of the cliff!

    Simipour charged another shadow attack, jumping up into the air. And that was when Espurr made her move. She spun around and directed an unfettered mental blast into the air. Simipour was hit midair by the blast, and landed a ways up the cliff. Espurr didn't stay to see where he had gone. By the time 'Simipour' crawled back down to the base of the mountain, there was no sign of her anywhere around.

    ~\({O})/~​

    Espurr didn't even bother following the correct path back; she cut straight through the woods and didn't stop until she'd run back into town. She was in such a frenzy that she didn't realize Audino had been walking towards the front door of the house until she bumped right into her.

    "Espurr!" Audino turned around, looking at Espurr. "What are you doing?"

    "I…" Espurr panted. "I… I need to go…"

    "No, you don't!" Audino grabbed Espurr's bag just as she was about to run off, tugging Espurr back at the last minute. "What you need to do is sit down and tell me what's going on."

    Despite everything in her brain telling her that nothing was okay now, that she needed to get somewhere safe before Simipour or something else came after her, the clear authority of Audino's voice penetrated Espurr's panic for a minute. Just enough to make her see reason. She stopped struggling against Audino, letting the straps of the bag relax. Audino was right. If there was anything she needed right now, it was help.

    "…Alright." Espurr walked back towards Audino, finally regaining some of her earlier composure. "I want to do it inside." She cast a suspicious glance around at all the other pokemon in the square, who were giving them a wide berth by now.

    ~\({O})/~​

    The door closed behind them, and Audino directed Espurr towards one of the stools at the table before sitting down at the other end. Neither of them removed their bags.

    "Now tell me what's going on."

    It was a moment before Espurr had gathered the nerve to say anything, but eventually she took a deep breath, and then spoke in as plain a voice as possible: "I think something's trying to kill me."

    Espurr told Audino everything. From waking up in the woods all alone, to the strange dreams, to Ampharos, to Tricky and the beheeyem and what had happened in the Ancient Barrow. By the time she was done, a good portion of the day was already gone.

    Audino sat at the table, looking skeptical. It was so fantastical. Monsters from another dimension? Strange dreams? The Expedition Society? Humans? And yet… it all explained so much. Audino's memory flashed back to the Open Pass – why else would those beheeyem have been so fixated on Espurr?

    "…Alright. I believe you."

    Espurr's eyes lightened up, as if a large burden had been removed from here.

    "You do?"

    Audino nodded. For a moment, Espurr felt a sense of elation – finally, somemon understood! She was going to get help and answers—

    "I'm not allowing you to leave the house anymore."

    Espurr's hopes crumbled before her eyes in an instant. A shocked "…What?" was all she could produce.

    "All of this-" Audino continued. "Taking things from strangers, going into mystery dungeons, and even disturbing ancient monuments? Of course things are after you! This isn't sensible behavior!"

    Espurr blinked. Had nothing she said rubbed off?

    "But—" she began, flabberghasted.

    "No buts. You're in danger, and you'll be safe in the house. We're going to have a talk later about how you and all the other kids have been behaving."

    And with that, Audino got up from her stool, and set her bag on the floor. Espurr sullenly hopped off from her stool, trudging away with her exploration bag on her shoulder—

    "I'll be taking that bag too, thank you."

    Espurr stopped in her tracks. Audino walked over, and scooped the bag up off Espurr's shoulder. Espurr let her. She looked over her shoulder to see where Audino had stashed it – right next to her own bag – and then trudged off to her room.

    ~\({O})/~

    Expedition Society Headquarters ~ Lively Town

    ~Ampharos~

    Clack.

    It was nighttime, but the shutters were rolled over the windows of the second-floor chamber of the Expedition Society's headquarters anyway. Ampharos placed a connection orb in the indent at the center of the room, and stood back as the Pokemon Nexus rose up out of the floor. Ampharos approached the hexagonal console, and tapped a few buttons into it. A display of a large map shot out of the connection orb and illuminated the wall: this was the Pokemon Nexus' true purpose. Ampharos leaned over the console, and pressed a few more buttons. A red dot appeared upon the map. He made sure to check every night, once he was sure everymon else was asleep.

    But something was different tonight. The dot – which had been situated directly in Serenity Vilalge every time Ampharos had checked on it – was now someplace in the Lively Mountain Range. Ampharos tilted his head at it in confusion. Surely that didn't mean what he thought it did.

    A door opened to his side, startling Ampharos out of his thoughts. He looked to his left, seeing Mawile swiftly close the door to her office behind her. She looked sleep-worn.

    "You didn't sleep."

    "I had more pressing matters to take care of."

    Mawile joined Ampharos at the Pokemon Nexus.

    "Another night mission?" she asked after a minute. Ampharos seemed lost in thought, yet she knew him well enough to tell what he was thinking just from his face.

    "A very important one, yes." Ampharos' answer was short and to the point. "I'll have to leave before the break of dawn; I trust you to hold things down until I return?"

    Mawile had been hoping to discuss an important matter with him. She prepared to broach the subject, but another glance at Ampharos' face told her that he wasn't open to discussion.

    "…I have an important affair I hope to discuss with you when you return," she said instead. "It's concerning recent events."

    Ampharos nodded silently, too deep in thought for a proper response. He pressed a final button on the console, and the Pokemon Nexus lowered into slumber once more.

    Ampharos dawned his cloak, his bag, and his walking stick, striding out the large doors of the Expedition Society and into the night. His destination: The Lively Mountain Range.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village ~ Nighttime

    ~Espurr~

    Kill.

    That night, the large welcome archway that lay above the eastward entrance to Serenity Village went up in flames. It attracted the attention of many of a pokemon, who then went to call for Carracosta (the most formidable water-type in the village).

    No-mon noticed the trio of beheeyem that entered from the south. They continued through the houses, looking for the one that lay to the west of the town square.

    Slowly coming to. Espurr blinked herself awake, smelling smoke. She sat up in confusion. Riolu was still sleeping, like he had been all day, but even he smelled it. Espurr watched him wrinkle his nose up in disgust.

    Only then did she notice that there was light in the room, and it was a flickering, soft orange. One that was coming from the window. Espurr quickly scurried to the window to see what was happening. Approaching the window, she saw the fire, and the large amount of pokemon grouping around it from outside. And from the south side of town, she saw… flickering lights. Red, green, and yellow.

    Espurr quickly dashed back from the window. No. This wasn't happening. This was a dream. It had to be. It had to be—

    She quickly pressed herself up against the wall next to the window as flickering lights illuminated the room. For a moment, there was silence. Espurr held her breath.

    The wooden bars of the window were suddenly blasted off by a psychic force, and Espurr barely resisted the urge to scream. Wood chips landed all over Riolu (though none hurt him). Trying to breath as quietly as possible, Espurr edged over to the end of the room, eyeing the entrance to the hallway. Could she reach it without revealing herself?

    A ghostly wind made the already-ripped curtains flutter in the air. A cone-like head emerged through the window, and began to look around. Espurr was caught like a sitting ducklet. There was no escape. It was going to see her, and…

    …Why did she care if it saw her? The exit was right there. And just like that, a plan began to form in Espurr's head.

    Abandoning stealth, Espurr dashed for the entrance, running into the hallway before the beheeyem could even react. Her bag was at the other end! If she could just—

    Something heavy collided with the wall, making a sizeable dent with cracks in it. They were trying to break in! Espurr ran down the hall as fast as she could. The wall couldn't take another hit – it burst into pieces, and the second of the three beheeyem floated into the house.

    Espurr finally reached her bag, and picked it up. But the door was suddenly blasted off its hinges, and it caught Espurr on its trip towards the wall.

    The door slammed into the table, which slammed into the cupboards with enough force to leave a large dent in all three objects. Espurr was small enough to fit under the table and only got a small dent from the cupboard's handle. And before she knew it, the third beheeyem entered the house.

    Espurr frantically searched for any way out. The door? Too risky. Back through the bedroom? Definitely not. Make a hole? Where?

    Then she saw the window above the kitchen stove. She was small enough to slink out through the window if she wanted. And those bars looked like they would give really easily. That was her escape route. Now if only she could create enough confusion to make her escape…

    The table was suddenly thrown off of her by a beheeyem. Espurr whacked it in the face with her bag. Hard. The beheeyem was sent stumbling back.

    She didn't waste time. She crawled up to the window, trying to fit herself through. She fit through, but the bag didn't. She just needed to pull hard enough…

    The window-bars finally broke, sending both Espurr and the bag tumbling to the ground. Espurr wasted no time picking herself up and dashing behind a nearby house to catch her breath in peace. She slowly peeked out from behind the wall, looking at the fire in the distance that was being doused. She could see the Beheeyems' flickering lights illuminating the house from the inside. Espurr shouldered her bag, and finally came to a decision:

    "Sorry, Riolu."

    She ran away through the alley as fast as her legs would take her.

    ~\({O})/~

    Carracosta's House

    ~Tricky~

    Knock~Knock~Knock

    There was a rapping upon the wall of Tricky's bedroom. Tricky stirred in her bed, groaning. She had cleaned the entire house from top to bottom as punishment for sneaking out after dark, and she was exhausted.

    Knock~Knock~Knock

    The rapping came again, and this time Tricky woke up.

    "Huh?" she murmured sleepily, then shook herself awake. She smelled the scent of smoke on the air. What was happening?

    The knocking on the wall turned out to be Espurr. Tricky looked one way, then the other, then slipped out the window to join Espurr.

    "What are you doing here?" she hissed, suddenly wrinkling her nose. "And what's that smell?"

    "Fire," Espurr answered hurriedly. "Those beheeyem set something on fire."

    "What?" It took Tricky a moment to take that all in.

    "The ones from that night at the treehouse," Espurr continued. "They were on those missing posters. Remember? The ones Principal Simipour was keeping?"

    Tricky still wasn't fully awake. She nodded the best she could, yawning. "Yeah, I remember."

    "He's responsible," Espurr said. Tricky's eyes widened, and Espurr heard her mutter something to the extent of 'holy mystery dungeon' under her breath.

    The beheeyem came after me tonight," Espurr continued, in a hurry to say everything. "The house I'm staying in is in shambles. This place isn't safe anymore."

    "…Wanna stay at my place?" Tricky offered. "I'm sure Pops will understand—"

    "Your place isn't safe," Espurr stressed. "Nowhere is. This entire village… none of it is safe anymore. Not if I'm here." She took a deep breath before saying the rest of what she had to say.

    "If I'm here, everymon in this village is in danger. So…" another deep breath. "…I'm leaving. I've still got that map in my bag; I'm heading to Lively Town. Maybe somemon there can help."

    That woke Tricky up completely.

    "Lively Town…" she muttered, then gasped. "That's where the Expedition Society is! We can get help from them! Just wait-"

    Tricky suddenly hopped back into the window of her house before Espurr could say anything to stop her. A moment later, she hopped back out. Espurr quickly checked to make sure that the beheeyem hadn't caught up yet.

    "I'm coming too," Tricky stated firmly. "You don't get to be the first one to go the Expedition Society, no-siree!"

    Espurr opened her mouth to object, but then thought about it for a minute. If the beheeyem went after her, who else would they go after? And if there was any company she wanted along the way… Tricky was her first pick.

    "When do we leave?" Tricky asked, beginning to bounce in excitement.

    "As soon as possible," Espurr said.

    ~\({O})/~

    Serenity Village Outskirts

    They looped around the south side of the village, until the sign of the now-doused sign was only a small figure in the distance. Espurr checked behind them at every corner, in case the beheeyem had caught on again. But never once did she see the flickering of lights, or hear the faint beeping that suggested they were near.

    Soon, they reached the eastward trail into the mountains, shrouded by mist. Espurr took one last look at Serenity Village, which had been her home and her sanctuary for the last three weeks. It had felt like three months. And it had felt like home. For a moment, all Espurr wanted to do was go back to her house and lay in her bed, and talk to all her friends the next day.

    But her bed was destroyed, and her house lay in shambles. And all her friends were in danger the longer she stayed. The only thing to do was press forward.

    Espurr shouldered her bag, feeling the familiar weight on her shoulders. And then, she turned her gaze away from the village behind them, and continued along with Tricky into the misty mountains ahead.

    It was a good night for exploring, anyway.

    ~\({O})/~

    Music of the week!

    Obliviate - Alexandre Desplat
     
    Last edited:
    Chapter 24 - Interlude the Second: Rejected New
  • SparklingEspeon

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

    24.

    Interlude the Second

    Rejected

    ~\({O})/~

    Cloud Nine

    ~Espeon and Umbreon~

    "…And it is my belief – our belief - that not once has magnagate technology been used for malicious purposes," Umbreon said, sitting next to Espeon on the visitor's side of a wooden desk. The office around them was fancy and decked out in several shades of rich pink. "That's why we think-"

    "But what if it was?" On the other side of the desk, Sparkleglimmer straightened the teal cloak she was wearing with her bottom ribbons. Her tone remained amiable despite the stone-cold look the false smile on her face gave. "What if magnagate technology were to fall into the wrong paws? I understand your concerns as inventors, but we are talking about the power to spontaneously create and collapse mystery dungeons wherever one chooses. What if one were to form over, say, Pokemon Paradise due to this technology? How many lives would be lost? How many pokemon would die that day? And… it would all be your fault! For allowing this technology to be released into the public."

    "Is that a threat?" Espeon hissed, but Umbreon quickly stepped between the two before she could get any further.

    "We're asking for a lift on the ban. Not for entercards to be sold in every Kecleon Mart on the continent," he said.

    "As long as the technology exists, pokemon are going to use it for bad things," Sparkleglimmer said. "It's better not to have it than to create something that could cause mass chaos."

    "Look at what we're standing on!" Umbreon pointed out. "This is a pretty big piece of technology, don't you think? What would happen if somemon tried to crash this into Pokemon Paradise?"

    "Irrelevant."

    "Don't you think it's relevant?"

    Sparkleglimmer tilted her head, staring at Umbreon owlishly.

    "Is that a threat?"

    "What?"

    "Simple question. Is that a threat?"

    Both Espeon and Umbreon stared at Sparkleglimmer; dumbfounded.

    "I could press charges if I could prove you implicated that you had harmful intentions toward myself or anymon on this ship," she continued, keeping that same wide-eyed stare trained directly on Umbreon.

    "What are you trying to prove?" Umbreon asked.

    "Let me ask you something." Sparkleglimmer suddenly lost all signs of amity. "How do you know there aren't 'mon listening in on this session right now?"

    Umbreon looked like he was considering that for a second.

    "…Let's say there aren't," he finally said.

    Sparkleglimmer smirked and somehow made it look like a scowl.

    "Well, then. I suppose I wouldn't have proof. You could say anything you wanted in this room and I wouldn't be able to prove it. But…" And then she methodically placed her bottom ribbons on the table, and leaned in close. "Just for fun, let's say there are. What if I told you that from the moment you entered this room, there has been a gengar hiding in your shadows and keeping a perfect record of this conversation?"

    Silence pervaded the room for a minute. Espeon and Umbreon both looked uneasily at their shadows, studying them for any signs of movement. Seeing that she now had complete control over the situation, Sparkleglimmer straightened up.

    "I'll cut you a deal," she said, that tone of cheer slowly seeping back into her voice. "Drop it. Drop it, and I'll drop it. We both walk away. I'll even pay your flygon fare back to Pokemon Paradise for you. Otherwise… I can make your credibility as respectable researchers drop. Very, very fast."

    ~\({O})/~​

    "Do we know?" Espeon marched down towards the gardens angrily; Umbreon following in her wake.

    "I don-"

    "Do we know? Do we know she had a gengar in there? Because I couldn't sense it! She tricked us! That nasty little- Uurrgh!"

    "Calm down," Umbreon breathed. They both stopped next to the gate to the gardens, under the shade of a large hedge. Umbreon put his front paws on her shoulders. "Breathe. It's no use getting angry right now."

    Espeon closed her eyes and breathed. Slowly, her ears that had been flattened against her head in anger went back up.

    "…You're right," she finally said. "I… I don't know why I acted that way."

    "We'll try again," Umbreon reassured her. "That was a one-time trick. We'll make appointments. Every month. We'll send letters. Sooner or later she'll get tired of it. And that's when we strike."

    "She'll never let us have it," Espeon muttered. "Getting rid of us is like swatting a fly to her. We need something more. Something better."

    "Like what?" Umbreon asked.

    "What if we went to the council members?" Espeon asked. "turned them against her?"

    "We couldn't get appointments with them," Umbreon reminded her.

    "We'll get appointments," Espeon scoffed. "We're the most famous researchers on the entire Mist Continent; there must be something we can use to get there."

    The gardens weren't empty. Every so often, a pokemon pushed by them into the garden, and there were several more loitering about or going on their way in every which direction. Not a single one of them even spared a glance at Espeon or Umbreon. Umbreon sighed. It was too peaceful a sunset to waste worrying about things that were said and done for already.

    "Let's worry about this tomorrow," he said. "We're on Cloud Nine- there must be something open."

    "I think I saw a fish parlor just below-deck on our way up," Espeon said. "Smelled good."

    "let's go there, then." Umbreon began to walk off towards the entrance to below-deck, and after he looked back to make sure she was keeping up, Espeon followed.

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

    The end of Part II.

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

    Music of the week!

    A Gift For the Princess - Sonya Belousova, Giona Ostinelli
     
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