Chapter 61b: Tooth and Claw, Part 2
"There!" Crom panted. "I can finally see it!"
The docks in the visitor's district resounded with the patter of feet against wood as Team Traveller bounded along, forcing their way past sailors along the way with yelps and irritated shouts. The group carried on until they caught the sight of a schooner sporting white sails with waterspout patterns, scrambling up a lowered gangplank as all eyes on the deck turned stunned to the newfound arrivals.
"Travellers above, they actually did it!" a Raichu exclaimed, a nearby Servine similarly staring dumbfounded.
"How on earth did you manage to get him here?"
"There they are, stop them!"
Before the pair's questions could be answered, the quiet was broken by a multicolored beam of light zipping overhead and sailing along into the wood of the Siglo Swellow's deck. Elty turned back, where the sight of an approaching mob of Pokémon in indigo scarves could be seen storming up the docks, lobbing an increasingly thick volley of attacks that pockmarked the merchant ship's hull and deck.
"Worry about that later!" the Growlithe shouted. "Let's just get moving already!"
After weaving out of the way of a flying rock, Beatrix buzzed loudly, and flitted onto the ship's rigging, looking down to bark out orders to her subordinates.
"Cut the moorings and get some cover up!" the Illumise cried. "We're getting out of here!"
With no time to spare, the moorings along the dock were summarily sliced by a Bayleef flicking razor-like leaves from the railing, prompting the ship's escorts to begin their work of whipping up currents in the water and air. The ship lurched ahead as Pokémon ran up to the railings, hastily following the lead of a Hitmontop in spreading barriers of light between their paws to deflect the hail of attacks coming from land.
"Return fire!" Vicente cried. "If we can't keep them off our tails here, we're as good as sunk!"
Team Traveller joined in as another wave of deckhands came up behind the barrier holders, spitting up and hurling attacks back at the docks as the ship plowed along. The sound of yelps evidenced that some of the attacks found their mark on some of the guards, while others sailed off into nearby ships and sailors on the docks. From his place aboard the deck, Pleo watched as a few of the ships began to list and smolder, only for a loud blast and shrieks to ring out nearby, his sight catching a Trumbeak keeling over and slumping to the deck from the aftereffects of a crackling thunderbolt. The young Lugia blanched and looked over at the felled Trumbeak, prompting Crom and Elty to try and snap him back to attention.
"Mewa, get it together!" the Growlithe snapped.
"Yeah!" Crom cried. "If we can't get out of the harbor, nothing we've done will have mattered-"
The three's ears perked up at the sound of an Unfezant's startled shout, prompting them to turn and see a large wave coming towards them from the middle of the harbor with swimming Pokémon in indigo scarves riding its crest. From her place at the tiller, Beatrix stared blankly a moment, before leaning hard on the tiller and steering the Siglo Swellow's bow square into the wave.
The water lifted the hull up, pitching the ship back wildly as the sound of crashing wood and screams rang out. Team Traveller's members dug their paws around the railing and rigging, holding on for dear life as the ship pitched further and further up, only for it to splash back down. Nida felt her head strike the deck as water cascaded over her, the rabbit getting up dazedly as the ship lurch underfoot after a crunch rang out by her ears. The Nidoran peered back and saw that the Siglo Swellow had grazed a pier, with the docks further behind now a mess of tangled and half-sunken ships, with the water between them and the harbor's entrance clear and open.
"Take us dead ahead!" Beatrix barked. "We've got a clear shot to the open sea!"
The escorts still able focused the water and wind into a strong current, powering them and the schooner along as the injured among them were dragged from the water groaning onto the deck. The crew braced themselves as Pokémon in indigo scarves began to mass on the wall hemming the harbor in from the sea, the sailors readying their Protects for another volley of incoming attacks. Unfortunately for the crew, their numbers had thinned, while the guards' had only increased, prompting more and more attacks to begin to slip through as the ship began to move between the harbor's walls at the entrance. The white, blinding light of a Hyper Beam came through, slamming into a Bayleef and a Nosepass and sending them slumping to the deck as a spray of bullet-like seeds sailed by and caught Nida with a yelp, knocking her to the ground with a daze and making Pleo squawk and dart back in fright.
"Hang in there, Pleo!" Kiran cried. "We're almost free here-!"
"Ready the seafire and don't let that schooner get away!"
Pleo watched as the eyes of the nearby sailors shrunk to pins at the mention of seafire and looked up as a Magmar on an overlooking wall from above pushed over a large stone cauldron and breathed fire on it. Pleo saw embers drip down from the lid of the cauldron, the seabird watching as Crom and Elty's faces contorted into horrified grimaces. The Lugia looked up unervedly, and watched as a mass of burning fluid dumped out of the cauldron and fell for the deck before reflexively batting his wings out.
"L-Leave us alone!"
The young guardian desperately brought his wings together and flung forth a churning wind, only to notice that his feathers hadn't lit up in the process. Pleo squawked in horror and curled his head under his wings, screwing his eyes shut in fright. He heard a splash, along with frightened shouts and the sound of crackling flames...
"Agh!" a Seaking yelped. "Watch where you dump that stuff!"
"I can't get past it!" an Eelektrik cried. "There's too much seafire blocking the harbor entrance!"
The Lugia paused, realizing slowly that the shouts were coming from behind him and fading away. Pleo cracked his eyes open and looked back to see the walls of the harbor behind the Siglo Swellow, fire dancing on the sea's surface just behind them… along with the deckhands all around him staring at him with slack-jawed silence.
"You- You did it!" Vicente cried. "Your quick thinking saved this ship from becoming ash!"
"He really is our Protector!" a Golduck chimed in.
Pleo hopped back with a start, his words coming out with a flustered stammer. He hadn't done anything out of the ordinary at all there! Why was everyone making such a big deal out of it?
"H-Huh?!" Pleo exclaimed. "But my powers didn't come right there-!"
"It doesn't matter!" Crom cheered. "We were in trouble and you still came to our rescue!"
"Yeah!" Nida piped up. "You protected us, just like you were meant to!"
Pleo quieted a moment as a thought came to mind… could it be that a Protector didn't need its powers all the time to defend the Pokémon they cared for? The thought was interrupted by a stream of fire soaring overhead, prompting Beatrix to whirl back to her crewmates.
"There will be time to celebrate later!" she snapped. "Come on, while those guards are still busy bottled up in the harbor!"
The Siglo Swellow powered on against the waves, the attacks from behind coming less frequently and further and further off their mark as the ship sailed on for the horizon, the Pokémon settling down to tend to their wounded and the vessel's damage. Amidst it all, a strange joy filled the crew: as far as they were from home and the safety of its harbor, it somehow felt as if a part of it had come to them with the presence of their long-sought Protector.
Back deeper within Tidemill, dust continued to swirl around a stone building that had its roof freshly shorn off, which now lay dashed in pieces in the water of the canal. A few shattered timbers floated along with a few stray tiles as the canal water bubbled and the form of a Samurott staggered and pulled himself onto the street panting, flecked with fresh lacerations and bruises from his fall into the water with the building's rooftop.
Lyn heard an irritated hiss from behind, tensing his paws over the hilts of his blades as he looked back to see Nagant clambering out of the water beside him, with murderous hate burning in her beady eyes.
"Grr… you!" the Clawitzer seethed. "I don't know what you did back there, but you had something to do with it!"
"Yes, of course, because falling from a rooftop is just what I needed to help recover the Protector," Lyn spat back. "Did you hit your head on the way down?"
"No, but let me help you out with that!"
Nagant and Lyn lunged for each other, the Samurott dealing a swift slash at the shrimp's shelled body as she shot back with a spray of black orbs that burst against his chest. The pair tumbled back, seething as they righted themselves and prepared to tear into each other once again when the sound of bricks falling drew their attention to a nearby alleyway where a group of white-scarved Pokémon led by a aggravated Ledian came into view with a dazed Aggron caked in rubble and dust in its midst.
"Ugh, of course you would fall for a ruse like that," Kichiro grumbled.
"I don't want to hear it!" Hess snapped. "Let's get out of here before-!"
"Oh no you don't!" Nagant screeched. "You're not just getting away like that!"
The Clawitzer leveled her claw and summarily disgorged a watery pulse that launched Hess into a wall with a yelp, sending the white-scarved Pokémon around him scattering in a panic. She hopped over as Lyn frowned unimpressedly at the Aggron's ordeal, shaking his head while a Huntail swam up in the water from a Crobat being slung onto the back of a Wailmer.
"We need to get going," the Samurott murmured.
"Excuse me, Captain?" the Huntail asked.
Lyn motioned further down the street where a body of Pokémon in indigo were massing. From a distance, the lot could be seen beginning to make their way down the street canvassing the buildings for intruders.
"There's nothing to be gained from staying here while the Protector's gone, and we've got downed deckhands," the Commissioner barked. "We're better off taking this moment to retreat and try to pin down the Protector's trail before we start having to leave behind deckhands."
The Huntail hesitated a moment, wondering if the Protector was truly as gone as his superior presumed. A yelp caught the fish's attention, prompting him to cast a glance at Nagant fighting a visibly wide-eyed Aggron and then back at the approaching guards. They were in enemy territory, and it appeared the Imps wouldn't shy away from force to try and extract information… for the sake of the mission, it really was best to just cut and run while they could.
Lyn motioned to his nearby underlings to move out and slipped into the water as a loud thud rang out. There, back in the alleyway, Hess fell from a fresh indentation in the alley wall panting and dripping water, trying to scrabble away for dear life only to feel his neck get gripped by a forceful claw and be drug to face the business end of Nagant's large claw.
"You should have stayed on your island cesspool while you had the chance, Aggron!" the Clawitzer seethed. "You're under arrest, and you're gonna tell me everything about what you kno-"
"Everyone!" a Samurott's voice bellowed. "We're moving out!"
Nagant slackened her grip, allowing Hess to fall to the ground and hide his head under his claws as she turned back. Much to her aggravation, she noticed her Samurott foe slinking off at the rear of a large group of Pokémon in blue sun scarves, prompting her to hiss in rage and jet off after him.
The Clawitzer hopped up onto a nearby crate and vaulted up into the air, training her large claw on Lyn as an orb of blue light began to form between its tips. Before the Aura Sphere could form, the Samurott abruptly dove, before lunging up with a seamitar drawn, uppercutting the shrimp and sending her flying back with a loud cry.
Nagant felt her head hit the stony cobbles of the street, tumbling back as she got up in a wheezing daze, noticing blue fluid dribble out onto the stones from a cracked segment of her armor. She wobbled on her tail briefly, chittering as she shakily leveled her claw off at Lyn's form in the distance...
"I- I don't know anything!" a rumbling voice yelped.
Nagant turned, only to feel a sudden blow on the side of her head from a rigid, steely tail and get launched face-first into the wall of a nearby shop. The Clawitzer went limp and flopped backwards into the street, her attacker standing a good distance away shivering with his eyes screwed shut and his tail curled in timidly against his body.
"That stupid bird and his friends ran off already!" Hess squealed. "I don't know anything, so don't-!"
"Captain, she's fainted!" Kichiro shouted. "Hurry up and run!"
Hess cracked his eyes open warily, seeing the prone form of the old shrimp laying groaning in the street ahead… along with the slack-jawed faces of a few of his lackeys poking out from various nooks and crannies of the alley he was in. The Aggron quickly forced a grin, and shifted his body into a noticeably over-triumphant pose.
"Er… all in my plan, of course!" the Steel-Type overhastily piped. "Time for a strategic retreat!"
The Aggron and his underlings quickly slipped off into the darkness of the alley as the indigo-scarved Pokémon neared Nagant's fainted body. From further down the canal, Lyn peered back over his shoulder at the scene, slowing a moment as he wondered whether the steely oaf might know something useful...
"… Nah," he harrumphed, before turning back and shaking his head. "It wouldn't be worth the trouble."
The Samurott hurried along, diving under the surface of the water. His lackeys who were able formed bubbles for their passengers and followed suit, while the filers dispersed into small groups and fanned out, their presence in the great city dissipating much like a dying wind at sea.
As quiet began to return to the canals of Tidemill Central, the interior of the courtroom in Tidemill West began to come alive with activity as it filled with Pokémon. There, in front of the doorway, a Fletchinder, Misdreavus, and Pikachu traded uneasy looks with one another, eyeing hallways expectantly only to time and time again find them empty of faces they'd expected to come in at any moment.
"Cardino? When are your assistants supposed to get back?" Rita pressed.
"They said they'd be right after me, pal," the Pikachu murmured. "But I haven't seen hide or hair of them or their friends."
Nico shook his head as the sound of footsteps prompted him to look up towards the podium. There, the Slowking judge presiding over the case had slowly begun to settle into his seat, playing with his gavel a moment before giving it a firm bat against the wood of his podium.
"… I'm afraid we can't wait for them any longer," the Fletchinder muttered. "We've got the evidence we need here, so we'll just have to interpret it ourselves."
"All rise, court is now in session."
Nico and his assistant hastily made their way over to their table, settling as Akin perused some documents spread out in front of him. At the end of the courtroom, the doors creaked open, revealing the form of Admiral Coil, bobbing along followed by guards, carrying an aloof and puzzled demeanor about him.
"If I may, but why exactly am I here, your Honor?" the Magnezone pressed. "I was just in the middle of spectating her highness' tournament."
"You know exactly why you're here!" a livid Cofagrigus seethed from the defendant's box. "You rusty piece of sh-!"
"Aherm! In the last session, we heard some… troubling allegations regarding you, Admiral," the Slowking answered. "That's why I've brought you here, so that you could help clear the air regarding them."
Coil's eyes quickly hardened into a scowl as the floating saucer crackled in indignation. The Magnezone cast a stern glance over at Nico's table, lingering for an unimpressed moment before turning back to the Slowking judge.
"Hrmph. Well I suppose it would only be natural that my rivals would be coming out of the woodwork as Her Majesty mulls a new Prime Minister for the realm," the Electric-Type scoffed. "Surely you're not wasting this court's time with unsubstantiated slander…?"
"That will be for the courts to decide!" Nico squawked, pulling his wings back from a forceful pound on his desk. "From evidence that we recovered in our case, we have a letter clearly tying you to active collusion with pirates!"
A spark crackled a moment over Coil's surface, as he shot a fierce glare across the room at the Fletchinder. Taken aback, Nico flinched a moment, prompting Coil to harrumph and let a spark of electricity crackle up the side of his body.
"… I don't have time for this farce," the Magnezone hissed. "If you value your practice, I would suggest you not try and drag me into whatever featherbrained scheme you have."
"Well, surely answering a few questions wouldn't be too much before sending you on your way, Admiral?" the judge insisted. Coil paused a moment, before giving a dismissive spin of his magnets.
"… Hrmph, let's just make this quick," the Magnezone harrumphed. "I'm missing my matches at the stadium."
"Witness, please tell this court about your relation to the letter the Defense presented before us seeking a partnership with the Strongjaw Gang."
Admiral Coil let out a buzzing sigh, before floating behind the witness' stand. The Electric-Type settled himself as Nico braced himself at his desk, the Magnezone witness giving a crackle to clear his voice.
"There's really not a whole lot to say about this matter. Any position with a political undercurrent has always had characters trying to get ahead by shifty means," the Admiral offered. "As such, it's hardly a surprise that a suspiciously-timed letter would be trotted out just days before Queen Aleria was due to decide on her next Prime Minister."
All eyes in the courtroom turned towards the Defense's corner of the courtroom. There, Nico stretched a wing out at the witness stand, giving its tips a forceful, accusing waggle.
"This letter has your signature on it!" the Fletchinder exclaimed, moving his wing down on the singed letter. "How do you expect the court to believe that another culprit could have made this?"
"I sign numerous documents on a daily basis as the head of the City Guard," Coil glowered. "Do you mean to tell me that it would be impossible for someone to trace it based off of that?"
"Objection! The rest of the writing on there wouldn't have had a source material to copy from!" Nico cried, "How do you explain that?"
"That's simple," Akin interjected. "I didn't notice it at first because of the signature, but the letter isn't written in his writing."
Gasps went about the room at the Serperior's revelation, while Nico began to flush pale under his feathers, his beak hanging agape.
"… It's… It's... not?"
"I believe the Prosecutor here would be a bit more likely to receive correspondence from me than the likes of a lowly hack attorney," Coil hissed. "Tell me, Serperior. Do you happen to have a sample handy?"
"Of course, Admiral," the serpent answered. "I was asking Admiral Coil for witness statements in the prior case, which I didn't include since I didn't feel it had decisive evidence. In the process he gave me a report of the raid's aftermath and signed off on it which I have right here…"
Akin craned his head down to an embroidered bag set on his table, nosing in to pull out a folded-up sheet of paper. The Serperior unfurled it, revealing it to be a paper lined with rows of messy runes…which much to the judge's astonishment was written in runes that looked completely different from the ones on Nico's letter with the exception of a signature at the bottom.
"Ah! It really is different!" the Slowking exclaimed.
"Some degree of variance in handwriting between samples is to be expected, but this much? That's surely a stretch to believe," Akin scoffed. "And hardly any basis for a case against Admiral Coil!"
Nico stiffened and went wide-eyed at the Serperior's argument. The Fletchinder tried to think of one rebuttal after another, only to come up with nothing but a blank, sinking feeling.
The audience at once broke out into boos and jeers, prompting Nico and Rita to shrink back and hide behind their desk. From the witness stand, the Magnezone gave an angry harrumph, sparks dancing on his body.
"I hope you've learned a lesson from this, Fletchinder. If you're going around wildly accusing others of wrongdoing, you'd best have proof to back it up!" Coil snarled. "Perhaps a stint being disbarred from the court will set you straight! I'm sure you can use your bluffing for a more appropriate line of work like hustling cards in a tavern!"
"But all of the evidence was-!" Rita began, only to be cut off by a sharp hiss from the Magnezone on the stand.
"A waste of everyone's time! All you've done is string this court along and stall the real culprits from getting justice!"
Visible arcs of electricity crackled on Coil's magnets, before he slammed them down into the wood. A deafening crack rang out and the sizzle of charred wood filled the air, making the Defense and Prosecution alike jump back with a start. Even the Slowking judge from his podium went wide-eyed with alarm, timidly motioning for calm with his paws towards the irate Magnezone.
"E-Easy there, Admiral!" the judge stammered. "I think that we've heard everything that we need to here to conclude this trial..."
Nico looked around frantically for something, anything that he could use to keep the trial going until he could catch his slippery nemesis in a contradiction… only to notice smoke still curling up from the witness stand, and Coil's magnets still glowing with radiant heat.
The courtroom's attention quickly settled on the Fletchinder, who found himself filled with newfound vigor at a sudden realization… Admiral Coil touched things with those magnets! Then if that was the case, if he'd sent a letter, he'd have to have sealed it...
"Prosecutor Akin, do you still have that report from earlier?" Nico said. The Serperior flicked his tongue out puzzledly for a second, before raising a brow back skeptically.
"… Yes? Where are you going with this?"
"I'd just like to run a simple comparison…" the Fletchinder murmured.
The Prosecutor slithered over and deposited his letter on the desk where Nico compared it with the letter Cardino's assistants recovered. Although the writing seemed to be different, both of them had a curious pair of square-shaped impressions on them… along with the distinctive form of a small burn left on their envelopes where a spark had touched them.
"These two letters were handled in exactly the same way as each other!" he cried. "Meaning that it couldn't have been handled by anyone other than Admiral Coil!"
Nico's exclamation was at once met by the sounds of crackling electricity, as Coil sparked in a rage behind the witness' stand. The Magnezone pointed a magnet back accusingly, his voice coming out as a livid screech.
"Are you seriously trying to play this game again?! There's more than one Magnezone in this entire city!" Coil snapped. "We all seal our letters in roughly the same fashion since we don't have digits!"
"Hey wait a minute, Nico!" Rita exclaimed. "There's a mark on this decoder envelope as well!"
Nico peered back at the envelope that Cardino's assistants had found the decoder in and noticed that while faded, the seal of the envelope really had been singed much like the other two. The Fletchinder's eyes lit up as a realization dawned on him... this envelope that the decoder was kept in had to have been handled by Coil in the past!
"Admiral, would this look familiar by any chance?"
Nico held up and unfurled the colored grid of the decoder, prompting Coil to jolt up with a surprised buzz. The Magnezone bobbed disorientedly a moment, before giving back a seething, crackling hiss.
"All I see is an unmarked envelope with a paper full of gobbeldygook," he harrumphed. "I fail to see the point here."
Nico's beak flopped open at the Magnezone's bald-faced lie of a retort. Even so, he couldn't think of a way to prove that Coil used it at all…
"Erk… that's not enough for me to rest my case on," the Fire-Type mumbled to himself. "But it's related to Sibich, and from that reaction, to Coil as well…"
The Fletchinder looked down, when his eyes noticed that the envelope had something further wedged inside. Hadn't the Nidoran and her friends merely said they'd found the decoder in there?
"Huh? There's something else in here."
The attorney poked his beak in and rooted around, closing it around a thin, light object that he pulled out. It was a silvery-white plume, the mere sight of which made Coil and Sibich mutually gasp out of surprise.
"Hey wait a minute, that's one of Lugia's feathers!" Sibich exclaimed. The Magnezone behind the witness stand went wide-eyed, dissolving into a babbling stammer at the sight of the feather.
"I… I… don't see how this is relevant at all-" he began, only for a thump and a loud shout from the Defense's corner to cut him off.
"Objection! Your Honor, this is decisive evidence of Admiral Coil's involvement!"
"I don't follow, Defense," the judge murmured. "Please show this court some evidence as to how this ties the Admiral to your client."
Nico scrounged around his bag, pulling out a rolled up piece of paper and unfurling it to reveal a notice bearing a silhouette of a white bird with a long neck and blue plates plastered with runes.
"A… poster?" the Slowking asked.
"For the Silver Wing Cup: a tournament for the chance to have a private audience with the new Protector of Anyilla," the Fletchinder explained. "And the only Pokémon who had access to the Protector and could have sealed this envelope in such a fashion is none other than Admiral Coil!"
Coil jolted upright in the air at Nico's exclamation, prompting the bird to continue on, sensing that at long last, he'd put his foe behind the witness stand on the ropes.
"That's decisive proof that you've been in league with the Shadow Brigade all along, and directly coordinating activities with Sibich for your own mutual benefit!" the Fire-Type exclaimed. "And you were seeking to continue your scheme with other pirates and other criminals here in Tidemill City after you couldn't continue using Sibich and his lackies as pawns anymore!"
"Lies and slander!" Coil insisted. "If I were really to stoop to such a business-"
"You'd discard us when it was convenient, and use us as tools to advance yourself higher into your queen's good graces," Sibich added. "Fine 'partnership' you had there."
"Nrghh…" the Magnezone groaned. "You can't be seriously suggesting-"
"You're this 'Coordinator' that has been the talk of the underworld!" Nico squawked. "And from the sound of it, you've been manipulating the wrong side of the law for your benefit for years!"
Sparks began to dance on the Electric-Type's body, the Admiral jerking his body erratically as his eyes darted back and forth and his breaths came out in harsh, seething hisses.
"That's- Nrgh… Graaaah!"
Coil lobbed a thick bolt of lightning at the Defense's table, dashing it to splinters. Nico and Rita leapt back with a startled cry, looking up as the Magnezone threw himself at the pair in a rage. A Persian and a Glalie hastily moved in to intercept, only for the steely Pokémon to summarily fell them with a pair of deafening thunderclaps. A wide-eyed Bastiodon lobbed a Stun Seed ahead, cracking with a loud bang against Coil's body, which made him list and drop limply to the ground, still sparking and glaring defiantly.
"Grr… that decoder is mine, and you have no idea what you're doing," the Magnezone hissed. "What I've done to help protect this Empire!"
"Working with pirates and criminals isn't protecting it at all!" Rita cried. "You were even willing to let them get away with egg theft if it meant keeping your scheme going!"
"Fool! As long as I was there, my connections to one pirate could keep the three others from ever wreaking havoc in the first place!" Coil shouted. "When those agents overstepped their bounds-"
"Spare us the lecture," Sibich spat. "I'll be looking forward to finding out what your so-called allies do to traitors in their midst."
"You have no right to protest, you miserable lump of sea bilge!" the Electric-Type roared. "You knew exactly what you were getting into-!"
"I've heard enough!" the Slowking snapped. "Bailiff! Please extract Admiral Coil from the premises!"
"You idiots! Who do you think has been keeping this Empire together?!" the Magnezone screeched. "Who do you think has allowed the Empire to keep up with those square-necks?! That airhead currently sitting on the throne?!"
WHAP! WHAP! WHAP!
A Jumpluff and Simipour falteringly came forward, dragging the saucer-like Pokémon out of the room with his metallic body creaking against the ground. The lot made it to the doorway as the wounded guards were spirited off by their fellows, leaving a dead, stunned silence to linger among the audience as Coil shouted from the doorway, training a piercing glare at Nico and Rita.
"Everything that happens to the Empire from here on is your fault! Everything!" he seethed.
The bailiffs slammed the door shut, leaving behind a silence thick enough to cut with a knife. The judge stammered, reaching for his gavel with a trembling paw as he tried to restore some sense of normalcy.
"Y-Your Honor," Akin muttered. "Can we just get this over with now? I could use a moment to reassess my strategies as a Prosecutor… and get a stiff drink."
"I… I think that it's time that we got to the sentencing-" the Slowking began, only to be interrupted by the shout of a Bellossom from the audience.
"For what?! To cover up some other crime?!"
"Yeah, what else are you hiding here?!" a Glaceon shouted.
One after the other, the Pokémon in the audience got up and stormed down into the center of the courtroom, mobbing the front of the judge's podium with angry shouts over the trial's revelations. The Slowking judge went wide-eyed, looking around at the sea of glowering faces before his eyes fell on an unobstructed door to the rear.
"C-Court is dismissed!" the judge yelped. "We'll reconvene sometime later! Much later!"
The Slowking turned and bolted, slamming the door behind him. Eager to similarly duck out of the way of the angry crowd, Akin slipped out of the front entrance as the remaining guards drug Sibich from the room, leaving Nico and his companions to watch blankly as the mob poured out of the courthouse bringing their vitriol out of an increasingly empty courtroom as a Manectric paced up with a satisfied trot.
"Nice work there, oseo," Luca said. "Our organization's been looking for years to get that Coordinator off our back, and here you managed to pull it off with a little sharp thinking!"
The Manectric's praise drew dubious stares between the Fletchinder and the Misdreavus, as Cardino paced up, raising a paw inquisitively to the black-scarved Manectric.
"I take it the kids are with you, then?" the Pikachu asked. "Their buddies were hanging out in the audience earlier and I haven't been able to find any of them since we left the stadium."
"Tch, beats me. I haven't seen either of them since you went out to fetch Coil," Luca retorted. "As far as I and the rest of my associates are concerned, our involvement ended as soon as he was exposed."
Luca turned, beginning to make his way for the door before pausing and turning back, his face having taken on a serious expression.
"By the way, you all might want to stay clear of the streets for awhile," he admonished. "Mob mentality's a fickle beast and it might take awhile for this thing to simmer down again."
The wolf slunk off, leaving the door to swing shut with a faint thud. The three Pokémon stood at the desk in the emptied courtroom, trading uneasy looks with one another.
"… Did we handle things the right way here…?" Rita murmured.
"… It's the truth," Nico answered. "It had to come out at some point."
"I dunno, pal," Cardino sighed. "I just hope things don't get to be too much of a mess from this…"
As the city's courthouse teemed with unrest, the harbor at the Visitor's District still smoldered with lingering seafire that continued to burn at the mouth of the harbor entrance. The docks were a mess with ships thrown haphazardly against each other, wounded Pokémon lying on the wharves being tended to by medics as other sailors set about cantankerously separating their crafts from each other.
Amidst all the chaos and destruction in the harbor, a large party of white-scarved Pokémon ran along the docks for a caravel with suspiciously ill-fitting white sails on it, running a hapless Nincada off into the water as they charged down the pier. The group was a sorry-looking bunch: frazzled, caked with dust, and dragging along fainted counterparts. The lot charged up the waiting caravel's gangplank, headed by an Aggron who appeared much as if he'd seen death himself.
The Pokémon fanned out, Hess beelining for the tiller before looking up at his crew, stomping his foot against the deck with panicked haste.
"Go, go, go!" the Steel-Type yelped. "We need to get out of this harbor and back out onto the sea!"
The ship rocked slightly under the Aggron's stomps, but failed to accomplish anything among his crew other than a collection of blank stares back. His Floatzel first mate grimaced, before raising a paw to point out to the water...
The Aggron captain followed Rodion's paw with his gaze, where he at once noticed the sight of a still smoldering slick of seafire blocking the harbor's mouth. All around it, the water had been clogged with torn-up piers and half-sunk ships strewn wildly about, prompting Rodion to carry on uneasily.
"How exactly do you propose we do that?" the Floatzel asked.
Hess' jaw fell open at the sight of the trashed harbor. With all that junk floating in the water, his crew would be lucky to swim out of the harbor with their hides on their backs! This was nothing like the orderly harbor that they'd planned on sailing out of!
"Wh-What?!" he cried. "When did this happen?!"
"Those Tromban dweebs from earlier got chased out by the guards and tore up the harbor in the process," a Litten gulped.
A pall came over Hess and his raiding party as they realized that if the Siglo Swellow had already left, they'd surely managed to grab the Protector ahead of them… and leave them stranded in the one place where all the guards were sure to start looking for anyone who'd made a grab for the blasted bird!
"Wh-What do we do now?" Wilhelm stammered.
Hess looked around wildly, before noticing that the Litten from earlier was still wearing his normal golden scarf. By reflex, the Aggron raised his voice, blurting out the results of a desperate, flailing epiphany.
"We fly our original colors!" the Steel-Type ordered. "Quick, take those sails down!"
At once, the crew flew into a frenzy as the white sails pilfered from the Siglo Swellow were stripped down and thrown onto the deck as their golden sails were hastily hoisted up. As the old sails went back up, the deckhands hastily rifled through bags and chests for their original scarves, throwing them over their now-compromised disguises in a slapdash hurry. From beside the rear mast, Kichiro looked around with his mouth slackened, before turning to his captain with a glare.
"Is this really the best you could think of?!" the Ledian spat. "Just how dense do you think the guards will be?!"
"You there!" a hissing voice shouted.
Hess peered down uneasily from the bridge of his ship, looking over to see a battered and scowling Decidueye along with a similarly roughed-up Herdier and Araquanid. The Grass-Type flitted up, settling on the railing and training a harsh glare at the Aggron captain.
"Have you seen any Pokémon from a ship with white sails and a waterspout pattern on it?" the owl demanded.
Hess stammered and fumbled with his words, watching out of the corner of his eyes as his underlings hastily crowded around the white sails they'd pulled down from the masts. The Steel-Type gulped, hoping to the Travellers above that the Imp wouldn't look too deeply before those sails could be dealt with.
"Uh… no? I mean, it's just us in our gold and silvers here," the Aggron insisted. "Those 'mons already took off ages ago."
"Blast!" Alba hissed. "You heard the 'mon, fan out and try to find stragglers to interrogate!"
The Decidueye growled and hopped off, the guard and his teammates charging off into the battered harbor. From the deck as the owl slipped off, the crew let out a collective sigh of relief, as Kichiro continued staring with his mouth wide open.
"Words… fail me," the Ledian uttered.
"… Wait, I just realized…" a Sealeo murmured. "If that guard didn't recognize our scarves, does that mean we're nobodies here?"
The Sealeo's question was answered by a loud groan from a Yanmega, followed by eye rolls from his Marowak and Manectric teammates. The dragonfly gave an annoyed beat of his wings and flitted up as his voice came out in an aggravated chitter.
"Did it really take you three days to figure that out?" Valatos snapped. "We put it together as soon as we were kicked off this boat!"
The crew traded looks with one another before turning their attention over to Hess. The Aggron captain grimaced a bit, before burying his face in an opened claw with a groaning sigh.
"Urgh… can we just be happy right now that we didn't get caught?"
As Hess and the Iron Fleet nursed their wounded pride on the Mistral Marauder, what precious little traffic making its way to and from past the harbor's seawall was limited to a few narrow passages under the water where teams of aquatic guards kept watch. Among their number were a Cloyster and Quagsire pair at one of the entrances, lazily bobbing with the current as they occasionally checked and let Pokémon through if they had indigo scarves on and turned all others away.
"A real fine mess those surface 'mons made of things," a Cloyster grunted. "Last I checked, even when I was drunk on duty, I didn't manage to make the water catch on fire!"
"You're preaching to the choir here," a Quagsire grumbled. "If it wasn't for 'mons like us, who knows how those lunkheads on the docks would manage- Huh?"
The Quagsire trailed off at the sight of approaching dark shapes in the water. At the front, the form of a Samurott came into view, tearing along straight for their position with a fierce scowl and showing no signs of stopping.
"Hey!" the Cloyster exclaimed. "You can't just go through here without-!"
Before the Cloyster could protest, he was cut off by a sharp slash, sending him slamming into the wall and tipped over with a groan. The Quagsire went wide-eyed and spat up a glob of mud back, only to be struck by an icy beam that froze him to the side of the wall. The Samurott swam past, followed by a small train of Pokémon swimming with white scarves and blue sun pattern, some carrying passengers who clung tight to them in bubbles of air, others slumped over limply on their carriers.
Lyn carried on a ways as the seafloor dropped away into the depths and faded from view, motioning with his paw to the surface where he saw the forms of fliers in the air making their way towards a waiting brigantine ahead. The Samurott sighed, before swimming up, digging his paws into a rope ladder slung over the side and making his way up just in time to overhear Ellsberg and Ketu's voices arguing over some matter he neither could make out nor cared to know about. Lyn reached the deck and shook himself dry, catching sight of the two trading glares as he made his way over and stomped the deck's timbers to announce his presence.
"So, did you get the bird?" Ketu asked.
The Samurott snorted and shook his head, shooting a disgusted look back in the direction of the harbor where black smoke curled over the skies above it.
"The Protector slipped away thanks to the interference of that shrimp and some pirate clod," Lyn harrumphed. "Have you noticed any ships passing by lately?"
Ellsberg and Ketu stared back incredulously at the Samurott. He'd lost the Protector again, and his main concern was if whether or not they'd been watching passing ships?
"… We're near a harbor," Ellsberg buzzed. "So wouldn't that be expected-?"
"Ships passing by lately, Ellsberg!" Lyn snapped. "As in within the last fifteen minutes!"
"Er… there was a schooner in the distance with white sails just a few minutes ago that was heading south around the time smoke started coming from the harbor," the moth offered. "I think that's it there, just over the horizon?"
Ellsberg raised a tarsal and pointed off southwards at a speck on the horizon. Reflexively, Lyn fished out his scope and focused it on the white object. There through the scope, he saw the battered form of a schooner with sails with a waterspout pattern, the deck filled with Pokémon being laid out for treatment, with the form of a white bird looking on uneasily… the same distinct, long-necked form of Tromba's Protector.
"Grr! It's that one!" the Samurott growled. "Lower the sails and give chase!"
At once the crew flew into a hurry, pulling up the anchor and letting the sails down and unfurl in the wind. As the deck hummed with activity, Ellsberg paused to take out his own scope and look out at the ship in the distance. He noticed that it seemed to be very much an unremarkable schooner… twin masts, a raised bridge, and a bow that seemed to have a rounded knob fitted over it… Wait a minute, a knob fitted over the bow? That could only mean...
"Lyn, that ship's got a bulbous bow!" Ellsberg cried. "That's the sort of hull pursuit boats have! There's no way that my Nektar Weide would be able to keep pace with it!"
"So we damage it and slow them down!" the Samurott retorted. "Is it really that difficult to think one step ahead, Ellsberg?"
"Sounds to me like you're skipping the 'risk analysis' step, Captain." Ketu chided, much to Lyn's spluttering irritation.
"At this range, any attacks we make will be a crapshoot," the Weavile explained. "If our salvo doesn't cripple that schooner, we'll have done nothing but squander our element of surprise. Wouldn't it make more sense to attack after we a clear opportunity presents itself?"
The Nektar Weide lurched forward as the sails took on wind, leaving Lyn to blink uneasily a moment. The Samurott glanced off in the distance, lowering his head pensively before shaking his head.
"Hrmph, I'll admit I hadn't considered that angle, but fair enough," he sighed. "Even if that schooner can outrun us, we should still be able to remain close enough to keep an eye on them. They will have stop eventually."
The otter grumbled and hurried off for the tiller at the stern, leaving Ketu and Ellsberg behind on the deck. The Weavile and Mothim traded looks with one another, the moth shooting his teammate a skeptical glance as he rested on a nearby length of rigging.
"Trying hard to get back into Lyn's good graces, huh?" Ellsberg asked.
"Hrmph, I was more worried about ensuring that we'd have better odds of getting that Lugia first," Ketu harrumphed.
"And whatever happened to letting Lyn do your dirty work for you?" the Mothim demanded.
"A little shrimp came along and stole the Protector out from under him last time," the Weavile retorted. "So I've decided to cut the middleman out."
Ellsberg flitted in place and mulled Ketu's words for a second. Although their original plan was to have Lyn kidnap that Lugia first, he had to admit it went less than ideal the last time… as had the two times before that. Not to mention Lyn did just return empty-pawed once again. As loath as he was to admit it, perhaps Ketu really did have a point about taking matters into their own hands...
"… I'm not fully sold on this," the Bug-Type hesitantly said. "But I'll have to admit that's a compelling argument."
"Just follow my lead and don't get in my way, Elmer," Ketu ordered. Ellsberg let out an annoyed buzz over his misnaming, prompting the Weavile to cross his arms and brush the matter away with an explanation.
"Besides, if we're lucky we might just have some help with our mission at our next port."
"… Come again?" the moth demanded. "Just how are we supposed to have help even deeper in Imperial territory?"
A sly, cat-like grin came over Ketu's face at Ellsberg's retort, prompting the Mothim to flit his wings impatiently. The Weavile fanned a set of claws out, picking disinterestedly at them as he began to speak back to his Bug-Type questioner.
"Judging from the direction they're going and the fact that they left in a hurry, there's a good chance they'll stop on Buyeom Island for reprovisioning," he explained. "Administrator Elilan has some hidden assets stationed there that I go back with a long way."
"… I'll wait and see what you have there," Ellsberg sighed. "But don't get cocky about this again."
"Hrmph. Just worry about keeping your glorified raft in one piece for now," Ketu retorted. "There'll be plenty of time to bring you up to speed."
The Mothim frowned a moment before flitting off with a harrumph, leaving Ketu to sidle up and rest against the railing. The Dark-Type looked ahead at the shrinking form of the Siglo Swellow in the distance, watching it intently as he tapped his claws against the wood of the railing. All this time, he'd been hanging back under the assumption that letting Lyn go through the trouble of grabbing that bird was the best way to completing his mission for Administrator Elilan… but after this whole episode, it was clear to him that if he wanted to get anything done he'd have to do it himself.
It was time to get into action and snatch up that Lugia on his own.
About twenty minutes later, the sight of Giotto Island had just started slipping over the horizon, leaving the battered hull of the Siglo Swellow to bob along in the water. The crew's ranks had thinned, as deckhands continued resting off wounds below deck as the remainder attempted to tend to the stricken vessel.
A few more intrepid souls had come back onto the deck in spite of their wounds, including Ander, who wobbled up from below deck with his blotched head sporting a fresh set of yellowed bandages. He made his way to the railing and leaned against it tiredly, before a chirp caught his ears and made him notice Pleo further down the deck. The Scyther froze, before hastily shifting away and hanging his head over the railing.
"Oh, you're back up already?" Dimitri asked. "I'd have thought that between the head wound and what happened yesterday in the arena that you'd be resting right now."
Ander looked down, watching the form of a battered and scuffed Kabutops scrabbling up along the hull onto the deck. Dimitri hoisted himself over the railing, finding his footing on the deck as he shook a few droplets of seawater off of his blades.
"Though then again, I suppose it wouldn’t be the first time I’ve underestimated a 'mon," he murmured. "Why, for a while back there, I didn't think we were even going to make it back to the ship!"
Dimitri waited expectantly for an answer, only to notice Ander's gaze fail to meet his. The Kabutops followed the Bug-Type's line of sight over to the form of a young Lugia pecking pensively at a gouge torn into the center mast as Nida and Crom waited alongside him.
"… Don't celebrate just yet, Dimitri. Now that we have that bird, both the Company and the Empire will be looking for us," Ander sighed. "To say nothing of what disaster may come upon us in the interim given the sort of creature he is…"
"Hey! Sorry to keep you waiting, Pleo!" a yipping voice cried, before being joined by a raspier counterpart.
"Yeah, it takes more than a blow like that to keep me down!"
The pair's glances shifted over to the forms of a young Growlithe and Cubone running up to the Lugia and his teammates followed by a Swellow, the white bird pulling the three and his fellow teammates into a tight embrace with his wings. The six pulled themselves apart, and Kiran and Crom began to trade tales with their freshly-reunited teammate about their journeys, with the mix of wistfulness and cheer that only friends long separated could muster as a smile crept up on Dimitri's face.
"We'll make it work out somehow," the Kabutops insisted. "I'm sure of it."
Ander stared wordlessly at the scene for a long moment. Every plume, every quill of the so-called Protector gave off an aura of imminent danger… and yet in spite of it, the bird seemed to be so wrapped up with an innocent, childish longing for companionship. The Scyther shook his head, wondering just how much the ancients had failed to document about the demons they warred with, before turning back warily to his Kabutops counterpart.
"What do we do now then?" Ander asked.
"Well, I know the kids were looking to head out to Pioppo Island in search of something that would help ensure your Protector's safe passage... " Dimitri answered. "But we can worry about that later. Let's worry about things like patching up the crew and ship for now and take our time thinking through how to get Pleo back to where he needs to be."
Ander grimaced at the idea of returning Pleo to Tromba, before casting a glance back at the bird. His powers were certainly not growing any weaker with age, and from what Scout had said about his escape from Rosequartz Town, it sounded as if he was already ready to wreak disaster upon the world...
So then why did he not wreak havoc while he could? Why would he let himself get attached to the Pokémon about him who would be the first to suffer from his terrible power? Could it be that his destructive desires were being held back somehow?
If so, then for the sake of what remained of the world… it was for the best to return him to where he felt comfortable. Even if it meant bringing that risk down upon their homes.
"… Right," Ander murmured. "Let's just get the rest that we can for now."
The two Pokémon slid off the railing and made their way towards the young Protector and his companions. There, as the Siglo Swellow sailed on under the midday sun, the crew and their new passengers let their worries slip by a moment to make the Guardian of the Seas feel at home in that little schooner on the sea.
- oseo - Venetian: "bird"