The first thing that came back to Pleo was the pain: a dull, throbbing ache all over his body, that flared whenever he bumped or brushed up against something too hard. The next thing that came to him was that he was in some sort of tight, confined space that was round and soft like Nida's bedding… wait a minute, it smelled like Nida's bedding too! So this was… straw? But then why did the things he brush up against feel like his scarf?
"Ow," Pleo groaned, as his eyes wearily opened. Little by little, the sights and sounds around him became less of an amorphous blur. He began to make out partitions, the cloth-covered straw nest his body was resting in, and a ceiling made of canvas around him, illuminated by bioluminescent algae in jars, and soon heard voices coming from behind.
"He's waking up!" a young, but deep and rough voice cried out.
"Pleo, are you okay?" a smaller and softer voice asked.
The Lugia uneasily shifted in this strange nest. He could make out the forms of a Swellow and young Druddigon in the periphery of his vision, but by and large, it was dominated by the face of a little blue spike-lump.
"Nida!" Pleo cried, as the young Protector all but pounced on the Nidoran to wrap his wings around her.
"Ow! Hey! I'm still sore from getting floored earlier!" the Nidoran protested, which made Pleo recoil from the noise. When he drew his wings back from his partner, he noticed that his teammates seemed to be sporting white bands over parts of their bodies.
Nida had some on her flank, where the Growlithe had burned her, and on a few of her legs... Crom had some around his belly and his arm, where the pirates they had fought had bit and clawed him... Kiran had some over a wing that must have been the one he shoved Pleo out of the way of those rocks with earlier…
Why, as Pleo inspected himself, he discovered that he too had some of the white bands, primarily over his tail and along some places on his side where he had been glanced by the rocks that knocked Kiran out.
"Oh, they're just bandages, Protector," a passing Chimecho explained. "Why you'll probably be able to get rid of them after a few days, an Oran Berry or two, and a lot of rest."
Pleo looked about his surroundings, and realized that the canvas roof went on for quite a ways, terminating at walls fashioned from wooden panels in the four directions around him. Everywhere he looked, there were other Pokémon running to and fro tending to other Pokémon that had white bands over parts of their body on similar straw beds. Pleo noticed that, like the Chimecho, the attending Pokémon wore white scarves bearing the outline of a red circle divided in two with a smaller circle overlying the center.
"Where are we? And why are all these other Pokémon here?"
"We're in the medics' tent," Nida said. "Mami brought us here after we got knocked out. We... weren't the only Pokémon to get thrown around a bit earlier."
As Pleo paid closer attention to the other Pokémon in the room, he noticed that with the exception of the Pokémon in white scarves, they all seemed to be aching, much like his teammates were. Some of the Pokémon seemed to be well enough to talk with these 'medics', others were groaning from their aches and lingering wounds, and a few truly pitiful-sounding voices could be heard whimpering.
All of these Pokémon had gotten hurt by the pirates? After Pleo's thoughts shifted to the golden scarved Pokémon, he was then hit by a nagging, dreadful realization that the ne'er-do-wells might still be in the town hurting others.
"But the pirates!" Pleo cried out of alarm, "They're-!"
"Gone, thanks to you!" Crom cheered.
Why, they still needed to be-! Wait, did… Did Crom just say they were gone? But how?
"Thanks to… Me?" Pleo asked, giving an incredulous chirp.
"Yeah, after you blew their captain into their ship, the rest of them high-tailed it off the island!" Nida exclaimed.
"Well… It was a shock when we heard about it after waking up, but everything really is safe now," Kiran said, as he gave a reassuring pat to the Lugia. It was a moment that would have ended with a content if weary night resting… Were it not for the fact that at that very moment, a Mawile, Pinsir, and a Girafarig wearing the town guards' lavender headbands marched past Pleo's bedding, and dragged a bandaged and hogtied Trapinch up from another cloth-covered straw mat.
"Alright, you!" the Mawile snarled. "You've got a sentencing at the main square to attend!"
The Pinsir grabbed the antlion by his bindings and unceremoniously dragged the poor creature along, the Girafarig shoving the pirate from behind every now and then.
"H-Hey! Ow! E-Ei niin kovaa! These ropes chafe and the ground's rough!" the Trapinch protested, kicking futilely against his bonds all the while as the guards drug the Pokémon out of the tent.
"E-Eh?! I thought you just said all the pirates were gone!" Pleo squawked, hopping up from his bed and retreating back towards a corner at the sight of the Trapinch. Why, that was even one of the same pirates the group had fought earlier!
"Uh… Well, some of them weren't able to get away with their ship," Kiran ruffled his feathers in discomfort as he began to explain, "So they wound up getting captured."
"And it's not like they could go anywhere fast," Nida added, "They're being guarded closely, why Mami and Papi even took some time off to-"
"They're still here?!" the Lugia exclaimed, growing wide-eyed at the thought that the pirates were still in Bluewhorl Town menacing its residents. The rest of Team Traveler couldn't help but groan and trade some looks with each other as Kiran attempted to explain just what 'captured' meant.
"Er. Pleo, that's not what-"
"We have to stop them!" Pleo cried out, as he darted off past the group for one of the tent's exits, tripping up a passing Meditite carrying a small bundle of berries on his way out.
"Kiran! He's not supposed to leave observation this soon!" the Chimecho exclaimed, before she floated briskly off to help the Meditite pick up the scattered berries.
"Pleo? Pleo! Wait!" Kiran called after the little Guardian as he and his teammates attempted to keep pace as much as their wounds would let them.
__________________________________________________Moving around Bluewhorl Town at night was so much more confusing than it was during the day, even before taking the damage to the local landmarks into account. Pleo still had an idea of where the pirates would be, and after a few wrong turns and dead ends, the little Lugia found himself nearing Bluewhorl's main square by the sea...
Or as Pleo made out from fires burning in the centers of hastily-cleared and lined pits, he had more accurately arrived where the square was earlier in the day. Whatever damage the square sustained was from last week's storm rendered irrelevant by its present state as a mass of rubble and trashed structures. A crowd of Pokémon from around town, including numerous glowering guards, were forming a cordon.
Aha, so that's where those pirates would be, Pleo thought to himself as he worked his way through the mass of bodies.
"I'm here! I'm here! Where's the pirates to stop-?" he panted, fatigued from his journey from the medics' tent in his present state. After he popped out at the front of the crowd, he saw that the pirates were indeed there, if not the way he expected them to be. Much to Pleo's surprise, the pirates of the Iron Fleet had all been bound and dumped around a long wooden post with cross-beams and tattered, sopping ropes and canvas attached to it that had splintered towards its base end.
Perhaps it was because they were bandaged much like the Pokémon in the medic's tent, perhaps it was the fact they were ringed by a much larger hostile group, but the creatures seemed to have their aggression largely drained from them… Well, sort of, judging by some familiar faces that Pleo quickly picked out from the sorry assembly.
"Some 'path back to the sea' you chose, Eltenios!" a Trapinch tipped onto his back with bound feet pointing in the air and a bandaged jaw grumbled.
"Grr… And to top it off, you called me fat when you're the one that pigs out every meal!" a Gabite with a bruised nose and bandages around his belly tied to a cross beam growled.
"It's fur, not fat!" a hogtied Growlithe with bandaged flank, evidently 'Eltenios,' huffed back at his companions. The three continued bickering with each other as Pleo continued to stare puzzled at the ineffectual pirates, when he heard Kiran's voice calling out from behind him.
Pleo turned around, and saw that his teammates had also made their way through the crowd, trading relieved, if exasperated, looks as they caught their breath.
"Don't run off like that!" Kiran admonished.
"Erinomaista... just when life couldn't get any worse," the Gabite moaned, as he and his companions finally noticed some most unwelcome foes from earlier.
"Why are they all tied up?" Pleo asked.
"That's because they were captured," Nida sighed. "The ropes are to keep them from getting away and hurting anyone else."
"Must say that when I heard that the pirates lost a mast off their ship, I didn't expect it to come in handy like this," Crom mulled, as some uneasy murmurs came from the captured gold scarved Pokémon bound to and around the broken ship mast.
"Aw man… This is totally not gonna end well, is it?" a defeated and battered-looking Quilava groaned.
"I thought that lucky charm Hess wore under his scarf was supposed to deliver Pokémon safely back home!" a Sableye bound with some loose mast rigging grumbled.
"Well, it did… for him," a Jigglypuff that had been bound and gagged (lest any song from her be too audible) with strips cut from the mast's sails replied, screwing her eyes shut in frustration.
"Th-This wasn't supposed to happen! It w-was supposed to be a simple hit-and-run!" a trembling Zebstrika whined.
"Well now it's a simple one-way ticket for you patéticos parásitos out into the Wastes!" a Granbull with a lavender headband growled back.
"Yeah! See how you like having your day ruined!" a Wingull jeered from the sidelines.
After the commanding voice cried out, the crowd grew silent. Some Pokémon near where one of the juice bars used to be cleared the way for an Ampharos with a red scarf with white dots holding a square scarf that was diagonally divided into a black and a white portion with one of his hands to come through to the front.
"Silence in the court! I, er-"
The Ampharos nipped the scarf he was holding, undid and tossed his Guildmaster's Scarf into the air, letting it fall and drape over his tail as he took his new scarf and draped it over his head much like a wig.
"Aha, now I'm ready! I, Judge Hatteras now call this court into session!"
"Psst! How many of those scarf changes does he do anyways?" Pleo quietly asked Kiran as Hatteras finished tightening up his judge's attire. The Ampharos then turned to a waiting Sceptile with a guard's headband and questioned the arboreal reptile.
"Osmund, you're the Captain of the Guard are you not? What are the charges against this lot?"
"Um… Guildmaster Hattera-?" the Sceptile asked incredulously as he stood blinking, before the Ampharos quickly interrupted.
"Judge Hatteras, Osmund."
"Right… anyhow, just take a look around for yourself!" Osmund exclaimed, making a slow, sweeping arc with the blade on his right arm. Hatteras took a moment to survey the swath of destruction all around the gathered crowd. The docks were missing chunks of the piers and other parts had collapsed into the water. The boats moored at them were similarly filled with holes, some half-sunken and resting on the harbor's floor. Not a single shop along the docks or around the square was undamaged- many of them utterly erased from existence by the events of the raid.
"Aha… so Destruction of Property and Public Disorder..." Hatteras mused.
"One of them knocked me out for being in the way!" a Skrelp with a bandaged snout huffed from the harbor's water.
"One of them set my shop on fire! I was going to upgrade it!" Calino shouted, hopping up and down, his scales flushing a most irate-looking shade of red.
"They stole from my bakery like a bunch of ill-mannered ferals!" Gwenith's voice roared from the crowd, the Druddigon shaking a fist in the air.
"And Grand Theft Pastry…"
"They murdered my bubble!" an upset Wooper from the end opposite Pleo cried out. "It was my best friend!"
"And Bubblecide..." Hatteras concluded before he turned to the bound Pokémon in the center of the gathering. "How do the accused respond?"
"I-It's not like we stole eggs or anything like that!" an Ekans that had been bound into a hoop nervously stammered.
"And... Uh… We didn't kill anyone? I think?" a Carvahna weighed down by a rock tied to her tail offered.
"My bubble was someone!" the Wooper angrily retorted.
"Grr… The bubble aside, this sorry lot did at least manage those two things, even if a number of us are presently sleeping off some wounds tonight," Osmund growled as he cast a glare at the captured pirates. "Though given their shameful display, I suspect it was because of our luck and their incompetence rather than any goodness from their hearts."
"Duly noted," Hatteras replied, before he raised his voice to ask the assembled Pokémon, "Now then, I ask the humble jury, just what should be the sentence for these ruffians?"
"The Wastes!" a Kingler shouted.
"Yeah, let's see them try to rob their way out of that!" a Pinsir from the town's guard hissed.
"Our world doesn't need Pokémon like them around!" a glaring Mightyena added.
The suggestions were joined by others of their kind, which caused the brigands to begin to pale and quake out of fear after the crowd pronounced its verdict. Exile. To the uninhabitable grave that ringed the Cradle and filled the rest of the world. To an unknown future where the few that managed to return spoke of it offering nothing but desperation and a slow demise to those who couldn't escape.
Hatteras took a moment to pause with a paw to his chin, and then turned to question the captured Pokémon.
"Do the defendants have any commentary about the suggested sentence?"
"W-Wait! D-Don't do that! Pl-Please!" the Zebstrika begged.
"There's nothing out there but distortions and ash!" the Carvahna whimpered, trembling after finding her attempts to flop away frustrated by the rock tied to her tail.
"We'll starve!" the Quilava whined, flattening out his ears.
"J-Just let us go! We won't come back to this island again! E-Ever!" the Ekans cried out as the serpent curled tighter against his bindings into a rough ball.
The desperate pleading went on for a little before Hatteras cleared his throat, and barring some sniffling from one of the unfortunates who had begun to cry out of fright, he managed to secure the silence of the crowd.
"Now I ask the jury… Is this really what we want as a town?"
Some quiet murmurs went around the gathering. Some were dismissive of the Ampharos' words, others wondered aloud why Hatteras didn't just zap the creatures to shut them up. It was then that the mumbling was broken by the sound of a familiar Nidorina's voice.
"Well what are we supposed to do, Hatteras?" Marley asked as she came along with her mate to the forefront of the mass of Pokémon. "They come into our town and leave a gaping scar on it… They try and steal the things we store away for our young, for the next year, and for making peace with the Company… And their leader was planning on desecrating the town ánima!"
"And they don't give us a lot of options, either!" Teja grumbled in agreement as he flicked his ears and shot a dirty look at the captured brigands. "We've got their damage to patch up! How's that supposed to get done if we still have to deal with them?"
"With all due respect, Guildmaster-" Bluewhorl's Sceptile captain of the guard interjected.
"Judge Hatteras," Osmund hastily corrected, rolling his eyes. "But we wouldn't have enough cells to hold over a dozen miscreants like these even if we gave them over to the Company later! Those cells are meant for Pokémon that have made fools of themselves at a Juice Bar!"
"And all that pirates know how to do anyways is to steal and to ruin things!" a Hoothoot from the guild shouted from the crowd.
"Then... Perhaps it's time that they learned some different skills," the Ampharos proposed, which drew some curious questions from the gathered residents.
"What's he going on about?"
"As you and I can all agree, this lot has caused more than its fair share of trouble to our town and has a debt to society to repay," Hatteras said, gesturing at the still-shaken looking group of pirates in the center of the gathering.
"So given that the Pokémon that have wronged you are still inexperienced… would it not be a bit more sensible to put them to work healing the scars they've left behind so that they might make something of themselves in the long run beyond being petty thugs and thieves?"
"It sounds good to me!" a voice called out, before all eyes in the gathering turned towards the direction of a certain white and blue Protector, whose teammates were visibly burying appendages into their faces.
"Pleo!" Nida scolded.
"What? It did seem to make sense," Pleo replied. Some more murmurs went about the crowd- after all, if the Protector thought it was an idea worth trying… Maybe this 'making the pirates fix the mess they made' suggestion did have some sense to it…
"As it so happens, we do have a means of exacting justice along those lines. One that this town has used before in the past…" Hatteras trailed off before finishing his thought in a dramatically lower and louder tone, such as one that one might utter a prophecy of doom with: "Community Service."
Some of the younger Pokémon in the audience turned to their parents to ask questions such as "what's a 'Community Service'?" as some of the elder Pokémon murmured among themselves approvingly and hastily explained that they knew that 'Community Service' was sensible all along. The pirates, sensing that there was an alternative for them to look forward to other than the Wastes, began to calm down, but even then, there was still a nagging matter that prevented them from being completely at ease...
"Why did he just suddenly say that in a super-ominous voice?" the Sableye among the pirates asked worriedly.
"Hmm? I don't believe it was ominous, Community Service is just the term," Hatteras replied, once again enunciating the term with particular stress to it. "You will be pacting to a Pokémon that will guide you through life here in Tromba much like we would treat a feral seeking to join our ranks. When you are deemed to have reformed and paid your debt to the island, you will be accorded the rights and privileges of a normal resident."
"Hrmph, cute euphemism you have there for forced labor. Well, what if we don't want this 'Community Ser-'?" the muffled Jigglypuff huffed defiantly, before she noticed a wall of glares coming from the surrounding Pokémon… As well as from her companions.
"Oh... Right," she muttered.
"Whelp, that's my verdict. Those of you who wish to go to the Wastes anyways are more than welcome to ask Osmund here to make arrangements with one of his teleporters if you so insist," Hatteras declared. "Alternatively, for those who would prefer an equivalent sentence closer to town, there are some Apricorn thickets on the far side of the-"
"Okay! Okay! We get it!" the Gabite cried. "Just… What exactly are you gonna make us do?"
"I have a proposal!" a Druddigon's voice called, as a certain 'old maid' stormed out from the crowd, stomping directly towards a Gabite that had helped himself to her bread earlier.
"Erk!" the Gabite gulped, as he frantically tried to break free of his bonds only to feel a coarse-hided claw grab his neck.
"It's called 'You're repaying me for that bread you stole!'" Gwenith snarled at the Gabite, as she tightened her grip on the dragon's neck and dug the points of her claws in between his scales.
"O-Ow! Let go! Your hide's hurting me!" he whined.
"Wait. Mom? If you're putting him to work, does this mean that I can get off a little early from the bakery for a while?" Crom asked from the sidelines.
"Proposal approved," Hatteras proclaimed, and motioned for some guards to undo the Gabite's bindings. As Gwenith dragged her still-flailing new baker back into the crowd, the Ampharos turned back to the assembly.
"Hmm, I mean, it didn't suffer any damage directly… But I could use that Trapinch there to dig a few ditches for my field," Mildrew called out from a few rows behind the front. "I have been meaning to plant a few more apple trees..."
"What?!" the Trapinch chittered in exasperation.
"Approved," Hatteras replied, as the guards came to unbind the newly-minted apprentice horticulturalist for Mildrew to claim. An icy and airy tone then called out from another part of the crowd.
"I'll take the Quilava, I could use him for more… Ahem. Intractable babysitting cases," she said, which caused a few of the parents in the crowd to begin to trade nervous looks with each other.
"Hariti," a Lombre protested, "You can't honestly be suggesting-"
The Quilava was quick to toss in a loud protest of his own at the idea of being stuck with the Day Care worker.
"You beat me unconscious and then froze me over into an ice block! As if I'm doing anything for you!" he spat, which caused Hariti to receive a few incredulous and impressed looks.
"Oh trust me, I'll survive him. I've wrangled my fair share of Fire types before. And I'm sure he'll learn how to find his softer side for younglings… Or else learn to like being a lawn ornament for a few hours at a time," she replied, shooting a frosty glare at the Quilava.
"Approved," Hatteras announced as the Quilava too was untied and reluctantly led off groaning under his breath, taking care to not be heard by the ice sprite.
Pleo, not really picking up the gravity of the situation at hand, couldn't help but find these 'Community Service' sentences to be a little amusing. When an idea struck him… Perhaps he could help out with this sentencing, too...
"Oh! Oh! I want a Community Service! I want a Community Service!" Pleo cried out, waving his wings for attention.
"Pleo!" Nida admonished, flattening out her ears. The Nidoran grumbled a little and wondered why the little Guardian couldn't have a less-outsized mouth to run off.
"With all due respect, Pleo, but I'm not exactly convinced this is a good idea," Kiran sighed, putting a wing over his face. Pleo paused for a moment, taken aback- it was all in good spirits and helping the town, wasn't it? So why were his teammates so reluctant to get into this 'Community Service' thing, too?
After he mulled things over, he thought there might be a way for him to still help out in sentencing after all...
"The Community Service can be helping me train?" he suggested.
"What?! Why should one of these thugs get that honor?!" a bandaged Rhyhorn loudly protested from the the crowd, before being joined by a number of other protesting voices… Until Hatteras cleared his throat to speak.
"Now, now, there is some sense in the Protector's words… Recall how he blew their captain across town earlier?"
"Yeah! It's not easy to spar with this!" Pleo declared, happily playing along as he beat his wings together to try and whirl away some heaps of shop rubble near the sea to show off… Only to find that the winds that came from his wings, barring a few odds and ends, completely failed to dislodge anything from the rubble heaps.
"I dunno, I'm pretty sure I could spar with that," Scout's voice volunteered from the crowd.
Pleo squawked in shock and his beak fell agape. Didn't everyone say that he had blown the mean Aggron across town earlier? But he had just given the toughest beat of his wings he could muster... he could even feel them aching a bit from overexertion! And it didn't look anything out of the ordinary!
"Eh?!" Pleo cried. "That was just like-!"
"That's quite enough, Pleo," Hatteras hastily spoke. "Let me rephrase the question… With the knowledge that the Protector will eventually replicate today's feat sometime down the road, which of you would care to take up the offer for sparring?"
The question elicited some coughing and nervous laughter from the crowd, the Rhyhorn and a few of the more vocal protesters earlier quickly concocting various excuses for why they couldn't volunteer such as 'chronic stomachaches'.
Even Pleo's teammates had to concede, it would be nice if someone else could do the work of sparring with Pleo. He seemed to be back to normal now… But just in case he wound up stumbling into whatever had allowed him to rout Hess earlier once again, it would probably be for the best if they weren't the ones getting blown across Tromba.
"Well, if there are no takers, I think that it's fair to let Pleo make his choice," the Ampharos said, as he motioned for Pleo to step forward.
"Hrm… I pick…"
Who should he pick? The Zebstrika still in the group? No… He looked too big and intimidating. The Jigglypuff? But the pink puffball seemed too hostile and angry earlier. If only he could convince Hatteras to let him borrow the Trapinch or Gabite from earlier… Wait a minute! There was one more Pokémon with them, and no one had given him community service yet!
"The doggy! I already beat him once with Nida and Crom, so if I have to do it a second time, it shouldn't be that hard, right?" Pleo chirped cheerily, proud that he was helping with this 'Community Service'. His teammates on the other hand...
"Uh… Pleo," Crom groaned as he screwed his eyes shut and buried his face in an open claw.
"Can we maybe pick a different-?" Nida suggested, before Hatteras' voice interrupted her.
"Grr," Nida grumbled. Of all of the pirates to get stuck with, it just had to be the lippy fatty who burned her earlier. She watched with a scowl as the guards undid the orange dog's ropes; before any of Nida's teammates could come over, the Growlithe exhaled what seemed to be a sigh of relief and bounded off over their surprised objections… towards her position.
"Well, I suppose that's one way to get a new recruit," Kiran murmured as the little dog approached the team. The Growlithe was quick to pick up on the misgivings of some of his teammates, and huffed back accusingly.
"Hrmph! With the way you're acting, you'd think I was diseased or something! I thought that pacting was supposed to be a fresh break!"
"Unfortunately, he does have a point," Crom sighed.
Nida flattened her ears, not really understanding why Pleo, who was still in his giddy own world about being able to help with 'Community Service', had thought this was a good idea. But since they were going to be stuck with this mutt for a while...
"Fine, tell us a bit about yourself. Do you have a name?" she sighed.
"The name's Eltenios!" the Growlithe barked proudly. "It means I don't ever, ever give up and-"
"Okay, first rule of your community service," the Nidoran interrupted while raising her barbs in frustration. "We're not saying all of that."
"Eh?!" the Growlithe yipped. "But it's my-!"
"Why not 'Elty'?" Pleo cheerily suggested.
"Actually, it does has a ring to it and it is more concise," Kiran mulled. "I'll let Nida's rule stand."
"I like 'Elty' too!" Crom added.
"Daj spokój! I don't even get to be called by my full name?!" the Growlithe exclaimed, folding his ears back in annoyance.
"I thought you said that 'pacting was supposed to be a fresh break' earlier," Nida chided the now grumbling Growlithe that would from now on be 'Elty'. "Who said anything about names being exempt?"
"Grr..." Eltenios- er… Elty fumed, glaring daggers all the while at Nida.
"This is going to be an interesting season for training, isn't it?" Kiran sighed.
- Ei niin kovaa! - Finnish: "Not so hard!"
- Erinomaista - Finnish: "Excellent". Used here as a sarcastic interjection.
- patéticos parásitos - Spanish: "awful parasites"
- Daj spokój! - Polish: "Come on!"