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Pokémon Fledglings

Chapter 36: It's a Trap!

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f


Back in Mengir Island's Mystery Dungeon, Team Traveller continued their mission to search for the murals. Starting from the seventh floor, the team kept their eyes peeled, remembering Salvini's words about how the stable zone that held the paintings was at most two floors from them. Guardia walked slightly ahead of everyone because of her past experience ferreting out such zones on Kenobi, and surprisingly enough, Elty seemed to have a sharp nose for them himself...

Except, the seventh floor only had a small stable zone while the eighth floor had no stable zone at all! They were now on the last floor, with not a hint of fog to be seen.

"I think we've been had," Elty grumbled. "No stable zone is this hard to find!"

"This is the last floor it could be on, Elty," Nida said. "Maybe we just aren't looking hard enough?"

"Then… does that mean that we passed it?" Pleo nervously asked.

Both Nida and Elty blanched for a moment as they realized that the little Protector might be onto something. If the stable zone was this hard to find, then it was entirely possible that they had passed it earlier! Then they'd be forced to choose between finding a way to backtrack, spending the Escape Orb they'd bought from the Kecleon shop, or clearing the whole dungeon and return later...

"Hey! I found something over here!" Guardia's voice suddenly rang out.

Or it could be right in front of them. After poking a bit at a mat of vines, Guardia swatted it down with her club, revealing a thick fog which swirled and ebbed out slightly.

"Bah, knowing our luck, it'll be another dead end," Elty grunted.

"Elty, think positive," Nida snapped. "The third time's the charm, right?"

"Whatever, let's just get this over with," he sighed, rolling his eyes. "Pleo, you stay on my tail while I follow the bonehead."

"But what about Nida-?" Pleo began, only to squawk with a start as he felt a weight land against his back.

"Heh, being on top of you does give a better view, right?" the Nidoran chuckled. "It couldn't hurt once we come out the other end."

"Oh!" Pleo chirped. "I guess that makes sense."

The four Pokémon formed a line and began to make their way into the fog. Guardia was first, followed by Elty, who had latched onto Guardia's club with his mouth (much to her growling displeasure). At the end of the line was Pleo with Nida on his shoulders, his beak gently grabbing Elty's tail for guidance as the team carried on. The group continued trudging along as the fog started to thicken, when Pleo noticed a stone spire in the distance that looked much like the ones back in Fensedge Village. The sight made Pleo's mind turn back to the day they arrived on Mengir Island…

"Nida?" He asked muffledly.

"Hrm?"

"What does it mean to be 'dead'?"

The Nidoran froze and twitched her whiskers uncomfortably. What on earth had lead Pleo to bring up such a morbid topic now of all times?

"Er… why do you ask?" Nida replied.

"Well, Guardia said that Fensedge reminded her of a graveyard. And a graveyard is supposed to have 'dead' Pokémon in it," he mumbled. "But Fensedge had a bunch of Pokémon and the 'graveyard' place didn't."

The Lugia waited expectantly for Nida to give an explanation clearing the mystery up, only to be answered by a long and awkward silence, punctuated by the sounds of the team's footsteps.

"Nida…? How come you aren't saying anything?"

"It means that you aren't here anymore, but your body stays and won't move or breathe or talk again," Elty suddenly answered. Nida shook her head and shot a glare at the obscured Growlithe.

"Elty!"

"What, he was going to have to find out eventually anyways!"

"Maybe that's how your dead work, Gardie," Guardia chimed in. "But for Karakara and Garagara like me, their spirits guide us, much like the Travellers-"

The fog grew thick enough to muddle the sounds of their voices from that point, which caused Guardia's lecture to come in erratic snatches before fading entirely. As Pleo continued on, he thought and realized that being 'dead' sounded an awful lot like being a Substitute…

It couldn't move… It couldn't breathe... It couldn't talk…

And it couldn't keep itself from being broken apart…

The sound of a flowing stream pricked Pleo's ears, followed by the sight of desiccated leaves and flowers on the ground. They must have gotten through the worst of the fog already, which brought another question to his mind…

"How does a Pokémon become 'dead' then?" he asked.

There was a deathly silence, and had it not been for the thinning fog, Pleo would have thought that Guardia had led them back deeper into the fog. Finally, her voice answered from the front.

"It can happen in many ways," the Cubone explained. "Sometimes it happens when a Pokémon lives long enough… Other times, it happens when a Pokémon gets really sick or hurt."

Pleo trembled. He remembered the team's escape from Lyn's ship and the harrowing crawl through the Mystery Dungeon afterwards, and how everyone had gotten hurt. Could they have stopped moving... forever? And Nida had said the Crom was badly hurt... what if he-

"Hey, I think I see it!" Elty barked.

The Growlithe nosed off ahead, where there was a mural of a blackened, dead forest ringing a white, stone-like tree in the center. The four carried on a little, where there was another painting of a blue deerlike creature springing from the tree with a flash of light, followed by one where the stony tree in the center was absent and the deer roamed freely about a now lush and verdant forest.

"What's this island's Protector supposed to be?" Guardia scoffed. "Aside from the color and the bigger horns, it looks just like that cart-pulling yajū we saw back in the village!"

"Protectors are supposed to come in all sorts of shapes and sizes," Nida replied. "Maybe this one is just a little different."

"L-Look!" Pleo exclaimed. "There's more!"

The team stopped to take rubbings of the murals and labeling the different sectors for colors before carrying along. Nida, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia passed a few more murals with the blue Protector and repeated the process of taking rubbings as the fog started to thin. Eventually, the team came to a painting of a waterfall set against a burning sky. In it, there was a depiction of the deer being pierced with a pillar of burning light coming from a blood-red star in the sky. To the side, another mural showed the Protector falling dead to the ground in a burning forest.

The fog grew thinner and thinner with the next few murals the team recorded, going from the Old World's death to scenes from the new one. There came paintings of figures flying and swimming alongside a ship for an island with needle-like peaks surrounded with mist, and of Pokémon beginning to settle among tender-looking trees. As the team came out of the last stretch of foggy trail, they came before a final mural depicting Pokémon with scarves and without scarves moving an egg into a fog-surrounded clearing filled with tender saplings.

"Wait, this Protector…" Guardia murmured to herself. "If I didn't know any better, I'd say that it has something to do with giving life."

"It makes sense though," Nida said. "With the Wastes as dead as they are, wouldn't it be faster for them to be restored after the Protectors started to wake up if a few of them could give life?"

As she pondered what a restoration of the Wastes might look like, her teammates pulled ahead of her. Pleo noticed her fall behind, and turned back to wave at her to move on.

"Eh? Nida, there's still more paintings up ahead!" Pleo squawked.

"Huh?"

The team drew closer to the pillars, where they saw that the shapes were crude and forceful strokes of various scenes. One showed Pokémon with purple scarves coming into a grove of tall trees and driving various moth and worm-like creatures away from an egg. There was another one showing the purple-scarved Pokémon exiting a cave's maw with the egg, the bugs from the earlier scene lying in disarray on the ground.

At the sight of the third pillar, Nida, Elty, and Guardia began to flush pale. In it were pictures of various Pokémon with scarves being attacked by the Bug-Types from the prior steles, some shown lying on the ground. One of the paintings was still fresh, of a Roserade being set upon in a crude depiction of Mengir's wrecked shrine.

"Why are these pictures so different?" Pleo asked. "And why do you all look so scared? What's wrong?"

"What's wrong is you having the nerve to come here, Inkfoot!"

Team Traveller looked up and watched as three Beautifly and a Dustox swooped down from above and ringed the team. The four bugs were obviously agitated and erratic, their voices coming out in hateful chitters.

"E-Esperen un momento!" Nida squeaked. "We didn't come here to cause trouble!"

"Yeah, we just wanted to look at some pictures for Salvini's friend back in the town!" Pleo cried.

"We've come to learn more about your Protector!" Guardia shot in.

The young Pokémon's earnest pleas drew bitter and derisive laughter from the Bug-Types, who started to flutter around their trapped foes, glaring and sneering all the while.

"'Come to learn about our Protector', huh?" one of the Beautifly, the apparent leader of the group, hissed. "Oh, that's rich coming from an Inkfoot like you."

"Wh-Why's that?" Elty stammered.

"You all stole our Protector from us!" the Bug-Type shouted. "Your vile village broke the Pact so you could take it all for yourselves!"

"And you didn't just move it into town either!" a lighter-colored Beautifly angrily chittered. "You sent its egg over the sea to a faraway island that we couldn't find!"

Wait- this island's Protector's egg had already been found?! Then- those paintings… they were of the Company? But then why hadn't anybody heard about-?

"And now you've come to wreck our grounds again on top of all that!" the Dustox spat.

"That's- That's not-" Elty stuttered, looking around desperately for some way to escape. "L-Look, th-this is all a big misunderstanding! Isn't there something we can do to show you that we don't mean you any trouble?"

"There is," the last Beautifly, a grizzled individual with tattered wings, growled back. "You can die!"

The color drained from Team Traveller’s members as they shrank away from the encroaching Bug-Types. Nida, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia wound up backing into each other, the four Bug-Types surrounding them and flitting their wings more and more aggressively, leaving Pleo to turn nervously to his Nidoran companion.

"N-Nida?!" he cried. "Wh-What do we do?!"

The Nidoran froze, her eyes widening and her mind running blank as she saw no way to escape. She attempted to stammer something back, only to notice that orange and purple powder was beginning to accumulate on their assailants' wings.

"What are you waiting for?!" Guardia shouted. "Rush them before they dump that powder on us!"

The Cubone leapt at one of the Beautifly and swung at him with her club. As the sound of a scuffle rang out, Nida, Pleo, and Elty likewise rushed ahead. Blindly sending spikes, gusts of wind, and cones of cinders at their assailants as they charged on.

Pleo felt a chitinous body tumble against his, and swatted desperately at the presence with his wings, only to feel air.

"A-Aaaah!"

Pleo, Nida, and Elty heard a loud scream come from back towards the entrance, where Guardia had been covered in orange powder and then knocked to the ground by one of the Beautifly. Her assailant had jabbed her with a long proboscis, which retracted from an ugly-looking mark on her left shoulder dribbling ruddy fluid at the end. To everyone's horror, a Dustox and a second Beautifly were closing in on her position.

"G-Guardia!" Pleo squawked.

"Ack!" Elty yelped. "Trzymaj się!"

Nida watched as the dog spat out a cone of cinders, which drove the Beautifly off Guardia with a pained screech and cleared the way for Elty to rush to the Cubone's side. Pleo disgorged a glowing ball of light which caught the other Beautifly and sent him tumbling to the ground with a yelp, as Nida ran for the Dustox to fend her off from the Ground-Type...

"A-Aah!"

… only to pratfall as a sticky thread shot out and enveloped her body. The Poison-Type hastily stumbled back to her feet, only for a cry to come from behind.

"Where do you think you're going?!"

Much to Nida's shock, a third Beautifly dove at her from behind. The Nidoran hastily flicked a spike at the diving bug, only for him to blow it away with a cutting gust of wind, which carried on straight for her.

"Augh!"

The spike ball went tumbling head over heels, her satchel opening and spilling a pawful of items all over the ground. Before she could get up, Nida felt a heavy weight pin her down and chitinous claws grabbing at her pelt. The Poison-Type raised her barbs in a panic, drawing a pained yelp from the Bug-Type above her. Nida felt her attacker fall off of her and darted forward, where down at her feet, she saw a scaled, orange seed. She hastily picked it up with her mouth, turned back as the sound of angry wingbeats fluttered towards her…

And bit down.

BLAM!

The sound of pained screeching rang out, followed by a dull thud as the Beautifly crashed into the earth, twitch and groaning. The Nidoran shook her head, panting, when the sound of Elty's cries came from further back.

"Eyaaah!"

Back at Elty and Guardia position, the Fire-Type reeled from a fresh spike in his flank still dribbling venom. His Ground-Type teammate was in similarly bad shape, struggling against unresponsive limbs to keep fighting while a Beautifly and Dustox circled and harried them with narrowly-missing cutting gusts of wind.

"P-Pay more attention, Gardie!" the Cubone huffed tiredly. "You'll get us wiped out like that!"

"Worry about yourself, alright!" the Growlithe snapped back. "I'm fighting for two of us here-!"

"You're done for, lizard!"

The Growlithe turned and watched as the Dustox dove for Guardia. Reflexively, Elty ran in between them, and spat out a cone of embers, only for them to get blown back by a gust of wind. As the Growlithe watched the sparks fall back to the ground, he charged on undeterred as they fell on his body and kicked up flames along his pelt. Without thinking, the little dog somersaulted forward and vaulted his flaming body feet-first directly towards the moth's face.

Thwack!

The sound of a loud smack followed by chittering screams rang out, as the Dustox attempted to flee, only to stall in midair and flop to the ground, unconscious. Guardia stared wide-eyed at Elty as he came to a gasping, skidding stop along the ground, the fire on his pelt finally dying down.

"Wh-What was that?!" she cried. "You never told me you knew how to do that!"

"I didn't know that I did," he panted. "But it works great!"

"N-Nida! H-Help!"

Back towards the entrance, Pleo had managed to get himself chased and boxed in against the fog by one of the Beautifly. The Bug-Type fluttered here and there, his erratic flight thwarting many of the little Lugia's attempts to strike back at him. The Beautifly beat his wings together and sent a cutting gust along the top of Pleo's left wing, sending the young Protector tumbling out of the air with a squawking thud, landing hard on his wing against a sharp stone.

"A-Aah!"

The bird cried out and writhed as pain shot through his wing. He attempted to get back in the air, only for his wing to ache and grow unresponsive, leading him to pratfall as wingbeats approached him.

"Pleo! Stay down!" Nida's voice suddenly called.

The little Protector pulled his head low to the ground as an object sailed overhead and struck something with a thwip and a yelp. The white bird watched as the Beautifly pursuing him staggered up the ground, a spike lodged in between segments of his exoskeleton…

"L-Leave us alone!"

And spat up a glowing ball of light, which sent the butterfly tumbling out of the air and falling limply against the ground. As the dust settled around the fallen bug, Nida and Pleo panted tiredly, looking around frantically to try and place where their fourth assailant might be.

"A-Aah!"

Following the sound of a loud smack from the sound of Guardia's club swatting chitin, all became clear. The last Beautifly came to a pinwheeling, panting stop along the ground. The creature tried his best to get up, but staggered and flopped forward after discovering that his right wing was unresponsive and hurt to move.

"Ha! And you said you were fighting for two!" Guardia jeered, tiredly poking a tongue out at Elty. "That was my hit there!"

"Yeah, yeah, enough," the dog growled, shaking a weary head. Back closer to the entrance, Pleo raised his head warily, turning to Nida.

"Is… is it over?" he asked.

"Almost, Pleo," she sighed. Before raising her barbs and shouting over to the winded Bug-Type.

"Before you slink off!" she hissed. "Why did you attack us like that?!"

"I'm… I'm not slinking anywhere," the Beautifly spluttered back. "This is our territory…"

"Sure you aren't," Elty growled. "We're not the ones limping off with our tails between our legs here!"

"A-All the better," the bug coughed.

The four's breaths came out in ragged pants as they looked over at the felled Bug-Types, relieved that their ordeal was behind them. Just then, a humming sound began to roll in from the treeline.

"Wh-What's that noise?!"

"That's-"

It got louder, and louder, and louder, and with the sight of yellow and purple bodies tearing through the canopy, it became clear that they were not dealing with a few reinforcements, but a massive swarm.

"Run- AAUGH!"

A cutting gust of wind suddenly flew out, sending Guardia sprawled out over the ground. Elty's fur bristled, his tail folded tight against his legs, and likewise pinned his ears along his head. The Growlithe turned and bolted blindly back for the fog, only to be caught by a dark purple blob from behind and flop forward limply.

"A-Ah!" Pleo squawked. "Elty! Guardia!"

"Pleo! Quick! My bag!" Nida squeaked. "There's an Esca-"

The duo was interrupted by a cutting, cross-shaped gust striking the two and sending them tumbling along the ground. As Pleo struggled to get on his feet, he saw that Nida wasn't getting up, and worse still, the horde was nearly upon them.

"A-Aah! Wait! Stop!" the Protector pleaded. "If my friends get hurt too much, they might become 'dead'!"

"You should have run while you had the chance, Inkfoot!" the wounded Beautifly sneered. "It's over for all of you kirlivi paraziti!"

In the midst of the din and Pleo's frenzied attempts to evade the Bug-Types, Pleo heard the sound of soft voices piercing through. There was a tired-sounding voice that wished for the olden days where the shrine was there to visit… Exhausted groans from haggard Pokémon wishing that the Apricorn fields didn't exist… And voice after voice that wished for a Protector to watch over them again…

All of them wished for an end to the disturbed state of affairs that loomed over the island, the same state of affairs that was about to take his friends' lives. Unless, no matter how futile it seemed…

He didn't give up.

"St-Stop! You can't do this!" Pleo cried. "We didn't take your Protector! We came to look at pictures!"

In spite of his pleas, the only answers the little Lugia received were ugly taunts. A number of the Bug-Types were preparing sickly-looking globs and cutting gusts of wind, ready to shut up their intruder for good. Their attacks zipped towards the stricken bird when all of a sudden, a forceful burst of air forced the charging creatures back with yelps and cries. As the swarm focused back at the entrance near the fog, they saw that the white-plumed bird's markings were now glowing bright, and his voice had become a feral shriek.

"I won't let you make my friends 'dead'!" he shouted. The bird then brought his wings together, and a roaring column of air shot forth and swept up the Bug-Types. Their jeers and threats became panicked cries and screams, intermixed with the sounds of tree branches rending and bending. As Pleo drew back his wings, pain shot through his left wing, leaving him painting and flinching, expecting his assailants to swoop down upon him at any second.

"M-Monster! Monster!"

"F-Fly away! Fly away!"

Only to see that the shapes in the trees were fleeing as fast as they could. From deeper on, Pleo could hear frightened crying from younger-sounding Pokémon. The leader Beautifly with the wounded right wing had been blown up against a tree trunk and curled up, and was whimpering and shuddering out of fright at the sight of the strange white bird.

Did he... just really do that...? Was- Was that what evoking his true powers would do to other Pokémon?

Whump

Pleo craned his head, where he saw Nida groaning, stretched out before a glassy, black Escape Orb. The light was glowing bright, much brighter than it had when they bought it… Did- Did that mean it would work here? Then Nida must have been trying to use it to get them out! She, Elty, and Guardia weren't moving much. If they stopped moving… then- then they'd be dead!

"Nida! Elty! Guardia!" he begged. "P-Please! Just hold on a moment!"

The little Lugia limped over to the Escape Orb, picked it up with his beak... and then threw it against the ground with all his might as the sound of shattering glass rang out.

A bright, white light exploded from the shards, and enveloped the young Protector and his teammates in an overpowering gleam. There was a faint blip as the horrid clearing faded in front of his eyes, followed by the sound of branches gently swaying in the wind...

Joined with a long and pregnant absence of his friend's voices.



The prior night, Crom, Kiran, Ander and Pladur were at the Andaku Docks, continuing a fruitless search for clues of where Team Traveller had flown off to. Somewhere in this wretched hive of scum and villainy, there were the Yanmega, Manectric, and Marowak who had last sighted their blue-scarved friends.

After asking Pladur about the places he remembered of the district during the Siglo Swellow's last visit as free traders, the team figured this district's guild would be a good starting point for their search. Except… things did not go according to plan, with the night's search devolving into aimless wandering around in the shifty district. After a few hours of fruitless search and noticing that the locals were thinning out into ever more menacing-looking characters, the group chose to return to the Siglo Swellow to try their luck again after a safer rest.

Their attempt to resume their search the following morning had thus far been just as fruitless. Unfortunately the Fraxure seemed to be less familiar with the neighborhood than his words let on, especially when entering the district from the bluffs and not the docks.

"Pladur, what direction was that guild again? We couldn't find it last night, and we've been wandering around in this place for about an hour now!" Kiran squawked.

The Fraxure hesitated with answering, before his son interrupted with a tug at his father's shoulder and a question of his own.

"Dad… are we lost?" Crom prodded.

"I- I know it's supposed to be around here somewhere… I know it's in a group of buildings right along the sea," Pladur murmured as he scanned his surroundings puzzledly.

"Then why aren't we walking by the water?" Ander asked skeptically.

"Because that's where all the pirate crews hang out! You don't want to get too close to any of them!" Pladur quickly countered before pointing a claw off down past some ramshackle shops. "Uh… pretty sure it was this way!"

The three sighed and followed after the Fraxure down a lane lined with seedy-looking shops. Now that they walked through Andaku during the day, they noticed how much of a contrast the district was from the rest of Aisle Town. The buildings in this district were noticeably gaudier than the ones they had seen in the rest of the town, and their clientele was similarly more… 'colorful'. Even some of mundane shops had a noticeably rougher crowd, as a Ledian with a golden scarf ordering at a "sushi" stand was chatting up a rather gruff looking Pangoro with leaflets.

The group continued on until the Scyther of the bunch noticed the scarf design of the Ledian looked awfully familiar… and then quickly pushed his teammates down a back alley.

"Gwark! Ander?! What's the big idea?!" Kiran demanded. "This is 60% rougher than you need to be to get us to go someplace!"

"Más bajo!" the mantis hissed. "You'll give us away!"

The four Pokémon watched as the Ledian flicked out his elytra and flew off, the unmistakable Aggron-head pattern of the Iron Fleet on the scarf around his neck.

"Those pirates who raided the town are here as well," the Scyther buzzed. "And the last thing we need is for one of them to recognize us."

The young Druddigon paused, gears turning in his head as he realized how close they all had come to a nasty encounter.

"Right, we'll be more careful-" Crom began, only to be cut off by a sudden chirp.

"Pladur? Didn't you say that the guild was a group of buildings by the sea with a canvas-covered courtyard?" Kiran asked, before gesturing ahead and to the right. "Like that one over there?"

The team poked their heads around a corner, where sure enough, there was a collection of stilted shacks by the sea with canvas roofing over a corner. Pladur's eyes lit up immediately at the sight of the sorry collection of shanties, as he recognized them from his prior time in port.

"Ah!" He cried. "That's it, come on!"

The four hurried along the lane and ducked down the entrance of the seaside guild into a courtyard that had been dimly lit by candles in jars. The courtyard was still mostly empty due to the early hour, but even so, a few scruffy and shifty-looking characters roamed about. There was a Zubat and Stunky who chattered about a team that had come back soaked after failed attempt to drill through a ship hull. Over in a corner, a Lucario audibly fumed about comrades who took the fact that local Pokémon were exempted from the three-day limit on visitation in Andaku as an excuse to leave him behind. Crom chanced to look down a gap in the wooden planks and into the water below, which revealed a Tentacruel with a white and red scarf passing by, muttering about 'what's taking the captain so long?'…

"I'm telling you, Eeden, we need to lay low for a while! Those square-necks have been coming around and asking questions ever since we got Valatos and his buddies out of the dungeon!"

In addition, there was a Drowzee and Beheeyem by a mission board, who both looked unsettled and deeply agitated.

"Yeah, well whose fault is that, Zamora? I say you'll look more suspicious if you bolt!" the Drowzee shot back. "Really, this wouldn't have been a problem in the first place if you didn't let that accursed dragonfly and the rest of those dweebs arm-twist you!"

Wait a minute, dragonfly? 'Valatos'? Then...

"Ack! Those two know the Pokémon that ran into Pleo earlier!" Crom exclaimed, pointing a claw off at Zamora and Eeden.

The Druddigon's shout caused several Pokémon nearby to turn to see what the ruckus was all about, only to see a party of four Company grunts and two startled-looking Psychic-Types. The two teleporters blanched and then soon closed their eyes and started making the sweeping motions of a teleport…

"Wait! Wait!" Pladur cried out. "You met a 'mon called 'Valatos,' right? Do you know where we can find him or the Pokémon with him?"

The two Psychics abruptly froze and turned to each other, blinking incredulously. Their expressions notably relaxed, as if a great weight had been removed from both their shoulders before Zamora began to speak back.

"Oh! You just wanted to know about them," the Beheeyem said, sighing out of relief. "And here I thought you were here to-"

The Beheeyem was cut off with a yelp as an unseen force knocked him down against the ground. Crom and his companions whirled their heads just in time to see a glow fade from the Beheeyem and his Drowzee companion, clearly displeased at the Cerebral Pokémon's talkativeness.

"Shut up, Zamora!" The Drowzee growled, before turning to the four lavender-scarved Pokémon. "Look, I don't know what your game is, but there's no way-"

"We'll give you immunity for whatever you two have been up to if you tell us where to find these Pokémon," Ander cut in. Almost immediately, the Drowzee's demeanor became more amicable, as he hastily amended his words.

"Er… that we wouldn't tell you where to find them!" he chuckled. As the tension thinned, the prying eyes of the other Pokémon in the courtyard shifted away and back to their various busywork, leaving the Drowzee to grunt and then pry a bit into his interrogators.

"So, what is it you need from them?"

Ander opened his mouth only to freeze and blanch. The mantis had been in such a hurry to find out where Valatos and his friends were that he hadn't thought through an excuse as to why they were looking for them! The Bug-Type stammered and fumbled with his words, only for Crom to come to his aid with a hasty interjection.

"Uh, well," Crom began. "They're in big trouble because, er…"

"They've been withholding evidence! Evidence about a witness for a trial!" Kiran interjected. "So we need them to cough it up!"

"Wait, those three helped with legal proceedings?" Eeden asked. "I thought all they did was shove crates ar-"

"Eeden, not now!" Zamora hissed. "Look, if you're looking for Valatos and his friends, you might as well try out that dump of a bar they like hanging out at. It's called 'bokuya or something like that."

"Ryūbokuya," the Drowzee corrected. "It's a little ways inland and to the north from here. You'll know as soon as you see it, like its name it's pretty much a lump of driftwood."

The two were answered by an agitated buzz, as Ander raised a scythe and pointed it accusingly at the two Psychic-Types.

"N-Now hold on here!" Ander interrupted. "What sort of lead is that?! What are we supposed to do if we head to the bar and Valatos and the Pokémon with him are already gone?"

There was a noticeable pause as the two Psychic-Types traded looks with each other, before turning back to their questioners and quickly attempting to wave away their fears.

"Well, that barkeep over there has a bit of an axe to grind against them," the Beheeyem explained. "And he is a bit of a neutral type, so if you wanted to say, pass on a bounty…"

"A bounty?" Pladur murmured. "He wouldn't happen to be able to take in other ones, would he?"

"I mean, if you make it worth his while, sure," Eeden said. "Though not sure who else you'd need to get at those backstabbing dimwits…"

"That's confidential," Kiran replied. "But thanks for the tip, we'll make sure it's worth your while."

The four turned and made their way out of the ramshackle guild complex. Crom briefly looked back and saw relieved expressions on the two teleporters' faces, which made the little dragon grow uneasy and turn a wary eye to his father.

"Do you think we can trust them?" Crom asked.

"We don't have any other leads right now," Pladur answered, shaking his head. "I think it's as good a shot as any."

The four trudged on, vanishing down the winding alleys of Andaku in their search of this 'bokuya', looking here and there for the 'pile of driftwood' the teleporters spoke of.



Outside Mengir's Mystery Dungeon, the foggy approach was its normal, eerily quiet self with branches and leaves swaying in gentle breezes. This all changed when suddenly, a bright white flash appeared, depositing the forms of a Lugia, a Nidoran, a Growlithe, and a Cubone onto the ground. Once the burst of light faded, Pleo flopped forward against the ground, panting. As his senses began to attune to their surroundings, Pleo slowly began to piece together that the Escape Orb had deposited him in front of the misty entrance to the dungeon.

The place was eerily silent, with the only companions being the mist, the jagged rock formations that formed the spires in between the dungeon... and of course the unconscious forms of a Nidoran, a Growlithe, and a Cubone up ahead.

"A-Aah! Nida! Elty! Guardia!"

The young Lugia tried to beat his wings and fly over, only to wince and gasp as he felt pain shoot through his left wing. The bird uneasily pulled his wounded wing back to his side, and darted along to the prone bodies ahead.

"G-Guys? W-Wake up," he pleaded, nosing at the unconscious Pokémon. "We're out of the dungeon now, we can go back…"

No matter how he pushed or pecked at them, there didn't seem to be any reaction from any of his friends. Pleo began to grow uneasy as he started to realize that his friends were surely badly hurt- Wait a minute! He had something that could help them!

"H-Hang on!" he chirped. "I'll- I'll heal you, and then you'll be all better!"

The Lugia searched through Nida's bag, and came across an Oran Berry. After some clumsy attempts at peeling away the rind, the little Protector remembered that Crom had just eaten them in the past.

Pleo quickly stuffed the berry into Nida's mouth, waiting for her to bite down on the berry… except she never did. The berry just flopped out, with a faint coating of spittle attached. The bird tried moving the berry over to Elty's mouth, and then to Guardia's, but none of them seemed to get any better.

Wh-Why hadn't it done anything?! Wh-Why hadn't the berry made any of them better like in the past times when the team was hurt?! The little Guardian then remembered that Guardia had said that Pokémon became 'dead' when they were hurt very badly… What had Elty said about being 'dead' again?

Your body couldn't move, couldn't talk back...

D-Did this mean that…? Nida… Elty… Guardia… They were all...

"N-No! You can't be 'dead'! You can't!" Pleo cried. The little bird futilely tried to rouse his teammates, as his fears began to mount and tears started to well in his eyes. "W-We were gonna go home together! We- We were-"

The Lugia's voice hitched as he began to sob. He tried to save them! Why weren't they fine now? He was supposed to be a Protector... but he failed at protecting them… If he wasn't a Protector... what was he then? And what would he do without his friends?

"Ahoy!"

Pleo quickly turned around upon hearing a squawking voice behind him. In the distance he could see the shape of a large, metallic bird flying towards him, the light of the lowering sun reflecting of his metal feathers. This was a 'Skarmory', like the one Nida was afraid of the other day…

Wait a minute, this was the Skarmory Nida was afraid of the other day! The one who was the 'Warrior of Life'!

"Thank gods I ran into you before you-" the Skarmory began, only to clamp his beak shut as he noticed "Wait, what happened to your friends?"

"T-Those bug thingies!" Pleo sniffled. "They attacked, and now Nida, Elty and Guardia t-they're d-d-dea..."

"Calmo! Calmo!" The Steel-Type reassured, before gesturing at the fallen Pokémon. "Nobody's dead yet! Your friends are still breathing, don't you see their chests rising and falling?"

Pleo turned and saw that true enough, his teammates' were still breathing, if barely. So- So they weren't dead! Then that meant…

"Then- Then they can get better?!" he cried. Trizano nodded before giving the young Lugia a reassuring pat with one of his wings.

"They should, but it looks like they've been hurt rather badly," the Skarmory answered. "Can you fly, little one?"

Pleo looked uneasily at his left wing, and attempted to bat it out to take flight. The little Protector grimaced as his wing began to throb, but still stubbornly hopped up and beat his wings. The Lugia gave a few beats, before the pain overcame him and caused him to cry out, tumbling to the ground with a pained squawk as Trizano fluttered over.

"It's alright! It's alright! Don't force a bad wing!" the Steel-Type squawked as he inspected Pleo's wounded wing. "Hopefully it's just a sprain, but I think it's probably safest to try and walk back."

The Steel-Type looked at Pleo's unconscious teammates. "We'll have to carry them," he determined, before he set off for Nida and began to hoist her limp body onto his shoulders.

"Looks like you're not in good shape yourself," Trizano muttered as he slung Elty and then Guardia one by one onto his back. "What happened earlier?"

"We were doing our mission when we came to this stable zone full of trees and paintings," Pleo explained. "Then all these Pokémon came and hurt us like this!"

Trizano paused as he stooped to grab Guardia's bone from the ground. So Administrator Darzin's trap had caught the children up...

"Ah, I see… but then how did you all get away?" the Skarmory asked.

"Well, I remember there being a glow, and then when I beat my wings, all of the mean bugs got blown back," Pleo answered. "Then I took the the Escape Orb from Nida's bag and-"

Pleo noticed that the Skarmory had abruptly stopped in his tracks and beaten his wings out in surprise. The creature tilted his head, with a wide-eyed curiosity as if he had just heard Pleo say that the Travellers were falling from the sky.

"Did- Did I say something wrong?" the little Lugia murmured, only to be answered with a wing spread over his right shoulder.

"... Don't worry about it, little one," the Skarmory reassured. "Let's just get you and your friends patched up for now."

As the two limped off down the path back to Fensedge, Trizano pondered what he had just observed. This Pokémon had to be something special...

The kind of special that he knew, from personal experience, would need a guarding eye to see him out of this Pyroar's den.



Back on Kenobi, while Crom and his peers from the Siglo Swellow looked around for this 'bokuya, other ne'er-do-wells were busy going about their routines in port. One of those was the Ledian the group noticed earlier, still wearing the familiar gold and silver patterned scarf of the Iron Fleet. The beetle fluttered throughout Andaku, zipping here and there until he came near a stretch of sandy shoreline where some ships had been shoved ashore.

The Bug-Type landed on the beach and folded his wings behind his elytra before making his way down the beach for a large, two masted caravel with golden sails surrounded by a flurry of activity. There were crewmates hard at work swabbing the deck and repainting some scuffed sections of the ships' trim, others set about examining the hull for any signs of damage or rotted timbers. The bulk of the activity however, focused around the stump of a mast that was being torn out, with a small crew of Pokémon waiting impatiently with a new mast that had been 'borrowed' on short order from a local shipyard.

"Where have you been, Kichiro?!"

And of course the ship's captain was also there right behind him, thumping his tail impatiently and glaring at the Ledian. A rough looking Aggron wearing the same kind of golden scarf as most of the other Pokémon currently tending to the stricken Mistral Marauder's repairs, and clearly in a less-than-chipper mood.

"It's Keiichiro, and give this 'recruiting' thing a little time!" the Ledian buzzed back defensively. "I'm sure that something will turn up eventually once the rookies here forget about us pulling in with a missing mast… twice."

Hess growled and fumed at the Bug-Type's response, before stamping his feet angrily against the sand.

"Don't give me that, Kichiro! My ship needs more recruits than a solitary Hoppip and we need them today!" he bellowed. "It's the third day and not all of us have residence papers for this island to hide behind like you!"

The Aggron's shout drew the attention and quizzical stares of his laboring subordinates, including a Pawniard and a Voltorb who were hoisting several buckets of paint with ropes and pulleys up the ship.

"Eh? But it's only the second day!" the Pawniard protested. "We've only been here two days since we came back after that ocean clan broke the front mast again!"

"Wait, then why are we in such a rush?" the Voltorb added. "If we're allowed to stay here for three days in a row- Aaah!"

The duo were swiftly cut off by a number of rocks flung from under the sand, sending the pair tumbling along the beach along with the contents of the paint buckets. As the pair staggered up groaning and dripping pigment, the Aggron captain gave an irked stamp of his feet and glared at the Pokémon.

"Because we only get three days a month to work with, you morons!" Hess growled, before stomping back over in the direction of an increasingly-nervous-looking Ledian who was backpedaling along the sand.

"N-Now hold on here! Just what am I supposed to do, huh?!" Kichiro buzzed. "I can't just magically make potential recruits change their minds, and the last time this crew tried press-ganging anyone, it was a total debacle!"

"He does have a point there, captain," a Floatzel's voice added, its owner giving a sighing roll of his eyes at the whole exchange. Hess muttered under his breath, complaining about 'Couldn't you back me up this time, Rodion?' before turning back to the Bug-Type before him.

"I don't care what you do, Kichiro, just get me someone!" the Steel-Type demanded. "Or if you need something else to keep you busy, you can get started on scraping the ship's hull!"

Kichiro hastily darted off and took wing, buzzing up into the air and away from the beach. After losing his line of sight with the Aggron, the Bug-Type sighed, and came to a rest on a roof eave overlapping an alleyway.

"'I don't care what you do, Kichiro, just get me someone!' Bah, who does that useless debutcho think he is? He can't even get my name right!" the beetle angrily buzzed. "So what if I've been taking it a little easy? It's not like a recruit would just fall into my lap!"

"I don't believe this, how did we get rejected by the Strongjaw Gang?!"

The Ledian twitched his antennae and looked around after hearing a yipping voice from below. After a puzzled "Huh?" and failing to see any sign of Pokémon around him, Kichiro realized the conversation was coming from below. Down there he saw a Yanmega, a Manectric, and a Marowak in lavender scarves talking amongst each other in hushed tones

"We're tough enough to hold our own on a crew like that!" Alvise complained. "What gives?!"

"I told you we should've done something about these Company scarves," Nori muttered, shaking his head.

"Well what are we supposed to do, huh?" Valatos snapped. "Administrator Farn's out for our heads, and the moment we get caught by another Company grunt, we're through!"

Wasn't that the group that had been hogging the stools at Ryūbokuya a couple nights ago? What were they doing here? Kichiro paused and flicked his antennae as a devious smirk began to spread over his face with a dawning realization...

Maybe he had gotten some recruits that had fallen into his lap. And the Garagara in particular would surely be just the sort that Hess needed after shoving him around like that earlier!

"Oi, you three down there!" the Ledian cried.

"G-Gih!" Alvise gulped. The three whirled their heads up to see the eavesdropping Bug-Type from above, who cheerily waved and carried on.

"You're looking to join a crew, right?"

The three blinked and began to shoot incredulous looks at one another, wondering all the while what this strange Pokémon wanted from them.

"Er… yeah? Why?" Valatos asked.

"Funny thing, because my crew's actually in need of some extra hands right now," Kichiro answered, before fluttering down into the alleyway. As soon as the Ledian landed, Valatos quickly pulled his friends aside to discuss what they should do here. After some hastily-whispered strategizing, the three decided to press further on Kichiro's offer, the Marowak of the group leading the charge.

"Wait, what crew is that?" Nori asked.

"The Iron Fleet," Kichiro chittered back, adding a pair of emphatic punches with his right arms into the air. "The gold-threaded crew with fists of iron!"

"Wait, the Iron Fleet?" Alvise muttered. "Weren't those the losers that pulled in with the missing ma- Ow!"

Before the Manectric could continue he was cut off by a sharp gust from his Yanmega teammate. The dragonfly irkedly shook his head, and turned back to address Kichiro.

"As Alvise here was saying, we'd be thrilled to come aboard," Valatos hastily interjected. "Really, it's quite the lucky draw for both of us, we were looking for a change of pace."

"Oh, I know," Kichiro said. "And the Captain has been looking forward to getting a crewmate just like your friend there."

The beetle adamantly pointed out the Marowak of the three, a wide, somewhat unsettling grin starting to creep across his face. Valatos and his companions blinked and traded looks with each other, before Nori cleared his throat and tried to respond.

"Er… like me? What do you mean by that?" Nori replied. "And what's with that grin on your face?"



"Heave!"

After shooing Kichiro off, the repairs of the Mistral Marauder had finally wrapped up, and the process of bringing the ship back into the water started. The Iron Fleet's more terrestrial members shoved the ship from the bow along with their captain, while the sea escorts tugged from the water. Except, as Hess' panting and labored breaths evidenced, something about today's pushoff seemed more tiring than normal...

"Hah, hah… what are those swimmers doing?! It's never this much work pushing the ship back into the surf!"

"I'm telling you, we need to put more backbone into this!" a Seadra's voice cried. The seahorse's call was answered with a snorting "some of us don't have backbones!" along an indistinct mass of squabbling.

The muddy sound of the voices chattering off ahead reached the Aggron's ears, which prompted him to leave his place at the bow. The Steel-Type ignored the protesting grumbles from some nearby lackeys as he paced over towards the water.

"Eh?"

There, he saw the bulk of his sea escorts squabbling with one another. Their group was split into two camps: one who weren't tugging at their tow ropes… and another one that also was not tugging at their tow ropes and berating the others for not helping.

"You know what I meant!" the Seadra huffed. "If the Captain finds out about this, we're in for a world of hurt!"

"Relax, the ship is barely out of the water anyway!" an Octillery answered back, "No point in wearing ourselves out this early in the game!"

Suddenly, the Seadra and the other Pokémon gathered around the octopus went wide-eyed, and began to dart off in the water in a hurry. The Octillery looked around, puzzled at his colleagues' sudden change of demeanor...

"Uh... why are you all swimming aw- Argh!"

A change that was quickly felt after the octopus was swept up in a sudden wave, which drew a few yelps from some other unfortunates that had not swum out of its path in time. One by one, the sea Pokémon turned and came face to face with the culprit, the glaring form of their captain, lurking in the water.

"Get back to work!"

The sea escorts hastily went back to their tow ropes, and even invertebrate Pokémon such as the now-bruised Octillery discovered that they indeed had a newfound backbone for their work. The ship tugged along a bit quicker now, as Hess left the water, still dripping along the beach sand as he made his way back to the ship's bow, growling all the while.

"The things I have to put up with from this crew..."

"Captain, I'm back! And I've got some recruits!"

The Aggron paused after hearing a Ledian's chittering voice. That must be Kichiro, and it sounded like all he needed to do his job properly was a good kick in the rear.

"Hrmph, about time!" he grunted. "Let's see who we've-"

Hess turned back, and saw that waiting for him was the expected Ledian, along with a Yanmega, a Manectric… and a Marowak. The Aggron and the three Company Pokémon went wide-eyed and stumbled back, recoiling from each other as a mutual cry filled the air.

"A-AAAH! You again!"

The four Pokémon traded incredulous glances with each other, until finally, after gulping and shaking his head, Hess turned his attention to a bemused-looking Ledian. The Steel-Type attempted a bellowing roar, only for it to come out instead as a whining squeak.

"Ki-Kichiro?!" he demanded. "Wh-What is the meaning of this?!"

"Well, you said that you needed new recruits, right?" the Bug-Type answered, crossing his arms with a smug, satisfied smile. "Whelp, I got us a better batch than we've seen in ages!"

While the beetle and his captain began to argue heatedly with each other, Nori uneasily fidgeted around with his bone as the Aggron seemed all too familiar to him..

"Valatos," the Marowak whispered. "This is that 'mon who was glaring at me the other-"

"Nori, shut up!" the dragonfly hissed, before dusting his exoskeleton's segments off and flitting up to the golden-scarved Aggron. "Aherm, as your friend was saying… we've seen our share of action on the seas before."

"Yeah, so you won't be going wrong taking us aboard!" Alvise chimed in. Valatos gave a strong beat of his wings as his partners puffed their chests a bit, hoping to make a positive impression on this… unexpected potential employer.

"N-No way! I don't need the likes of you on my crew! Take a hike!"

Only for their confident expressions to melt into wide-eyed panic as the Aggron shot back with a stammering rejection.

"Oh, but didn't you say you needed more recruits than just a Hoppip by today, Captain?" Kichiro demanded. "Are we really going to shut them out when the only other recruit we've gotten was that loser Wilhelm?"

"Hey! I'm right here!" a Hoppip protested. Some other murmurs started going around the gathered crew such as "is he daft?" and "he can't be serious about turning away help, right?" Hess bit his tongue as he realized that no, he couldn't very well turn away help in front of his crew for no reason, but even so...

"Rgh… I'll take the bug and the wolf," he conceded. "I'm not taking that lizard on board though-!"

"Um, Hess? Need I remind you that we'd still be around ten heads short from our losses back on Tromba?" Rodion interrupted, tapping at the armored lizard's flank for attention. "I mean, the extra strength offsets that a bit, but still."

The Aggron's eyes went wide and he gritted his teeth uneasily as he realized that these newcomers had put him into a bind with his crew. One which his Ledian subordinate was all too keen to spell out.

"So, as you can see Captain," Kichiro continued, a smug, satisfied look creeping over the creature's face. "Like Rodion pointed out, it looks like we're not in any shape to be turning down any extra hands, doesn't it?"

Hess shot a piercing glare at the Ledian, growling and grinding his teeth. That miserable bug knew that those awful bone lizards made him nervous, and had done this on purpose! How could he?! That ungrateful louse-!

"G-Gih!"

Hess recoiled as he felt a Marowak's bone prodding at him, which made him jump and backpedal against the side of his ship. After looking down, the Aggron saw Nori waiting, curiously tilting his head a short distance away.

"So, uh… we're on, right?" The Ground-Type asked.

Hess looked around, and became acutely aware that everyone around him was staring at him, with a few snickers starting to go about. There wasn't really a good excuse for rejecting the little monster in front of him… let alone one that wouldn't make him sound pathetic in front of his crew. The Aggron closed his eyes, shook his head, and resigned himself to the fact that he would be stuck with this Marowak until he could find a convenient raid to be rid of him.

"Ugh… fine, you're on," Hess groaned, putting a claw over his face.

Valatos, Alvise, and Nori collectively exhaled a sigh of relief. After all this digging and searching, they finally got a way off this accursed island... and even a way back into the old business! …

Sort of. But those details could be sweated later, and any port in a storm would do for now...

"Right, so… looks like we're pushing a ship out?" Valatos asked.

"Yeah, we can do that!" Alvise added.

"We'll finish that later, I need a break," Hess said, quickly making his way up the beach before turning back to his crew from a safely distant spot. "And a nice, stiff drink at Shuho's…"

The mention of 'Shuho' instantly electrified the Steel-Type's crew, as cheers and whoops broke out among the gathered golden-scarved Pokémon.

"Woo hoo! Break time!"

"Dibs on the counter stool at 'bokuya!"

"I call the corner booth!"

Hess screwed his eyes shut and shook his head before shuffling off for the crew's haunt, most of the other members of the Iron Fleet eagerly following after their captain. Valatos and his friends stayed behind as Rodion passed the trio a set of new, golden-threaded scarves from his satchel. After a quick 'Welcome to the team' the first mate followed after his captain, leaving three newly-minted recruits behind on the beach to slip into more appropriate attire.

As the three set to work replacing their Company garb, the crowd of crewmates thinned down to a handful of sea escorts who didn´t feel like making the trip on land. The beach settled down as the Aggron and his mob of cronies slipped off, emboldening the three to begin to chatter about their new superior.

"I think the new boss doesn't like you, Nori," Alvise said.

"Gee, you think?" the Marowak grumbled, putting a claw over his face.

"Mrph, whatever," Valatos buzzed. "We've got our way out of here, let's just go get that drink."

The three finished tying up their scarves, leaving Nori to grab and ball up the group's Company lavenders and stuff them into their bag. The Yanmega and his comrades then set off after the Iron Fleet. There would be safety in numbers if other guards came for them, and besides, after such a long day, the lot of them could stand for a well-deserved drink at 'bokuya.



Back in Mengir, Pleo had managed to make his way to the medic's hut in Fensedge Village along with the Skarmory who had aided him. The little bird and his unconscious teammates were quickly whisked to a windowed room on the second floor where berries and bandages were applied, and a Luxio carefully examined each of the four members of Team Traveller, going on about "doesn't look like anything's broken".

After a while, things began to die down as Nida, Elty, and Guardia's bandaged forms were moved into freshly prepared bedding, and the Electric-Type applied the last few bandages to Pleo's wounded wing.

"You've all gotten roughed up a bit more than normal," the medic murmured. "But I don't see any wounds that can't be fixed by a few days of bed rest."

The corners of Pleo's mouth lifted, and hope returned to his eyes at the Luxio's words… Then… did that mean?

"Th-They'll be alright?" the Lugia asked.

"If they don't exert themselves. And that includes you, little bird," the Luxio instructed. "Your wounds might be less severe than your friends', but I don't want you stressing yourself if you can help it. Do you hear me?"

Pleo looked at his now-bandaged left wing and reluctantly nodded, it wasn't like he wanted to make his wing hurt more…

"Okay…"

The lion made his way past the doorway, where after a few indistinct words outside, the metal-feathered form of a Skarmory came into the room. Trizano sidled up against the young Lugia's form and ruffled his feathers before speaking to the little bird.

"You and your friends really ought to be more careful next time," Trizano sighed. "That mission of yours wasn't something that a band of rookies like you should've accepted."

"It… wasn't?" Pleo asked.

"No, and I'm not sure who put it in your heads it was a good idea to head into feral grounds on this island," the Skarmory squawked, shaking his head indignantly. "It was quite irresponsible of him!"

It… was? But if this mission was that dangerous, why didn't Salvini tell them? She just wanted to help her friend!

... didn't she?

"But- But Salvini said that it was to help the town fix their shrine!" Pleo cried.

The Lugia's outburst made the Steel-Type jerk his head back and ruffle his feathers uneasily. The little Protector nosed with his beak at a satchel that rested on the back of a softly breathing Nidoran, which made Trizano pause and blink uneasily as he realized there was another explanation for how Team Traveller could have been duped...

Could it be that Darzin and the Company's scheming had exploited the goodwill of a bunch of unwitting pawns?

"She said it meant a lot to her friend…" Pleo murmured, his head beginning to droop. "We even got all the pictures…"

"What pictures?" Trizano pressed. Pleo paced over uneasily and stuck his beak into Nida's bag, fishing out the rubbings they had taken along with the team's mission listing and placed them on the floor.

"These ones," he answered. "The ones we got for our mission…"

Pleo's eyes widened and his expression sank as he realized that if he were to stay in bed like the Luxio wanted him to… then they'd never be able to get their mission done! Unless...

"W-Wait! Could- Could you help deliver it for us?" Pleo asked.

Trizano cocked a brow and raised a wing in protest, only to see the white bird's pleading gaze. Now that he thought about it… if he were to have the listing delivered now it would be safer to do it in person…

And the guild wasn't that far away...

"It's not that much of a hassle. Just take it easy for now, okay?" the Skarmory reassured, giving a soft pat at Pleo's head. "I'll come back afterward to keep an eye on you and your friends until you get back on your wings."

The young Protector's anxieties eased a bit, and he settled down into his bedding. While it was comforting to hear that Trizano would be there to help for a little while, something nagged at him about the matter...

"But why?"

Trizano paused a moment, and seemed to be ready to say something only to close his beak. After shaking his head, the creature sported a small, reassuring smile on the corners of his mouth, and gave a reassuring wave of his wings.

"I suppose you could say it's because I sensed that you're a bit like me," the Skarmory said. "That we both have something a bit different than normal about ourselves."

Pleo blinked and tilted his head curiously. Something… different about themselves? The little Lugia wondered if perhaps the Skarmory knew about his nature, but then if he did…

What was different than normal about him? Was he also a Protector?

"Er… thank you," Pleo replied. "But, I don't really understand-"

"Ngh…"

Pleo's words were cut off by a weak groan and the sound of stirring. The two birds turned, and saw that Nida was shifting, her little red eyes starting to open.

"Ah! Nida! Nida! You're awake! You're awake!" Pleo chirped excitedly. Trizano for his part sized up the little Poison-Type, and after pausing in thought, turned to the little Protector.

"I'll explain another time, but it looks like I should get going for now," the Skarmory answered, before shaking a feather loose onto the ground. "Ciao, little one. Though do explain the calling card before I come back, alright?"

Before Pleo could squawk in protest, the Skarmory hopped along and quickly ducked out of the room just as Nida started to open her eyes. Trizano hastily slipped into the hallway, but not fast enough for the Nidoran to miss the glimpse of something metal passing by the door and go wide-eyed.

"H-Huh?!" the Nidoran squeaked, jolting up with a start. "Pleo, who was that?!"

"Oh? It was Trizano!" Pleo said. "The Skarmory that helped us all get here!"

"The- The what?" Nida exclaimed. The Poison-Type looked ahead and saw that on the floor was the unmistakable, jagged plume of a Skarmory resting on the ground. A- A Skarmory helped them?

"He was really nice and everything! He even said that he'd be keeping an eye on us!" Pleo replied. "But… I don't know why he left so suddenly…"

Nida stared ahead blankly at the feather, trying to make sense of Pleo's words. Before she could think about it for too long, her train of thought was disrupted by the tired groans of a nearby Growlithe and Cubone.

"Urgh, keep it down, you two…"

"Yeah, the noise isn't helping this killer headache…"

Their teammates had roused as well, making for a complete, if sorry-looking team of sore and battered Pokémon once more. As Elty and Guardia chattered on about idle nothings trying to piece together what had happened, the Nidoran shifted and turned to Pleo, folding her ears back uneasily.

"Pleo, I don't know if that was a good idea," she said.

"Huh?" Pleo asked. "Why not?"

"B-Because you don't know if you can trust him!" she cried out. "What if he comes back to hurt us while we're still weak?!"

"But he helped us, Nida!" Pleo squawked. "Why would he hurt us?!"

A dead silence fell over the room as Nida and Pleo traded fixed, uneasy gazes with each other. Guardia and Elty looked at each other, before turning their attention to their teammates.

"Eh? What are you two going on about?" the Cubone asked.

"Yeah, I think I'm a little lost here-" Elty added, only to freeze and flare his ears as the sounds of heavy footsteps and a commotion in the hallway broke out.

The sounds lead up to the entrance of the room, where a Leafeon with a Company scarf and the telltale blotch of a Marked burst in growling.

"Alright, pirate scum!" the fox exclaimed. "You're under ar-ah-ahh-"

The Grass-Type's eyes widened in terror and her fur bristled, her words coming out as incoherent stammers. The fox backpedaled a few steps at the sight of the white bird in the room, before turning and bolting for the door with a frightened whine, headlong into a group of three lavender-scarved Pokémon.

"Ow!"

The Leafeon bowled the Company Pokémon over, sending them tumbling over one another into the room in a rough pile, drawing a chorus of yelps and cries.

"Phyllis, kakvo pravish?! You're supposed to run towards them!"

"Agh… my nose…"

"H-Huh?! What's-?!" Pleo squawked. As he sized up the groaning Company Pokémon who were getting back up from the floor, he noticed that among them was none other than Salvini.

"S-Salvini?! Wh-What's going on here?!"

The Protector noticed that Nida and Elty's fur was standing on end, and that Guardia was grabbing for her club. As the lot of them attempted to stumble out of their bedding, the sound of heavy, lumbering footsteps coming into the room made the four freeze and go wide-eyed.

"Sit down!" a voice interrupted. After looking up, the four saw that the hulking form of an Armaldo entering the room. The anomalocaris made his way over to the increasingly pallid members of Team Traveller, before giving a satisfied smirk.

"To answer your question, little bird. They're here to put an end to your little adventure."



Author's Notes:

- (¡)Esperen un momento! - Spanish: "Wait a moment!"
- Trzymaj się! - Polish: "Hang in there!", can also be used as an expression analogous to "Take care"
- kirlivi paraziti (кирливи паразити) - Bulgarian: "filthy parasites" (BGN/PCGN 2013 Romanization)
- (¡)Más bajo! - Spanish: "Keep it down!", lit. "more low"
- Calmo! - Italian: "Calm down!", "Take it easy!"
- debutcho (でぶっちょ) - Japanese: "fatty" (Hepburn Romanization)
- kakvo pravish?! (Какво правиш?!) - Bulgarian: "What are you doing?!" (BGN/PCGN 2013 Romanization)
 
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Shadow of Antioch

Viaggiatore
Location
Messina, Italy
Pronouns
he/his
Chapter 25 Review:
What kind of splashing noise is that? xD

A few minutes later, Team Traveller made their way back to the looming, conical main hall of Seahive's guild complex, blissfully unaware of the present happenings at the town's dock.
Pleo: "Hey, what if we went to the beach today? I want to build another sand castle!"
Nida: "I'm not sure why, but... my sixth sense is telling me that's not such a good idea" O_O"

"Chyba żartujesz! Seahive's known for its food!" the Growlithe barked. "You don't think they'd get all the sea Pokemon around these parts hooked on their stuff if they were bad at it, did you? Why they've got Gummis… Poffins… Donu-"
Elty: "Oh, and also Magikarp... Goldeen... Basculin... Gyarado--"
Nida: "Okay, okay, we get it! There's no way I'm eating another living being" >.<
Elty: "... I'm not so sure I'd call Magikarp 'living'."

"No offense, you look like you'd have trouble fighting your way out of a pile of Substitutes."
Pleo puffed up his chest. "Oh, yeah? I'll show y--"
Muffled speech as Nida and Elty desperately shut his mouth.

but the last two definitely were Pokemon they had seen on the fateful day they snuck aboard Lyn's ship.
Ursaring: "This is for ruining my sleep, then setting my sleeping quarters ON FIRE!"

The Nidoran shook her head and turned away, and let the trees fade into an indistinct sea of leaves and boughs. The team couldn't afford to stay around while Lyn was prowling at the town's port…
Elty: "Say, there is one place where we could seek refuge. The last place they'd expect a Guardian to be. A place with lots of pokémon about to protect Pleo, and who have just softened their attitude towards him.
Nida: "... You're not suggesting what I think you are." O_O'

"... Stay here, mon petit."
Friends in the unlikeliest of places, eh? I'm loving the direction the Marked on this island are taking.

"I don't think they can," he replied. "Those guys must have hit their tiller earlier."
New strategy, everyone: friendly fire!

Back in Tromba, far, far away from Pleo's ordeal, Bluewhorl's expedition was preparing to set off.
Pladur: "I sure hope this doesn't turn into an island-hopping chase where they're always one island ahead of us 😅"
Marley: "Silence! My daughter is on Boisocéan. I will hear no more of it."
Pladur: >.<

"It's something we'll both have to work on, it seems," the elder Druddigon answered,
Marley: "Heh, squishy dragons... Always think you're so strong."
Gwenith: "HEY! Only I get to threaten him!"

Chapter 26 Review:

Five minutes later, Team Traveller sat in the pile of driftwood, hungry. An irked Growlithe fumed as the three searched the worn and battered deck for places to spend the night.

"This was not what you two were supposed to choose !"
Hehehe, nice use of repetition here

Around the island, there was a ringing atoll formed of narrow, spindly reefs poking up above the water. On one of the atoll's islands, there was a complex of buildings and docks built around a sturdy-looking stone fort at one end, carefully guarding the direct entrance to a town built along a seaside bluff.
Oooh, I like this island design! I wonder if we're going to get anything close to Venice and it's densely-packed isles...

Elty, we can't just go to a place like that!" Nida spluttered.
Elty: "But think of the readers! I'm sure they'd find the place really interesting. Plus, judging by the new chapter logos, it's where we're going to encounter our Cubone teammate."

Nida: "Cubone? Awww, but I was hoping for a more exciting species! Why, there's that Gabite pirate, or a Charmeleon, or a cute Druddi—"

Elty: "We get it, you want Crom back. Well, romance works best when built-up over the story's length, so get waiting!"

Nida: >.<

The shacks would usually be built up to the edge of the lane. Every third or so had a second floor, and a few larger ones possessed three or even four.
Woo for urban density! It makes things more interesting. Why, the colours are starting to feel a little like Murano, too. We're just missing the canals.

"Hold it right there!"
Elty: "AAAAAAH! It's him you're looking for! N-not me!"

"Well, if you want that, you've gotta give us something first!"
Elty: "O-oh... Just a corrupt version of a toll gate. Er, what I meant to say was—OW! What's that barb for?!"
Nida huffed. "What my friend meant is that we're happy to deal with gentlemon like you three. Why, we can offer his services as a slave..."

Pleo tapped his digits together. "I d-don't taste that good. Not even with curry!"

"Elty! They thought that we were all a bunch of pirates!" she cried. "This is terrible!"
Nida: "Mami and Papi always told me I was pretty! How could I be pretty and look like a pirate?" >.<

Elty: "Why, some of my crewmates looked mighty fi—OW!"

Pleo: "I think you're pretty, Nida!"

Nida: "See? Learn from that gentlemon over there, brute" >///<

While this meant that Farn hadn't been so petty to deny Lyn his normal spot at the docks, this was hardly any cause for relief. For now there would be two Administrators to get an earful from.
What does the Company's chain of command look like? Perhaps they're run as a board of administrators, but without a clear leader figure I can see things easily descending into factional infighting.

there certainly weren't any bands of shifty-looking Pokémon idling asking each other if they spotted any "promising marks" to go after (Pleo's curiosity on this matter being swiftly overruled as Nida and Elty quickly hushed him along down a detouring alley).
Wait—marks as in, important-looking min to kidnap? Or marks as in hotties to go after?

Maybe it's- like… a metaphor," a similarly slurring Chatot answered. "Makes more sense than Sang, though… I haven't heard the berries say a peep!"
Pleo: "Oooh, they look like they're having fun! Let's try some of that!"
Both: "No."

It would have to do for now, Nida darted off after Pleo with a cry of "wait up!", leaving Elty to follow after her as a small smirk spread over his muzzle.
Nida: "Why do I get the feeling I shouldn't have let my former-pirate friend go out alone into pirate haven?"

Elty: "Hm? What was that? Nothing! Follow me to this dark alley where there totally aren't shadows waiting behind the wall."

Pleo: "Okay!"

Great set of chapters as usual! I get the feeling that Elty will feel at least a little bad about abandoning the other two. Let's see if I'm giving him too much credit!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
What kind of splashing noise is that? xD

It's supposed to be onomatopoeia for the deeper splashing noise that happens when you throw the likes of a large rock into water.

Elty: "Oh, and also Magikarp... Goldeen... Basculin... Gyarado--"
Nida: "Okay, okay, we get it! There's no way I'm eating another living being" >.<
Elty: "... I'm not so sure I'd call Magikarp 'living'."

Cue offended the Magikarp splashing in the water right below.

Pleo puffed up his chest. "Oh, yeah? I'll show y--"
Muffled speech as Nida and Elty desperately shut his mouth.

Pleo: "What? But I can fight my way out of a pile of Substitutes! I did just fine in that Substitute Battling thing yesterday!"

Ursaring: "This is for ruining my sleep, then setting my sleeping quarters ON FIRE!"

Pleo: "I- I didn't do that, though!" OvO;
Nida: "Yeah, bring it up with Mr. Ship-Burner here-!"
Elty: "Oi! Can you wait until after we get out of this situation to throw me under the ship?!" >_>;

Elty: "Say, there is one place where we could seek refuge. The last place they'd expect a Guardian to be. A place with lots of pokémon about to protect Pleo, and who have just softened their attitude towards him.
Nida: "... You're not suggesting what I think you are." O_O'

To be fair, I think Elty would have some other options on his mind, as you picked up in the next numbered chapter. :V

Friends in the unlikeliest of places, eh? I'm loving the direction the Marked on this island are taking.

I mean, it'd be a lot more interesting than them just remaining reflexively hostile throughout.

New strategy, everyone: friendly fire!

Well hey, it worked, didn't it? :V

Pladur: "I sure hope this doesn't turn into an island-hopping chase where they're always one island ahead of us 😅"
Marley: "Silence! My daughter is on Boisocéan. I will hear no more of it."
Pladur: >.<



If it's any consolation, they do catch up in due time, and the plot shakes up considerably afterwards

Marley: "Heh, squishy dragons... Always think you're so strong."
Gwenith: "HEY! Only I get to threaten him!"

That... does sound reasonably in-character for the two of them, yes.


Hehehe, nice use of repetition here

Yeah, definitely one of the funnier gags from the earlier parts of the story.


Oooh, I like this island design! I wonder if we're going to get anything close to Venice and it's densely-packed isles...

All in due time. ^^;

Elty: "But think of the readers! I'm sure they'd find the place really interesting. Plus, judging by the new chapter logos, it's where we're going to encounter our Cubone teammate."

Nida: "Cubone? Awww, but I was hoping for a more exciting species! Why, there's that Gabite pirate, or a Charmeleon, or a cute Druddi—"

Elty: "We get it, you want Crom back. Well, romance works best when built-up over the story's length, so get waiting!"

Nida: >.<

Harsh, but he's not wrong there. :V

Woo for urban density! It makes things more interesting. Why, the colours are starting to feel a little like Murano, too. We're just missing the canals.

That's more of a happy accident since the design is more "amazing technicolor Japanese hamlet".


Elty: "AAAAAAH! It's him you're looking for! N-not me!"

Nida: "You dirty pirate! How dare you try to push this off on us?!" >_>;
Pleo: "Uhm... a-aren't we supposed to be working together as a team? Probably would be a good idea right about now." OvO;

Elty: "O-oh... Just a corrupt version of a toll gate. Er, what I meant to say was—OW! What's that barb for?!"
Nida huffed. "What my friend meant is that we're happy to deal with gentlemon like you three. Why, we can offer his services as a slave..."

Pleo tapped his digits together. "I d-don't taste that good. Not even with curry!"

Considering what those three do when they're not shaking down civilians, Nida would've probably had to walk that 'slave' offer back really fast. There's better than even money odds they'd have taken her up on it.


Elty: "Also, need I remind you that I'm a character of critical plot importance? You can't just ditch me like this!" o_o;
Nida: "Ugh... fine."

Nida: "Mami and Papi always told me I was pretty! How could I be pretty and look like a pirate?" >.<

Elty: "Why, some of my crewmates looked mighty fi—OW!"

Pleo: "I think you're pretty, Nida!"

Nida: "See? Learn from that gentlemon over there, brute" >///<

Considering some other traits associated with pirates that come up in this story... yeah, I don't blame Nida for getting offended there.


What does the Company's chain of command look like? Perhaps they're run as a board of administrators, but without a clear leader figure I can see things easily descending into factional infighting.

They have a clear leader, that you'll get to learn more about him in the near future. Not that it stops the aforementioned factional infighting.

Wait—marks as in, important-looking min to kidnap? Or marks as in hotties to go after?

Moreso 'mons to rob/mug'. A certain gecko of yours might be familiar with that parlance.

Pleo: "Oooh, they look like they're having fun! Let's try some of that!"
Both: "No."

Yeah... probably wouldn't be wise to let the fledgling sea god get into the recreational substances. :V

Nida: "Why do I get the feeling I shouldn't have let my former-pirate friend go out alone into pirate haven?"

Elty: "Hm? What was that? Nothing! Follow me to this dark alley where there totally aren't shadows waiting behind the wall."

Pleo: "Okay!"

Nida:

Elty: "Need I remind you that I'm the one familiar with this place?"
Nida: "Yeah, that's exactly why I don't trust you right now!" >.<

Great set of chapters as usual! I get the feeling that Elty will feel at least a little bad about abandoning the other two. Let's see if I'm giving him too much credit!

Bold of you to assume that things will go that smoothly for him. After all, they do have a Cubone teammate to recruit. :V

Though we’ll be looking forward to your reactions for what comes next, since a lot of stuff happens between where you are in the story and now. ^^

Speaking of, we kinda left Team Traveller in a bit of a bad spot last time. Why don’t we check in on them and see how they’re doing now?
 
Chapter 37: Helping Hand

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f


"They're here to put an end to your little adventure."

Pleo looked around in panic for some way the team could stand against the Armaldo, Mienshao, Grovyle, Ariados, and Leafeon that had cornered them in the medbay. Nida and Elty's fur bristled, their eyes widened, and their backs arched, while Guardia held on to her club for dear life. The air seemed to thicken around them as the four braced themselves for the oncoming attack.

"N-Nida? What do we do?" the little Lugia stammered. Before the Poison-Type could respond, the sound of heavy, approaching footsteps drew Pleo's attention to the Armaldo. He locked eyes with the hulking sea bug, petrified.

"Look, I'm a reasonable Pokémon, so let's be frank," Briggs answered with a smirk. "The best course of action for you four is to surrender peacefully."

"Commander?! Wh-What are you doing?!" a Leafeon's yelp interjected. "W-We can't take them with us!"

The Armaldo's smirk abruptly faded, replaced with a frustrated grimace as Phyllis fearfully protested. Briggs whirled around to see the shaken-looking Leafeon ringed by her stunned-looking Mienshao, Ariados, and Grovyle counterparts.

"Huh?!"

"Phyllis?!"

"What are you going on about?!"

"That b-bird with them's a demon!" she insisted. Briggs' blood boiled, and the Fossil Pokémon raised a claw to strike some sense into the Marked Leafeon when a cry came from the four Pokémon.

"Pleo! Quick! The window!"

The Company Pokémon turned just in time to see the young Lugia spit up a glowing ball at the window, splintering the wooden shutters as the rest of Team Traveller clumsily clambered onto his back.

"Pin them down, now!" Briggs bellowed. The Armaldo's right claw began trailing flickers of whitish light as he readied a slash at the white bird. However, as soon as Briggs raised his claw, his Mienshao subordinate pre-empted him by fishing out a Petrify Orb from a bag around his shoulder, and hurling it at the wall above the broken window.

"A-Aah!"

A shower of shards and sparks fell onto Team Traveller, sending them toppling over onto the floor, twitching as the orb's effects rendered their bodies unresponsive. As the four cried out and fought futilely against their paralysis, Briggs shot an ugly glare at Phyllis, before turning his attention to Hertsog while the hapless Leafeon shrank back.

"I told you that she wasn't fit for this mission, Hertsog," he snarled. The Mienshao visibly paused and gave a disappointed look at the leafy fox, before hardening his gaze and turning back to his superior.

"Commander, they're subdued," the weasel grunted, shaking his head. "Let's worry about tying them up before they can move again."

"Fine," Briggs scoffed. "Let's get to it, then."

Pleo felt his friends get dragged from him one-by-one, as cries of protest rang out in the background. There was Nida's "W-Wait, stop!", Elty's defiant "Agh! Let go of me!", and a panicked "A-Aah! That's my bone!" from Guardia. Suddenly, he found himself tumbling to the floor, coming face to face with Salvini standing over him.

There, in his numbed helplessness, one question burned over and over in his mind, until he could hold it in no longer.

"S-Salvini!" he cried. "Wh-Why are you doing this to us?!"

The gecko said nothing, looking away as she tied up the immobilized Lugia. As she finished tightening the last knots, the Grass-Type was suddenly interrupted by a stern growl from Briggs.

"Make sure you cut his flight feathers."

The Grovyle's claws slipped from the rope, and she uneasily got up and faced the stone-faced anomalocaris.

"Come… again?" she murmured.

"He's a bird, Salvini," the Armaldo snapped. "Birds fly when they're free unless something is done to prevent that."

Salvani hesitated at Briggs' words, shaking her head.

"Commander, he's a wounded child!" the Grovyle protested. "Be reasonable!"

"I am being reasonable! This is standard procedure for transporting scum of their lot to the cells back in the fort!" he bellowed. The Armaldo opened his mouth to continue, only to suddenly be interrupted by a yelp from the back of the room.

"T-Ti si lud! Y-You can't bring that thing back with us!"

The Commander whirled and saw Phyllis wide-eyed, cowering in the corner. Briggs' nostrils flared and his tail batted impatiently against the ground as the seething Armaldo towered over the shaken Grass-Type.

"I have had it with you!" Briggs roared. "This whole arrest you've been nothing but dead weight!"

"That creature will destroy us! You can't just bring him into the fort!" Phyllis cried. "I w-won't stand for it! And neither will the others like me on the force!"

Briggs froze at the Leafeon's words. It would be trivial to have the fox discharged from the ranks like she ought to be, but if the other Marked among the guards or in the town saw the Protector, they would surely not react any better. And what if word leaked out from them to the rest of the villagers? Could the Company really keep things under control if they connected the dots to a Marked's "demon"? Worse still, what about the Imperials who would surely notice an unexplained disturbance…?

"Commander, I don't know what's gotten into Phyllis. But you did say this was supposed to be discreet," Hertsog began. "If there's a reason to think that moving this group would draw attention, wouldn't it be better to keep them here?"

"And surely it would be best to treat them like patients to preserve a cover, Commander?" Salvini added.

The Armaldo paused, before hissing in frustration and giving a dismissive wave of his claws.

"Fine. Bar the door and the window, and make sure every exit is watched around the clock," Briggs said. The creature shook his head, before casting a glance over at Pleo. "Commissioner Lyn should be in port before dawn to pick the bird up anyways."


At the mention of the Samurott's name, Pleo, Elty, and Nida's irises shrank to pinpoints. Guardia, seeing her teammates' reaction, began to quiver in dread as her teammates cried out in one voice.

"L-Lyn?!"

"Ah, I see you're all familiar with him," the Armaldo answered. "Your bird friend here will be going on a little trip with him. As for the rest of you, you'll be treated like any pirate that shows their face on this island… You'll be collecting Apricorns for us, indefinitely."

Nida gasped as a sudden realization came to her. Elty had said that Fensedge was a bad place to get caught, so those fields they saw on the way to the Mystery Dungeon earlier...

"A-Ah! Then those Pokémon up the hill!" Nida cried. "They're-!"

"Scum like you that we've put to use," the Commander sneered.

Nida tried to summon an urge to fight, only to find that her limbs were still rigid and unresponsive, and her mind blank of any ideas on what to do. Briggs gave a satisfied smirk at the petrified Nidoran and her teammates, gesturing at the group with a claw.

"Anyhow, this is the part where I should take my leave," he said, before turning his attention to his subordinates. "The rest of you, I want you watching every way in and out of this room with reinforcements in shifts.

The Armaldo left the room, leaving Hertsog to hastily hand down assignments as Team Traveller weakly fought against their bindings. It was decided that Payak would guard the door, while Salvini and Phyllis would tend to the exterior as Hertsog pulled other guards off for reinforcements.

After that, the window was blocked with a table and gummed up with some silk from Payak; Hertsog and a still-shivering Phyllis then left the room, the Mienshao signaling for Salvani to follow him out. As the Grovyle began to make her way for the door, she heard a hurt-sounding squawk.

"Salvini! Pl-Please!"

The Grass-Type paused, and reluctantly looked back where Pleo stared at her, his eyes tearing up and beak quivering.

"You're not a bad Pokémon like this!" the Lugia pleaded. "H-Help us!"

The Grovyle froze and tensed up, her breaths coming softly and shallowly. The Grass-Type looked silently at the bound children, and then at her teammates, before turning back reluctantly to Pleo and his friends.

"... You're right. I'm not," she replied, shaking her head. "And that's why I have to do this…"

Salvini hurried out the door at the sound of Pleo's whine. She passed Payak settling down next to the door, and made her way down the hallway with a knot in her stomach.

Outside the building, Trizano sat perched on a tree branch in a small grove at the far end of the hut, overlooking an alley downhill from the neighboring taverna. There, the Steel-Type stared at the now-blocked window in the side of the Medic's hut, shaking his head bitterly after watching the scene in the room unfold.

"I should have known something like this would have happened," the Skarmory said. He had to somehow set this right, and free the kids from the trap they had walked into. But... before he could do that, he had to learn more about his enemies.

"Hang in there, Pleo," he murmured. "I'm not out of moves just yet."



Back in Kenobi, Crom and his peers from the Siglo Swellow had finally found the 'bokuya' that Eeden and Zamora spoke of... a sorry-looking shack made of worn and pitted orange wood with a tiled roof.

"Well the place is certainly at home with the rest of the district," Kiran murmured.

Ander paused and poked skeptically at a few timbers, half-convinced that the rickety shack might collapse at any moment. After some unease and false hopes that the proprietor might come out to tend the shop's front, the team conceded that there would be no avoiding entering the uninviting bar.

"Let's go inside," Pladur sighed.

However, before the team could take another step forward, a Linoone flew through the doorway, followed by a gruff "And stay out!" from further inside. The ferret got up, shook some sense back into his head, and hastily darted off with his tail between his legs.

The four Pokemon looked at each other and blanched for a moment before Crom spoke up

"Are we really going in there…?"

"Well… it should certainly be an… interesting visit," Ander added.

The four Pokemon made their way into the bar past the clothing hanging by the door. The interior was revealed to be a dingy room that reeked of cheap spirits, filled with rough-hewn round tables and stools. The place was mostly abandoned, barring the exception of a Meowstic and a Cacturne with orange scarfs bearing white jaws talking about how much time they had left in port, and an obscured figure sitting alone in a corner. And finally, a Throh was making his way towards the other side of the counter.

"I don't see this 'Valatos' anywhere" Crom muttered as he scanned the bar.

"Maybe we should try chatting with that barkeeper," Ander said. "Those teleporters did say he had an axe to grind with them."

Perhaps sensing he was being talked about, Shuho lifted his head from his work cleaning the bar and turned his eyes towards the group.

"If you're here for something, either take a seat or make it quick," the Throh snapped. "I don't have all day."

Crom and his companions faltered a second, but then approached the bar and sidled up against the counter. The four looked warily at the stone-faced Throh, before Pladur cleared his throat to try and start up some small talk.

"Erm, well, what was that whole ruckus about earlier?" the Fraxure asked.

"That's something between me and that Linoone," Shuho huffed. "Why don't you go and ask him yourself?"

The Fraxure paused and traded uneasy looks with his fellow lavender-scarves. This bartender wouldn't even answer a little question like that?

"Fair enough," Ander muttered, shaking his head. "Anyhow… we were hoping you'd have seen a group of fellow First-Ranks consisting of a Yanmega, a Manectric, and a Marowak?"

"They're not here now if that's what you're after," the barkeep grunted.

"Yes, I can see that," the Scyther sighed. "I meant if you knew where they are right now."

"Look, I don't talk stuff about Pokémon unless if someone from their group's in my establishment," the Throh spat.

"Uhm, aren't they fellow Company Pokémon like us?" Crom asked. "Doesn't that count as being in the same group?"

"Last I knew, they didn't hang out with punks like you, and their boss was a Sidon," the Fighting-Type retorted "So no, you're not."

"So you really are a neutral type," Kiran said.

"Around these parts, you'd be wise to not make many enemies," the Throh answered. "It's bad for business."

"I see," the Swellow murmured. "Then perhaps we could come to a little understanding about something we needed taken care of…"

"And what would that be?"

Kiran rifled through his bag and pulled out a small collection of folded-up leaflets before sliding them across the bar. The Throh picked up the papers, unfolded them, and leafed over them one by one… Until he paused and suddenly went wide-eyed. The Fighting-Type vigorously shook his head and hardened his gaze before turning back to Kiran.

"Is this a joke?" he demanded. "You're telling me that that group with the mutt who came in here without money to pay their bill had a god with them?"

Crom put a claw over his face and shook his head at the mention of Elty attempting to get food without paying, before pausing, and realizing…

"Wait, they were here?!" the young Druddigon cried.

"Yeah? And?" Shuho scoffed. "That doesn't explain why you're passing this bounty around! Your employers put one out for two of those kids a few days ago, and now you're going out and saying the last one was a god?"

"Look, I understand that this may be hard to swallow, but this is no joke," Kiran said. "That bounty might be the most important sheet of paper the Company has had to issue in its entire history. Top-secret and issued by orders of the Board."

"Because we need to find someone to hold onto this until the time is right to make it public knowledge," Ander added. "Someone who would obviously be rewarded if they were found to have led to the Guardian's retrieval."

Shuho paused, giving his chin a few idle strokes as he mulled over the claim of the Company strangers in front of him.

"I see," the ruddy fighter answered. "And you chose to trust this with some guy running a hole in the wall why?"

"Because you seem to know quite a few Pokémon around these parts, and you said that you weren't fond of making enemies," Ander retorted.

"Make no mistake," Kiran added, shaking his head. "If you take this and the Company hears of you running your mouth off before the time is right, you'll have no shortage of those. This outfit doesn't suffer liars particularly well, especially with stakes like these."

Shuho narrowed his eyes at Kiran, before glancing down at the paper again. The Fighting-Type paused a moment in contemplation, before giving a shake of his head.

"Fine, I'll bite," the Throh grunted, before stuffing the bounties into a lockbox under the counter.

"As for Valatos and the rest of his buddies, I still don't know where they are," he said. "I do know that they've been looking for a way out of here lately. Seems like they've crossed someone really high up in your organization."

Crom drew a sharp breath. Pleo had angered Lyn alright, he knew… but had Valatos as well? How worse could things get?

"Right, we'll keep that in mind," Pladur replied. The four quickly turned and filed out of the door and out of the sordid little shack, leaving the bar to return to its prior sleepy atmosphere.

"What was that all about?"

Only for a chittering voice to suddenly speak up, and a worn-shelled Clawitzer bearing a white scarf with a red saltire to hop out into the middle of the floor. The crustacean stood up on her tail and looked off in the direction of the doorway, before turning to give Shuho a stern, but curious look.

"Nothing that I feel like talking about," the Throh snorted. "If it's something you're interested in, why don´t you ask them yourself? They can't have gotten far."

The two Pokémon glared at each other, the Clawitzer up at the Throh, and the Throh back down to her. After a long, pregnant silence, the impasse broke as a small smile began to creep over the shrimp's face.

"Maybe I will," the Water-Type answered, before hopping along on her tail. "I left the pay on my table. Do svidaniya."

Nagant began to scuttle for the door and cast a glance back towards the counter, where Shuho had already made his way back to the bar while counting the money she had left on her table. The shrimp turned back and pushed her way past the white noren over the doorway, out into the streets of the teeming hive outside and after a most familiar-looking quarry.



While Shuho and his most inquisitive client were chatting inside his establishment, Crom and his fellows from the Siglo Swellow had made their way towards an intersection a short way down from 'bokuya.

"What do we do now?" Crom asked. "That 'Shuho' Pokémon barely gave us anything to work with!"

"Well we managed to give out the bounties at least…" Pladur sighed. "But I really don't know how we're supposed to narrow down where this 'Valatos' went."

The team made their way past the colorful, dingy shops on the lane over to the sea. They walked past a Shelgon-shaped Box Buster shop, its draconic proprietor hard at work bashing open a stack of pilfered crates. Afterwards came a shifty-looking store tended to by a grizzled Blastoise with metal-tipped harpoons displayed on a wall with some improperly hollowed logs lying in a discarded pile in an alleyway. Finally, the team came to an intersection with a small pagoda, where at the far end sat a Reuniclus' shop that was filled with maps and navigational tools, and surprisingly enough, a Kecleon market, if with a duo of extra and particularly surly-looking chameleons keeping a steely watch around the shop.

For a second, the team thought they saw Valatos inside the map shop after seeing a flying, chitinous form. The four ran up to wave down the creature, only to discover to their disappointment that it was simply a teal beetle with long, jagged mandibles, and an abdomen that flickered with yellowish light.

"Well, wherever they are, we don't have much time," Ander said. "That barkeeper did say they were trying to leave town."

"But how would they do that? Given the neighborhood the only way of doing so would be by joining a pirate crew…" Kiran murmured. The Swellow suddenly froze as his eyes went wide, as an uncomfortable realization crept into his mind.

"Wait a minute!" he squawked. "They were trying to join a pirate crew! They were even talking about it when we ran into them!"

The four Pokémon abruptly blanched for a moment as they realized that if Valatos and his buddies had been looking for a crew for a full day, they might not even be in port by now! But even if they hadn't...

"If they did join a pirate crew and they're still here," Crom began. "How would we even find the-?"

"What's taking those new guys so long?" a heavy voice asked. The sound of footsteps approaching rang out, followed by a low sigh in response.

"Don't tell me they bailed already because of your outburst..."

"Well hey, look on the bright side," a buzzing voice answered. "This way we get to pick seats before them!"

"Huh?"

Crom, Pladur, Kiran, and Ander turned and felt their blood run cold as an Aggron with a golden-yellow scarf followed by a host of like-scarved cohorts rounded the corner. Both the Pokémon from the Siglo Swellow, and the metal ruffian froze and widened their eyes in shock before a shared refrain filled the lane…

"Ack! You again!"

Kiran turned to Crom and then at the gathering of golden-scarved Pokémon right before him. The other Pokémon also staring at group in exchange, though many of them seemed far more puzzled than the Aggron.

"Uh… Hess, who are they again?" Rodion asked.

"Yeah," Kichiro piped up. "I don't remember seeing these dweebs before."

At the pirate's remark, memories of the fateful encounter with the Aggron came flooding back to Crom's mind. The young Dragon-Type suddenly felt aches all over his body, unpleasant reminders of the wounds the captain had inflicted on him.

"Y-You're that pirate captain that raided our home last month!"

Pladur gulped and grimaced, such an outburst was hardly the thing to say to a lot of hardened criminals! Much to the group's horror, the band of pirates slowly and carefully spread away from their captain. The golden-scarved mob began to circle the party from the Siglo Swellow as the Aggron captain gave an audible crack to his neck.

"That's right," Hess snorted, the hulking Steel-Type lumbering closer to his trapped quarry. "And it looks like things are finally going my way for once!"

"Wait, they… are?" Crom asked, the Druddigon starting to grow increasingly unnerved as to what the brigand's answer might be.

"Well now, thanks to your freaky gull friend, I'm short a few deck claws," Aggron explained as he pointed to the group accompanying him. "And here you go through all the trouble of coming out here! Just when I needed to find a few extra claws to swab the deck of my ship!"

Some members of the Iron Fleet caught on the commentary and started laughing at the trapped 'Company grunts', already understanding of what was coming next for the quailing square-necks before them.

"H-Huh?! Us join you?!" Kiran squawked. "Y-You're dreaming!"

"Oh really now? I seem to remember that it was because of your blasted town that I lost a mast and over a dozen deck claws!" Hess angrily snarled. "Sounds like you've got a debt to pay, and I'm in the perfect position to collect!"

Crom and his companions flinched, expecting the hulking captain and his cronies to be upon them at any moment. There was a tense, breathless wait, followed by a realization that the Aggron was extending a claw, with a predatory smirk spreading on his maw.

"But I'm a reasonable captain," he offered, giving a call forward with his outstretched claws. "Come peacefully and we'll hash out the details over some drinks."

The four did not spend much time deliberating the matter. The situation clearly looked hopeless, the choices stark… with only one answer left to give.

"N-No! We're not pirates!" Crom growled, beating his wings out in trembling defiance. "We- We'd never work with the likes of you!"

The mood of the gathered pirates suddenly turned sour, as murmurs and a jeer of 'well this will be fun' floated around. Hess' mood darkened and he hastily drew his claw back to his side at the refusal, and shook his head, shooting an overpowering glare at the four Pokémon from the Siglo Swellow.

"So be it. Looks like I'll get to show the crew why this job gets to be so enjoyable sometimes!" Hess roared. The Aggron snorted, eased into a battle position, and pawed his feet, ready to charge

"Because every so often, I get to beat the tar out of pests like you!"



Back in Fensedge Village, Trizano had dutifully circled the medic's hut from the shadows ever since watching the raid on Pleo's room, searching for possible ways that he could make his way in. A subtle, but noticeable presence of guards had taken up positions around the exterior of the hut along the of the guarded room. There were guards patrolling around the medic's hut perimeter, guards standing underneath Team Traveller's window, and a lone Marked Leafeon looking out anxiously from the roof...

"Captain, about what happened earlier…"

And of course the pair he was currently watching, a Grovyle and Mienshao who seemed to both be deep in uncomfortable thought.

"Did we really do the right thing? Restraining those children like that?" the Grovyle asked. "And the way Phyllis reacted..."

The mustelid shifted an uneasy glance at the ground, before shaking his head and facing his charge.

"Look, Salvini… I understand that sometimes carrying out the letter of the law isn't pleasant," he offered. "But there's surely a reason why Commander Briggs thinks those children are more than what they seem to be-"

"You there!"

Salvini and Hertsog looked up in a start at the sound of a booming, interrupting voice. From the main lane up to the guild, they saw a Dragonite wearing a lavender Fourth-Rank scarf swoop in impatiently with an irked expression etched into his face. The two tensed their stance upon noticing the superior, as the Dragon-Type came lumbering along to them, in a clearly agitated mood.

"Wait a minute," Trizano murmured from his perch in the trees behind the hut. "Isn't that…?"

"Administrator Darzin, sir. You still haven't flown back to Canalhouse?" Hertsog prodded. "Is something the matter?"

"What exactly is going on here?" the Dragon-Type demanded. "No medic's hut has a detail this large posted to it!"

"We have some Pokémon of interest detained inside, and we have reacted accordingly," the Captain answered.

"What sort of answer is that?!" the Dragonite spat. "I need specifics! Who is in there, and why have they not been transported already?!"

Hertsog and Salvini blinked and traded uneasy looks with each other. Here before them was an Administrator from the Company board demanding that they divulge the identity of the pirates they just captured, but...

"Er… I'm afraid that we're not allowed to talk about that, sir," Salvini replied. "Direct orders from Commander Briggs."

"I'm your superior here! I outrank Commander Briggs!" Darzin roared. "So either spit it out or let me in!"

"Administrator Darzin! How can you demand that I endanger my subordinates like that?!" Hertsog exclaimed. "Surely Administrator Zorn would have been notified of the matter! Can't you ask him for a debriefing?"

Trizano’s eyes widened as he realized that Darzin had to be talking about the Protector from Tromba- no other prisoner would warrant this fuss. But then...

"I don't understand, don't you already have a lackey coming to pick him up?" the Skarmory murmured to himself. "What's the point of rushing like this?"

Focusing a little too intently, Trizano accidentally squeezed the branch tighter and tighter, until it fractured with an audible snap. The subject of his observation heard the noise, and spun his head around to check for the source. The Skarmory hastily braced his wings and fanned out his blade-like feathers, bracing for a sudden battle.

After a tense, breathless pause, Trizano realized that Darzin seemed startled and apprehensive. Slowly, the dragon turned back to the Mienshao and Grovyle, his adamance for getting a better picture of what was going on in the hut having evaporated.

"I… remembered that I had other matters to tend to," the Dragonite answered. "But I will be back later, and don't you forget it!"

Trizano watched as Darzin hastily turned and stormed off, exhaling with a sigh of relief that the fractured branch hadn't given him away. Even so, a realization began to creep up on him about the scale of the task before him...

"This will go easier if I have help," the Skarmory grunted. "But posting a job would take too long, and alert the powers-that-be to what I'm up to..."

Trizano jumped from his place in the treeline behind the building, before taking to the skies. The Armor Bird's mind swirling with possibilities for who to reach out to…

"There has to be somebody there with the courage to stand with Trizano against injustice! I just have to find them myself!"

And there was a place where someone would surely have the courage to stand up… The Mengir Island Guild. All the while on the route over, one detail bedeviled him…

Where would they be able to hide the children?

He thought of attempting to spirit them to Kenobi Island, but there were far too many grunts there. Leaving sleepy Fensedge for Canalhouse City was hardly an alternative, as it would just be leaping from the pan and into the fire. Otvaga Island was a better option since that atoll was neutral, but as a sudden stiff and gusty wind reminded, the waters en route would surely be patrolled, and there was a storm due to come in tonight.

The Skarmory landed in front of the guild and went inside hoping he could find someone who would be up for an arduous task. But… did ferrying the childern to another island have to be one? Perhaps he just wasn't thinking far out enough? Though, if his suspicions about the one named 'Pleo' were right, he would surely not have rest on any island in Anyilla for long, and possibly not any others… Except for one place…

Home. It would certainly be safe, and already shepherded its own secrets, but it was all the way on the other end of Anyilla! There would surely be a wall of obstacles just to get there even if he stayed with the children all that time…

If only there was another way, a nearby place he could get them to where the Company wouldn't look for them…

"Yeesh, this gummi chest is hefty… Good thing it's only a ten minute walk after I get into the Subway."

Trizano turned, and saw a Kabutops pass by, pressing a red chest in between his scythes to dump into a netting bag. Wasn't that Dimitri from the other day?

Wait a minute! There was a frontier to work with all this time quite literally under his beak! And Dimitri was a Pokémon who would be in the perfect position to take the kids there!

"Oh, it's you again!" the Kabutops exclaimed as he took notice of the Skarmory.

"That's right, but aren't you supposed to be back at your clan?" Trizano replied.

"Eh, being a little late never killed anyone. Besides, this mission will take me straight to them!"

"Hm?" the Skarmory asked, tilting his head. "Mind explaining that to me?"

"I was gonna meet up with my rod at Seaspear Station along the Subway passages to Otvaga," Dimitri explained. "It's where I have to deliver these Gummis for my current mission."

The Subway... the maze of breathable passages and Mystery Dungeons that crisscrossed the Cradle's seafloor. It was only about fifty fathoms below the waves, but it may as well be another planet for most Pokémon. Wait...

"Davvero?" the Steel-Type asked. "Would you like to make a little extra on the side?"

Dimitri gave a quizzical tilt of his head at Trizano, a curious demeanor coming over him as he began to wonder what sort of errand the Skarmory needed help with.

"Eh? What do you need me to do?"

"Well, first off, how good are you with stormy waters?" Trizano wondered.

The Kabutops crossed his scythes and gave a bemused chuckle back at the Steel-Type. Him? Have a problem with stormy waters?

"Pfft, if I wasn't good, would I be taking a mission the day when one's set to blow in?"

"... Touché," the bird cawed. A small smile began to form at the ends of Trizano's beak. If Dimitri was a strong enough swimmer, then that would mean that all would be needed to get the kids underwater was a place to dive...

"And I take it you've been using the diving spot next to those rocks offshore to the west to get down into the Subway?"

"Well, yeah. I don't need those purple-scarves getting involved in my rod's matters," the crustacean answered.

Along with a little skill....

"Do you know how to Dive with other Pokémon?"

Dimitri paused and blinked at Trizano's question. It seemed like an odd detail for the bird to be prying into, but...

"Er… da," the crab responded. "Why do you ask?"

The Skarmory paused for a moment and went quiet, before looking up into the Kabutops' eyes with a surprisingly stern and serious expression.

"It's the mission I need help with," Trizano explained. "It involves taking a party of four into the Subway."



Meanwhile on the dingy streets of Andaku, Crom, Pladur, Kiran, and Ander circled in tighter and tighter as the Iron Fleet closed in on them. The four backpedaled until they felt their tails touch each other and realized there was nowhere left to retreat.

"Err... what now?" Ander buzzed anxiously.

The four desperately looked around for a way out, but couldn't seem to see anything that could help them. Suddenly Kiran noticed the Kecleon shop up across the intersection had a number of goods on display behind the counter, including what looked to be a few orange, scaled seeds.

"Maybe we have something…" the Swellow murmured. The Flying-Type hopped up, and as the Pokémon around them began to charge, beat his wings and sent a slicing wind at the counter…

"Close your eyes!"

BOOM!

… which set off a Blast Seed on display, followed up by a Blowback Orb that burst with a gust of air ejecting merchandise from the stall and into the nearby navigation shop. A Sandy Orb smashed against the ground whipping up a localized sandstorm, as one after the other orbs shattered and seeds flung out from the shop along with bits of signed timber and canvas.

"Aargh!"

The gathering quickly devolved into a chaotic cloud of sand and confusion, with disoriented cries, and the sound of angry shouts from Kecleon coming from further off. After sending a Liepard tumbling back into the dust with a swipe from his tusks, Pladur saw an opening, along with the muddled form of Shuho's bar in the background.

"Th-This way, quick!" he yelped. The four quickly bolted through the confusion and exited the plume of dust kicked up by Kiran's distraction, fleeing as fast as their limbs could carry them. They sprinted back past the arms dealer and the box buster, and made it to 'bokuya when they heard a hacking voice bellow out behind them.

"Don't let them get away!"

Crom, Kiran, Ander, and Pladur looked back and saw Hess storming out of the sand cloud, calling up and flinging a hail of large rocks from the ground at the crewmates from the Siglo Swellow. With a yelp, the four ducked down the side, and into a narrow alleyway with broken down planks laying around as a barrage of bulky, heavy stones slammed into the side of the orange-wooded shack.

As the four lavender-scarved Pokémon slipped out of view, Hess and a number of his cronies ran in, looking around restlessly for their foes. Towards the end of the pack, Valatos flew in from high up with his companions trailing him, the Yanmega catching the forms of creatures moving swiftly down a back alley.

The dragonfly flew down and settled against the ground, just in time for Nori to give a questioning prod to his teammates with his bone.

"Valatos, you see anything?" Nori asked.

"Yeah," the Bug-Type buzzed back. "Those Pokémon the new Captain's after headed down our old shortcut for the big shopping street."

"Then what are we waiting for?!" Alvise exclaimed. "Let's get a move on!"

"Yeah!" Nori added. "Let's tell the others and get them!"

The two turned to call out to their new teammates, only to be cut off by Valatos raising a foreleg and motioning for a stop.

"Actually... I've got a better plan…" the dragonfly began.

The sound of an angry "That's my shop!" from 'bokuya's Throh proprietor rang out, followed by yelps and running from the Pokémon up ahead, which drew a pair of gulps from Nori and Alvise.

"I'll explain while we move!" Valatos cried. "The others will be catching up with us fast enough anyways!"



The confused shouts of the Pokémon behind them dulled and grew fainter as Crom and the others zipped through the alley. They turned left upon stumbling across an intersection, and hurried along past some upended timbers onto a large street lined with shops, panting out of exhaustion.

"I… I think we lost them," Ander said. For a second, the four paused and sighed, starting to brush off some dust and sand from their bodies as the passerbys traded askew stares before continuing on.

"There they are!"

Until a shout rang out up ahead and the forms of several golden-scarved Pokémon darting out from a side street came into view. The four quickly turned and bolted down the lane, as yelps and the crash and clatter of disturbed merchandise rang out behind them, with more flightworthy members of the Iron Fleet pursued from the air.

"Th-They're all over!" Pladur yelped.

"Quick! Down that alley there!" Kiran exclaimed. "It'll give us cover!"

The team ran past a modest shack watched by a Sawk bodyguard with a Cinccino handling a clay pot among bunches of spiky, reddish-orange berries dangling from the rafters. Up in front, the addled customers lazily turned as the sound of the four square-necks rushing past reached their ears. Suddenly the sound of a crash and the clerk shrieking rang out as a jet of hot, steaming water sailed into the shop. The scream was soon followed by the Lansat pot smashing into syrupy pieces against a wall, which jolted the clients at the counter into a blind panic.

"A-Ack! It's the fuzz!" a Lapras yelped. "They made me do it officer, I swear!"

"I'm too pretty to do manual labor!" a Vanillish cried.

"Let's resist arrest!" a Bastiodon shouted. "That'll show 'em!"

The dazed Pokémon sprang up out of their seats as the crewmates of the Siglo Swellow ducked down the alley, the sounds of confused Pokémon tripping each other up and trading blows resounding in the background. At the head of the group, Kiran noticed that the cliffsides were looming up ahead, then that meant…

"We just need to make it to the cliffs!" the Swellow squawked. "Once we get out of this district, the Iron Fleet won't be able t- AUGH!"

Only to be cut off by a slicing burst of wind that sent the four into a tumbling stop tripping over each other. As they stumbled up to their feet, they came face to face with a Yanmega flitting back and forth smugly with a golden scarf around his prothorax.

"Aren't you in a hurry?" the Bug-Type sneered. Crom backpedaled at the sight of the great dragonfly, only to realize… the eyes… the wings… the voice… This was the same Yanmega from the other day!

"E-Eh?!" Crom stammered. "You're-!"

"Right where we want you!" a voice shouted from behind. The team looked back and saw a Manectric and a Marowak rushing up the alleyway. The three quickly boxed in Crom and his companions, shooting malicious sneers with the four all the while.

"Heh, nice work, Valatos," Nori said. "And here I thought we'd have to chase 'em into a dead end to corner them like this."

The assailants slowly closed in, flashing menacing, predatory smirks as they herded Crom, Kiran, Ander, and Pladur into an ever-tighter group.

"Valatos, wait!" Crom cried. "You saw a white bird, didn't you?"

Valatos scoffed, turning to trade a bemused glance with his companions.

"What are you getting at?" The Bug-Type buzzed.

"It was as big as me, and looked strange, and-"

"Tch, how should we know?!" the dragonfly chittered, leaving Crom to drop his jaw agape in disbelief.

"H-Huh?! But you saw him!" Crom protested. "Those Cubone said so!"

"Yeah, we did, but we don't know where he went," Nori grunted, before tightening his grip on his club. "But that's not really relevant right now."

"There will be plenty of time to get to know each other once you're down for the count!" Valatos sneered. "Alvise, finish them!"

"On it!"

Alvise hunched up and sparks began to fly along his coat and coalesce into a crackling mass. As the wolf prepared his Discharge, Ander noticed a stack of flour-dusted sacks against the wall of a wooden shack to his right and threw out a scythe in a panic. As he slashed open the sacks, a plume of white dust suddenly blinded the Manectric, causing him to send his Discharge forward and draw a litany of yelps.

"Gah! You weren't supposed to shock me too, you dimwit!"

Including one that wasn't supposed to happen.

"Agh! It's not my fault!" Alvise protested. "I can't see- Yeow!"

The Electric-Type slammed against an alley wall with a yelp after being struck by a claw swipe from Pladur, trailing jagged flecks of greenish energy. The attack on his teammate prompted the accompanying Marowak to charge forward with his club raised.

"I've got 'em! I've-"

Before Nori could retaliate against the Fraxure, he was cut off by a gust of wind from Kiran brushing past him. The burst of air struck a tall pile of flour bags, which promptly toppled onto Alvise and Nori below with a loud thud and a chorus of dazed groans.

"Urgh…"

"Ow… my back..."

Valatos darted back as static still danced on his exoskeleton, falling back panting from the cloud of flour dust and hastily calling up some rocks ringed with purplish auras out of the ground.

"Do I have to do everything around here?" he hissed, only for a young voice to suddenly cry out.

"Hey! Look over here!"

"Huh?"

Valatos turned and instinctively fluttered backwards as white powder was thrown against his face, covering his eyes. The Bug-Type blindly launched his stony projectiles, only to feel the sensation of claws smacking him down out of the air. Valatos hit the ground hard, leaving him to hack and wheeze angrily after the fleeing presences.

"A-Argh!" he cried. "G-Get back here where I can see you, you dweebs!"

The demand came to no avail, as Crom, Kiran, Ander, and Pladur continued to hurry down the alleyway, if with labored and heavy movements. The running battle had taken its toll, leaving scrapes, bruises, and electrical burns over the increasingly ragged group.

"I can't take much more of this," Kiran panted.

"Just hang in there, Kiran," Ander pleaded. "I can see the cliffs getting closer! We must be getting near to-!"

"Checkmate, chumps!"

The team came to an abrupt stop as they ran square into a solid, gray mass, knocking them back and onto the ground. The group rubbed at their heads and limbs until they realized that to their horror, what they’d run into was…

"A-Aah!"

The looming form of an Aggron in the middle of an intersection of alleyways. Behind him, various forms poked their heads here and there to try and get a view of their leader's trapped quarry.

"Still running?" he taunted. "I think that my crew's colors on your necks would fix up that tired look of yours just fine!"

Laughter and jeers came from the lackeys behind Hess, as the team slowly began to realize how dire a situation they were actually in. The Aggron prepared to call up stones from the ground with a Rock Slide, which froze the four in fear as their hopes sank along with Hess' stony form. Until suddenly, the jeers were pierced by a voice from behind.

"I think not."

"Huh?! Who said-?! Agh!"

Before Hess had a chance to finish his attack, a pulsing burst of water zipped in and struck him in the face, knocking back into his mass of underlings. The sound of yelps and cries came out from the gathered lackeys behind the Steel-Type captain, as Crom and his companions looked back, and saw a Clawitzer jumping down from an overlooking rooftop.

"A-Aah!" Crom cried. "You're that Clawitzer from-!"

"Don't just stand there! Run before he gets up!" the crustacean hissed. "There's a warehouse you can cut through on the right!"

"R-Right!"

Crom, Pladur, Kiran, and Ander hastily followed their rescuer to the right alleyway, leaving Hess to stumble back up and rub at some fresh bruises and cuts on his side; meanwhile, right under him a Pawniard half-embedded in the ground dragged himself out of a Pawniard-shaped hole, groaning and muttering a half-curse along the way. A moment after, the mob of Pokémon stopped cold and looked around... to realize that his quarry was nowhere to be seen.

Hess whirled around and after failing to catch any hint of where the fake Company grunts had gone, angrily stamped his feet and bellowed out in challenge.

"Grr! Stand and fight you cowards!"

"Oi, Hess!"

The Aggron blanched for a moment and turned around to see an angry mob flecked with faces Hess had seen at the various shops, with Shuho at its head. Hess reflexively took a step back from the horde of shopkeepers, only for the Throh to lunge forward, grab the Steel-Type by his scarf, and yank his head down.

"Agh!"

"We need to have a little talk about that property damage you've been causing," the Fighting-Type snarled.

"P-Property damage?" the Aggron nervously began. "I think you're- Hey!"

From the corners of his eyes Hess noticed that his fellow golden-scarved Pokemon all began to quickly slipped away from the intersection, clearly not wanting to be a part of any 'aggressive negotiations' that the shopkeepers might have in mind.

"Wait! Where do you think you're going! Stay here and help-!"

The Steel-Type felt a sharp blow against his belly, followed by sudden pain as he flopped forward and hit the ground. The creature gasped for air and hacked up spittle, desperately pulling his head in to counter with a steely headbutt, only to feel his head get yanked back up by his scarf, and to come face-to-face with the Fighting-Type drawing an arm back for a punch…

The Captain's fighting spirit quickly evaporated, and he hastily amended his words.

"Okay! Okay! I give! I-I'll pay!" he squeaked. "I-I've got leftover Poké from my last raid!"

"Glad to hear, "Shuho said. "There's the matter of my wall, the shop my brother watches over that you smashed up, and the lizard shop here isn't happy about all their merchandise going up in smoke..."

As the Fighting-Type went through a list of damages that seemed to never end, Valatos, Alvise, Nori came around the corner dazed and in within sight of the crowd. Although the lot were still covered in flour, the golden scarves around their necks could clearly be seen, prompting a Sawk from the crowd to speak up.

"Oi, bro!" the Sawk cried. "Aren't those the deadbeats you keep complaining about?"

The Throh relaxed his stance for a brief moment as the Karate Pokemon called out to him, and shifted his attention from Hess to the flour covered 'deadbeats' as they traded back confused looks.

"Oh, so you're their captain now? In that case, I'm going to need to call in the debts of some of your new recruits," Shuho grunted as he turned back towards Hess.

The Aggron shot an angry glare at three, who in return gave back sheepish grins. Before the Steel-Type could focus on them for too long, Shuho tightened the grip around his scarf, prompting him to hastily turn back to him.

"Now, are you gonna pay all of this up front, or do we need to talk about installments?"

Gah… why hadn't he listened to that lippy bug about press-ganging earlier? Hess grimaced and closed his eyes, before giving a gulp and a muttering squeak back to the snickering group of shopkeepers

"Ulp… Wh-Why me…?"



After a hurried chat with Dimitri at the guild, Trizano found himself back staking out the medic's hut, alternately scanning the building and shuffling along to new vantage points whenever the guards seemed to get suspicious of him. So it was that he came to his current perch in a tree overlooking the roof of a bustling juice bar, the raucous noise inside providing cover for the sounds of his movements among the trees along the far side of the roof.

"If I can just keep those guards outside a little busy, my wings should be able to make short work of that barricade," Trizano murmured to himself. "Then, it's just a matter of getting in and getting Pleo out to the water…"

It was certainly an audacious enough plan, but there was still one part which he couldn't seem to square… Where exactly were the guards positioned inside? And even if he got to Pleo, would he even be able to fly out of there? Gah... if only he had some way of getting a better picture of what was inside that hut!

The Skarmory shook his head frustratedly, before suddenly bolting upright after noticing movement coming from the lane. It was the form of a Grovyle, who made her way up the path with heavy and fatigued movements, before stopping at the door to the juice bar below.

"… Isn't that one of the guards from the hut's security detail?"

The gecko shook her head and muttered something inaudible before pressing on into the taverna underfoot, leaving Trizano to blink out of surprise.

"Maybe if I talk to her…"

The Steel-Type hopped down into an alley, and rounded the corner to the juice bar's entrance. After pushing aside the rude door at the entrance, he made his way into the taverna to discover a stone-walled space with simple wooden timbers for pillars and rafters bedecked with small bells. As the Skarmory made his way inside to search for Salvini, he found that the inside was every bit as busy as the noise from outside had hinted. He passed a Whimsicott and a Haunter playing a game of cards at a table together, and then a trio of Wormdam trading gossips over drinks of a "dorky Company Mothim" one of the three had run into several days ago. And finally, at a lonely bar stool in the corner of the juice bar, was a Grovyle with a lavender scarf and a dispirited expression. Trizano tilted his head, bounced a little in his steps, and paced over slowly, sidling next to the Grass-Type at the seat beside her as the Spinda barkeeper labored away in the background.

"Don't you have a shift over at the medic's hut right now?" Trizano asked.

"Whuh?"

Salvini looked up in surprise, but upon seeing the metallic bird beside her, her face drifted back into its previously sullen expression.

"Oh, it's you. That 'Warrior of Life' guy," she sighed. The Grass-Type shook her head, and returned her attention to the clear and strong-smelling liquid inside her clay cup. Trizano noted the cup's decidedly-not-water contents, and blinked before clearing his throat to speak.

"Not that I'm one to pass up a drink, Salvini," he said. "But won't you fall afoul of your superior for doing this?"

The Grovyle gulped down some of her drink wrong at the Skarmory's question, and sent herself into a fit of coughing. After recovering, the Grass-Type whirled to face the prying bird, eyes widened.

"How do you know that?!" she demanded. "And who told you my name?!"

"I've seen you around since I came here," the Skarmory explained. "As for the name, it was just what I heard others call you. I assumed that that was what you'd be most comfortable with."

Salvini grumbled a little and turned back to her drink, dismissively waving off the surprise of not being addressed by species name first as was the custom with strangers among the Cradle's residents.

"Yeah, well, it's rude to just swoop in and address someone you don't know by their name," she growled. "So be a little more mindful of custom next time!"

"Hm… fair enough, though it seems like you already know a bit about Trizano the Immortal," the Skarmory answered, shaking out his feathers. "Though since we're on the topic of customs, might I ask if it's also custom on this island to give guards drinking breaks during their shifts?"

Salvini drew in her arms and sat up straight defensively, giving a glaring scowl back at the metal-feathered interloper.

"My supervisor gave me a short break," she spat. "I've been having a headache."

"Vollezeese Jenever sure seems like an interesting… 'cure' for a headache," Trizano replied, giving a skeptical tilt to his head. "Are you certain you're making the right diagnosis there?"

The Grovyle gave a sour look back at him, before grunting and returning to her drink.

"Mrph, mind your business."

"You know, a medic can't treat what ails you if you don't tell them about it," the Steel-Type insisted.

"I'll pass," Salvini huffed. "Last I was aware, 'Valiant Knight Skarmory' weren't medics."

"I wasn't aware that Pokémon who wore Company lavenders were either," Trizano retorted. "Or at least not until you stopped by that room on the south side of the medics' hut earlier today."

TAK

The Grovyle slammed her cup against the counter as she whirled and shot a fierce glare at the nosy bird beside her. The Grass-Type balled her claws into fists, as the reptile became determined to know...

"Have you been spying on me?!"

"I prefer to call it 'the observations of a concerned citizen,' but that is where your headache is from, isn't it?" Trizano asked. "The layout inside was a bit much to handle? Or did you see something in there that didn't quite sit right with you?"

"Don't worry about it," Salvini snapped. "It's nothing that I haven't seen before in a day's work."

"You sure don't sound like that right now," the metal bird insisted. "Why, if I didn't know better, I'd say you sounded more like you don't know what to do about-"

At this, the Grass-Type lost her temper, and hopped atop her stool, extending the leafy blades along her arm and visibly seething. Why was this bird doing this to her? She didn't like what had happened in that hut, but it had happened for a reason...

"I do know what to do about it!" she shouted, thrusting an angry and accusing claw at the Skarmory's face. "To follow the orders I was given and protect this town!"

A dead silence filled the bar, which prompted Salvini to look around and notice that her outburst had caught the attention of everyone else in the room. Trizano shook his head and realized that prodding the Grovyle for more information would probably not deliver any further progress. After awkwardly shuffling his feathers, the Skarmory cleared his throat and turned back to his Grovyle neighbor.

"Listen, Salvini," he began. "I might not be a doctor, but I think that if you really meant that, you wouldn't be here right now with that cup of jenever."

"You're trying to get at something, aren't you?" the lizard grunted.

"I was, actually," the Skarmory replied. "It's a question whose answer I think will clear that headache of yours better than that drink ever will."

"Which is?"

The metal bird deposited a small stack of papers containing charcoal rubbings of various scenes of a deer with branch-like antlers. The gecko's black eyes widened a moment, as she recognized that these must have been the pictures that the bait mission asked for. The Grass-Type looked up uneasily at the stern-faced Skarmory, who responded with a simple question.

"What do you really want, Salvini?"

The Grovyle went silent at the Trizano's words, and reluctantly drew her blades back against her arms and uneasily returned to her seat. The Steel-Type sighed, shook his head and turned to the still-staring patrons in the bar.

"Apologies for the disruption," he said. "I'll take my leave now."

Trizano hastily made his way over to a small side door at the end of the taverna, where he passed through and slipped out of the bar. Little by little, the chatter of the bar started to return to its normal, raucous atmosphere, if flecked with occasional blurbs 'What was that all about?' and 'Think that was over a tax dispute or something?'

Salvini looked down at the drawings and thought of the other day when she gave Team Traveller their mission...

Of how carefree and trusting they had been…

Of their betrayed looks back in the medic’s hut...

Why was she here drinking anyways? She had followed her brother's footsteps into the force to begin with to help other Pokémon, but… how was snookering a bunch of kids helping anyone, especially when the higher-ups couldn't keep their stories straight? From the moment this mission started she had a feeling something was wrong about it, a feeling that had only gotten stronger since.

Her brother had mentioned that there were times when he had to go against the grain of his orders… Was this what he meant? But what was she supposed to do? He was all the way off on some podunk island and those kids would be taken care of in a matter of hours.

… Actually, maybe she didn't need her brother's advice to make this decision. She had joined the Company in order to help Pokémon like the ones that lived in this town. So then if the Company was making that impossible, there was only one logical thing to do...

The Grass-Type thrust the stack of drawings into her bag, and hopped off her stool. As soon as her feet hit the floor, the gecko turned and bolted for the side door after the so-called 'Immortal'.

"Hey! You didn't pay for your jenever!" the Spinda barkeep cried.

"Put it on my tab!" she shouted back. Salvini dashed into a cluttered alley uphill of the taverna, only to find no sign of Trizano. The Grass-Type looked around desperately, and bolted for the treeline to try and find a perch. The reptile dug her claws into a trunk, and scampered up it, vaulting over the limbs and onto a bough where she caught a glimpse of the so-called 'Immortal' on another tree preening at his metal feathers.

"Hold it right there!" she exclaimed. The Skarmory raised his head and turned back in the direction of the Grass-Type, giving a quizzical tilt.

"Hrm? Is something the matter?" Trizano answered.

"You're planning to do something with those kids, aren't you?" the Grovyle huffed.

The Skarmory turned and beat his wings, before settling down and giving a firm, determined look back at his questioner.

"I think you should already know the answer to that question, Salvini," he said.

"Well, what is it?" she demanded. There was a long pause between the two as Trizano tensed his wings to be ready to strike at a moment's notice, before the tension suddenly evaporated with five simple words…

"And what do you need?"

The Skarmory blinked and lowered his razor-feathered wings at the gecko's words. Did… she just offer to help him? But this was no Elekid's play, and he couldn't in good conscience accept help from someone who had so much to lose.

"Are you sure about this, Salvini?" he asked. "You're aware that it could get you in just a bit more trouble than that drink back there, aren't you?"

"I think you should already know the answer to that question, Trizano," she replied. A smile began to creep over the Skarmory's beak, there were more brave souls in this town than he had expected to find on such short notice. The two volunteers he'd accrued so far would do just fine.

"Well, then… why don't we start with a little privacy?" Trizano volunteered. "Time is short, and we've only got one shot at this."



After a nerve-wracking shortcut through the warehouse, and a tense journey through Andaku's shadowy alleys, the four Pokémon of the Siglo Swellow and their Clawitzer defender made their way up to the cliffside path in fits and starts. The party carried along haphazardly until they eventually made it to a panting stop just past the sturdy wooden gate.

"Hah… hah… that was way too close," Crom gasped.

"Why don't we pick a place with a little privacy, hm?" Nagant chittered, while gesturing at a nearby alley. "Sounds like you four could catch your breath a bit."

The four Pokémon traded wary looks with each other, before looking back at their rescuer. While she had helped them greatly just a short time ago, something was…

Amiss.

"Weren't you that Clawitzer from the bar back in Seahive?" Kiran asked. "What are you doing here?"

"Hmrph, could ask you the same thing," the Water-Type harrumphed. "Weren't you skulking around Boisocéan in white scarves just a couple-"

Crom, Kiran, Pladur, and Ander's eyes went wide at the shrimp's words, which prompted the ever-jittery Fraxure to hastily interrupt with a startled cry.

"A-Aah! Don't say that so loud!" he yelped. The four grimaced and hastily scanned their surroundings, and discovered that mercifully, no other Pokémon in lavender scarves seemed to overhear Nagant’s nonchalant accusations. After seeing the coast was clear, the group turned their attention back to the now-scowling Clawitzer.

"Hrmph, aren't you high strung today?" Nagant grunted back. "So then we agree a little privacy is good, yes?"

Pladur and Ander exchanged warily looks for a moment in a stunned silence. Kiran was quick to catch up with the situation while Crom, far less experienced in such things as machinations, blinked at his father. Pladur and Ander quickly reached a wordless agreement, and the insect turned to Kiran, who nodded and relaxed his posture.

Crom stared at his father, and after a moment he managed to read his pleading expression to play along with the Clawlitzer's words.

"That's… fair enough, but do make this short," Kiran sighed. "Conversations when one's fatigued are 50% harder to get through!"

"Well, then, I suppose we should get started," the Water-Type answered. The shrimp gestured at the alley, and after waving them on ahead with her smaller claw, Crom and his companions warily made their way down the secluded lane. The five came to a stop with Nagant a short distance from the entrance amidst some alley clutter. The shrimp balanced atop her tail to get a better view of her audience, and chanced to notice a dusty, tattered checkerboard lying in a heap of worn and disused litter.

"So now that we agree that the matter of where we've personally been is irrelevant," Nagant said as she clamped onto the tattered board. "I notice your missing 'crewmate' gets around quite a bit."

"Er… you could say that," Ander buzzed. "He's technically closer to a missing person."

"Ah… I'm sorry to hear," the shrimp replied, as she dusted off the checkerboard and began to absent-mindedly move her little claw along the board manipulating imaginary pieces. "But what lead you out here?"

"Well... we heard that another Company ship was looking for him," Pladur explained. "So we followed them here."

"Yeah, Commissioner Lyn's!" Crom added. As soon as his words left his mouth, Crom bit his tongue and grimaced after realizing that he had spoken too much. The Clawitzer seemed to pick up on the Dragon-Type’s words as well, as she looked up abruptly from her tattered checkerboard.

"Hrm? If a Commissioner's already looking into the matter," she murmured, giving a forced tilt of her head. "Then aren't you a bit out of your league?"

A faint smirk flickered over Nagant's face and drew nervous glances from Crom and his companions. There wasn't anywhere to run if they needed to, or at least nothing that would shield them from the Clawitzer's Water Pulses…

Then perhaps, it would be better to try and deflect with something that Company members would surely be all too familiar with...

"Er… well, we were hoping that if we found him first, we'd be able to get something out of it," Ander buzzed back.

The shrimp shot back a withering glare at the four square-necks, before giving an unimpressed grunt and shaking her head.

"Hmph, I should have expected as much from your type," Nagant muttered. "Though I suppose if nothing else, the Company's taught you how to take risks."

The four collectively let out a sigh of relief, grateful that their rescuer seemed satisfied with their deflection. Though, now that the Clawitzer's curiosity seemed to be sated for now… perhaps they could return the favor a bit.

"So, since we're asking," Kiran said. "Why did you come here?"

"Yeah, you kinda saved our hides back there earlier," Pladur added.

The Clawitzer paused, and nudged quietly at the checkerboard a little. With a shake of her head, she turned her attention back to her questioners and began to speak.

"I'm a 'mon who gets around here and there with some associates," she answered. "You could say it's our job to stay privy to current events here in Anyilla."

Crom, Kiran, Ander, and Pladur traded flummoxed looks with each other at Nagant's response. That hardly seemed like a detailed answer! Ander shook his head, before attempting to press the Water-Type for a bit more information.

"Er… what do you mean by that-?"

"Oi! There they are!"

Only to be interrupted by a shout coming from the direction of the barrier. The five Pokémon whirled around, and saw that much to their surprise, there was a glaring Ledian and Floatzel with golden scarves poking over the wooden palisades. The Pokémon from the Siglo Swellow grimaced at the sight, as Nagant hastily leveled her large claw at the two pirates.

"Yeah, you'd better look scared!" Rodion snarled. "We're going to-!"

"Is something going on here?" a gravelly voice interrupted. Suddenly, an Arbok and a Golem with Company scarves rushed in from the path along the palisades at the end of the alleyway. The pair came to a hasty stop, trading glares with the golden-scarved Pokémon at the top of the palisades.

"Yeah, you know what happens if your little disputes leave the barrier," the Arbok hissed. Nervous murmurs started coming from other pirates behind the wall, as Rodion's face contorted into a scowl, begrudgingly accepting that this wasn't a battle the crew would do well to fight.

"Urgh, fine," the Floatzel growled. "But you pests won't be so lucky next ti-!"

"Chotto matte! I'm from here!" Kichiro fumed, flitting over the wall. "I have every right to leave Andaku whenever I wan- Gack!"

"Now, Kichiro!" Rodion huffed, yanking the Ledian back over the palisade before the situation could escalate any further.

The pair from the Iron Fleet hastily ducked back over the wall, and the sound of hastily fleeing footsteps could be heard as the pirates slinked back for safer territory.

"Well, that was a speedy resolution," Nagant scoffed. "Shame, I could've used the target practice."

"You guys alright?" the Arbok asked. "What was that all about?"

"Um… just a little argument we got into in Andaku," Kiran explained. "Nothing major."

As the Arbok and Golem traded skeptical looks with each other, the Clawitzer turned and sized up the two new Company guards… and decided that perhaps she had stuck around in the alley for long enough.

"Well, it seems you have work to get to," the shrimp said, hopping and turning for the alley exit. "Looks like I'll have to explain the matter another time. I've got a feeling we'll cross paths again."

"We will?" Crom answered. "What makes you say that?"

"Call it a sailor's instinct," Nagant replied, before giving an unimpressed scowl back at the group. "Oh, by the way, you're welcome."

She hastily scuttled off grumbling about "Courtesy these days," past the Golem and Arbok as they traded blank and incredulous with each other. Crom and his companions warily headed out, and came face-to-face with the skeptical-looking duo.

"Friend of yours?" the cobra wondered.

"Er, I'm not sure, actually…" the little Druddigon muttered.

"Well, whatever you were up to in there, be a little smarter next time!" the Golem snapped. "And make yourself useful instead of just standing there!"

"R-Right!" Pladur stammered.

As the skeptics carried on past the wall, Crom and his shipmates let out a collective sigh, before looking down the lane where Nagant had disappeared off to.

"She's up to something, isn't she?" Crom asked.

"She almost certainly was," Ander sighed. "But let's not worry about it too much right now."

"Yeah, we're not going to get anything else looking around in this state!" Kiran exclaimed. "Let's go back to the ship and patch ourselves up and try and figure out where we haven't looked yet."

The four tiredly looked back at the gate for Andaku, before setting off down the hill back for Aisle Town's docks for a return trip to the atoll. Had… had all of the work, the running and searching for the past two days been for nothing? If it was, then how were they supposed to find Pleo, Nida, and Elty? And where could they be?



The sun set early that day on Mengir Island, as the winds picked up and dark, ominous clouds rolled in over the horizon from the Cradle's edge. Night soon followed, the inky, churning sky blotting out the moon and stars, prompting shopkeepers to close their shops early, and chasing townsfolk home early as rains and the sounds of distant peals of thunder came.

Rumble

A flash of lightning lit up the halls of the medic's hut as the Continent Tower´s Traveller began coming over the horizon. There, Salvini made her way for the room Team Traveller was held in, recounting in her head the plan she and the alleged had talked through.

It sounded simple enough: make up an excuse to take over the current guard's shift, and then enter the room. From there, she'd free the kids from their restraints and give back their belongings. Trizano would then distract the guards outside with some Blast Seeds to draw them away from the window, before coming back around and using it as an entrance. Finally, they'd exit via the third room from the right along the tree-lined back of the hut, and fly to a diver who would take them to the Subway before the storm outside grew too strong.

Rumble

A plan that was so simple, and yet so risky, with its first major test right in front of her. Directly in front of the room she needed to get to was the current guard on shift: Payak, who was dangling from a silk strand from the ceiling and keeping a sharp watch over the door.

"Well… here goes nothing," the Grovyle quietly murmured. Salvini approached her teammate, who upon seeing her, tilted his head and gave her a surprised look.

"Salvini?" the Ariados asked. "What are you doing here? Are you here to keep me company or something?"

"Captain Hertsog told me to take over your shift," the Grovyle said. "We've apparently needed to shift some positions around thanks to the storm picking up outside."

"Huh? Veche? But my shift doesn't end for another hour," the spider protested. The Ariados gave the Grass-Type a puzzled look, which made Salvini uneasy for a moment, before she cleared her throat and doubled down on her ruse.

"That's just what he told me," the reptile shrugged. "I don't make the rules any more than you do, I just pass them along and enforce them."

"Well you don't have to tell me twice," Payak chittered. "This wouldn't exactly be the most fun job even without the storm, and I could use a drink if Everbloom hasn't closed down already."

The spider shook himself loose of a silk mooring he had attached to the ceiling and scuttled away from the door, turning to the Grass-Type.

"Take care of yourself, alright?" he said. "I've had a bad feeling about this mission all night, as if something was about to happen."

The Grovyle faltered momentarily, before shaking her head and attempting to deflect her partner's misgivings.

"Don't worry about it," Salvini responded. "You know me, if something comes my way, I won't be going anywhere without a fight."

The answer seemed to satisfy the Bug-Type, who after a quick nod carried along, and disappeared down a rough staircase at the end of the hall. The Wood Gecko waited until the sounds of her companion faded away, and only the sound of faint snores, movements by other guards downstairs, and the storm were left behind.

Salvini drew her right blade and slipped its tip into the keyhole of a padlock placed over the door. The Grass-Type whispered the instructions Trizano had given her earlier, feel for the pins, push them up, and...

Click

The gecko felt the padlock open, and instinctively yanked it off before pushing the door open, the wood creaking faintly as it moved. The Grass-Type quietly returned the door to its place minus its padlock, and crept forward towards the forms of four Pokémon who seemed to be uneasily dozing as the door closed behind her.

Creeeeak

The once-proud team had clearly been run ragged, their bodies still weak from their wounds earlier in the day. On a few of their faces, there were trails left behind from dried tears, and some of their bindings had shown stretch marks and streaks from fruitless attempts to wear through the ropes. The Grovyle began to extend the blades along her arms and made her way forward as...

"Ah! S-Someone's in here!"

A squeak from the Nidoran stopped Salvini in her tracks, the group evidently being less asleep than she assumed. A flash of lightning lit up the room, and cast the shadow of a figure with sharp blades jutting from its arms against the back wall, which raised a chorus of frightened squeals from the bound children. The Grass-Type’s eyes widened at the sudden racket, which prompted the reptile to hastily attempt to shush Team Traveller.

"It's alright! It's alright! It's me, Salvini," she reassured.

"Wh-What are you doing here?" Pleo asked.

"If you're here, then that means Lyn-" Elty began, only to be cut off by a whisper from the Grovyle.

"Will be too late to pick you up," she said, as she bent down, grabbed Nida, and pinned her down. The Nidoran went wide-eyed as she saw a blade towards her flank and froze out of fear.

Snip

The Nidoran flinched at the noise and instinctively bolted up and clutched at her flank, only to realize that she was unharmed, and… Wait a minute!

"I can move again!"

The Grass-Type quickly made her way to each of the remaining members of Team Traveller and with a few swift motions and snipping sounds, similarly cut them loose. Nida, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia traded blank stares with each other, before looking back at this most peculiar Company grunt.

"E-Eh? You're that Juptile from earlier," Guardia pressed. "What are you doing here?"

"Getting you out of here, what's it look like?" she insisted. The gecko hastily dumped out some items from her bag, which on closer inspection were a stained, folded up bag; a bony club; a map and astrolabe; and three glinting, misshapen badges.

"A-Aah! That's our stuff!" Nida cried. The four instantly set upon their belongings: Nida shook out the bag and slung it over her shoulder, Guardia latched back onto her club, and the lot of them began to repin each other's badges, only to notice that something was amiss with the sparse pile…

"Where's the rest, though?" the Poison-Type asked.

"I wasn't able to get it back in time," Salvini answered, shaking her head. "And, you there. Pleo, right? Can you fly right now? It'll be important for figuring out how to get you guys out of here."

Pleo tried to get up and started beating his wings to lift himself above ground; it took a couple of tries to even get that straight, and managed a short impulse onward. Suddenly, Pleo’s expression turned to one of blunt pain and he forced himself to land, unceremoniously but at least not crashing hard on anything.

"Nrgh!"

"Ack!" Nida exclaimed. "Pleo, estás bien?!"

"I- I mean, I flew," he murmured. "But when I stopped thinking about the storm outside, then my wing started to hurt again."

"Storm outside?" Salvini wondered. “Why would that make you feel better? And wouldn’t it make it harder for you to fly in?”

"Hrmph, he takes to thunder and storms like a Ducklett to water," Elty said. "Don't ask."

"It'll have to do," the reptile sighed. The four members of Team Traveller skeptically looked at each other, as one burning question was on their mind...

"Why are you helping us like this?" Guardia prodded. "Didn't you say earlier that you had to hurt us?"

"Well… I happened to run into an old friend of yours," the gecko began. "And while I do want to protect this town… I realized that I didn't want to have to destroy the lives of some kids like you in order to do it."

"An old friend of ours-?" Nida asked.

SLAM

The five Pokémon flinched at the sound of the door being thrown open, and watched with horror as a large, lumbering Pokémon with antennae and stubby wings entered with sharp claws digging into the wood of the door. The light through the window quickly revealed the figure entering the room to be a Dragonite with an Administrator’s scarf, making Team Traveller and Salvini flush pale.

"I said I'd be back before returning to Vollezee," Darzin growled. "I didn't expect that I'd encounter a common First-Rank like you in the middle of active treason."

"A-Administrator Darzin?" the Grass-Type gulped. "What are you doing here?"

"I'm here to take care of a few loose ends before setting off for the Capital," the Dragon-Type answered, shooting a steely glare at the five Pokémon before him.

"And I'll be taking that bird with me."



Author's Notes:

- Ti si lud! (Ти си луд!) - Bulgarian: "You're mad!" / "You're crazy!" (BGN/PCGN 2013 Romanization)
- Sidon (サイドン) - Japanese: "Rhydon" (Official Romanization)
- Do svidaniya (До свидания) - Russian: "Goodbye" (BGN/PCGN 2013 Romanization)
- Davvero? - Italian: "Really?"
- Chotto matte! (ちょっと待って!) - Japanese: "Wait a minute!" (Hepburn Romanization)
- Veche? (Вeчe) - Bulgarian: "Already?" (BGN/PCGN 2013 Romanization)
- Juptile (ジュプトル) - Japanese: "Grovyle" (Official Romanization)
- (¿)estás bien? - Spanish: "are you alright?"
 
Chapter 38: Up in the Air

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f


"I'm here to take care of a few loose ends before setting off for the Capital, and I'll be taking that bird with me."

As the growling words of Administrator Darzin reverberated in the small room in the medic's hut, the blood in Team Traveller's veins went cold. The only thing standing in the way of the towering Dragonite was the much shorter and similarly startled-looking form of a Grovyle.

Salvini hesitated as she cast a quick glance at the nervous faces of the kids behind her, and back at the glowering face of the Administrator in front of her. She knew she was both outranked and outmatched by the Dragonite, and that she wouldn't last long in a fight. But if she didn't do something, he'd walk out of the room with one of Team Traveller's charges before Trizano could rescue them!

"I-I was just moving the prisoners," Salvini hastily answered. "They were direct orders from Administrator Zorn himself!"

"So that's why you unbound them?" Darzin sneered. "Even if your little tale was true, it wouldn't matter."

"Wh-Why is that?" the Grovyle stammered.

"Because what Zorn doesn't know, Zorn doesn't worry about," the Dragon-Type huffed. "And last I was aware, he wasn't worried about anyone coming here."

Salvini and Team Traveller blanched as the Dragonite started moving towards them and blue sparks of electricity started crackling along the antennae on his head.

"If you want your little secret to stay just that, you'll hold that bird still as I- Graah!"

Darzin felt a sharp pain at the base of his neck, and jerked backwards by reflex. After running a claw along his neck, he felt a long, fresh scrape with lukewarm, sticky liquid oozing out of it. The dragon growled and looked up to see Salvini had positioned herself in between him and Team Traveller, the three leaves on her right forearm now extended into a long blade.

"I'm sorry, Administrator," she said. "I'm afraid that I can't be party to that."

"Then I'll have you rewarded as a traitor deserves!" Darzin snarled. Flecks of a fiery, bluish aura began to sprout among his scales as the Dragonite charged at the Grovyle, only to come to a skidding stop as the gecko rolled and clambered up a wall. The Grass-Type planted her claws against the timbers and vaulted up, attempting to bring a blow with her blades down on the dragon's head in between two antennae that were starting to spark.

"Ack!"

Before Salvini could react, she felt a hot, numbing flow of electricity run through her body, which sent her pratfalling to the floor with a loud thud. As the Grass-Type desperately fought against her unresponsive and wobbly limbs to get up off the floor, she saw a claw balled up into a fist trailing bright-orange fire…

THWAM

Nida and the others watched as Darzin's flaming punch caught Salvini in her snout and sent her flying into a side wall with a sickening crash. The hapless Grass-Type fell against the ground, and slumped over, her burned and bruised body breathing weakly as the hulking dragon prowled closer and closer for the children. The still-shaken members of Team Traveller hastily dug their feet in and prepared for battle, the futility of the gesture from the worn and battered children eliciting derisive laughter from Darzin.

"I see that that Tromban defiance is strong with your team, spike lump," he sneered. "Well unfortunately for you, it looks like your little rebellion here is short on both numbers and strength!"

The Dragon-Type balled up his right fist, which began to smolder with orange embers. Darzin drew his fist back for a forceful punch, only to jump with a start at the sound of explosions outside to rock the room, intermingled with a commotion from the guards outside.

"Ack! What was that?!"

"It was coming from behind Everbloom!"

"What on ear-?"

Nida, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia flinched as the sound of a great crash and wood splintering came from overhead. The table Payak had propped up along the window was forced in and flung forward in splintered pieces intermingled with silk tatters. As the dust settled, Team Traveller's members blinked incredulously as it became apparent that there was a presence with glinting, jagged feathers on the floor in front of them.

"'Numbers and strength?' Your accounting is rather sloppy for an Administrator, Darzin!"

"A-Aah!"

Nida froze and her limbs went rigid as she saw that the creature in front of them was none other than the Skarmory they had run into at the square! Darzin quickly regained his footing, and charged his unwelcome intruder with a fierce howl and a flaming punch.

"Get out of my way!"

The Dragonite bore down on the Skarmory, his balled-up claw connecting with a satisfying thwack against Trizano's left wing. The Steel-Type rolled along the ground, only to right himself, and lob a cutting gust of air back at the Dragon-Type's face.

"Perhaps you should change your direction instead!" Trizano retorted.

"ARGH!"

Darzin lost his balance in a daze, and after a further cone of cinders from Elty, the Dragonite veered headlong into one of the side walls with a loud thud. As the dust settled, Trizano was left behind panting to inspect the room, along with a left wing whose metal feathers had become scorched and whose blades had deformed from the blow.

"Seguimi! This way!" the Skarmory squawked. "Before he gets back onto his feet!"

The Steel-Type darted for the opened door, Nida watching as Elty and Guardia charged ahead as best as their still-dull wounds would allow them. The Nidoran was snapped out of her petrified state by a squawking shove from behind.

"Nida! Come on!" Pleo cried. The little spike ball shook her head and without thinking ran after Pleo's fleeing form, the two having made it to the doorframe when a crash and the noise of wooden planks snapping sounded out from behind.

"No! I won't have victory snatched from my claws like this!"

The Nidoran and Lugia whirled around and saw charging with a fiery, bluish aura starting to wreath Darzin's body. Nida went wide-eyed in panic and flicked a barb at the Dragonite, while Pleo shrieked and desperately brought a churning wind together between his wings.

"A-Aah!"

Nida’s barb found her mark as Pleo’s winds blew Darzin off-course and embedded him in the window frame with a loud crash. The Dragonite seethed, and attempted to pull himself free only for the wall to suddenly creak and the timbers to give way and snap. At once, the wall came down with a loud crash, sending the Dragon-Type falling backwards into the alleyway outside with a bellowing yelp. Pained cries of "I've been hit!" and "My leg!" came from outside intermingled with the storm's howling winds and rains, leaving Nida and Pleo to stare, still shaken by the close call.

"Oi! Hurry it up, you two!" Guardia called from behind. The Nidoran and the Lugia hurried along after her, ducking out into the hallway as the room's door slammed behind them. The now-trashed room in the medic's hut went back to its silence punctuated by confused cries outside...

"Nrgh…"

… along with the weakly stirring form of Salvini. As the Grovyle fought to parse the contours of the still spinning room with her distorted sense, she heard voices and hasty footsteps coming from the hallway.

"Down there, that room on the right!" a harsh, elder voice barked.

"Ack, it's been ransacked already!" a yipping, vulpine voice exclaimed.

By the time she was able to lift herself up from the floor, a pair of guards had already burst into the room, and swooped down upon her. The Grass-Type felt a pair of paws with long wisps of fur drag her up, as Hertsog and Phyllis' faces filled her vision, worry etched on their visages...

"Salvini!" Hertsog cried. "Dobre li si?!"

"What happened here?!" Phyllis added.

The Grovyle wearily raised her head up to meet her teammates, only to shift her gaze away from their eyes. She had gone against them in order to help Team Traveller escape, and with Darzin still around, she would be hard-pressed to maintain her cover. If they found out… When they found out... would they understand?

"It's alright," Salvini answered, giving a tired smile. "I was just doing my best to do the right thing."



The four members of Team Traveller quickly followed Trizano into an empty room further down the hall. Nida hastily closed the door behind them and helped her teammates barricade the door with the room's furniture, as Trizano hopped over to inspect the window at the other end of the room. Having a small moment of peace, Nida took the chance to ask their rescuer a question that surfaced to her mind now that her breaths were coming slower and more controlled.

"W-Why did you come back?" she demanded. "And what do you want from us?"

"Because I promised your friend I would keep an eye out for all of you," the Skarmory answered "And-"

Before Trizano could finish, he and the other Pokémon in the room could hear sounds coming from down the hallway. Trizano reluctantly shook his head, and turned towards Pleo

"Pleo, can you fly again?"

"I… I think I can," Pleo stammered as he beat his wings.

"Good, that will make this easier," Trizano murmured as he turned back towards the window.

He took a step back and beat out his wings, sending several sharp gusts of wind towards the window. After a series of cracks and snaps, the Skarmory's attacks reduced the cross-bracing and the shutters into splintered fragments, intermingled with the tatters of drapes dangling in the front.

"At least he handles those drapes better than you do, bonehea-" Elty whispered, only to be cut off by a swat from Guardia's bone.

"Shut your trap, mutt!" she hissed. "If I wasn't injured right now, I'd give you worse!"

"Enough!" Trizano squawked. "We can worry about that after we get into the-!"

"L-Leave us out of this!" a squeaking voice suddenly cried. All eyes turned to Nida, who had her back arched and her barbs fanned out, the little rabbit staring wide-eyed at the Skarmory all the while.

"N-Nida?!" Pleo exclaimed. "I don't-"

"Pleo, this Pokémon betrayed us!" she squeaked. "He's the reason why we got brought here in the first place!"

Nida's teammates paused for a moment. He brought them to the medic's hut… where the Company was waiting for them… but...

If he really did betray them… Why did he come back?

"I didn't know about the ambush!" Trizano cried. "And we can still get out of here if we hurry!"

"A-And he seemed nice when we were coming to the hut!" Pleo added. "He couldn't be bad, could-?"

CRASH!

The team flinched as noises from the hallway were now much louder and closer, with muffled shouts of "check the next one" now intelligible from the outside. They turned to look at Trizano again, who was wide-eyed and breathing faster.

"Look, I can't help Pokémon that don't want to be helped," Trizano pleaded. "Please, don't just throw everything away here!"

"N-Nida," Pleo stammered "Y-you said we wouldn't give up until we're home... right?"

Nida paused and hesitated… She didn't really trust Trizano, especially because of what had happened with the last Skarmory she crossed paths with… But there really wasn't any other way out of this situation.

Staying here in the medic's hut would mean they would get caught for sure. So then it was a choice between trusting a shifty and scary Pokémon, and giving up…

Wait- Giving up? Nida's mind turned back to the fateful first night the team spent in Boisocéan, of the promise that she and Pleo made to each other to not give up on going home even if things looked impossible. Then... maybe she had to put her fears aside... for Pleo's sake.

For everyone's sake.

"No, we won't," Nida finally admitted, giving a hesitant nod. The Nidoran hastily hopped up the white bird and helped pull Elty and Guardia aboard. "Venga, vamos!"

"Alright, then hurry then!" Trizano exclaimed, as he leapt onto the shattered window and hopped out. Pleo followed and took his place at the windowsill. There, in the midst of the sound of Pokémon just outside the room and Guardia's low whimpering, there was the harsh rain and the fierce winds of the storm...

Which soothed the dull ache in his injured wing, and gave him a swelling feeling of energy and newfound burst of confidence. The little Protector crouched, spread his wings, and leapt out into the raging storm ahead of him.

CRASH!

Back in the room, a Sudowoodo and a Stantler had forced their way into the room. At once, they noticed the sound of the winds howling from outside and saw the rain puddled on the floor under the smashed window.

"Ack! They came through here!" the Stantler cried. As the alarm was sounded and their compatriots in the hall bolted to call for aerial support, the reindeer and his partner went to the window as a flash of lightning lit up the sky.

There, off in the air ahead, were the forms of two birds, charging ahead into the stormy night.



Out in the skies over Fensedge Village, Trizano tore along with Pleo and his passengers in the pouring rain. The winds were growing strong, and flashes of lightning in the churning sky lit up drenched lanes that had been abandoned by townsfolk seeking shelter from the inclement weather. The flightless members of Team Traveller clung tightly to their perilous perches atop Pleo's back, breathing fast and shallow as the wind and rain whipped against them.

"What do we do now?!" Nida cried.

"Just follow me!" Trizano shouted back, doing his best to overcome the sound of the heavy wind and rainfall. "Once we're a few knots offshore, we'll see the diving spot to get you-"

Before the Skarmory could finish his explanation, a Hyper Beam sliced through the air, narrowly clipping his wings. Pleo squawked with a start, and the group of five Pokemon looked back to see the burning column had come from the Medic's hut. There, a few dark figures were dashing down the lanes, with several fliers who were alerted by the beam giving chase in the air.

"Hang on!" Trizano exclaimed. "We're gonna have to outspeed them!"

Pleo weaved to dodge a fiery bluish beam from an Altaria. Then came a near-miss from a slashing gust of air, followed by a crackling bolt of electricity. Despite their best efforts, the airborne pursuers were catching up fast and the attacks were growing tighter and tighter.

"Agh!"

Including the Flamethrower from a Fletchinder that scorched Trizano's tail feathers. The Skarmory lurched forward and fought to maintain his momentum, he couldn't let the kids down, not when they were all so close here!

Woosh!

A sudden gust of turbulent air ripped through the sky and sent Trizano jerking up as muddled cries rang out from behind. The Steel-Type fought with the whistling winds and the torrential rains and was finally able to work his way out of a stall. A seed of panic grew in Trizano's gut as he whipped his head around wildly to try and catch a glimpse of Pleo below. An inexperienced flier like the kid would surely not have held his altitude-

"Eh?!"

Only to see that the white bird was sailing along every bit as smoothly as when he'd first taken flight from the medic's hut!

"Since when did you learn to fly like that?!" the Skarmory squawked. The Lugia drew his good wing up to his beak and chirped back a response that, although muddled by the howling winds, still managed to reach Trizano's ears.

"The wind and the rain makes it easier to fly!" he cried. The Skarmory blinked incredulously. The little Protector was finding it easier to fly in these conditions?

"Whatever you meant by that, just keep it up!" he called. The Steel-Type redoubled his efforts and with a bit of work was able to pull ahead of Pleo again… only to fall behind shortly after thanks to having to fight the weather to regain his position over and over again.

The conditions of the storm were hardly 'invigorating' to Pleo's passengers either. Between furtive glances at her teammates, Nida saw Guardia was fixed to Pleo's plumes with her eyes screwed firmly shut to block out the ordeal. Elty similarly wasn't taking the storm well, as Nida saw the Growlithe was balled up and shivering from the drenching rains.

But… there weren't any more attacks coming their way coming. Yes, the wind was howling and the rain was pouring buckets, but their airborne pursuers weren't attacking them for some reason… After the Nidoran looked behind, she gave a surprised squeak when she discovered that their pursuers were nowhere to be seen. The storm must have driven them off! As scary as flying through the tumultuous cloud was, it did have quite the silver lining...

"Ah! Pleo you- you did it!" she cried. "We're free! We're really-!"

The festive atmosphere was suddenly cut off by a small tendril of lightning zipping down as a deafening peal rang out from above. The bolt struck just behind Nida and Elty and sent Pleo jolting downwards, drawing frightened squeals from his passengers. Nida and Elty instinctively flinched from the light and din, almost rolling off of Pleo in the process. The young Lugia hastily corrected himself, as a concerned squawk came from the Skarmory ahead.

"Ack! Are you alright?!"

The two panted tensely and looked behind them wide-eyed to see a warily peeking Cubone with static dancing on her hide and helmet, clinging tightly to her club and Pleo's back.

"Wh-What was that?! I-Is it over?!"

"... B-Bądź tu mądry. I had forgotten that you were one of those living lightning rods," Elty spat. "Next storm, you're swimming to your destination on your own."

"F-Fine! You can take the hit next time!" Guardia snapped back.

Nida breathed a sigh of relief. Pleo was soaring with ease now, and even the storm seemed to be letting up, the parting clouds revealing a cluster of sea rocks just ahead in the choppy waters. Maybe they weren't quite home free yet, but the bickering was a sign that things were starting to return to normal...

… until Pleo suddenly gave a pained cry. The young Lugia's left wing froze and stiffened mid flap, causing the white bird to pitch, roll, and fall out of the sky alongside his passengers.

"AAAAAAAAAH!"

Nida tumbled head over heels through the sky, her shrieks along with those of her teammates piercing the din of the fading storm in the background. Suddenly, the Poison-Type felt a heavy metallic claw trying to grab her, one that reminded her of that fateful trauma in the Mystery Dungeon back home. The spike ball screamed and instinctively flailed to try and escape it, breaking the claw's grip. The Nidoran then attempted to sprint away for cover, only for her feet to find empty air...

SPLOOSH

And to feel the wet smack of seawater as she was swallowed by the churning waves. The Nidoran felt the seawater seep into her ears as she sank deeper, but soon felt her body rise again and her head break the surface of the water. Nida gasped for air, only to get hit in the face by a wave and sent back under the surface.

As the Nidoran drifted back under the waves thoughts of Bluewhorl, Crom, and her family flickered across her mind. All of the worries they had about her, all the prayers they had surely said… and here she was, drowning in the sea far away from home as the fates deigned to sneer at their hopes and dreams.

Sploosh!

Nida heard something slicing into the water and felt her body get pulled upwards. Her head left the water, then her back, and even her legs. As Nida coughed and spluttered, she realized that she was airborne, and that metallic claws were clamped tightly around her shoulders.

"Don't worry, I've got you now!"

As Nida blinked away the seawater from her eyes, she felt wet, stony ground underfoot and rolled to a stop after the claws let her go. The Nidoran looked down and saw she was on an outcropping of worn, wet stones. The Poison-Type weakly raised her head and saw the form of a Skarmory heading away from her and back out into the ocean, when she realized…

She was completely alone. Pleo... Elty... Guardia… not one of them was with her on that rock.

Nida jerked herself up and looked around, her only company being the churning waves and the departing storm in the distance. The Nidoran thought of Elty, of Guardia, of the promise she had given to go home with Pleo… would she be able to keep any of those now?

Tears began to well up in the Poison-Type's eyes and she curled her ears and body into a ball as the awful enormity of what had just happened came upon her. Just as she felt a sob rising from her throat, Nida felt a gust of wind blow by her. Glancing up, she found Trizano skidding to a stop on the slick rocky shore.

"Never fear, fellow hunter!" he called, over the din of the storm.. "It's under control!"

Trizano pointed a wing offshore with a grin. Squinting, the Poison-Type realized she could see Pleo timidly paddling back to shore. A second later she also resolved the forms of Elty and Guardia... but they weren't on Pleo's back. There was a brown, fast-moving creature with a chitinous shell, a light blue band with a red dot worn as a choker, a small chest in a bag made of twine netting slung along his back, and scythe like arms swimming aside Pleo, carrying their other two teammates coughing and shivering from being abruptly dropped into the sea.

"You- You saved us…" Nida murmured.

"All in a day's work for a Warrior of Life," Trizano chirped. "And I did have a dutiful sidekick."

The Skarmory gestured over to Dimitri as he drew near along with Pleo to soggy sea rocks. The Kabutops scrabbled up the stony outcropping with his scythe-like claws, and left Elty and Guardia to tumble off his back onto solid ground panting as Pleo uneasily waddled up the rocks with his left wing hanging awkwardly at his side.

"You didn't tell me that I'd have to fish your team out of the sea too, Trizano!" Dimitri chittered. "You should consider making your mission details a bit clearer next time."

The Nidoran paused and stared at the large creature with the sharp claws, before blinking and turning uneasily towards Trizano.

"Trizano?" Nida asked. "Who is this?"

"An ally, but that can wait," the Steel-Type answered. "You've had a rough landing, and we should get you dried off a bit first."



Back at Mengir's medic hut, a Luxio medic was inspecting Salvini's wounds as she laid down on a disturbed, but still functional bed of straw. There, her Mienshao, Leafeon, and Ariados teammates ringed around her anxiously, attempting to get a better understanding of just what happened earlier.

"All I remember is feeling something burning, and after I took a swing with my blades, I got slammed against the wall," Salvini said.

"And you're sure you didn't see anything at all?" Hertsog asked skeptically. "If those pirates slipped past our defenses, we'll be back to square one if we don't know who rescued them."

"And if we don't put that demon away, just think of all the chaos it could cause!" Phyllis cried. "And what if it comes back here?!"

"I'm sorry, that's really all that I know," the Grovyle sighed.

"But you were right there with them in the same room!" Payak chittered. "I mean look at these ropes! They were cut through with something sharp! Didn't you hear anything spiky coming down the hallway or anything?"

Salvini looked down at the ground. Lying to her friends was far from favorable, but after what she had done it was necessary if she wanted to save herself. She looked back up to her teammates and reluctantly spoke up.

"Well-"

"There she is!" a bellowing voice suddenly interrupted. The four Pokémon flinched as a livid Dragonite barged into the room with an Amoonguss and Magnemite in Company garb at the door's entrance. As Hertsog and his charges sized up the new arrival, they noticed that the Dragon-Type bore an Administrator's scarf and a fresh laceration along the side of his neck.

"That's the traitor!" Darzin roared. "Arrest her!"

"Eh…?" the Magnemite asked. "But it looks like the Captain has this under control."

"Yeah, if you knew he was already here, what was the point of dragging us along?" the Amoongus pressed.

"Tr-Treason?" Hertsog spluttered. "Administrator Darzin, I'm not sure if I under-"

"I found your subordinate cutting your prisoners loose!" the Dragon-Type snarled. "And this is how she repaid me!"

The Dragonite gestured at a ruddy laceration on the side of his neck, and after looking back at the cut bindings, Phyllis and Payak turned their attention to their Grovyle teammate…

And noticed that the ends of the leaves along her right arm were stained a deep red.

"A-Aah!" the Marked Leafeon cried "You really did let them go!"

"Salvini, what is wrong with you?!" the Ariados hissed. "How could you just betray this town like that?! How could you betray us like that?!"

Salvini faltered and shifted her gaze to the ground. She had hoped that she would have been able to get an understanding audience from her companions. That they would understand why she let the kids go if she explained what was happening, but... perhaps it just wasn't possible.

"Stiga!"

The sound of a Mienshao's sleeve whipping through the air rang out, as Hertsog bared his teeth and glared at the Pokémon in the room, before turning his attention back to the Administrator.

"Administrator Darzin, even for someone with your rank, these aren't accusations to be making lightly!" the weasel piped. "Charges of treason can end someone in our ranks!"

"They're not accusations, they're the truth!" the Dragonite snarled back. "And if I don't see her leaving this room in binds in the next thirty seconds, I'll have you reported for abetting her!"

The Fighting-Type paused, and turned reluctantly back to his Grass-Type subordinate. After an uneasy pause, Hertsog finally spoke.

"Salvini, you don't have anything to hide from the rest of us..." he prodded. "Do you?"

The Grovyle froze upon hearing her captain's words. She didn't want to lie to the Pokémon who had been such an inspiration to her, but... coming completely clean about what had happened would come at a steep cost. Potentially up to her own life.

Though… now that she thought about it... maybe she technically didn't have anything to hide after all. Whatever her intent, she had been passed out when Pleo escaped. Hardly in any condition to have freed him. It wasn’t the soundest defense, but it had to count for something.

"No, I don't," she replied.

"Then I apologize if this proves to be premature," the weasel sighed, before turning to Payak and Phyllis.

"Restrain her," he ordered. "I'll see if Administrator Zorn is available for a spot judgement tonight, hopefully we can get to the bottom of this."

Hertsog pulled Salvini's arms behind her as Phyllis guarded her from the front, still wide-eyed with betrayed incredulity. She felt Payak spin silk around her wrists, and then around her snout, clamping them firmly shut against sticky bindings.

"Hrmph, good riddance," Darzin harrumphed. "And I'll be-"

"Getting that wound of yours treated so you can testify, I presume," Hertsog finished. The Dragonite huffed and pulled his antennae back against his head as he gave a displeased snarl.

"I'm running late!" he fumed. "I would think that a mere Second-Rank as yourself would know better than to try and tell me what I ought to prioritize my time on!"

"Administrator Darzin, you're the lead witness in this case," the Fighting-Type insisted. "If it's really such an open-and-shut matter, what would Administrator Zorn think about some complication that came up because of your absence?"

Darzin froze and gritted his teeth. If the traitor were to single him out for being in the room, it could splash unwanted suspicion from Zorn on him. On the other claw, suddenly backing out now would be even more unseemly in appearance...

"Rrgh, fine," the dragon spat. "But you can rest assured that you will regret wasting my time like this!"

The Dragonite stormed out of the room, as the Magnemite and Amoonguss who had accompanied him continued to poke their heads into the room along with a growing cohort of uneasy-looking guards.

"What are you all doing just standing there?!" Hertsog snapped. "Get out there and search for those pirates!"

The guards flinched at their captain's rebuke, and hurried down the hall as Hertsog shook his head with a sigh, prompting Phyllis and Payak to turn to Salvini and shove her along.

"Come on, we're going," the Ariados hissed. "And we are getting an explanation for this!"

As Salvini marched alongside her teammates, she looked back where the storm continued to churn outside the shattered wall. She had done her part, now the rest would be up to the kids and that 'Immortal'. She shook her head, gaping out the shattered window as she was led off and wished the best for the others.



After a tired, limping walk down to the less seedy piers of Mossaisle Town and a ride on the Siglo Swellow's Mantine sea escort, Crom, Kiran, Pladur and Ander found themselves back at the Company's shipyards on the ringing atoll. There, they made their way back to the Siglo Swellow, where they patched up their wounds, and gathered tiredly at the docks beside their craft.

"Spending the entire day in a district full of pirates just to hit a dead end. Just our luck," Ander sighed. "Where exactly do we try looking now?"

The team looked down at the ground, clearly at a loss on what to do next now their trail had run cold. The lead that they'd gotten from the Cubone seemed to be so promising, and they had even found the Pokémon that tried to ambush Team Traveller… only to discover that Valatos and the others were just as clueless as the bone lizards about where Nida, Pleo, and Elty had gone off to!

Wait a minute… Were they really so clueless? Suddenly, the Swellow of the group ruffled his feathers uncomfortably, as a dawning realization crept upon him.

"Wait a minute," Kiran said "Those three Cubone we spoke to earlier…"

"Eh? Those ferals we ran into sneaking around town?" Pladur asked "But they're the ones who sent us on this fool's errand in the first place!"

"That's the point, Pladur. They knew about Pleo but pointed us towards someone who didn't know where he went," Kiran insisted. "If I were to make an educated guess, I'd say that they know 100% more about where he really is than what they told us."

"Wait, does this mean we have to go look for them in the Mystery Dungeon?" Crom asked. The young dragon's words drew a collective blanch from the four Pokémon. Traversing Mystery Dungeons was already an ordeal in itself, but having to find three specific ferals who knew the dungeon better than they did on top of that? Why, even tracking down outlaws and pirates at least had the benefit of a scarf to help identify them!

Before the four could dwell on the daunting task ahead of them for too long, a voice called out to them from above.

"Oh, there you are!"

A whooshing sound caught the four Pokémon's ears and prompted them to look up. There, coming in for a flapping stop was the lavender, leathery-winged form of none other than...

"Oh! Kellner!" Crom cried. "What are you doing here?"

"Your day's been better than ours, I hope?" Pladur sighed.

"I've been looking all over for you!" the Aerodactyl exclaimed. "I heard that some of our own got chased all around Andaku earlier."

The group shifted uneasily and traded sheepish looks with one another at the Kellner's question. After a few false starts, a deflated sigh came out before the Marked Scyther among them finally responded to the Aerodactyl guard.

"Yeah, that was us," Ander finally sighed. "That lead that we got didn't quite pan out."

"Ah, I see…"

The Aerodactyl gave a tired shake of his head, and now that Crom and the others noticed it, he seemed to have a grim look on his face. Kiran bobbed his head quizzically and decided to try and press the matter.

"You never did answer us about how your day went," the said.

"It was… fine, really," the Rock-Type answered reluctantly.

"That hardly sounded like a convincing answer," the Swellow grunted. "You're sure everything went alright?"

"... I don't think it really matters," Kellner sighed. "At the least it didn't involve getting chased around by a bunch of brigands."

The Aerodactyl attempted to put on a brave face and wave the matter off, only for his burdened and tired movements to betray him. Kiran thought about what might be gnawing at the creature before them, and after thinking back to their time in Aisle Town, realized that there was something that could explain Kellner's mood.

"Does this have anything to do with that talk we had earlier in town?" the bird pressed.

"It… might have something to do with that, yes," Kellner admitted. The pterosaur shook his head bitterly and stamped his feet against the wooden dock before turning back to his questioners.

"It never ceases to amaze me that in a town with literal 'mons of fortune on our shores, that our own ranks would be so completely lacking in backbones to actively extort the townsfolk that go out of the way to stay innocent of those brigands' dealings," the Aerodactyl fumed. "Honestly, if I didn't know any better, I'd think they were but a bunch of fellow pirates running our lavenders through the mud!"

"Er… but aren't some of the Company Pokémon here actually pirates though?" Crom asked. "I mean, they're former ones, but still."

"Also, do be mindful that some of us literally don't have backbones here," Ander retorted with an unimpressed buzz.

"... You know what I meant," Kellner sighed. "I don't know, I know that there's other Pokémon like me on the force who are trying their hardest to actually protect this town… but in between all the petty extortion and bullying going on, I sometimes wonder if our efforts really matter."

"Huh?" Pladur said. "But why wouldn't they matter?"

"... What do you mean by that?" the pterosaur replied, blinking a few times in uneasy surprise.

"If Pokémon like you didn't try to help others out, then it would just be letting awful Pokémon fill the void in your place!" the Fraxure cried. "Does Aisle Town really need more bullies?"

"No, it doesn't," the Aerodactyl growled emphatically. "This order keeps the town from falling into an abyss of lawlessness and the Empire's caprices, but there's so many things that just sit here and fester… and nothing ever seems to change."

"That didn't seem to stop you from helping those ferals earlier, did it?" Kiran chirped. Kellner paused, taken aback at the Swellow's question. After giving a puzzled tilt of his head, Kellner gave a gruff-sounding grunt in response.

"I'm not sure if I see what you're getting at," the Rock-Type answered. "I was being a good 'mon there, and having Company lavenders doesn't preclude me from that."

"That's my point. I don't really know about everything that goes on here in this town, but maybe the best thing to do for now is to just do what you can along with those Pokémon like you," Kiran explained. "To show by example to the Pokémon in this town that there are souls in the ranks who aren't just out to squeeze them for berries and Thalers, and cut deals with pirates for short-term peace."

"Is that what they've been doing where you're stationed?" Kellner asked.

"Er… well, we try..." Crom began, only to pause and remember a promise they had made to Margi and Daraen. A promise to clear their names, and to do the right thing while in Company lavenders.

"Uh… actually," he murmured "There was kinda something about the 'doing what we could' that we needed a little help with."

"Care to elaborate?" the Rock-Type pressed.

"Well, before we pulled into port here, we made a stop at Boisocéan," the little Druddigon answered. "When we were there, we ran into a Marked Hydreigon who was packing up to leave because of a Commissioner who falsely accused her of piracy."

"Wait a minute, but I've seen this bounty before," the pterosaur replied, giving a skeptical raise of his brow. "You're telling me that it's a false accusation?"

"I know it sounds ridiculous, but that's really what happened!" Crom insisted. "And that Hydreigon said that she got a bounty issued against her as revenge and that she was having to fly away with her child-"

"I will see what I can do about it," Kellner interrupted.

"Huh?"

Crom and the others noticed then that a serious look had swept over the Aerodactyl's face. The pterosaur grit his teeth in indignation, and his eyes burned with a fiery determination at the young dragon's words.

"The Hydreigon. Even if she's guilty as charged, her child shouldn't be brought into this at all," Kellner growled. "I might not be that high up in the ranks, but I can still point out a flawed bounty when I see one!"

"It really would mean a lot," Pladur said.

"Well, then don't worry about it," the Aerodactyl insisted. "It's something that I can handle."

The Rock-Type turned and spread his wings for take-off, only to pause and falter. Kellner gave a skeptical, hesitant glance, but after a moment, he shook his head and turned back to face the four Pokémon of the Siglo Swellow.

"Actually… since you seem to be trying to do your own part to try and do what's right in those lavenders…" Kellner began. "There was one other thing that I might be able to help with."

"How so?" Ander asked.

"I overheard the Cubone chattering among themselves on the way back to the Mystery Dungeon. One of them mentioned that that 'Pleo' Pokémon you were looking for earlier moved on to Mengir," the Aerodactyl explained. "I was actually about to update the bounties at the main hall with that information so the wannabe bounty hunters on the force would get back to work and leave the townsfolk be."

As soon as the words left Kellner's maw, the four members of the Siglo Swellow jumped with a start. Crom, Kiran, Ander, and Pladur all chattered wildly and incredulously at the implications of the Aerodactyl's discovery.

"Ah! Those Cubone were hiding something!" Kiran squawked. To the side, Crom sidled up against his father and tugged at his arm curiously.

"Wait, Mengir?" Crom whispered.

"It's a sleepy island that lies closer to Cradle's edge than most others," Pladur explained. "A lot of storms blow in there from the Wastes."

"I'll admit, it's not the most solid of leads," Kellner replied. "But I figured that if anyone needed the advance notice, it would be you."

"There's supposed to be a morning fog tonight," Ander said. "If we start loading now, we might be able to beat it out of port."

"Right!" Pladur cried. "I'll go tell Captain Beatrix!"

As the Fraxure hurried off, Kiran turned back to give his thanks to the Aerodactyl, who now seemed unburdened of his earlier gloom.

"Thank you so much for that, Kellner," the Swellow chirped. "You don't know how important this i-"

"Hey!"

Before Kiran could finish with his thanks, he was cut off by the sudden arrival of Natrix and Philips. The Servine and Raichu duo casually carried along the docks waving to Crom and his companions up ahead, and turned to notice that their acquaintance from the grounds had come by again.

"What's all the fuss here about?" Natrix asked.

"Yeah, and where's Pladur? Philips added.

"Kellner here just told us where Pleo and the others are!" Crom exclaimed. "He's out at Mengir Island!"

At once, the color began to drain from the pair's faces and the two went rigid and wide-eyed, as if they had seen a ghost.

"He's… out on Mengir?" Philips murmured.

"What's with that look? It's great news, isn't it?" Crom said. "Now we know where they are!"

"Well, we heard around the docks that there was a suspicious ship spotted offshore, until it set off eastward around sundown!" the Servine exclaimed.

"Wait, but why is that an issue for us?" Ander asked.

"Because when Natrix and I thought that maybe the ship would be a lead, we asked around ships who had come and gone recently," the Raichu answered. "And we found out that Lyn's ship left just before that shady ship did, and going the same route!"

Crom, Kiran and Ander blanched as an awful realization began to dawn on them. Pleo was out on Mengir Island, which was east of Kenobi, but if Lyn was also heading eastward...

Then he too had discovered where Team Traveller fled to!

"We need to get moving," Kiran said. "We need to tell the rest of the crew about Lyn. Pat should be back by now, so we can push the ship off and-"

"Why are you in such a rush?"

The team froze and stared blankly for a moment, realizing that in their rush to get moving they had just blurted out everything in front of Kellner. Crom turned to the Aerodactyl with an expression that betrayed his discomfort with further questioning, and attempted to stammer a response to deflect his curiosity.

"Uhm… er… that's because..." Crom began. The little dragon tried to come up with some excuse, only to keep fumbling over his words, lacking the gift of gab that Guildmaster Hatteras might have had.

"Because…"

"It has to do with those bounties, doesn't it? Is there something wrong with what's written?"

"Huh?!"

"Were the others also falsely accused?" Kellner asked.

"Yeah, they were," Kiran answered. "And if we don't catch them first, their lives are going to get ruined over stuff they never did!"

"And you're off to go and try to do something about it?"

At that, Kiran and the others remained there in silence, trading anxious, intent looks with the Aerodactyl. The Fossil Pokémon looked at one and another for a moment, then craned his head and gazed away from them.

"Well, I'll let you get to it. After all, I'm going to need all the help doing the right thing from inside the service that I can get, aren't I?"

The team let out a collective sigh of relief, giving their thanks to the Travellers above that Kellner took them at their word in spite of how outlandish it must have seemed to him.

"Thanks Kellner," Crom nodded. "We won't let you down! We promise!"

Kellner watched as the Pokemon from the Siglo Swellow waved him off and ran down the docks. As the group faded into the busy masses, the Aerodactyl turned to go back to his same old post, to the same old job, on the same old schedule...

Except, for the first time in ages, he went back with hopeful spirits and the wind under his wings.



"Ow! That hurts!"

The sound of a startled cry came from the lonely sea rocks offshore Mengir, as Pleo sat on the worn sea stone catching his breath with the rest of Team Traveler as they recovered from their splashdown. The young Lugia hastily jerked his left wing back against his body and gave a fussy glare at Trizano before nudging at it with his beak as his teammates watched under the light of a waxing moon, Guardia taking particular care to shift her gaze from it. The Skarmory guide tilted his head and gave a final inspection at the injured wing before shaking his head with a sigh.

"It looks like our little escape might have worsened your sprain," he said. "It's nothing that won't get better with a little time, but you really do need to stay off your wings for a few days."

"Eh?" Guardia asked. "But if his wings were really so bad, how come he was able to fly us all this time? How come he didn't crash as soon as he jumped from the wall-hole?"

"Well, I didn't really notice how much it hurt until I flew out of the storm," Pleo answered, casting a glance back at the storm continuing to recede in the background. Nida flicked her ears puzzledly and cast a glance over at the dark clouds in the distance, when a realization caught her.

"Pleo didn't seem to have any trouble up until the storm started to let up," she murmured. "I mean, it sounds kinda crazy, but… if it really helped him that much..."

"Then he really is a god of storms," Guardia murmured. As the Cubone gaped and prodded awedly at the young Lugia before her, Elty's expression started to turn sour. The Growlithe realized that there was a huge complication for the team's efforts to leave Mengir for a safer place, one to which there didn't seem to be any immediate solutions...

"Well that's just great," Elty huffed. "But how exactly does that help us get away when the mewa can't fly?"

"That's where I come in," Dimitri said. "Trizano told me you four needed a dive down to the Subway."

Elty's ears instantly flattened out along with a disgusted "Ugh, are we really doing this?" at the mention of the Subway, as his teammates gave puzzled glances at the Kabutops. Guardia in particular seemed to be a bit unnerved at the idea of diving, which prompted her to press a bit more about this 'dive'.

"Dive? As in in the water?" she demanded accusingly. "Just where are you taking us?"

"Hm? Don't you know what the Subway is, yashcherka?" Dimitri asked. "It's a network of air tunnels on the seafloor for airbreathers like you. After accounting for changes in air pressure, I should be able to get you there in seven to eight minutes."

"S-Seven to eight minutes?!" the Cubone cried, hoisting her bone defensively. "M-Masaka We'll drown before you get us down there!"

"Don't be so sure about that," Trizano answered. "Any diver who would be willing to take passengers knows how to use Dive and form an air bubble. Care to give them them a demonstration, Dimitri?"

"With pleasure," the Water-Type chittered.

Dimitri leapt into the water and began to swim in a circling arc around the sea rocks as his bag clung to his back plates. After the seas calmed for a moment, the Kabutops began to cut through the water faster, leaving a growing bubbly trail in his wake.

Elty and Guardia traded puzzled stares with each other, only for Dimitri to swing around and suddenly throw his scythes out in a spreading motion. The bubbly wake suddenly opened up into a large trough that the crab swam down, which with a great crash closed over him.

"Oh yeah, that's real confidence inspiring," Elty snorted, only to be cut off by an excited chirp.

"Wait! Elty, look!"

Pleo gestured with his healthy wing at a small trail of bubbles reaching the surface. Below them swam the form of Dimitri, bobbing along with a much bigger bubble attached to his back.

The four stared mesmerized, as the shape came back up from the depths, and the bubble burst as the horseshoe crab reached the surface.

"See, nothing to fear," he insisted, before moving a scythe under his mouth and giving his head a puzzled tilt. "Er… once I figure out how to fit all of you on my back."

Team Traveller looked at each other hesitantly, unsure what to do. Undaunted, Trizano ruffled his feathers and cleared his throat.

"Hrm… Well... I remember that in my past travels, I occasionally ran into Pokémon who would form towers atop each other so they could pool their strengths when exploring," he said. "If you did that, you'd easily fit on Dimitri's back!"

"Sounds more like a great way for someone to drown," Elty spat. "If we all made a tower, we wouldn't be able to fit inside some dinky bubble!"

"Eh?" Pleo asked. "But wouldn't you just be riding me like always?"

Elty blinked before folding his ears back out of embarrassment. How had the mewa thought of that on the spot but not him?

"Oh, so that's what you meant," the Growlithe sheepishly replied. "Well, I guess it could work …"

Dimitri lowered himself against the rocks to allow Pleo to latch onto him. The little Lugia pushed Dimitri's bag up along his shoulders to provide a resting place for his head, and struggled for a moment to put his left wing in place. Afterward, Nida, Elty, and Guardia made their way onto Pleo's back and hunkered down, just in case Dimitri's bubble was smaller than expected. As the vampire crab flattened out and pushed off into the choppy waters to circle the rock, Pleo looked back at Trizano on the stone outcropping… and shifted uncomfortably as a nagging worry surfaced back up to his mind.

"What about Salvini...?" he murmured.

Pleo and his companions listened for some reassurance from Trizano, only for the Steel-Type to remain speechless, a serious look coming over his eyes. Nida and the others were quick to see this as a signal that, in the end, something had gone wrong. They traded concerned looks with each other, until Pleo turned his attention back to the Immortal.

"Trizano?" Pleo pressed.

"She took a risk to help you all escape…" he finally admitted.

"Eh?!" the Lugia cried. "You mean she's in trouble?!"

"But we can't just leave her like that!" Nida exclaimed.

"Fear not. The Immortal Trizano doesn't forget a Pokémon in need," the Skarmory reassured. "If I can help her, I will. But if I can't…"

Trizano shook his head and ruffled his feathers uncomfortably, evidently thinking of all the same what-ifs that were troubling Team Traveller.

"You need to honor her wishes," he said. "And make the most of the risk that she took for you."

Nida and the rest of the team lowered their heads and assumed the certainty of the situation, ones more than the others. Pleo shifted uneasily, reminded of how others had put themselves on the line for him.

"I don't know what we can really do anymore," Elty answered. "But we'll try."

"Yeah, for the Juptile's sake…" Guardia began. The Cubone trailed off until, all of a sudden she noticed something amiss with Trizano's left wing. Hadn't that Darzin majū hit it with a burning punch earlier? But the wing looked flawless, with nary a sign of any of the effects of Darzin’s Fire Punch to be seen!

"Eh?! Your wing!" the Ground-Type cried. "I thought that it got burned earlier!"

"Now that she mentions it," Dimitri said, giving a puzzled tilt of his head. "I could've sworn that your tail feathers were messed up, too."

The Skarmory looked down at his mysteriously healed wing and tail and gave a bemused, knowing shake of his head.

"An Immortal can't divulge all of his secrets. I will say though, that you four have already seen a glimpse of the truth back in that Mystery Dungeon," he replied. "I'll explain when our paths cross again, and knowing your friend, they will cross again. But until then…"

Trizano turned to glance back at the island they had escaped, the silhouettes of its needle-like peaks coming into view with the moonlight as the storm began to slowly recede.

"I have a partner to try and help," he said. "Farewell, fellow Hunters."

"Goodbye, and thank you," Pleo replied.

The Skarmory gave one last wave, before turning around and flying off back towards Mengir and the storm. Dimitri began his journey away from the rocks, weaving here and there in search for stiller waters. During the journey, the Kabutops noticed that his passengers had grown quiet, prompting him to look over his shoulder in concern. There, he saw Guardia fixing her gaze on the churning sea below as Nida, Elty, and Pleo looked back and watching intently as their metal rescuer flew back against the moonlight for the stone-spired island in the distance.

"What exactly did he mean by that bit about you 'seeing a glimpse of the truth' anyways?" the Kabutops asked.

"Err... well..." Nida began.

"Ah, don't sweat it," the fossil crab sighed. "I'll have plenty of time to ask once we get you out of here."

Dimitri's pace suddenly picked up in the water and the team began to notice a trail of bubbles in his wake. The Kabutops swung around and spread out his scythes, causing the four to hunker down as they suddenly felt their carrier's body drop.

SPLOOSH

The four flinched as they heard a watery crash overhead, only for the expected cold, wet seawater to never come. They looked up and saw that a translucent, ebbing bubble had formed overhead, just large enough to accommodate the group. Guardia hunkered down uneasily against Pleo's plumes as her teammates peered on above, the three gazing as the moon and stars faded away as they went further into the deep.



Around midnight, the sea fog started to form in wisps offshore Kenobi, and the lavender sails of the Siglo Swellow were raised and the craft set off. The shipyards on the atoll grew smaller and smaller until they were but a few flecks of grey and brown against the backdrop of a pair of green and golden-brown mounds. The deck hummed with activity as lavender-scared Pokémon moved back and fro, and the craft bobbed along the sea current that would take them to Mengir.

Unbeknownst to the merry crew, off on the horizon, a two-masted caravel with golden sails was lurking in wait behind them. Its captain: a glowering Aggron peering through a scope at the edge of a railing as some of his underlings traded traded skeptical looks and unenthusiastic grumbles.

"Captain, why are we still here?" Rodion said. "Wasn't our port call in Andaku enough humiliation?"

Hess' memories of the debacle that 'press ganging' turned into unwelcomely returned to his mind, as that Druddigon brat from earlier flickered across the lens of his scope. Even before that fateful visit to Tromba, life had been precarious and lurching from one debacle to another, but the repeated encounters with those Pokémon had just made things much worse.

As if losing a dozen underlings wasn't enough, Hess was now indebted to the shopkeepers of Andaku, and he had had to part with all the extra loot that hadn't been split with the crew... in what was merely the first of a long schedule of future payments.

Hess followed Crom on his scope... just for a little longer, letting out a growl. That haul he had taken from Tromba could have been his breakthrough to moving on up in Orleigh… Probably. Maybe. But thanks to those meddling kids, he would never know!

He couldn’t just let that stand. But now, he could do something about it, and he knew exactly where he and his crew could get started.

"That's exactly why we're following them," the Aggron growled. "We're getting even!"

"With a Company ship?!" a Hoppip with a fresh Iron Fleet scarf cried.

"Captain, you can't possibly think that's a good idea," a Seadra insisted from the water. "Company ships are tough prey even for better crews than us!"

The Steel-Type gave an irked snarl which rapidly shut up the chorus of protests. After winning a reprieve, the Aggron shook his head and began to address his crew.

"That's not a Company ship!" he huffed. "It's a fake run by those twerps that got us into trouble earlier!"

To his dismay, the Hess' insistence was met by disinterested groans and unamused stares. Even the new Yanmega, Manectric, and the little bone-headed monster with them didn't seem to be enthused by the suggestion. Then… maybe they all just needed a little motivation to get whipped into shape...

"Don't you get it? This is our chance to show that we won't just take getting humiliated like that!" Hess bellowed. "That the Iron Fleet doesn't take getting made to look like a bunch of fools by a crew of nobodies!"

Chirp chirp chirp

The intended rousing speech seemed to miss its mark, an awkward silence filling the air instead. The sole disruption to the quiet was a lone Kricketot obliviously humming in the corner until a Pawniard prodded the Bug-Type for silence.

"Psst, Chirpy!" the Pawniard hissed. "Knock it off, you're making the Captain look bad!"

The cricket hissed back at the Dark-Type before bringing his chirping to a halt, throwing the gathering back into silence. Hess's smile froze on his face, as the Aggron slowly sucked in a breath through gritted teeth. He dropped the expression, shaking his head as he tried to connect with them a different way.

"... also, we'll split the loot we grab from them on the way back to Orleigh over rum," the Aggron sighed.

"Now that's more like it!"

"Yeah, can't go wrong with some extra pay on the way back to Rosequartz Town!"

"And we can clear out their rum for some refreshments after our work's done!"

Hess buried his face in a palm at how easily his crew got persuaded over a promise of a few bottles of rum. Well, it was one way of getting them motivated… Though he would have to do something about his crew's misplaced priorities.

But that could wait. The Steel-Type felt his Mistral Marauder lurch forward, and gusts of wind fill his sails as they shadowed the lavender-sailed ship ahead. The pirate captain pawed at the lucky charm under his scarf, looking out to sea with newfound determination. All that was left was to follow those chumps, and keep an eye open. Eventually the conditions would be right- they would grow groggy, they would become too tired, or too dumbfounded by what lay ahead of them to remember to check their backs.

"It's payback time, twerps."



Author's Notes:

- Seguimi! - Italian: "Follow me!"
- Dobre li si? (Добрe ли си?) - Bulgarian: "Are you alright?" / "Are you okay?" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- (¡)Venga, vamos! - Spanish: "Come on, let's go!"
- Bądź tu mądry - Polish: Expression roughly analogous to "Go figure", lit. "Be smart"
- Stiga! (Стига!) - Bulgarian: "Enough!" Interjection. (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- yashcherka (ящeрка) - Russian: "lizard" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- Masaka (まさか) - Japanese: Interjection communicating disbelief. Used here to roughly mean "No way!" (Hepburn Romanization)
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
Author’s Note: This trivia section was originally posted alongside Chapter 37 of Fledglings on Serebii after its thread received 15,000 views. Annotations and revised commentary not originally in this trivia section are noted in bolded text.

How Did You Come Up With Kellner?


Kellner is based off of a recurring character concept that Fobbie has dabbled with of a well-intentioned Aerodactyl underling for a malevolent force, if with a bit of a more world-weary bent than past incarnations. Kellner’s premise as a character was to be a character that put on a cheery face to mask dissatisfaction with his job and the actions of his superiors, but also was unable to contemplate a viable alternative to the present order.

Beta names that were considered for Kellner at different points of his creation included Dan, Buffetaut, Grigorescu, and Hatzeg all based off of the team that discovered the largest pterodactyl, the Hatzegopteryx. After growing dissatisfied with those routes, I then got to Alexander (Wilhelm Armin) Kellner, a leading expert on pterosaurs thanks to suggestions from Virgil134. After a debate between between Armin and Kellner for a while, Kellner won out and the rest is history.

How Did You Come Up With Salvini?

Salvini from the very beginning was designed that was meant to be a duty-focused Company Pokémon who could be relatable to readers. Salvini’s initial concept had her as a Pokémon “just doing her job” that had largely operated in a bubble, where the more questionable activities the Company was involved in could be filtered through the lens of her companions along with the needs of her host village. As such, a major portion of this episode in planning was interleaving how a Company Pokémon with well-meaning intentions responded to a moral dilemma that couldn’t be easily rationalized away.

Salvini’s name owes its origins to Salvinaiales, the name of the taxonomic order of water ferns, which also informed her beta names “Salvi”, “Salvin”, and “Salvinia”.

How Did You Come Up With Salvini’s Teammates?

Salvini’s teammates were envisioned as a cross-section of Company types that would be more down-to-earth with the communities they were assigned to guard, with names and species owing influence to Virgil134.

Hertsog was envisioned as a seasoned and more benevolent “head guard” archetype, akin to a more loyal and serious-minded Osmund. As for his species, the rationale behind that has to do with something hinted by Briggs in chapter 34. Originally there were plans to bring that concept more front-and-center in this episode, but due to rewriting, it will be something for another day. Hertsog’s name is Bulgarian for “Duke”, and was chosen due to a mix of being a valid (if rare) surname, and thanks to me watching Zootopia shortly before I started publishing the chapters in this episode.

Payak was developed as a “by-the-book” character with a good deal of blind loyalty. Payak was chosen to be an Ariados thanks to its “intimidating” association, and its utility in making traps and restraints thanks to silk-spinning. Payak’s name owes itself to being the romanization of the Bulgarian term for ‘spider’, which coincidentally is a valid Polish surname. During character creation, a few beta names related to ‘Peter’ were floated around for Payak, including ‘Petar’ and ‘Penko’. If you’re wondering how that happened, well, there’s a simple explanation for that.

Phyllis was envisioned as an example of the Company being an equal-opportunity shady employer, as her Marked heritage (theoretically) takes a backseat to her abilities as a guard. Phyllis due to a combination of being a Pokémon more associated with humans (which have been consciously overrepresented as Marked) and was chosen due to fitting the forest theme that Mengir had, considerations that influenced an initial beta direction of making her a Bayleef. Phyllis’ name was chosen due to having a literal meaning of ‘foliage’ in Greek, with ‘Kalina’ being a name that was left on the cutting room floor during character design.

How Did You Come Up With Commander Briggs?

Briggs was envisioned as the primary “conduit” between Salvini’s world on the beat and the backdoor intrigue of the Board. Briggs was developed as a very ruthless and results-oriented character, whose loyalties focus primarily on his abilities to advance up the hierarchy in the Company. Briggs’ name owes its origins to Anomalocaris briggsi, a species of an extinct crustacean that Armaldo is based off of.

Why Aren’t the Grunts All Antagonistic this Episode?

One of the objectives for this current episode was to show that within the Company, there were Pokémon with relatable and sympathetic motivations, and to explore how they reacted when some of the Company’s more questionable practices interfered with their judgment and decision making. After all, even grunts in villainous organizations have lives and yearnings of their own, which aren’t always in line with those of their employers.

How Did You Come Up With Mengir?

Mengir as an island is heavily based off of Geosenge and the Kalos Route 10 from Pokémon X/Y, due in no small part to the island’s role as the home of Xerneas’ egg. The name ‘Mengir’ is the Bulgarian rendering of ‘Menhir’, a type of historical stone pillar (which riddles Kalos Route 10) that influenced both the local customs in the island and also the local topography. As for why Bulgarian was chosen as the local language, there was a conscious choice to make Mengir’s language a departure from prior islands, which lead to examining languages that were spoken in and around the Balkans. One thing lead to another, and before I knew it, I had settled on Bulgarian.

In the initial planning stages, Mengir was creatively dubbed “Killer Beautifly Island” and closer to publishing, “Stone Forest”, with the central premise of the island being a sleepy and seemingly-innocent location that was dangerous and dysfunctional on a closer examination. The placeholder names also influenced the design of the Mystery Dungeon, which was developed as a splice of monarch butterfly nesting grounds and the karst formation of the Malagasy Tsingy de Bemaraha.

How Did You Come Up With Fensedge Village?

Fensedge Village owes its name to being a veiled reference, specifically to one ‘Sawgrass Town’ from Knightfall’s PMD: Overthrown. In Knightfall’s writing, ‘Sawgrass Town’ is a town that is so synonymous with “sinisterness and danger” that it is literally blotted out on maps and Pokémon speak of it in shuddering tones. Since Fensedge from the earliest stages of planning was also envisioned as a “sinister and dangerous” location, the reference seemed to click, though in a more metaphorical sense thanks to Fensedge having an exterior meant to be superficially cheery and idyllic unlike its namesake.

As with Mengir as a whole, Fensedge also carries heavy Geosenge/Route 10 theming, including the Cromlech Inn, a nod to Geosenge’s name in the French, German, Italian, and Spanish localizations. The Everbloom Taverna is similarly a nod to Geosenge, referring to one particularly plot-important flower associated with the town in-game. Much like other islands, Fensedge’s architecture and culture pulls from real-life influences to an extent, with the local architecture carrying traditional Bulgarian influences, if with more paleolithic-style monuments littered around.

What Was With the Map Scene With the Stars?

It is a simplified depiction of navigational techniques that historically used to be a mariner’s best friend. In the scene, Elty uses a simple astrolabe, along with a crude planisphere and star chart in order to determine latitude what direction the team should go at night. The stars that Elty uses as his guide are based off of the constellations that the anime depicts, which in turn are heavily based off of the constellations in our world.

Unlike historical times, Elty and his companions also have the benefit of having a means of rudimentary timekeeping through the Travellers, which enables him and fellow mariners in the Cradle without assisting sensory perception to solve the historical problem of calculating longitude when charting courses.

How Did You Come Up With Valatos and His Friends?

Valatos and his companions owe their origins to a confluence of influences, due in no small part to my beta readers. Valatos owes his origins to a character concept of a cocky, bullying Yanmega character of the same name that @Venia Silente plays around with in some of his works, which formed the underpinnings of Valatos’ depiction in this story. His name owes its origins to a vowel swap of "veleta", the Spanish term for a weather vane.

Alvise owes his origins to a concept of a character of (formerly) higher breeding floated by Virgil134, along with his name and his species. His name is a Venetian form of ‘Ludwig’, which can be interpreted as ‘famous’, ‘war’, ‘battle’, and influenced the decision to make him into the team area-of-effect attacker.

Nori as a character that was drawn up from the very beginning as one that could interact with Guardia’s colony, and serves as the “simple bruiser” of the lot. Nori’s name is similarly tied to his character, meaning “ceremony” or “rites” in Japanese, which was the main means through which he is able to be manipulated by Tetsuzui in the prior episode.

Where Did “Substitute Battling” Come From?

“Substitute Battling” as a sport was envisioned as the outgrowth of Pokémon’s vague recollections of the experience of battling alongside trainers. In a Substitute Battle, two opposing sides attempt to protect a vulnerable target that stands in for a trainer from the opposing side, while destroying the target belonging to the other.

The intention was to make a simple concept that was reflective of human influence upon Fledglings’ cultures, as well as to provide an easy platform for different variations (i.e. team sizes, substitution of the Substitute with a “team captain” Pokémon to be KOed). Substitute Battles are far from the only sport in the Cradle, though given the focus that Pokémon have upon battling, it looms particularly large in the local culture. Beta names that were floated for the sport included “Pro-Battling”, “Search and Destroy”, and “Trainer Defense”.
 
Chapter 39: Under the Sea

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f


As clouds obscured the moon and stars from the night sky, Nagant's frigate powered through the choppy waves in the southern sections of the Spear Stream, the green-sanded shores of Mengir Island beginning to poke over the horizon. Although it blotted out the expected waxing moon for the season, the blanket of clouds provided much-needed cover for the ship and its teeming deck. Every deck hand's claws were occupied, including those of the Clawlitzer perched on her tail at the bow of the ship, peering intently through a scope that had been mounted onto the railing.

Through the spyglass, Nagant spotted a large three-masted vessel bearing lavender sails approaching a needle-spired island flecked with faint lantern-lights and a few signaling flares lit on bluffs. Ahead of the ship and near the town was the form of a metal bird in the air, most likely a ship notary. The shrimp watched as the ship pulled along into port and movement broke out along its deck, before giving a low grunt and hopping on her tail over to a waiting Beedrill with an indigo scarf bearing a twin-leaved design.

"Have the anchor dropped and get everyone around the bridge," the Clawitzer huffed to the Beedrill. "I have an announcement to make before heading ashore, and I only want to give it once."

The hornet buzzed back an affirming 'aye, Captain' and quickly barked out orders to the other Pokémon as the crustacean made her way back to the ship's bridge. Along the way, the splash of the stone anchor hitting the water rang out, and the escorting flyers and swimmers quickly whipped up currents and gusts to slow the ship to a halt. As the deck settled, the various Pokémon aboard began to crowd around the bridge to hear their captain speak. The escorts in the sky and sea also began to take their places, including a Tentacruel and Sharpedo who sidled up against the ship with their peers looking up curiously.

"I wonder what this is about?" the Sharpedo began, only to be cut off by a shush from the Tentacruel.

"Katyusha, just listen up!" she chided. "It's probably something important!"

Nagant clambered onto a barrel and hopped up onto her tail, propping herself up to better see her audience. The shrimp cleared her throat, and shook her head as she began to speak.

"It looks like the leads I picked up from that hive of scum and villainy were worth something," she began. "Commissioner Lyn is pulling into port on Mengir right as we speak."

The Water-Type looked around and scowled after noticing that a perturbingly large number of blank and puzzled stares were floating around the gathered sailors, as they wondered aloud as to who this 'Lyn' was.

"Er… who is he again?" a Lampent asked.

"Well he's a Company Commissioner," an Aipom answered.

"I know that, but what's that have to do with the 'god' we're following?" the Lampent chastised.

"For those of you who need a reminder," Nagant hissed, "'Commissioner Lyn' is currently our path to finding out where this god the Company is pursuing is."

The Clawitzer clicked her firing claw and twitched her barbels, before shooting a determined gaze out over her subordinates and speaking up.

"He's a petulant Company pup who's gotten a bit lucky over the years," the Water-Type scoffed. "And I'll be heading in to try and put a damper on that for Queen and Country."

"And due compensation, I take it?" Niilo asked.

The shrimp paused at the Sandslash's words and thought of the Marchioness title she had coveted since her family's house had come crashing down so many years ago. A sea god would be but a trifle for climbing the nobles' hierarchy, and it would finally give her the chance to set fate's cruel caprices right. With a playful twitch of her feelers, a small smile began to spread over the sea bug's mandibles as she continued on.

"Well, something coming my way out of it wouldn't hurt either," the Clawitzer replied. "I might have something in mind for myself."

"And the rest of us too," Niilo shot in. "Right Captain Nug-?"

The Sandslash heard a loud thump and jumped back with a start after seeing that the captain was leveling her shooting claw at him, and giving a withering glare.

"Finish that statement, and the only compensation you'll be getting from me is a night licking wounds in the sick bay, Niilo!" Nagant hissed. From the water, a bobbing Tentacruel and Sharpedo watched as the pangolin jumped back and hastily darted deeper into the crowd. As the shrimp eased back into her speaking stance, a question began to flicker across the Sharpedo's mind.

"So, you're headed out alone here?" she asked. "Or-"

"No, and that brings me to the real order of business," Nagant huffed. "I'm going to need a team for infiltrating, just like in our run into Kenobi. This isn't exactly Boisocéan with its neutral territory."

"Aha! So that's where 'mons like me get to shine again!" the Tentacruel cheered.

"And the rest of us are watching the ship out here, I presume?" the ship's Beedrill first mate asked.

"No. You're going to Otvaga with the ship," the shrimp corrected. "The rest of us will travel in a caravan and meet up with you there when our business is done here in Fensedge."

"Mwo?! But Captain!" the Bug-Type buzzed startledly. "Why on earth would you want us to pull the ship in a full day away from you?!"

As if in answer, a gust kicked up a high wave out of nowhere, rocking the ship and knocking most of the startled crew off of their feet.

"That's why, Jun!" Nagant grunted. "Remember this place gets storms frequently!"

"That's… fair enough," the Beedrill said, shaking his head. "Though you will be keeping our lack of proximity in mind, yes?"

"Was that really a question?" the Clawitzer replied. "After all, I already have candidates for this run in mind…"

She searched the crowd for the Pokémon she was thinking of, before settling her gaze upon a Ponyta pawing at the deck with his hooves.

"Berecien," Nagant ordered, gesturing at the Fire-Type. "Grab some red and white dye with the others and throw it over that scarf of yours, you're coming along."

"Mrph, right!"

"Niilo, since you like being a smart alec tonight, you can help dig us a way in once we hit land!" she barked, turning her gaze to a Sandslash now buried in the middle of the crowd. "And don't ask me about pay until after we get back!"

"Blurgh… tell me that you're at least going to let me start once we're away from the seashore," Niilo grumbled.

Nagant continued to rattle off names, pointing out one Pokémon after another in the gathered crowd. The courier Drifblim floating lazily among the masts, a Bewear lurking at the back of the gathering, a Gorebyss from the sea escorts…

The Clawitzer's pace slowed and she grew more deliberate as her choices narrowed down to one final candidate, the shrimp casting a brief glance at an expectantly waiting Tentacruel in the sea.

"-aaaand… Cabot," the Water-Type said, pointing out a Cranidos in the front row. "I want you on point with Berecien. If your family's skills at box busting rubbed off on you at all, we'll need them."

"Aye aye!" the dinosaur cheered. "It'll be a pleasu-"

"Wait!"

A flustered, gurgling cry came out beside the ship, as the Tentacruel from the water waved her tentacles desperately for attention.

"Captain Nu- er… Nagant, aren't you forgetting someone?" the jellyfish insisted. The Poison-Type's eyes brightened, as she gave an innocent stroke at her bell with her tentacles, only for Nagant's expression to remain firm and unmoved.

"No, I don't believe I am, Cyanea," the Clawitzer replied. The Tentacruel blinked and bobbed silently in shock, before shaking her bell and hastily raising a tentacle in spluttering protest.

"But- But I was part of your Kenobi team!" the jellyfish exclaimed. "And I've been a solid team player on every mission I've taken!"

"Yes, and I'm aware of that, Cyanea," Nagant sighed. "And I need your talents to stay and defend the ship."

"B-but I've got one of the best records on the sea team! And-"

"And I'm the Captain!" the Clawitzer bellowed. "And I say that you defend the ship and let everyone do their share instead of showboating!"

An uneasy silence filled the air as Nagant and Cyanea traded piercing glares with each other, neither willing to back down from their stand. The Beedrill first mate saw the barbels on his captain's whiskers twitch and Cyanea's tentacles began to tense in anticipation, prompting the Bug-Type to hastily intervene with a buzz before the two could get physically aggressive.

"Look at it this way, Cyanea. I could use your help in keeping this hull in one piece in Captain Nagant's absence," Jun offered. "And besides, if too many Pokémon get spotted repeatedly popping in and out of Company ports, it raises the risks of getting exposed."

The Tentacruel sank into the seawater, blowing huffy bubbles that reached up to the surface before she grudgingly answered the Beedrill.

"Ugh… otlichno," the Poison-Type muttered. Nagant rolled her eyes, before turning back to address a team of infiltrators who were just finishing up the process of changing into white and red scarves.

"Let's get a move on!" she snapped. "That Commissioner isn't going to be taking his time with that god!"

The Clawitzer hopped over to the railing and sprung off into the water. The team of saltire-patterned Pokémon followed suit, fliers heading out over the water, and more land-bound members carefully clambering down onto waiting swimmers.

As Nagant and her team of fellow infiltrators swam off for Mengir in the distance, Jun called out to get the ship moving. The anchor was raised, the sails lowered, and the ship lurched forward, turning around in a wide arc for the direction of Otvaga Island. The sea escorts moved along with their craft, including a still-fuming Cyanea who trailed the ship's wake along with Katyusha.

"I can't believe she snubbed me like that!" the Tentacruel grumbled. "How can that old shrimp be so stubborn?!"

"Lighten up a little, Cyanea, think on the bright side!" the Sharpedo reassured. "We get to slack off for a few days while Captain Nugget's in port!"

"Not helping, Katyusha!"



Out in the sea between Mengir and Otvaga, Dimitri continued his dive down deeper into the water, much as he'd done many times before. This time, his journey included four passengers on a bubble on his back. In spite of their perch being the same size as Pleo's flights into the sky, Team Traveller's journey underwater felt a lot more claustrophobic than usual. As the scythed crab made his way further and further into the deep, the four noticed that their air bubble was slowly but surely shrinking, an unnerving experience that was only worsened by the groaning from their Growlithe teammate.

"Ugh... are we there ye-?"

Before Elty could finish his complaint, he felt a dull blow against the back of his head and yelped. After turning his head back, he saw the scowling Cubone just behind him pulling her club back from a fresh swat.

"Oi, weren't you the one who told me to stop asking that in the air?!" Guardia fumed. "Now it's your turn to shut your trap!"

The clash between the bone lizard's indignance and the little dog's discomfort quickly dissolved into heated bickering. Nida lowered her ears and buried her face in her paws at her teammates' antics, only for things to settle once the Kabutops cleared his throat and spoke up.

"Easy! Easy! We're almost there!" Dimitri reassured. "Sorry if this was taking longer than you expected... The water gets denser the further down you go, so we have to take our time to let the air in that bubble adjust."

The crab continued on as the already scant light from the sky above grew dimmer and dimmer with the water's depth. A few shapes moved through the water, some lazily along, a few abruptly swimming away after being passed. Were those ferals? What would happen if one of them attacked them in the middle of their dive?

As paranoid and frightful possibilities popped into the minds of Team Traveller's fraught and harried members, Guardia began to notice that strangely enough, there were faint lights coming from below. The Cubone squinted, and saw that the lights seemed to be getting closer.

"Eh?! What's that down there?" she cried, pointing her club off at the faint lights.

Her teammates peered off after her club and squinted as well, though it was not until a little while later that they too saw a trail of yellowish flecks of light. Evidently, the Gardie and spike lump weren't able to see ahead as well as she could. The lights dimly lit up parallel rows of seaweed on opposite sides of a long tube that snaked along the seafloor.

Dimitri lowered himself down towards the tube, and Team Traveller began to see the water outside thicken with small bubbles. Strangely enough, the walls of the tunnel didn't seem rigid, but shifted slightly to and fro in the currents of the water. After a careful peck at the wall of their air pocket, and a glance at the tube below, Pleo suddenly realized that the 'tube' was…

"Ah! It's a giant bubble!" the Lugia exclaimed. "And those plant things are making all those little ones!"

"Wait, but why is it there?" Nida asked.

"That's the Subway," Dimitri replied. "It's how Pokémon like you are able to breathe while visiting Pokémon like us down here."

The Kabutops began to circle over a section of the tube and swim around cautiously, carefully eyeing the tube-bubble below him. By chance, his scythe happened to poke the wall of the tunnel, which sent a small spigot of water inside before he yanked it back with a start.

"Er… oops," he murmured. "The whole 'getting in' part is the trickiest bit."

Elty and Guardia shifted uncomfortably at the sight of the pool of water in the tunnel slowly receding into the sand underfoot. If a little knick was able to do that… what would an entire group of five Pokémon do to it?

"But you caused a leak just by touching it!" Guardia exclaimed. "How are we supposed to get in like that?"

"Yeah, you're supposed to take us to a hideout, not drown us!" Elty yipped, folding his ears back at the sight of the water in the tunnel.

"It'll be fine!" Dimitri insisted. "I've done this before!"

The four Pokémon turned uneasily to each other, looking at the water all around them. After a long pause, Nida twitched her whiskers anxiously and finally broke the silence…

"A-Alright…" she answered uneasily. "Take us in!"

"Mrph, right!" Dimitri grunted back. "Just hold tight for a minute…"

The crab began to sidle over the top of the tube, and aligned himself carefully with the bubble wall. The creature paused and treaded water, before dropping down. There was the sound of a splash, the smack of seawater, and a hard landing which made the Kabutops' passengers cling on for dear life.

And then, the feeling of water dripping off of them, and the realization that there was now a much larger and taller bubble overhead lined by rows of seaweed.

"Ah!" Nida squeaked. "We made it in!"

The Nidoran turned and chanced to see Elty and Guardia panting, wide-eyed. After realizing that they had passed through, the pair's demeanors changed, with Elty's expression starting to slip into one of annoyed disgust.

"I thought Pokémon came down here to not get drenched," the Growlithe groaned. The Fire-Type flicked some seawater off of his forepaws, as Guardia looked around uneasily at her surroundings.

"The colony's lore never said anything about there being places like this..." she murmured.

Pleo let go of Dimitri and, after a few false starts, hopped onto the soggy ground. The young Lugia lowered himself and let his weary passengers dismount, flopping forward onto the Subway's floor out of exhaustion. One-by-one, the lot shook themselves dry and began to scrape wet sand off their bodies, their Kabutops guide coming from behind to gently nudge them back up to their feet.

"See, that wasn't so bad, was it?" Dimitri cheered. "Come on, let's get you all over to that station so you can rest. You all look like you could use it."

The Fossil Pokémon scuttled ahead, leading Nida, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia to shuffle off along the tunnel. As the five carried along, they looked about their surroundings, mesmerized by the bubbly passage and the water all about them. Even so, one question lingered on, which Guardia eventually managed to articulate to the rest of the group.

"How is this possible though?" Guardia questioned. "How could there be a space with air all the way at the bottom of the sea?"

"By grinding up aircrystals and spreading it along paths like these," Dimitri answered. "Just like any other route down here in the Subway."

"Aircrystals?" Pleo wondered.

"They're crystals that form in stones and the like in Mystery Dungeons out here in the sea," the Kabutops replied. "They attract air bubbles that, with a little creative arrangement, can form passages big enough for surface dwellers like you to breathe in."

"What's up with this kaisō here, then?" Guardia asked, gesturing at the strands of seaweed along the tunnel’s walls. "It's making bubbles, too. Doesn't that have some part in it?"

"That's right," Dimitri remarked. "It's called ‘bubbleweed’ for a reason. When you grow seaweed on top of seabed treated with aircrystal, some of it gets embedded in the leaves, and the air that bubbles out helps keep these tunnels steady."

The vampire crab paused at a clump of seaweed along the edge of the tunnel and stuck a scythe through the lining. With a swift flick, the creature took in a spurt of water, along with a few laminae, still bubbling in the water they lay in as Team Traveller gathered around to curiously eye and poke at the detached blades of seaweed.

"See? Like that. And they do have uses beyond helping to anchor Subway routes down here," he said. "If you're ever in a pinch and wind up stuck outside one of the tunnels, keep one wrapped over your snout and you'll be able to breathe for a couple minutes, even if it smells like seaweed."

"Ugh, thanks for convincing me to never come back here," Elty spat.

Elty pinned his ears to the sides of his head and hurried along with an impatient, agitated gait. After a moment’s pause, the team continued on, clambering up a portion of rocks which made Pleo cry out after one of the stones brushed his still-bandaged left wing. After rushing back, Nida hastily helped the little Protector along, she noticed that all along the path there hadn't been any real alcove or place to rest beyond a couple mats of dried seaweed…

Dimitri wasn't going to make them sleep in that, was he?

"Er… Where exactly are we staying though?" the Nidoran asked. "I haven't seen any place so far that looks like it would be comfortable to sleep in."

"Oh, we're not staying here. It'll be up at Seaspear Station," he explained. "It's a rest stop down here in the Subway with a hostel where we can spend the night."

"Huh?!" Elty exclaimed. "Then why didn't you swim us directly there?!"

"Because I wasn't sure if your bubble would make it through the moon pool intact, and going in like we did earlier wouldn't work either. The shopowners there don't like it when you drop in and get all their customers wet," Dimitri answered, giving a sheepish tap of his scythes. "Besides, it's not that far of a walk ahead."

The group carried on up a steep slope, the tunnel switching back and forth in hairpins up a bluff. Dimitri and the children plodded up the switchbacks one by one, nearing the top of the bluff. There, they chanced to see a sleepy-looking Carracosta with a belt clinging to the creature's neck keeping watch over a bubble propped up by seaweeds flecked with yellow light. Further off in the distance, a beltless Mantine and attached Remoraid swam past casting curious glances at the space, which prompted Team Traveller to pause and peer at the bubble.

Inside the dimly lit space was the form of a vertical metal slab with damaged flaps, attached perpendicularly to another bigger slab. The four squinted at the slab with the damaged flaps, and upon closer examination found that it had fresh cutting marks at the end.

"Eh?" Guardia asked. "What's that?"

"Oh, that's a dig site that some salvager found," Dimitri replied. "It's the skeleton of a human skyship."

"Skyship?"

"A craft that humans used to soar faster than the winds far above the sea among the clouds. It's made out of all sorts of metal, including some 'aluminum' your fellow air-breathers really value," he answered. "Heh, who knows? If you do some work around here, maybe you'll be able to take a hunk and hock it when you get back up to the surface!"

The Kabutops' cheerful exclamation stung Team Traveller's ears like a Weedle's jab. Could they even go back up to the surface? After everything that had happened? It seemed that no matter where they ran, back above the waves, the Company would soon be upon them. One by one, Nida, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia began to droop and grow downcast, which did not elude their guide.

"Something the matter?" Dimitri asked.

"I'm… not sure when we can go back," Nida muttered. "We've been through a lot lately…"

"Aw, come on, I'm sure it's nothing you can't handle-" the Kabutops began, only to be cut off by Guardia piping up.

"We almost got killed by a bunch of bugs! And those purple knot-necks were gonna make us pick Apricorns!" she exclaimed. "And that was just on the last island!"

"Well, if you need to stick around, I'm sure that you could find friendly fins down here," Dimitri offered.

"Ugh, talk about a fate worse than death," Elty growled. "And besides, nothing's keeping the Company from tracking us to here. They already did back at Boisocéan!"

"But there's no shortage of places around here you could stay!" the crab insisted. "I mean, sure, it's not quite as interesting as your islands, but there's tons of spots you can slip to!"

"But… I won't be able to practice my powers here," Pleo murmured. "And if I don't, Nida and I won't be able to go home…"

The realization seemed to suck the oxygen out of the tunnel, quickly dispiriting the party of undersea travellers. Pleo hung his head, visibly dejected. Nida's breath slowed, her eyes widening anxiously. Guardia bowed her head in sympathy, while Elty sat down to avert his gaze in silent frustration.

"... I think your wounds must be getting to you," Dimitri sighed. "I think we should get you some rest. The station's just over this ridge, anyways."

As the group continued along, they came to a drop where the Subway passageway entered a winding circuit down to a patch of water filled with blue flecks of light in the distance. There, amid the pale, blue glow was a tall bubble propped up by large strands of kelp and… a cluster of buildings?

"It's… an underwater town?" Guardia asked.

"I guess you could think of it like that," Dimitri said. "But you've been through a bit more than I was expecting. Why don't we all get some sleep and we'll try to tackle things on a brand-new day?

"I think we'd all like that…" Nida replied.

Dimitri continued on, prompting the children to trudge on after him for the town in the distance. Their movements came slow and labored from their aching wounds, grateful for a lull in a pursuit that had left them ragged.



Back on Mengir Island, the storm in the sky had largely subsided, only for a storm of a completely different nature to continue brewing inside the wooden fort overlooking Fensedge Village. Within Zorn's waterlogged chamber, six Pokémon had tensely gathered on the stony outcroppings: a bound and gagged Salvini along with her teammates, a tense-looking Commander Briggs, and Darzin. The water was similarly occupied by the irkedly circling form of Mengir's Gyarados Administrator. The sea serpent stopped and reared up in his pond, lowering his head to shoot a tired and unamused glare at the Armaldo Third-Rank.

"I believe you owe me some explanations, Commander Briggs," Zorn growled. "Why did you decide to detain those prisoners in a room of the medic's hut? Why was an itinerant traveller able to foil your defenses? And how did one Pokémon you chose to carry out this mission turn around and compromise it?!"

The Armaldo blanched and began to stammer the beginnings of an excuse, only to be abruptly cut off by the bellowing voice of the other Administrator in the room.

"Zorn, please. Get your facts straight," Darzin snarled. "This gecko here didn't compromise that mission, she betrayed it!"

"That is enough, Darzin! I was asking Briggs for his explanation!" Zorn snapped, before shifting his eyes to the still-uneasy looking sea bug.

"Well?"

"Ehm... well you see Administrator, I felt that Captain Hertsog here was the best candidate for carrying out this mission, and gave him the liberty of picking out some candidates for helping him," Briggs gulped. "Obviously, some complications that neither of us were expecting came up during the mission, and I shall see to it that they are rectified permanently. You are of the same mind, aren't you, Hertsog?"

"Now hold on a minute, Commander!" the Mienshao interjected. "I think we might be getting ahead of ourselves a bit."

"Eh? What do you mean by that, Captain?" Phyllis asked.

"Yeah, Salvini here's being accused of treason!" Payak exclaimed. "How much more ahead could we be getting?"

"Well, let's take a suggestion from Administrator Darzin and make sure we have our facts straight," Hertsog insisted. "We know there were multiple witnesses who saw that so-called 'Immortal' helping the prisoners escape. Skarmory aren't exactly soft and cuddly creatures, and there's nothing that could have kept him from cutting those ropes himself."

"Hertsog, I know that you stand by your subordinates, but be reasonable here!" Briggs snapped. "This stonewalling isn't doing either of us any good!"

"And I would appreciate it if you didn't insult my intelligence, Captain!" Darzin growled, angrily stamping his feet. "I saw her in that room myself, and I have the marks to prove it!"

The Dragonite irately pointed at his scrape on his neck, only for Hertsog to raise his palms in a calming gesture and continue on.

"Administrator Darzin, please… bear with me a moment," he pleaded. "We know you were thrown through the window as that Skarmory fled with our targets, and the guards you fell on are still getting their wounds treated because of it. Isn't it possible that perhaps this is all a big misunderstanding?"

"I don't follow how this adds up to a misunderstanding, Captain Hertsog," Zorn said.

"If the Skarmory threw a Confuse Orb before breaking in, neither Administrator Darzin or Salvini here would necessarily be able to clearly remember what happened, and it would explain how the two wounded each other," the Mienshao reasoned. The creature paused, and looked intently down at the bound and gagged Grovyle.

"Is that what happened, Salvini?"

The Grass-Type gave a muffled grunt from under her gag, and lowered her head, her eyes closed. It was an explanation that seemed to make sense, except the Dragonite Administrator in the room was having nothing of it.

"Don't try and worm your way out of this, you treacherous skink!" Darzin bellowed. "It was just you, me and those prisoners in that room until that blasted bird broke in!"

The Dragon-Type's words drew a noticeable pause from Zorn, as well as a twitch from his barbels. The fish narrowed his eyes into a skeptical glare, and turned his attention to his counterpart.

"… What were you doing there anyways, Darzin?" he demanded. "You had a post in Vollezee to return to. Why are you even still here?"

The Dragonite visibly froze, before giving a flustered bat of his wings and narrowing his eyes back at the Gyarados.

"Well, I've been feeling a bit under the weather since you froze me a few days ago, so I've been taking some sick leave!" Darzin spat back indignantly. "I happened to be around to pick up some medicine for the cold that you gave me. No sense in incinerating a batch of records with a sneeze back in Vollezee."

"But if that's so, why'd you say you were coming back earlier today?" Hertsog interjected. "I distinctly remember you asking about our cordon earlier this evening."

At the weasel's words, Briggs whirled to face Hertsog in a rage. The Armaldo stomped his feet and flicked his wings out, visibly seething.

"Hertsog, I told you that the mission was top secret!" Briggs hissed. "You mean to tell me that on top of everything that's happened in this debacle, you ran your mouth off about it?!"

"I did nothing of the sort!" the Mienshao snapped. "I didn't even say who we were keeping in that hut!"

Phyllis' expression turned puzzled and her ears flicked uncertainly. The marked Leafeon looked around and pawed at the ground uneasily as she realized that in the midst of Briggs' and Hertsog's argument... something didn't seem to be adding up.

"Wait, what's the big deal about this?" Phyllis asked. "Wouldn't Administrator Darzin have known about this mission anyways from Administrator Zorn? Commander Briggs did say it was important..."

"He wouldn't have, because I didn't inform him of this matter," Zorn growled. The Gyarados turned his attention to Darzin, and reared up and craned his head down, his sharp fangs coming hovering just inches from the Dragonite's snout.

"Let me ask you a question, Darzin," he demanded. "Just who told you where that bird and his little friends were, and what were you doing in their room?"

The Dragon-Type froze and blanched, as he quickly realized there really wasn't a good reason for him to know about their location… or at least not one that wouldn't instantly draw suspicion from the glaring Gyarados.

"I… Uh… Er…"

"Let me put a possibility forward," the sea serpent snarled. "What if it wasn't Salvini who was cutting those ropes? What if, for whatever daft reason you decided that you needed those prisoners for yourself?"

"Z-Zorn, th-that's preposterous!" Darzin exclaimed. "I'm a member of the Board!"

"One with a tenuous future, and I wasn't finished speaking," Zorn spat. "If you did have a reason for wanting them for yourself, and it was just you and that Grovyle there, what would be there to stop you? She'd be easy for you to overpower, and the story of a traitorous subordinate would form a plausible alibi."

"Th-This is ridiculous!" Darzin spluttered. "Are you seriously doubting my word over that of some First-Rank gecko?!"

Zorn glowered back at the Dragon-Type, giving a low growl. Considering how tenuous Darzin's position was, there was certainly reason to doubt his word over a First-Rank's. At the same time, laying out accusations of sedition and subversion would telegraph weakness among the Company to the Empire, a dangerous move to be made on such scant evidence…

Then that left only one answer, along with one solution.

"… No, I'm not," the fish answered. "Though I do think there's reason to think that these findings are inconclusive. As such, I will have to hand down a verdict accordingly."

"Huh?" Payak asked. "But sir, if things are inconclusive, why are you handing down a verdict?"

"Because there's been obvious malfeasance at all levels of this operation," the Gyarados growled. "Darzin, you can count that I will be reporting these… irregularities to the rest of the Board."

"Grr…"

The sea serpent watched as the Dragonite balled his claws and started to fume. In spite of his protest, the Dragon-Type seemed content enough to let the matter lie, which prompted Zorn to turn his attention to an anxious-looking Armaldo.

"Briggs," Zorn said. "You can look forward to me re-evaluating your current position in the near future."

"A-Aah!" the anomalocaris cried. "But Administrator, I-!"

"Signed off on a structurally flawed team for this mission," the Water-Type finished. "And we lost high-value detainees because of it!"

The Armaldo stood stammering in shock, staring off blankly as the Administrator's words sank in. Unfazed, the sea serpent turned his attention to the bound and gagged Grovyle before him.

"And as for you…"

Salvini felt her blood run cold as she watched Zorn's hulking form lurch over through the water. The Administrator craned his maw down, and moved his teeth to the Grass-Type's snout as she stared ahead, her limbs frozen and eyes widened…

And then his jaws shut, soon followed by the feeling of a jerking motion…

Rrrrrrip!

Along with the sound of her gag being torn away.

"A-Ack!"

Zorn pulled his head back, along with the now-torn remains of Salvini's gag. The creature spat it out into the water, before turning a hardened glare back at the still wide-eyed and startled gecko.

"You will be on bedrest, and reassigned by Captain Hertsog to a position outside of my jurisdiction as soon as you recover," the Gyarados said. "This incident will go on your record. After all, it was your handling of this situation that allowed those pirates to get away!"

"What sort of punishment is that?!" Darzin bellowed. "She committed treason!"

"Administrator Zorn!" Hertsog interjected. "That's-!"

"A lenient sentence considering the cloud hanging over her, Captain Hertsog-" Zorn began, only to be cut off by the sound of a commotion and the sounds of the guards' voices arguing with a harsh, bellowing voice.

"I'm telling you, just give it a few more minutes!" a nervous voice stammered at the door. "Administrator Zorn is- Ack!"

"Get out of my way!"

The doors were suddenly flung open, making way for a fuming Samurott to barge in and take center stage upon the wooden bridge.

"Administrator Zorn! I'm here for that bird!" Lyn bellowed. The Samurott waited, and after realizing that there was already an audience of incredulously staring Pokémon in the Gyarados' chamber, the otter looked around warily before seeking an explanation.

"What exactly is going on here?" he demanded.

"A meeting, which just ended. All of the lower-ranks here were just leaving," Zorn answered. "There's been a few... developments since you pulled ashore, ones which Darzin here will happy to explain to you."

"Grr..."

Darzin gritted his teeth and seethed under his breath as the Company Pokémon hastily took their places. As Lyn made his way over, Briggs begrudgingly made his way for the door, leaving Phyllis to hastily cut Salvini's bindings with her leaves, and the Grovyle to stagger up and lurch for the door, escorted by her teammates. The four departed as the doors gave a heavy slam behind them, and carried on down the hallway outside the room, where they started to hear the sounds of loud and angry-sounding shouts coming from the direction of Zorn's chamber.

"Salvini... what really happened in there?" Payak asked.

"Yeah, did Administrator Darzin actually try to set you up?" Phyllis questioned.

Salvini paused and shifted her gaze away. The Grovyle wrestled with her words for a moment, before she finally answered the Ariados and Leafeon.

"It's not relevant anymore," she muttered.

"What do you mean it's not relevant anymore?!" Payak spluttered. "It's a yes or no question-!"

"Hertsog!"

The four froze as the sound of heavy, plodding footsteps and angry hissing came from behind. Hertsog whirled around and watched as Commander Briggs came storming up the hallway, the anomalocaris visibly fuming.

"You just don't know when to quit, huh?!" the Armaldo snarled. "What was with that disgraceful display back there?!"

"Commander Briggs, my gut feeling gave me reason to doubt that the charges against Salvini were inaccurate," the Fighting-Type answered. "So I defended her accordingly- Gah!"

Before Hertsog could explain any further, he was cut off by a sharp pain in his gut. The weasel staggered and clutched at his abdomen before pitching forward onto the ground as Briggs drew back a claw still trailing white sparks from it.

"Your 'gut feeling' is going to cost me my job!" Briggs hissed. "If you'd simply let that shrub meet her fate, none of this would have happened!"

"Urngh… Commander, I can't let a Pokémon suffer for something she didn't do!" Hertsog countered. Any hopes the mustelid had of pacifying his superior swiftly evaporated, as the Fighting-Type's words threw the Bug-Type into a seething rage.

"Since you can't be bothered to accept reality, I'm gonna do what I should have done when you insisted on dragging that blotch-head into this matter!" Briggs bellowed. The Armaldo stooped down and drew a claw back, throwing it forward at the base of the Mienshao’s neck.

Rip!

"C-Captain!"

Hertsog gasped for air and reflexively pulled himself up off the ground after Salvini’s outcry, reaching a paw up to feel his pelt where his scarf was supposed to be. The weasel looked down and saw that there where his garb had been, was his bare fur and a torn thin strip that still clung to his neck. There in Briggs' claws was the remainder of his scarf, including the portion with the pattern of a Second-Rank.

"I'm relieving you of your position!" the Armaldo spat. "And you can go ahead and book three extra spots for reassignment. I don't wanna see any of you on this island once that gecko is out of here!"

"Wh-What?!"

"You're reassigning us from Mengir, too?!"

"Hey! Hold on!" Salvini protested. "You can't just take things out on them! They weren't involved in any of this!"

"You're in no position to complain, you little traitor!" Briggs snarled. "Next time, you won't have someone higher up to hide behind!"

The Armaldo turned and stormed off, his angry footsteps barely masking the invective he grumbled under his breath. As the Fossil Pokémon slipped away, Hertsog and his charges were left staring off in shock at the turn of events that had just happened.

"We're- We're going to have to leave Mengir?!" Phyllis stammered. "B-But I-I've been here m-my entire life!"

"I should have known something was up when we switched spots," Payak spat. "Get out of my sight, Salvini. Walk yourself back to that hut."

"Payak!" Hertsog snapped. "That's not-"

"Ne me interesuva! And you're not higher-ranked than me anymore, so don't tell me to shut up about it!" the Ariados exclaimed. "None of this would have happened if it wasn't for whatever Salvini did in that room!"

Salvini bit her tongue and lowered her head. She fought to try and raise her voice, to tell the truth to her teammates, only for her words to die in her mouth every time. Perhaps there was no need to tell, as Payak quickly pounced upon the bitter silence with his own interpretation.

"You did let them get away, didn't you?! Why?!" the Ariados shrieked. "Do you like ruining your friends' lives for fun and games?!"

Salvini started to get bleary-eyed as she realized how her attempt to do the right thing had spiraled much further than she had ever expected it to. As the Grass-Type tried her best to fight back the mist in her eyes, she hesitantly raised her head, finally able to muster her voice to answer her teammates.

"I was just trying to do the job I signed up for," the Grovyle finally said.

Payak shook his head disgustedly, before scuttling off and muttering a bitter 'some job you did' under his breath. Phyllis hesitantly began to walk off as well, giving a betrayed look back at the gecko before slipping off into the night. As the Grass-Type drooped and her spirits began to sink, she felt a paw with a long and wispy fur tug at her shoulder.

"Come on," Hertsog sighed, shaking his head. "Let's get you to the medic's hut."

The pair set off for an exit from the building, Salvini limping along with Hertsog supporting her uneasy gait for the medic's hut back in the town across the stream. The two Pokémon continued off into the night, trudging off into an uncertain future.



Guardia and her teammates looked around the square, jaws agape. They were expecting the Subway to have occasional accommodations for terrestrial mons from seeing this 'Seaspear Station' from the bluff, but this was almost a whole town!

The Cubone could see a wooden lattice interleaved with bubbleweed towering overhead, the structure apparently acting as a support to the great bubble they were in. All along the lattice, signs and posters plastered with runes hung from timbers, intermingled with chains of multicolored and knotted strings. A bit further off, there was a stony building near the far end that lay in the shadow of the tower, next to another Subway passage.

Closer ahead and to the left, there was the hull of a sunken ship that had been repurposed into a tavern and eatery. Opposite of the sunken wreck were a small number of mats and collapsible stands intermingled with small pools of seawater that seemed to run particularly deep, with vacant spaces for others that had been packed up for the night.

As the little Cubone took in the scene in awe, her teammates similarly soaked in the surroundings. Not the least including a blue Nidoran who pawed incredulously at the dry sand on the ground.

"Wow… there's a lot more stuff down here than I was expecting when we saw it," Nida murmured.

"Well, what can I say? The Subway does get its share of Pokémon from both land and sea passing through," Dimitri explained. The Fossil Pokémon's gaze shifted over to a mostly-deserted cluster of crude stands by the moon pools, to glimpse the yawning form of a Ludicolo behind a blue table lined with gummis.

"Hrm… actually, since it's on the way," the Kabutops murmured. "Might as well get that delivery done with."

The crab scuttled over, his charges in tow as he waved to the Grass-Type. The two quickly slipped into conversation as Dimitri fished out a chest from his bag and began to haggle with the duck over a price. For Nida, the details of the conversation went in one ear and out the other, as her mind grew preoccupied with troubled thoughts.

All this time, no matter where the team had gone, the Company had found them shortly afterwards. How long would they have this time before they had to run again? And how much longer could they test their luck in trying to discover how to awaken Pleo's powers?

"Oi, kid. Are you going to buy something or what?"

Nida, Guardia, and Elty looked up to see Pleo staring up puzzledly at a Kingler from one of the circular pools. Elty hastily gestured with his paw at the young Lugia to come, and after a little confusion, the white bird waddled back over to his teammates, shaking a few droplets of water off his plumes.

"How come Bluewhorl doesn't build shops around pools like that, Nida?" he asked.

"Well, I don't know how pools work back around your 'Bluewhorl', but the reason why they're there is because of the golden rule of business," Dimitri chuckled, as he pocketed a small number of glinting coins from the Ludicolo and paced off from the blue table.

"Whenever you've got enough Pokémon hanging around in one part, shops are bound to follow after them!"

"This 'money' thing really makes you hut-dwellers do weird things," Guardia said, shaking her head. "But more importantly, where exactly are we supposed to sleep?"

Dimitri stretched a scythe over towards a stone structure on the edge that was shaped roughly like a bell, where at the bottom, there was an entrance with a glass jar lamp filled with water with glowing blue flecks hanging over an open stone doorway.

"That's the station hostel here," he explained. "It's a little different from what you're used to on land, but I think it'll do for the-"

"Well look who finally decided to come back!"

The group turned and saw that an assortment of sea dwellers had surfaced in the moon pools as others swum up against the Subway's wall, the entire school donning sky blue belts marked with large red dots around their heads and necks. There at the pool Pleo had bobbed in earlier was the form of a Kingdra, who shot an unamused sneer at an increasingly uncomfortable-looking Dimitri.

"Oh… er, hi there… Kuda," the Kabutops murmured.

"Hrmph, you sure like to waste everyone's time with your surface trips," the Kingdra snorted. "We were beginning to wonder if you'd finally died of dehydration up on land this time."

"Sorry," Dimitri sighed. "I had a last-minute request on the way out."

"Yeah, he took us down to this place," Elty added.

The Kingdra swam up, and moved his snout about to examine Dimitri's passengers. After giving a passing glance at each of the four members of Team Traveller, the seahorse scoffed before directing a withering glare at their Kabutops guide.

"Tch. Just what we needed down here, more air-breathers," Kuda spat. "Next time you should make them swim down here on their own!"

"Aw, lay off of it, Kuda," a Lumineon admonished from behind the bubble's wall.

"Yeah," a Whiscash said from a moon pool further behind. "There's nothing wrong with some 'mons passing through and seeing the place."

"And you get to meet plenty of new faces," an accompanying Dewgong reassured. "Like that weird Wingull over there!"

"Eh?!" Pleo exclaimed. "Why am I 'weird'?!"

The Lugia gave a confused bob of his head, only for Kuda to scoff and give a disdainful shake of his head.

"Plenty of new faces that would be better off staying on their sea rocks!" the Kingdra snapped. "Dimitri, why are these 'mons even here?"

"Well, they look a little roughed up," the Lumineon murmured. "Maybe Dimitri picked them up after they fell into the sea?"

"If that's why they're here, there's nothing wrong with that, Kuda," the Dewgong chimed in. "I'm sure we'll get along just fine until they pay up their fee!"

Nida's ears pricked up at the seal's suspiciously enthusiastic tone, prompting her to twitch her whiskers and backpedal a bit to Dimitri's side.

"… 'Fee'?" the Nidoran asked.

"Yeah, rescuing stranded air breathers isn't easy work, you know!" the Whiscash added. "And we like getting rewarded for our generosity!"

"Someone already covered them," Dimitri said, interrupting the catfish. "Besides, I'm the one who picked them up anyways."

The Kabutops' words drew a wave of groans. If the four children had already had their rescue fee paid, then there was little point in lurking around.

"What a waste of time," the Dewgong spat.

"Whelp, nothing to see here," the Lumineon grunted. "I'm swimming back to our resting place."

The reactions of his fellow sea Pokémon drew a dismayed look from the Kabutops, before he huffily called after their departing forms.

"Hey! Why does everything involving surface-dwellers have to involve a reward?!" Dimitri protested.

"Did you even collect anything to take them down here?" Kuda pressed. "With how much you've started sucking up to landmons since you evolved, I'm starting to think that you didn't."

"I did collect a reward this time," Dimitri snapped. "And even if I didn't, how is helping out other Pokémon so much worse a use of my time than holding up some ship-"

"First off, that ship was crewed by pirates," a gurgling voice interrupted. "Second off, you didn't 'help these Pokémon' on your time. You did it on ours."

The Fossil Pokémon turned around and noticed a familiar Dragalge had emerged from one of the moon pools from behind. The Poison-Type shot a withering glare at Dimitri, which made him flinch and blanch as he attempted to regain his bearings.

"Oh… hello, Ataman Viktor…" he gulped. "I got the seeds you asked for!"

"That's wonderful," the Dragalge grumbled. "But I asked you to get them two days ago."

"Uhm… well you see…" the Kabutops began. "Something came up."

The sea dragon shot back an icy, dispassionate stare as he shifted his glance over the members of Team Traveller one by one.

"I can see that… We were supposed to leave for Otvaga Island this morning but instead we had to wait for you all day," Viktor growled. "Looks to me like you were once again running errands for strangers at the expense of your own rod."

"But he wasn't running errands!" Pleo insisted. "He was helping us get away from trouble!"

"Well, are you still in trouble here?" the Dragalge demanded, only to be met by a hesitating response from the young Protector.

"No…"

"Then there's no reason to continue to be held up here, is there, Dimitri?" the Poison-Type demanded.

"But-!"

"But nothing!" Viktor shouted. "You either swim with the rest of us tonight, or you can find some other rod to hold up with your inability to keep to a schedule!"

Dimitri turned and lowered his head to face Team Traveller sheepishly. As the children's moods drooped, the crab reluctantly spoke up.

"… Sorry, it looks like this is the part where we have to split up," the Kabutops murmured, shaking his head.

"… It's fine," Nida mumbled. "We'll manage… somehow."

Dimitri sighed and slid his bag off his shoulders and onto the ground. The Kabutops bent down and opened it, fishing out a small pouch which he extended towards the Nidoran.

"Here," the Kabutops said. "It's not much, but even if I can't be there to help you in person, this oughta help you get a claw up on things."

"Eh?!" Kuda explained. "Why are you wasting your money on those-?!"

"Can it, Kuda!" Viktor snapped.

The Dragalge's outburst made the Kingdra stiffen up and go quiet. Afterwards, Viktor turned his attention back to Dimitri, giving a frustrated shake of his head and an impatient churn of the moon pool's water with his fins.

"We've waited long enough. Come on, we're leaving."

Viktor and Kuda dove into the water of their moon pools, leaving behind only faintly bubbling water as a record of their presence. Dimitri looked over his companions before giving a reluctant wave back to Team Traveller and lowering himself into a nearby pool to slip under the surface after the two seahorses. Nida, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia looked out past the bubble wall over Seaspear Station, and saw the three's forms appear briefly outside before joining a larger school of Pokémon and slipping off into the dark waters away from the glowing flecks of algae around the rest stop.

"… This just isn't our day, is it?" Elty sighed.

"Let's… just get some rest right now," Nida muttered. "We shouldn't be staying up when we're worn out like this…"

The Nidoran turned around and looked off at the hostel Dimitri had pointed out earlier. With all the bad things that had happened to them today, the four tiredly staggered off for the building, eager to finally get some rest and respite from their tribulations.



When Team Traveller finally entered the stony, bell-shaped building that Dimitri had pointed out, they were met with a peculiar scene. Inside, they found a strange ground floor with a stone staircase leading up to a second level, and an assortment of decorative rocks and pebbles. The space was deserted, the sole exception consisting of a Corsola lazily going through a colorful collection of knotted strings tied to a cord behind a table-like stone by the entrance, wondering aloud how it was that a drill could pierce the heavens. Pleo craned his head around curiously, before turning to the Water-Type.

"Um… is this really a place to sleep?" he wondered. "There aren't any windows... Why, there's not even tables or stools here!"

"That's what the rocks are for," the Corsola grunted back. "And isn't it a bit late for kids like you to be up? Why don't you go find a place in the chamber upstairs?"

"Huh?" Pleo asked. "The sleeping place is underwater, too?"

"... And?" the receptionist asked.

"Y-You can't expect me to sleep underwater!" Elty spluttered. "If those bubbles outside popped, I'd drown without being able to do anything about it!"

"You would not believe how many times we hear that," the Corsola groaned, before rolling her eyes and pointing an arm up at the ceiling. The Water-Type moved her arm-nub along, where on closer examination the stony ceiling seemed to have a distinct bowl-like shape to it.

"Feel better now, Growlithe?"

"Am I supposed to?" Elty huffed. "Just what exactly is a weird-looking roof supposed to do?"

"Surely you've played with putting an upside-down cup into a tub of water before?" the receptionist sighed. "How air stays in the top of the cup?"

"Uh… well… not really? I mean, I guess I've heard of it-" the Growlithe murmured, before shaking his head indignantly "What are you even getting at here?"

"She's saying that this place up top is like a big cup, Gardie," Guardia tut-tutted. "So if water comes in, there will still be air at the top. Even I could figure that out!"

"… Wait a minute, when did you ever get your claws on a cup-?" Nida began, only to be cut off by the Corsola clearing her throat.

"Anyhow, since we've established that you won't drown in your sleep here, mind heading on ahead?" she demanded. "You're not the only ones here who need sleep."

"Er… right," Pleo said.

The four shambled up the stairs, where much to their surprise, there was no hallway like back at Mengir's Cromlech Inn. Instead, they found a large, dome-shaped room held up by a circle of stone columns that occupied the entire floor, lit by the faint glow of jars filled with water containing blue flecks of light.

"Eh…? No room to ourselves?" Pleo asked.

The team looked around, and discovered that sure enough, there didn't seem to be any other rooms. The entire space was flecked with mostly-unclaimed straw bedding with an occasional bed taken up by a dozing form. Indeed the only sign of there being any life at all in the room were the tired snores of the Pokémon inside, and a still-awake group consisting of an Ampharos and two Flaaffy who traded curious glances over at the group before turning away.

"… Let's not dwell on it. Besides, it's not that different from the lodging at the guild," Nida sighed. "It's been a long day, and we really should rest right now-"

"Un momento!" a bleating voice cried, which made Nida's barbs stand on end and prompted her to whirl around.

"Eh?!"

The team looked up and saw the two Flaaffy from earlier, decked in red cloth. The leader of the two wore his scarf in a flat and unassuming style, while the other strangely enough wore his as a headband.

"The name's Currituck, and this is my brother Bodie," the leading Flaaffy cheered. "You wouldn't mind if we asked a bit about your day, would you?"

"Yeah, if you've had a dreary day, we can lend a listening ear!" the Flaaffy with the headband offered.

Nida twitched her whiskers warily, sensing something was amiss. Were these Pokémon from Tromba? The sheep with the headband certainly wore his scarf like he was from it. And why were they so energetic at this late hour?

"Um… who are you two again?" Elty asked.

"They're my children," an older, bleating voice added. "As you can see, age hasn't quite taken that child-like curiosity out of them."

The Growlithe whirled his head to see the voice's owner. She turned out to be an Ampharos, with visibly aged features and a small notch in her right ear. This detail was momentarily lost on Pleo, who excitedly piped up with...

"Oh! Hatteras!" he chirped. "What are you doing down here?!"

"Er… it's actually Alexandria. Bodie, Currituck, could you two give me a moment?"

The two Flaaffy wandered off, muttering something about "boring elder stuff", as the Ampharos named 'Alexandria' turned back to face Pleo.

"I'm surprised you'd think I'd be a 'Hatteras'. It sounds like a male name, but I'm female," the wizened sheep chuckled. "I guess you're not from around here?"

"Er, no. Not exactly…" Nida admitted.

"We're apparently from a bunch of different places," Guardia said. "I only came along when this lot came by Kenobi Island."

"Ah, so you're on an adventure!" Alexandria bleated. "Well, I suppose it never hurts to wander off from home a bit as long as you have a way of keeping in touch!"

At the mention of "keeping in touch", the wizened Ampharos noticed Team Traveller collectively droop.

"... Don't you?" the sheep asked.

"I'm… not really sure right now," the Nidoran answered.

The older Pokémon raised her eyebrow curiously, seemingly at a loss at Nida's response.

"Hrm?" Alexandria wondered. "What do you mean by that?"

"Well, it just seems we've been getting into a lot of trouble on the surface," Nida explained. "And I'm not really sure where we can go."

"Oh, is the Company causing you grief?" the Ampharos asked. "You wouldn't be the first such group I've encountered before in my travels."

Guardia jumped into a defensive stance, flinching back as though a secret had been exposed.

"Chotto matte, how on earth did you know?!" Guardia exclaimed.

"Because the surface above here is crawling with Company Pokémon?" Elty explained.

"… Oh right," the Cubone replied, sheepishly pawing at the back of her neck.

"If you're having trouble with the Company," Bodie murmured, "why not see the Blue Fairy?"

Two fluffy heads poked out from behind a column. Their mother raised an eyebrow at them, then shook her head before turning back to an increasingly curious-looking Lugia.

"The Blue… Fairy?" Pleo wondered.

"… She's a traveling advina who's run into her own share of trouble with the Company," the motherly Ampharos explained. "I don't know exactly what's happened with you, but if you need tips to stay ahead of those square-necks, she'd have plenty to give you."

"Yeah, she was in Braveshoal Town just the other day, and she usually sticks around for a few days at a time when she's around," Currituck explained.

"Wait, Braveshoal Town?" Nida asked.

"It's an undersea town at Otvaga Island," Bodie explained. "Lots of sea Pokémon around here live there for part of the year before going on migrations with their clans."

Wait a minute! Did that Flaaffy just say Otvaga Island? Then...

"Ah! That was where Dimitri said he was headed!" Nida squeaked. "We'd just need to follow him and-"

The Nidoran paused as she realized she had no idea where that town was, or what direction Dimitri had even swum too. How was the team supposed to find either without some idea of what to do?

"… oh, right," the Poison-Type muttered. "We still don't know where Dimitri went to get to Otvaga...."

"Oh, it's not that hard to find," Currituck insisted.

"Yeah, just follow the Subway passage to the east from here, and it will take you straight to it!" Bodie chimed in.

"Thanks for the heads-up," Nida said, giving a thankful nod to the electric sheep. "We'll be sure to go there right away!"

"Right away as in 'right now'?" Guardia asked. "In the dead of night?"

"Er… right," Nida sighed. "We should probably get some shut-eye first."

The team picked out their nests for the night and settled down. As the four curled against the straw lumps, their eyes began to droop and yawns began to rise in their throats.

"Nida," Pleo chirped. "Before we go to bed… could you tell me a story?"

"… I honestly can't think of anything right now, Pleo," Nida sighed, shaking her head. "It's been a rough day, and we're all tired and worn down, and-"

"If you need a tale to help you count Mareep..." Alexandria said. "Might I help?"

The four Pokémon looked up and blinked at the Ampharos. A story certainly couldn't hurt at this hour… Even so, something seemed to be nagging Elty, and prompted him to turn to his Nidoran teammate.

"Psst, so wait," Elty whispered. "Does that mean when she heads off to sleep she counts herself?"

"Elty, shush!" Nida snapped, slapping a paw over the Growlithe's muzzle.

"Eh? What are you going to tell us?" Guardia asked.

"I think I'll start off with something that your spike ball friend might like," the Electric-Type answered. "It's a tale that I heard before about a Nidorino called the 'Prince of a Thousand Enemies'."

"Bah, even down here we have to hear that same old story?!" Elty snorted, before pausing in a realization. "Hey… wait a minute…"

He did a double-take, staring at her. Wasn't that the story that Nida kept telling over and over? Then...

"How do you know about that anyways?" he demanded.

"An old friend told it to me once," the Ampharos replied. "One who was a lot like your Nidoran friend with you."

The Electric-Type sidled over and sat down on a straw bed in front of Team Traveller, her sons coming over and similarly taking seats as Team Traveller's members sank into their straw piles. The Ampharos cleared her throat, and then began to speak.

"A long, long time ago," Alexandria began "Back in the time of the old world, there was a young Prince Nidorino who ruled over all the world's Nidoran."

"One with many, many children…" Pleo murmured.

"That's right dear," the Ampharos answered. "He had so many children that they were like the stars in the sky. And they were all very, very hungry…"

As Alexandria began to recount the familiar story, Nida's eyelids started to become heavy and droop. As the Poison-Type began to drift off to sleep, thoughts of Kiran and Crom came back to her mind…

And somehow, in spite of being cooped up in the underwater hostel, for a fleeting moment, she felt as if she was back home.



As the sun slowly started to rise above the horizon, the Siglo Swellow bobbed along the waves between Kenobi and Mengir. Below deck, Crom and Pladur busied themselves as usual preparing breakfast inside the ship's makeshift galley. The Fraxure watched as his son was busy mixing a white substance and berry juice with a simple reed whisk.

"Remember, small and fast movements, Crom," Pladur instructed. "You want to get that flavoring into the entire batch."

"Dad, I know how to stir!" Crom protested. "I do it all the time back home in the bakery!"

As the Druddigon continued to stir and whip the bowl of gummi mix and flavoring, he heard the sound of voices creep in through a few cracks in the wall. The chattering beyond the wall just loud enough to compete with the sounds of breakfast being made.

"Heh, you've gotta hand it to Pat! Here I was worried that I wouldn't get a letter back from the kids and the missus for another week, and that Unfezant drops one off overnight!"

The talk about letters made Crom's claws begin to slow and grow distracted, prompting the young Druddigon to turn a curious head and turn towards his father.

"Eh? We got mail from back home?" he asked. "But I don't remember hearing about it last night…"

"Oh, Pat dropped it off a few hours before we left port," Pladur said. "Cenn and your mother sent a letter for us during his last trip."

"Eh?! They did?!" the Druddigon cried out. "But then why didn't you tell me?! "

"Er… well... you were asleep when I got the letter and I didn't want to wake you," Pladur sheepishly admitted. "It should still be in my bag at our quarters. Why don't you take a break to go read it? I can handle the rest of the stirring."

The Druddigon nodded and set down the whisk and bowl against the table before darting out of the galley. The little Druddigon scampered down the darkened and creaking hallways, making his way past cabins and crates before he arrived at the shared room where he, Pladur, and a good number of the Siglo Swellow's crewmembers slept.

The Dragon-Type opened the door and stuck his head in, and after discovering that a number of his crewmates were still sleeping inside, he crept along with careful and slow paces. He made his way past a few slumbering Pokémon, before he finally arrived at the straw bedding he and his father had slept on overnight. After looking up, he noticed a simple bag made of tan cloth hanging from a peg on a rafter above Pladur's bedding, and began to root through it.

He felt his claw pass over the rinds of berries, a few hard seeds, and a few small articles of wood and clay… aha, an envelope! The young Druddigon pulled out the envelope and felt that it had been opened along the top, surely his mother's letter. The creature pulled the letter out, and in the low light, began to glance over the paper.

It was a message with the expected well wishes and inquiries as to how he and his father were doing. The bakery was holding up better than expected, and Cenn was being his usual rambunctious self.

Pyry was still at work in the bakery, and his friends weren't causing (very much) trouble. The neighbors had settled back into their work in and around the town and life had largely settled back into a routine. Why, were it not for the fact that the letter was addressed to him and the well-wishing in the hunt for Team Traveller, Crom would've thought the letter was like one of the ones to his father he and his family sent in the past.

All-in-all it was a very homely message, and the paper even smelt of flour and bread… Just like that little bakery that was now so far away.

Crom's heart ached at the thought of how distant home and the village was. The Druddigon grunted and shook his head, stuffing the letter and envelope back into the bag. The Dragon-Type turned and began to retrace his steps back to the door, when towards the exit, he chanced to notice Ander's bag lying on a crate from the corner of his eye. There, protruding slightly from the mouth, was the same bulky form that he remembered seeing back at the battlefield at Kenobi.

Zzz...

Crom looked around and listened to the quiet chorus of snores coming from around the room. It didn't seem like anyone was awake… so, maybe… it wouldn't hurt if he just took a little peek inside.

The young Dragon-Type bent down and slipped his claws into the mouth of Ander's bag. After feeling a bulky wooden cover against his claws, he latched them tight against it and carefully pulled the tome out.

The book was a large codex with a jet-black cover, adorned with a white eight-pointed star with lengthened cross-axes. The Druddigon opened the book up and discovered that it was filled with a strange script whose glyphs all seemed to look like floating eyes and sticks.

"Eh? What is this?"

There didn't seem to be any guide for how to interpret the strange runes, though as Crom looked around, he began to notice the tome was full of drawings that were embedded alongside the glyphs.

There was a picture of white, hoofed figure with a plated girdle rising from a blackened rift, calling down fiery lights onto a town… Wait a minute, this figure was Arceus! But why was he being drawn like this?

The young Druddigon leafed through further pages, and found picture after picture of great, monstrous creatures creating havoc. There was a red bird in a dead, petrified forest surrounded by what appeared to be statues of terrified Pokémon. A great white-and-yellow titan dragging an island under the waves of the seas. A white seabird in the heart of a great storm laying waste to a seaside city… Wait a moment-!

"E-Eh?!" Crom exclaimed. "Th-That's Pleo!"

As Crom began to turn through a few more pages, he suddenly felt something flat and chitinous press up hard over his snout and a presence tugging him back. The Druddigon gave a muffled squeal of fright, and flailed desperately against his captor as he was pulled out of the room and into the hallway.

"A-Aah! Let me go! Let me go-!"

"Quiet down already!" a buzzing voice scolded. Crom felt the presence let him go and yank the tome out of his claws, as the young Druddigon whirled around wide-eyed, he came face-to-face with an unamused Ander.

"A-Ander?!" Crom squeaked. "What are you doing?! Why did you grab me like that?!"

"Why did you root through my stuff like that?" the Scyther demanded. Crom blinked, and began to look at the ground as the color flushed from his crest.

"Uh… er…"

There… wasn't any real explanation that he could give to Ander beyond his own curiosity. The Scyther, seeming to gather that no real harm had been done to his property, pulled his tome close to his chest, shook his head, and gave a stern glare.

"Don't go violating other Pokémon's privacy like that!" the Bug-Type scolded.

"I'm sorry… It's just… well, I saw it during practice back in Kenobi and I was curious," Crom said, lowering his wings and pulling his head and tail in apologetically.

"If you must know what it is, it's a copy of the Scripture of Truth," Ander explained. "It's a book that's very important to Marked like me and Cassie."

"Huh? But why?" Crom asked. "And why is it filled with strange runes and those drawings of monsters destroying things? And why is Pleo in it?"

"Those runes are the language that we used to use long, long ago, back when the Cradle was still young," the Bug-Type answered. "As for what's in it, it's an annal of the history our ancestors saw, and their warnings for the generations that would come after them."

"But what does it say?" Crom pressed. The Druddigon's question was met by a long silence from Ander, before the mantis finally gave an involuntary flick of his wings and began to speak.

"... It's not anything you need to be worried about right now," Ander grunted. "The readers of this book have been taught to only reveal its contents to those who are both ready and trusted to bear the burden of its knowledge."

Crom took a step back and blinked. Just what sort of knowledge was in this book? And what did Pleo have to do with it?

"Just… don't worry about it, Crom," the Scyther sighed. "Things will be easier for the both of us if we just move on from this."

With that, the bladed mantis quietly crept back into the sleeping quarters, presumably to return his treasured book to a safe resting spot. Crom faltered a moment, and then uneasily began to make his way back down the hallways of the ship.

As the little Dragon-Type carried on, troubling thoughts swirled about his head. Why wouldn't Ander give him a straight answer about the Lugia in the book?

Though its head crest was spikier, and the figure seemed to be much larger, it had the distinctive silvery-white and blue plumes of a Lugia. If he hadn't known better, he would have thought that the picture was depicting a great monster!

But why? Why would Ander and the rest of the Marked see Pleo that way-?

THWAM!

"A-Ack!"

The ship suddenly lurched, which sent the Druddigon pitching forward and tumbling against the timbered floor. The sound of jars and bowls crashing to the floor, along with Pladur yelping came from the galley as the wood groaned and shuddered with the sounds of a commotion coming from the upper decks.

"They're going for the rear mast!"

"Quick, get a Protect up!"

As Crom picked himself up, he saw his father dash out of the galley and look around wide-eyed.

"D-Dad?! Wh-What's going on?!" he cried. "Did we hit something?!"

CRASH!

The ship rocked and groaned once again, which sent the Dragon-Types desperately latching onto a nearby barrel for balance. As the ship evened out, Crom darted off for the exit to see what the commotion above deck was.

"Ack! Crom! Wait!" Pladur exclaimed, running after his son. "It's not safe out there!"

The Fraxure's pleas fell upon deaf ears, as Crom hastily clambered up the rickety, wooden staircase onto the deck, his father closely following. The two looked up and saw that the rear mast had broken and listed at its mid-section while Pokémon darted to and fro in a panicked commotion. Father and son looked around for the cause of the ruckus, until their glances fell to the ship's port side and the two's blood ran cold.

There, off in the not-so-far distance, was Hess' golden-sailed caravel, the ship and its escorts rapidly closing in on them.



Author's Notes:

- Mwo (뭐) - Korean: "What", used here as an interjection. (South Korean Revised Romanization)
- otlichno (отлично) - Russian: "fine", "very well" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- kaisō (海藻) - Japanese: "seaweed" (Hepburn Romanization)
- Ne me interesuva! (Нe мe интeрeсува!) - Bulgarian: "I don't care!" (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- Ataman (Атаман) - Russian: "Chieftain", "Commander", traditionally used as name of the leader of a Cossack host. (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- advina - Spanish: "fortuneteller"
 
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Shadow of Antioch

Viaggiatore
Location
Messina, Italy
Pronouns
he/his
After a lengthy break, here's my Chapter 26 Review:

I'll be a little brief on this one: Kenobi feels like a breath of fresh air! The narrow alleyways, the run-down yet brightly-coloured buildings, the small shops and stalls! It reminds me a lot of Murano, just with more crime.

Between this atmosphere, the coral atoll, and the shipwreck we were just on, Kenobi has to be the most interesting location we've visited yet. And I get the feeling that they're only going to get better.

Character-wise, I thought Elty was finally getting closer to Pleo and Nida. Erm, guess not. Although... always darkest before sunrise? Hehehe... Heh...

Chapter 27 Review:

"Oh, there's no need to wait," their guide suddenly answered. Lyn and Ellsberg turned their heads just in time to catch the Braixen's form get enveloped in a magenta-colored flash, giving way to a gray and red form with sharp claws.
Oh, no! He's furbait masquerading as even more potent furbait!

"I… didn't clip them, Administrator."

"WHAT?!"
Geez, and to think Lyn was being Merciful by Company standards... ^^`

"How on earth do you get bested by a bunch of untrained peasants?!" she hissed. "Twice?!"
To be fair to Lyn, he doesn't have the power of being a main character :<

"Also, there's the matter of the interior as well," Elilan added. "The less we know about where they are on this island, the more likely they'll be able to slip past a cordon."
Elilan: "He could be hiding anywhere in the interior! There's a huge jungle to search!"
Meanwhile, a voice echoing from a couple of streets over: "Nidaaaaa! I want to eaaaat!"

After all, isn't that why you snuck your own little plant aboard Lyn's cre-?"
OwO who could that be?

and an unsavory-looking three-story shack with firmly barred windows and red glass lanterns hung from the eaves.
Ah, your worldbuilding is simply incredible!

"Hey, I didn't start anything this time!" Scian shot back. "That péist stuck her tongue out at me after giving that spot!"
Maybe she wanted something else 👀

"Ehehe, well, I guess that's one way of announcing that we're in port!" Pladur sheepishly offered
Crom: "I bet you'd be much better at steering the ship, dad!"
Pladur: "Y-yes, of course. But... I'm steering so often, I think I'd rather let my crewmates have some fun for this trip—you know? 😰"

Elty hoped to get the pair to discover a taste for Kenobi's famous Lum Wine, but the two seemed to be repelled by the strong flavor. Oh well, more for him!
Nida: "Elty's basically a kit, you idiot! Why would you let him try alcohol?!"
Elty, hiccupping: "No wonder kids these days are so weak."
Looks at Pleo who's still wiping his tongue furiously.

"Whelp, enjoy your dishwashing, kids!" he exclaimed, as the next sounds that rang out were Scout ducking out of the tavern and slamming the door behind him.
Nida: "I'LL TELL MY MUM!"
Scouts quickly runs back in: "Er—tell her how I helped you out, maybe! Right?"

And with that, Team Traveller exited the sordid little shack, leaving its barkeep to tend to his food, and the three to wonder just what was getting back these "field notes" this "Team Taxonomy" lost going to entail?
Definitely nothing to do with infiltrating Company turf.

... Right?

An excellent set of chapters as always!
 

Shadow of Antioch

Viaggiatore
Location
Messina, Italy
Pronouns
he/his
Chapter 28 Review:
Until, at about the time of Team Traveller's visit to the Ryūbokuya bar, Maranda returned to the docks. From the bottom of the still-lowered gangplank, she looked up at a wary-eyed Illumise, wearing a stern and serious expression.
I'd tweak it into "Illumise captain", as I hadn't initially connected this Illumise with Beatrix.

"Come nice and steady," it barked. "Keep your limbs raised where we can see them and no sudden moves."
Sounds like a hostage situation, honestly. Hehehe... heh...

"Before we could act one way or the other, the three flew off and got past a pursuit with a little help from a concerned observer."
Ooooh, maybe Ander will get to meet his Hydreigon counterpart! I'm really, really curious to see if her change of heart could spread throughout the Cradle's Marked.

The three thought about it, and as quickly as the question was raised, Crom, Kiran, and Beatrix knew exactly how they wanted to keep the two Company lackeys from going anywhere quickly.


"Community Service," they collectively replied.
A certain Gabite and Growlithe, many kilometres apart: "Why am I shivering all of a sudden?"

She hadn't seen these little tense and unsettled details in the town's atmosphere back at home, with the notable exception of when Lyn came to collect the Company's dues.
I guess that's what happens when you live right between Pokè-Scampia and a Company naval base.

The strange glyphs carried transcriptions in runes underneath, done in the archaic footprint style that nowadays saw little use outside of seals on documents.
That's a cool bit of lore! Makes sense for any culture/world to have dead languages that still feature in ceremonial/official uses, à la Sanskrit/Latin.

Curiouser still
I don't believe that exists, but I'll allow it for pure poetic licence xD

"Observing you, of course!" the bird replied. "We've never seen a Pokémon like you before in any of our travels!"
Nida: "Does... does this count as harrassment?" 'O_O
Elty: "Maybe we could charge him for the right to study Pleo further..."
Pleo: "OW! That's my tongue!"

So Team Taxonomy went around studying all about Pokémon? Then, they must have learned all sorts of things about all the different kinds out there. Then maybe… they also knew the answer to something that he had been wondering about since Boisocéan...
Huh, I like them already--I hope they're not just temporary side characters.

By the time the Flying-Type got to lecturing about how the current age's paw-stroked runes were simplification of those stamped runes of the past, the sun had dropped from the sky and the moon and stars were up.
OwO I sense inspiration from Chinese script!

As in each of these runes meaning something like 'Nee' or 'Dah'? But how would you understand anything that way?"
Now I can't help but think that her name in in-story runes is spelt 你大

And that they were all ready for battle...
Oh. I guess threatening our main characters does make it less likely for this team to reappear #oops

As if that Iron Fleet captain's headache about some lackey of his who can't stick to a schedule wasn't enough,
Elty: "... Why am I getting the shivers again?"

"That's not the point!" the Marowak protested. "Say we set off for the Dungeon, we go through all that trouble of going through it… and they've already come and gone?"
Surely they could just keep an eye on the road connecting the town and the Dungeon? I suppose the three might try sneaking through the foliage, but it's not like they've been THAT bothered about laying low lately.

The quiet murmur of small, raspy voices, and the sound of movement after Team Traveller's direction.
The three Company conscripts? Wow, that was quick!

Can't wait to read some more! There's never a dull chapter with you.
 
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Shadow of Antioch

Viaggiatore
Location
Messina, Italy
Pronouns
he/his
Chapter 29 Review:

As Pleo craned his head up and squinted off into the distance, it became apparent that if there was one, it must be somewhere very far above. Beyond the lips of the walls, there was the dimly-lit shape of askew floors above stacked one atop the other, with features that seemed as far away as the journal Team Traveler had been fruitlessly searching for.
Oooh, cool! I like deviations from the standard cave dungeon. Why, it's almost as if this is a convenient... arena for Pleo to fly in during combat... 😰

A book-like shadow against the wall had raised their hopes as well... only to turn out to be a stack of rocks in front of a hole with a wisp of earth-fire.
Pleo: "Hey! Look at that book-shaped tile on the ground! That has to be it!"
Nida and Elty: "PLEOOOOOOO!" O_O'
Elty: "... Actually, maybe this is my chance to bolt out of he--"
He met Nida's glare.
Elty: "Erm I meant PLEOOOOO!"

"It's ferals," Elty whispered. "And they're blocking the passage we came from!"
You better hope it's just ferals 😥

"Hey! Are you friendly?!" she shouted. "We just want to head back out of this chamber!"
Elty, whispering: "What?! I thought you wanted to set up an ambush! See, this kind of attitude is why I'm planning to bolt i--uuuuh I meant... bolt into action to help you grow?" ^^'

"My bone- You- You stole my-" the creature stuttered, before it threw itself to its feet in a blind panic.
Elty: "I'm a DOG, what did you expect me to do?"

Elty clamped his jaws back down onto the purloined club and flung it behind the Cubone.
Elty: "Hah! I know I just said I'm a dog, but let's see you acting like a dog!"

Personally, I'd put an exclamation mark after these onomatopoeie. Without, they feel a bit underwhelming impact-wise.

Elty was visibly tottering; Nida winced at the tail end of hops forward; and Pleo's course through the air was as erratic and unsteady as his gait darting along the ground.
Nida: "Ugh... I don't see how things could get any worse than this, dios."
Elty: "Not to be a downer, but... the story's banner makes me think that one of these Cubone will be so impressed by our performance that they'll join our team." He puffed out his chest. "And how can you blame him? I was awesome!"
Pleo landed next to them, smiling widely. "Hey! At least there's no more baddies coming after us, right? Think about positive things!"

"Nrgh… is that tubby furball still there?"
Elty: DOOM music starts playing in his head

"Oi! Get back here!" he huffed at the corridor. "Wherever you are! Stay here and fi-!"
Nida: "Ugh let's hope he's not the one from the cover page. Otherwise we'll be stuck with a masochist."
Elty: "Oh, boy. Don't you think that four's a crowd? Now, now--I'm not saying that you leave him behind! Could be an excellent asset. Much better than me in fights. M-maybe I should do the right thing and take my lea--... wh-what?" 'O_O
Nida: >:[

Back home on Tromba, some ferals would bring their children over to the Day Care to be watched over for a part of their youth so they could grow a bit without the pressures of their lifestyle.
Sounds reasonable, but... it also doesn't really prepare them to those pressures once they go back to that life, either. A little counterproductive, perhaps. Maybe a lot of ferals who attend daycare grow to prefer the settled way of life?

"Mind telling me a bit about what happened back then?"
Squints
Nida: "Oh, what now? We've got private investigators on our tails too?"
Pleo: "N-Nida! You're not supposed to be seeing this!"
Nida: "Hmpf. If Fobbie can write characters non-canonically commenting on other scenes, so can I."

It was common practice in many settlements in the Cradle for Pokémon that lived in buildings to not have locks (and occasionally doors at all) and rely upon a rotating group of neighbors and particularly trusted local guards to perform watch duty (not that there were many of those in Aisle Town with the Company's hiring policies in more recent history)...
Worldbuilding like this is what keeps me glued to the pages here. Keep it up.

"S-So I like stocking up on fruit while it's in season!" the Beheeyem protested. "What's the big deal about that?"
Valatos: "... Buddy, we live in the world without refrigeration technology. Those aren't even under salt."

Why, with a nose for treasure like that, maybe he oughta offer them a place aboard the Iron Fleet!
Hehehe, I suppose this is Elty's way of showing attachment.
Pleo: "B-but... I don't want to hurt other pokémon!"
Nida: "Me neither! We'll just sink the ship if we have to!"
Elty: "Ugh, fine... your loss."

"You stole my bone!" the runty Cubone shouted.
Elty: "I couldn't help it!"
Nida bonked him on the head with a wand.
Elty: "Um--it was self-defence! That's what I meant!"

"Why don't you three come along and we'll have a talk at our colony's grounds, hmm? If I'm satisfied afterwards, I'll give it to you."
Pleo, smiling brightly: "Okay!"
Elty: "Th-this is a trap. How can you not see that?!"

"Oi! Tell your leader to butt out!" the Baltoy huffed impatiently at a smaller helmet clad lizard beside it. "I want to tan these three's hides already for that orb they threw at us!"
Nida: "Ugh, your feral parents clearly didn't read you any of those 'cycle of violence' fairy tales" -__-'

"The pages with pictures can be pressed up on their den walls for decorations, and I'm pretty sure the rest would serve well as bedding or kindling for our fires. Your choice."
Nida: "Such disrespect for science..." >.<
Elty: "To be fair, books make for excellent fuel. The Captain can tell you that much."

Another great chapter, though it certainly feels like they're getting longer!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
I'll be a little brief on this one: Kenobi feels like a breath of fresh air! The narrow alleyways, the run-down yet brightly-coloured buildings, the small shops and stalls! It reminds me a lot of Murano, just with more crime.

Murano actually wasn’t what it was consciously modeled after. But I can kinda see the resemblance, even if Mossaisle is quite a bit hillier.

Between this atmosphere, the coral atoll, and the shipwreck we were just on, Kenobi has to be the most interesting location we've visited yet. And I get the feeling that they're only going to get better.

Well what can I say? Virgil and I worked hard to try and make the different locations in the Cradle memorable, and we hope you’ll be looking forward to them. ^^

Character-wise, I thought Elty was finally getting closer to Pleo and Nida. Erm, guess not. Although... always darkest before sunrise? Hehehe... Heh…

We haven’t quite hit the darkest spot yet, though your overall read isn’t wrong.

Oh, no! He's furbait masquerading as even more potent furbait!

That'd probably be news to him since he's a wee bit too busy with his day job to be consciously appealing to that sort of fandom, and Fledglings didn't make any conscious overtures to it. Though you are right to be wary of him, if not for that reason.

Geez, and to think Lyn was being Merciful by Company standards... ^^`

Yeah, the thing about attempting to be a nice guy is that you stop after you get burned. So as meager and tenuous as it was there… don’t expect Lyn to extend the same niceties to Pleo a second time if he gets his paws on him.

To be fair to Lyn, he doesn't have the power of being a main character :<

Lyn as a main character, now there’s a frightening thought there.


Elilan: "He could be hiding anywhere in the interior! There's a huge jungle to search!"
Meanwhile, a voice echoing from a couple of streets over: "Nidaaaaa! I want to eaaaat!"

Probably a good thing neither of those two know what Nida or Pleo sound like yet.


Crom: "I bet you'd be much better at steering the ship, dad!"
Pladur: "Y-yes, of course. But... I'm steering so often, I think I'd rather let my crewmates have some fun for this trip—you know? 😰"

Pladur: “Also, I’d be less likely to get attacked on the job by hostile encounters.”


Nida: "I'LL TELL MY MUM!"
Scouts quickly runs back in: "Er—tell her how I helped you out, maybe! Right?"

Okay, not gonna lie, I wish we’d thought of that gag back in the day.


]I'd tweak it into "Illumise captain", as I hadn't initially connected this Illumise with Beatrix.

Done. Thanks for the suggestion.

Sounds like a hostage situation, honestly. Hehehe... heh…

Not that far off from the truth, tbh. :V

Ooooh, maybe Ander will get to meet his Hydreigon counterpart! I'm really, really curious to see if her change of heart could spread throughout the Cradle's Marked.

All in due time, though how the Marked come to brush up with the local Legendaries and how they parse them is something that’s a bit of a slower-burning plot thread in this story. So keep your eyes peeled on that.

A certain Gabite and Growlithe, many kilometres apart: "Why am I shivering all of a sudden?"

Nida: “Oh come off it, Elty. It wasn’t worse than the alternative.” >_>;
Elty: “Look, that’s not saying a whole lot, spike ball.” >.<

That's a cool bit of lore! Makes sense for any culture/world to have dead languages that still feature in ceremonial/official uses, à la Sanskrit/Latin.

Yeah, figured that even if I felt that straight footprint runes from canon failed a few rules for casual usage, we ought to keep them around in some capacity. Archaic writing felt like the most natural option to take given the story of how writing systems like the Cradle’s runes evolved in real life.

Nida: "Does... does this count as harrassment?" 'O_O
Elty: "Maybe we could charge him for the right to study Pleo further..."
Pleo: "OW! That's my tongue!"

I mean, hopefully they didn’t get that physical with their observations. ^^;

Huh, I like them already--I hope they're not just temporary side characters.

They pop up on a couple other occasions during the story, though they are side characters, alas.

OwO I sense inspiration from Chinese script!

You’ll get the fuller story when you make it to the post-EP trivia, but Cradle runes do indeed draw hefty influence from East Asian scripts in how they work.

Now I can't help but think that her name in in-story runes is spelt 你大

Technically, if the in-story runes were being lazy and stealing from Chinese writing, I'd actually put more money on '妳汏' for a few reasons :V

1: She's a girl, and '妳' is the explicitly feminine variant of '你'
2: It's actually mentioned in Special Chapter #2 that they have a rune that actually looks like '大', it's just a false cognate that means 'fire' instead
3: In the Sinosphere, when rendering things phonetically via characters, there's often an attempt at being a bit picky about what characters you use to render those sounds in order to slip in certain meanings or vibes. While '汏' is usually associated with cleaning, it does have a few other meanings. Look up a couple of those and remember the sort of world you're in


Oh. I guess threatening our main characters does make it less likely for this team to reappear #oops

Scholls: “Bold of you to assume you’re getting rid of us that easily.” òvó

Elty: "... Why am I getting the shivers again?"

Yeah, if Elty could actually see those scenes happening, [screaming internally] would be in full effect there.

Surely they could just keep an eye on the road connecting the town and the Dungeon? I suppose the three might try sneaking through the foliage, but it's not like they've been THAT bothered about laying low lately.

Well, for one, that kinda presupposes that they’re not already in the dungeon. If they are, then recall there is a bit of a favored option for getting out of a Mystery Dungeon in a hurry in this setting. :V

Oooh, cool! I like deviations from the standard cave dungeon. Why, it's almost as if this is a convenient... arena for Pleo to fly in during combat... 😰



Pleo: "Hey! Look at that book-shaped tile on the ground! That has to be it!"
Nida and Elty: "PLEOOOOOOO!" O_O'
Elty: "... Actually, maybe this is my chance to bolt out of he--"
He met Nida's glare.
Elty: "Erm I meant PLEOOOOO!"

Nice try, Elty. You’re not weaseling out of the team that easily. >:V

Elty, whispering: "What?! I thought you wanted to set up an ambush! See, this kind of attitude is why I'm planning to bolt i--uuuuh I meant... bolt into action to help you grow?" ^^'

Nida: “... I’m keeping an eye on you.”


Elty: "I'm a DOG, what did you expect me to do?"

I mean, I would assume that dogs aren’t particularly popular with Cubone and Marowak for those sorts of reasons.


Elty: "Hah! I know I just said I'm a dog, but let's see you acting like a dog!"

Fortunately for him, that Cubone doesn’t know Bonemerang, otherwise that sort of taunting sounds like a fast way to get conked. ^^;

Personally, I'd put an exclamation mark after these onomatopoeie. Without, they feel a bit underwhelming impact-wise.

Done.

Nida: "Ugh... I don't see how things could get any worse than this, dios."
Elty: "Not to be a downer, but... the story's banner makes me think that one of these Cubone will be so impressed by our performance that they'll join our team." He puffed out his chest. "And how can you blame him? I was awesome!"
Pleo landed next to them, smiling widely. "Hey! At least there's no more baddies coming after us, right? Think about positive things!"

Bold of you to assume the Cubone that’ll join will be a ‘him’.


Elty: DOOM music starts playing in his head

Nida: “Yeah, no, we’re going.” >_>;

Sounds reasonable, but... it also doesn't really prepare them to those pressures once they go back to that life, either. A little counterproductive, perhaps. Maybe a lot of ferals who attend daycare grow to prefer the settled way of life?

It’s actually mentioned in passing in a couple scenes down the pipe that there’s attrition of ferals into society from that same method. It’s one of those things where from a feral’s perspective, you can trade a relative guarantee of your young’s safety in their more vulnerable years with the risk that they’ll struggle coming back or else grow attached to the culture that’s hosting them and not yours.

Not to say there aren’t some ferals that go that route and become particularly tough out in the wilds. But that’s something for you to keep an eye out on in this episode. :V

Worldbuilding like this is what keeps me glued to the pages here. Keep it up.

I mean, it is part of Fledglings’ raison d’etre. And what can I say? Virgil and I are suckers for trying to make worlds that feel alive.

Valatos: "... Buddy, we live in the world without refrigeration technology. Those aren't even under salt."

Bold of you to assume that when icehouses are millennia old and they have some legs up on keeping them running. Though you are correct about that on a private level… unless you happen to be an Ice-type. :V

Hehehe, I suppose this is Elty's way of showing attachment.
Pleo: "B-but... I don't want to hurt other pokémon!"
Nida: "Me neither! We'll just sink the ship if we have to!"
Elty: "Ugh, fine... your loss."

Yeah, even if he’d probably not admit it at this point in time, the team has been growing on him.

Elty: "I couldn't help it!"
Nida bonked him on the head with a wand.
Elty: "Um--it was self-defence! That's what I meant!"

To be fair, I don’t think ‘self-defence’ would’ve endeared him much better to that Cubone. :V

Pleo, smiling brightly: "Okay!"
Elty: "Th-this is a trap. How can you not see that?!"

Nida: “Look, the alternative is that Wally’s book gets shredded and turned into nesting material, so trap or not, we’re short on options here.” >_>;

Nida: "Such disrespect for science..." >.<
Elty: "To be fair, books make for excellent fuel. The Captain can tell you that much."

- Team stares at Elty -
Elty: “... What? They do!”

And thanks for the reviews! Lotsa stuff for us to get to this time around, and we’re especially looking forward to you getting to the next couple arcs.

Speaking of which, it took a bit longer than anticipated to bump out this update, but we have a chapter under the sea to get to, now don’t we?
 
Chapter 40: When it Rains New

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f


BOOM!

Out in the patch of sea between Kenobi and Mengir, the Siglo Swellow shuddered and listed from an incoming barrage of various projectiles that had managed to break through the gaps in a hastily-raised wall of Protects. Crom stumbled onto the lurching deck, and threw his claws out to break a fall, where he drew his wings back amid the ongoing tumult.

From his view looking up from the deck, everywhere he looked, there were light barriers raised, attacks zipping through the air and crashing into parts of the ship, and golden-scarved Pokémon in the water and air engaging crew members.

"Stop right there, criminal scum!"

Including Kiran, who was tearing through the air in pursuit of a Hoppip. The Druddigon shook his head to try and regain his nerve, and threw himself back onto his feet unsteadily, only to feel someone grab his arm and yank him backwards.

"C-Crom! D-Don't just stand there!"

The Druddigon stumbled along after the presence that grabbed him, the culprit being revealed to be a wide-eyed Fraxure bolting for the stairs as fast as his legs could carry him.

"Dad?!"

"Hurry! We need to get you below deck!" Pladur cried. The Fraxure continued tugging and running, only to feel the arm in his claw wrench free and turn around to see a startled expression on his child's face.

"What are you doing?!" Crom exclaimed "Why are we running?!"

"It's not safe!" Pladur cried. "I don't want you getting hurt up here!"

Crom ducked as a gout of flame soared over his head and leapt down to the floor with a yelp. The little dragon lowered his head to the ground and flattened out his wings, before warily poking back up to face his father.

"But Kiran's my teammate!" the Druddigon protested. "I can't just leave him like this while the ship's in trouble!"

"What's going on out there-?!"

The form of Ander clambering up the steps came into view, the Scyther going wide-eyed and reflexively hopping back at the sight of the chaos around. Before either Crom or Pladur could explain, the deck resounded with distressed squawk.

"Ack!"

There, up by the ship's stern, the Hoppip had led Kiran directly into an ambush by a Staravia and a Ledian in Iron Fleet scarves. The Swellow quickly turned around and fled with battered plumes still crackling with static, his tormentors hotly pursuing him.

"Surprise, you split-tailed idiot!" Kichiro taunted.

"Yeah, way to fly right into our trap!" the accompanying Staravia sneered.

Without a further word, Ander dashed off, and sprang up to fly towards the three Pokémon. Crom watched as the three golden-scarved Pokémon hastily broke ranks to weave around a slashing swipe from the mantis…

It was then that the young Druddigon knew where he needed to be.

"Wait! Crom! What are you doing?!"

Crom took off running for the rigging, where he clambered up the rigging as fast as his limbs would allow him. Ander and Kiran were bogged down in a losing fight against three more maneuverable foes- Hey wait a minute, the Ledian! There was a clear shot at him below!

"Kiran! Ander! Hang in there!"

Crom sprang from rigging and spread his wings, the wind catching him and sending him gliding along towards the jeering Bug-Type. The young Druddigon swiped his claws to rake the beetle and-

"Too slow, tokage!"

"Huh?!"

Kichiro swerved out of the way, leaving Crom to claw at empty air. The young Druddigon hastily banked his wings to try and turn around, only to hear a startled Scyther's buzz.

"Crom! Watch out!"

Before Crom could right his course, the young Dragon-Type was buffeted by a gust laden with stinging pinkish dust. The Druddigon lost his balance from the Fairy Wind and plummeted out of the air against the deck of the Siglo Swellow. As Crom laid panting and stunned, he watched as a jeering Hoppip circled overhead.

"Hah! You're mine now, little twerp!"

"Stay away from him!"

"Hu-AAAAAAGH!"

A clawed presence rushed in and struck the Grass-Type with a ruddy claw trailing greenish flecks of light, sending the creature pinwheeling with a scream over the railing and into the sea with an audible sploosh. Crom looked up, and saw that his rescuer was none other than...

"Dad?!"

Although fatigue and shock twisted up his face, the figure standing above him was unmistakably that of Pladur. The Druddigon pawed at his throbbing head crest, his budding headache helped along by a distressed squawk ringing out from above. The two looked to the sky, where they spotted a visibly fatigued Kiran attempting to hold off a pursuing Staravia. A pained buzz drew Crom's attention to the side, where Ander was desperately staggering after being struck by an electrified downward punch from Kichiro. The Fraxure blanched and gulped, realizing that the situation at hand was rapidly spinning out of control.

"Crom," Pladur instructed. "I'm going to go and help Kiran, you stay-"

Before the Dragon-Type could finish, his red eyes widened as he saw Crom already bolting off ahead, towards the beleaguered mantis and his beetle tormenter.

"Ander, hang in there!"

"Eh?! Crom?!" Pladur exclaimed. "What are you-?!"

Before his father could complete his protest, Crom had already bolted for the Ledian, eager to defend his teammate and for a chance to even the score. The Druddigon opened his maw and lunged to try and clamp down on one of Kichiro's limbs, only for the beetle to spot him from the corner of his eye and quickly fall back, leaving Crom snapping at air. The young dragon attempted to compensate with a claw swipe, and another, and another... yet Kichiro weaved around his strikes effortlessly.

"Hah! You couldn't hit the broad side of a- Argh!"

Before Kichiro could finish his taunt, he was swatted out of the air by a swipe from Ander's scythes and tumbled to the deck. Crom took his chance to dart off towards the still-stunned beetle and sank his claws under the bug's open elytra, raking over the tender segments underneath. The Ledian yelled in pain and hastily flew off as Crom gave chase, only for him to freeze in his tracks as he saw Kichiro's Staravia partner barrelling towards him. Crom flinched and braced for the bird to slam into him, only to hear the woosh of a cutting wind, and to see the pirate retreat squawking with damaged plumage after Kiran sent another Air Slash zipping past her head.

"Gwark! Kichiro?!" she cried. "How much more of this are we supposed to take?!"

The Ledian gave an annoyed buzz and glared at his teammate for bungling his name yet again, but then shook his head and decided to let the matter slide given his current circumstances.

"Rrgh… these clods hit harder than they look," the bug spat.

A deafening blast rang out from starboard as the ship shuddered and started to list. Crom, Pladur, and Ander tumbled and flailed, finally catching their balance on a snapped deck timber as the ship settled. Kichiro looked around quickly, and a small smile crept over his face as he turned back to his Staravia companion.

"Grab Wilhelm and let's get moving!" the Bug-Type barked. "Our part's done here!"

As the crew erupted into confused shouts over the damage to the side of the ship, the fliers and swimmers from the Mistral Marauder took the opportunity to retreat, carrying off their defeated comrades. The Siglo Swellow's attention turned to the hole ripped into starboard of the ship, a Hitmontop hastily barking out orders while perched over its top

"Keep an eye on that hole!" the Fighting-Type barked. "That's where they'll try and board us!"

"Eh? But they're falling back!" a Golduck exclaimed. "Shouldn't they be charging us?"

The Siglo Swellow suddenly lurched, and the ship began swiftly drifting to port side over the yelps of the ship's surprised sea escorts. The crew aboard the schooner looked off to the port side, where they saw a small whirlpool pulling them in towards Hess' golden-sailed caravel just as a few Pokémon on its deck pushed a wooden tube on rollers up against the railing.

"A-Aah!" the Golduck cried. "They're pointing a cannon at us!"

"Only one cannon?" the Hitmontop asked. "Why would they risk getting scuttled at sea over that, though?"

"Because that's no cannon!" Beatrix exclaimed. "Quick, attack-!"

The Illumise's command got cut off by a sudden impact and ka-THUNK sound. As the crew members of the Siglo Swellow looked over at the site of the impact, they saw a harpoon jutting out from the side of the hull, a rope trailing off back to the Mistral Marauder where shapes were beginning to move around the 'cannon' from earlier.

Unfortunately, the harpoon was not the only attack that the crew should have minded; as they were distracted by the attack on the port side, a loud thump erupted from the ship's starboard, revealing the dripping, all-too-familiar Aggron who had just surfed around the ship to plow onto the deck.

"Charge them while they're down!" he bellowed. Hess stormed on, the metal lizard effortlessly knocking a few unfortunate crew members in his path unconscious with heavy claw swipes and blows from his tail. The Aggron smashed his way through to the ship's port side, throwing the deck’s defenders into disarray, before leaping back into the water right as a host of Water-Types from the pirate crew sliced through the water for the stricken ship. As the sea creatures neared, they popped up and belted out a thick volley of beams and watery attacks that punched through the Siglo Swellow's patchwork of Protects and quickly threw its defenders into confusion.

A number of more terrestrial pirates took advantage of the chaos to throw ropes up and clamber aboard the Siglo Swellow. Natrix and Philips were the first to notice, but fell to a pair of sniping beam attacks before they could do more than shout a warning. The defenses on the deck quickly devolved into a disorganized mess of blows and yelps as more and more attackers forced their way aboard.

"Retrocedan! Retrocedan!" Pat cried out in a panic. The Unfezant's call for retreat did not elude Crom and his companions' ears, as they too found themselves bolting for the ladder to retreat below deck.

"Hey, brat!"

The four came to a skidding stop as they saw their escape route cut off by a trio of growling and snarling pirates in their way. There ahead of them was a Marowak batting his club menacingly, a sparking Manectric, and an uncomfortably familiar Yanmega clicking his mandibles.

"You didn't forget about us, right?" Valatos sneered. "It's time for a rematch!"

Crom sucked in a sharp breath and yelped. By now, the fight to keep the Iron Fleet's members off deck had turned into a disorganized rout. All along the deck, feuding bands of lavender-scarved Pokémon traded blows with their golden-scarved attackers and hastily fell behind cover to attempt to regroup. Valatos and his companions seemed to be aware of the turn of fortune, as they drew near with predatory smirks.

"Time for a beating, dweebs!" Nori growled, giving a threatening shake of his club. The three Pokémon fanned out and began to encircle the team, the lot giving menacing glares as they prepared to pounce upon Crom and his companions.

"Yeah, you're gonna regret crossing u- AUGH!"

Before Alvise could finish his sneer, Pladur rushed forward with a double blow from his tusks, catching the Electric-Type in his left flank.

"G-Get the Manectric!"

The wolf tumbled back with a yelp, hastily coming to his feet with a growl as a pair of ruddy marks on his pelt. Alvise arched his back and began to build up static on his body...

"Eat sparks you overgrown-!"

The Manectric once again failed to finish his taunt, as Ander swiftly cut him off with a Slash. Although the blow thwarted the wolf's Discharge, it gave a painful shock to the Scyther and sent him stumbling back screeching in pain as Alvise came to a tumbling stop against a damaged section of railing. Noticing that the sections seemed frailed, Kiran immediately reacted by sending a powerful wind at the Electric-Type, pushing Alvise back against the wood with a crack...

"A-AAAAAH!"

SPLASH!

Followed by him falling overboard into the sea. Before anyone could take any particular satisfaction in Alvise's rout, the group was promptly set upon by Valatos, fresh from having thrown an Ancient Power at Pladur, and Nori charging in with his head held low. The Yanmega sent a sharp gust of air towards a visibly tottering Kiran, only for Ander to step in the way and yelp after being struck by the cutting wind. Pladur was struck from behind by a heavy blow, and tumbled towards a break in the railing, desperately trying to scurry to the side as Nori pounced on him with a series of forceful strikes from his bony club.

"A-Aagh!"

"Hah! Can't take it as good as you dish out, huh?" the Marowak sneered.

"DAD!"

In a panic, Crom bolted for the Ground-Type harrying his father, opened his maw, and bit down on the Marowak's swinging arm with all the strength he could muster. The bone lizard bellowed in pain and whirled around. Nori tugged to try and pull his right arm free, only for the young dragon to remain stubbornly latched onto him. Sensing a need to change strategies, Nori passed over his bone to his other arm and tightened his grip on it.

"Let go of me, you little pest!" he shouted, as he brought his club down on Crom's head.

The young Dragon-Type let go of his grip with a cry of pain, prompting Nori to wrench his arm free, and prepare to bring another blow down on the Druddigon. Out of the corner of his eye, the Marowak caught the sight of a Fraxure whipping himself into a frenzy with a rhythmic dance, and running for him with a fierce roar. The Ground-Type went wide-eyed and tried to raise his bone to counter, only to yelp in pain after two hacking blows struck him from the front. Nori clutched his stomach, and watched as a set of ruddy claws trailing a greenish aura came and uppercut his jaw...

SMACK!

"AAAAAAAAAH!"

SPLOOSH!

… sending the hapless Marowak flying overboard, and onto the form of a Manectric treading water below.

"Ow! Nori!" a whining voice cried. "Watch where you're falling!"

Meanwhile, Kiran sent out a cutting gust of wind at Valatos, only for his blow to be swiftly dodged by his opponent. The dragonfly flitted around the tired Swellow, taunting his foe.

"Heh heh, you're weak, bird!" the Yanmega taunted. "I was whipping up stronger winds as a Yanma!"

"Kiran!" a voice buzzed. "Move out of the way!"

"Whuh?"

Before Valatos could turn towards the source of the voice, he felt something chitinous and sharp slam against his side and send him tumbling to the deck. The dragonfly staggered up from the deck's timbers, only to screech out of pain after a slash raked along his back. The creature buzzed out of panicked surprise and sent an Air Slash towards Ander, before turning around and hastily flying away from his attackers.

"A-Argh!" he exclaimed. "You clods weren't supposed to be getting the best of me like this!"

Crom and his companions hastily gave chase to the struggling dragonfly, with Pladur leading the charge. The Fraxure tensed his legs, ready to pounce on the Bug-Type, only to suddenly feel the deck jolt underfoot.

"Do I have to do everything around here?" bellowed a deep, rumbling voice.

Crom, Kiran, Ander, and Pladur all paled as they turned and saw Hess' lumbering form running at them at full speed, his head lowered and tensed for a vicious headbutt. The four dove out of the way of the charging Aggron, only for the metal lizard's headbutt to catch Pladur and run him into a mast.

"EYAAAAH!"

"PLADUR!"

Crom froze in place as he saw Hess step back and his father's unconscious body flop onto the deck. The Aggron turned and bared his teeth at the group, growling lowly and stirring up unwelcome memories in Crom's mind. The last time he had fought with the pirate captain, he easily knocked him and his friends out. H-how was he supposed to do any better now?!

"I was hoping you all would be taken care of by now, but that's fine with me," the Aggron snarled. "I'll just have to handle you myself!"

"Crom! Get out of here!"

"We'll hold him off!"

Crom turned his head in the direction of Kiran's voice just in time to catch sight of the Swellow whipping up a powerful Whirlwind. The wind sailed on, and made Hess fight to keep his footing and not get blown over. While the Aggron struggled to keep his balance, Ander flicked his scythes towards Hess, sending forward a white shockwave that sailed on and struck in between the Steel-Type's plates.

"Grah!"

The Aggron stumbled and bellowed in pain from the attack, but quickly recovered, much to everyone's horror. The lizard gave an angry roar and stomped the deck hard enough to snap the timbers underfoot, calling up a barrage of rocks from the ship's ballast that sliced through the deck. The projectiles punched through the wood and carried into the air before falling in a great pile, sweeping up Kiran and Ander in the process.

The Swellow came off worse out of the two with a pained squawk as a spray of gravel slammed into him. The bird went limp and tumbled in the air, plummeting to the deck with a dull thud. Ander on the other hand, was able to dodge the bulk of the stony flechette, leaving the mantis to struggle to get back up. Any relief he had was short-lived, as the Scyther looked up wide-eyed as he saw Hess storming towards him.

"Time to squish you, you little gnat!"

Crom looked on blankly as the ragged Scyther bolted in blind terror from the pursuing pirate captain. It was happening all over again, Hess was too strong for the team and there wasn't anything that could be done about it... was there?

The Druddigon's gaze settled over a bag next to Kiran's unconscious body. Wait a minute, maybe there was something in there! Crom darted over and rifled through the bag, haphazardly pulling out bruised berries and crumpled paper in search for anything that could turn the tide.

Tak-tak

The Dragon-Type looked by his feet, and noticed that while rummaging through Kiran's bag, a Blast Seed had rolled out. The Druddigon looked down at the seed, and without a moment's hesitation, grabbed it, and ran towards Hess as fast as his quailing, uneasy legs could carry him.

"L-Leave him alone!"

Crom watched as the lumbering steel lizard turned around, and without thinking, threw a Blast Seed towards his head. The seed sailed on, only for the Steel-Type to spot it from the corner of his eye and duck in a panic and leave the projectile sailing along overhead.

"Ha!" Hess jeered. "You missed!"

BOOM!

The Aggron instinctively turned back in the direction of the Mistral Marauder at the sound of the boom, and saw that Crom's Blast Seed had carried on into the base of the forward mast, leaving it smoldering with burnt sails and listing at an odd angle.

"Ack! My ship!" he cried. "How on earth did it get so torn up?!"

As Hess bewailed the condition of his ship, Valatos cautiously returned as Alvise and Nori managed to stagger their way back to the deck using the climbing ropes the Iron Fleet had thrown up during their earlier boarding.

"Urgh… lousy hicks-" Alvise spat. "Eh?! They're right there!"

"Yeah, you shoulda run while you-!" Nori began, only to be cut off by a frightened squeal from his captain.

"A-AAH!" Hess yelped. "Stay away!"

The Aggron captain reflexively swiped his tail at Nori in a flailing panic before the Marowak could finish his taunt, the blow abruptly shoving the hapless Ground-Type back into the water as Alvise and Valatos traded dumbfounded looks.

"Captain, he was on our side!" Valatos complained.

"That's- er- I was helping him!" Hess insisted. "We're pulling back!"

"Wait, we are?" the dragonfly asked, only to be brusquely interrupted by the Steel-Type.

"That's right, we are!"

With the Mistral Marauder in as rough of shape as it was, it was best to retreat while he still could. Besides, his crew had done their own share of damage to this ship, enough to count as revenge and send those Tromban punks a message.

"Everyone, move out!" the Aggron bellowed. "And give these morons something to remember us by!"

At the sound of their Captain's call, the bulk of the golden-scarved Pokémon started to retreat back to their ship. The disorganized and battered crew of the Siglo Swellow tried to give chase and attack after them, only for a number of the invaders to spit fires and burning beams across the ship, the sensations of the fires whipping up a panic among the crew...

"Fire! Fire!"

"Heh heh! Here, have one from me!" Alvise sneered. The wolf opened his maw as orange flames began to wreath his teeth and clamped down on some nearby rigging, the fibrous ropes quickly catching ablaze much to Crom and his companions' horror.

"A-Ack! You can't do this-!" Crom exclaimed.

"Take a hike, brat!"

Before Crom could finish his protest, Hess struck him with a swinging blow from his metal-banded tail. The hapless dragon sailed on, pinwheeling against the deck, and striking his left wing against a dashed railing before he felt air under his feet.

"A-aaah!"

The Druddigon flailed blindly as he fell towards the sea, before managing to snag a fragment of a climbing rope that had been cut short during the battle and smacked against the side of the ship. Crom hung on, panting as he felt pain wracking his body, along with a lukewarm, sticky fluid starting to trickle down his abdomen as confused shouts and the crackle of flames came from above deck.

The Dragon-Type weakly tried to pull himself up, only to feel the rope start to give under his grasp and hot embers dust his crest. The Druddigon looked up in a panic, where he saw that a burning plank had set his rope alight, beginning to fray it where it met the flames. Crom looked desperately around for an escape, only to find that there was no exit, no other way to climb up... Only the sea below, waiting to suck up his injured body.

Suddenly, Crom felt the flat of one of Ander's blades brush against his claw. The nettle lizard looked left and saw that the blotched Scyther had climbed down, embedding his other blade into the hull to prop himself up.

"Hang in there, Crom!"

Crom carefully latched onto it, and clambered onto Ander's shoulders as the rope gave way and fell into the sea. Ander carefully worked to climb his way back up with his new passenger, slowly planting one scythe after the other into parts of the hull further ahead. All the while as the Scyther made his way back up, Crom shivered, still shaking and beginning to tear up from his ordeal.

"It's alright! It's alright!" the Bug-Type insisted. "It's over… We're- we're going to be okay…"

A gentle rain kicked up, as a Sliggoo summoned a localized drizzle with a chanting Rain Dance. As the drops came down, the flames licking the ship began to ebb and die off as other Pokémon that had fallen overboard were helped back aboard the now-battered schooner. And so it was that the blotched Scyther tiredly flopped down on the deck alongside the young Druddigon after having carried him up, the low rainclouds overhead hanging over the ship much like an ill omen.



While the Siglo Swellow limped along after the Iron Fleet’s raid, Team Traveller had woken up to a quiet morning in Seaspear Station. After the team roused themselves from slumber, they made their way out of the sleeping chamber and out of the door of the bell-shaped hostel building. As they stepped out into the faded bluish light, they saw the square was much more lively than the night before.

The strands of bubbleweed continued to lazily emit beads of air into the seawater surrounding Seaspear Station as signs of life began to return to the outpost. The Ludicolo gummi merchant and his peers began opening their stalls for the morning, and the tavern built into the sunken ship started to become flecked with sleepy-looking creatures eager for a morning meal.

Yaaaaaaaaaah

Pleo yawned and beat out his wings to get his blood flowing, though drew his wounded one back to his side with a wince as he was rudely reminded of why he'd been told to stay off of it. As Nida, Elty, and Guardia similarly worked the sleep out of their bandaged bodies, a question bubbled up to his mind's fore.

"So what should we do now?" the Lugia chirped.

"Well, we need to find the Blue Fairy in Braveshoal Town, and I'm not sure if we should be dawdling too long..." Nida murmured. "The longer we wait to set out, the later it will be when we get to Otvaga."

"Yeah, but just how are we supposed to find her when we get there?" Elty prodded.

"You should try asking travellers who have come into town in the past few days when you get there," a voice bleated from behind.

"Yeah, the Blue Fairy moves around quite a bit," a similar-sounding voice added. "And she trusts Pokémon that travel around a lot to show her the way."

"Huh?!"

Pleo, Nida, Elty, and Guardia whirled around and saw a pair of young Flaaffy had gathered. The team's faces lit up in recognition of Currituck and Bodie from the night before.

"Oh, it's you again!" Pleo cried.

"Eh?" Guardia asked, tilting her head puzzledly. "I thought you were all still sleeping!"

"We wanted to have a chance to send you off," Currituck explained. "After all, it's not often that we run into others who have to stay on the move as we do."

"I mean, I don't know how long we can keep this up," Nida murmured.

"Keep hope, dearie," an elderly voice reassured. "You'll be surprised how much strength it will give you."

Pleo, Nida, Elty, and Guardia looked up and saw Alexandria making their way over to them, bending down to give a reassuring pat. In spite of the gesture, the quartet's spirits remained as battered as their bodies. Still swaddled in bandages as they were, and with the Company surely on still the hunt for them… could hope really make that much of a difference?

"Well… we'll try, at least," Pleo muttered. The Lugia and his teammates turned for the passage to Braveshoal Town, when suddenly, Alexandria's voice cried out.

"One more thing!"

"Huh?!" Pleo exclaimed. The little Protector craned his head back, and saw Alexandria waving her flipper.

"Good luck getting back to Tromba, little one," she said. "I'm sure everyone there's missed you an awful lot."

"Oh... thank you," Pleo answered. The little bird started to turn back to his friends, when a realization crept over their minds... How did Alexandria know Pleo was from Tromba?

"… Hey, zaczekaj chwilę," Elty murmured. "We never told you anything about that…"

"Eh?!" Guardia cried. "You know him?"

"In a manner of speaking, yes," the elder Ampharos chuckled.

Nida stared at her, agape. If she knew Pleo without having met him before, then she also had to know that he was Tromba's Protector!

"Yeah, from the moment you set foot into the hostel last night, we knew there was something special about your friend," Currituck explained.

"You don't need to look so surprised!" Bodie exclaimed. "Your secret is safe with us!"

"Yeah, we swear on the Travellers!" the other Flaaffy insisted. "We might not be able to head off with you here, but we'll do our part to help keep you going!"

The Nidoran's eyes brightened a bit, as the anxieties and dread of Team Traveller's next journey ebbed away a bit. Even if it wasn't much, just knowing that she and her teammates had allies even deep under the ocean provided much-needed reassurance.

"And keep your heads held high," Alexandria added. "It's a brand new day, and the sunlight's coming down beautifully through the water. Calm and perfect conditions for continuing on, no?"

"It would be better if we weren't stuck on the ocean floo- Ow!"

Elty abruptly bit his tongue after Guardia gave a swat at his head along with a huffed 'stop ruining the mood!' under her breath. Nida looked back at the three Electric-Types and cracked a nervous smile.

"I… suppose we can't argue with that. Thanks again for talking with us, but..." she murmured uneasily. "I wish we could do something to repay you."

"Well, there is one thing," the elderly Ampharos said.

"Huh?"

"When you get home, tell the local lightkeeper we're doing fine and look forward to meeting him in person when the fates align again," she instructed.

"Right," Nida replied. "I think we can do that."

The four children waved a farewell at the trio of electric sheep and made their way for the northern passage. As Seaspear Station began to fade behind them, their young minds filled with trepidation. They were heading off to an unknown place, after an unknown guide, for advice that they couldn't be sure would help them. And yet, in spite of all that, a faint hope kept them trudging on. A hope that maybe things would finally turn around in their quest to return home.



SPLUTCH!

As Team Traveller set off from Seaspear station oblivious to the rainy clouds over the Siglo Swellow, a different kind of storm cloud brewed deep within Mengir's fort. At the training grounds inside the compound, Lyn drew a seamitar back from the fading body of a freshly-beheaded Dragonite Substitute. Dissatisfied with the effects of his blow, the Samurott hacked and speared the Substitute's body a few more times, growling in frustration all the while.

"Captain, aren’t you getting bored of cutting up those Substitutes?"

Lyn tightened his grip on his seamitar and looked over his shoulder. There behind him stood Ketu, picking his claws disinterestedly as usual.

"Hrmph. I don't think you need to worry about my sparring habits, Ketu," Lyn icily answered.

"Sparring? Looks more like you're blowing off steam over missing out on that bird," the Weavile retorted.

"And so what if I am?" the Samurott spat. The Water-Type glowered at his subordinate, reflexively tightening his paw's grip on his seamitar, only for a sudden commotion to break his focus.

"H-Hey, Payak! Lighten up a little! It's just a practice session!"

The Samurott and Weavile turned their attention to the field beside them, where a Tangela frantically threw a hissing Ariados off of him. The Bug-Type hissed and shrieked out of obvious frustration, and threw himself back at his hapless opponent, snapping his mandibles furiously as Lyn and Ketu traded askew looks with each other.

"Tch, fair enough," the Dark-Type conceded. "Looks like you're not the only one blowing off steam anyway."

The Samurott sat and shook his head, raising a paw to pinch his brow with a frustrated growl.

"Grr… this just isn't my mission…"

"I know, I know. All I'm saying is don't get so hung up over it," Ketu offered. "It's been awhile since I filled that unexpected vacancy for the Argent Aviso's First Mate, and that bird's the slipperiest target I've seen since then."

"Hrmph. It would be nice if you'd care as much about being prompt with your work," Lyn snapped.

"Eh. You can't rush results," the Weavile nonchalantly answered. "Besides, if we really get into too much trouble, I'm sure that I could try calling in a favor or two."

The Samurott paused and gave a puzzled twitch of his whiskers at his first mate's comments. The mustelid turned his head to the Weavile, giving a quizzical look.

"Huh?" Lyn asked. "What are you going on about, Ketu-?"

"Lyn!"

The Samurott and his Weavile first mate whirled around just in time to catch Ellsberg flying in in a hurry. The Mothim hastily landed and caught his breath, wide-eyed and clearly surprised by something.

"What is it Ellsberg?"

"It's the Board!" the Mothim buzzed. "They're coming to Mengir for an emergency meeting!"

"What?!" Lyn snapped upright in shock and went wide-eyed at the moth's statement. Did Ellsberg just say what he thought he heard?!

"A messenger arrived just a few minutes ago!" Ellsberg exclaimed. "Director Inler is on his way over here alongside Administrator Farn and Elilan. They'll be here within the next few hours!"

Lyn gritted his teeth and slammed his seamitar into the ground. And here he thought his day couldn't get any worse.

"Ugh... just what I needed," he hissed through clenched teeth.



The Siglo Swellow was in shambles, but mercifully still seaworthy. A large hole in the side had been covered by a compound of sawdust and ice, courtesy of the crew's Ice-types; severe repairs would be needed once they next came into port.

The crew had taken nearly as bad a beating as the ship; the ship's doctor had his work cut out dressing wounds and administering berry juices. Crom and Ander had been pressed into nurse duties as soon as possible due to their comparatively light injuries, with Kiran joining in after he finally regained consciousness. One of their number, however, had yet to awaken.

"Nrgh…"

The Fraxure began stirring weakly, the Dragon-Type's form faintly shifting and moving in reaction to various aches and wounds all over his scaled body. Finally, Pladur opened his eyes, weakly lifting his head to meet his son's face.

"E-Estás bien!"

Crom embraced his dad instantly, drying his tears on the Fraxure's face. The axe-headed Dragon raised a claw and brought it up to his son's crest with a gentle caress.

"H-Heh… it takes more than that to get your old papí down," the Fraxure said, wiping at his son's damp eyes. "The ship make it through alright?"

"Well, we're still sailing at least, but that's about as much as I can say for it," Ander sighed.

"What do you mean by that?" Pladur asked.

"There's a huge hole in the starboard hull, much of the crew is sleeping off wounds like you just were, and the decks are full of holes from all that ballast Hess pulled up with his Rock Slide," the Scyther sighed. "To top it off, the ship's now moving much slower from it all."

"The fire damage certainly didn't help matters, either. The sails and rigging above deck are in burnt tatters right now," Kiran added. "And since the Iron Fleet made off with our spares, we're barely keeping what's left together by some spot repairs."

"H-Huh?!" Crom exclaimed. "But Pleo's still at Mengir and Lyn's going after him! We'll still make it there in time, right?"

Ander and Kiran stood in silence, unable to offer a favorable reply. The oxygen seemed to be sucked out of the room, as the three elder Pokémon traded unnerved looks with each other, leaving Crom to ask again, this time in a weaker and warier voice.

"Won't we…?" the Druddigon murmured.

Once again nobody answered. Contemplating the limping, nearly helpless state of the Siglo Swellow, Crom's hope slowly started to fade. If Lyn had already found Pleo… what could any of them hope to do now...?



Far away from the Siglo Swellow, a frigate with sails that had been hastily died white with red saltires sailed into a lagoon ringed by an atoll. The ship turned for a lonely set of docks surrounded by a handful of huts and palisades with wild and unkept palm groves with unscarved Pokémon moving around just beyond.

"Lower the anchor!"

A buzzing cry came up from the Beedrill first mate, which was quickly followed by the splash of the stone anchor hitting the water. The deck hands and escorts in the sea and air quickly flew into a flurry of activity, shifting the ship with currents and throwing out lines as the ship sidled up against a wooden wharf. As some Pokémon from the three-masted vessel hopped onto the dock to tie their ship down on the moorings, a number of the sea escorts eased away to keep a watchful eye on the vessel and chatter among themselves...

"Ugh... a mission in Company waters and all we're doing is bobbing around the ship..." Cyanea groaned.

Including a none-too-pleased Tentacruel, along with a bemused-looking Sharpedo partner who shook her head.

"Tch, lighten up a little!" Katyusha scoffed. "The world's not going to end from you missing one mission…"

"But it was an important mission!" Cyanea protested, flailing her tendrils excitedly "Just what exactly out here is more important than making sure everything in Company waters goes smoothly?!"

"Finally! Time to relax on the beach!"

"Dibs on that spot under the coconut tree!"

The Tentacruel frowned and turned back to the ship to see that the crew had spotted a pink-sanded beach just beyond the palisades and was making their way for the coast for some much needed relaxation... Only for their progress to be hastily interrupted by a loud, displeased buzz, which drew their attention back to a stern-faced Beedrill flitting above the bridge.

"Now hold on a minute!" Jun barked. "None of you are going anywhere until the assignments are handed out!"

A chorus of groans came from the frigate's crew, as their much-anticipated shore leave was held up by their stickler of a first mate. Some grumbles and dirty looks floated about, as complaints bubbled among the gathered Pokémon.

"Seriously?"

"Why'd Captain Nugget have him as her first mate?"

"Ibwa, you know how our docking protocol works! Just because the Captain isn't here doesn't mean I'm about to ignore it!" Jun snapped. "So, to start with… do we have any volunteers for any assignments?"

A long, uncomfortable silence fell over the gathering, as one by one Pokémon looked away or whistled innocuously. That was, until a low, gruff voice suddenly responded from the water.

"Cyanea and I will get provisions for the galley from Braveshoal Town," Katyusha offered.

"Eh?! Katyusha?!" the Tentacruel interjected. "What are you-?!"

"Proposal approved," the wasp buzzed. "Get a move on, we'll need those provisions as soon as you can get them!"

The Sharpedo gave a nod in affirmation before swimming off, leaving her partner to splutter in place before grudgingly following after the shark. The two dove under the surface, the light getting dimmer as the two Water-Types continued deeper into the sea. All the while, Cyanea glared daggers at her partner, breaking the silence with an exasperated huff.

"Katyusha, why did you do that?!" the jellyfish exclaimed.

"You seemed a bit high-strung, so I figured you could use a break from the normal grind," the shark explained.

"How on earth is going on a supply run supposed to help?!" the Poison-Type hissed.

As the two Water Pokémon continued swimming, large, clustered shapes began to enter their field of vision along the seabed. As the duo drew closer to the seabed, it became apparent the shapes were clusters of dome-shaped buildings, which were stitched together by a web of air tunnels and large bubbles not too unlike those of the Subway. All around the buildings and the bubble-passages were pastel-colored corals as far as the eye could see, all teeming with schools of belt-wearing Pokémon swimming to and fro among the vibrant reef.

"You didn't honestly think that I volunteered to do this because I had a strong work ethic, did you?" the Katyusha asked, chuckling. "Not when there's places to see and things to do here in Braveshoal Town!"

"…You got me into this to drag me to Soapy's, didn't you?"

"It's Sophie's, and I wasn't planning on spending all my time at eateries playing dice over snacks!" the Sharpedo rebutted. "We'll get those supplies eventually!"

The Tentacruel huffed and shot back an unsatisfied leer, prompting the Sharpedo to circle around the jellyfish and decide that perhaps her appeal just needed a slight repackaging to sway her tough customer.

"But really now, would you rather be up on the surface bobbing around and sulking?" Katyusha prodded, "or grabbing a bite and playing a game or two of dice instead?"

Cyanea paused and thought for a moment. She wanted nothing more than to prove herself and make a difference against the Company and restore the Empire's realms, and this was the perfect mission to do it! ...On the other hand, she couldn't do much against the Captain's orders, and floating around the ship in wait for attackers that would likely never come wasn't all that productive either. Not to mention that some relaxation would be nice...

"... I'll take you up on that game of dice," the jellyfish answered.

"Great! So let's hurry up, then!"

Katyusha zipped along in the water, prompting Cyanea to follow after her wake. As the jellyfish carried along, her frustrations began to ebb away. It had been a long journey over…

Besides, on a mission as important as her crew's current one, there was no telling if she would be needed to jump back into action in the future.



"Are we almost there yet?"

The team had been traversing the Subway tunnels for hours now after leaving Seaspear Station. They had passed marker after marker along the Subway's path, but going on foot was slower, and apparently more tiring than going by sea or air, which was starting to reflect in Team Traveller's increasingly tired gaits.

"Just a little longer Pleo," Nida said as she nuzzled the little Lugia in an attempt to comfort him. "It shouldn't take too long now."

But I'm tired and my feet hurt!" Pleo protested. "Couldn't you have let me swim?"

"Pleo, your wing's still hurt and seawater isn't good for the bandages," Nida chided. "Besides, we can't help you if you're wandering off from us in the water…"

"But there's still no town in sight!"

A silence fell throughout the group as nobody knew for sure how to respond. They had been walking for a while… As the faint burbling of the bubbleweed filled the silence, Nida thought about how to reassure Pleo, but before she could Guardia spoke up.

"You know he does actually have a point…" the Cubone said. "We've been walking in the direction those sheep pointed us for ages now but there's still no sign of this 'Braveshoal Town.' How do we know this isn't a trap?"

"Don't focus so much on the worst-case scenario!" Nida cried. "We've been through worse before!"

The Nidoran forced a smile, though the tension squeezing the rest of her body still came through obviously enough to be picked up by her unswayed teammates.

"You remember how scary the storm was, right? But we still pulled through it!" Nida exclaimed. "If we made it through that, I'm sure we can make it through finding this 'Blue Fairy'!"

"Um, spike ball, you do remember that we fell into the sea just after we got out of it, right?" Elty reminded. "We would've drowned there if it weren't for that Skarmory and Kabutops, and we're on our own right now."

A pall came over the group along with shudders from that fateful night that allowed them to escape. The seas around them suddenly felt much larger and foreboding as an uncomfortable realization started to weigh down on the four. There was no one to turn to down here in the lonely Subway passage if something went wrong, just them and the vast waters above...

Should they turn back? There would be other Pokémon, yes, but wouldn't they just be waiting for the Company to come and find them? And what of their hopes of getting home? Wasn't that the reason why they left in the first place?

Then… perhaps, the best thing to do, was just to keep on trudging ahead. Towards their uncertain hope.

"Oh wait, I think I see something up ahead!"

After the sound of Pleo's surprised squawk, the group looked off ahead in the distance. There, muddled by the filtering of the deep water was the sight of a great coral reef riddled with bubbles and dome-shaped structures. It was a little strange-looking, but…

"Ah! Soko da!” Guardia exclaimed. “That must be that town those sheep told us about!"

"Well, whatever it is, it's certainly bigger than a rest stop," Elty murmured. "But… are we really making the right choice heading into it?"

"But Elty!" Pleo protested. "It's right here!"

The rabbit paused and twitched her whiskers anxiously. The town ahead was unknown territory, they didn't know if it would be friendly, or even if it was, if the Company had already beaten them there and laid in wait for it. On the other hand, Alexandria and her children said that the Blue Fairy was there, and that was the only lead any of them had for a way to help break the endless cycle of pursuit.

With those choices laid before her, the Poison-Type gave a shake of her head, and turned to her companions.

"... We've come this far," Nida said. "Let's not give up just yet"

The four members of Team Traveller looked ahead, and after a moment's hesitation, set off for the town in the distance. The lot hoping upon the stars that misfortune would not follow them there during their present time of weakness.



Author's Notes:

- (¡)Retrocedan! - Spanish: "Fall back!", "Retreat!"
- zaczekaj chwilę - Polish: "wait a moment", "wait a second"
- (¡)Estás bien! - Spanish: "You're alright!"
- Ibwa (이봐) - Korean: "Hey", used here as an interjection. (South Korean Revised Romanization)
- Soko da! (そこだ!) Japanese: Expression roughly analogous to "There it is!" (Hepburn Romanzation)
 
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Chapter 41: High and Low New

Spiteful Murkrow

Pokémon Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f


"Wow, this place looks amazing!"

Pleo bobbed his head excitedly about to and fro at his surroundings in Braveshoal Town. Team Traveller's trek from the ridge overlooking the atoll's lagoon had taken them down into a great reef flecked by a collection of dome and bell-shaped buildings at an intersection of several air tunnels.

The nexus of bubble-covered paths made for a lively settlement; not a foot of street was clear of the vendor stands hawking snacks and bubbleweed or entertainers vying for loose Poké. A group of Maractus, dancing with maracas, caught Nida's eye in particular.

The business even spilled outside the air bubble- a school of small, blue fish grouped up in the form of a much larger fish could be seen swimming around the wall, just as a massive Wailord blocked the sun by floating above the tunnel's ceiling much to the Poison-Type's amazement.

"I didn't think there would really be an entire town underwater like this," she said.

"Recall that not every Pokemon lives on land like us," Elty chided. "Just look at those Pokémon Dimitri hangs out with."

"So those sheep really were speaking the truth then..." Guardia murmured as she got distracted by the groups of sea Pokémon swimming overhead.

"Where did they say we'd find the Blue Fairy then?" Pleo asked.

Nida stared ahead blankly and folded her ears back. Now that she thought about it, Bodie and Currituck hadn't told them a specific place where the Blue Fairy would be...

"Er…"

"Need a better way to pack a punch? Step right up to Alcon's Traveling Move Tutor!"

"Huh?" Nida asked. The Nidoran turned and saw that up ahead at the edge of the air tunnel, a table had been set up. Behind it, there was a pink-and-blue bird with a roughly polygonal shape floating back and forth cheerily chirping aloud.

"Whether you're swimming down here in the sea or soaring in the skies above, my tutoring will help you throw your foes off-balance!"

"Oh! Melissa! Melissa!" Pleo cried. The little Protector chirped and dashed along towards the Move Tutor's stand, drawing a flustered outcry from Elty.

"Mewa, wait!" the Growlithe barked. But it was too late, the little Lugia had already made his way up to a now flustered-looking Porygon, prattling happily along.

"Why is your voice suddenly lower?" Pleo asked. "And why's your shop so different?"

"Erm… hello, little one," the polygonal bird hummed back. "I think you might have me mistaken for another instance... I'm Alcon."

Pleo blinked and tilted his head curiously. The little Protector at first thought it strange that there were other Pokémon like Melissa in the Cradle… only to realize that this had happened before with Bader back in Seahive. The Flying-Type was not the only member of Team Traveller to find the bird strange, as Guardia scanned and sniffed at the bird and his stand as if he suddenly sprouted a second head.

"Eh?! What kind of hut-dweller nonsense is this?!" Guardia exclaimed, her answer swiftly answered by an excited chirp from Pleo.

"This Pokémon will teach you new moves from magical plate thingies called 'tee-yems'!"

"Actually, it's just biodata pressed onto a organic composite storage disc," the Porygon insisted. "I'm here in Braveshoal to ply my trade to some soggier-than-normal customers."

Nida frowned in puzzlement. So this move tutor moved around... but why? Wasn't it risky to be moving around with a bunch of valuable plates like that?

"Eh?" Nida asked. "But aren't you worried about getting robbed?"

"That's what I'm here for," a rough, burbling voice answered.

Team Traveller looked up, and watched as a hulking Barbaracle came around the corner of the stand. Was this Alcon's guard? It would certainly explain why he wasn't worried about getting robbed...

"That's correct, this big guy here helps me get around," the Porygon chirped. "Once my collection gets a bit too big, I'll sell off a less popular TM to a more stationary instance or put it in storage. Can't pack too heavy, after all!"

"Wait, you can teach moves?" Guardia asked, her eyes lighting up and her tail wagging expectantly. "Would any of them be able to teach Jishin?"

"I wanna learn a glowy beam attack!" Pleo added.

"Knowing Ice Beam like mami couldn't hurt…" Nida murmured, putting a paw to her muzzle. The Poison-Type daydreamed a little of the things she'd do with her newfound skill… only for her thoughts to be interrupted by Elty frowning and drooping his ears out of annoyance.

"Oi, stop dawdling!" he snapped. "We don't have the money to get anyone tutored, and I thought we were looking for the Blue Fairy to get out of this soggy dump!"

Alcon swiveled back to answer the Growlithe that had aborted his business negotiation, giving an annoyed electronic hiss.

"... If you're looking for the Blue Fairy, I'm afraid she isn't here," the Porygon replied, his voice coming out with an unamused chirp. "I would recommend trying your luck closer to the Center."

"Yeah, and if you aren't buying anything, you can move along," the Barbanacle growled. "This is a business, not a playground!"

The barnacle guard shot a piercing glare at the quartet, which made Team Traveller lower their heads and tails and hurry away from the the Move Tutor's stand. As the Barbaracle turned his attention back to the stand, Nida, Pleo, and Guardia gave sour looks at the little Fire-Type, still a bit miffed from him getting them unceremoniously chased off.

"You could have gotten us to leave differently you know!" the Cubone growled, giving a bat of her club against her claw. "But… since we're talking about it, where in the 'Center' would this 'Blue Fairy' be? This place is huge!"

They sat down to think at some stones at the side of the air passage. Clearly there weren't any signs pointing the way to their target, and the shopkeepers would apparently not be enthused to help them.

"Maybe the best thing to do is to narrow down the places she could be at," Nida said, before confidently looking off at the small clusters of undersea buildings in the distance.

"After all, it doesn't look like this Braveshoal Town is that big…" the Nidoran insisted. "She can't be that hard to find."



"How can she be this hard to find?!"

After making their way to the center of Braveshoal Town, Nida and her teammates spent hours checking the district's nooks and crannies, but still hadn't seen any sign of the Blue Fairy. The team had come to a rest at the central square of town, which was filled with Pokémon going from shop to shop.

"Maybe we're doing something wrong?" Guardia asked.

"Yeah, those sheep did say that this Blue Fairy also had a history with the Company," Elty said. "Who's to say she'd want to be open about where she is?"

"But what should we do then?" Pleo chirped

Before the team could continue, a question from a rough, growling voice rang out from behind with an uncomfortably familiar cadence.

"Are you kids lost?"

The group froze and went wide-eyed as they realized that what they heard sounded like Lyn's voice. Team Traveller's members whirled around where much to their horror, they saw a hulking Samurott looking down with a scowl, which made the team jump back with a panicked start.

"A-Aah!" Pleo squawked "Nida!"

"L-Lyn?!" the Nidoran squeaked, fanning out her barbs and growing increasingly pallid. "H-How did-?! You're not supposed to be-!"

"B-Bogowie…"

As Elty's frightened whine hung in the air, the Fire-Type backpedaled slowly, quivering and pulling his ears and tail tight to his body. Even Guardia's kneejerk aggression was colored by her shock and quailing limbs at the giant foe before her, her grip on her club coming trembling and unsteady.

"Y-You're not going to bat us around!" she cried. "N-Not without a fight!"

The Samurott fished out one of his blades as concerned onlookers began to stare at the unfolding incident. A Popplio and Brionne poking their heads up from a nearby Kecleon shop, a Krabby hastily scuttling away sideways… Even the Sharpedo and Tentacruel towing a load of chests wrapped up in rope netting overhead paused and murmured to one another.

"Sevan? What's going on out there?"

A burbling voice called out, its owner quickly revealing himself to be a blue Jellicent that floated out from a nearby submerged structure. Nida, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia looked at the bobbing wraith, and then back at the Samurott, where they recognized that he was missing Lyn's scarf and its trademark purple fractal. In its place was a tan belt with black wave design on it worn as a choker, then…

Just what was going on here?

"A case of mistaken identity, it seems," the Samurott grunted. "As the nice Jellicent mentioned, I'm 'Sevan', not 'Lyn'."

Pleo and Nida hesitated, as Elty shot a wary look at the Water-Type. The gathered crowd, realizing nothing too interesting was going on, began to return to their business. Guardia for her part gave a puzzled tilt of her head. If this wasn't the 'Lyn' creature that her teammates so feared, who was he, and why did they think he was the same?

"Eh? What do you do down here anyways?" she prodded.

"I'm what you'd call 'private security,'" the Samurott answered, lowering his free seamitar. "Not every town has enough monpower to watch every part constantly, and some places like this bank here need more some extra protection."

"And so they pay 'mons like you to provide it," Elty said.

"Correct," the otter answered. The creature nonchalantly gave the blade a playful spin about his knuckles, and then slid it back into its sheath, making Nida, Pleo, and Elty's eyes go wide.

"... Where did you learn how to do that?" Nida asked uneasily.

"I picked it up from my father," Sevan replied. "You could say it's a habit that runs in the family."

"But… are you really not Lyn?" Pleo pressed. "I mean, he did that same thingy with his sword that you just-"

"Again, it's Sevan," the Samurott tersely insisted, before giving a shake of his head. "And you needed directions, didn't you? What exactly were you looking for earlier?"

Pleo shifted his wounded wing slightly against his bandages, unsure of whether or not this 'Sevan' was safe to trust. After a little hesitation and realizing that they hadn't had much luck with prior attempts at asking, the young Protector decided to take a leap of faith.

"We were looking for the Blue Fairy," the Lugia explained. "But we've gone through every tunnel in town and she wasn't by any one of them!"

"Last I was aware, the Blue Fairy didn't make a habit of hanging around easy-to-reach places, especially for airbreathers," Sevan muttered. "And be mindful that there is more to this town for those that can swim."

"What do you mean by that?" Guardia asked.

"I'm saying that you might have a better idea of where the Blue Fairy would be if you asked someone from one of the clans that swam in recently," the mustelid answered. "The rumor mill about her has been particularly strong in the western resting grounds from what I've heard."

"Wait, wait, wait," Elty replied. "But if this place doesn't have a Subway tunnel going to it, how are we supposed to get there?"

"I'd suggest you find someone from the Khranitel Rod to take you there, they're the ones claiming it right now," the otter grunted. "You'll know as soon as you see them. They wear blue belts with a red dot on them."

Blue belts with a red dot on them? Wait a minute, that was the same pattern that Dimitri wore! So all they had to do was to find Dimitri or one of his clanmates!

"Er... thanks for the help, Sevan," Nida said. "And sorry about the misunderstanding earlier…"

"Don't worry about it," the Samurott answered, giving a dismissive wave of his paw. "I've got a job to get back to, and it sounds like you do too."

"Right!" the Poison-Type cried, turning to her companions. "Come on, let's go!"

Team Traveller quickly set off down a Subway path leading to a cluster of domed buildings in the distance, slipping off into the teeming street. As the four vanished off into crowded air tunnel, the Jellicent swam over to Sevan, giving a curious tilt of his bell to his hired help.

"Sevan, isn't 'Lyn' the name of that brother of yours you sometimes go on about?" the Ghost-Type asked.

"Yes…?"

"How come you didn't tell anything about that to those kids?" the jellyfish replied. The Samurott shifted uncomfortably and cast his gaze off into the distance, before shaking his head and turning back to the Jellicent

"Because the path my brother took in life is his, and the one I chose is my own," the otter finally answered. "I'd like to keep it that way."



A short while later, in the water high above Braveshoal, a Tentacruel and Sharpedo swam along under gentle waves with provisions packed in waterlogged crates. The two stabilized their crate-laden net, and then set off ahead for the frigate in the distance, towing their provisions towards the form of the frigate's hull and the neighboring dock pylons.

"Remind me again why we're not back at Sophie's and just having someone else carry these crates for us again?" the Sharpedo grumbled.

"Katyusha, be reasonable," Cyanea scoffed. "Just how well do you think Jun is going to take some random locals swimming up to the ship with cargo that we're supposed to be towing?"

"Hey!" the shark retorted. "It would work if they got it in when he wasn't looking!"

Cyanea shook her bell and gave a dismissive roll of her eyes. Even if she was a handy partner for whiling away some free time, the Tentacruel never had fully made her peace with Katyusha's laxness with regard to missions.

"Who knows, if we helped out those kids back at that square, we could've gotten them to help us tow these crates!" the Sharpedo said.

The Tentacruel shot Katyusha a skeptical look. She wasn't really talking about those children who were screaming over that Samurott, was she?

"Are these the land-breathers with the weird bird?" the jellyfish asked. "How are they supposed to be of any help when they can't swim?"

Katyusha drifted with a blank stare for a moment, before giving a shake of her head as she realized that it probably wouldhave been a bit much to expect a bunch of airbreather pups to swim well.

"Err… point, I guess…" the shark replied. "Though I wonder why they were going on about that 'Lyn' guy…"

"Who now?"

"You know, 'Lyn'?" Katyusha prodded. "The name they were saying to the Samurott who said they were getting him confused?"

"Hold on..." the Tentacruel mulled. "Wasn't 'Lyn' the name of that Commissioner that Captain Nugget said she was spying on back in Mengir?"

Bah, why was Katyusha of all Pokémon bringing up Nagant's mission now? Commissioner Lyn was an entire island away, and would surely be after the same sea god the captain was.

… Hey, wait a minute!

"Ack! That weird Wingull thing!" Cyanea yelped. "That was the god we've been looking for!"

Katyusha jolted back with a stupefied look on her face. After a moment to regain her bearings, the shark shook her fins and piped up with an impatient cry.

"Well then what are we waiting for?!" Katyusha exclaimed. "Let's get these provisions over and tell Jun about it!"

"Right-!"

Cyanea started to swim off for the frigate, but stopped abruptly as a sudden thought crossed her mind. Would reporting their findings to Jun really be the best way to capture that god...?

"Actually, Katyusha… are we sure we want to tell him?" the Tentacruel asked.

"What are you going on about?" the Sharpedo demanded. "Jun's the first mate and he'd be right there! Why wouldn't we want to tell him?"

"Well, what if he doesn't do anything about it?" the jellyfish countered.

"Are we talking about the same Beedrill here?" Katyusha scoffed. "Why would he pass up on finishing our mission?"

"Well, for one, Otvaga isn't in our jurisdiction," the Poison-Type retorted. "Don't you think that picking a fight here would give him a bit of pause?"

"Why would it? It's just a dinky little atoll!"

"A dinky little atoll that all the sea rodov around here stop by," the Poison-Type explained. "If they rallied together, they'd be able to move and attack every sea route the Empire uses!"

Katyusha paused as she realized her friend made a good argument. To top it off, if the rodov in town were to attack the ship, there'd be no way the crew could hope to defend it!

"Er…"

"And what if he doesn't believe us to begin with?" the jellyfish pressed.

"Well, we can't just let him get away!" the shark cried.

"Exactly," Cyanea said. "Which is why we should catch him on our own!"

The Sharpedo gave her teammate a confused look. Did Cyanea really just suggest that they should go catch a sea god without any backup?

"Come again?" Katyusha asked, giving a skeptical tilt of her head. "I mean, you're suggesting that we go up against a god..."

"If he shrank back from some Samurott, he can't be that tough. And think about it," the jellyfish replied. "If it's just the two of us chasing that god, the worst that can happen is a day or two of detention or Community Service that Jun can bail us out of…"

Katyusha mused. It was better to ask forgiveness than permission, true. And the possible reward was tantalizing.

"I'll admit, that does sound pretty solid when you put it that way…"

"Of course it does!" Cyanea exclaimed. "And besides, I've been looking for a mission to lead for a while now…"

"Oh, you mean like the last few days," the Sharpedo began, drawing a glare and an irritated huff from her companion.

"Katyusha, take this seriously!" the Tentacruel barked. "So are we doing this, or what?"

The Sharpedo stopped and listed in the water, moving a fin contemplatively towards her maw. After a noticeable pause, the shark grunted and nodded back to her partner.

"... I'm in," Katyusha answered. "But there's just two problems…"

"And what are those?" Cyanea demanded.

"First off, we have to find that god back in Braveshoal," the shark replied.

The Tentacruel paused for a second after Katyusha's comment and looked down at the large reef on the seabed below her. Even if the sea god somehow couldn't swim, there were no shortage of places connected to the network of air tunnels that needed to be checked. To top it off, they had run into the Protector more or less by accident, something that was unlikely to be repeated a second time.

On the other hand... there was at least one reason to hope that their search wouldn't be totally hopeless...

"Er… Well, I don't think it can be that hard, that bird would stand out in any crowd!" Cyanea insisted. "But what was the second?"

"We don't know how strong this god is," Katyusha answered. Much to the Sharpedo's surprise, the Tentacruel gave a dismissive wave of her tendrils at the question.

"Simple, we'll observe him before we attack to get a feel for how tough he is."

"Well, when you put it that way..." Katyusha said. "Guess we should get going, huh?"

Cyanea turned to swim back to Braveshoal, when she felt the heavy cargo tug against her tentacles… Right. It wouldn't do any good to try and chase a Protector lugging the net around, and Jun would no doubt get suspicious if they stayed away from the ship for too long.

"Let's head back to the ship and deliver the cargo first," Cyanea said. "We'll head back to Braveshoal as soon as we're finished."

After a nod of agreement from Katyusha, the two began swimming back to their ship. All the while, thoughts of their impending mission swirled in their ahed, of one fateful thrust that could change the fate of all of Anyilla.



Just offshore Mengir Island, a battered schooner with gaping holes filled with wood-ice and tattered sails limped along the last leg of its journey. The sight of the green hills and fog-shrouded stone needles provided relief to an exhausted crew, including a young Druddigon watching intently from the deck's railing.

Despite the new island ahead of him, the vigor and curiosity the little dragon had at the last two islands was completely absent. The wonder of the green-beached island and its stone spires completely drowned out by anxieties about what might have become of them.

Were they on the island right now, hiding from Lyn? Or perhaps they had moved on again...? Maybe Lyn had captured them and it was all because they were too late…

"Hey there, Crom."

Pladur and Kiran limped up to the rail, the former visibly wincing from the climb up the stairs, still bandaged and hobbled from the lingering wounds from the Iron Fleet's ambush.

"Are you sure you should be out of bed so soon, dad?" Crom murmured, concern leaking into his voice.

"It should be fine, it's not good to leave your muscles at rest too long," Kiran reassured. "Why, muscular atrophy prolongs recovery by a good 30%!"

"It'll take more than this to get your old papi down," Pladur grunted as he pawed at a bandaged flank. "I just wanted to make sure that filling in for me wasn't grinding you down too much."

"Dad, it's alright," the Druddigon insisted. "You don't need to push yourself like- Huh?"

As the Siglo Swellow neared Mengir's harbor, Crom noticed that there was a massive ship with four sails and metal cladding at a single dock neighboring a fort complex along a stream. The ship was quickly detected by the rest of the crew along with two others docked in the harbor. The sight evoked a pallor among the gathered Pokémon, their shock deepening as one of the lookouts pointed out an even bigger ship with five sails pulling into the docks ahead of them.

"Eh?! Th-Those are ironclads!" Pladur squeaked. "And there's another one pulling into port!"

A fuss swept the ship as news of the sighting spread among the crewmates and below the decks. Kiran flew over and stared apprehensively at the ships, as Beatrix flew here and there in a hurried start.

"Pull up those sails!" Beatrix barked.

The tattered sails were raised and the Illumise fluttered over to the rail, looking through the scope she was carrying. The Bug-Type peered through the tube at the ship pulling into port, which she saw had an unusually intricate design. The firefly beat her wings out in shock and looked over at the needle-peaked island. There, back in the local village's harbor, she saw Lyn's Argent Aviso along with the two ironclads with Administrator's patterns on their sails. After looking at the Administrators' ships, and back at the strange five-master, Beatrix realized that there was only one reason why five-masted ship would have more intricate patterns. Namely that it belonged to the only Pokémon in the Company who outranked its Administrators...

"That's the Director of the Company!" she exclaimed. "And Lyn's in port, along with two extra Administrators!"

The gathered crew collectively froze. It would have been expected that they'd run into Lyn's ship, but this one?!

"Th-The Director of the Company?!"

"They must've caught the Protector then!"

The atmosphere of panic aboard the ship ebbed, and began to grow replaced by a silent, crushing despondence. There in the port of that unassuming little village were the most powerful and feared Pokémon in all the Company's realms… If they really had Pleo and the children, then how could they hope to rescue them…?

"What do we do now?" Pat murmured, the Unfezant drooping his head and feather streamers.

"It might be best to retreat and regroup, Captain," a Hitmontop said, shaking his head. "I don't see any realistic way of us getting the Protector back like this."

A chorus of dejected voices agreed with the Fighting-Type, as Pokémon began wondering aloud over how to break the news back home, when a young dragon's voice broke out.

"W-Wait!"

The crew turned to look with pained expressions at the Druddigon who made the outburst. Based off the Dragon-Type's frantic concern, had he really understood the full implications of those ships in the harbor?

"What about Pleo?!" Crom cried. "What about my friends?!"

"Crom, I don't think this isn't a battle we can win…" Pladur murmured, lowering his head.

"He has a point. We'd be one crew and a barely floating ship against the entire Board," Ander added. "I'd be surprised if we could get unmoored before getting sunk!"

"That doesn't mean that we should just give up!" a squawking voice protested. The audience looked for the new voice for a moment, before finding it had come from Kiran, who was perched on the rear mast.

"H-Huh?!"

"Kiran, what are you going on about?!"

"Look, I realize that things look bad here," the Swellow exclaimed. "But if we turn back the odds will only get 100% more impossible for us!"

"We have those bounties that Hatteras gave us, though," Pladur said. "Couldn't we use that to lie low and shake down the Company to give the Protector back?"

"We know where Pleo is right now, though!" the Flying-Type protested. "If we let the Company sail away with him, who knows where he might end up or what they might do to him!"

"Kiran, be reasonable! We're just a small crew!" Ander buzzed. "If the Company has Pleo right now, what hope do we have of getting him back? That's as sure a sign to retreat as any!"

"But what about everyone back home...?" Crom murmured. "Aren't they counting on us to bring everyone back?"

The Dragon-Type's point drew a long pause from Beatrix. After all, Pleo was important to everyone back home, and none of the Trombans wanted to be the ones to break the news of failure to their friends and families.

"... Lower the sails, we're going in," the Illumise said.

"Eh?! We are?!" Philips cried.

"Captain Beatrix," Natrix began, "you can't seriously be-"

"Oh, but I am," the Bug-Type insisted. "This ship isn't exactly the epitome of seaworthiness right now and it needs repairs anyways."

"But Captain, if the Company has the Protector, we'd need to smuggle him out from under the noses of their entire leadership!" the Hitmontop exclaimed. "Just how can you be confident enough to sail in like this?!"

"Because hope can sometimes work miracles," the Illumise explained, prompting a contemplative silence to fall over the crew.

"We've come this far thanks to the hope that we'd get our Protector back," Beatrix said. "If we're going to have to take a bit of a risk to bring our Protector home, now's as good an opportunity for that miracle to come as we'll ever get."

The initial silent was broken by a few scattered hollers, then a crescendo of cheers. Fortune favored the bold after all, and with a little boldness, and a lot of luck, perhaps they'd finally be able to bring their Protector home.

"Good, then let's sail on."

As the ship started to set sail towards Mengir's harbor, Crom leaned over the railing, looking at the island ahead. Things genuinely didn't look good right now, but in spite of it... perhaps the best that could be done was to force a smile and keep up hope.



After heeding Sevan's advice, Nida, Pleo, Elty, and Guardia made their way into a warren of stony monoliths. Some of the monoliths had been carved in the shape of Pokémon heads, standing side-by-side with coral-fashioned buildings interleaved with a maze of air tunnels. The four looked above at a Seaking carrying a slumped-over Mienfoo in a bubble along her back. A little further off, a trio consisting of a Luvdisc, a Tirtouga, and a Feebas spun a rotating board on a wall to read a collection of knot-messages, glinting badges attached to their belts... this was a Rescue Team?

As Team Traveller made their way deeper into the center, a closer look around their surroundings revealed that most Pokémon were wearing similar badges. Their earlier wonderings were resolved after chancing to pass by a Buneary, a Meditite, and a Ralts gathered around a map, the quartet overheard them mulling aloud over how different their last mission was compared to other islands. As Team Traveller moved along and the trio's conversation faded into the background, one question continued to linger in the team's minds...

"How come we didn't figure out this funny place was a guild the first time?" Pleo asked.

"Well, it certainly looks a bit different from the guilds we've seen so far," Nida murmured. "I mean, at first I thought this place was a market."

"Dosyć," Elty grunted, scanning the passing Pokémon. "Are any of you having any luck seeing Pokémon wearing blue belts with a red dot on them? I haven't seen a single one of those since we came in."

"Maybe we're looking in the wrong place?" Guardia wondered. "I mean, there's still plenty of places in this guild we didn't go to… like that hostel with all the red-belted Pokémon over there."

"Since when do guild complexes have hostels?" Elty snorted.

"Well, what do you call that up there, then?"

The Cubone pointed off ahead towards a stony dome-shaped structure with her club, where sure enough, Pokémon wearing red belts with bisected circular designs could be seen. The four set off down an air tunnel for the 'hostel,' popping into it where they saw a motley group of Pokémon reclining on beds of straw and of kelp under the surface of moon pools, a few being tended to with patches and bandages by other red-belted Pokémon…

"Wait a minute," Nida cried. "This is a medic's hut!"

"Eh? But what's it doing right in the middle of a guild?" Pleo asked.

"That's because of the needs of our guild, silly!" a bubbling voice called. The group turned around and saw an Alomomola floating in a nearby moon pool, shifting her head-body in order to get a better view of the four strangers.

"Huh?" Guardia pressed. "What do you mean by that?"

"Our rescue teams don't just deal with Mystery Dungeons," the Alomomola explained. "Plain old shipwrecks need attention too! After all, a lot of Pokémon can't swim..."

"Though a lot more would learn if they knew the alternative was getting mouth-to-mouth from a fish!" a familiar, squirrelly voice called out. Nida and her companions turned and looked behind a pillar, where there on a bed of dried matting was none other than...

"Scout?!"

"Eh?! What are you four doing here?!" the Sentret exclaimed. "And what was the big idea standing me up at the docks back at Mengir, huh?"

"Salvini tricked us and led us into a trap!" Pleo cried. "And then the Company caught us and locked us up in the medics' hut, but Salvini changed her mind and came back to help us with an Immortal named Trizano-!"

"Urgh… you know what, save it for later," the Sentret groaned, giving a wave of his paw. "That mouth to mouth is still getting to me and I don't need another headache right now."

"It probably would be best if you gave the patient some space," the pink sunfish instructed. "Near-drownings do take quite a bit out of airbreathers like you."

"Er… right," Pleo replied.

The team turned back, deciding to exit the medics' hut and leave Scout to recuperate amongst his fishy caretakers. As the quartet exited, they looked up and down the path leading out from the central hub, looking for another lead to follow. By chance, the four saw the form of a Lumineon swimming by just outside of the bubble wall of the air tunnel leading to the central area, catching a glimpse of a familiar blue belt with a red dot design slung around her head.

"Wait a minute!" Elty barked. "That Lumineon was there with Dimitri at Seaspear Station last night!"

"Hey! Over here!" Nida cried. "It's us, Team-"

"You again!"

Team Traveller whirled and watched a small school of sea Pokémon in blue and red belts swam up against the wall of the bubble tunnel. There, at the head of the group, was none other than the form of a familiar scowling Kingdra.

"What do you want?" Kuda snarled.

"Er… we were looking for the Blue Fairy," Nida explained. "A Pokémon in town told us that we might have more luck finding out where she was if we went to your resting grounds."

"You can take us there... right?" Pleo asked.

"Keep dreaming," the Kingdra scoffed. "Good luck swimming out there."

The Dragon-Type turned to leave, his companions likewise motioning to depart, prompting a swift outburst from Guardia as she waved after the sea creatures.

"Wait! Where are you going?!" the Cubone cried. "We need your help!"

"Yeah, and we're not biting," Kuda answered. "That's our place, and none of us here would take a bunch of airbreathers like you there! Isn't that right?"

The seahorse's question was met by scoffs and harrumphing agreements; clearly the Pokémon with him weren't too interested in taking them to the resting grounds either.

"You heard 'em," the Kingdra grunted. "So go and figure out your own way there because we're not-"

"Hey!"

The tense atmosphere lifted as everyone turned and saw Dimitri swim down from above. The Kabutops gave a cheery wave at Nina and her companions, blissfully unaware of Kuda and the others' hostility.

"What are you guys doing here?"

"Oh! Dimitri! Dimitri!" Pleo exclaimed. "Would you be able to take us to your resting grounds? We've been looking for the Blue Fairy!"

"Oh? The Blue Fairy, huh?" Dimitri murmured. "I don't know if I should take you to her, but the Ataman could. Come on, I'll swim you to him at the grounds!"

"That's-! Dimitri!" Kuda spluttered. "You can't just bring them along like that!"

"Why not?" the crab asked. "They don't mean any harm, right? And what's the worst that could happen?"

Kuda and the gathered seamons traded skeptical looks and murmured among one another. Even if the request seemed foolhardy and like a waste of time, a group of four surface children wasn't anything that the Khranitel Rod couldn't handle. Nida, picking up on the audience's reception to the team, shot a wary glance over to the Kabutops.

"Dimitri, is this really going to work?" the Nidoran whispered.

"Ataman Viktor may seem rough on the outside, but he's alright once you get to know him," Dimitri replied. "If you've got a good reason, I'm sure he'll tell you more about the Blue Fairy!"



"No! Absolutely not!"

A few minutes later, Dimitri had ferried the team out of the Otvaga Guild and over to to his clan's chosen resting grounds. From their perch on the Kabutops' back, Team Traveller could see that the resting grounds consisted of a chunk of reef intermingled with beds of sea grasses, with clefts cut into the corals for the clan's members to rest in. Much to Pleo and his teammates' surprise, the meeting with the Khranitel Rod's Dragalge leader hadn't gone nearly as auspiciously as their guide hoped.

"Eh?! But why not?" Pleo cried.

"Because the Blue Fairy only meets with Pokémon she knows she can trust," Kuda huffed from the sidelines. "Not a bunch of random airbreathers up to gods-knows-what!"

"We're just a bunch of kids, though!" Nida exclaimed. "Surely this Blue Fairy can trust us, right?"

"No."

"But we need her to help us!" Pleo exclaimed. "Alexandria said she would! And you know where she is!"

"That's not my problem," Viktor growled. "And there's nothing you can say to change my mind about this."

The Dragalge gave a disgusted shake of his head, and shot a glare at the Kabutops and his passengers.

"Dimitri, get these deti back to the air tunnel where they came from," Viktor snapped. "I don't want to deal with this right now."

"But, Ataman-"

"Now, Dimitri!" the Dragalge snapped.

"Yeah!" Kuda chided. "Stop dragging your fins!"

Reluctantly, Dimitri began to swim away with his bubbled charges, only for a sudden squawking cry to interrupt.

"Wait!"

Viktor turned and saw Pleo desperately waving his uninjured wing for attention, leaving the Dragalge to scowl and glare at the strange bird obviously stalling for time.

"Are you sure there's nothing that would change your mind?" Pleo insisted.

"Yes," the Poison-Type spat. "But since you're so confident, go ahead and hit me with your best shot, chayka."

"Er… well..." Pleo began. "The reason why we wanted to see the Blue Fairy was because… because..."

The little Lugia fumbled with his words, before taking a deep breath to compose himself, hoping that his next words would somehow sway the cranky fish.

"It's because I'm a Protector, and she's supposed to know about Pokémon like me."

The young Lugia's words drew a chorus of groans and derisive scoffs from the clan Pokémon around them. Viktor for his part didn't seem to find the explanation any more convincing, as the Poison-Type's eyes hardened into a glowering scowl.

"Yeah, right," the Dragalge snorted. "Dimitri, hurry up and get these idiots out-"

"Actually, Ataman …" Dimitri suddenly interjected. The Kabutops stared wide-eyed at the white bird, carefully going over his appearance as memories of their travels swirled in his head. Memories that all seemed to point to one conclusion...

"I… I think he actually might be a god."

Kuda and the others stared at Dimitri. The Kabutops had always had a tendency to be off in his own world, but surely he didn't believe this nonsense! Why, even the four children seemed to be surprised at how readily the crab had vouched for them!

"Wow, this is a new low even for you, Dimitri," Kuda scoffed.

"Dimitri," Viktor growled. "I don't need your games right now-!"

"It's not a game!" Dimitri exclaimed. "Think about it, why would the Company want four kids so badly unless there was something special about them? And when was the last time any of us saw a Pokémon like Pleo?"

The Dragalge bobbed in place, scowling at the Kabutops. Still, something seemed to give the sea dragon pause, as a long silence filled the water, only to be broken with a begrudging huff.

"Alright, fine. I'll arrange a meeting," Viktor said, shaking his head. "But if the Blue Fairy tells me that you're lying, I'll keep you down here with a ransom high enough that you'll be too old to chew your own food by the time you work it off!"

The team blanched and gulped at the mention of a 'ransom', hopefully this Blue Fairy would be a bit less skeptical and able to vouch for Pleo's identity. After the initial shock wore off, Elty blinked out of realization that something seemed amiss about the Dragalge's initial words…

"Wait, 'arrange a meeting'?" he asked. "Aren't you just bringing us to her?"

"Too risky," Viktor answered. "The Blue Fairy doesn't bring Pokémon to her, but comes to them so that the places she rests remains a secret to her foes."

"… I guess that makes sense," Nida murmured. "But where exactly are we meeting her?"

"You'll see soon enough."



The docks at Fensedge Village were busier that day, the wharves humming with activity of Pokémon going to and fro, with a suspicious absence of creatures without Company scarves on. A glance at the ships in port would quickly reveal the reason to any observers, with two hulking four-masted vessels with metal hull cladding at the docks, and an even larger five-masted ironclad starting to sail in.

The members of the Company's Board were afoot, all the more reason for common denizens of Fensedge to find other places to be that day. Even so, the most avoided section of the docks was not in front of any of the metal cladded-ships...

"I don't believe this!"

But on a dock next to a three-masted galleon, with a Samurott with a Third-Rank scarf pacing back and forth fuming. Whether on the ship, on the docks, in the air, or in the water, Pokémon around made a keen effort to give the creature a berth, casting nervous glances every now and then. The sole exceptions were a disinterested-looking Weavile jotting some notes down on a slip of paper, and a pallid-looking Mothim that waited beside the ship.

"I leave for Mengir on a night's notice, only for my most likely reward to be more accusations of failure?!" Lyn fumed. "And all because some fat lizard couldn't keep his grubby claws off of my target!"

Ellsberg gave the Samurott a nervous look, and couldn't help but worry how his superiors would perceive the fuming Samurott.

"Eh… Lyn?" the Mothim asked. "Maybe you should try to calm down a little…? I don't think Director Inler and Admin-"

"Quiet, Ellsberg!" Lyn bellowed.

"He does have a point, Captain," Ketu nonchalantly added while continuing to doodle on his note. "Things could be worse..."

Thunk!

Ellsberg and Ketu turned to see one of Lyn's seamitars embedded in the wooden timbers underfoot, its owner seething and giving a fierce glare at the Weavile. The Dark-Type folded up his paper and looked up at his superior, his expression having grown a bit more serious.

"Easy, Captain. I wasn't finished explaining," he insisted. "That bird may have gotten away, but it was because of Darzin, someone everyone on the Board already hates. If you stay calm and make a good impression you can easily get away with this without it being seen as another failure."

Ketu shook his head as a small smirk crept over the Weavile's face. The Dark-Type folded his arms, before giving a dismissive shrug at the lingering tension in the air.

"Who knows? Maybe if you keep the conversation focused on that lizard, Director Inler won't spend too much time asking you how we lost that bird the first two times."

The Samurott paused at his first mate's words, continuing to glare. After a little mulling, the creature shook his head and pulled his embedded blade out of the wooden timbers with a sigh.

"I suppose that having a hope of damage control is better than nothing," he murmured, shaking his head. The mustelid chanced to look off at the harbor in the distance, where he noticed that the largest ironclad in the harbor had still not found a place at the docks.

"That's strange," Lyn muttered. "I wonder what's taking Director Inler so long to dock-?"

SPLASH!

"A-Ack! What is-?!"

Ellsberg buzzed out of startled shock as a cresting wave crashed down onto the dock. Ketu hastily leapt up and latched onto the side of the hull as Lyn grabbed for his blades only to be forced back by the sudden deluge. Ellsberg fared worse, the surprise wave knocking out of the sky with a coughing splutter, his wings too damp to hold him aloft. The three Pokémon looked around for a culprit of the sudden Surf, only to see a visibly battle-worn Nidoking thumped a foot impatiently at the end of the docks.

"You should be more attentive to your surroundings, Commissioner Lyn," the Poison-Type chided. "I certainly wasn't expecting to run into you here loafing at the docks."

"G-Greetings Director Inler…" Ellsberg stammered. Lyn and Ellsberg hastily gave deferential bows to the Poison-Type, Ketu joining in by digging his claws out of the hull and dropping down to give a small nod of his head, only for the gestures to do nothing to budge the scowl on the Nidoking's face.

"Hrmph. Spare me your sycophancy and let's cut to the chase," the Director growled, before giving his pelt a good shake to dry off.

"What are you doing here day-tripping in my hometown anyways, Commissioner?" Inler demanded. "I thought you had more urgent matters to tend to!"

Lyn froze under the Nidoking's piercing glare. The Samurott gulped, and after a quick shake of his head, hastily attempted to explain himself.

"Sir! I was summoned here because Administrator Zorn informed me my target was here on this island," he hastily began. "But, you see-"

"Your target escaped before you could close in on it, again."

The gathered Pokémon turned back to the other end of the docks, where a smirking Zoroark and a glowering Luxray in Administrators' scarves were making their way over to the soggy gathering.

"It seems to be a recurring pattern, doesn't it?" Elilan chided, as he came to a stop beside Ketu.

"Ugh… what went wrong this time, Lyn?" Farn demanded.

Lyn shot a glare at the Zoroark and growled under his breath before inhaling and attempting to start his explanation anew, this time accounting for his larger audience.

"As I was saying... Administrators..." the Samurott continued. "Administrator Zorn told me the target was here, but once I arrived he had already disappeared because of the interference of Administrator Dar-"

"Save it for when we're behind closed doors, Commissioner," Inler barked. "There's clearly been a lot going on lately..."

The Nidoking flicked his ears and paced down the dock's timbers. As the Poison-Type passed Lyn and his cohorts, he turned back, a stern scowl filling the creature's face.

"And there'd better be a good explanation for it."



Author's Notes:

- Jishin ( じしん ) - Japanese: "Earthquake", both literal and as name of move. (Official Romanization, more commonly rendered as "地震" outside of game context)
- rodov (родов) - Russian: "clans", plural of "rod". (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- deti (дeти) - Russian: "children". (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
- chayka (чайка) - Russian: "seagull". (BGN/PCGN Romanization)
 

Navar

Professional Mudkip Lover
Location
Brazil
Pronouns
He/Him
Partners
  1. swampert
  2. custom/chesnaught-apron
Here for the V-Wheel! Gonna give my thoughts on chapter 22 and hopefully you'll enjoy this review!


Hm. Liked the chapter, I still think your prose is very strong and this just proves it, always describing things and emotions in a fleshed out way. As for the characters, I like to see how they're (slowly) developing. Pleo, for starters, is still a curious bird, but I like that he's thinking for himself more here, mostly during the start of the chapter, with the trap, and in not revealing his identity as the protector so carelessly. Nida is... well, she's there, and she's the "mom" of the group for me, always looking after everyone. Kinda makes me wonder if she'll snap sometime from the pressure of keeping the team together. As for Elty... I still wish to pet him, and I like how he's softening due to the exposure the others have on him. In terms of worldbuilding, I believe you added more interesting stuff, like the gummi factories(of course Pleo would nibble one, poor bird), as well as the whole town.

If I were to be honest, the scene with Pleo's scarf intrigued me, mostly because I don't remember if or when they put the scarf on him. I might have missed a chapter if that happened already. Regardless, I'm very interested in knowing how Pleo will try to defend himself from others trying to abuse his power(which I believe is gonna be a thing). Good chapter like always.
 
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