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Pokémon Fledglings

  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    A young Nidoran unearths the ancient guardian of her home, one of a kind lost to the world. Will her home, and the world at large, cope with his return?

    Hello everyone, if you remembered Virgil134’s Casting Off from last year, this is the main story that shares the setting that we work on together, minus about five years of time since it started. Fortunately for you all, there’s a sizable back catalog of chapters, so if you haven’t already been following Fledglings elsewhere on the net, you’ll be able to enjoy here. The first arc’s worth of chapters will be uploaded on a weekly basis after this opening prologue, with subsequent updates moving to a biweekly posting schedule.

    Thanks to Fledglings being a fairly large beast, I will be reserving this first post to serve as the site of a glossary of foreign-language terms that pop up during the course of the story. Since Fledglings has evolved along with my and Virgil134’s own writing prowess, you may notice some flaws in various chapters. I will be happy to hear out any feedback regarding them, though admittedly some mistakes are best learned from in the future for the sake of maintaining momentum in a story.

    Introduced in Prologue:

    - Mami - Spanish: "mother", "mommy"
    - mija - Spanish: "my daughter", used in a sense akin to "dearie" or "sweetie"

    Introduced in Chapter 1:

    - Cazadragones - Spanish: "dragon hunter", lit. "hunter of dragons"
    - Manternal - French: "Leavanny"
    - Papi - Spanish: "father", "daddy"

    Introduced in Chapter 2:

    - ánima - Spanish (Southern Cone): "shrine", specifically of the small, roadside sort
    - cuidadoso - Spanish: "careful"
    - (¡)Agarra! - Spanish: "Take it!", specific verb carries more urgency than the otherwise identical ¡Toma!

    Introduced in Chapter 3:

    - pollito - Spanish: "chick"
    - huevo - Spanish: "egg"
    - la mar - Spanish: "the sea", identical to el mar if with more romantic/literary overtones.

    Introduced in Chapter 4:

    - (¿)en serio? - Spanish: "seriously?"
    - Cálmate - Spanish: "Relax"
    - Mi casa es tu casa. - Spanish: "My house is your house."

    Introduced in Chapter 5:

    - Maestra - Spanish: "Teacher", "Master". Maestro for male counterparts.
    - Para ser fuerte - Spanish: "To be strong"
    - Otro día - Spanish: "Another day"
    - Plancha Voladora - Spanish: lit. "Iron Flying", referring to the move we would better know as "Flying Press"

    Introduced in Chapter 6:

    - (¡)No se corre en mis pasillos! - Spanish: "Don't run in my hallways!"
    - críos - Spanish: lit. "babies", used in this sense to tersely refer to someone who is acting infantile or immature.
    - Hola a todos - Spanish: "Hello, everyone"

    Introduced in Chapter 7:

    - veikka - Finnish (colloquial, disused): "brother"
    - mewa - Polish: "gull"
    - bachory - Polish: "brats"
    - aika häipyä - Finnish: "time to buzz off", lit. "time to disappear"

    Introduced in Chapter 8:

    - Ei niin kovaa! - Finnish: "Not so hard!"
    - Erinomaista - Finnish: "Excellent". Used here as a sarcastic interjection.
    - patéticos parásitos - Spanish: "awful parasites"
    - Daj spokój! - Polish: "Come on!"

    Introduced in Chapter 9:

    - en recreo - Spanish: "on break"
    - Chodź i weź to! - Polish: "Come and take it!"
    - kurczę - Polish: lit. "chicken", general use euphemistic interjection. Analogous to saying "darn" or "crud".

    Introduced in Chapter 10:

    - amatorzy - Polish: "amateurs"
    - ipana - Finnish: "brat"
    - sea una posiblidad real - Spanish: "is a real possibility"

    Introduced in Chapter 11:

    - rudera - Polish: "hovel"
    - espesa - Spanish: "thick, dense"
    - (¡)No te preocupes! - Spanish: "Don't worry!"
    - asquerosa - Spanish: "disgusting"
    - Daj mi spokój! - Polish: Interjection, roughly "Give me a break!"
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  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    The soft plodding of footprints in the earth below... whiskers prodding into earthen walls... the scent of grass wafting in from the passage to the left. These things that guided the little blue lump of spikes attempting to press forward from the depths of the burrow.


    She stumbled and fell forward, stunned for a moment, but soon regained her bearings and got up. Flattening out her ears and shaking a few small spines loose, she continued on, grumbling softly about the dumb ledge that tripped her up.

    Her annoyance was quickly pushed out of her mind after she caught a whiff of dew from the end of the tunnel, and more importantly, spotted a faint light marking the moon outside.

    The little creature silently crept up the snug tunnel little-by-little and reached a reed-woven mat just beyond its opening dimly lit up by the moonlight.

    Four legs, two ears, two protruding teeth at the end of her muzzle… No scratches or loose barbs from her clumsy trek up the tunnel that would give away her sneaking out of bed... From the light of the night sky above, she could verify that her fur was still a light blue. Yep, she had all the markings of a healthy, if still rather young Nidoran.

    Around her... there was the mailbox on a wooden post next to the burrow. Throughout the sparsely wooded hillside were a few mats with accompanying posts spread before trees and other holes, or sometimes laid out as places of rest for the various Pokémon who currently slept on them. The distant crashing of waves could be heard, intertwined with faint hooting and the gentle rustling of tree branches swaying in the wind. Down the hill, nearer to the coast, a small town of shacks, tents and the like had been erected.

    But the attention of the little Nidoran was trained elsewhere that night.

    She reared up on her hind legs and turned her gaze skyward. Somewhere in that beautiful, glittering mess- around the moon, between the stars, and the twists and bends of the Rainbow Road- were the drifting ones- little stars that moved slowly and without tails. Her mother told her that some of the Pokémon in town called them the "Travelers" and that, through some contrivance, you could tell what time of the night it was based off of where they were.

    But most importantly, she said, if you were up at just the right moment, you could see one, perhaps peeking out from behind the moon.

    "Come on, where is it?"

    She looked up at the moon... and then above it. Then below it. Then, to its left. To its right. Back at the Nidoran in the moon staring down at the world again. But still, she couldn’t find her star.

    "...Maybe I heard the story wrong?"

    The Nidoran pouted a bit and punted a pebble that had found its way onto the mat. She was about to return to the burrow when the thought crossed her to check the shape of the moon. Perhaps her "Traveler" was still peeking from behind it.

    She started from the top, and slowly followed its contour around from the left. It was the same old moon, giving off its same old white glow. The same old Nidoran on its face was still staring down quietly on the world below. Yep, it was the same moon she had seen many a night before.

    Except for the ever-so-small bump on the right of it.


    The Nidoran tilted her ears and focused on the bump. It seemed like a rather insignificant speck, except slightly growing, stretching a bit from the moon's face. And suddenly, the speck broke free from the moon, and it all became clear to the little creature.

    "Wow! They really do come-"

    "Going somewhere?!" a deeper voice barked.


    Before the Nidoran could turn around, she found herself lifted from the ground by the scruff of her neck. As she flailed in protest, she was brought away from the night sky and back into the inky depths of the burrow. Her captor took her effortlessly back along the route she had so carefully traced out to the surface, and unceremoniously dumped her into a straw nest shared by a handful of her fellow blue and purple spike balls.

    After the Nidoran’s captor released their grip on the back of her neck, she shook off some saliva and finally whirled around to come face to face with a rather unimpressed-looking Nidorina staring down at her, wearing a white scarf with a blue whirlpool design.

    "Really, Nida, just how deaf do you think I am?" the Nidorina whispered sternly.

    "But, Mami-"


    The Nidorina gestured to the Nidoran's siblings, all of them in the embrace of sleep, if somewhat loosely. She flicked her ears, and narrowed her eyes to continue her quiet admonishment.

    "It's not healthy for a young kit like you to be up into the early morning! Rest will let you grow healthy and strong."

    "But I was just headed out to see the Travelers-!", Nida protested.

    "Is that why you forgot this on your way out?"

    Her mother held up a small scarf bearing the same design as her own. Nida shrank a bit in embarrassment. After all, the importance of wearing her scarf was constantly lectured about. It was the thing that allowed any Pokémon to identify who you were and where you belonged… and she had forgotten it on her way out the burrow.

    "Er… oops?"

    Her mother sighed, and placed the scarf back at the base of the nest alongside a small number of others before turning back to her child.

    "Sleep is a blessing, mija. Having enough of it keeps you from making foolish missteps like that."

    "But how am I supposed to sleep if you don't tell me a story?" the Nidoran demanded.

    "Nida," said the Nidorina, her ears and countenance not-so-subtly hinting at a desire to return to her own nest.

    "Well?" Nida persisted.

    The Nidorina sized up her daughter, and the other siblings dozing around her, and after giving an irked sigh, decided that dealing with one small and rambunctious spike ball was enough at this hour.

    "Fine. Which one do you want this time? The Nidoran in the Moon? The time I fought and beat the cheating Dragonite? Another Warriors of Light tale?"

    Nida perked up, buoyed by her small victory in staving off bedtime, and thought about just what she wanted to hear.

    "I wanna hear the story about the humans, and why they don't live with Pokémon like us anymore," she replied.

    "Nida, haven't you heard that story from the Day Care enough times by now?" the Nidorina asked exasperatedly.

    "It's different when you tell it."

    "I suppose I'll need to start from the beginning, then," the Nidorina sighed, as she drew her daughter's attention to a patch of dirt that she began to move a foreclaw over.

    "A long, long time ago, longer than any Pokémon can remember, there lived a peculiar type of creature. One that had not been given strength in their bodies by the gods as we Pokémon have," the Nidorina said as she began to sketch some tall pylons in the dirt.

    "In its place, the gods gave them the power to see and understand mysteries, questions, and enigmas... to think in ways completely different to the way you or I would. To bring dreams to life, and to work wonders and impossibilities from the world around them, including from its Pokémon."

    The pylons were then crossed, forming a scene of boxlike towers, each piling up against the other.

    "The gods saw it fit to make them mediators of Pokémon. Their lack of strength was compensated for by Pokémon that joined them. In return, they provided food, shelter, and companionship. Just as the gods tended to the world, so too did humans tend to the Pokémon among their midst."

    "And they built cities of glass and metal, and rolling boxes that could cross islands in minutes, and planted fields that stretched across the horizon, and-" Nida began to recount.

    "Hey now, who's telling the story here? You or me?" the Nidorina interjected while sketching a star in the corner of her picture.

    "It was an order that brought out the best of both Pokémon and humans," she continued, "But for some, it simply wasn't enough."

    The Nidorina moved on to crudely sketch some figures in the dirt. A few birds, others that looked vaguely like horses, and a few squiggly serpents.

    "In their arrogance, some of the Pokémon that dwelt among the humans decided that the gods were superfluous, that they would know better how to manage our world. Thus they declared war on the gods to take their place. It was a pitiful chapter that would have surely been thwarted and forgotten… But everything changed when the Star of Destruction shone from above."

    Nida watched as her mother raked her claws over the scene, their impressions coming from the star in the corner and piercing through the towers and crude figures.

    "The fiends had made a wicked construct, which upon shining its light, pierced the gods and slew them. Thunder, wind, rain, land, sea, earth… all gone. So the slaughter went up to the three attendants of Arceus."

    "And then that's when everything went wrong?"

    It was then that the Nidorina obliterated her painstakingly drawn scene with a barrage of poisonous spikes from her ruff, causing Nida to flinch for a moment.

    "Well, what do you know of what happened, mija?"

    "The seas rotted, destruction rained from the heavens, the land became dead and filled with ash and distortions hidden in fog... Like the Mystery Dungeon on the other side of the island. That's how the Wastes were formed," Nida dutifully recited.

    "Well, is that the end of it?"

    "It isn't?" Nida asked, as she gave a puzzled head tilt as to what her mother could be implying.

    "Silly kit, I would hope that our home isn't in such a sad state!"

    "Oh! Ahehe, right," Nida replied as she turned her attention to a new patch of dirt where her mother began to draw a triangle, and then circle that surrounded it.

    "From there, Arceus saw that there were still points of light in the darkness. Places where the blight the Star of Destruction had caused had not yet touched. But in order for life to remain at all in this world, these places would need to be kept separate and protected."

    "And that's how our island was made?" Nida asked, as the Nidorina began to draw three circles around the points of the triangle.

    "That's how all of the islands were made, mija. Bits and pieces of the old world that Arceus pried from its dying husk with his thousand arms and placed into this sea, the sea that we call the Cradle."

    Nida continued to watch her mother add more and more circles onto the design in the dirt. It was apparently some manner of important symbol, but that was surely a story for another time. Even so… There was something that the little Nidoran couldn't help but wonder after hearing her mother's words that she hadn't thought about the times when her ears heard this tale before.

    "But wait, if humans acted as mediators for Pokémon… Who mediates for the Pokémon that came here?"

    "At first, there was no one," the Nidorina replied, "And the Cradle was but a mass of feuding creatures of different kinds and different minds… Until our world's creator set down the Compact that governs our world to this day."

    "A… Compact?" Nida yawned.

    "The Pokémon that lived without humans, the 'ferals' as you've probably heard them called, were free to continue to live on as they did in the past. Growing, breeding, and dying with the course of nature. They were to be left to live without interference from outsiders, but at the expense of giving up the right to interfere in the lives of those outsiders. It is why the predators among the ferals do not dare to consider you or your brothers and sisters as meals…

    Or at least not ones that don't have a death wish."

    Nida yawned again more audibly, which caused the Nidorina to shift and lick a paw before continuing on, keenly noticing that her child was at last beginning to grow drowsy.

    "As for the humans that remained, the world that remained was too fragile for them, and their role as mediators was given to others to carry out until the world was restored to the way it once was," the Nidorina continued as she watched Nida begin to progressively fidget less and less as sleep neared the Nidoran.

    "Others? What are you talking about?"

    "Silly, it fell upon the Pokémon that lived among humans to take up their mantle. To become mediators among our different kinds. To aid them, they were given four gifts…

    "The gift of writing, to allow them to preserve what knowledge of the humans had not been lost.

    "The gift of gummis, to free them from the hunger forcing their ranks against each other.

    "The gift of timekeeping through the spirits of the departed gods, who remained in the night skies as the Travelers who you and I can see today.

    "And lastly, the gift of pacting, through which a Pokémon could make cause with another and join their ranks. To bury past fears and resentments together and live the same life. Friend, foe, feral, it matters not. As long as there is one to ask and there is one to respond."

    The Nidorina couldn't help but sigh contently as she watched her daughter start to settle into the straw of the nest along with her siblings. It had been a long tale, but her goal of putting the little scamp to sleep was almost realized.

    "What about the Pokémon that went to war with the gods? What happened to them?" Nida asked, which elicited a pause from her mother before she responded to her daughter's question.

    "The ones that did not die in the chaos they caused were allowed to come in by Arceus and our ancestors as a mercy. In return, they, and their children, would forever bear the mark of the star they created, so that no one would ever forget. They became the Pokémon that the others call the 'Marked'."


    Almost immediately, the Nidorina regretted bringing the topic up as Nida immediately perked up at attention, on guard from her mother's words of these surely ill-meaning Pokémon still being around.

    "Shh… Shh... Don't dwell upon it too much, they're far from capable of mounting a war against much of anything these days. And even if they somehow did, they would be hard pressed against the last thing that Arceus left."

    "What's that?" the Nidoran asked, starting to settle down again.

    "A hope. When the Cradle was made, new gods were created and left to sleep until they were needed. Why, even here, on tiny little Tromba Island, we have a protector sleeping somewhere hidden away.

    And as they all wake up, the world we live in will start to be restored to the way it used to be. And eventually, the humans too will come back."

    "Is that why those Pokémon… the Rescue Teams. Is that why they work so hard in that Mystery Dungeon?" Nida yawned.

    "Well… It's a bit more mundane than that. Our island's protector is somewhere in there, but so are a lot of the things that our town uses to get by. And it's not a safe place, so there need to be Pokémon to help protect those that go in doing imprudent things… Like little kits going out without their scarves."

    "Mami, I get it," Nida groaned in annoyance, as her eyelids began to fall.

    "But all in all, they're there to give help to Pokémon when they need it most."

    "I wish that I could be a Pokémon like that…" said Nida, as her red eyes finally drooped shut and she drifted off to sleep.


    Author's Notes:

    - Mami - Spanish: "mother", "mommy"
    - mija - Spanish: "my daughter", used in a sense akin to "dearie" or "sweetie"
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    Chapter 1
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    A few years later, Nida's dream of becoming a member of Rescue Team had begun to be realized… Sort of. She was still a Nidoran, still in training, but no longer quite as small or young.

    "Hey rookie, watch it!"

    While she had largely moved on from watching the stars by night, Nida had yet to move on from these hectic darts through crowds of Pokémon by day. Today was no exception, as she had just narrowly avoided being stepped on by the passing Rhyhorn that was shooting a frustrated glare at her.

    She darted off to the wall of a shack to rest a moment and catch her breath. With a navy blue scarf adorned with a solitary white star around her neck, a small glinting badge affixed to it along her throat, and a satchel on her back, the Nidoran was not quite the same kit she had been so many nights ago.

    "Alright! Alright! Sorry!"

    The square that Nida was making her way into was ringed with simple wooden huts and garish tents styled after Pokémon. There were item shops, eateries, raucous juice bars, even the odd tailor or two- the latter eagerly claiming that their wares would outlast the toughest rigors thrown at them thanks to silk they spun themselves.

    The sky turned a vibrant shade of orange under the setting sun, the air crisp from the sea. The mountain that anchored the island loomed in the background, its far face graced by the fog around its Mystery Dungeon.

    Along the sea, rickety wooden ships moored alongside similarly rickety wooden docks, with Pokémon clambering on and off helping to load and unload small parcels. Other Pokémon, bobbing in the waves, chattered with their land-bound counterparts, trading gossip that had surely travelled great distances with the waves.

    It was a scene that might have filled Nida with wonder… if she had not already lived through it hundreds of times before- though only rarely getting stepped on as she almost had tonight. Nida hopped up onto a crate and then, after a brief bit of scanning, bounded up to a small shack with a low counter. She rested a short moment and then called out into the shack's interior.

    "Calino? Are you still there?"

    Much to the Nidoran's relief, she was answered by a green and yellow lizard with a long tongue popping up from behind some crates, who gingerly sauntered over to the counter.

    "Speaking, missy. What can I do you for?"

    "...You still haven't replaced your old tent?" Nida said, sizing up the Kecleon's somewhat rough pavilion.

    "Ahehe… See, the thing about those custom buildings and all… They kinda are a little hard on the coin purse. Especially when you're looking to get them fireproofed so that the next one won't get burned down by a wet Combusken," the Kecleon chuckled awkwardly.

    Nida couldn't help but wonder how Calino managed to get himself into such situations. He was a Pokémon from outside Tromba who had a shrewd sense for business and seemed good-natured… mostly, somewhat, maybe. But he had a knack for having a bit of a grating sense of humor, one which maybe wasn't so unrelated to why Calino was here selling wares out of a wooden shack in tiny Bluewhorl Town and not on some other island.

    "Of course, you could help speed up ol' Calino's renovations if you did a little shopping, eh?"

    "I'd be able to buy more if you'd let me get some of the discounts you give to the other teams, you know," Nida said, flattening her ears while hopping up onto a stump serving as a stool.

    "Perhaps you should spend a little more, or else boost your Team ranking a bit then, eh? Why, I wouldn't give a discount to the Protector himself if he was still at your ranking!" Calino teased, flushing a burnt yellow.

    "Come on, Calino. My mami used to be una Cazadragones! Surely Dragon Busting's worth something, of all things?" the Nidoran protested, growing a bit huffy with the merchant's ribbing.

    "Well then, perhaps you just need to waken that familial blood of yours a bit, eh? That'd be quite a lark, doncha think? Hahaha!"

    The Kecleon watched as his customer's countenance twisted into more and more of a scowl, sensing that he had perhaps gone a bit too far in his attempts to provide some good-natured banter. Calino deemed it best to drop the attempt at humor and revert to a more business-like tone as his scales reverted back to their normal green.

    "Haha… more seriously Nida, as much as I'd like to cut you a discount, I can't. Or at least not outside of hatching days and other big events," Calino sighed, "Why, between the take that the Company sucks out of Bluewhorl Town here each year and all of the rookies that go off for more mundane work like berry picking after their mandatory stint servicing in the guild or with the town guards…"

    "Heh heh, I'd be left with nary a scale left over afterwards!" the Kecleon chortled.

    Seeing that his customer was looking away towards the pebbles on the ground and not visibly moved by his appeal, the Kecleon decided that it would perhaps be best to offer some reassurance.

    "Nida, look at it this way. It's just a matter of time before you wind up becoming one of my big buyers, right? Why, a Pokémon like you- always chomping at the bit for tougher missions even while in a trainee team- once you get into a real team it would only be a matter of time before you rose through the ranks!"

    "Or wind up dying in the dungeon," a passing Sentret volunteered.

    "Or wind up d-Oi!" Calino turned around visibly flustered. "Snark at your own customers, Scout!"

    "Just… Give me the usual, Calino," Nida grumbled, as the Sentret continued on his way.

    The Kecleon quietly gathered a couple berries and a few assorted seeds and deposited them into Nida's bag as she shuffled a few misshapen but glinting coins across the counter.

    "Say… Marley's had some more kids since you and your three brothers and sisters came along, right? Two… three…?" Calino asked apologetically, his scales starting to have turned a teal color.

    "Six," Nida corrected, scowling at the Kecleon.

    "Oh! Ah… That's a bit more than I- Ahem, anyways, maybe on their next hatching day, I could arrange for the mon that buys their gift to get a little something extra, huh?"

    "I'll keep it in mind after I tell Mami about my day, I guess. I'll be sure to include how my run here went," Nida said while turning off, finally giving a small smile.

    "Er… About the discount I offered?" Calino asked nervously as he knocked over a few seeds from a box behind him and flinched a moment. His scales began to flush a dingy brown.

    "Nah, about everything," the Nidoran smirked, before bounding off down a dirt road.

    "Erk! Gods help me…

    "Wait, Nida! Come on! Let's be reasonable here! That was just good-natured ribbing!" Calino called after the rapidly escaping Nidoran, flushing white in distress.

    "Aw, relax, ya old miser! I'll say enough to keep you alive so I can shop here next time!"

    Nida continued bounding up the road for a time, before arriving at a large round pavillion tent. Behind it, she could see a wooden structure fashioned in the shape of an Ampharos' head with a sheltered platform up top, seemingly for signaling. From her vantage point, she also saw some simple roofed huts where the guild members sometimes ate together and stayed overnight, and a large earthen clearing along a seaside ledge kept dutifully free of obstructions.

    Pokémon busied themselves milling in and out of the complex: a Rattata happily chattered with some other similarly experienced peers about having just graduated from the lowest rank. Meanwhile, a Natu and a Sealeo discussed the recent arrival of letters from off-island and who a 'Manternal' by the name of 'Maranda' was supposed to be. Nida's face lit up as at last she found what she'd been looking for: the guild's Mission Board, which was occupied by a Loudred, Shiftry, and a Croconaw who were sizing up the listings.

    "See anything yet?" the Croconaw asked.

    "It's all a bunch of fetch quests this time around. Unless you count a bunch of outdated bounties on pirates as jobs," the Shiftry scoffed.

    "Well, what's the one that makes most sense for us to do, then?" the Loudred demanded.

    "I'm working on it! Hrm… fetching some kid's 'lost treasure...' Pass. Hunting for rare gummis… eh, not feeling it. Oh, here we go, finding an 'ahp-gredh' for Melissa."

    "Melissa? The move tutor? What's an 'ahp-gredh' and why on earth would she want one of those?" the Croconaw asked.

    "Eh, beats me, but when a client's offering that much Poké, they're always right," the Shiftry mused, before taking the mission listing off the board and heading off chattering with her companions about just what exactly an "ahp-gredh" was anyways, leaving Nida behind to stare at the mission listing and sigh.

    "Oh, I see you brought supplies for our mission tomorrow. Are you staying overnight at the guild hall?"

    Nida turned around, and came face to face with a Swellow bearing a bandanna of the same design and color as her scarf.

    "Oh, hello, Kiran. I thought I told you that I couldn't stay over tonight."

    "Eh? But why in the world not? Why, you're still in training! Starting brisk from a relaxing night straight from the guild hall is proven, by my observations, to improve performance in Mystery Dungeons by 100% for rookies like you!" the Swellow said, craning his head down to the Nidoran.

    He was a creature with the best of intentions, and a heart after guiding young Pokémon into becoming full-fledged members of Rescue Teams. But every so often, the navy blue and white bird couldn't help but come off as ever so slightly… clueless.

    "Kiran, it's my turn to babysit my younger siblings. Besides, how much energy does collecting apples need anyways?" Nida muttered, starting to flatten out her ears.

    "Oh, but plenty of energy! Why, you need to be brimming and up and at them for any trip into a dungeon!"

    "Kiran… If the mission didn't ask for the apples to specifically be ones scattered in the dungeon as a training exercise, we could just complete it by stealing from Mildrew's orchard on the south side of town."

    "... The Tropius? I mean, well. Um... yes, I suppose that's not completely in-", Kiran stammered, ruffling some feathers to regain composure, before getting interrupted by his small charge.

    "Why on earth are we still doing missions like these? I thought that Rescue Teams were supposed to help Pokémon, not do idle busywork!"

    The Swellow paused, and extended a wing over the Nidoran, trying to offer her some reassurance.

    "Nida, I know that you want to move on already. But I swear, I'm not doing this just to annoy you. You've got much more drive than I've normally seen in rookies… especially with what happened last year and all…"

    "Let's… not talk about that, Kiran. It happened, and everything worked out without anyone getting really hurt in spite of it. Let's just leave it at that," Nida said, the topic eliciting an involuntary shudder.

    "But my point is, moments like those are real possibilities!" Kiran said, throwing his wings wide and flailing.

    "The entire point of training is so that you can be prepared for them if you stay on a Rescue Team past this first stage! And… well-"

    The Swellow lowered his head and found his voice dropping to a little above a murmur, uttering some uncomfortable confessions.

    "None of us want to see you get hurt from trying to push on ahead too fast. Not Crom. Not your mami. And especially not me... you understand, don't you?"

    "I guess," Nida said, looking down. She kicked at the dirt, not really sure what to say back to her team leader's concern, only to feel a feathery sensation moving up against her and seeing Kiran patting her head with his wing.

    "You're almost through, Nida, I promise. I just need to be able to see a little more from your teamwork with Crom that shows you're ready to be guided under less tutoring wings."

    "So… if I can definitively prove to you that I can take care of myself as a Rescuer, you'll upgrade my rank?" Nida asked, starting to smirk- much to the immediate concern of the Swellow.

    "Now hold on, that's not what I said at-!"

    "I think I can live with that, Kiran," Nida cheerfully replied.

    "Ah… Nida."

    "Whelp, I'm off," the Nidoran said, turning to leave.

    "Nida!" Kiran called after his teammate.

    "What? Oh… right."

    Nida then shook her satchel off her shoulders and passed her bag off to the Swellow.

    "Almost left without leaving the supplies for your bag tomorrow, didn't I?"

    "Yes, let's… leave it at that," Kiran said, his voice betraying ever so slight hints of exasperation, but deciding for the moment to let the matter be.

    The Nidoran then turned and bounded off down another path, the guild hall quickly disappearing behind her as the shacks and tents she passed started to become less extravagant, and the paths less-travelled.

    "Don't forget to remind Crom to prepare on your way back home!" she heard Kiran calling after her.

    "Heh heh, silly Swellow, I don't need anyone to remind me to do anything with Crom," she called back, and away she went. Past wooden and canvas buildings, past the Day Care run by the Froslass (who stopped watching her siblings after dark after the incident with her Pomeg plants), past one of the little bridges over the creek that went through town, until she came to a small hut with the smell of toasted grain wafting in the air.

    "Crom? Are you in there?" Nida called towards the humble building, but to no apparent response. The Nidoran thought the whole matter was rather peculiar- usually Crom had no trouble coming to the front- and so with a bit of concern, she poked her head into the rude hut's doorway...

    "Crom-? Meep!"

    … Only to find herself scooped up by a set of blue claws and brought up a couple feet off the ground, where she came face to face with a jagged red maw and its piercing yellow eyes.

    "Hee hee, gotcha!"

    Nida untensed and breathed a sigh of relief as she recognized the welcomer. "Phew… Crom, don't do that. You know how Nidoran like me feel about suddenly getting snatched like that."

    "Aw, but then how am I supposed to ever get you more than a foot off the floor?" the young Druddigon piped back as he set Nida back on the ground.

    "Did you come to head off to dinner at the guild hall together?" the red-and-blue creature cheerily asked.

    Crom and his family were ever-so-slightly strange creatures. Usually when one thought of dragon Pokémon, one thought of fighters or warriors, or the heavens forbid, pirates. Crom and his relatives on the other hand…

    "Mom said that I could stay overnight at the guild hall once the evening loaves are done. A bakery's hard work, you know?"

    The Nidoran's ears drooped after hearing the young dragon's words.

    "You won't be able to come?" Crom asked, visibly disappointed.

    "Sorry… Mami and Papi have field work late tonight, and I got the short end of the stick for babysitting my younger brothers and sisters," Nida sighed.

    "Oh. Well, it's just four of you guys, ri-?"

    "My younger brothers and sisters, Crom," Nida said, bringing an awkward silence over the room.

    "Oh, right."

    "I take it that you already knew about Kiran wanting us to be prepared for tomorrow, right?"

    "Uh huh!" the young Druddigon beckoned Nida to clamber up his back and onto his crest, and brought her to see a table set with the first loaves of the evening.

    "I'm already planning on bringing along all of the ones that don't sell in the morning!" Crom beamed.

    Nida's ears flattened out at the mention of the idea of bringing day-old bread along.

    "Um, Crom… Wouldn't fresh bread make you grow even faster? And be less hard on your jaws?"

    "Well hey, beggars can't be choosers. And mom says that eating well will help me to grow big and strong just like her! I'm at her chest height now! It's not that different for Nidoran, right?"

    "... Whatever, I'm just saying, whenever I eventually have kits, that's not what I plan on feeding them. Ever," Nida said, furrowing her brow a bit.

    Crom couldn't help but giggle and tease a bit after hearing his passenger's comments.

    "Is that a hint that one day we're gonna have-?"

    It was then that the moment the two young Pokémon were enjoying was abruptly brought to an end by another Druddigon half a head shorter barging in.

    "Cro-om! Mom says to stop dawdling and help put the bread out onto the display tables!"

    "Alright, alright!" Crom replied, reluctantly bringing his snout to the ground to let his passenger off.

    "Sorry Nida, but I need to get back to helping. Good luck with babysitting?"

    "I'll try, I guess," Nida said.

    "See you in the morning," Crom said, waving a hasty farewell.

    "Yeah, you too," Nida sighed, before heading off towards the hills above the town.

    A short time later, Nida returned to the area around her burrow, a hillside with a distinctive lack of buildings and tents. Most Pokémon in the area lived in nests or burrows; the lack of undergrowth, the sparser trees, and the reed mat placemarkers were the only major difference from the forests deeper in the island.

    Eventually, Nida came back to her family's burrow. Absently, she noted how little had changed in the last couple of years, since the nights she would sneak out to stargaze.

    "I'm h-"

    Before Nida could finish her breath, six rowdy and visibly smaller Nidoran with matching white scarves with blue whirlpools on them bounded out of the burrow's entrance.

    "Whee!" a little blue ball cried out, hopping circles around Nida.

    "Sissy, play with us, play with us!" a purple ball demanded, tugging at Nida's leg.

    "Sissy, Dia stole my berry earlier!" another purple ball pouted.

    "Did not!" a blue ball responded.

    "Did so!"

    "They're both lying, I saw them!" another purple ball interjected.

    "When's Mami gonna be home? And are you going to be a boring babysitter like Dorin?" the last, blue ball asked skeptically.

    As the six little Nidoran continued jabbering, a larger male Nidoran slipped out from the burrow, mouthed something that seemed to be "They're your problem now," and quickly hopped away.

    "-ome..." Nida sighed, as she resigned herself to what was evidently going to be a very long and weary night.


    The final strains of day eventually gave way to night, and life in Bluewhorl Town began to largely wind down and come to a close. But further up the mountain, behind a shroud of fog, the ever-changing passages of Tromba Island's Mystery Dungeon were slightly more active.

    A couple floors beyond the entrance, in a chamber composed primarily of light stone intersected by small tidal pools, some Krabby scuttled to and fro across the cave floor between shallow pools of water, snapping at a few Finneon that happened to float by, while a Corsola pulled itself out of another pool to gather salts from a damp rock. An unremarkable night for Pokémon whose lives followed an alternative rhythm to those slumbering down the hill.

    The only sign of any disturbance to this rhythm came when a strong wind began to blow, causing the Pokémon in the chamber to hesitate and begin to mill about towards signs of shelter uneasily, in expectation of some disruptive force that would come by and quickly pass.

    Then the winds abruptly picked up, followed by thunder, and the walls began to shake. It was far more severe than the poor creatures expected, and they now madly and desperately scurried about the chamber for some respite. A few lighter creatures were swept up in the draft and blown elsewhere into the maze, giving panicked chitters, yelps, and cries.

    Those that could maintain their rooting to the chamber couldn't help but stare down at the end where the winds blew from, a single dreadful question lurking in their minds.

    What sort of beast, down deep in the dungeon, could cause a calamity like this?


    In a chamber fashioned further on in the Mystery Dungeon, its position ever in flux with the disturbances that constantly reshaped the floors of the maze, a solitary silvery-white egg with blue swirls waited on a raised patch of stone ringed by a shallow pool of water. The chamber, fashioned from darker stone, basked in the dim glow of the bioluminescent algae on the ceiling. The stone room was blissfully separated enough from the cacophony elsewhere in the dungeon to hear only the faint but sharp whistling of distant-sounding winds, the eye to the storm that had engulfed the rest of the maze.

    And then, the comparative stillness broke with a faint crack. And then a louder crack with the faint, wet sound of some viscous substance being pulled apart. The lights from the ceiling were just strong enough to produce a shadow of the rapidly hatching orb on the wall of the the chamber: a limb forcing its way out of one end, a snout and long neck from another. Soon, there was nothing left of the egg at all, but the form of a winged creature rearing up, spreading its wings.

    The chamber's separation from the storm was then broken by the creature's loud, feral screech.


    Back in the burrow, and many, many earshots away, Nida was fast asleep alone in a nest made for less frequent cohabitants, recovering from a long and exhausting night tending to six ever-moving lumps of fluff.


    "The sky is breaking!"


    The sound began to rouse Nida awake, causing her to mutter under her breath about kits these days.

    "Not right now, plea-"

    Only for a deafening boom to cause her to bolt up from her matted straw.


    Now that she was awake, she began to understand why her younger siblings were crying out from the chamber next to hers. A wild wind whipped the air outside, and the smell of the rain wafted its way into the burrow. A flash of thunder down the entrance to the burrow caught Nida's eye briefly.

    All these sensations suddenly made Nida feel much smaller and more alone. She nestled into her bedding, bristling her fur and barbs on instinct.

    "Eh? Still shrinking away from thunder? I thought your guild friends helped fix that," a voice from out in the hall called.

    Nida sighed, and detensed her fur and spines a bit. "It's not the same when it wakes you up, papi!" she fumed defensively.

    The speaker came into the room and revealed himself to be a Nidorino, leaning into his daughter's nest and giving her snout a soft nuzzle. "Oh come now, it's nothing worse than what your mami throws around, don't you think?" he chuckled.

    Nida couldn't help but stifle a laugh at the question. He had a point, she guessed. No matter how loud and angry the storm, there would always be a moment where Mami could match it. Still, she couldn't help but be somewhat concerned about the abrupt gale outside.

    "Papi, what's going on? Isn't the wet season not supposed to come for another two moons?"

    The Nidorino shook his head, "I'm afraid I don't know myself, mija. The storm suddenly kicked up a little after the Sea Prince's Traveler went behind the moon and it's been like this ever since."

    "Then… someone did this? But… who? And why?" Nida asked, starting to grow a little concerned.

    "Let's hope for their sake that it was for a good reason. Your mami is going to be sour in the morning without her sleep," the Nidorino sighed.

    Just as suddenly as they'd started, the winds began to die down. The sound of the pouring rain gave way to the gentler pitter-patter of a drizzle, and then ultimately, silence came.

    "It just… stopped," Nida said, before quickly hopping out of bed and up the entrance of the burrow.

    The once-scenic view outside had been wrecked by the sudden storm. The family's welcome mat oozed water when stepped on; some of the trees had had limbs blown down; cries of some neighbors' children rang out along the hillside, startled by the storm much as her siblings deeper in the burrow had been. Nida shuddered as she realized that some of those children were without an earthen ceiling to provide some measure of shelter.

    But up in the skies, the clouds began to break, rapidly giving way back to the view of the cosmos as if nothing had happened.

    The Nidorino followed Nida up to the entrance of the burrow, taking in the scene for himself. "Probably all just a dispute among some sea ferals," he snorted before turning back to his child.

    "Come on, you should head back to bed. You've got a big adventure tomorrow, right?"


    And the two went back into the little burrow on the hill as calm returned to the night.


    Author's Notes:

    - Cazadragones - Spanish: "dragon hunter", lit. "hunter of dragons"
    - Manternal - French: "Leavanny"
    - Papi - Spanish: "father", "daddy"
    Last edited:
    Chapter 2
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    The following morning, Nida found herself bounding down the now-muddy paths of Bluewhorl towards the Guild Hall.

    "I'm late, I'm late," she panted, dashing past the shops on the shoreline plaza, dodging between Pokémon and weaving around the occasional footstep of someone much larger than her.

    The storm had been about as kind to the town as it had been to Nida's home; that is to say, not at all. Nida passed a grumbling Azumarill along with her Chinchou partner, the two of them surveying a gaping hole in the stern of a boat that had been pushed into one of the piers. She passed Calino, who busied himself dumping out some ruined stock; all the while, he bewailed the damage it was going to do to his renovation fund. All of the tents and huts the Nidoran passed by the water had caved in on one side or another from the harsh winds and waves rolling over the docks.

    As Nida made her way up towards the guild hall, the storm's damage became less noticeable. A tear in some tent canvas here, a missing patch of roof there, some drenched papers on the mission board blotted to illegibility by the rain.

    "I didn't keep you... waiting too long... did I?" Nida struggled to relay her meaning to Kiran in between ragged breaths, settling to hope that he could piece together her fragmented thoughts. She waggled her leg, trying to free it of the flecks from mud puddles that she'd run straight through in her rush to get to the guild.

    "We haven't been waiting longer than anyone else, no. Guildmaster Hatteras has been busy all morning trying to get everything back in order around here," the Swellow said, pointing at an Ampharos surveying tears along the different pieces of canvas on the tent.

    "I see," Nida said, "So… that means we're ready to go, then?"

    Kiran visibly shifted his wings a bit, "Erm…"

    "Kiran, we are going, aren't we?" Nida demanded.

    "It's just that, perhaps we should let a few other teams go into the dungeon first today," the Swellow offered.

    "Kiran. It's apple-gathering," Nida mumbled, feeling cross at her team leader's sudden hesitance. "We've done missions to scatter them before, just how well-hidden do you think they'd be?"

    "Yeah! We could probably finish up halfway just in the first room!" Crom said, his beating wings displaying a hidden side of youthful eagerness much like his shorter partner's.

    "That sorta work sounds right up your alley, tykes," a familiar Sentret volunteered as he passed by.

    "Hey! I don't see you doing any work, Scout!" Crom growled after the squirrely windbag.

    "I know that," Kiran replied, "But… after storms like these, Mystery Dungeons usually shift around. A lot. We don't really know how the floors will be ordered, or what will be on them, or…"

    "If any outside Pokémon will have been blown in again," Nida finished.

    There was an uncomfortable silence among the three Pokémon, the Swellow and the short Druddigon trading looks with Nida.

    "You said after everything happened that that was all a freak incident, so did everyone else. So if it was such an accident, why are we just standing here? It's not like it would happen again, right?" Nida said, giving a firm and determined gaze at the Swellow.

    "Nida. I know that it doesn't always seem so, but things always happen for a reason," the Swellow began to reply, but his words soon trailed off after seeing his red-and-blue charge also looking at him.

    "It is just getting apples, Kiran. Maybe she has a point," Crom said, his eyes adopting a bit of a pleading expression.

    Kiran paused for what seemed an eternity before he responded, "Fine. We'll go, but on the first sign of something more dangerous than normal, we're calling for a lift out of there. Understood?"

    "Understood," the two agreed.

    From there, the three Pokémon headed off, up a winding trail that lead out of town up towards the fog shrouding the far side of the mountain.


    A ways up the path, the trio found themselves trudging their way past innumerable trees, bushes, assorted flowers, and little pebbles which marked the contours of the path, all drenched by the prior night's storm. The aroma of freshly-moistened earth wafted all around as it always did after heavy rain. Despite the pleasant atmosphere it created, the three found themselves shrouded in an uncomfortable silence. Nida took it upon herself to try and break it.

    "... So, Crom. Did you remember to bring that bread?"

    "Yep! It's right on top of Kiran's bag- Oof!"

    En route to the Swellow, Crom found himself knocking heads with an unfortunate dangling Spinarak with an unmarked body. The creature knocked the Druddigon backwards, hissing angrily.

    "Hey! Watch where you're going, you little village runt!"

    "A-aah!" Crom cried out. He backpedaled from the angry Pokémon as Kiran swooped in to intervene.


    The Spinarak promptly flew into a state of panic at the sight of the swift-winged bird before him.

    "Monster! Monster!"

    The team breathed a collective sigh after the small creature skittered into the cleft of a nearby tree and began to cower in silence, waiting for the dangerous creatures below to pass.

    "Crom, you need to remember that there are ferals outside of Mystery Dungeons, too!" Kiran admonished, rubbing a wing against his forehead.

    "But they usually keep to themselves!" Crom protested, dusting himself off from his fall backwards.

    "That one did seem a bit meaner than normal, Kiran," Nida said while continuing on up the path, "I thought you said that the reason why ferals attacked more often in Mystery Dungeons was because they could get away with it easier."

    "Well, you have to understand it from the perspective of a feral, Nida," Kiran said as he took flight once more.

    "If they get hurt and no one helps them or lets them get away, well… That's sometimes it for them. So if someone seems scary, and you feel like you have a chance of scaring them off or defeating them, you have to try and do something about it."

    "Sounds like a really tough way to live," Crom remarked, following Kiran down the path.

    "Well now, I guess we'll just have to show them why being part of a Rescue Team is so much better, huh?"

    "Heh, I gue- Oh, look!"

    Crom pointed out a side path which wound around a couple bends to a simple wooden pavillion with a shingled roof that stood on a seaside ledge, stubbornly defying the elements and its unkempt surroundings.

    "Huh… That ánima held out better than I thought it would. Why, I'm not sure if I see any change from the storm beyond a few missing shingles," Kiran said.

    "Why don't we pay a visit, huh? It can't hurt for a little good luck before we head in, right?" Crom asked.

    "Well, I don't suppose it can," Nida responded as she led the way over to the simple shrine, her teammates close in tow.

    Nida hopped up a jutting stone at the shrine's base in order to peer in. There were some small pebbles laid out in front of it, and the shutters that normally protected its interior at night had been opened earlier that morning by its custodians. Now that the shutters were opened, one could see that inside the shrine was a simple iron bell; above it each panel of the roof was painted in a different scene.

    One panel depicted a white and blue bird rising from the sea, with red, yellow, and blue birds waiting for it. Another depicted those same birds being struck by arrows of light and falling to earth. Another depicted a strange egg with various nondescript Pokémon gathered around it. Finally, the last panel pictured the egg being carried into the fog further up the mountain.

    Crom took two loaves from his bag, setting one on the ledge of the shrine.

    "One for the Protector… And one for us!" he cheered, breaking up the remaining loaf and sharing it with his companions.

    "Don't the ferals just take the food that gets left here anyways?" Nida asked while biting into her chunk of the loaf. The bread was firm, but much to her pleasant surprise, less stale than she had expected from day-old leftovers.

    "It's the thought that counts!" Crom insisted as he greedily gulped down his piece.

    "Leth geth going, kidth," Kiran prodded the two in-between mouthfuls of bread. He then picked up the remainder with his beak and ushered his charges back to the winding path, finishing his portion alongside Nida as they walked.


    By the time everyone finished their bread, the team found themselves entering a foggy portion of the forest leading up to a cave entrance.

    "Do you remember the rules of going in?" Kiran asked his two charges at the mouth of the cave.

    "Stay together in the fog, don't wander off the path, and don't run into the dungeon," Nida and Crom recited, groaning at having to partake of this ritual reminder.

    "Good, then let's make our way in," the Swellow said, extending a wing for Crom to hold onto. As the two began to set off, Nida scurried up Crom's back and onto his crest, her preferred perch for ensuring she stuck with the group.

    "So, what do you think we should do with the apples that are left over after this mission, Nida?"

    "Eh? Wouldn't we just keep them for later?" Nida asked, tilting her ears.

    The fog had grown increasingly thick, and as the group made their way in, the less they were able to see of each other. Heads, limbs, tails disappeared into the haze.

    "You're thinking too simple! Why... think about the things you can do with those apples! You could bake them into bread... You could candy them… Kiran said they might be a decent Gravelerock substitute…"

    Nida couldn't help but giggle at the idea of trying to clock someone with an apple; it was one of those silly, nonsensical ideas that couldn't help but take the edge off someone. As the fog thickened enough that she lost sight of her own whiskers, she decided she quite appreciated that sentiment.

    The thickest portions of the fog were always unnerving, even after all these times passing through it. For what seemed an eternity, Nida couldn't see past her nose, sounds and smells became garbled and misleading, and even the very air seemed to grow thick and heavy. It was during this stretch that she was silently grateful that Crom had allowed her to hitchhike on his crest today.

    "Alright, we should be through the worst of it!" Kiran announced.

    True to his word, the fog around them slowly thinned, the air felt less weighty with each trudging step forward, and the smell of rushing salt water came on the breeze. After a few steps further, they found themselves able to see their paws, claws, and wings once again in the haze. Finally, the fog cleared entirely, leaving an unobstructed view dimly lit by scattered patches of glowing algae of the surrounding sea cave the group had wandered into.

    "How does this dungeon look like a sea cave when it's halfway up a mountain?" Nida asked before hopping off of Crom's head. "I mean, I know that the Distortion in here probably has something to do with it, but still..."

    "The lower levels apparently open out to deep in the seas off the shore," Kiran said while taking his wing back to his side. "Not that we will need to go anywhere that far today."

    The Swellow beat his wings a few times - "to get my blood flowing," he'd explained in the past- and turned back to his two teammates after taking flight.

    "Remember, if you get lost or in trouble, find a place apart from everything else and use your badges to call for help," the Swellow reminded.

    "We will," the two younger Pokémon responded in unison, before turning their attention to helping the Swellow scan the floor for apples.


    The first floor was rather quiet. Aside from the tidal pools and the various rocks, all the team encountered were items. True to Crom's predictions, they found half of the apples they had been tasked to deliver, which were stuffed into Kiran's bag. The time in between then and the search for the stairs had primarily been spent by Crom and Nida playing in the tide pools that just so happened to be along the way. They also, at Crom's request, tested Kiran's theory of apples as a substitute for Gravelerocks… on Kiran himself.

    Eventually, the three found themselves in front of the stairs to the second floor, peering down a pathway which separated their position from the next chamber.

    "Are we sure there's nothing else we want from the first level? Once we set down these stairs, the Distortion will seal the entrance by the time we reach the next floor," the Swellow asked cautiously.

    "We're sure, let's keep going!" Nida said.

    "Yeah, it's no fun to only go to the first floor of a dungeon anyways!" Crom added.

    The group descended the stairs, heard the normal scrapes and shudders as a wall of stone from the floor above closed over the way they came, and quickly took stock of their surroundings… finding their room to be barren with the sole exception of some further stairs heading down.

    "... That's it?" Nida asked, in a flat and unimpressed tone.

    "Erm… Not quite," Kiran said, pointing out where the ceiling for the chamber would normally be. In its stead was the incredibly distant-looking layout of the floor they had just came from. Upside down.

    "Shame we'd never be able to reach it thanks to the Distortion… I wonder what it feels like to be able to walk upside down without falling," Crom said as he stared up at the inverted floor.

    It was one of those unsubtle moments that helped to bring back into the minds of the three explorers that in spite of their previous times traversing this Mystery Dungeon, it was very much not home.

    After the group's attention turned back to the stairs to the next level, there was a bit of a collective shrug and the three continued down deeper into the maze.

    "Heh, I think the storm might have actually worked out quite well for us!" Crom said, pleased with their fortune on the last floor.

    As the trio headed down the stairs, they found that the third floor was a bit more mundane in appearance. The ceiling was seemingly all there, unlike the prior room. The floor was still mostly rocks and shallow water pools. All seemed to be normal.

    "See anything, you two?" Kiran asked while scanning the room.

    "There are definitely apples in here… I can smell them," Nida replied.

    "Oh! Oh! I smell them too! But… I don't see any apples," Crom added, drooping his wings a little.

    "Maybe it would be best for you two to lead the way on this floor, I'm afraid I can't smell much of anything."

    "Hmm… I think I'll take the higher stuff. You'll be able to handle the ground, Nida?"

    Nida flattened her ears a bit at the idea of having to deal with attempting to plant her nose on the waterlogged ground. It always was so much more comfortable when the apples were plainly visible and the damp ground could remain underneath her feet where it belonged. Unfortunately for her, it didn't seem like there was much of a choice on this floor.

    "I think I'll survive, Crom."

    The two then began to attempt to ferret out just where the scent of the apples might be coming from. Crom strayed a bit to the left of the room, while Nida went to the right. In spite of the strong odor of salt, she could tell that there definitely was an apple out there… somewhere. Little by little, she continued to follow the smell ever closer to-


    Tumbling headfirst into one of the shallow pools. The Nidoran hastily pulled herself out, and after coughing up a little water, shook herself dry.

    "Grr… I don't understand, I can smell the apple right here, but this is just a-!"

    She then looked up and saw that the apple was floating within the water itself, apparently having rolled off of a ledge overlooking the pool.

    "Found one!" Nida called out, which quickly drew her companions over to the pool. Kiran came first, followed quickly by Crom, who had apparently already found his apple on the left and deposited it into Kiran's bag.

    "... I'll need to find out what team was responsible for scattering these and tell them to be a bit more cuidadoso next time," Kiran sighed, watching the apple bob up and down lazily in the water.

    "Eh, it's just a little pool," Crom said before clambering into the water. The Druddigon waded along, the water coming up to his wings as he went out far enough to grasp the apple.

    "See? Piece of- YEOW!"

    Much to Nida's shock, Crom then pitched forward and into the water.


    He shortly resurfaced, thrashing and flailing as something had latched itself onto his wing.

    "Get it off! Get it off!"

    The most unwelcome assailant quickly revealed itself to be a Krabby, fastened tight to Crom's left wing.

    "Get out of our pool!" the Krabby chittered, trying to find something for his other pincer to latch onto. Kiran immediately tried to swoop in to intervene while Nida rushed over to the water's edge.

    "Hold on, Crom, we're comi- GACK!"

    Only for another Krabby to latch onto his foot as he passed over the water.

    "Go away and stay away!" it demanded, as Nida came to the side of the water. She tried to rear up the barbs in her pelt much as her parents and more experienced siblings would. While she managed to fire a singular barb, the little missile accomplished nothing but to sail through the air a couple feet and fall into the water with a weak splash.

    "Rats… How on earth do they make stinging seem so easy?"

    She decided to try a more proven tactic, and called out to the Swellow, "Kiran, quick! Give me your bag- Meep!"

    Only to be forced to abruptly sidestep a beam of bubbles that drenched the spot where she was standing with bubbles that burst with sticky glop that was scalding hot to the touch.

    "You'll not get away from me so easily, furball!" hissed a third Krabby, the apparent culprit of the bubbly attack, who made haste clambering out of the pool.

    "Kiran!" Nida shouted, fanning out the barbs under her fur, "The bag would be nice about now!"

    "Agarra!" the Swellow cried as he tried to fling the group's bag to Nida. The bag sailed through the air, its trajectory having been jerked off course by his ongoing struggle with the Krabby clamping down on his foot, and landed a good distance away from her, towards the middle of the room.

    "Oh yeah, great throw ther-" Nida grumbled, only to have her train of thought promptly interrupted by having to sidestep a snapping claw.

    "Stay still so that I can grab you!"

    "Get away from me!" Nida cried, giving two stiff, spinning kicks to the Krabby that was almost upon her. Her legs felt as if they were striking damp stone, but they were forceful enough to cause the crustacean to stumble a bit, which Nida took advantage of to sprint towards the bag as fast as her feet could carry her.

    She threw open the flap to the bag, stuck her head and forepaws in, and began to fling out its contents. "Gravelerock, Gravelerock," she muttered to herself while fumbling around inside. She knew that Kiran had one in there from an earlier mission when they went in… Apple, apple, another apple, why had the guild been so adamant that they had to gather these stupid training apples in the first place?!

    "Where is it?! I know we had a-!"

    Her search was interrupted by the sting of hot bursts and the sensation of something gummy and warm that stuck to the fur that sent her and the bag tumbling, coming to rest staring at a far wall in a daze.

    "Can the room stop spinning no-OW!"

    Her dizziness was suddenly joined by a sharp pain shooting through one of her hind legs.

    "I've got you now!" an irate voice chittered.

    "Let me go!"

    This was bad, Nida had not expected a Pokémon who could only move sideways on land to close the gap so quickly. Worse still, she couldn't kick her way out of this one with one leg caught and her underbelly half-open to further attacks from the Krabby.

    The Krabby then tugged on Nida's leg, and began to drag her. She began to flail and shouted out from pain as the creature's grip tightened. It was then, in the corner of her eye, that the relative movement of being dragged along a stone cave floor caused a slim object to come into view.

    She couldn't tell what the object was, but that was beside the point. She needed something to hurl at her sopping attacker, and this would have to do. She quickly latched onto the object with a forepaw.

    "I said, 'Let me go!'" Nida shouted, before blindly throwing the slim item at the Krabby. It was then that she heard a cracking noise and felt the crustacean's grip release and the sharp pain became dull.

    Nida whirled to her feet, and gave another two kicks at her attacker. The second one was with her injured leg, the immediate shot of pain causing Nida to yelp and hastily change tactics.

    "Go away!" she yelled, tackling the Krabby. The crustacean flopped backwards. As Nida stumbled backwards and uneasily tried to regain her footing, she noticed that the Krabby was weakly snoring with fragments of a seed's husk scattered about it. It was subdued enough for now, she supposed.

    "Kiran! Are you okay?!" she called out.

    Nida was answered by the sound of a wing striking chitin and the sight of a limp and groaning Krabby bouncing off some rocks into a pool of water.

    "I'm alright! I'm alright!" the Swellow cried back, "Where's Crom?"


    Then, both sets of eyes turned to the young Druddigon, who was busy pressing a wing against a rock.

    "I defeated it, but it's not coming off!" Crom cried.

    "Crom... Move away from the rock and let it fall off," Nida said in between gasping breaths. Leaving the Druddigon to stare back with a sheepish expression.

    "Heh heh… right," Crom replied awkwardly, and moved away from the cave wall and through the pool, the dazed Krabby falling off his left wing and into the pool with a splash.

    Crom crossed the pool back over to Nida as Kiran sighed and began to regather the contents of his bag… minus one Sleep Seed. "Are you two alright?" he asked.

    "Erm… well..."

    "No," Nida interjected emphatically.

    "Stay still, lemme come over and take a look," Kiran started, only to be interrupted while passing the sleeping Krabby as it started to come to.

    "Rrgh… You! Bird! So you think that you can blow us around like the monster did last night? Well, you're sorely mis-!"

    Kiran quickly cut off the Krabby's rant with a stiff swat from his wing, which flung the crustacean unconscious into the pool with his dazed companions.

    The two were rather scuffed up, which made Kiran silently grateful that he merely had some scrapes on his foot and damaged plumage to tend to; Crom's left wing was turning red and had scales scraped off in the place where the Krabby that attacked him had latched on, with other scuffs from the creature's free appendages. Nida's right flank was covered in sudsy glop, showing red in between the strands of her pelt and the barbs underneath, with her hind right leg visibly limping from having been caught in her attacking Krabby's claws.

    "Well, I suppose it could be worse. Lie down on your left, Nida, I'll get the Oran Berries," Kiran said while rummaging through his bag.

    He drew out one of the blue berries, tore away the peels with his talons, and after scraping the gummy mass off of Nida's flank, pressed the naked fruit against it, letting the juice seep into her skin as she winced. Oran Berries always stung when their juice seeped into wounds, both in their natural state, and after the rare cases they had been changed and made more potent by prolonged exposure to the Distortion. And the little berry that Kiran was squeezing against Nida's body was no exception.

    "That… Didn't go as well as it could have," Crom sighed. Nida flared her ears as the the initial sting from her flank dulled, and began to talk back.

    "Understatement mu- Ow!" she winced, Kiran having moved on to applying the rest of the berry to her right leg.

    "Make sure to eat the pulp at the least, it's where most of the nutrients and healing properties are," said the Swellow as he left the remains of the berry to Nida and turned to tend to Crom's wing.

    "Kiran… How many more of these apples do we need to get?" Nida asked, while starting to bite into her Oran Berry's pulp.

    "The mission asked for at least six," Kiran responded.

    "Maybe we should just head back and get that last one la- ARGH!"

    Crom's flinching caught Kiran off guard, if partly because he was a full foot taller than the Swellow and not-so-slightly heavier. This made steadying him when treating wounds a bit trickier.

    "Easy there, and if you two aren't feeling up to going further, I suppose-"

    "No," Nida said, her stern tone softened by the mass of Oran pulp in her mouth. The effects of the berry's healing properties had already started to kick in as the sting from its juices faded, dulling the pain from her leg and flank.

    "E-Eh?" Crom stammered.

    "Nida, it really isn't that necessary to-"

    "Kiran, we need one more apple. We can get one apple. We haven't even gone half as deep as the furthest point in our last mission yet!" Nida protested.

    Kiran and Crom exchanged glances. The little Nidoran did have a point: an extra day in the dungeon would be an extra day that they wouldn't be able to do other jobs, or spend time with their families, or run errands in town.

    "I mean, if you're sure it's a good idea, Nida," Crom said hesitantly, "I mean, the Oran Berry is making me feel a lot better already."

    "I'm not sure if I like this… But I guess it would be pretty silly to just pack it in if the last apple was lying in a corner on this floor here," Kiran mulled as he looked about the room. "Did either of you smell any more apples around?"

    "No," Nida said.

    Crom took a minute to sniff the air, and after a pause, he gave his verdict. "I do smell one. But… it seems really faint."

    "Which way is it, Crom?" Kiran asked.

    "Past that wall over there," Crom replied, pointing out a slab of cave rock with a bend to the right that went around it.

    "Let's get going, then," Kiran said.

    "What about the Krabby?" Nida asked, only to have her question answered by the dazed voice of one of the earlier Krabby weakly skittering up some rocks.

    "Hey, where'd that furball go?"

    "Okay never mind, they seem well enough," Nida quickly decided, "Let's get going!"

    The three quickly put some distance in between themselves and the Krabby-infested pool, rounding the dungeon wall and finding a crossroads.

    "That way!" Crom said, gesturing to a passage on the right. The team went down the passage, and relaxed their pace after they could no longer hear or sense the Krabby further back. They then found themselves nearing a third flight of stairs.

    "Are we sure this is a good idea, Nida? I mean, the smell of the apple's fairly strong here, but…" Crom shifted uncomfortably, "That one last Krabby did mention a monster and all."

    The suggestion unnerved Nida; she knew full well that such talk wasn't always without reason. But then again, hadn't that Spinarak on the path called Kiran a monster?

    "I'm pretty sure that the 'monster' is just some Pokémon that's slightly bigger than them," she huffed.

    "Well, I guess that is the most likely thing it would be," Kiran said, his misgivings not fully dispelled.

    "Then let's get going!"

    "Fair enough," the Swellow sighed, as he began to lead Crom and Nida down the steps, a bit more wearily than their last one. Heading down, there was no obvious sign of anything amiss, not that a staircase could go awry too badly. The Distortion that shaped the other floors, for whatever reason, seemed to always make the "stairs" some manner of rough ramp consisting of low, staggered stone ledges.

    The fourth floor that day had its furthest wall composed of water which crashed against some unseen lip and cascaded down into some abyss far, far below. At least, it seemed that way. It was hard to truly know where one thing began and another ended in this tangled pit. The floor was a bit easier to make sense of, consisting of small outcroppings of rock that jutted out of a layer of water meandering forward from the cascade at the rear.

    "Oh great, just the sort of floor I was looking forward to," Nida groaned, lowering her ears as she hopped across a small stretch of water to another outcropping.

    "Well, at least the visibility's good," Crom offered as Kiran flapped up to get a better view.

    "And the main hazard in the room seems to be visible off the bat and not too hard to avoid-"

    "Look!" Nida interrupted, gesturing to a small, elevated alcove that was obscured by an overhanging ledge. There, next to a spiral-shaped shell embedded in the rock was the last of the small red fruits that her team needed.

    "Heh, heh, looks like it's mission accomplished!" she proclaimed as she drew near to the alcove, preparing to hop across another small waterlogged gap.

    "Good work! Hurry up and get it so we can bring these apples to mom's bakery!" Crom cheered.

    Nida dug her hindclaws into the dungeon floor beneath her and, after a short moment getting her footing against the slick stone, hopped forward to the crimson apple.

    She had no sooner just left the ground when she suddenly heard a surprised squawk from Kiran, "Nida, wait!"


    She crested the lip of the ledge, and noticed a faint crosshatched pattern on the stone below.

    Her feet rested upon it.

    To her horror, there was a soft, but audible click.


    Then the floor gave way beneath her, and the Nidoran found herself tumbling head over heels through thin air.


    Author's Notes:

    - ánima - Spanish (Southern Cone): "shrine", specifically of the small, roadside sort
    - cuidadoso - Spanish: "careful"
    - (¡)Agarra! - Spanish: "Take it!", specific verb carries more urgency than the otherwise identical ¡Toma!
    Chapter 3
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    Further and further Nida fell. From somewhere, Crom and Kiran called her name; but as she slipped deeper into the abyss, her teammates' voices quickly faded into muddled gibberish. Soon, the only sounds that remained were Nida's own screams piercing the silence.


    The next thing she felt was the dull thud of her rump striking something hard and her body pitching forward. Her head and legs slammed into hard stone and she felt herself tumble a few times along a floor before coming to a rest on her back. As stars swirled around her eyes, she heard something bounce off the floor nearby with a clink, followed by the distinctive splash of a small object falling into water.

    As Nida regained her bearings little by little, she couldn't help but groan. As if the piercing headache that the fall had inflicted wasn't enough, realizing the sheer carelessness of what she had done added insult to injury- a blind leap in the wrong place and the wrong time, one that could have led to a long stint in the medics' tent... or the afterlife.

    Gingerly, she moved a paw up against her neck, to where she always pinned her badge on her scarf. Nida pressed where the badge normally was, dreading the chewing out she was sure to get from one of the Psychics back at the guild who would sense her presence. "I really screwed this one up, can I get a lift out?" she sighed.

    The only response that came was her own voice echoing back from deeper in the cave. After a few fumbling prods, Nida discovered that the cold, metal bauble she had expected to find on her scarf had vanished.

    "Oh no," she muttered. The Nidoran stumbled to her feet in a panic- so that was that clinking noise she had heard- her badge! The one thing that would have allowed her an easy escape back to the guild hall was gone! Mercifully, wherever she was seemed to be lit a dim blue- enough for her to see a rock-strewn passage that carried around a bend straddling a long, slow-flowing stream that her badge had surely fallen into.

    "Please still be here," she muttered, hopping into the channel and groping around its bottom for her badge. She splashed and flailed around in a frantic search in the water, but for all of her combing of the stream's bed, she found nothing but cold sand and pebbles.

    "Please still be here, please still be here," she muttered again and again.

    After what felt like an eternity, the unmistakable sound of a metallic clink echoed from around the bend, along with an occasional staccatoed tapping. It was her badge! As Nida pulled herself out of the channel and the sound of the flowing water grew fainter, she began to discern the sound of something shifting and moving about... in the direction of her ticket out of this pit.

    "Wh-who's there?! Give that badge back right now! It's important!" Nida cried as she bounded out of the channel, not bothering to shake off the water that had drenched her pelt. She rushed towards the tapping noises, but as she rounded the bend, she froze in her tracks.


    There was a round stone dais in the middle of a pool of water that took up most of the room. It sat between corridors heading off in the three other cardinal directions, and on that landing, a white bird with blue accents along its head and spine, a long neck, and a tapering tail rested, facing away from her.

    From her position, Nida guessed that the creature was just a bit bigger than Kiran, if a few inches taller. Around the bird's feet were some fragments, like pieces of a large, freshly broken pot. The creature was craning its long neck down; enraptured from tapping at something by its feet that Nida couldn't make out, but assumed was her badge.

    It stopped to preen its shoulder before being distracted by a steady dribbling of water off of a stalactite in the passage to its right. The creature stopped preening itself, pulled its head up, and waddled towards the corridor. When it reached the lip of the water, it spread its wings and gave them a playful beat just as Nida began to realize...

    This was the very same white and blue Pokémon she'd seen depicted on the shrine bell!

    "It's you! The Prote-!"

    The creature gave a shrill cry as its blue markings and the contours of its wings began to glow, before beating them together. Nida flinched as a burst of wind from between the bird's wings sucked most of the water from the moat around its platform and tore into the right corridor. There was a brief shudder of stone and then a loud crash that shook the chamber as the passage's ceiling collapsed.

    "Ha-aah," Nida shuddered, mouth agape. This 'Protector,' it just- if that water had dripped down from her passage, that would be her buried under a wall of rubble. The bird then cocked its head, turned towards Nida, and began to draw towards her with a few flapping hops across the now depleted moat.

    Nida felt her legs go numb and her stomach begin to twist into knots, freezing in fear at the sight of this thing drawing near to her.

    "W-Wait! Stay there! I'm a Rescue Team member! I just need my badge and th-then I'll get out of here!" she stammered, backpedaling all the while away from the creature.

    But it was no use; the 'Protector' seemed to be set on catching this strange blue intruder. It quickened its pace, closing the gap faster and faster. Nida turned to run, but stumbled over an underfoot pebble and fell- just as the shadow of the bird's head fell over her.

    "I'm a- A-Aaah!"

    Nida screwed her eyes shut and fanned out her barbs, bracing herself for whatever this strange beast was about to do. She then felt a light peck at her head, and then heard a soft voice.

    "What are you?" it asked.

    "I-I'm a Nidoran! A-and I'm poisonous!" Nida squeaked as she kept her eyes firmly closed. "S-so don't get any ideas about trying to eat me!"

    "'Poisonous'?" the voice asked.

    "Y-yeah! I'll make you sick if you hurt me! Y-you'll regret it afterwards!" Nida said, trying to muster up what little bluster she could while curled up in a spiky ball.

    "'Sick...?' 'Hurt?'" the voice asked again.


    Nida opened her eyes, and saw that the white creature had drawn its head back away from her and was holding it at a tilt, perplexed by the little blue Pokémon's words.

    "Can you play with a 'sick' or a 'hurt'? What are they?" it asked.

    "Uh… I mean, I guess you can kinda play with them- B-but that's not saying that you should! They're not good things to play with!" Nida answered back as she cautiously uncurled herself, still unsure what to make of the much larger bird before her.

    "Are Nidoran good things to play with?" the Pokémon asked, tilting its head the other way and inspecting Nida's blinking red eyes.

    "Uh… I mean, if you don't hurt the Nidoran, they're good, yes," Nida responded, still blinking.

    "Okay!" the creature responded, as it opened its jaws and began to clamp down on one of Nida's ears.

    "A-Aah! Biting hurts the Nidoran! Biting hurts the Nidoran! Lemme go!"

    The creature opened its mouth and retreated hastily, startled from the abrupt noise of the Nidoran's shrieks. After the two bounded back a small distance from each other, the white creature turned back.

    "Was that playing with a Nidoran?" it asked.

    "No!" Nida retorted as she nursed her nipped ear and finally shook her pelt dry from her earlier dunk into the channel.

    "But then how does playing with a Nidoran work?"

    Nida stopped and thought. There had to be a way to get this thing, Protector or not, to leave her in one piece long enough to get her badge. But… How?

    It was then that her hind leg chanced to brush up against a pebble. Immediately recognizing the opportunity, Nida declared, "Here, I'll show you how to play with a Nidoran."

    Nida circled around the pebble and picked it up with her forepaws. She then dropped it onto the ground and batted it forward with a swipe towards the white creature.

    "See? Now you try," Nida said.

    The bird eyed the pebble, and after puzzling on what to do with the rock, the Protector nosed it back to the Nidoran with its beak. "Like that?" it asked.

    "Yes! Exactly like that!"

    "Do Nidoran only play with this rock?"

    Nida couldn't help but slap a paw over her forehead at the question. What kind of Pokémon assumed that someone would only play with a single rock?

    "Uh… No- hey wait-! Where are you going?"

    As Nida spoke, the strange bird darted back to its platform, tromping through the remaining water in the moat. It stopped and grabbed some things off of the floor with its mouth and then returned back to the Nidoran.

    "I broth more rokths!" it declared, beaming. The Pokémon then promptly spat up some assorted objects from its mouth… Which were all coated in a film of saliva.

    "Ew..." Nida muttered, repulsed from the 'playthings' before her. She wasn't going to have to touch these grody things, was she?

    There were a few cave pebbles, some berries that had been pecked into pieces of skin and pulp, an elliptical-shaped thing half-caked in mud that glinted in the dim blue light- Wait a minute!

    "That's my badge!" Nida declared, snatching up the muddy and drool-slicked bauble at once. After a few moments to register her disgust from touching the sullied badge, Nida swallowed her reservations, pressed down upon it, and began to speak.

    "Hey, if any of you on the other side are listening, I kinda need to be rescued here!" Nida fumed. But there was still no response and no obvious sign of anything at all coming from the muddied badge.

    "Did- did the fall break it?" she fretted, beginning to panic. Her fears were then somewhat distracted by the strange white Pokémon beating its wings in eager expectation.

    "Aren't you going to play with it?"

    "What? No! This is important! I can't play around with this!" Nida shot back.

    "But... it's a rock."

    "No, it isn't. It's a badge! I need it to go home!"

    "Go... home…?" the creature asked as it tilted its head again at the Nidoran.

    It was then that Nida heard the voice of another, more familiar bird calling from the leftward corridor.


    Along with the voice of a young dragon joining shortly afterward.

    "Nida, where are you? Please, say something back!"

    "I'm here! I'm alright!" Nida cried back, dashing through the mostly-emptied moat around the platform and hopping around the bend.

    When she came out of the moat, she saw that the passage opposite the one the Protector had destroyed was filled with a thick fog like the one she passed through at the Mystery Dungeon's mouth. This place must have been a stable patch, one of a handful of points in the maze she heard about that, while still shifting, kept a floor pattern that wouldn't get warped and reformed with a strong wind like the rest of the dungeon… Or at least one that wasn't caused by a Pokémon, anyway.

    More importantly, she saw the forms of her Druddigon and Swellow teammates exiting that fog. Nida squeaked out of overjoyed surprise and bounded up to Crom, who drew her into a tight-yet-careful embrace.

    "You had us so worried!" Crom cried out, "The Pokémon from the retrieval pad said that a strong feral made off with your badge!"

    "Thank goodness we made it down here before the floors shifted!" Kiran said, rushing up to inspect the Nidoran, "We were afraid that you'd be a goner by the time someone found-"

    "Wait! You stopped playing!" the strange bird's voice cried out, as it hopped and flapped after the Nidoran, coming to a stop behind Nida, and before two very surprised teammates.

    "Wow! The Protector rescued you, Nida?" Crom asked, his eyes widening in awe of his partner's companion.

    "Er… kinda?" Nida said, flattening out her ears with a sheepish expression.

    "That's so cool!" Crom said, gushing at the luck and honor of coming face-to-face with the legendary Protector of Tromba Island.

    The eldest team member wasn't quite sure what to make of the specimen before him, "Er… I mean, the markings are definitely the Protector's, but- It seems like he's just a pollito- According to the legends..." Kiran trailed off, gesturing with his wings at the white creature before finishing his thought. "Shouldn't he be bigger than Crom at least?"

    "He's supposed to be bigger? But his pictures were so much smaller," Crom murmured before turning to his Nidoran teammate, "Does he have a name, Nida?"

    "What's a 'he'? And what's a 'name'? Are these also Nidoran?" the Protector asked, blinking at the two strange new faces in the chamber.


    "I don't think this Protector has been around very long, Crom," Nida sighed.

    "If those things on that little rock over there are what I think they are, he hasn't. Why, that looks like it used to be un huevo..." Kiran said, pointing out the shattered clay-like pieces in the center of the moat. All the while, the white creature continued to try and make sense of these two new Pokémon that now seemed as puzzled as it was.

    "Do they play with rocks, too?" the young stranger asked.

    "Er," Crom mumbled, wondering just why the Protector of all Pokémon would ask such a thing.

    "Uhm, I guess I can't say I haven't before-" Kiran added, to which the strange bird seemed to perk up.

    "Okay!" it beamed, as it waddled through the moat over to the middle of the central platform, and spread its wings upward, preparing to beat out a gust.

    "Ack! Wait! Don't do that in here-!" Nida cried as the creature sent a whirling gust towards the ceiling... that turned out to be a pitiful, feeble wind that was just strong enough to dislodge a few small pebbles that plunked into the moat's water for a blinking audience of three.

    "I'm pretty sure that the legends also stated that the Protector was supposed to be stronger, too," Kiran muttered, growing perplexed with this most strange 'Protector'.

    "But- that isn't normal!" Nida interjected. "He destroyed that entire passage over there!" she insisted, pointing at a passageway obstructed by boulders in the background.

    "That gust looked pretty normal for him though, Nida," Crom said, tilting his head out of skepticism.

    "Are you sure you're not suffering a concussion, Nida?" Kiran asked. After all, she had just fallen through a Pitfall Trap; a knock to her head could have made her see things earlier. "If you are, we should really get goi-" the Swellow volunteered as he happened to brush his badge while shifting a wing.

    "What are you guys doing with that feral down there? Are you trying to get yourselves rescued or wiped out-?" an unseen voice interrupted, its words filling the minds of the four Pokémon in the room before fading as quickly as they came.

    "Ah! The walls spoke!" the strange bird cried out, flinching out of surprise.

    Kiran jumped up with a start from the voice, before he realized that it was just one of the teleporters at the guild. He didn't know whether it was their fault for being over-sensitive or if his badge was just finicky, but Kiran always seemed to be in the habit of accidentally messaging the teleporters at the guild.

    The Swellow then gave the talisman a firm and more deliberate press. "It's not what it seems like, we're perfectly fine here! Come and get us out!" he replied back to the voice, before releasing the badge.

    "What's going on? The walls weren't talking before!" the Protector asked, starting to grow a bit worried from the sudden unseen speaker.

    "It's not the walls. It's the Pokémon that is going to get us out of here. She's a Psychic," Kiran corrected in a reassuring tone.

    "Sorry, Mister Protector, but I think we need to get going," Crom demurred in an apologetic tone as he went over to his team leader..

    "Thanks for helping me find my badge," Nida said, as she turned and drew near to Kiran.

    "But you can't leave!" the white bird protested, which caused the Pokémon of Team Traveler to trade flummoxed looks with each other.

    "But we live outside of here," the Druddigon tried to explain.

    "Outside? But I want to play! And I can't play if you leave!"

    "Eh?! What makes you think that you can only play here?" Nida said, this time tilting her head at the Protector.

    "I... can play in different places?" it asked while drawing a wing to its mouth, the question presenting a possibility it had never considered.

    "Yes! Of course you can!" Crom answered.

    "We'll explain later, but… We will play with you outside of here. We promise," Nida responded.

    "You 'promise'?" the strange bird asked. It seemed to garner that whatever this 'promise' was, it was something that was important to the Nidoran.

    "It means that we'll do it no matter how un-fun it is!" Nida said. The response seemed to reassure the white creature a bit, as it headed over to the other Pokémon.

    "I mean- If it's really possible to play outside," it said while sidling up with the Nidoran. Meanwhile, Kiran had become increasingly impatient with the teleporter that still had not arrived in the Mystery Dungeon and pressed down on his badge again.

    "Pataki, stop stalling and just come and get us!" Kiran barked at the shining orb under his wing.

    "But the feral is still right there!" the disembodied voice protested.

    "Look, you peabrain," Kiran squawked, "That's our-!"

    The Swellow stopped, as a brief flash of inspiration came over his eyes. He then proudly declared, "That's our newest recruit!"

    "Say... what?" the disembodied voice asked, taken aback by Kiran's words.

    "You heard me, Pataki! Now hurry up and get us out of here!" Kiran fumed as his patience wore thin.

    "You're gonna have a long story to explain once we get back," the voice snapped as Kiran let go of the badge.

    The owner of the disembodied voice became apparent as a Kirlia abruptly teleported beside the moat down the corridor, and came up fuming towards the waiting rescue team...

    "Alright, there you a-! Ah!"

    ...as well as the Protector that they had somehow inducted into their ranks. The shock and awe of the ordeal all but left the little Fairy dumbstruck.

    "Tha- that's-" the teleporter babbled.

    "Hey! Teleport now, story later!" Kiran demanded, irked with the Kirlia's continued hesitance when home was literally just a blip away.

    "O-of course! Hang on tight to each other!"

    The Kirlia grasped a handful of Kiran's flight feathers, as did Nida, as well as Crom, who used his other claw to latch onto some of the flight feathers of their newfound recruit. The white creature looked around for a moment, bewildered, before the five Pokémon vanished from the room with a blip of light.

    In the blink of an eye, Nida and her compatriots found themselves in a cleared and leveled dirt field in between the sea and the Guild Hall's structures. The blue sky was visible again, the air was crisp and fresh... The Kirlia was huffing and catching her breath… if only for a moment.

    "Omigosh! You guys found our island's protector? And recruited it?"

    Pataki quickly recovered from the exhaustion of teleporting the group and was soon busy babbling in a giddy tone and inspecting every feature of the young white bird's plumage.

    "You have no idea how exciting this moment is for me! Just being able to stand here face to face with a god!" the Kirlia beamed.

    "I think we have a good enough idea, Pataki," Nida replied under her breath as the Protector's gaze flicked to and fro, bedazzled by this strange new place this white and green stranger had brought the group to.

    "What room is this? What's 'recruiting'? And why is the wall-speaking thingy looking at me like-?"

    "Hey, Pataki! Get off the field with those rookies already!" a voice called out in a scolding tone from a shaded hut on the edge of the earthen space.

    Nida and the others saw the forms of a Natu and a Kadabra approaching them, their eyes betraying some aggravation at the party's dawdling on a space that needed to be keep free of obstacles for abruptly appearing Pokémon.

    The Kadabra began to chastise his counterpart on the earthen patch. "It's like you're trying to cause a teleportation acci- Eh?!" his voice giving way to stunned surprise upon catching sight of the stranger in the group's midst.

    "The white and blue feathers, the eyes, the wings shaped like the Great One's hands," the Kadabra recounted while piecing the bits and pieces of the white creature's appearance together "That's-"

    "Lugia, the Guardian of the Seas!" the Natu interjected. The two's faces were filled with awe, and they couldn't think of a better way to react to their visitor than to prostrate themselves before the Lugia, much to its puzzlement.

    "Um… Why are they scrunched up like that? Are they also 'poisonous'?"

    "Why, they're showing reverence to you!" Kiran chirped heartily, which was unfortunately not as complete of an explanation as the young 'Guardian of the Seas' needed.

    "'Reverence'? Is that a kind of playing?"

    "Uh… sorta?" Crom said with a sheepish look.

    "Oh! I wanna try-!" the Lugia said before beating his wings out for a bow.

    "Oi, you two! Enough pointing your bums in the air, we've got the rest of the guild to inform!" the Kirlia barked at her two compatriots, who began to trade flustered looks.

    "Oh! H-heh, of course!" the Natu agreed a bit over-quickly.

    "Sorry for the lack of propriety, Master Lugia," the Kadabra apologized, before the three darted off into the Guild Hall's complex, their fading cries about the awakening of 'the Protector' and 'Lugia's arrival' carrying with the winds.

    "Aw. They left before I could 'reverence' too," the young Legendary said halfway into a bow, its words betraying some disappointment, "Now what'll I play with?"

    "It's an entire island! Why there's the town, the fields, the beaches… Why there's one just down that path over there!" Crom said, gesturing to a worn, rocky path fenced in by some string and wooden posts.

    "Ooh," the Lugia said to itself, "I wanna see this 'bea-'" only for its progress to be interrupted by the sound of the the voice of a returning Kirlia.

    "You guys aren't going to believe it," Pataki declared, pride swelling in her voice, to a number of accompanying Pokémon coming into view through the brush on the other end of the teleport field.

    "Kiran and his little tykes found Lugia!"

    "What? Kiran?" a Hoothoot asked.

    "The captain who's always working with trainees on Team Traveler?" a Shiftry who had been interrupted from preparing to search for an 'ahp-gredh' questioned.

    "They can't even find orbs half the time in the dungeon," the Rhyhorn that had almost stepped on Nida just the day before huffed out of skepticism. "And you mean to tell us that they somehow stumbled across-?"

    The gray creature found himself coming face-to-face with the Protector, and verily enough, the members of one 'Team Traveler' standing alongside the creature.

    "I stand corrected," the Rhyhorn murmured, slack-jawed.

    At once, awed mumbles began to travel about the gathering. After the initial 'Wow's and 'Whoa's quieted and the novelty of the matter tapered off a little, a few Pokémon in the crowd began to get a little ahead of themselves. Voices here and there gleefully volunteered possible implications of their newest recruit's presence for Tromba and Bluewhorl Town.

    "Oh wow, I can't wait to see the looks on the faces of the next pirates to try and come around here!" a Persian smirked, taking a moment to entertain a few fantasies.

    "Pirates? You're thinking too small! Why, I'd like to see the Company try and push us around now that the Protector's awake!" declared an Azumarill from the docks in a triumphant tone.

    Others wished to know more about the newfound Protector.

    "What's being a sea god like anyways, your lordliness?" a bright-eyed and curious Shellos inquired.

    "Um… I'm me, I guess?" the Lugia replied, perplexed as to what the creature was asking about.

    An Ampharos who was advanced in years drew near to size up the white stranger. "Where on earth did you find him? Or is it a her, Kiran? I can't tell with you birds half the time," the electric sheep asked with a reverent, if strangely uncertain, tone.

    "Well, his plumage certainly looks colorful and masculine enough, Guildmaster Hatteras" Kiran answered the sheep in a cheery tone, "So I'd think 'him' is a safe enough bet. As for where we found him, er…"

    "We found him like this in a stable zone we found on the fifth floor!" Crom chimed in. His comment drew some confused murmurs from the watching Pokémon and some looks from Nida and Kiran.

    "Did… I speak too soon?" the Druddigon asked, taken aback at the direction of the conversation.

    "But Lugia's chamber is supposed to lurk somewhere way at the bottom of the dungeon," the Hoothoot piped up.

    "Well, the whole encounter was just a little unexpected," Kiran chirped.

    "What can I say? It was quite a trip," Nida added, pulling her ears a bit back sheepishly, "The storm must have shaken up the floors from the way they normally are."

    "Also, why is the Protector shorter than Guildmaster Hatteras?" the Shiftry piped up, "I mean, no offense to the sea god and all, but Lugia's supposed to be huge! This thing's- I mean I guess getting overshadowed by Crom isn't that uncommon for a Pokémon, but…"

    "Ah, who cares about looks?" the Persian interjected "Pint-sized or not, a god's still a god! Come on, give us a show of that power of yours."

    Some nervous laughter went around the group, prompting the Persian to hastily qualify her request.

    "Heh heh… Pointed safely out to la mar, of course," she said, flattening out her ears with an awkward chuckle.

    Once again, Kiran and Crom found themselves placed in the unenviable position of coming between a Pokémon and her expectations.



    "Well, you see, about that 'power'-" Nida began to explain, only for the Lugia to inquire into the Persian's request.

    "Wait, what do you want me to do?" he tilted his head.

    "Just gust away those little sea rocks over there," the Persian explained. "Shouldn't be a biggie, right?"

    "Oh, okay!" the Lugia answered, before he turned to the rocks at sea, and spread his wings.

    The bird then sent out a weak, swirling gust. A small pebble by the edge of the bluff was knocked free and sailed a small distance before splashing into a tide pool on the ecru-colored beach below.

    "Like that?" the Lugia answered with a cheerful, absentminded tone while staring at the place where the pebble had fallen. Completely oblivious to the creeping shock and disbelief spreading over the faces in the audience.

    "He's kinda… inconsistent with it," Nida said to the gathering.

    "Well hey, it's stronger than what we've seen, Nida! I think he's catching on!" Crom offered. Crom's awkward smile quickly faded as he noticed that the entire gathering was staring stunned and dismayed by the Lugia's display... or more accurately, from his lack of one.

    Hatteras cleared his throat and began to try and dispel the worries of the gathered Pokémon, as their attention began to focus on the electric sheep.

    "Ahem… I guess it wouldn't be out of the question for even a god to need training," the creature offered, "As strange as it might sound at first. Perhaps all he needs is a bit of time-"

    It was then that Hatteras and the rest of the gathering noticed that the Lugia was absent.

    "Wait, where'd he go?" Kiran asked, startled at the abrupt disappearance of the sea god.

    Nida happened to catch the glance of a stray white feather caught on the string guarding the path. As Nida headed to inspect it, she caught sight of the Lugia hopping down the last few steps of the path to the beach.

    The Lugia waddled over to the darkened sand along the shoreline, and as everyone watched, he began to dig into the wet sand and move it a little further up the beach.

    "Hey guys! Where's the god that will deliver us from the pirate raids?!" a Chinchou called while flopping in with her fins. The little fish awkwardly continued up to the ledge expectantly, only to see the 'god' in question busy sculpting a sand mound.

    "... Why is Lugia building a misshapen sand castle?"

    "Hey, the wet sand here feels different from the sand back in the cave! Come and try it!" the Lugia called up to the gathering.

    There was a sinking feeling in many a Pokémon's stomach at the gathering as Tromba's guardian cheerfully returned to focusing on his sand heap, which Scout the Sentret couldn't help but voice in his usual sardonic way.

    "We're doomed."


    Author's Notes:

    - pollito - Spanish: "chick"
    - huevo - Spanish: "egg"
    - la mar - Spanish: "the sea", identical to el mar if with more romantic/literary overtones.
    Last edited:
    Chapter 4
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    A short time after Tromba's Protector had thoroughly underwhelmed the proud teams of Bluewhorl Town's Rescue Team guild, Team Traveler found itself on the ground floor of a wooden hut shaped like an Ampharos' head.

    Inside, they sat on a mat along with a few carefully selected snacks set out before them. On the other end was the hut's Ampharos proprietor, calmly seated on an overlooking stump lit by sunlight coming in through open windows. As his audience waited expectantly, Hatteras passed the time adjusting a red scarf with white dots on it.

    "Is there something to play with here too?" the young Lugia asked, fidgeting a bit at how somber and quiet the room was compared to the beach the others lured him off of.

    "In a moment, Protector," the Ampharos answered. "Your arrival… Has some rather profound implications for our town, and this is a matter that must be presented to the mayor at once!" he proclaimed, waving about one of his arms in the air before his nonplussed audience.

    "The… Mayor?" Crom asked, shifting his young Druddigon eyes a little uneasily.

    "Guildmaster Hatteras," Kiran interjected "Is this really-?"

    "Now, now, Kiran. Ceremony is important!" the Ampharos insisted as he carefully undid the red scarf about his neck. The electric sheep set aside the scarf, and then traded it for a teal one hung on the wall behind with simple, thin, black runes in the local script.

    "And that will be 'Mayor Hatteras' for the time being," he corrected while loosely tying his new article around his throat, cheerily ignoring the blank, exasperated looks and sweat droplets forming on the Pokémon in his audience… With one standout exception.

    "What's a 'mayor'?" the young Lugia asked while tilting his head, still trying to piece together just what the importance of the scarf trade was.

    "A mayor is the leader of a town, much like an Ampharos like me might be the leader of a flock. It's a bit of a different role than a 'Guildmaster', and as such the trappings also change accordingly," Hatteras answered, giving his new scarf a firm tug at the front to tighten its knot.

    "Yeah, he does things like helping to plan out festivals," Crom added, "And negotiating with the Company over who gets to be a guard and how much they're allowed to take from us each-"

    "Anyhow," Hatteras interrupted, one nubby paw raised into the air, "Let us take a moment to recount the facts of the matter… starting from the beginning!"

    "Uhm… Well…" Nida began, flattening her ears as she found herself at a loss of just where to start summarizing this debacle. "There's a sea god in the same room as us right now?"

    "We found him in the dungeon!" Crom interrupted, "And Kiran, Nida, and I only had to go through 5 floors to find him!"

    "In a stable spot within it," Kiran corrected, "We passed through the fog on our way into the Protector's chamber. As for why it was so far up in the-"

    "Yes, yes, the Distortion shifting the chamber so close to the top is a surprise to all of us. But we should perhaps move on to the other facts about our Protector we know right now," Hatteras said.

    "Er… Well, he's still un pollito…" Kiran replied in between casual pecks at some seeds spread out before him.

    "And he comes up to my snout when he stands!" Crom dutifully added.

    "And he seems to be a little inexperienced," Nida added as she turned to see the Lugia staring down puzzledly at a pile of seeds, before looking up from it.

    "Do you play special games with these pebbles?" the Lugia asked.

    "Uh… That's food, pollito. You're supposed to eat it," Kiran explained before pecking at the pile before him again to demonstrate. Which prompted the Lugia to try to follow the Swellow's lead and mimic his actions.

    "Mmm! These pebbles taste much better than normal pebbles!" he declared.

    "Okay, he seems to be very inexperienced," the Nidoran sighed.

    "Then perhaps it is appropriate to consider what the best way to remedy that would be..." the Ampharos mulled while rubbing his chin deep in thought. "Maybe it would make most sense to have Hariti watch over him at the Day Care for a while? Watching over young Pokémon is her forte."

    "Eh?! But Kiran recruited him!" Crom objected.

    "Guildmaster-" the Swellow interrupted.

    "Mayor," the Ampharos quickly corrected.

    "Mayor Hatteras, I did indeed recruit the pollito in a proper manner and all," Kiran continued, his tone beginning to grow a little nervous at the thought of Team Traveler losing its newest recruit so swiftly.

    "Perhaps. But given the… Ahem, present condition of our Protector, it does not seem quite right to be throwing him into the thick of dungeon crawling right now.” At the Ampharos’ reply, the trio’s faces sank.

    The Ampharos did have a point. Just because the Lugia with them came from the Mystery Dungeon didn't mean that he was remotely prepared to go back into that maze. Perhaps Kiran had been a little too hasty in claiming the creature as his newest recruit after all.

    "What's a 'Hariti'?" the little Protector asked.

    "She's the Froslass who runs the Day Care, who unfortunately doesn't watch Nidoran in the evening anymore," Nida replied, muttering the second part of her statement under her breath.

    "'Froslass'? And will I still get to play with you?" the Lugia asked, starting to grow a little concerned about where the conversation was going.

    "Er… Well… We're all a little too old for Hariti… And we kinda have our work here at the guild," Kiran reluctantly answered.

    "And I have to help mom and Cenn at the bakery," Crom added uneasily.

    "And I have babysitting every fourth turn at home," Nida grumbled.

    "I mean, it's not that we wouldn't have time, but-" the Swellow tried to explain before the Lugia cut him off.

    "But the Nidoran said that you'd play with me!" he chirped, flailing his wings in protest. Team Traveler's members traded dismayed looks with each other as they attempted to puzzle out how they were going to untangle this situation... Then, Hatteras' voice cut in.

    "Well now, it seems that the Protector's taken a bit of a liking to your team, Kiran," he chuckled.

    "Ahehe, well… You know how pollitos work, it's in their nature to latch onto friends and family," Kiran replied, sheepishly batting out a wing as Hatteras tried to think of a solution to the present conundrum.

    "Hmm... Perhaps you all could lend Hariti some help for the time being? Your team is, after all, meant for teaching little lambs to stand on their own, isn't it Kiran?"

    The suggestion immediately drew some vexed groans from the less Legendary members of Hatteras' audience.

    "Babysitting during the day too?" Nida shuddered, not particularly looking forward to dealing with more rambunctious children along with her siblings.

    "Er… With all due respect, Guildmaster-"

    "Mayor," Hatteras once again admonished, pointing at the script on his scarf.

    "Mayor Hatteras," Kiran corrected, rolling his eyes a bit at the absurdity of the whole routine, "But my team's mission statement is to fledge new Rescue Team members, and not babysitters."

    "And he's our Protector!" Crom protested, "How's a Pokémon supposed to learn to protect anything if he's being babysat at Hariti's all day?"

    The Druddigon snorted a bit, "Why, what's a team if its members can't work together and get their names known helping other Pokémon?"

    "'Names'?" the young Protector asked, not fully sure what the ruddy lizard was saying.

    "A name is… well, it’s like a word that is attached to you," Nida explained. "Like I'm a Nidoran, but my name is 'Nida'. Crom is a Druddigon, but his name is- Oh, you get the idea," she said, flattening out her ears.

    "Do I have one?" the white creature asked after a pause, tilting his head quizzically.

    "Um… I mean, we call you 'Lugia'," Hatteras answered from his stump, "But... Well, you technically don't-"

    "I want a name!" the Lugia cheerfully exclaimed, beating his wings out excitedly at the prospect of getting one of these strange things called a 'name'. The entire display took the poor Ampharos aback a bit as he voiced his hesitations.

    "Is it really proper to give a common name to a god?"

    "But I want one!" the Lugia chirped insistently, not fully understanding why the yellow and black creature on the stump seemed so opposed to him having one of these 'names' that Nida and Crom had.

    "I don't think it could hurt, Guild- Er… Mayor Hatteras. And it might make him seem a little more approachable to the locals," Kiran replied.

    The Swellow seemed to have a point, but naming the white bird in the hut was a matter that the Ampharos couldn't help but find himself at a loss of how to even begin.

    "But what would we call him?"

    "Oh! Oh! Give him a name that means something!" Crom insisted "Like mine! Mom says that it's the name of a tough dragon from the old world!"

    "Uh... I'm pretty sure that Mami and Papi just rearranged sounds to make my name," Nida sighed, "But definitely something that isn't too much of a mouthful."

    "Hmm… Well, he is un pollito, maybe we could use use that for his name? It's certainly appropriate..." Kiran offered, beaming expectantly.

    "Puh- Puh-yee... Puh-leo…" the Lugia muttered to himself trying to mimic the Swellow, before asking in a satisfied tone, "Pleo?"

    "No, no. Pollito," Kiran corrected, "It means-"

    "Pleo! I like Pleo!" the Lugia said, growing delighted with his imperfect mimicry of Kiran's suggestion.

    "Heh, I'll admit, it seemed odd to me, but it looks like our Protector has made up his mind. And the name does have a bit of a ring to it, Kiran," Hatteras chuckled.

    "Yay! My name's Pleo! My name's Pleo!" the newly-christened Protector chirped in triumph, as he prattled on to himself with different inflections of his new name.

    "I suppose it could be worse," Kiran sighed as his younger charges couldn't help but giggle a bit at their teammate's fascination with his new moniker.

    "Also, on the topic of unconventional approaches… There might be another way we could train up our Pro- Er… 'Pleo' here that might be a bit more appropriate for your team," the Ampharos said to the audience as he visibly pondered some particulars as he spoke.

    "Oh?" Crom asked.

    "Think about it," the Ampharos mused, "You need a place for Pleo here to learn how to channel his power, but you need it to be done in a controlled manner..."

    "And what better place for that here in Bluewhorl Town than in Mosca's Dojo?" Kiran finished, as he began to piece together where Hatteras was going with his comment. "Now that you mention it, I'm sure the Hawlucha would be aflutter at the chance to train the fabled Protector of Tromba."

    "A 'Dojo'?" Pleo asked, unsure of just what this funny-sounding word was supposed to mean.

    "It's a place where you can train and get tougher without having to fight ferals," Nida answered.

    "Yeah, we go there all the time in between missions!" Crom added in a cheerful tone.

    "Great! You all will start reporting there first thing in the morning!" the mayor happily decreed.

    "T-Tomorrow?" Crom stammered, "B-But we were just one apple away from finishing up our current mission!"

    Nida began to feel a sinking sensation rise in her stomach. The Druddigon was right, they were indeed one apple shy of finishing their mission before she fell down the Pitfall Trap. Going to the Dojo first thing in the morning would mean pushing the mission off for later, potentially much later. Nida's mind then realized that this whole matter, as awful-feeling as it was, was unavoidable due to something that happened back in the dungeon...

    "Crom… We wouldn't be able to go back anyways. My badge's broken."

    "I appreciate you taking your training mission seriously, Crom. But… Seriously. Sea god among us. Priorities," the Ampharos replied while undoing his scarf. After he hung the teal scarf on the wall, Hatteras took back his earlier red scarf and dutifully donned it... Before nonchalantly pushing an apple by his feet forward.

    "Now that I'm 'Guildmaster Hatteras' again, I can safely say that I'll count this apple here as your team's sixth. And... might I see that badge for a moment?" he prodded Nida.

    The Nidoran undid her mud-encrusted badge with her forepaws and gave it over to Hatteras, who carefully took it up and began to inspect the sorry little brooch in the light filtering in from the windows.

    "Hm… Yes," the Ampharos mulled, while Nida uneasily watched his inspection.

    "Is it bad, Guildmaster?" she asked.

    "Hmm? Oh, hardly."

    The Ampharos dipped the badge into a small bowl of water and rubbed a coarse shred of cloth over it, slowly melting away the coated dirt and grime. After a short while, he then set it down on his stump and gave it a firm press with one of his not-terribly dextrous paws.

    "What now?" Pataki's voice filled the minds of the Pokémon in the room.

    "Why, it just needed a good cleaning. The Psychics can't sense you if there's a layer of gunk that thick covering your badge, after all," the Ampharos cheerily explained.

    "Guildmaster, if there's not a problem, could you not message us? I was in the middle of-!"

    Hatteras cut off the telepath's message by releasing his grip on the badge. "Good as new, just make sure to keep it cleaner," he declared as he handed the badge back to a most sheepish-looking Nidoran. As he watched, Crom couldn't help but realize...

    "Couldn't you have just washed that off back in the dungeon, Ni-?"

    "Crom, stop talking," Nida growled, flattening her ears.

    "But I was just-"

    "Stop. Talking," the Nidoran demanded in an adamant tone as she reaffixed the now-glinting badge to her navy blue scarf. The shine from the badge had caught Pleo's attention and he found himself drawing his head near to keenly eye a faint reflection of himself on one of the misshapen brooch's surfaces.

    "Do I get one, too?"

    "But of course, a badge is necessary for every member of the guild. I'll have Kiran pick up one along with some other things for you as a team member before your session at the Dojo tomorrow," Hatteras replied, "For now, just take the evening off and-"

    The Guildmaster's words were abruptly cut off by a harsh rapping against the door of the hut, and the sound of a frightened voice coming from the other side.


    The sound of a commotion and of markedly more hostile voices reverberated outside the door. "Oi! You! What do you think you're doing?!" a hostile voice demanded of the frightened-sounding one.

    The eyes of everyone in the room turned to the door, where a white and green, chitinous blade slipped through the crack opposite the door's hinge and forced it open. Its owner burst in, a Scyther- bearing a dark round blotch on his head, with five ends trailing upward not unlike the tails of a comet.

    "Hatteras, you must rid this island of that monster before we are all doomed!"

    "H-Huh?!" Pleo cried out, startled by the commotion and the sudden intruder.

    "What's the meaning of this?!" Hatteras demanded. As the intruder's eyes adjusted to the darkness, he noticed that much to his horror, one of the members of Hatteras' audience was the white and blue 'monster' he dreaded.

    "ACK! It's- It's here?!" the creature flinched, and turned to flee before he was grabbed by a leering Machoke and a Mightyena with some blackened spectacles from the ranks of the guild.

    "Apologies for the distraction, Ander here was just leaving," the silver and black-furred Pokémon huffed.

    "Yeah, not like you would care about gods anyways!" the muscled reptile growled at the Scyther.

    "Enough! Unhand him!" Hatteras bleated angrily and rose to his feet, sparks beginning to form along his hide. "This is my town, and everyone in it can speak!"

    The two Pokémon, surprised at their Guildmaster's (or was it Mayor's?) outburst, hastily complied and backed away a little from the Ampharos' direction. The Scyther, realizing that he blundered into an audience, inhaled deeply and, although visibly quailing, attempted to brave the presence of the sea god in the room.

    "Hatteras, you- You need to get rid of that thing!" he cried, gesturing at Pleo with a trembling scythe.

    "Get rid of him?!" Kiran exclaimed.

    "H-Huh?! But that's our Protector!" Crom protested.

    The outburst sent a shiver down Pleo's back, and led him to retreat behind his teammates to put some distance between himself and the large, loud, creature with blades affixed to its body who was clearly displeased with his presence.

    "Wh-what is-?"

    "That's Ander," Nida whispered to Pleo, "He's one of the Marked."

    "What are they?"

    "They're other Pokémon… They… Don't really like Pokémon like you, at all."

    "So what, you're gonna kill this god too?" the Machoke spat at the Scyther.

    "Yeah, a fine way to repay the town that lets you live here! With an apocalypse!" the Mightyena snarled.

    "Quiet!" the Ampharos demanded, stamping his foot against the ground irately. After the two quickly hushed up, the Scyther sensed that the floor was his again, and Ander continued with his entreaty.

    "Hatteras, please! Send that thing away from here!" the Scyther begged, his eyes widened with fear.

    "Just where am I supposed to send him to, Ander?"

    "It doesn't matter where it goes! Just get it out of here before it brings ruin on us all!"

    Pleo began to retreat into a corner behind his teammates, curling himself progressively into a ball as he grew more and more unnerved by the large bug flailing its scythes about and loudly shouting things the Lugia didn't really understand. Nida and her teammates found themselves stunned into silence as they watched the exchange between Hatteras and Ander unfold.

    "Ander... The Pokémon on this island have been waiting generations for this day," the Ampharos answered in a calm, but firm tone.

    "And Pokémon like me have been dreading this day for all those generations! You don't understand what you're doing! That thing- That demon is evil and it will destroy everything you know and love if you let it stay here!"

    "Hatteras, this is really getting out of hand," Kiran whispered, pointing at an increasingly bewildered and frightened Lugia balling up in his corner behind Crom and Nida. Hatteras, seeing that the meeting was now rather thoroughly derailed, turned back to Ander in a bid to try and get him out the door peacefully.

    "Ander, I'm not saying that I agree with you, but even if you're right… What good do you expect sending the Protector away will do?"

    "It will keep us alive!"

    "Ander, get a hold of yourself!" Hatteras snapped, stunning the bladed bug into silence.

    "Stop and think about it! 'Anywhere' isn't a serious option for places to put a sea god!"

    Indeed, it truly was not, given that the world that the two Pokémon was really effectively split in two. On the one hand, there was the Cradle, the inland sea and the skies above it that held Tromba and the other islands in the world that were habitable. On the other, there were the Wastes beyond, which... Well, they certainly weren't anything that the Cradle was.

    "You and I both know he can't be sent into the Wastes... Just think of what could happen if this Protector shuffled off the mortal coil out there!

    Can't you see that only leaves places in the Cradle?" the Ampharos asked in exasperation, "Don't you think he'd be able to come back from such a place later?"

    The Scyther stammered and tapped his blades together as he visibly fumbled in his mind for an answer. Was there really anywhere in the Cradle to put this 'demon' away? Maybe… Just maybe... There the solution wasn't 'anywhere', but 'anyone'.

    "L-let the Company take it away from here! Let them be the ones to bring doom upon themselves while penning the demon up!" Ander blurted out.

    Immediately, loud protests went about the room. It was a suggestion that was just too much for anyone else in the room to bear.

    Pleo? Off Tromba, the island he was supposed to protect? In the claws of Company lackeys without someone like Hatteras to keep them in check? At the mercy of the force that tried its hardest to suck the island dry after every harvest that would probably 'pen' Pleo up by leaving him to shiver cold and alone in the bowels of some dreary sea fort?

    "Wh-What?!" Crom exclaimed.

    "You can't let the Company take him away!" Nida cried.

    "Hatteras already has his hands full keeping them from sending their off-island creeps here! How can we just hand him over to them?!" Kiran squawked, surprised and frankly horrified that the Scyther could even contemplate such a thing.

    "That's enough, Ander!" Hatteras cried out, his body sparking and his patience having finally worn out. The Scyther flinched and braced himself as the Ampharos got up from his seat, which prompted the two Pokémon at the door to trade some snide comments about how Ander was surely in for it now.

    Their comments abruptly shut up after Hatteras gave a withering glare at the two spectators before he directed his attention back at the Scyther, taking a moment to breathe in and calm himself before he spoke with Ander again.

    "Look. This is a big change, Ander and you're obviously… apprehensive about it," the Ampharos sighed while maintaining a firm and hardened countenance. "But running your mouth off like that isn't going to make anything better. Please… for your sake and mine, just go home, spend a night with your family and calm down. I have other things to tend to, and I'm sure you do, too."

    "B-But-!" Ander weakly buzzed, before the Machoke grasped one of the bug's arms above his scythe.

    "Alright bub, let's go," the Pokémon demanded.


    "You heard the Pokémon, he's busy. If you're going to be like this, go back home and wait with your mate and that brat you allowed your curse to pass onto to die from this 'imminent doom'," the other added as the two lead the stammering Scyther out of hut and slammed the door behind them on a room that remained dead silent for what seemed an eternity.

    "Is… Is he gone?" a wavering voice asked from the corner of the room.

    "Yeah, he's gone," Nida replied, which prompted Pleo to uneasily poke his head up from the rough ball his body formed.

    "I understand that that could have gone… Significantly better than it did, but please don't let it get to you, Protector," Hatteras sighed while rubbing his forehead, wondering whether he perhaps could have handled the whole debacle more gracefully. "Pokémon like Ander mean well, it's just… They've become scared of things that normal Pokémon shouldn't be."

    "Yeah! We don't think you're gonna bring doom to us!" Crom piped up.

    "It truly is an honor just to be around you-" Kiran said, as the sound of the hut's door being thrown open could be heard.

    "Oh no," Nida groaned, facing away from the door. Much to her dismayed surprise, it was not Ander's voice that called out from the door, but that of a male Nidoran.

    "Oi! Nida!"

    "Oh no," Nida groaned louder, screwing her eyes shut in frustration before turning to see one of her older brothers standing in the doorway.

    "Mami needs you to watch over the little twerps tonight," the purple Nidoran barked.

    "What?! But it's Ani's turn tonight!" Nida objected in an exasperated tone.

    "Not anymore, it's not. She's sick in bed right now," her brother responded before hopping off, leaving Nida to flatten her ears and turn to headbutt a wall.

    "Ugh… en serio?" she groaned after her forehead came to a rest against the wall of Hatteras' abode.

    "Hey! Hey! Careful with the walls! It needs to serve as a guild and a mayoral office!" the Ampharos exclaimed.

    "What's wrong?" Pleo asked, his earlier apprehensions melting away as he waddled out from his corner and tried to puzzle together what the purple spike ball had done to deflate Nida's mood so much.

    "It's just… I'm going to have a long night tonight," Nida sighed while turning back to face her white-feathered teammate.

    "Can I come, too?" Pleo asked curiously, which immediately took the Nidoran aback.


    "I don't see any harm from it, Nida," Kiran offered.

    "Yeah! Maybe he'd be able to help out!" Crom chimed in.

    "It would solve the problem of where he'd stay for the night," Hatteras added.

    "I… I mean, I suppose it's at least worth a try."


    As the sun was beginning to dip towards the horizon, Nida arrived back at her family's burrow on the thinly-wooded hillside overlooking Bluewhorl Town.

    "Well, this is it," she said, coming to a rest on the reed mat in front of the burrow. Pleo gawked around, looking at the dark hole in the ground, at the mailbox on the wooden post, and then back at the hole in the ground.

    "Oh, so that's what a home is?" he asked.

    "Well, it's what mine is," Nida sighed. Between her siblings and this Protector who seemed to need everything explained to him, she could tell that this was going to be a most interesting night to say the least. Pleo looked around, expecting something, but not fully certain what, before he questioned Nida about why she came to this place anyways.

    "So what is 'babysitting'-?"


    Almost immediately, Pleo's question was answered by six shouting little Nidoran who spilled out from the burrow and surrounded Nida.

    "Play with us, si-!" a blue spike lump demanded, before her and her siblings' eyes caught sight of the tall, white, stranger that Nida had brought home. "Huh?"

    The attention of the little Nidoran immediately shifted to the stranger, and they began to hop over and press up against Pleo.

    "Who's the big birdie?" a purple lump asked.

    "I wanna ride it!" another declared.

    "No, me first!" a blue Nidoran protested.

    "I'm the biggest, I should go first!" one of the purple balls huffed. All the while, Pleo began to grow increasingly bewildered and intimidated by these fast-moving- and rather pushy- little things that Nida called her 'siblings'.

    "Ah! Nida! They're-! OW!"

    Pleo recoiled, hopping back and wrenching his right wing away from a Nidoran that brushed up against him. He looked down, and saw a small spine stuck in between some feathers, still dripping purple fluid.

    "Oh nice going, Dino, you poisoned the birdie before any of us could ride!" a blue Nidoran huffed, hopping up and down

    "I poisoned the birdie? That's your spike!" a purple sibling retorted.

    "Is not!"

    "Is so!"

    As the two Nidoran bickered, Nida couldn't help but bury her face in her paws. Two minutes at home, and her siblings had already done their best to keep their home's latest guest from ever returning. Meanwhile, Pleo began to feel a chill course through his body. His limbs began to ache and feel stiff, and his stomach began to feel increasingly uncooperative.

    "Urgh… Nida, I don't feel so-"

    "Here," a voice interrupted, prompting all eyes to turn to see a Dustox clutching a pink, heart-shaped fruit.

    "It's a Pecha Berry, eat it," the Pokémon said while offering the fruit to Pleo, "It'll dispel the poison."

    As Pleo bit into the fruit, and took it for himself, Nida couldn't help but shake out her pelt, a bit flustered.

    "Um… Artemis? I mean- I'm thankful, but I already had a-"

    "Don't mind me!" another voice called out, revealing its owner to be a Pidove. "Lemme see what I can do about that barb stuck in you."

    The Pidove quickly began tending to Pleo's wing, which couldn't help but make Pleo shrink back uneasily from the stranger's abrupt examination.

    "Um… Nida? What are all of these?"

    "They're our neighbors!" one of the younger Nidoran replied.

    "They… Live next to us?" Nida sheepishly explained.

    "I heard that someone needed a Pecha Berry?" a Lombre asked, also bearing a pink fruit.

    "No, take mine," interjected a Goomy that abruptly came from the left. "It's fresher!"

    "Mine's from mom's own field!" a young Poochyena that came from the bushes behind the burrow insisted. One after the other, more and more Pokémon came to the scene, each offering some small service or another to the Protector in their midst.

    As Pleo put two and two together and began to realize that as pushy as the strangers were being, their pink fruits were surprisingly tasty, his initial misgivings about them began to melt away. Nida, on the other hand, couldn't help but grow increasingly flustered.

    "H-Hold on a minute here! I'm supposed to be babysitting my siblings, not half the neighborhood!"

    "We can help!" one of the neighbors offered.

    "I'm not watching all of you-! Wait… Help?"

    Nida paused for a moment, looked at her siblings, at Pleo, then at the crowd of her neighbors looking expectantly... and then back at her siblings, before she came to her own conclusion of what to do with the offer.

    "Uh… Hehe, I guess some help couldn't hurt."


    After the sun went down and the moon and the stars rose into the sky, life around Bluewhorl began to wind down. As the deep blues of late sunset transitioned into the black of night and the shops shut one-by-one, the guild's teams returned from their missions and traded their worries about their tasks for worries about dinner and preparing for their next outings. Further from town, the Pokémon that tended the fields along the fringes began to leave for their homes.

    Among the Pokémon that returned from the fields along the fringes of the settlement were a certain Nidorina and Nidorino that Nida called 'Mami' and 'Papi', who made small talk with each other as they worked their way down a path going through a thinly wooded hillside above the town.

    "The berries are coming along nicely this season, don't you think, Marley?" the Nidorino asked his mate.

    "They'd better with all the time we've been putting into them, Teja!" the Nidorina huffed in response, in a tone that evinced some degree of frustration with a fickle crop.

    "Cálmate, they'll be fine, they're being watched by keen eyes tonight. Just like our kits-" the Nidorino said before he was interrupted by the sounds of a raucous celebration… Coming from the direction of his burrow.

    As the two drew closer to the burrow, they found that their home was ringed by most of the neighbors, cheerfully talking with each other, trading food and drink. The kits were up and awake kicking a pebble around among themselves- Wait a minute, the kits were up and awake?

    "Did you send out an invitation to the neighbors for tonight that I didn't know about?" Teja asked.

    "No, I didn't," Marley answered, her expression hardening into a scowl as she tromped up to the middle of the assembly.

    "Okay, what is going on here?!" she demanded.

    "Uh oh," a neighbor Lombre mumbled. The other neighbors and some of Marley's children pieced together that they perhaps overstepped a bit from the tone the Nidorina was taking with them, and the festive atmosphere came to an abrupt halt.

    "Er… There's a perfectly logical expl-" Nida said from the welcome mat, before a young purple Nidoran excitedly cut her off.

    "Mami, Mami, Nida is the best babysitter ever!" he declared, bouncing up and down.

    "Nida, why are all of the neighbors in front of our burrow? And why are the kits still awake? The Mountain Roar's Traveler has already come out from behind the moon!" the Nidorina fumed, giving a withering glare to a larger blue Nidoran who was all but digging a fresh hole in the ground to hide from her mother's gaze.

    "Marley, your kid brought the Protector home with her today!" the Dustox that was apparently named 'Artemis' interjected, trying to get the Nidorina to cut poor Nida some slack.

    "Hrmph! A likely sto-!" Marley fumed, before an unfamiliar voice piped up.


    "-ry," she trailed off, before turning to find that, much to her astonishment, Nida truly had brought the Protector home with her.

    "My name is Pleo!" the Lugia cheerily replied.

    "Oh, so this is the invitation that you sent out," Teja chuckled to his now slack-jawed mate after taking a few moments to blink and prick himself to make sure he wasn't dreaming things.

    "We figured that given the occasion, Nida could use a little help," a Pidove offered, as Marley hastily recomposed herself to try and regain control of this unexpected situation.

    "That's- Aherm- That's fine and all, but my kits still need to be getting to bed! Right now," she said, shooting a stern glare towards six small spike balls that were quick to protest.


    "But Mami-"

    "No buts, it's well past bedtime," Teja interrupted, before Marley chimed in with a much blunter tone of voice.

    "Bed. Now."

    The younger kits realized this was not a battle they were going to win, folded their ears back, and marched down the burrow's entrance, followed closely by their mother.

    "Whelp, party's over," a Pidove said.

    "Yeah, see you tomorrow," a Goomy added.

    "Let us know if 'Pleo' there needs anything," a Poochyena's voice called out in passing.

    One after the other, the neighbors left for their own homes on the hillside, bidding their farewells to Nida and Pleo as the young Lugia mimicked a few of the parting calls the neighbors made.

    Eventually, all that was left of the gathering was a young Lugia, a blue Nidoran with ears folded back, and a Nidorino staring down at his child.

    "Papi, this really wasn't what I meant to-!" Nida protested, only for her father to interrupt her words.

    "It's fine, mija. Given the circumstances, I think that we can overlook one night of shaky babysitting. Besides, you'll have someone of your own to put to bed tonight," the Nidorino responded.

    "I… Do?" Nida asked, before a Lugia's voice piped up.

    "Nida, what's a 'bed'?"

    "You weren't going to make him sleep outside on the mat, were you?" the Nidorino laughed, as he gestured at the white bird with his horn.

    "Uh, well, I guess not," Nida sheepishly responded, before she turned to her new companion.

    "Come on, Pleo, we should be going to bed too. Especially with training at the Dojo tomorrow."

    "But what's a 'bed'?"

    "It's a place to lie down and sleep. Come on, I'll show you," she replied, gesturing at the entrance to the burrow.

    "Uh… Nida? How do I get in?"

    "You might need to crouch a little, pollito," the Nidorino explained "Try to walk low to the ground like me."

    The Nidorino demonstrated by lowering his body, and folding his ears and spikes close to his body in order to make it through the tight contours of the burrow's entrance tunnels.

    "Oh, so that's a crouch," Pleo mused, one more mystery from this strange world having been explained to him.

    "Follow me," Nida said, as she began to make her way down the burrow. Pleo paused for a moment as he shifted his body low to the ground to get a hang of this 'crouching' thing. After a slight delay, he followed after the Nidoran, occasionally brushing the sides and the walls of the tunnel.

    The Nidoran lead the young Protector down the tunnel and around a bend, into a small chamber with a straw nest, a rude table, and a pair of stumps that served as stools that were shoved into a corner. The room was illuminated by a small, semi-opaque jar on the table that faintly glowed blue from some manner of bioluminescent material inside. A thick piece of cloth rested next to the jar, apparently meant to cover it as needed.

    "Whelp, this is it. Mi casa es tu casa. Or at least for tonight," Nida sighed as she hopped into the room, glad that her elder siblings now slept under other earthen roofs now… or at least when Mami didn't have one of them babysit in Nida's stead. Pleo followed the Nidoran into the room and entered the straw nest. After some circling and fidgeting, he eventually found that if he folded in his wings and curled in his tail, the nest was a surprising, if rather tight fit.

    "How come you use those weird words sometimes?" Pleo asked.

    "Weird words?" Nida tilted her head, raising an ear.

    "Like that 'casa' thingy that you were just mentioning," the white bird chirped.

    "Hmm? I was saying that 'my house is your house'."

    "But then why didn’t you just say that?"

    "That’s just the way that Pokémon on this island spoke back when it was part of the old world. Before they started meeting the Pokémon in the Cradle and began to form the way we're speaking now," Nida replied. "I learned it from Mami, Mami learned it from her Mami… and, well- You get the idea."

    Pleo tilted his head curiously at the Nidoran. He supposed that her explanation made sense, but...

    "Then why does it sound funny to me?"

    "Well, I heard that Pokémon are supposed to learn their first words based off of the voices they hear from inside their egg close to hatching," she murmured. "And you were in yours a long, long time. Why, if the voices you heard were speaking like we are now, and you heard enough of them..."

    Nida’s prattling stalled as she noticed that Pleo grew increasingly distracted with tucking his head behind his back to preen some of his feathers.

    "Eh, I guess explain more later. You seem to be getting a little bored," Nida sighed.

    "Hm? Okay,” the Lugia chirped as he turned his attention back to the Nidoran. "So… What do we do now?"

    "You just lie here, and fall asleep," Nida explained, as the sounds of her siblings protesting with their mother faintly wormed their way into the room.

    "Mami, Mami, don't forget to tell us a bedtime story!" one of them demanded, which caused Pleo to perk up at the noise.

    "'Bedtime story'?"

    "Uh, well… It's something that's normally told by parents as their kits go to sleep," Nida explained.

    "Can I have one?"

    "Pleo, I'm not exactly your-"

    "Bedtime story! Bedtime story!" Pleo insisted.

    "Alright! Alright! Keep it down, Mami's trying to put my siblings to sleep!" Nida whispered in an irked tone, not particularly caring to put up with an earful from her mother on this night. Pleo, happy with his victory, quietly sank down into the nest as he waited expectantly for whatever this nighttime ritual might entail.

    "So what is this 'bedtime story'?"

    "How about… The story of the 'Prince of a Thousand Enemies'?" Nida offered.

    "'Prince of a Thousand Enemies?'"

    "It's about a Pokémon with many, many other Pokémon that didn't like him."

    "But why wouldn't they like him?" Pleo asked, as he thought back to his earlier encounter with Ander that day. Did that mean that this 'Prince of a Thousand Enemies' also had a lot of Pokémon that yelled and made a lot of noise when they were around him?

    "Er… Well," Nida cleared her throat as she began her tale, "A long, long time ago. Back in the time of the old gods, before the first Nidoran went to live among the humans, there was a young Prince Nidorino who ruled over all the world's Nidoran."

    "So… Over all the Nidoran here?"

    "Our town didn't exist then, but that's missing the point," she explained, "Now this prince was strong in body and in will, and he had many children, so many that they were like the stars in the sky. And under his guidance, his children were bold, taking and eating as they pleased from the world's plants."


    "Like those berries and seeds you ate earlier. Anyhow, the children ate so much that they left other Pokémon without enough food for themselves, and after they complained to the old gods, they went to the Prince and sternly warned him to control his children."


    "Like putting them to bed on time," Nida sighed, wondering just how long it would take before Pleo would be less clueless about facets of her world that seemed to just be.

    "Oh," Pleo responded, "So… Then why is he called 'Prince of a Thousand Enemies'?"

    "Well, in his arrogance, the Prince laughed the warning off. Saying to the old gods that his children were the strongest Pokémon in the world, and were simply doing what their numbers allowed them to.

    "And so it was that the old gods, exasperated, decided that if the Prince would not control his children, they would allow the other Pokémon to be able to do so in his stead. And so they gave them gifts to fight against the Prince and his children. Long claws, and sharp teeth, and eyes that could pierce through the dark, and-"

    "Oh, so like Crom?"

    "Yes- Wait- No!" Nida exclaimed, lowering her ears, "Crom isn't my enemy, he's my friend!"

    "So the old gods also gave the friends of Nidoran things to fight them with?"

    "Well, I don't think that would make- But-," Nida stammered. How on earth did Pleo even get on this track anyways?

    "I suppose it's possible they became friends later on?"

    "But didn't the old gods say they needed Pokémon to control the Nidoran?" Pleo yawned.

    "The Nidoran learned to behave? Anyways, let me finish the-"

    "This story is confusing," Pleo interrupted as he began to curl tighter in the nest and his eyes began to droop.

    "Can you tell me the rest later?" Pleo asked, his voice thick and drowsy. Nida paused for a moment, somewhat exasperated at how completely derailed her bedtime story turned out. As she heard the Lugia begin to doze off, her exasperation waned, and she contented herself with a job well done as a storyteller… Sorta.

    "Yeah... I think I can do that," she said as she covered the glowing jar. After the cloth did its work in blocking out the light, she took off her scarf and threw it on top of the jar's cover before hopping up onto the lip of the nest to settle down for a well-deserved rest.

    "Good night, Pleo."


    Author's Notes:

    - (¿)en serio? - Spanish: "seriously?"
    - Cálmate - Spanish: "Relax"
    - Mi casa es tu casa. - Spanish: "My house is your house."
    Chapter 5
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    Morning came... the sun was out, the sky was blue, and the grass and the mat outside were damp from the dew of the night. As the sun's rays poked through the treetops on the sparsely-wooded hillside where Marley and Teja's burrow was, Nida found herself emerging from her parents' burrow and stretching after a rather unrefreshing sleep.

 She saw the neighbor Pokémon doing similar stretches before they went off to their day's errands, following a raucous night that had seemed like it had come from some strange dream.

    Except that dream was grounded in a Legendary reality, which Nida's ears could hear stumbling its way up the burrow's passage.

    "Pleo… Are you making it out alright?" she yawned. Her question was quickly answered by a head popping out from the burrow, although the rest of the Lugia attached to it remained out of sight.

"I'm stuck!" Pleo cried, fidgeting and trying to find a way out the mouth of the burrow. The Nidoran gave a quick peek under the Lugia's neck and quickly delivered a prognosis.

    "Uh… Pleo."



"Remember how you needed to crouch to get in last night?" Nida asked, flattening her ears.

    "Eh-? Oh! Right!"


The base of Pleo's neck dropped a little, as the rest of his body squeezed out of the burrow, crouched low to the ground. Once he had finally crested the entrance and made his way onto the mat, Pleo vigorously beat his wings to shake off some dirt and cramps from his rest overnight.

    "Your house is too small!" Pleo said, his voice coming out as somewhere in between a childish protest and a sleepy yawn.

    "I'll try and have you stay with Crom or at the Guild Hall from now on," Nida sighed. "But was the rest of your stay fun? Er… aside from the... poisoning, of course…?"


"Uh-huh!" Pleo nodded.

    Nida opened her mouth to press further, only to stop and realize… Pleo was a day old. If he hadn't enjoyed the night, would it even occur to him to try and fib to her? The Nidoran shook her pelt and then turned for the path, that Dojo wasn't going to come to them all the way up on that hillside.

    "Great, now let's get going."

    The two set out towards the creek that Nida normally crossed to reach the Guild Hall. They passed neighbors who offered up reverent greetings, as well as a few young Pokémon in a group who momentarily stopped a short game with a pebble they were kicking about to wave to the passing Lugia.

    Before long, the trees grew thinner and the clutter of Bluewhorl Town's huts and tents began to spring up, though the reactions by the varying locals had not changed much from the ones up on the hillside where the burrow was. The two eventually found themselves nearing a hut along a path that smelled strongly of baked flour.

"Ooh! Something smells good!" exclaimed Pleo.

    "That's the bakery that Crom's family runs. They're probably making bread inside," Nida answered.

    "But… Where's Cro-?"

    "Hey!" a voice interrupted.


Nida and Pleo turned to find themselves face-to-face with Crom, darting out from the entrance to his family's bakery. This time, two other Druddigon tailed him, sporting a pair of golden scarves with umber designs resembling sheafs of grain on them. One of the two Druddigon that followed was slightly smaller than Crom, and the other was much, much larger.

    "Mom made us fresh bread today!" Crom cheered, giving his wings a playful beat before the elder Druddigon began to speak.

    "Hmm hmm, I felt that it was the least I could do. After all, a Protector surely needs to eat well in order to defend other Pokémon!" the larger Druddigon answered with a proud smile.

    She passed over a small satchel that contained fresh and warm loaves that had been shaped to look roughly like Lugia- or more accurately, the rough paintings of Lugia that were up at the shrine.


    “Ooh… They look pretty," Pleo said as he gawked at the golden-brown loaves.


"And it smells great too, Gwenith," Nida chimed in as she snuck a whiff of little bird-shaped pieces of bread.

"All the better to help you today! I had heard from Mosca that she wants the Protector to try out scouting practice," Gwenith replied. "Why, with loaves like these to sniff out, you'll get through those mazes in no time!"


"That said, aren't you all running a little late right now?" she asked, drawing some awkward looks from Nida and Pleo.






"Right," Crom said, shaking his head a bit. "See you later, mom!" he called off as the three Pokémon turned and briskly made their way along the path to the Dojo, Gwenith waving after them.


"Mooom, why does Crom get to hang around the sea god?" the smaller Druddigon protested as the three left.

    "Now, now, Cenn, he's not doing this for just fun and games. He's helping the Protector grow big and strong, just like you and Crom will be one day," Gwenith admonished, her voice fading into the din of life in town as the Nida, Crom, and Pleo went further down the path.

    As the three followed the path, they found themselves travelling alongside the creek that flowed through town. The buildings and tents grew more closely-spaced, the gawking and greetings from bystanders more common. All the while, Pleo struggled with a question incessantly gnawing at his mind..

    "Hey, Nida? What is 'training'?"

    "Training is when you practice fighting, to get tougher!" Crom responded, swiping his claws at the air playfully.


"... But Nida said that 'enemies' fight in her bedtime story last night. Will we be fighting with enemies there?" Pleo asked, tilting his head a bit.


"Uhm… No. They're just some other Pokémon from around town who want to get tough too," Crom answered.


"... So 'friends' also fight?"


"What? No!" Crom explained, concerned about what idea the young Lugia seemed to be putting into his head. "Training's fun!"

    "Maybe we should let Maestra Mosca explain the rest of this, Crom," Nida sighed. After all, if he could get such wild ideas from a simple bedtime story… Maybe it would be better to try and let some older Pokémon explain things to Pleo instead.


"Is 'training' also a story? It seems confusing like a story-"

    "Oi!" a Swellow's voice interrupted. The group of three turned to see their team's leader perching on a crude wooden fence in front of a hut with large side wings and a tiled roof. Thankfully Kiran had arrived bright and early, otherwise they would have walked right on past the Dojo!

    "Oh, good morning, Kiran!" Pleo chirped energetically.

    "Are you ready for your training today, Pleo? I've even got a scarf and a badge just for you!" Kiran said, gesturing with a wing to a navy blue scarf with a white star on it- and a glinting badge that he had taken the liberty of affixing for his newest recruit.

    "So we're going to be fighting for fun today?" Pleo cheerily asked.

    "Uh," Kiran groaned as he looked at his other teammates, getting just a little nervous about where Pleo might have gotten that idea.

    "Crom said that training is when 'friends' fight for fun, so…"

    "That wasn't what I said at all!" Crom interjected.

    "Why don't we go inside and put on your scarf first, Pleo," Kiran sighed, "We should probably take this one step at a time.


The young Lugia cocked his head, but not seeing the harm in the matter, decided to follow Kiran's heed and follow him and the other members of Team Traveler into the tiled hut.


    The interior of the Dojo was far more impressive than its shabby exterior let on. Inside there were simple, but neatly-laid, wooden floors. The roof and walls were composed of clean-cut wooden beams separated by partitions made mostly of brownish paper. It became apparent when walking in that the "hut" was merely the entrance to the dojo, and that the "wings" were really covered corridors that lead to other huts, and to encircled grounds with boundaries neatly demarcated by lines in sand.

    "So this is a 'Dojo?’" Pleo asked as Nida drew her paws back from affixing a navy blue scarf around Pleo's neck. The young Lugia looked around, mesmerized by this strange complex that seemed rather unlike anything else he had seen so far in Bluewhorl.


"Mmm hmm! This is where Maestra Mosca's gonna teach you how to get tough!" Crom cheerily answered.


"'Maestra Mosca'?" Pleo asked.


"That would be me," a voice answered from down the corridor.

    The speaker drew nearer and revealed itself to be a Hawlucha. The ground-bound bird walked towards the group with a sagely calm that seemed at odds with her garish green, magenta, and white plumage as she drew near to the waiting group and greeted them with a bow.

    "I must say, when Guildmaster Hatteras asked me to train the Protector, at first I had thought that he had accidentally ordered an overly stiff drink from one of the Juice Bars!" Mosca chuckled a bit.

    "But, now that I see the truth of the matter, I must say that I am deeply honored to be able to mentor you as our Protector, pollito."

    "But my name's Pleo," the young Lugia insisted after an awkward pause.

    "Of course it is. Anyhow, the training chamber Guildmaster Hatteras arranged for you is this way," the Hawlucha replied, before ushering Team Traveler down a corridor which passed some streamside huts on one side and a series of fields in between buildings and covered corridors on the other.

    "So… What is training?" Pleo asked the Hawlucha, "Crom tried to tell me on the way over, but I didn't really understand what he was saying."


"'Training' in the strictest sense is merely readying yourself for the challenges of life by making challenges of your own to conquer," Mosca answered as she lead the group into a turn around an intersecting corridor. "To make battles that you can safely retreat from in order to prepare for those that you can't run from."

    "What does that mea-?" Pleo blinked, before a shrill shout cut him off.


    The group turned from the sound of the cry to see a Mawile and Luxio locked in combat in a rectangular courtyard. Along the courtyard's edges, various Pokémon worked in teams of two to maintain translucent barriers of what seemed to be light. On sidelines behind them, a much larger body of Pokémon cheered on the two opponents, most of them wearing lavender scarves that had been scrunched and folded up into headbands and made it impossible to tell whether or not the cloth had any designs on them. The Mawile too wore one of these headbands, and had just narrowly weaved around an arcing whitish-yellow bolt of electricity that the Luxio further behind shot out at him.

    "Haw, haw! Is that the best you've got, ya little guild runt?" the Mawile called over his shoulder. "I've fought off ferals that hit harder than-! Oof!"

    The Luxio cut off her opponent by lunging and pinning him down. She reared her head back before sinking her sharp teeth, cloaked in flame, into the maw-like horns on the Mawile's head.

    The creature was forced to let go almost quickly as she had clamped down, as the Mawile instinctively flung his head about to fling off his assailant. After tumbling a distance, the Luxio bounded away as her opponent was preoccupied with nursing the sting of the flaming bite, before taking a moment of its own to retort in kind from a good distance.

    "Maybe you should do something more with those jaws of yours than just talk! I thought you were supposed to be a guard!"

    "Wow!" Pleo exclaimed. "So that's what we're going to do today?"

The Mawile took a moment to brush himself off, shake some sensation back into his second maw on his head, and get back onto his feet, scowling determinedly back at the opponent Luxio.


"Hmm, not bad, but it'll take more than that to finish me- Eh?!"


And then, the Mawile's eyes caught sight of Pleo. As did those of the Luxio, followed one by one by the rest of the shielding and gawking Pokémon on the sidelines, the frenzy of battle broken by their awed stare at the white and blue guardian in the corridor.

    "Hi!" the little guardian waved. "So, I'm gonna get to fight one of y-?"

    "Ahehe… Not quite, Pleo," Kiran laughed nervously as he tucked Pleo's wing down. "Para ser fuerte, you can't go throwing yourself into the thick of things!"

    "Otro día, pollito. Please follow me this way," Mosca quickly replied, "As for the rest of you, don't you have a battle to be getting back to?"

"Oi! Less staring, more sparring!" a Girafarig from the sidelines, apparently the referee, cried out with both its mouths, as the Pokémon in the courtyard began to uneasily pull themselves away back to the Mawile and Luxio, who slowly eased themselves back into battle positions. 

    "Wait, everyone was looking at something? What was it?" a Zubat asked, before the noise of the returning din of battle drowned its voice out and grew indistinct as Team Traveler continued to move further away.

    "... But why can't I fight?" Pleo asked in a pouting tone.

"Most of those Pokémon are guards, Pleo," Nida explained, "Their training focuses on fighting because if anything bad in town happens, they'll need to help protect the town from it."


"But if they also protect things, and I'm a 'Protector'... Shouldn't I also be doing their training?" Pleo asked.

    "You will eventually. Why, who knows? Perhaps I'll wind up sparring with you myself to see how you fare against my world-famous Plancha Voladora!" Mosca proudly declared as she slid a partition open to peek into a wooden hut by the stream. "But before that, there are some fundamentals that you must learn. This way."

Inside the hut were a series of high partitions that, unlike the others seen in the complex, were fashioned from solid wood. The panels reached up to a net strung along some rafters, having the net effect of making a rough cube of netting and wooden partitions.

    Mosca shut the partition behind her, and led the group up to an entrance of the cube in the middle of the room. There, Crom handed off his bag of bread to her, which she set beside the cube's entrance.

    "For today's exercise, we will doing a mock-up of a dungeon crawling experience that you will all surely find familiar one day," Mosca lectured, pointing at the wood-and-net cube behind her.


    “Now, the dungeon is not too different from this maze behind me here. The layout's unpredictable, it's often hard to see things, and most importantly: there's treasure lying about," the Hawlucha continued, which immediately drew a curious inquiry from Pleo.

    "Wait, there is-?"


"However!", she interrupted, "Any dungeon, our own included, has its hazards. The ferals there will pick fights more often if they are threatened or moody, the Distortion creates traps, and most importantly, if you take too long, the Distortion will clear out the floor you are on."

    "What does this have to do with the wall maze, though?" Crom asked.

    "Everything! As a mock-up, you will need to put all of the skills and senses that you would need in the dungeon to use to find these loaves that your mother, Gwenith, so generously provided for us.

    "If you can clear this gauntlet in time and make it out the end still standing, then, and only then will you be able to-"

    It was then that Mosca found herself interrupted by the sound of munching, and of hard pecks against wood. The team's attention was then drawn to the bag by the entrance, where they noticed that it had already been half-emptied by Pleo, who was presently working on a half-devoured loaf on the floor.


"Wow… And I thought I was a fast eater," Crom murmured.

    "Psst! Pleo! You're supposed to eat those after you find them in the maze!" Nida hissed.


"Hmm? But they were right there! And the pink birdie said to find them!"

    "We… Have a lot of work ahead of us, don't we?" Mosca sighed, putting a balled-up claw up to her face.


During the first few days after Pleo began his training at the Dojo, his progress was marked by fits and starts, mostly false ones. Still, he improved little by little. The monotony of the routine was broken by a midday recess, during which Team Traveler showed its newest member around Bluewhorl.


As it so chanced this particular day, Nida and Crom agreed to bring Pleo along into the town's square by the docks.

    "Wow! I think these 'boat' thingies changed overnight, Nida!" Pleo exclaimed as he passed a wooden craft tied up along one of the docks, oblivious to the gapes that some of the nearby Pokémon interrupted their routines to give him.

    "Well, they kinda did. Two went out last night, and two came in this morning," Crom explained. He took a short moment to perch on a post on the dock to stretch his wings in the sun.


"Eh? Where did the others go?"

    "Probably to a nearby island to trade for some supplies," Nida answered, "There's some things that we wouldn't be able to normally get easily here on Tromba without them, and it helps some Pokémon like Crom's papi to support their families."


"'Trade'? What's that?" Pleo asked, tilting his head out of puzzlement.

    "Eh? Nida, did we not buy anything with Pleo before?" Crom asked, turning slightly from his sunning on the post.

    "Now that I think about it," Nida pondered, drawing a paw to her muzzle in thought, "I guess we haven't."


It was then that she happened to catch a glance of a certain rude wooden shack from the corner of her eye, and with a devious smirk, she turned back to Pleo.


"Actually, let's fix that right now. The team could use a few more supplies anyways," Nida said, as she hopped off towards the hut.

    Pleo gave a quizzical look to Crom, who shrugged his shoulders and dismounted his post. The two nimbly followed Nida to make up for her head start, and caught up with her just in time to see her hopping up a stump next to a wooden counter on the shack.

    "Hey! Calino! Are you back there?" the Nidoran called to the back of the shack.

"Speaking!" answered a Kecleon who popped up from behind some boxes. The creature made its way over, changing his scales to the customary viridian that he tried to greet all his customers with.


"What can I do you for to- Oh!"


And saw that the Protector he had heard so much about in recent days had graced his shop with a visit!


"Ahehe, it is truly an honor to have you here, Protector," Calino said, giving a small bow from behind the counter.

    "Oh really now?" Nida said in an accusing tone, lowering her ears to play up a sense of grievance, "I seem to remember that you said that you wouldn't give even the Protector a discount if he was a rookie!"

    "Oh! Er..." Calino stammered, his scales starting to flush an embarrassed burnt yellow, "Well, you know, Nida, that was all hypotheticals! I wasn't honestly expecting that the Protector would be awakened in my lifetime, so-"

    "So… You'll give that discount on whatever we buy today, then?" Nida asked in a saccharine tone, perking her ears up.


"Haha! You mean for yourself, yes?" Calino chortled. "When you sprout white feathers and wings like this Lugia here, we'll talk-"


"I want to get whatever Nida buys!" Pleo cheerily proclaimed to the Kecleon, waving his wings.


"E-Eh?!" the Kecleon cried out in surprise, his body rapidly turning white.


"So you'll give a discount now?" Nida insisted, giving a cheery head tilt.

    "Uhm… I mean-! Th-This isn't fair, Nida! Hiding behind the Pro-!"

    "You did just imply that you'd cut a deal for Pleo, Calino," Crom said, as a few Pokémon passing by began to stop to watch the exchange between Calino and his young, if surprisingly tough customers.

    "W-Would buy one get one half off-?"


"Seriously, Calino? Just how much Poké do you expect Pleo to have after a week around here?" Nida sighed, flicking her ears back as some of the nearby residents chimed in.


"Yeah, Calino, don't be such a tightwad!" Scout called from the water beside the dock.

    "Can't you even cut the Protector a break?" a Corsola from the harbor cried.


"B-Buy one get one free! That's my final offer!" Calino cried, his scales now tinged a desperate grayish-blue as he eagerly tried to save some face, "Why, my poor purse couldn't possibly take more than that!"


"'Free'?" Pleo asked.


"It means that he'll give us an extra thing for whatever we buy!"


"Oh! Okay!" the young Lugia chirped, happy that he had helped to get his friends some extra goodies.

    "Thanks for explaining, Crom," Nida replied before turning to Calino. "I'll take the usual again, this time with an extra Cross-Eye Seed!"

    Calino couldn't help but grumble, his extremities flushing red at the tips as he put together a double portion of Nida's mostly-customary selection of items

 as she slid some glinting baubles onto the counter.

    "What is it that you're giving him, Nida?" Pleo asked.

    "It's Poké, the money that's used in this town," she explained.




"It's kinda like trading food, except the food never goes bad… And you can't eat it... I guess it's not like food at all, now that I think about it," Crom mused with a claw up against his chin before a certain Swellow's voice abruptly cut short his train of thought.

    "Nida! Crom! What are you two doing? Pleo's training session was supposed to start again 10 minutes ago!" Kiran admonished mid-flight from above the shops behind the group.

    "Uh oh. Looks like we'll have to get going, Pleo," Crom said, before tromping off after his team's Swellow leader. After a moment's hesitation, Pleo waddled along, occasionally hopping from the ground with the beat of his wings.


"Thanks for the discount, Calino!" Nida called out to the Kecleon, bounding away after her teammates.


"Uh huh, sure," the merchant groaned, putting a claw to his face.

    "Gods these days."

    "Oh, so you do have things that you care about more than money, Calino," a certain Sentret piped up while passing by the counter. "That's honestly surprising."

    "Scout, could you not right now?" a now fully-red Calino fumed.


    Soon enough, Pleo found himself back within the wooden corridors of the Dojo's maze. Although he had been in there more times than he could count on one of his wings by then, the experience was still disorienting. Outside of intersections and rooms, the list of directions where one could see in any meaningful direction was short: Forward down the corridor, behind oneself, and, if it wasn't covered by a chunk of the next level of the maze like his present corridor, the netting that hung along the rafters.

"See anything, Pleo?" an unseen Nidoran called out.

    "Yeah, we should have three more loaves left!" the voice of an also-absent Druddigon added.

    Even though Nida and Crom had taught him some handy tips for training over the last few days, such as that the two didn't disappear when Pleo couldn't see them, or to always mark his place and pick the next closest direction if he got stuck at an intersection… The isolation of the maze always felt unnerving.


"I smell it, but nothing yet-" Pleo called, as he rounded a sharp turn in the maze. As his the corridor on his left progressively became less obscured by one of the maze's walls, Pleo noticed one of Gwenith's golden-brown loaves sitting at a dead end.

    "Oh! I found it! I found it!" Pleo cheered, as he veered to the left of the corridor to waddle towards his prize.

"I've got i-!"


The faint sound of a trap triggering resounded, followed by a stiff smack from underneath by something cold, slimy, and smelling of earth, causing Pleo to pitch forward.



"Pleo! Are you alright?!" Nida cried out from deeper in the maze, "What happened?"

As Pleo picked himself up from the floor, he looked down and found that the entire lower half of his body had been covered in thick, damp mud. When he turned back to the place where he had stumbled, he found that the mud that struck him had been splattered radially all over the corridor. 

"Yes, but I just got a bunch of brown goop stuck on my legs and wings!"

    "Oh, you probably stepped on a mud trap!" Crom's voice called out over the walls.

    "Simulated mud trap!" Mosca's muffled voice from outside the maze's partitions corrected.




"Pleo, can you move alright?" Nida's voice asked.

    Pleo attempted to shake off some of the mud, finding that it weighed down his legs and wings. While he was able to get some of it off, the majority of it remained stuck in his feathers and continued to uncomfortably encumber his movements.

"Not really!" he answered back.

    "Just clean off what you can and play through it for now!" Nida's voice cried back. "Mud Traps affect your ability to fight depending on what part of your body they gum up. It'll go away eventually as you get the mud out!"



    "And pay closer attention to the floor from now on!" Crom's voice added. "If you see one that has a pattern kinda like an arrow, step on that one! It'll pump you up and clear up that trap's effects right away!"

    Pleo snatched up the loaf by pressing it in between his wings and backtracked down the corridor. He made sure to keenly avoid the center of the mud splatter as he made his way back to an intersection with three other corridors stemming from it. There he attempted to scrape some of the mud off onto a corner before he paused for a moment.


"Let's see… The one that I didn't go down should be on the… Right!" he chirped, as he turned down his chosen direction. The young Lugia continued on under the shadow of the next floor, leaving a small trail of muddy footprints and splatters as he carried on down the corridor's bends and turns. As Pleo entered a small chamber with two narrow passages leading out, one forward and a smaller one to the left, he could overhear Nida's voice call out.

    "I found another one!"

    "Okay, so then there's just one left!" his other partner replied.

    Pleo paused for a moment. After realizing that he had already marked his position (in a manner of speaking) from the flecked mud trail still following him, he decided to follow the "next closest" direction rule and head to the left corridor. He carried on a ways, until he noticed a break in the pattern of the floorboards below his feet where some jagged rocks were poking out.

    "There's pointy rocks in the bottom of the floor like last time!"

    "It's probably another trap!" Nida called out "Can you get around it?"


Pleo went up to the trap, keen to keep his feet a healthy distance from where its edge might possibly be, and saw that the corridor was narrow enough for the patch of embedded stones to span its entire width.

    "I don't think so!" he called back.

    "Turn around and try another path, then!" Crom's voice piped up, which prompted the Lugia to sigh at just how hard this 'training' thing was as he retraced his muddy steps back to the chamber.

    He then noticed that as he got closer to the other corridor, the smell of toasted grain lingered in the air. Pleo made his way down the passage a bit more briskly, keenly watching the floor.


Perhaps a bit too keenly, as he bumped his head into a wall. After he drawing back and giving his head a good shake to regain his bearings, Pleo noticed the last loaf lying in the middle of the corridor.

    "I found the last loaf!" he cheered, seizing the piece of bread with his mouth.

    "Alright, great! Now we just need to find each other... Did any of you see the stairs by any chance?" Nida's voice echoed down the corridors.

    "Nop- Oh wait, I just found them, Nida!" Crom hastily announced.

    "Alright! We'll come to you, Crom! What should we be looking for?"

    "Claw marks!"

… Hopefully Mosca would be understanding about that. After all, there were already a bunch of nicks in the maze panels already, right? As Pleo backtracked his way towards where he and Nida had split up, he discovered that sure enough, Crom had scratched little reminders to himself into the panels.


A scratch on a corridor here, a gash on a corridor there, an occasional tracing of a dead end that Crom had gone down. So went the process of plodding along and trying to piece together these clues to follow the young Druddigon's steps.


    Pleo soon found himself looking up at Crom waving at him from beside some stairs.

    "Don't eat those until after we get out!"


"I wathnth!" Pleo protested through a beak filled with bread loaf. Crom quickly darted over and took the remaining pieces of bread, depositing them into the bag Kiran had let him borrow for training.


"Here, while we wait, lemme try and get that mud out of your feathers," Crom offered, as he prompted Pleo to raise his wings and began to carefully rake the mud out with his claws.


"Are the other floors of the cave also like this?" Pleo asked.

    "Kinda. They're not as boxy or wooden, and in the places where Kiran takes us, the Distortion usually makes them a lot more open," Crom replied, as he flicked off globs of mud before moving on to one of Pleo's legs.

    "The… Distortion?"

    "You know, rearranges the Mystery Dungeon... creates orbs and traps… changes plant seeds into the sort that Calino sells from his shop... occasionally makes a forgotten gummi or apple left in there into a super-special gummi or apple if the ferals don't eat it first," Crom explained.


"But then why aren't we training there?"

    "Eh?! The Mystery Dungeon is a lot more dangerous than here! That's why Maestra Mosca has this maze! So that way Pokémon can practice and go home easily if they mess something up!"


"Dangerous?" Pleo asked, cocking his head as Crom quickly wiped off Pleo's badge and then moved his attention to cleaning a few stray spots on the Lugia's plumage that he had not already gone over.

    "It's a place where you can get hurt a lot more easily," Crom responded.

    "But if it hurts you easier, why do you go there?"

    "Because it's training for us. A Pokémon on a Rescue Team needs to be able to not run away from danger or scary things all the time, because in the future, someone might be counting on you to help them," the Druddigon explained.

    "Someone… Might be counting on you," Pleo repeated, as Nida's voice interrupted from behind him.



    And Pleo turned to see Nida setting some bread loaves that had visible bite and drag marks down on the ground.

    "Well, I suppose that that's one way to spend half a week," Nida sighed.

    "Well… Think of it this way, it's only been half a week, and we've managed to make it with Pleo to the sparring partner!" Crom cheerily replied as he stuffed Nida's loaves into his bag.

    "Uhm… Crom, you realize Pleo has to win against said sparring partner before he can move on, right?" Nida whispered, as she watched Pleo beat his wings, enjoying his regained mobility now that the mud caking his body was gone, minus a few stains on his feathers.

    "Ah, we're fighting as a team of three, I'm sure we'll do fine!" Crom replied back in a hushed tone.

    "Nida? Crom? What are you talking about? Aren't we going up the stairs?" Pleo interrupted.


"Heh. We were just talking about that, actually," Nida said as she began to make her way up the stairs, and lead her teammates on.

    "So, a 'sparring partner' is a Pokémon that you fight, right?" Pleo asked.

    "Sorta. They give you a battle in which they hold back a little so that you can use the chance to improve how you fight," the Nidoran explained as the group reached the top of the stairs and the last level of the maze.

    "Hmm? But who is Maestra Mosca going to have us spar with-?" Pleo asked as he gawked at the now unobstructed view of the netting above, before a low, familiar voice interrupted.

    "Hello, Crom. I was beginning to wonder when you were going to make it up here."


The three Pokémon paused, blinked, and stopped a moment to make sure their eyes were not being deceived by the sight of the large Druddigon waiting in the room, standing between wall partitions that went up to her chest.

    "Wait… Mom? You're our sparring partner?" Crom asked incredulously.


    Author's Notes:

    - Maestra - Spanish: "Teacher", "Master". Maestro for male counterparts.
    - Para ser fuerte - Spanish: "To be strong"
    - Otro día - Spanish: "Another day"
    - Plancha Voladora - Spanish: lit. "Iron Flying", referring to the move we would better know as "Flying Press"
    Chapter 6
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    Crom, Nida, and Pleo found themselves trading awkward stares with each other. Yes, there was supposed to be a sparring partner after their crawl through Mosca's maze, but… this older Druddigon waiting in the center of the last wood-paneled chamber...

    "Of course, sweetie!" Gwenith chuckled. "You didn't think that I just came and went during the session to restock your bread loaves did you?"

    "Um… Nida? I thought friends didn't fight with each other," Pleo said, somewhat unnerved by the idea of fighting the Pokémon that gave them bread in the morning. Crom also felt that the battle arrangements seemed rather unsettling. After all, it was one thing for the young Druddigon to fight with his brother Cenn, but...

    "Mom, are you sure that-?"

    "I'm pretty confident that I can stomach a couple nicks here and there to help you younguns grow a little," Gwenith responded as she adopted a tensed pose.

    "Try and hit me with your best shot!" she roared.

    "Uhmm… rawr, look at how totally fearsomely cute I am?" Nida growled endearingly back at the Druddigon.

    "Yeah! Yeah! We're tough! And scary!" Pleo chimed in as he attempted to mimic Nida's growl, but wound up producing something that came out as more of an awkward squeak.

    "Well, if you won't land the first hit, then I will!" Gwenith huffed before she lunged for the group with an open claw.

    "Whoa! Mom?!" Crom exclaimed as he narrowly rolled out of the way of a weak, but still stiff claw swipe. Gwenith's swipe carried on past Pleo, who had narrowly ducked the attack, and into Nida, sending her tumbling back a bit towards a wall.

    "Ga-aah! That was an attack!" Nida shouted as she bounced up back to her feet and braced herself against her foe. "Growling disarmingly is listed in the Dojo annals as a perfectly legitimate technique!"

    "You won't put a feral down for the count that way!"

    "Okay! Okay! We'll fight!" Crom cried, before he attempted to rush back, and latched onto his mother's arm with his maw. The younger Druddigon quickly came to regret doing so, abruptly spitting out her arm.

    "Owowow!" he groaned, it seemed biting down softer on his mother's jagged hide didn't make it hurt any less.

    "Oh come now, Crom. I'm not letting you take off from the bakery to pull your punches! Put some thought behind them!" the older Druddigon admonished, before she slugged Crom with a forceful, if not squarely aimed, punch to the chest that sent him reeling.

    "Argh! Moooom! Couldn't you have made that point with something less painful?" Crom grunted as he got back up to his feet, now keenly maintaining his battle posture.

    "Hey, if you're gonna fight, then we can hit back too!" Pleo cried from behind the older Druddigon. The young bird stiffened his neck, and felt a hot sensation forming at the back of his throat before he opened his beak and disgorged a glowing white sphere at Gwenith's direction…

    Only to watch, to his astonishment, as the Druddigon backflipped over his ball of light, used her wings to reorient her body so her claws were again facing the ground, and entered a momentary, stalling glide in mid-air…


    And bore down and pounced upon Pleo claws-first, pinning him to the arena's floorboards.

    "You have to think fast in battle, Protecto- Oof!"

    The Druddigon found herself thrown forward from her trapped opponent, who had, while still sprawled-out, wide-eyed and panting on the floor, disgorged another glowing ball on his foe in panic.

    "D-Don't scare me like that!" Pleo fumed as he righted himself and got back up to his feet.

    "Hah, that's more like it! You're learning already!" the Druddigon complimented as she threw herself back up to her feet. Gwenith then heard a weak plink and a faint drop of liquid fall on her hindquarters, followed by a second pink of something falling onto the arena floor. When she looked at the source of the faint noises, the Druddigon saw that it was a Nidoran's barb...

    That had failed to lodge itself in her hide, glancing off and spilling its poison harmlessly outside the Druddigon's body.

    "Um… At least it went further that time?" Nida said sheepishly from behind a corner panel. Crom interrupted her awkward moment with a roar as he attempted to lunge into the fray.

    "Got you now, Mom!" he cried as he slashed at the other Druddigon, only to wind up slicing at air and charging headlong into a low wall. After crumpling up stunned against the wall, Crom found himself nursing his head as he pulled it back from a visible dent in the panel.
    As for the where the elder Druddigon went, the matter was quickly answered by the sound of Gwenith tromping just beyond the wall.


    "Come on, Crom! Before she gets away!" Nida cried, hopping up onto the wall's ledge and vaulting over the other end. Crom got up, shook some stars from orbit around his head, and ran around the wall to rejoin the fray, leaving behind a solitary young Lugia.

    "Enh! Enh!" Pleo cried as he tried again and again to bound over the wooden partition as Nida had.

    Pleo found that although he was able to make flapping hops up to see Gwenith locked in combat with his partners over the ledge, he couldn't quite make it over.

    "Why are these walls so high?!" he fumed before he gave up and ran around in the direction Crom had gone, just in time to see Nida being swatted away after a failed attempt to poison her sparring opponent with a running tackle.


    "A bit smarter, but you'll need to do better than that!" Gwenith called to the sprawled-out Nidoran.

    "Nida, just keep her busy a little longer! I'm almost done honing my claws!" Crom shouted out while poking his head from behind a partition.

    "Aha! That's where you are!" the elder Druddigon exclaimed as her son sank in the realization that he had just betrayed his position. "Uh-oh," he quietly uttered, as his mother came charging towards him.

    At this point, Pleo had become a bit overwhelmed by the entire experience, and tried to think of something, anything to put this ordeal to a close.

    "Stop it!" the young Lugia shouted, then beat together his wings to whip up a churning, whirling wind that cut across the floor of the arena. It struck Gwenith and sent her tumbling past her child into a wall.

    "Good thinking, Pleo!" Crom called from his position, before starting to run as his mother regained her bearings while slumped against her wooden partition, "Nida, I think we've got an opening!"

    "Right behind you!" Nida shouted, as she got to her feet and bounded after her partner.

    Crom gave the hardest slash he could muster at his mother's belly scales, and quickly ducked out of the way before Nida came sprinting up to deliver a passing tackle to the Druddigon. Gwenith's jagged hide stung back, but the two were keen to swallow their urge to stop and cry out in pain. Luxuries such as staying still would have to wait for the two rookies until after they had some healthy distance between themselves and Gwenith, who would surely be hot on their heels…

    Only… She never came.

    "Oof! I- I am slain!" the older Druddigon cried, before she staggered and overdramatically toppled forward onto the floor, closing her eyes. The scene made Crom pause for a moment, and after he saw that she was not getting up, he rushed over out of concern.

    "M-Mom?! Are you-?! I d-didn't mean to-!"

    Only to find himself cut off by his mother jumping up and latching onto her son, lifting him off the ground in an embrace.

    "See? I told you your old mother could take a nick or two!" she said, while nuzzling her child's crest.

    "Moooom! You're embarrassing me!" Crom protested as he flailed to try and break free.

    "Oh, so that's where he gets it from," Nida groaned. As Gwenith finally let her child go, the Nidoran turned and noticed that Pleo was still maintaining a healthy berth from the group of three.

    "You did great too, Protector!" the Druddigon cheered towards the white bird, but her words didn't seem to have any effect on the Lugia, who was visibly shaking and wide-eyed.

    "Pleo?" Crom asked.

    "Pleo, it's over. We won. She won't attack if you get near right now," Nida called out.

    "No! She hurt me! And she's scary!" Pleo chirped back, his voice still tense and anxious. It made Gwenith's expression sink a bit.

    "I- I suppose that I might have overdone it a little," she murmured to herself as she set Crom back down on the floor, which prompted Nida to go up to try and console her teammate.

    "Pleo, it was just a sparring match," Nida explained, nuzzling the young Lugia. "She's still the same Gwenith that works at the town bakery."

    "But it hurt!" Pleo protested.

    "Er… Well, that's what happens in battles, yes," Nida sighed, flattening her ears. "But if you don't practice, you could wind up really getting hurt by a Pokémon that won't be friendly after fighting."

    "Yeah, like pirates!" Crom exclaimed.

    "'Pirates'?" Pleo asked.

    "Mean Pokémon that gang up to bully and take stuff from Pokémon that can't fight back against them," Crom growled from beside his mother. "And to top it all off, they even wear scarves like we do but don't follow the pact that goes along with wearing them at all!"

    Pleo didn't like the sound of these "pirates," but… but something seemed to be missing from what Crom was saying. How exactly would putting oneself in danger of getting hurt help avoid getting hurt later?

    "Besides, if you never practice, you won't ever get any stronger," Nida added.

    "Uh-huh! Uh-huh! A Protector's gotta be strong in order to be able to do any protecting!" Crom chimed in with a sawtoothed smile.

    "I realize that it's probably different than blowing over sea rocks... Or entire tunnels," she said, uttering the last part under her breath, "But Gwenith really isn't scary."

    "Y-You promise?" the young Protector stammered.

    "I promise. Now come on, let's go shake Gwenith's claw," Nida said as she guided Pleo over to the Druddigon. The two stood there, staring at each other, waiting expectantly for… something.

    "Psst! Pleo! Stick one of your wings out! Like Guildmaster Hatteras showed you!" Nida whispered.

    "Like thi-? Oh!"

    As Pleo followed the Nidoran's instructions, he was surprised to see that the elder Druddigon had grasped his extended wing firmly, but gently. She gave it a firm shake before letting go and drawing her claw back to her side.

    "You're improving a lot, Protector!" Gwenith said, before giving a soft pat to Pleo's head.

    "See? Would a scary Pokémon do that, Pleo?" Crom asked.

    "Heh heh, I guess not," Pleo giggled, having finally been convinced that Gwenith bade him no ill will. He would have to think twice before asking to train with her in this "sparring" thing, though.

    "Um… How do we get out of here anyways?" Crom asked.


    Mosca took off a couple panels from the upper walls of the maze and unspooled some netting for Team Traveler and their partner to clamber down. After exiting the wooden training course, Pleo drank some crisp, cold water from a bowl while Kiran inspected his body, Oran Berry in beak.

    "So it seems like Gwenith was quite the competition, huh?" the Swellow asked as he inspected the young Lugia's body.

    "Yeah, that battle was really tough- Ow!"

    Pleo recoiled as Kiran squeezed the berry along a cross-cut he made into the fruit's flesh, causing some juice from the berry to dribble onto a wing scrape.

    "It's alright, Pleo! The sting from the Oran juice means that it's healing you!" Crom explained.

    "Crom… I thought the idea was to reassure him," Nida sighed as Pleo returned to his resting position being attended by Kiran as the Swellow continued.

    "Why didn't you just fly, pollito? You would have been able to outmaneuver your opponent much earlier on if you had," Kiran asked as he daubed some Oran juice onto Pleo's other wing.

    "Ungh! 'Fly' over them?" Pleo asked after wincing a bit due to the juice stinging.

    "E-Eh?! But you're una ave!" Kiran interjected while giving the berry's pulp over to his comparatively large charge. "I mean, your wings look a little scrawny and all, but surely you can fly a little?"

    "Well, he doesn't know how," Crom said, scratching the back of his crest sheepishly. "And Druddigon can't exactly fly with these wings. We glide, and we're not that great at it."

    "Yeah, and I sure can't teach him," Nida piped up, hopping a bit off the floor. As he looked over the young Protector nibbling through his Oran pulp, the Swellow realized to his dismay that Nida and Crom raised a good point.

    "That's… something I shouldn't have taken for granted," he groaned, burying his face into a wing.

    "One step at a time, Kiran," Mosca said as she walked up from behind. "Though given the Protector's progress today, I think that we can put him through some flight-focused training for the next few sessions."

    "It'll have to do," the Swellow sighed as he wondered whether conceding to Hatteras' suggestion to babysit Pleo in the Day Care might have been the more prudent option after all.

    "Hrm… Have you all recovered a bit from your training?" the Hawlucha asked the three younger members of Kiran's team.

    "Uh huh! Uh huh!" Pleo cheerily responded as his teammates echoed, the sting of the Oran juice and the aches from their scrapes having already faded.

    "Now then," the Hawlucha continued. "I think that it's perfectly reasonable to now call it a-"

    "Woo hoo! Training's over! Come on Pleo, let's go!" Crom cheered, throwing his arms back into the air before he made a beeline for the chamber door, flung it open, and ran out into the corridor outside, with Nida and Pleo closely following behind him.

    "See you at the front, Kiran!" Nida called back as she darted through the now-opened sliding partition.

    "Day- Hey! No se corre en mis pasillos!" Mosca huffed after the three Pokémon.

    "Heh. Well, I guess at least one thing is predictable with that pollito," Kiran said as he too turned, took wing, and made his leave after the rest of his team.


    By the time Team Traveler departed the Dojo, the sun had just begun to touch the horizon and begin its process of slipping over for the night. The group decided to make their way back to the guild hall by walking in the gully of the town's stream, which had enough dry ground exposed to be walkable. The team made their way along, passing under the frail bridges that stitched the two sides of Bluewhorl together over it. The water was clean, flowing at a pleasingly meandering pace, and briskly cool to wade in...

    "It tastes like the water at the Dojo!"

    Most importantly, it did a remarkably good job at cleaning out the leftover dirt from the mud trap in the maze out of Pleo's feathers. After the first few chilly dips and a few subsequent moments to stop and preen his feathers, his stints in the water grew increasingly long and enjoyable as the white feathers began to better shield his skin underneath from the creek's water.

    "Where are we going now?" the young Protector asked, as he came up onto the shore from his latest journey into the creek.

    "Well," Nida said, "I think the next step is heading to the Guild Hall and-"

    She opened her mouth to continue, but found the words in her mouth abruptly dying as she had a sudden realization.

    "Oh… I just remembered something. I still need to drop off that watering can I packed in your bag that I promised I'd bring to Mami and Papi while they were in the field today," she sighed.

    "Eh, we can all afford to take a little diversion, Nida," Kiran chirped. "We got out a little earlier than I expected"

    "Erm… I mean, I guess it couldn't hurt to see your dad again," Crom added in a cheery tone.

    "Mami will also be there too, Crom," Nida emphasized, which caused the young Druddigon to briefly blanch a pale shade and give his wings a nervous beat.

    "Uhm… Maybe you could ask her to be a little less scary?"

    "Crom, she's perfectly fi-" Nida admonished, before she turned to notice that her team's newest member suddenly wasn't there. "Wait… Where's Pleo?"

    Crom and Kiran looked around their surroundings, and after a brief moment of panic, they caught the sight of his tail disappearing around the corner of a hut up the hill of the gulley the creek laid in.

    "Pleo! Wait!" Kiran squawked, as he flew after his young white charge, Nida and Crom following the Swellow gingerly up the stream, where they ran into their teammate dawdling in the middle of a path.

    "What are you doing?" Nida scolded, "Just because this is a small town doesn't mean that you should go wandering off like-!"

    It was then that Nida noticed that Pleo had a number of young Pokémon gawking back at him from the path, a motionless ball lying beside their feet.

    "Nida! Nida! These Pokémon have a 'ball'!" Pleo chirped eagerly. As Nida and her companions drew nearer, they saw the Pokémon were coming from a tent that was shaped much like a Froslass' head. One of the edges of the white and violet tent straddled a shallow pool, which a small Finneon was flopping out of on its fins. The pool extended to the ledge of the gully, ending in a sluice that was apparently meant to drain it out into the stream.

    One after another, more and more young Pokémon darted, flew, or awkwardly flopped out onto the path to the best of their abilities. The young creatures soon enough wound up crowding around Pleo, and jabbered among themselves excitedly.

    "Wow! You're so pretty," a Poliwag gushed.

    "How do you become a Protector? I wanna become one, too!" the Finneon Nida saw earlier cheered.

    "Auntie Hariti! That 'Lugia' thingy is in the yard!" a marginally older Meowth called, turning its head back towards the tent's entrance. Almost immediately, the Meowth's voice summoned a wispy white and blue wraith, with a purple face and yellow and red eyes, that floated effortlessly above the ground.

    Perhaps it was the pleasant chilling effect the creature had on the air around her in Tromba's tropical and muggy weather, but being in this "Hariti's" presence felt strangely disarming, as she seemed to exude a certain eerie motherliness to her demeanor.

    "Oh my. I must say, I wasn't expecting you to need my services, Kiran," she smiled, replying in an gentle, airy tone. "Not that I would pass up the chance to care for this most… Unusual trainee of yours."

    "Ahehe, well… That's not quite why we're here," Kiran chirped, giving an awkward ruffle to his feathers.

    "I found a ball!" Pleo exclaimed cheerily, waving and gesturing at the ball still lying in the path.

    "Ah, well a little curiosity never hurt a Pokémon around here either!" Hariti giggled a bit at the young Lugia's enthusiasm towards such simple things. "Hang on, I think there are some snacks left over from mealtime for you and your teammates."

    The ice wraith briefly ducked back into her tent, phasing through one of its walls. Pleo squawked out of startled surprise, "Sh-She disappeared!"

    "Eh? She always does that though," a young Bidoof nonchalantly responded.

    "It's something that Pokémon like her can do with practice. They often get disoriented when they go back to normal for some reason, though," Crom explained as Hariti returned to the group through another wall, this time clutching some small, frosted, thick-skinned, red fruits in between her digits.

    "Here you go, frozen Pomeg berries straight from my prize bushes!" she said, offering the fruits to Pleo and his companions. Pleo paused a moment as he watched his partners claim berries for themselves and split some cuts along the rind to expose what looked like red seeds inside.

    "What's 'frozen'?" Pleo asked, tilting his head at the fruit.

    "It means that I made them very, very cold, sweetie. Things sometimes change when that happens to them," the Froslass explained. "Go on, take it!"

    Pleo hesitated a moment, and then grasped the fruit in between his wings. The red berry felt cold to the touch, and after hesitating a moment, Pleo managed to force part of the rind off along a cut Hariti had made into it, exposing some red seeds inside.

    The young Protector paused a moment, and then pecked at the seeds. Much to his pleasant surprise, the seeds were firm like the blander seeds that Pleo had eaten earlier, but tasted spicy-sweet and had a peculiar aftertaste.

    "I think I like it!" Pleo chirped, as he dutifully returned to pecking out the seeds in the fruit. Little by little, the white bird and his companions had whittled their frozen fruit down to little more than rinds when a timorous voice called from the tent.

    "Au-Auntie Hariti? I-Is it gone yet?"

    "Huh? Who's that?" Pleo asked, turning from his snack.

    "It's those blotched Pokémon!" an Oddish huffed.

    "Yeah, you don't want to talk with them, my dad said all they're good for is eating!" a Spearow declared.

    "Yeah, they're bad Pok-! Yip!" a Snubbull cried out as the Froslass flicked a small ice shard at its rump. The Oddish and the Spearow also found themselves stumbling forward and nursing their rears, whining quietly after they too were struck by small pieces of ice.

    "Thank goodness she shut up those críos," Nida mumbled under her breath, lowering her ears.

    "That's quite enough out of you three," Hariti admonished sternly before turning to Pleo. "Protector, er... I realize that it might seem a bit strange to you, but some of the younglings here are extremely shy towards-"

    Much to her dismay, the young bird had already made his way to the tent's entrance, prompting her to call after him frantically.

    "Protector, wait!"

    By the time she reached the tent, Pleo had made his way in, and was passing a group of young Pokémon with blotches on their heads- much like Ander the other day- that were cowering in a corner.

    "Auntie H-Hariti!" a Chatot who was still covered in soft, downy feathers squawked in panic.

    "H-Help!" a Bulbasaur stammered, as the toad tried to hide in vain to hide behind the Chatot that was far too small a shield.

    "Pl-Please make it go away!" a trembling Mudkip cried while curled up in a ball at the foot of one of his larger compatriots. The compatriot was a small Scyther about as tall as Pleo, wide-eyed, and frozen in place in a corner.

    The young Lugia, after pausing a moment to give a quizzical look, proceeded towards some sundry painted doodles he had noticed on rough paper on the floor of the tent as Hariti and his teammates rushed in.

    "Pleo, you should really-" Kiran began, only for Pleo to cut off his words.

    "Wow! You make paintings here?" Pleo asked as he examined the doodles. There were pictures of the harbor (if with buildings that didn't look quite as sturdy as their actual counterparts), of the mountain and its shroud of fog, of the different townsfolk…

    Of the multitude of pictures, one stood out to Pleo in particular. It was a picture that was a little less crude than the others that depicted a funny little blue blob with purple antennae on the sides of its head that was balancing a blue circle on its nose.

    "Who made this one?" Pleo asked, as he pointed out the picture that caught his attention.

    "I did," a voice called from the corner, and when Pleo turned back towards it, he saw that the speaker was the young Marked Scyther, uneasily tapping her scythes together.

    "It looks really pretty!" Pleo chirped.

    "Uhm… Thank you, I guess," the bladed bug buzzed, clearly at a loss as to why this Pokémon would choose to praise her handiwork. Her companions in the corner similarly found themselves at a loss for the behavior of the dread beast in front of them.

    "H-Huh?!" the Bulbasaur exclaimed, poking his head out from behind the Chatot.

    "I-It's- It's being nice?" the Mudkip asked, as he began to ease of the ball he had curled his body into.

    "Uh huh! Uh huh! He's not mean at all!" Crom tried to reassure the young Marked. There was an awkward pause as he and the other Pokémon realized that, beyond some perplexed stares and some faltering half-steps that were quickly taken back, the Pokémon huddled in the corner just couldn't work up the courage to walk up to the young Protector.

    "Why are they just sitting there?" Pleo asked, tilting his head up to the Froslass.

    "I… Think that maybe it would be best for Kiran to explain this to you once you're gone," Hariti sighed. "It's not nice to try and force Pokémon to do things they're not ready to do."

    "Yeah! Come play with us instead!" the Bidoof from earlier called, poking her head into the Day Care's entrance.

    "Uhm, as tempting as that offer is, we have to get going," Nida replied, folding her ears back in obvious displeasure. "We're busy Pokémon."

    "We should get going, Pleo. Come along," Kiran instructed, much to the audible displeasure of the young Pokémon in the yard of the Day Care.


    "But I wanted to play with the birdie..."

    Kiran led the team back out to the path, after they traded farewells with Hariti and her charges, the four continued on past the bridge. As the team made its way out back to the fringes, the town's structures once again began thinning out. As Pleo once again found himself under the shade of the hillside trees that began to line the path, he couldn't help but ask...

    "Who were those Pokémon?"

    "Some young ones that Hariti watches for Pokémon around the area," Kiran explained as he landed on a branch to briefly rest his wings.

    "She helps to raise a few who don't have parents that watch over them," Nida added as she made her way over a root that intruded into the path.


    "Well, you see Pleo, sometimes young Pokémon, for one reason or another, don't have anyone around to look after them. Sometimes they're all busy with work around town, sometimes no one can find any of them, and sometimes they just aren't there for them," Kiran explained from his perch as his teammates continued on the path a small ways. "When that happens, Hariti takes care of them either until the Pokémon that take care of them come back, or until they grow old enough to take care of themselves."

    "How come Nida looks after her brothers and sisters instead of Hariti, though?" Pleo persisted, turning back to look at the Swellow.

    "Sometimes… Hariti gets very upset when young Pokémon have others to take care of them and don't behave themselves… Repeatedly," Nida grumbled as Kiran left his perch to catch up with the group.

    "How come those Pokémon in the corner were scared of me?"

    "It's because they were Marked, just like that Scyther that startled you a few days ago," Crom said, as he stopped to claw at some visibly loose bark on a tree that had caught his eye.

    "So they didn't like me either?" Pleo murmured. "But why?"

    "They were probably expecting you to be mean to them," the Druddigon explained as he left his tree, flicking aside a few scraps of bark that had clung to his claws.

    "But… How come?"

    "Well, a very, very long time ago, those Pokémon's ancestors did some very bad things to the old gods…" Kiran explained as he took a moment to circle the group in a small clearing they were passing through. "And they've somehow since got it in their heads that when Protectors like you came along again, that you'd be mean to them."

    "But I'm not mean, am I?" Pleo asked in an apprehensive, squawking tone.

    "Of course you aren't, pollito!"

    Pleo breathed a sigh of relief. If he wasn't mean, then that would mean that sooner or later, those Pokémon with the blotches would realize that… Right? But, there was one other matter from the Day Care that Pleo couldn't help but wonder about.

    "What does it mean to eat a Pokémon? The brown and red birdie said something about it."

    The question instantly brought the entire group to a stop, and caused Crom and Kiran to look flustered while they thought about how they should answer.


    "Uh… Well…"

    "Hrmph, don't think about it too much. If that kid wasn't talking about the food that Ander sells for a living, he's probably some mouthy feral runt that got dumped there by his parents," Nida grumbled as she continued on the path.

    "Now Nida, that's hardly fair! Most of the town is related to or descended from ferals if you go far back enough!" Kiran admonished as he followed along with Crom.

    "So… Ferals are Pokémon that eat other Pokémon?" Pleo asked as he too began to follow his group.

    "That's kinda oversimplifying," Kiran protested as the group rounded a bend, "But-"

    "Doesn't that hurt the Pokémon that get eaten, though?" Pleo interrupted, as he thought about how he had pecked and chewed and generally torn apart the various berries, seeds, and those colorful things called 'gummis' he had eaten over the past few days. If it hurt to get nicked by Gwenith, this being "eaten" sounded absolutely dreadful!

    "It's... Complicated, but yes, it does. And it hurts them in a way that healers can't make better," Nida explained, which caused Pleo to stop and think a moment.

    "So ferals are mean Pokémon, then?"

    "It's hard to explain… In the way that ferals live on their own, they need to be able to eat, and sometimes the only way for them to do that is by hurting another Pokémon," Kiran answered.

    "But I don't hear anyone talking about eating Pokémon in town…"

    "That's because Pokémon that live in town eat Gummis like the ones you've been eating for the past few days and aren't allowed to eat other Pokémon. Other Pokémon aren't allowed to eat them in return," Nida said as she hopped up a ledge, prompting Crom to mull a moment and interrupt.

    "Doesn't the guild allow that 'scavenging' thing that Ander's involved with, thou-"

    "Crom. Stop. Talking," Nida hissed, "This is already a confusing enough thing to explain!"

    Oh, so that's why those brightly-colored things seemed to show up so often at meals. Something about Nida's explanation still didn't add up for Pleo, though. If Pokémon didn't eat other Pokémon...

    "Why doesn't someone just make the feral Pokémon live in towns, then?" Pleo demanded, which caused Kiran to stop and come to a rest on the ground, before he turned back to Pleo and began to speak with a gentle, if firm tone.

    "Pleo… Do you remember what Hariti said back at the Day Care?"

    "'It's not nice to try and force Pokémon to do things they're not ready to do'?"

    "One of the rules for Pokémon that wear scarves like us is that no matter how much they might gain from it, other Pokémon aren't supposed to try to eat us or take advantage of us or force us to do things we don't want to… but that in return, we're not allowed do anything of the like to another Pokémon," the Swellow explained. "And you have to live like that even when there's other Pokémon counting on you, which some ferals find to be asking for too much. It wouldn't be terribly fair to expect ferals to leave us alone if we went around trying to force them to live in a way they weren't ready to, don't you think?"

    That all seemed fine to Pleo… with one caveat that he couldn't seem to wrap his head around.

    "Huh? But what about Pokémon that don't follow those rules? Didn't Crom say that pirates also wore scarves, but they took things from Pokémon anyways?" Pleo asked, thinking about those creatures that Crom spoke of in the training maze. "Aren't they also Pokémon that aren't ready to live like you do?"

    "Uh…" Kiran muttered, beak agape.

    "Eh?! Of course not!" Crom cried.

    "Yeah, if you let them have their way, they'll just go on stealing from Pokémon like us!" Nida protested.

    "Let me clarify that statement a bit," Kiran sighed, putting a wing over his face. "'It's not okay to try and force Pokémon to do things they're not ready to do when they're not trying to hurt you or your friends.' When they do, you're perfectly in the right to try and make them knock it off!"

    "That's also why you're allowed to hit back at attacking ferals," Nida whispered.

    "Oh, I… I guess that makes sense," Pleo said, before Crom interrupted his train of thought as he gestured off towards some bushes in a clearing.

    "Hey, I see your family's field, Nida!"

    As Nida and her companions drew nearer to the clearing, the neat rows that the bushes were planted in became apparent, as did the little Leppa fruits that could be seen in between clumps of leaves here and there.

    "Mami! Papi! I'm here!" Nida called out, her voice soon being answered as a few bushes began to rustle before Nida's parents emerged before the group.

    "Hola, mija," Teja said before the Nidorino drew forward and gave the Nidoran a small nuzzle with his snout.

    "Hola a todos, and pleased to see that you've been growing, Crom," Marley said in a congenial, if guarded, tone.

    "H-Hello, Marley," Crom stammered, as he found himself folding his wings back and subconsciously backpedaling from the Nidorina.

    "You don't have to be so shy, Crom," Marley tut-tutted. "I've never taken any trophies from nice dragons before."

    Crom suddenly decided that he needed to be anywhere not directly in front of Marley, and hastily retreated behind Kiran with a shudder.

    "Nida! Sh-She's doing it again!" he whined.

    "Mami, couldn't you have said that differently?" the blue Nidoran groaned.

    "What? That was supposed to be reassuring!"

    "I think that not bringing up your past exploits would probably work better, dear," Teja sighed as he flicked away a loose spike under a bush.

    "Well, what's the point of that if everyone on this island already knows about them?" Marley huffed in protest as her daughter couldn't help but roll her eyes a little.

    "Anyhow, I brought the pail," the Nidoran said as she fetched a small, rudimentary clay pot with a handle and long neck from Kiran's bag and brought it over, which prompted the Nidorina to stop a moment to give them an inspecting sniff.

    "Hmm… Very good," Marley said. As Nida's parents sized up the watering pail, the group was interrupted by the sound of rustling from the undergrowth around the clearing, and a voice calling out.

    "Aha, I found you!" it called out, as a four-legged creature covered in jagged, striped fur with a long tail popped out of the undergrowth, carrying an stony ring in its maw.

    "Eh?! Who are you?" Pleo asked as he stumbled back from the Zigzagoon.

    "Pleo, that's a feral," Nida whispered as she and the other Pokémon present quickly adopted cautious postures, just in case the creature had come with belligerent intentions.

    "Grr," Marley growled at the Zigzagoon, "If you think that you're going to walk off with my berries, you've got another thing comi-!"

    "Whoa! Whoa! I'm not here for that… I'm just a humble Pokémon that's come to pay respects with the gift from the land," the feral Zigzagoon explained before he dropped the ring in its mouth and nudged it forward.


    "I'm presenting you a gift, great one," the creature bowed.

    "Oh! Er… Thank you?" Pleo responded as he went forward to curiously examine the item. It was a most peculiar ring… or was it a rock? Whatever it was, it was a yellowish band with crags that jutted out laterally, as if it were meant to be worn somehow.

    "Why, it looks like a crown!" Crom murmured to himself.

    "A… 'Crown'?" Pleo asked, but before anyone could explain what the little Druddigon meant, the Zigzagoon abruptly spoke up and bowed again.

    "It is truly an honor, please enjoy the offering. But now I must go," the creature replied before darting off back into the undergrowth. Pleo deposited this rock- ring- crown- thing into Kiran's bag as Team Traveler was left to wonder why the Pokémon was so quick to leave. As if in answer, the quiet was broken by the much deeper sound of brush being trampled as a Tropius tromped into the clearing, slowing to a stop to catch its breath.

    "Mildrew?" Teja asked, flicking his ears out of surprise. "Is something the matter? Shouldn't you be at your orchard?"

    "That's why I'm here!" the Tropius panted. "A feral just barged through my field with some rock or whatever and knocked over a bunch of apples my daughter was in the middle of setting aside to eat at her job at Melissa's!"

    The comment caused the rest of the Pokémon in the clearing to pause and trade looks with each other.

    "Well, that would explain why the Zigzagoon was in such a rush," Crom groaned, putting a claw over his eyes.

    "Uhm… Pleo, I think that we might need to take a moment to help the nice Tropius," Nida sighed.

    "Huh," Pleo chirped. "But-?"

    As Pleo trailed off, he noticed something strange from the corner of his eye. Even though the sun had not set yet, there was something sparkling like stars in the sky above the town.

    "Kiran! Kiran! Look, the stars are out!"

    "Eh, I'm pretty sure that's just some dust kicked up by a Bug-Type," Mildrew answered nonchalantly. Pleo, on the other hand, was made only more curious by the Tropius's comment, and waddled over to a ledge that provided a view above the treetops of Bluewhorl Town's harbor.

    As Pleo looked over the ledge, he saw that the "stars" were being scattered by a flying red and yellow six-limbed bug of some sort. The creature flew briskly along, quickly finishing up a long, trailing arc of glowing powder which slowly fell from the sky. Down in the water, a large, strange ship with a slim and tapered hull entered the harbor at a brisk clip, carried along by the wind and the trails of sea Pokémon flanking its hull closely. The ship had two masts with large, golden sails sporting a central design of what seemed to be a gray teardrop with two spikes jutting out along its sides. Indistinct figures followed it in the air, with other figures visible moving on its deck. Occasionally, there would be a stiff wave or column of water coming from the flanking sea Pokémon directed at other points in the water, surely some sort of sport or game.

    "There's a ship! The stars brought a ship to town!" Pleo insisted in his cheery demeanor. The others were not so quick to brush that statement off. One by one, the Pokémon in the field came up to the ledge, and as they saw the strange vessel Pleo couldn't help but notice something very wrong with what he had expected would be a fun sight for everybody…

    Everyone else watching at the ledge had turned pale.

    "Oh no, first ferals disturbing my orchard, and now this?" Mildrew muttered to himself.

    "We need to head back to town to make sure the kits are safe, now," Teja barked to his mate.

    "You take the burrow, I'll check on the older kits in town," Marley tensely replied as they rushed off down the path from their field, their preoccupation with their crops having been completely erased by the sight of the strange ship.

    "Wait! Marley! Teja!" Pleo cried, turning after the Nidorino and Nidorina who were disappearing down the path. "Where are you going?! What's going o-?"

    Before Pleo could finish, he heard a deep boom and the faint sound of shouting, followed by another boom, and then another.

    When Pleo looked back down, he saw that the ship had rammed a smaller craft and forced it up onto the docks in order to make a space for itself. A few of the figures who arrived with the ship stayed nearby, casting barriers of light similar to those Pleo saw at some sparring matches at the Dojo.

    The rest of them were making their way into the town from the ship. Every now and then, a bright flash or a torrent of water could be seen ripping through the paths and structures along Bluewhorl's seaside, sometimes from the direction of the boat, sometimes from the opposing direction. Each one made a faint sound that carried above the din of shouts coming from the town; a crack, a pop, a boom, a churning noise much like angry waves from the sea.

    After so many cycles of the cacophony, one of Bluewhorl Town's structures would crumble, or catch fire and trail smoke into the air, or simply cease to exist.

    "Huh?! What's-?! What's going on?! What is that ship?! And why are the Pokémon from it wrecking the town?!" Pleo squawked, bewildered and concerned about why this ship had all of a sudden started ruining the home he had lived most of his life in.

    "Pleo," Nida answered seriously. "Those are pirates."


    Author's Notes:

    - (¡)No se corre en mis pasillos! - Spanish: "Don't run in my hallways!"
    - críos - Spanish: lit. "babies", used in this sense to tersely refer to someone who is acting infantile or immature.
    - Hola a todos - Spanish: "Hello, everyone"
    Chapter 7
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    As the faint din of the pirate raid continued to reverberate up the hills of Tromba Island while smoke billowed up from Bluewhorl, the members of Team Traveller struggled to come to terms with the calamity unfolding before their eyes. After a shocked pause, Kiran shook his head and broke the silence.

    "Come on, we need to get going," the Swellow said to his teammates with an anxious chirp as he flapped up and took wing. "The Guild and the guards are going to need all the help they can get down there."

    The Swellow flew for the path that returned from the fields to the town, his teammates darting off after the team leader…

    Save one.

    "Wh-Where are you going?!" Pleo cried from the ledge, his words stopping the rest of Team Traveler in their tracks at the other end of the Leppa field that Nida's family tended to.

    "Where everyone else is going right now," Mildrew's voice answered from the side, his head trained towards his field. "They've got things to defend, just like I've got a field, a mate, and a sapling that need protecting!"

    While they didn't exactly have children or fields of their own, the other Pokémon on Team Traveler also looked similarly torn about staying any longer at the little Leppa field on the hill. Family, friends, neighbors, their teammates at the guild, little places which brought moments of joy to their lives, all of those were threatened by the chaos in the town below.

    "We need to get down there right now to help fight them off!" Nida exclaimed, hopping up and down, her barbs fanned out from tense anxiety.

    "F-Fight them off?" Pleo stammered, his feet still firmly glued in place by the bluff.

    "Yes! We have to!" Crom cried, the young Druddigon flailing his arms to try and beckon the young Lugia forward.

    "B-But won't that hurt?!" Pleo squawked. After all, if Gwenith was already intimidating to fight against when she was all smiles and cheers afterwards… why, these pirates must surely be in a class of their own.

    "It doesn't matter! The town's in danger!" Nida shouted back. At the other end of the Leppa field, Kiran circled in the air a moment and turned his head back to Pleo.

    "Pleo, do you remember how we said that Pokémon on Rescue Teams need to be able to not run away from scary things all the time?" the Swellow called out.

    "Because- Because someone might be counting on you to help them?" Pleo asked back falteringly.

    "Yeah, well right now, the entire town's counting on us to help," Kiran explained, his words causing Pleo to cast a troubled glance at the ground in front of him. Yes, these pirates seemed frightening and all, but... The entire town? All of those Pokémon in their scarves, the ones that had given him so much attention since he came down from that cave…

    All of them were counting on Pokémon like this little group to help them?

    As the little Lugia remained frozen in place with indecision, he was interrupted by a chirp from Kiran, who was now facing down the path.

    "Pleo, we can't wait any longer! If you're not ready, just stay here with Mildrew, okay? We'll be back when it's over," he tried to reassure his newest recruit before he, Nida, and Crom turned and took off down the path for the town.

    "Kiran! Not that this isn't a big honor and all, but shouldn't you not be volunteering other Pokémon for babysitting?!" the apple-grower called after the Swellow as he quickly trotted over to Pleo.

    "Bring it up when there isn't a town being destroyed!" Kiran's rapidly fading voice called back. Mildrew glanced out at Bluewhorl, the bedlam engulfing it visible from the bluff.

    "Fair enough," the Tropius sighed. "Come on, Protector. There'll at least be things up here you can defend, too."

    The more Pleo looked at the destruction unfolding below as Mildrew led him off, the more he thought of the townsfolk in Bluewhorl. About the Pokémon that lived there... About how aside from the Marked, they all were so happy just to be around their 'Protector'… And about how many of them might be just as scared as he was of getting hurt and counting on that 'Protector' to help them...

    It was then that Pleo decided that, as intimidating as this whole matter with these pirates was, he needed to be somewhere other than this patch of Leppa berries high up on the hill.

    "W-Wait for me!" the Lugia cried out. Much to Mildrew's surprise, almost as soon as the words had left Pleo's mouth, the young Guardian had darted onto the path and after his teammates.

    "Eh?! Wait-! Where are you going?!"

    As the tree trunks and shrubs lining the path flew past Pleo, and Mildrew's voice grew further and further away, the young bird called out again, hoping that his choice had not come too late.

    "Kiran! Kiran! I'm coming too! I wanna help!"

    "Come quickly, then!" a Nidoran's voice called from further ahead.

    Pleo darted down the wooded path, and before long he could see his teammates again. When he rejoined their rush along the path towards Bluewhorl, he found his worries about the bedlam below crowded out by thoughts about the Pokémon that were counting on this blue-scarved Rescue Team to help them. After what seemed like an eternity running past an unending mass of trees and undergrowth, the forest along the path melted into the abodes and structures on Bluewhorl Town's outskirts.

    The attack on the town still raged in the distance with deep booms and thuds which were punctuated by the occasional sounds of struggles. Shouts, roars, screeches, yowls… All of them accentuated the already sobering sight of plumes of smoke coming up from the direction of the town's harbor. The paths were devoid of the normal bustle of Bluewhorl's daily life; the team's arrival into town was greeted by a lone young Meowth that had not found shelter yet and was bolting up the path with wide-eyed fear.

    "Are you okay?!" Nida cried out, causing the cream and brown kitten to come to a panting stop.

    "Th-There's pirates wrecking the town, o-of course I'm not okay!" the still-hyperventilating Pokémon blurted out.

    "Calm down, calm down… You're fine, just find a place in the fringes to lay low for now-" Kiran attempted to reassure the creature, when a bug-like voice from further down the path hissed:

    "Oh nice going, veikka, you brought us even deeper into the island."

    "Aah! They're here, too!" the Meowth panicked, as it fled as fast as its legs could carry it up the path and into the fringes around the town. Pleo's throat tensed as he saw his teammates brace themselves. The Pokemon that the jittery creature had heard was just around a blind corner, and worse still, it sounded as if the creature was not alone.

    "Oi! You try maintaining a sense of direction with an old maid clawing and trying to take a bite out of you!" a gruff voice growled.

    "Look you morons, there's a path right here that heads to the sea," a comparatively yippy voice admonished. "Let's just take it before we get surrounded!"

    And the voices were… Leaving? Pleo could hear fading footfalls from around the blind corner, which indeed were heading towards the sea. But… Was that really such a good thing?

    "Kiran, they're getting away!" Nida cried.

    "Oh no they aren't!" Kiran squawked. He lead the group around the corner, bringing into view the forms of a Gabite, a Trapinch, and a Growlithe who were quietly retreating for the sea.

    "Stop right there, criminal scum!" the Swellow barked to the three, which caused the Pokemon to stop dead in their tracks and whirl around, revealing gold scarves with some grey spiked pattern tied around their necks. The Growlithe was lugging a satchel, the Gabite had a claw occupied with a half-eaten piece of bread, and all three seemed to all have a few scrapes from a scuffle with what was probably the 'old maid' that they were talking about.

    "Aw crud," the Trapinch groaned.

    "Relax, veikka. They're obviously still a rookie team," the Gabite scoffed in between mouthfuls of bird-shaped bread loaf. "What are they gonna do? Cry on us?"

    "Wait a minute- That's one of mom's loaves!" Crom growled once he recognized the shape of the bread the Gabite was polishing off. "That's from her bakery!"

    "Yeah, and so what?" the Gabite spat out, devouring the rest of the loaf. "What are you going to do about it, brat?"

    "We'll sic our island's Protector on you!" Crom roared. "Lugia! Guardian of the Seas-!"

    Before Crom could point out the Protector of Bluewhorl Town, he was interrupted by an indignant chirp.

    "I'm Pleo!" the white bird in the group interrupted as he beat his wings to try and look more forceful. "A-And you can't just barge in here and wreck the town! That's mean!"

    Although Pleo tried his hardest to mimic Crom's roar, his words came out closer to the shrill cry of a disturbed Wingull- and failed completely to impart a 'divine' impression on the three ruffians that were currently trading unimpressed looks with each other.

    "That mewa is supposed to be a Protector?" the Growlithe asked dismissively.

    "Ha! Sure you are," the Trapinch chittered mockingly. "And I'm the King of Conntow!"

    "Nice try birdie, but I'm pretty sure that 'Protectors' aren't little mutant feather dusters that are shorter than me," the Gabite growled.

    "Let's see if you rookies can fight better than you fib!" the Trapinch huffed, snapping his jaws aggressively as he hopped up and down.

    "Come on, give us a claw, mutt!" the Gabite snarled, before he drew one of his claws into a tensed stance. "Let's wipe the floor with them!"

    "Coming right up!" the Growlithe cried, before he hopped back, tensed himself, and emanated a blue, seemingly electric aura his body before giving a running tag to the Gabite and Trapinch. The Gabite flinched a moment from the tag, and then lunged for the group slashing wildly.

    The team quickly scattered out of the way of the land shark, Pleo making a tumbling dodge to the ground. As he hopped up back to his feet, he became acutely aware of a pain shooting from his tail as something heavy latched on to it and attempted to drag the Lugia back.

    "Ow! Let go! Let go!"

    "Not happening!" a muffled voice hissed. When Pleo looked behind himself, he saw the culprit to the sudden pain: the orange bug among the pirates had taken a bite into the end of his tail!

    Pleo squawked out of surprise and swung the Trapinch around, attempting to shake the antlion loose. A bit further on, Kiran narrowly dodged being swatted out of the sky by the Gabite, thanks to Crom intercepting the Gabite's arm fins with a timely bite.

    "Grr, please. Who do you think I am? Some dainty little Deerling?" the Gabite growled at Crom, before he used his free claw to deliver an upwards slash at Crom's underbelly. The poor Druddigon let go of his grip, crying out in pain, and was knocked away to a tumbling stop against a wooden message board.


    As Crom staggered to his feet and nursed the raw, reddish scrape along his belly scales, the Gabite took a moment to wince a bit from the ruddy lizard's bite and some fresh scrapes the land shark had picked up while clawing him away.

    The Gabite whined a little under his breath about how this accursed hamlet just had to have Pokemon that it hurt to strike, steeled himself again, and then after perceiving an opening, swooped down at the Druddigon to best him.

    "Here, have another-!" he cried, before he was cut off by Nida's voice.

    "Get away from him!"

    Nida plowed into the Gabite's stomach with a tackle, throwing him off course and off-balance with a yelp. The Gabite got up uneasily and stiffly and, much to Nida's pleasant discovery, with a pawful of her barbs stuck in his stomach.

    "Urgh… You little runt, what did you do to me?!" the Gabite demanded in a groaning snarl as he eased himself to his feet and tried to pick out some of the barbs. In the background, Nida could hear Pleo crying out, as well as the voices of the other two pirates harrying him.

    "Stop moving around so I can deep fry the bird, you dumb bug!" the Growlithe's voice barked.

    "I'm trying! He keeps jerking me around!"

    "So let go of him!"

    Crom had gotten back up on his feet just in time to turn with Nida to see the Trapinch release his grip on Pleo's tail, apparently attempting to nip at him again on something less peripheral than a tail.

    "Grr!" the Gabite growled as he approached Nida and Crom with bared claws. "Don't think that you're just gonna be able to- Gah!"

    The Gabite quickly fell back, narrowly dodging a directed burst of air from Kiran's wings strong enough to cut a groove into the dirt of the path as the Swellow swooped in between his teammates and the attacking dragon.

    "Nida! Crom! I'll take the Gabite!" the Swellow directed as he tensed himself for an exchange of blows with the land shark. "If you and Pleo keep the other two busy so they can't heal the poison, we've got this battle sealed!"

    Nida and Crom didn't question Kiran's words. As soon as they felt the breeze from his taking flight after the Gabite, they rushed forward to Pleo. Said Lugia was running further down the path, having just barely dodged a gout of fire from the Growlithe and an open-mawed tackle from the Trapinch by a stroke of luck.

    "H-Help! Two against one isn't fair at all!"

    "You're right! It isn't!" the Trapinch chittered as he reared up to lunge at the Lugia with another bite from his jaws. "But that's life, hu- Ow!"

    But the lunge was not to be, as the Trapinch quickly found himself getting pounced on by a larger and heavier spiked dragon that slashed at his back, which sent the Trapinch tumbling forward.

    "Oh, you'll pay for that, runt!" the orange bug hissed as he righted himself, and then lunged forward and clamped his maw onto the Druddigon's arm.


    The Trapinch came to regret latching onto Crom's arm almost as soon as he bit down, as he spat the blue arm out and dropped to the ground whining with his maw agape and its innards scraped by the Druddigon's rough hide.

    "Owowow… My poor mowth-"

    Before the Trapinch could overcome the pain in his maw, he was kicked up into the air by an unseen assailant. As he fell back to earth, he saw a Nidoran entering a second spinning kick, with her foot racing toward his head.

    The sound of a loud thud from Nida's kick reverberated along the path, along with a second, duller thud of something striking a wall with the accompanying sight of a small cloud of dust. When it cleared, the form of a weakly groaning Trapinch embedded in a damaged wall became plainly visible.

    "V-Veikka!" the antlion groaned before he lapsed out of consciousness, which prompted Nida, panting and wide-eyed with surprise that her second kick came out so strong, to take a moment to grumble and glower at the creature.

    "'That's life,' hu-?"

    Nida was cut off by a burning sensation on her flank that made her yelp and jump back. When she looked at her side, she noticed a blackened patch of fur and barbs that had been where a small but potent gout of flame struck her. She then looked up and locked eyes with the pirate Growlithe who had snuck past Nida, Pleo, and Crom and now stood in between them and Kiran.

    "I'm still here, you know! And I heard your bigmouth captain blab all about your strategy!" the orange and cream dog growled, before he dug out a Pecha Berry from his bag with his muzzle and bolted on up the path towards Kiran, who was busy evading the Gabite and trading occasional potshots.

    "Hey! Fatty! Heal up! These bachory are trying to wear you-!"

    No, the team was not going to have their hard work undone by some tubby thug playing medic, Nida thought to herself. She sprung forward, and swiped at one of the Growlithe's hind legs with a claw, causing him to stumble in pain and whirl around.

    "Ow! Oh, it's-!"

    As the Growlithe prepared to retaliate, he noticed that Pleo had disgorged a glowing ball that was coming straight at him- a realization that came a few moments too late as the ball struck the Growlithe and sent him tumbling across the path into a post supporting someone's mailbox. As he tried to get back up to his feet, he felt a stiff smack to his underbelly by something that felt like it was covered in sandpaper, and another from a thing that prickled to the touch.

    "Gaaack," the pirate groaned, before he too fell unconscious. Nida gave the dog another stiff kick for good measure before she and her teammates discovered the final pirate's fortunes with the sound of a loud thwack.


    When she and the others directed their attention towards the Gabite, they saw that he was stumbling, stunned after being struck in the nose with the team Gravelerock.

    "You didn't think I was keeping my distance from you just because you were ugly, did you?" Kiran taunted from the air.

    At this point, the Gabite was near the end of his rope from the poison and this rookie team that was surely cheating in its battle somehow. The dragon growled, and decided that things would be better off were he to call a retreat.

    "Nrghh... Ugh, aika häipyä. Take your own path to the sea, you useless mutt! I'm out of here!"

    As the Gabite ran off and hopped off the ground in a running glide, he suddenly found a white, frigid beam striking one of his wings and crusting it over with ice. The Gabite lost his balance, pinwheeled, and tumbled along the ground before crashing into the wall of a hut.

    The Gabite then weakly attempted to rise to his feet, only for a Nidorina to ram his belly and drive the hapless dragon into the wall of the hut.

    "Ar-Argh," the Gabite groaned, before the Nidorina released the Gabite to flop forward from the wall with a thud. Much to Nida's surprise, the Nidorina was none other than...


    "You're the last kit unaccounted for, and so help me, no one harms my kits like that!" Marley growled with a freshly-plucked scale in her mouth, looking back at the motionless Gabite sprawled out on the ground. The whole incident couldn't help but massively unnerve an already weakened Crom, who shivered a bit at the sight of Marley's thoroughly effective defeat of the last pirate of the group.

    "D-Did she just-?!" he squeaked.

    "Mrph, the Gabite will at least live to get what's coming to him," Marley harumphed as she scratched at an ear and took a moment to pocket her most recent trophy.

    Kiran flew down and hopped along the ground towards his teammates. The pirates they had encountered were a bit easy to defeat, but they had exacted their toll on Team Traveler. There were bites to treat, scrapes and cuts to clean, and burns to soothe.

    But before Kiran could fish out so much as a berry from his bag, the team recoiled as they felt the ground beneath their feet tremble a little and heard the sound of loud, thudding footsteps belonging to a heavy and powerful creature.

    "Gaah. Where is that shrine bell?" a deep voice grumbled. "Snacks aren't supposed to be this hard to fi-!"

    The thumping noise rounded the blind corner, and revealed himself to be a hulking black beast with gray metal rings about his limbs, an armored head with long horns that looked just like the spiky design on the pirates' scarves, and a strong, cruel-looking maw. He was exactly the sort of Pokemon that Team Traveler didn't need to run into right now. Nida and Crom froze in their tracks, Pleo squawked out in startled shock, and even Marley seemed to be caught off-guard for a moment.

    "Oh, you're kidding me!" Nida squeaked, instinctively raising the barbs in her fur while her knees went wobbly. Steel types were always a pain to deal with since they never seemed to be affected by her barbs, and this pirate was the biggest Steel type she had ever seen.

    The Aggron, detecting the apprehension of the Pokemon gathered before him, gave a self-assured grunt, before shooting a piercing glare at the much smaller and unthreatening-looking annoyances before him.

    "Step aside, runts!" the creature bellowed, "Unless you dare to challenge Hess, the mighty captain of the Iron Fleet!"

    "Grr, it is you that should be stepping aside, Captain of the One Ship 'Fleet'!" Marley growled as she bared the barbs under her blue fur. "You barge into our town, talk about eating the bell from our ánima!"

    "Um, Mami," Nida whispered wide-eyed, the big brute staring dismissively down the group seeming just ever-so-slightly improbable for even Mami to challenge. "You might not want to-"

    "Well I, Marley, La Cazadragones de Tromba won't let you!" the Nidorina spat defiantly at the Aggron.

    "Y-Yeah!" Crom cried, trying to swallow his fear of the pirate leader and put on a brave face. The Druddigon spread his wings to try and make himself seem larger and gestured at Pleo. "And we've got our Protector here too!"

    The young dragon's words made the Aggron flinch for a moment, before he blinked and realized that the 'Protector' that the Druddigon was pointing at barely came up to his stomach and looked about as self-collected as a Deerling about to be hit by a Flash Cannon.

    "Pffhahaha! That thing is your 'Protector'?" the Aggron laughed. "I've sparred with the likes of Trizano the Immortal before! Do you think I'm going to let a bunch of midgets and an overgrown Wingull push me around?!"

    The creature gave a low growl and lowered his head at the group, adopting a pose that was clearly tensed for battle.

    "It looks like I'm gonna have to run you all over to get it into your heads!" he cried, before the towering brigand charged at the five Pokémon on the path.

    "Take cover!" Kiran squawked, as the five scattered out of the way of the oncoming Aggron. The bulky Pokemon was easy enough for them to weave and fly around, but much to their horror, the creature, rather than stopping and attempting to charge again, leapt up into the air and slammed his legs into the earth as he came back down.

    Pleo quickly leapt off churning and tossing earth and clung onto an overhead tree branch for dear life, as the Aggron's impact cracked the ground, kicked up a plume of dirt, and caused some of the nearby tents and huts to shudder and partly collapse from the violent tremor.

    As the dust settled and Pleo let go of the tree branch to drop back down to earth, he became aware that Nida and Crom had been thrown across the path, and weren't moving beyond an occasional weak twitch.

    "A-Aaah! Nida! Crom!" the Protector cried out in panic.

    Marley, who had ridden out the pirate's tremor, was livid at the sight of her daughter sprawled out on the ground.

    "Grr! You! It's time to end you, pirate!" she snarled back at the Aggron. The Nidorina threw herself at the creature, delivering a powerful kick along the creases of his belly armor that caused the creature to stumble backwards and yelp out of pain. As Marley kept the Aggron occupied with another kick, Kiran dug out a round seed from his bag and lobbed at the Aggron, which exploded with a fiery, searing blast after it struck Hess' back. As the creature stumbled about to regain his footing, Kiran, seeing a momentary opening, flitted down to Pleo to try and direct the increasingly battle-paralyzed Lugia.

    "Pleo! Get Nida and Crom out of here and somewhere sa-! Look out!"

    Just then, the Swellow attempted to push Pleo out of the way of something from the corner of his eye. It was only after feeling a heavy blunt slam, being knocked back tumbling across the path, and starting to hear a shrill repeating noise in his head that Pleo discovered that he was surrounded by rocks and compacted dirt that the Aggron had thrown up the path.

    "Ugh… Why- Why do I hear beeping?" Pleo groaned as he uneasily rose to his feet. Kiran was splayed out along the ground, groaning weakly. In coming to Pleo's aid, Kiran had taken the full brunt of the earth and rocks the pirate captain had thrown up the path. Just up ahead, Marley was pulling herself out of a ditch weakly, panting from having been thrown up the path by the torrent of earth and stone.

    "Grr," the Nidorina panted, still defiant, but her strength having been badly dented from this ordeal. Hess, gasping from having had the wind taken out of him from Marley's surprisingly painful kicks, was still energetic enough to taunt her in an ugly tone.

    "Ha… Ha… Is that the best that the little bunny that was gonna 'end' me can do?!" the armored lizard bellowed as he advanced on the Nidorina.

    At this point, Pleo simply couldn't help but be overwhelmed.

    This stranger had come into town and made everyone miserable, had made his body ache and feel like it was going to fall apart at any moment, had just hurt his teammates in front of him... and here he was about to hurt another Pokemon that Pleo knew.

    And Pleo just couldn't accept that.

    "St-Stop it! Just stop it!" the young Lugia cried, his voice growing shriller and increasingly feral in tone. As the Aggron and Nidorina turned towards Pleo, they saw that the blue markings that adorned his body were now glowing bright.

    "H-Huh?! What is-?!" Hess stammered, beginning to grow increasingly pallid before Pleo cut him off with a screech.

    "Just leave us alone!"

    And then the Lugia brought his wings together, with the winds whirling in between them.


    Near the harbor, the pirates' incursion had dealt quite a toll to the town. Most of the shops and structures were badly damaged, if not outright destroyed from the flying beam attacks and projectiles that filled the air. Some sea Pokémon in the pirate ranks defended a beachhead with a constant torrent of water attacks, allowing their more terrestrial numbers to probe deeper into the town.

    A Skiploom with a lavender headband tottering and falling out of the air after being hit by a gout of fire here, a Rhyhorn from the guild crumpling up against a wall from a jet of water there, a Cherrim among the pirates getting thrown into the water after being hit by a roundhouse kick from a Mienfoo... So the chaos went on, until a loud thump came from the southern direction of Bluewhorl.

    For a fleeting moment, all eyes trained themselves on the sight of a massive column of air abruptly blowing out from the direction of the noise, and then a stiff gale-like gust that swept over the battlefield, blowing pirate and defender alike off their feet. As the different Pokémon picked themselves up from the sudden gust, they heard the sound of… Screaming?


    The screaming figure was revealed to be an Aggron that was hurtling through the air… Directly towards one of the masts of the pirate ship in the harbor. The tumbling Pokemon struck the mast, which, after bending back a bit, snapped like a tree limb in a storm and fell into the water, sending the Aggron falling the other direction to the ship's deck with an audible crash.

    "F-Fall back! F-Fall back!" Hess' voice rang out across the harbor filled with the unmistakable sound of panic. "We're g-getting out of here!"

    It took only a moment's hesitation from the various pirates to realize that whatever creature had done that to their captain, and their poor ship, was still out there. And that if they didn't get a move on, it might come for them next.

    "Retreat! Retreat!" a Floatzel with an Iron Fleet scarf cried out. The fierce fight quickly became a hasty and disorderly rush by the pirates back to the ship as the defenders renewed their assault, exhaling whispered gratitude at whatever had so clearly turned the tide of battle in their favor.


    Back on the path on the southern side of Bluewhorl Town, Pleo was panting, exhausted and drained, his plumage having reverted back to their normal colors.

    "Haaah… Haaaah…"

    All that was left on the battered and torn-up path lined by now battered and torn-up buildings was simply him, the unconscious forms of his teammates, the three less-threatening pirates they had defeated earlier, and, of course, Marley.

    "Protector?" the Nidorina panted, as she stumbled onto her feet from a wall she had been blown up against.

    "H-Huh? Wh-What happened?" Pleo woozily asked as he groped around for something to steady himself.

    "That was incredible!" Marley cried out in reverential awe. "You-!"

    Before Marley could get particularly far with her praise, Pleo tripped over one of the rocks that Hess had thrown about in battle, which sent the young Lugia stumbling headlong into an askew mailbox.

    "Ow..." Pleo groaned, before he toppled over and the color and sounds of the world around him faded, leaving Marley to poke uneasily at his prone body.

    "Um… Protector?"


    Author's Notes:

    - veikka - Finnish (colloquial, disused): "brother"
    - mewa - Polish: "gull"
    - bachory - Polish: "brats"
    - aika häipyä - Finnish: "time to buzz off", lit. "time to disappear"
    Last edited:
    Chapter 8
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    The first thing that came back to Pleo was the pain: a dull, throbbing ache all over his body, that flared whenever he bumped or brushed up against something too hard. The next thing that came to him was that he was in some sort of tight, confined space that was round and soft like Nida's bedding… wait a minute, it smelled like Nida's bedding too! So this was… straw? But then why did the things he brush up against feel like his scarf?

    "Ow," Pleo groaned, as his eyes wearily opened. Little by little, the sights and sounds around him became less of an amorphous blur. He began to make out partitions, the cloth-covered straw nest his body was resting in, and a ceiling made of canvas around him, illuminated by bioluminescent algae in jars, and soon heard voices coming from behind.

    "He's waking up!" a young, but deep and rough voice cried out.

    "Pleo, are you okay?" a smaller and softer voice asked.

    "Huh? Who's-"

    The Lugia uneasily shifted in this strange nest. He could make out the forms of a Swellow and young Druddigon in the periphery of his vision, but by and large, it was dominated by the face of a little blue spike-lump.

    "Nida!" Pleo cried, as the young Protector all but pounced on the Nidoran to wrap his wings around her.

    "Ow! Hey! I'm still sore from getting floored earlier!" the Nidoran protested, which made Pleo recoil from the noise. When he drew his wings back from his partner, he noticed that his teammates seemed to be sporting white bands over parts of their bodies.

    Nida had some on her flank, where the Growlithe had burned her, and on a few of her legs... Crom had some around his belly and his arm, where the pirates they had fought had bit and clawed him... Kiran had some over a wing that must have been the one he shoved Pleo out of the way of those rocks with earlier…

    Why, as Pleo inspected himself, he discovered that he too had some of the white bands, primarily over his tail and along some places on his side where he had been glanced by the rocks that knocked Kiran out.


    "Oh, they're just bandages, Protector," a passing Chimecho explained. "Why you'll probably be able to get rid of them after a few days, an Oran Berry or two, and a lot of rest."

    Pleo looked about his surroundings, and realized that the canvas roof went on for quite a ways, terminating at walls fashioned from wooden panels in the four directions around him. Everywhere he looked, there were other Pokémon running to and fro tending to other Pokémon that had white bands over parts of their body on similar straw beds. Pleo noticed that, like the Chimecho, the attending Pokémon wore white scarves bearing the outline of a red circle divided in two with a smaller circle overlying the center.

    "Where are we? And why are all these other Pokémon here?"

    "We're in the medics' tent," Nida said. "Mami brought us here after we got knocked out. We... weren't the only Pokémon to get thrown around a bit earlier."

    As Pleo paid closer attention to the other Pokémon in the room, he noticed that with the exception of the Pokémon in white scarves, they all seemed to be aching, much like his teammates were. Some of the Pokémon seemed to be well enough to talk with these 'medics', others were groaning from their aches and lingering wounds, and a few truly pitiful-sounding voices could be heard whimpering.

    All of these Pokémon had gotten hurt by the pirates? After Pleo's thoughts shifted to the golden scarved Pokémon, he was then hit by a nagging, dreadful realization that the ne'er-do-wells might still be in the town hurting others.

    "But the pirates!" Pleo cried out of alarm, "They're-!"

    "Gone, thanks to you!" Crom cheered.

    Why, they still needed to be-! Wait, did… Did Crom just say they were gone? But how?

    "Thanks to… Me?" Pleo asked, giving an incredulous chirp.

    "Yeah, after you blew their captain into their ship, the rest of them high-tailed it off the island!" Nida exclaimed.

    "Well… It was a shock when we heard about it after waking up, but everything really is safe now," Kiran said, as he gave a reassuring pat to the Lugia. It was a moment that would have ended with a content if weary night resting… Were it not for the fact that at that very moment, a Mawile, Pinsir, and a Girafarig wearing the town guards' lavender headbands marched past Pleo's bedding, and dragged a bandaged and hogtied Trapinch up from another cloth-covered straw mat.

    "Alright, you!" the Mawile snarled. "You've got a sentencing at the main square to attend!"

    The Pinsir grabbed the antlion by his bindings and unceremoniously dragged the poor creature along, the Girafarig shoving the pirate from behind every now and then.

    "H-Hey! Ow! E-Ei niin kovaa! These ropes chafe and the ground's rough!" the Trapinch protested, kicking futilely against his bonds all the while as the guards drug the Pokémon out of the tent.

    "E-Eh?! I thought you just said all the pirates were gone!" Pleo squawked, hopping up from his bed and retreating back towards a corner at the sight of the Trapinch. Why, that was even one of the same pirates the group had fought earlier!

    "Uh… Well, some of them weren't able to get away with their ship," Kiran ruffled his feathers in discomfort as he began to explain, "So they wound up getting captured."

    "And it's not like they could go anywhere fast," Nida added, "They're being guarded closely, why Mami and Papi even took some time off to-"

    "They're still here?!" the Lugia exclaimed, growing wide-eyed at the thought that the pirates were still in Bluewhorl Town menacing its residents. The rest of Team Traveler couldn't help but groan and trade some looks with each other as Kiran attempted to explain just what 'captured' meant.

    "Er. Pleo, that's not what-"

    "We have to stop them!" Pleo cried out, as he darted off past the group for one of the tent's exits, tripping up a passing Meditite carrying a small bundle of berries on his way out.

    "Kiran! He's not supposed to leave observation this soon!" the Chimecho exclaimed, before she floated briskly off to help the Meditite pick up the scattered berries.

    "Pleo? Pleo! Wait!" Kiran called after the little Guardian as he and his teammates attempted to keep pace as much as their wounds would let them.

    Moving around Bluewhorl Town at night was so much more confusing than it was during the day, even before taking the damage to the local landmarks into account. Pleo still had an idea of where the pirates would be, and after a few wrong turns and dead ends, the little Lugia found himself nearing Bluewhorl's main square by the sea...

    Or as Pleo made out from fires burning in the centers of hastily-cleared and lined pits, he had more accurately arrived where the square was earlier in the day. Whatever damage the square sustained was from last week's storm rendered irrelevant by its present state as a mass of rubble and trashed structures. A crowd of Pokémon from around town, including numerous glowering guards, were forming a cordon.

    Aha, so that's where those pirates would be, Pleo thought to himself as he worked his way through the mass of bodies.

    "I'm here! I'm here! Where's the pirates to stop-?" he panted, fatigued from his journey from the medics' tent in his present state. After he popped out at the front of the crowd, he saw that the pirates were indeed there, if not the way he expected them to be. Much to Pleo's surprise, the pirates of the Iron Fleet had all been bound and dumped around a long wooden post with cross-beams and tattered, sopping ropes and canvas attached to it that had splintered towards its base end.

    Perhaps it was because they were bandaged much like the Pokémon in the medic's tent, perhaps it was the fact they were ringed by a much larger hostile group, but the creatures seemed to have their aggression largely drained from them… Well, sort of, judging by some familiar faces that Pleo quickly picked out from the sorry assembly.

    "Some 'path back to the sea' you chose, Eltenios!" a Trapinch tipped onto his back with bound feet pointing in the air and a bandaged jaw grumbled.

    "Grr… And to top it off, you called me fat when you're the one that pigs out every meal!" a Gabite with a bruised nose and bandages around his belly tied to a cross beam growled.

    "It's fur, not fat!" a hogtied Growlithe with bandaged flank, evidently 'Eltenios,' huffed back at his companions. The three continued bickering with each other as Pleo continued to stare puzzled at the ineffectual pirates, when he heard Kiran's voice calling out from behind him.


    Pleo turned around, and saw that his teammates had also made their way through the crowd, trading relieved, if exasperated, looks as they caught their breath.

    "Don't run off like that!" Kiran admonished.

    "Erinomaista... just when life couldn't get any worse," the Gabite moaned, as he and his companions finally noticed some most unwelcome foes from earlier.

    "Why are they all tied up?" Pleo asked.

    "That's because they were captured," Nida sighed. "The ropes are to keep them from getting away and hurting anyone else."

    "Must say that when I heard that the pirates lost a mast off their ship, I didn't expect it to come in handy like this," Crom mulled, as some uneasy murmurs came from the captured gold scarved Pokémon bound to and around the broken ship mast.

    "Aw man… This is totally not gonna end well, is it?" a defeated and battered-looking Quilava groaned.

    "I thought that lucky charm Hess wore under his scarf was supposed to deliver Pokémon safely back home!" a Sableye bound with some loose mast rigging grumbled.

    "Well, it did… for him," a Jigglypuff that had been bound and gagged (lest any song from her be too audible) with strips cut from the mast's sails replied, screwing her eyes shut in frustration.

    "Th-This wasn't supposed to happen! It w-was supposed to be a simple hit-and-run!" a trembling Zebstrika whined.

    "Well now it's a simple one-way ticket for you patéticos parásitos out into the Wastes!" a Granbull with a lavender headband growled back.

    "Yeah! See how you like having your day ruined!" a Wingull jeered from the sidelines.


    After the commanding voice cried out, the crowd grew silent. Some Pokémon near where one of the juice bars used to be cleared the way for an Ampharos with a red scarf with white dots holding a square scarf that was diagonally divided into a black and a white portion with one of his hands to come through to the front.

    "Silence in the court! I, er-"

    The Ampharos nipped the scarf he was holding, undid and tossed his Guildmaster's Scarf into the air, letting it fall and drape over his tail as he took his new scarf and draped it over his head much like a wig.

    "Aha, now I'm ready! I, Judge Hatteras now call this court into session!"

    "Psst! How many of those scarf changes does he do anyways?" Pleo quietly asked Kiran as Hatteras finished tightening up his judge's attire. The Ampharos then turned to a waiting Sceptile with a guard's headband and questioned the arboreal reptile.

    "Osmund, you're the Captain of the Guard are you not? What are the charges against this lot?"

    "Um… Guildmaster Hattera-?" the Sceptile asked incredulously as he stood blinking, before the Ampharos quickly interrupted.

    "Judge Hatteras, Osmund."

    "Right… anyhow, just take a look around for yourself!" Osmund exclaimed, making a slow, sweeping arc with the blade on his right arm. Hatteras took a moment to survey the swath of destruction all around the gathered crowd. The docks were missing chunks of the piers and other parts had collapsed into the water. The boats moored at them were similarly filled with holes, some half-sunken and resting on the harbor's floor. Not a single shop along the docks or around the square was undamaged- many of them utterly erased from existence by the events of the raid.

    "Aha… so Destruction of Property and Public Disorder..." Hatteras mused.

    "One of them knocked me out for being in the way!" a Skrelp with a bandaged snout huffed from the harbor's water.

    "And Battery…"

    "One of them set my shop on fire! I was going to upgrade it!" Calino shouted, hopping up and down, his scales flushing a most irate-looking shade of red.

    "And Arson…"

    "They stole from my bakery like a bunch of ill-mannered ferals!" Gwenith's voice roared from the crowd, the Druddigon shaking a fist in the air.

    "And Grand Theft Pastry…"

    "They murdered my bubble!" an upset Wooper from the end opposite Pleo cried out. "It was my best friend!"

    "And Bubblecide..." Hatteras concluded before he turned to the bound Pokémon in the center of the gathering. "How do the accused respond?"

    "I-It's not like we stole eggs or anything like that!" an Ekans that had been bound into a hoop nervously stammered.

    "And... Uh… We didn't kill anyone? I think?" a Carvahna weighed down by a rock tied to her tail offered.

    "My bubble was someone!" the Wooper angrily retorted.

    "Grr… The bubble aside, this sorry lot did at least manage those two things, even if a number of us are presently sleeping off some wounds tonight," Osmund growled as he cast a glare at the captured pirates. "Though given their shameful display, I suspect it was because of our luck and their incompetence rather than any goodness from their hearts."

    "Duly noted," Hatteras replied, before he raised his voice to ask the assembled Pokémon, "Now then, I ask the humble jury, just what should be the sentence for these ruffians?"

    "The Wastes!" a Kingler shouted.

    "Yeah, let's see them try to rob their way out of that!" a Pinsir from the town's guard hissed.

    "Our world doesn't need Pokémon like them around!" a glaring Mightyena added.

    The suggestions were joined by others of their kind, which caused the brigands to begin to pale and quake out of fear after the crowd pronounced its verdict. Exile. To the uninhabitable grave that ringed the Cradle and filled the rest of the world. To an unknown future where the few that managed to return spoke of it offering nothing but desperation and a slow demise to those who couldn't escape.

    Hatteras took a moment to pause with a paw to his chin, and then turned to question the captured Pokémon.

    "Do the defendants have any commentary about the suggested sentence?"

    "W-Wait! D-Don't do that! Pl-Please!" the Zebstrika begged.

    "There's nothing out there but distortions and ash!" the Carvahna whimpered, trembling after finding her attempts to flop away frustrated by the rock tied to her tail.

    "We'll starve!" the Quilava whined, flattening out his ears.

    "J-Just let us go! We won't come back to this island again! E-Ever!" the Ekans cried out as the serpent curled tighter against his bindings into a rough ball.

    The desperate pleading went on for a little before Hatteras cleared his throat, and barring some sniffling from one of the unfortunates who had begun to cry out of fright, he managed to secure the silence of the crowd.

    "Now I ask the jury… Is this really what we want as a town?"

    Some quiet murmurs went around the gathering. Some were dismissive of the Ampharos' words, others wondered aloud why Hatteras didn't just zap the creatures to shut them up. It was then that the mumbling was broken by the sound of a familiar Nidorina's voice.

    "Well what are we supposed to do, Hatteras?" Marley asked as she came along with her mate to the forefront of the mass of Pokémon. "They come into our town and leave a gaping scar on it… They try and steal the things we store away for our young, for the next year, and for making peace with the Company… And their leader was planning on desecrating the town ánima!"

    "And they don't give us a lot of options, either!" Teja grumbled in agreement as he flicked his ears and shot a dirty look at the captured brigands. "We've got their damage to patch up! How's that supposed to get done if we still have to deal with them?"

    "With all due respect, Guildmaster-" Bluewhorl's Sceptile captain of the guard interjected.

    "Judge Hatteras."

    "Judge Hatteras," Osmund hastily corrected, rolling his eyes. "But we wouldn't have enough cells to hold over a dozen miscreants like these even if we gave them over to the Company later! Those cells are meant for Pokémon that have made fools of themselves at a Juice Bar!"

    "And all that pirates know how to do anyways is to steal and to ruin things!" a Hoothoot from the guild shouted from the crowd.

    "Then... Perhaps it's time that they learned some different skills," the Ampharos proposed, which drew some curious questions from the gathered residents.


    "What's he going on about?"

    "As you and I can all agree, this lot has caused more than its fair share of trouble to our town and has a debt to society to repay," Hatteras said, gesturing at the still-shaken looking group of pirates in the center of the gathering.

    "So given that the Pokémon that have wronged you are still inexperienced… would it not be a bit more sensible to put them to work healing the scars they've left behind so that they might make something of themselves in the long run beyond being petty thugs and thieves?"

    "It sounds good to me!" a voice called out, before all eyes in the gathering turned towards the direction of a certain white and blue Protector, whose teammates were visibly burying appendages into their faces.

    "Pleo!" Nida scolded.

    "What? It did seem to make sense," Pleo replied. Some more murmurs went about the crowd- after all, if the Protector thought it was an idea worth trying… Maybe this 'making the pirates fix the mess they made' suggestion did have some sense to it…

    "As it so happens, we do have a means of exacting justice along those lines. One that this town has used before in the past…" Hatteras trailed off before finishing his thought in a dramatically lower and louder tone, such as one that one might utter a prophecy of doom with: "Community Service."

    Some of the younger Pokémon in the audience turned to their parents to ask questions such as "what's a 'Community Service'?" as some of the elder Pokémon murmured among themselves approvingly and hastily explained that they knew that 'Community Service' was sensible all along. The pirates, sensing that there was an alternative for them to look forward to other than the Wastes, began to calm down, but even then, there was still a nagging matter that prevented them from being completely at ease...

    "Why did he just suddenly say that in a super-ominous voice?" the Sableye among the pirates asked worriedly.

    "Hmm? I don't believe it was ominous, Community Service is just the term," Hatteras replied, once again enunciating the term with particular stress to it. "You will be pacting to a Pokémon that will guide you through life here in Tromba much like we would treat a feral seeking to join our ranks. When you are deemed to have reformed and paid your debt to the island, you will be accorded the rights and privileges of a normal resident."

    "Hrmph, cute euphemism you have there for forced labor. Well, what if we don't want this 'Community Ser-'?" the muffled Jigglypuff huffed defiantly, before she noticed a wall of glares coming from the surrounding Pokémon… As well as from her companions.

    "Oh... Right," she muttered.

    "Whelp, that's my verdict. Those of you who wish to go to the Wastes anyways are more than welcome to ask Osmund here to make arrangements with one of his teleporters if you so insist," Hatteras declared. "Alternatively, for those who would prefer an equivalent sentence closer to town, there are some Apricorn thickets on the far side of the-"

    "Okay! Okay! We get it!" the Gabite cried. "Just… What exactly are you gonna make us do?"

    "I have a proposal!" a Druddigon's voice called, as a certain 'old maid' stormed out from the crowd, stomping directly towards a Gabite that had helped himself to her bread earlier.

    "Erk!" the Gabite gulped, as he frantically tried to break free of his bonds only to feel a coarse-hided claw grab his neck.

    "It's called 'You're repaying me for that bread you stole!'" Gwenith snarled at the Gabite, as she tightened her grip on the dragon's neck and dug the points of her claws in between his scales.

    "O-Ow! Let go! Your hide's hurting me!" he whined.

    "Wait. Mom? If you're putting him to work, does this mean that I can get off a little early from the bakery for a while?" Crom asked from the sidelines.

    "Proposal approved," Hatteras proclaimed, and motioned for some guards to undo the Gabite's bindings. As Gwenith dragged her still-flailing new baker back into the crowd, the Ampharos turned back to the assembly.

    "Any others?"

    "Hmm, I mean, it didn't suffer any damage directly… But I could use that Trapinch there to dig a few ditches for my field," Mildrew called out from a few rows behind the front. "I have been meaning to plant a few more apple trees..."

    "What?!" the Trapinch chittered in exasperation.

    "Approved," Hatteras replied, as the guards came to unbind the newly-minted apprentice horticulturalist for Mildrew to claim. An icy and airy tone then called out from another part of the crowd.

    "I'll take the Quilava, I could use him for more… Ahem. Intractable babysitting cases," she said, which caused a few of the parents in the crowd to begin to trade nervous looks with each other.

    "Hariti," a Lombre protested, "You can't honestly be suggesting-"

    The Quilava was quick to toss in a loud protest of his own at the idea of being stuck with the Day Care worker.

    "You beat me unconscious and then froze me over into an ice block! As if I'm doing anything for you!" he spat, which caused Hariti to receive a few incredulous and impressed looks.

    "Oh trust me, I'll survive him. I've wrangled my fair share of Fire types before. And I'm sure he'll learn how to find his softer side for younglings… Or else learn to like being a lawn ornament for a few hours at a time," she replied, shooting a frosty glare at the Quilava.

    "Approved," Hatteras announced as the Quilava too was untied and reluctantly led off groaning under his breath, taking care to not be heard by the ice sprite.

    Pleo, not really picking up the gravity of the situation at hand, couldn't help but find these 'Community Service' sentences to be a little amusing. When an idea struck him… Perhaps he could help out with this sentencing, too...

    "Oh! Oh! I want a Community Service! I want a Community Service!" Pleo cried out, waving his wings for attention.

    "Pleo!" Nida admonished, flattening out her ears. The Nidoran grumbled a little and wondered why the little Guardian couldn't have a less-outsized mouth to run off.

    "With all due respect, Pleo, but I'm not exactly convinced this is a good idea," Kiran sighed, putting a wing over his face. Pleo paused for a moment, taken aback- it was all in good spirits and helping the town, wasn't it? So why were his teammates so reluctant to get into this 'Community Service' thing, too?

    After he mulled things over, he thought there might be a way for him to still help out in sentencing after all...

    "The Community Service can be helping me train?" he suggested.

    "What?! Why should one of these thugs get that honor?!" a bandaged Rhyhorn loudly protested from the the crowd, before being joined by a number of other protesting voices… Until Hatteras cleared his throat to speak.

    "Now, now, there is some sense in the Protector's words… Recall how he blew their captain across town earlier?"

    "Yeah! It's not easy to spar with this!" Pleo declared, happily playing along as he beat his wings together to try and whirl away some heaps of shop rubble near the sea to show off… Only to find that the winds that came from his wings, barring a few odds and ends, completely failed to dislodge anything from the rubble heaps.

    "I dunno, I'm pretty sure I could spar with that," Scout's voice volunteered from the crowd.

    Pleo squawked in shock and his beak fell agape. Didn't everyone say that he had blown the mean Aggron across town earlier? But he had just given the toughest beat of his wings he could muster... he could even feel them aching a bit from overexertion! And it didn't look anything out of the ordinary!

    "Eh?!" Pleo cried. "That was just like-!"

    "That's quite enough, Pleo," Hatteras hastily spoke. "Let me rephrase the question… With the knowledge that the Protector will eventually replicate today's feat sometime down the road, which of you would care to take up the offer for sparring?"

    The question elicited some coughing and nervous laughter from the crowd, the Rhyhorn and a few of the more vocal protesters earlier quickly concocting various excuses for why they couldn't volunteer such as 'chronic stomachaches'.

    Even Pleo's teammates had to concede, it would be nice if someone else could do the work of sparring with Pleo. He seemed to be back to normal now… But just in case he wound up stumbling into whatever had allowed him to rout Hess earlier once again, it would probably be for the best if they weren't the ones getting blown across Tromba.

    "Well, if there are no takers, I think that it's fair to let Pleo make his choice," the Ampharos said, as he motioned for Pleo to step forward.

    "Hrm… I pick…"

    Who should he pick? The Zebstrika still in the group? No… He looked too big and intimidating. The Jigglypuff? But the pink puffball seemed too hostile and angry earlier. If only he could convince Hatteras to let him borrow the Trapinch or Gabite from earlier… Wait a minute! There was one more Pokémon with them, and no one had given him community service yet!

    "The doggy! I already beat him once with Nida and Crom, so if I have to do it a second time, it shouldn't be that hard, right?" Pleo chirped cheerily, proud that he was helping with this 'Community Service'. His teammates on the other hand...

    "Uh… Pleo," Crom groaned as he screwed his eyes shut and buried his face in an open claw.

    "Can we maybe pick a different-?" Nida suggested, before Hatteras' voice interrupted her.


    "Grr," Nida grumbled. Of all of the pirates to get stuck with, it just had to be the lippy fatty who burned her earlier. She watched with a scowl as the guards undid the orange dog's ropes; before any of Nida's teammates could come over, the Growlithe exhaled what seemed to be a sigh of relief and bounded off over their surprised objections… towards her position.

    "Well, I suppose that's one way to get a new recruit," Kiran murmured as the little dog approached the team. The Growlithe was quick to pick up on the misgivings of some of his teammates, and huffed back accusingly.

    "Hrmph! With the way you're acting, you'd think I was diseased or something! I thought that pacting was supposed to be a fresh break!"

    "Unfortunately, he does have a point," Crom sighed.

    Nida flattened her ears, not really understanding why Pleo, who was still in his giddy own world about being able to help with 'Community Service', had thought this was a good idea. But since they were going to be stuck with this mutt for a while...

    "Fine, tell us a bit about yourself. Do you have a name?" she sighed.

    "The name's Eltenios!" the Growlithe barked proudly. "It means I don't ever, ever give up and-"

    "Okay, first rule of your community service," the Nidoran interrupted while raising her barbs in frustration. "We're not saying all of that."

    "Eh?!" the Growlithe yipped. "But it's my-!"

    "Why not 'Elty'?" Pleo cheerily suggested.

    "Actually, it does has a ring to it and it is more concise," Kiran mulled. "I'll let Nida's rule stand."

    "I like 'Elty' too!" Crom added.

    "Daj spokój! I don't even get to be called by my full name?!" the Growlithe exclaimed, folding his ears back in annoyance.

    "I thought you said that 'pacting was supposed to be a fresh break' earlier," Nida chided the now grumbling Growlithe that would from now on be 'Elty'. "Who said anything about names being exempt?"

    "Grr..." Eltenios- er… Elty fumed, glaring daggers all the while at Nida.

    "This is going to be an interesting season for training, isn't it?" Kiran sighed.


    Author's Notes:

    - Ei niin kovaa! - Finnish: "Not so hard!"
    - Erinomaista - Finnish: "Excellent". Used here as a sarcastic interjection.
    - patéticos parásitos - Spanish: "awful parasites"
    - Daj spokój! - Polish: "Come on!"
    Chapter 9
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    It was another balmy afternoon in Tromba, with blue cloudless skies above, and sunlight beaming down on the tropical island and its little town by the sea. A quaint backdrop to the sight of a young Lugia darting about a courtyard in between the roofed corridors of Mosca's Dojo...


    … who was trying his hardest to dodge clumps of burning cinders being spat out at him by a strafing Growlithe.

    "What, you expected me to just bark and roll over for you today?"

    As the days passed after the pirate raid on Bluewhorl, things settled little by little into some sense of equilibrium. Bandages were removed, aches and pains faded away, and Pokémon became healthy again. Even if the repairs to the damaged and obliterated shacks and tents in town didn't keep pace, the residents of Bluewhorl went back to their livelihoods. As for Pleo, he too returned to his routine of daily training, resuming his sessions in Mosca's Dojo under Team Traveler's guidance as if the raid never happened...

    "Come on, Protector!"

    "Yeah! Kick that pirate's butt!"

    "You should try to fly! Do a barrel roll!"

    ... except his routine back then didn't involve Nida's three older siblings cheering him on. Or being on the battlefield at the far end of the Dojo that deliberately built away from any nearby shacks. Or getting burning hot embers being blown at him. Or sparring with a former pirate the team had dubbed 'Elty' (or 'Eltenios' as the Growlithe occasionally insisted) who was blowing said embers at him. They also most certainly didn't involve said Growlithe running circles around the young Protector of Tromba Island. Perhaps it wasn't such a normal routine, Pleo thought as he whirled around after Elty and spat up a glowing ball from his mouth.

    "Just because you're sparring alone now doesn't mean that I'm going to be going any easier!" the Growlithe barked. The orange dog sidestepped the glowing ball, which sailed on until it struck an barely-visible barrier of light being held in place by a Golduck.

    The ball imploded with a flash of light and the barrier dissipated, the Golduck muttered something under her breath about "Mosca oughta work on his accuracy." The creature then swiftly switched places with a Staryu, who formed a barrier to replace the one that Pleo had broken.

    As the young sea guardian and his sparring partner continued their fray, a certain Druddigon and Nidoran cast wary glances at the Hawlucha overseeing this match. The two noting and growing a bit concerned at the raptor's visible nonchalance towards the events on the field.

    "Erm… Mosca? Are you sure this is a good idea?" Crom asked as he gave a subconscious beat to his wings. Pleo did seem like he was taking a harsher beating on the field than was healthy for the young Lugia.

    "Now, now, one-on-one sparring is an important skill to develop," the Dojo Maestra replied to the young Druddigon.

    "Yeah, but against Elty?" Nida protested. The Nidoran hopped up and down and waved her arms to try and grab the Dojo leader's attention.


    "Kiran's off running an errand! I'm just saying, I'd be more comfortable if we were in there to help smack him around again," Nida piped. Which for a short moment caused the Growlithe on the field to stop and wheel around towards the direction of his spectating teammates.

    "Oi! Just because your leader's making me serve as a punching bag here doesn't mean I'm not on your team, you know!" he growled indignantly. "Why, I'm even wearing your same dippy blue scarf now!"

    "Oh trust me, this old bird can keep him in check if it comes to that," Mosca quietly reassured. "No Pokémon walks away unfazed from Mosca's Plancha Voladora!"

    "And we're here, too!" a purple spike ball proudly declared, puffing his spikes out.

    "Yeah, if we have to, we'll make that mutt see stars!" another blue Nidoran added.

    "Dorin? Ani? Don't you have work right now?" Nida grumbled, frowning and flattening out her ears.

    "We're all en recreo!" another male Nidoran cheered.

    The chatter among the Nidoran was quickly interrupted by a cry from Pleo on the other end of the field, as he once again cast a glowing ball from the back of his throat.


    Only for the Growlithe to weave around the orb again, if narrowly enough for the ball to graze his pelt. It was an experience that couldn't help but frustrate Pleo. Elty hadn't been this slippery when in earlier fights with Nida and Crom's help, so why was he suddenly so much better at avoiding things when it was just against himself?

    "H-Hey! Stop moving around like that!" Pleo squawked.

    "For you to land a free hit? As if!" Elty taunted, taking a moment to wave his tail at Pleo's face.

    "You want a piece of this? Chodź i weź to!"

    "Alright, fine then!" Pleo snapped as he took off running for his sparring partner. The Growlithe rolled his eyes and exhaled another red-hot clump of cinders at the approaching bird, only to be stunned to see the bird rise above the glint of fire into the air.

    Which was quickly followed by Pleo beginning to wobble and then come tumbling down with a crash… on top of the little orange dog.

    Nida and Crom winced as the sound of a loud yelp reverberated across the battlefield. Pleo for his part seemed to have his wind sucked out of him; he caught his breath from on top of his mostly-obscured opponent as Nida's siblings chattered excitedly.

    "Nice one!"

    "Yeah, you flattened him!"

    "Ooh! Why that's just like mi Plancha Voladora! Well done, Pleo!" Mosca cheered. The Dojo's Maestra was pleasantly surprised. Why the Protector seemed to have a shared fancy for how to pin annoying opponents! … if with some rather visible weaknesses in his form.

    "Try and put more oomph into it next time, though!" she called out.

    "Uhm… But-" Pleo stammered sheepishly. "I meant to fly down and do that glowing ball thing, tho-"

    Before Pleo could finish explaining what his awkward tackle was meant to be, his ears were suddenly filled with a harsh, snarling roar from beneath him.

    "GET OFF OF ME!" the Growlithe bellowed. The ear-splitting racket making Pleo flinch and calmly and quietly get off of his opponent.


    Oh who are we kidding? Pleo couldn't think of many things at that moment other that he desperately wanted to be anywhere but where that dreadful-sounding voice was coming from. He broke away, running as fast as his legs could carry him… Straight into an unseen wall.


    Pleo recoiled and rubbed his head to find that he had struck one of the barriers maintained by the Pokémon manning the fringes of the battlefield. Its owner, a Glaceon, immediately responded with "I'm so sorry, Protector!" and a litany of profuse apologies before he abruptly recoiled and jumped back.

    Before Pleo could ask what was wrong, he was cut off by a burning pain along his back. He looked behind himself and saw that a large blotch of his feathers along his spine had been singed. As Pleo flailed around, beating out cinders that stubbornly clung to life, he indignantly called out to their maker.

    "Aagh! H-Hey! You can't just breathe fire on me like that! You roared in my ears!"

    "Sure I can," Elty retorted, scoffing at the young Lugia. "I scared you off. You let your guard down. I burned you. Simple as that."

    "What?!" Pleo shouted, growing rather cross with this sparrer who seemed to take every chance to attack him while he was down. Frustrations which the extra Nidoran on the side were keen to echo.

    "Boo!" the purple Nidoran known as 'Dorin' hissed, fanning his barbs out.

    The faint sound of a pebble glancing off the backside of one of the barriers reverberated, followed closely by an growling "Way to be cheap!" from the blue Nidoran called 'Ani'.

    "Pleo! You need to play at his own game!" Crom called out from the side and over the voices of the Nidoran. Pleo stopped on the field to tilt his head towards the Druddigon, what did Crom mean by 'playing at his own game'?

    "Huh-? Hey-YEOW!"

    Pleo saw Elty coming with teeth bared from the corner of his vision, and reflexively tried to pull his wing away from him. But alas, he was not fast enough to prevent Elty from clamping his jaws down onto a mouthful of his wing.

    "Hey! I was explaining something to him!" Crom fumed, before Elty unclamped his jaw to respond… and spit out a few feathers from his mouth.

    "Not my problem!"

    "There!" Nida cried. "While his guard's down, Pleo!"

    "While my-?"

    As soon as Elty began, he found himself sailing headlong towards one of the sidelines on a stiff, unrelenting gust of wind which took him off of his feet. He bonked his head on a translucent panel erected by a Gloom and fell to the ground with a yelp.

    "A-agh! What was-?!" the Growlithe cried out. His yelps were then answered by a voice that, while tired and fatigued, sounded rather frustrated.

    "Stop being mean!"

    Elty heard some Pokémon from behind him moving away. As he stumbled to his feet, he immediately understood why when he saw a quickly moving glowing ball headed directly for him.

    "Aw kurczę-"

    In the blink of an eye, the ball struck the hapless Growlithe, flinging him through the vacated gap where the Gloom and her partner had been. The hapless dog sailed across a roofed walkway and into the wall of a hut with a thud. Gravity then took over and dropped Elty to the ground along his flank, leaving him to moan stunned for a moment...


    … as the audience of Nidoran on the sidelines continued to trade commentary.

    "Ooh, harsh."

    "That's gonna leave a mark."

    "I think that we've gone far enough and damaged enough property for one day to declare a victor," Mosca hastily interjected. Between the winded and scowling Lugia on the field, the Growlithe groaning next to the Dojo hut, and the visible dent hut's wall, it was hard to argue with the Hawlucha.

    Or at least it was until Elty took a moment for the Maestra's words to register.

    "H-Huh?!" the Growlithe exclaimed, springing to his feet swiftly but uneasily. "But I'm still able to-!"

    "As cathartic as it is to watch you get blown around the room, Elty... you can't exactly carry out your community service if you're passed out for half the day," Nida chided. If nothing else, she had to quietly concede that the former pirate was candid about something. Even when it wasn't sensible, he really didn't ever give up.

    "Besides, if you're conscious, you'll be able to work on getting a little less tubby!" Crom added.

    "Grr… I could've turned things around though!" the Growlithe fumed, flattening out his ears as made his way back towards Pleo onto the battlefield. "And it's fur, not fat!"

    "Enough. The match is over," Mosca scolded. "Shake claws and then let's get you both healed up."

    Pleo didn't really want to shake with Elty, and judging from the glare the Growlithe had on his face as the two walked to each other, it seemed like Elty didn't particularly want to either. But this was just sparring, and if it was right to give one to Gwenith after a heated fight… maybe it was right to give Elty one too, he guessed.

    After the two gave each other a begrudging shake, they made their way back towards Mosca and their waiting teammates. The Pokémon that kept the barriers up around the battlefield headed off for a break from work and Nida's siblings darted off for the exit back to their work with a shared refrain of "Whelp, show's over." Mosca quickly summoned Pleo over to her side where she had set out a bowl of water for him to drink from as she inspected him for wounds. Elty went towards another bowl laid out a short distance away and began to lap up its contents when he noticed a blue spike ball approaching him with an Oran Berry.

    "Oi. What do you think you're doing?" he growled.

    "Um... Hello? Treating the wounds you picked up?" Nida replied, dropping her Oran Berry by her paws and nudging it forward to emphasize her intentions.

    "Look, I might not be a smart Pokémon, but I'm pretty sure that a poisonous little spike ball like you is the last thing that I need around my wounds!"

    "Do you want to be miserable and wait your turn for healing?" Nida grumbled, the Nidoran rolling her eyes a bit at her new teammate's intransigence.

    "It's alright, Nida," Crom offered. "I actually need some first aid practice myself!"

    "See? Someone more qualified is here already!" Elty declared, taking the opportunity to stick his tongue out. Nida looked at Elty, then over at Crom, and then back to Elty. She supposed Crom might have gotten better at healing since the last time that Kiran had him care for someone on the team, but...

    "Um… Crom..."

    "I think I've seen Kiran do this enough times to know how it works now," Crom replied with a cheery grin.


    Aha, Mosca must have found some wounds to use that Oran Berry from the team bag on after all. The clamor of Pleo's cries out from a little ways down the hall couldn't help but make Nida turn her head towards the sound. She caught sight of Pleo just in time to wince and shift his wings a bit from the aftereffects of the berry's juice, and to see Mosca set the blue fruit's pulp before him.

    "You heard him," Elty barked. "Go and talk with the feather duster or something."

    "Whatever, it's your body, Elty," Nida sighed. She hopped off over to Pleo's side just as he started to pick at the leftover Oran pulp and Mosca went over to inspect the damage from Elty's rough landing.

    "Hey, the Oran Berry wasn't too hard on you, was it?" the Nidoran asked.

    "It feels much better when it's going into my tummy than onto me."

    "Heh, they're weird like that, yeah," Nida replied, before she was abruptly interrupted by a certain Growlithe's voice crying out.

    "Gah! What are you doing to me?!"

    "I'm trying to find your wounds!" a young Druddigon-turned-impromptu-healer reassured. Sounded like Crom hadn't improved that much from last time based off of that start.

    "Is Elty okay?" Pleo asked, his earlier frustrations with the Growlithe subsiding a bit as he flinched at the sound of the dog's yelps.

    "Eh, he asked for it. I'm sure that he'll be happy enough with his choice of a healer."

    Nida sighed at the Growlithe's stubbornness. Perhaps in the future he'd be a little less hesitant to trust his teammates' advice.

    "Elty wasn't too hard on you out there, was he?"

    "He kept on attacking me even when I wasn't ready!" Pleo chirped indignantly, pouting a bit at how Elty had so persistently dogged him throughout the entire session.

    "Well, I won't say anything about his attitude," Mosca interrupted as she returned from surveying the damage from the match. "But he wasn't doing anything wrong in helping you train."

    "He… wasn't?" Pleo asked, tilting his head as Elty continued being preoccupied with his, erm… First aid?

    "Argh! You're scraping me!"

    "Stop squirming!" Crom huffed as he attempted to pin the wriggling Growlithe in place on the dog's flank. "I need to apply the berry!"

    "Oh boy… Looks like I'll have someone else to tend to," Mosca muttered under her breath. The Hawlucha stared a moment at Crom's fumbling attempts at treating wounds, before she turned back to address the young Protector. "Well, remember when you first fought him? Were any of you really worrying about if the other side was ready or not?"

    "I... don't remember anyone worrying about it," Pleo replied. Though really, who was supposed to worry about that when the 'other side' was trashing the town?

    "Recall that the whole point of sparring is to prepare you for battles where you can't retreat," Mosca explained. "Part of that is also preparing for things you might encounter in those battles. Even if they aren't necessarily very fair."

    "I guess I understand… But he seemed like he was enjoying it too much!" Pleo squawked as Elty's voice rang out again.

    "Why are you holding a clawful of my fur?!" he cried out, turning his head up from the ground.

    And true enough, Crom was holding a clump of Elty's fur, which he set aside.

    "Well, I couldn't get the berry to touch your hide, so I just needed get some of your fur out of the way. Look, I'm almost done. I think there's just a couple more scrapes for me to get to-"

    "Get away from me!" the orange dog yelped as he sprang to his feet.

    "I think the universe might have agreed with you a little there, but even so, be gracious," Mosca replied as Elty bolted away from his 'healer'. Nida tried and mostly failed to stifle a giggle as this former brigand was put on the run by an attempt at healing of all things.

    "Crom? Maybe you should let me take over," the Hawlucha instructed.

    "Yes, please!" Elty cried out.

    "Oh? But I just started!" Crom protested as Mosca started tending to the Growlithe who was all too eager to sidle up and wait on her assistance. On the other hand, it wouldn't make sense to protest too much... It was one less task to do, he guessed. Meanwhile, Nida observed that Pleo continued to be troubled.

    "Hmm," he sighed.

    "Is something else bugging you, Pleo?" the Nidoran asked. After all, he seemed satisfied enough with Mosca's explanation earlier… So then what could be bothering him now?

    "It's not something that Elty did, it's just that- Well... Kiran says that I need to practice flying… but I also need to practice sparring. So I tried to do both today, and-"

    "Hey! I'm back!" a chirping voice interrupted.

    Its owner swooped in in a blue and red blur. After circling around the courtyard to slow a bit, the speaker alighted on a railing along the corridor, revealing himself to be the Swellow leader of Team Traveler. After taking a moment to shake out his plumage, Kiran bent his neck down to talk with his younger teammates from his perch.

    "How'd sparring go?" he asked.

    "Harrumph! Elty needs to learn how to make up his mind!" Crom growled, shooting a dirty look at the Growlithe. "First he tells me that he wants me to heal him, and then he takes off on me before I even got started!"

    "Well excuse me for expecting someone who could treat my wounds without putting me through agony!" the Growlithe replied, incensed that the creature that hurt him had the gall to be the one to complain first.

    "Er… Crom... you did mention to him that you're still going through first aid training beforehand, right?" Kiran sighed after hearing the argument between the Druddigon and the Growlithe.

    "Wait, what?!" Elty cried, as his expression hardened into an exasperated scowl that seemed to be doing its hardest to all but bore through Crom's hide.

    "Why are you looking at me like that? You never asked!" the Druddigon protested.

    "You really didn't, Elty," Nida added.

    As Elty grumbled a little under his breath, Kiran then turned to the only Pokémon on his team who hadn't said a word to him so far about sparring.

    "What about you, Pleo?"

    "Well, I guess it wasn't too bad, but..." Pleo said as he shuffled his wings uneasily. "Kiran? Why is flying so hard?"

    The question took Kiran aback as he all but fell off of his perch on the railing. "Eh?! Mosca already moved you onto airborne sparring?!" he squawked in surprise.

    "Wait, she did? But I thought I was just sparring with Elty," Pleo mumbled, now rather confused. Mosca was supposed to teach him flying while he was sparring too?

    "He tried to get airborne in the middle of today's match," Nida explained. "And… Well, he didn't quite stay off the ground too long."

    "Hey, it's not all bad! He pinned Elty nicely once he came down!" Crom added as he mimed Pleo's earlier dropping tackle onto the Growlithe, who rolled his eyes out of annoyance.

    "I see," Kiran mulled to himself as he hopped down to hallway's floor.

    "Wait, what were you doing away from the Dojo today anyways?" Pleo asked with a curious tilt to his head.

    "Oh, I told Hatteras about the trouble you've been having flying, Pleo, and you're not going to believe this!"

    "Huh? What did he say?" Pleo asked.

    "He pulled a few strings to get you on your wings faster with Melissa's help! Why, you just might be flying by sundown!" Kiran exclaimed, beating out his wings excitedly. It was a revelation that made Pleo hop into the air and mimic his team's leader in celebration.

    "Yay! That's awesome! But… Who's Melissa?"

    Kiran answered the question quickly enough as the team made their way out of the Dojo and through the town, even if it was one that Pleo couldn't quite wrap his head around. Apparently 'Melissa' was an odd little bird who had a talent for helping other Pokémon to learn moves.

    Melissa's shop was surprisingly easy to find; part of it was because the shop was one of the few buildings on its path that wasn't in dire need of repairs. The other part of it was that the shop was... in a word, strange.

    Unlike any of the other structures Pleo saw in Bluewhorl so far, the walls of Melissa's shop were composed entirely of mismatched and various-sized stone cubes. The stone blocks were fitted haphazardly here and there, glued together with something that looked like silt. Along the top of the walls, bits of undyed canvas poked out horizontally from in between stone, apparently the building's roof. The doorway and windows, if they could be called that, were empty spaces with erratic fringes as the cubes jutted in and out of where a straight-ish contour would usually be. The only remotely normal features of the doors and windows were the plain, drab pieces of canvas that covered them from the inside, listing with the movement of the wind.

    It made the younger Pokémon on Team Traveler wonder… Just what was Melissa going to do to Pleo?

    "So… Melissa's a 'move tutor'?" Pleo asked. The Lugia couldn't help bob his head side to side scanning along the peculiar building, mesmerized with the stone cubes in the wall.

    "Uh huh! Uh huh! She's supposed to help Pokémon learn moves they normally couldn't with the help of tee-yems!" Crom replied, before he put a claw to his mouth and continued on in a more puzzled tone. "Although... some of them are called eych-ehms for some reason or another."


    "I'm pretty sure they're supposed to be magical plates that were created back in the days of the old gods," Nida added as she took a moment to scratch an ear with a paw. "Or at least I'm pretty sure they're magic since I don't know what 'dee-yenay baioh-dehta' is supposed to be otherwise."

    A 'dee-'? A what now? Pleo thought to himself that for the first time, this 'dee-ehn'... Whatever thingy seemed to be a word that Nida didn't know for herself, which only made him more confused and left him staring blankly at his partner.


    "It's what Melissa says they're made out of," Kiran explained. "The plates are supposed to be made of a material containing the essence of life and have some sort of spell for learning a move that was written on them."

    "Wait, so this place… Is full of tee-yems?" Elty asked, as a devious grin began to creep over his muzzle. They were peculiar things and supposedly useless in the paws of most Pokémon. But, in his former line of work, they would reward anyone who was lucky enough to nab one with a princely sum. And from the sound of it, his old compatriots had somehow missed this veritable treasure trove!

    "They wouldn't by chance miss one, would they?"

    "Hey, hey, hey! Don't think that I can't see that smirk on your mug!" a chittering voice from within cried out.

    The voice's owner quickly stormed out, revealing himself to be a glowering Corphish. The red and white crustacean was quickly joined by a young Tropius- the daughter of a certain Tropius apple farmer out on the fringes, the more seasoned members of Team Traveler guessed.

    "For the record, all of the discs in here are labeled already," she huffed. "If you tried to walk off with one, everyone else in Bluewhorl would know it came from here!"

    "And we would get your sorry pirate bum punted off to the Wastes afterwards if you stole from here like your buddies tried to!" the Corphish hissed as he clicked and flailed his claws angrily.

    "Alright! Alright! I get it!" Elty hastily corrected as he bounded back behind Crom. "It was just a question!"

    As Nida and Crom rolled their eyes at Elty's transparent excuse, Pleo blinked back at the two other creatures with confusion.

    "Wait, which of you is 'Melissa'?"

    "Neither of them are," a strange, droning voice from within chirped. "Those are my assistants, Bracket and Patricia."

    The droning voice came out and revealed itself to be a bird quite unlike any others the gathered Pokémon could think of. She was a pink creature with a teal beak, tail, underbelly, and a pink body. In lieu of the more expected limbs a bird might have, Melissa had nubby triangular things in place of wings and moved about by floating to and fro above the ground. The creature's flesh, if it could be called that, was firm and angular, as if she was a giant lantern folded from some curious type of paper.

    "I am Melissa. Move Tutor and- DOGGY!"

    The Porygon abruptly chirped and gestured excitedly at Elty with her beak, much to the Growlithe's surprise.

    "Eh?! What's with you?!" he cried out, as the Porygon floated back and attempted to recompose herself.

    "Apologies, residual subroutines… As I was saying, I am Melissa, Move Tutor and Sentient Advanced Variable Virtual Interface. Bracket, Patricia, please be dear moderators and lead our guests in," the creature chimed, as she returned to the inside of the stone building.

    The Corphish and Tropius began to follow after the creature and beckoned Team Traveler to follow. The house seemed every bit as unusual inside as out. The roof was composed of canvas partitions that laid on a cross-hatched grid of rope, such that they could be taken down whenever Melissa desired. The receiving room was furnished with naught but some canvas on the floor and some stone cubes of different sizes. Crom and Nida couldn't immediately tell what any of the furnishings were for; perhaps the agglomeration was supposed to be some sort of rug paired with stools or small tables?

    "My internal subconscious processes are being regulated by SilphOS version Though not for much longer if Team Sawtooth finds me an Up-Grade soon," the creature carried on in a peculiar if recognizably congenial tone. The strange bird bobbed up and down off the ground giving her "wings" a small twist before she turned her attention to the Swellow in the group.

    "So what brings you here today, Kiran?"

    "Yeah, I can't remember the last time you ever came by here," Patricia added.

    "Hatteras said you would be able to teach Pleo a move to help him learn how to fly?" the Swellow asked, as he dug out a slip of folded paper from his bag, uncreased it on the ground, and presented to the Porygon with his beak. "He even gave me a voucher for one of your lessons to use it on."

    Pleo stared at the slip of paper as Melissa sized it up. He still couldn't fully understand what the runes on it, this 'writing', was supposed to mean. Pleo was sure it was just there to be pretty and decorative when he first saw it, but everyone else was adamant that it was a form of talking for the eyes. Why, none of the patterns on the slip of paper looked anything like the ones that Nida and Crom had shown him earlier.

    "Hmm… Yes, the organization is a bit sloppy, but my image processing routine can confirm that this is indeed a valid voucher. As for a move to fly… Let me run a quick internal query," the Move Tutor said as her eyes seemed to wander.

    "I detected four potential results excluding duplicates. Information from prior queries suggests that the most requested result for this query was HM02," the pink and blue bird answered, bobbing her tail in triumph. "The most common associated applications for HM02's use are battle and endurance flight."

    "That sounds perfect!" Kiran chirped, all but taking to the air out of excitement. "We'll take that one!"

    "So… You're going to teach me to read 'dee-yenay baioh-dehta'?" Pleo asked the young Tropius, tilting his head.

    "Oh no, silly. You wouldn't be doing the reading," the Tropius explained as her shorter counterpart ducked into a back room.

    "Yeah!" Bracket added before darting out, holding the edges of some tablet with his claws. "Good luck trying to make sense of this!"

    The Corphish presented the contents of his claws to Pleo, which Nida, Crom, and Elty quietly walked over to snoop in on for themselves. The tablet was a clear substance that looked like some sort of glass, though felt less smooth and cold to the touch. The tablet appeared to have two hinges or bindings, almost as if it were a book bound on both sides, and had apparently developed some cracks on its "covers" through the ages. In spite of all of that, the fragile little volume seemed to do its part in protecting a reflective circle with a hole in it that was there in lieu of pages.

    "It's a mirror?" Pleo asked.

    "Nope," the Corphish answered he as moved the translucent tablet nearer. "Look closer."

    The four looked and looked, and after a while, Crom, always the team member with one of the keener visions, blinked as he noticed something amiss with this 'tee-yem'.

    "Eh? Why there's rings on the outer and inner edges!" the young Druddigon cried out. "So that's what the spell is written on?"

    "Er… sorta," Bracket burbled as he handed the disc off to Patricia, who clamped gently down on a corner of the volume. "Most of the writing is supposed to be on teeny little dots that are too small for any of us to see, or at least that's what Melissa says."

    "Yeah, and on top of that, the writing needs to be interpreted properly," Patricia added as she beat out her wings, the case muffling her words. " If it isn't done just right, it's downright useless!"

    "But then how on earth is anyone supposed to read writing on tiny invisible dots?" Elty barked, giving a puzzled frown to the Tropius and Corphish.

    "That is where I come in," Melissa droned. "Every properly-functioning Porygon instance contains data IO capabilities, including an interface for biodata mass storage."

    "Basically, she'll read the disc for you, and teach you how to get started," Patricia explained in a cheery tone. "All you need to do is follow instructions."

    "Please come in to the tutoring chamber so we can get started, Protector," Melissa instructed. The Porygon began to float off into a chamber next to a window with a canvas shutter before gesturing with her beak at Elty. "Bracket, please ensure the extraneous variable in the group doesn't cause any problems coming into the room."

    "What's that supposed to- Gack!" the Growlithe cried out, as he found his head being drug towards the ground by Bracket, who had clamped on firmly onto his scarf.

    "Way ahead of you, Melissa," the Corphish chirped in response as the group headed into the chamber. As the crustacean dragged him along, Elty grumbled quietly all the while at the indignity of having to be led around like a troublesome pup.

    "Ugh… Is this really necessary?"

    Team Traveler entered a chamber dominated by two cube-shaped seats, each directly opposite the other. Melissa settled down next to the one further from the door, coming to a rest on her side as Kiran and his teammates traded blank looks with each other.

    "Please take the other seat while my attendants prepare me for the reading, Protector," Melissa instructed.

    "Prepare you?" Nida asked, tilting her head at just what a teacher would need to prepare for reading some words.

    "She goes into a bit of a trance while teaching," Patricia explained as she trotted over to Melissa, still holding the tablet Bracket showed off to Team Traveler earlier.

    "Yeah, so she needs help both getting into it and out of it," Bracket explained as he drug Elty over to Kiran's side by the Growlithe's scarf. The Corphish then let go and skittered over to Melissa. When he reached the Porygon, he felt along her underbelly, seemingly in search of something.

    "While I am in Data Read Mode, please sit in the designated space and do not leave it until I return to normal operations," Melissa droned.

    "O- kay..." Pleo answered. The little Lugia settled down and tried his hardest to stifle the urge to move about, to look around, to preen himself, or to do any of the things that a young bird normally would.

    "And don't interrupt him!" Bracket added in an adamant tone. "Move Tutoring only works on one Pokémon at a time! If you butt in, it could ruin the session!"

    "Understood. But…" Crom trailed off in a curious tone. "What exactly is Melissa going to do?"

    "Yeah, sounds like one heck of a trance," Nida murmured, as she began to grow concerned. Elty on the other hand gave an unamused huff, still annoyed about being drug along into the room by a little mud bug shorter than he was.

    "Pbbt, as if we'd want to interrupt! Just how far do you expect any of us to fly?"

    There was then the sound of a faint click after Patricia made a motion along Melissa's underside, and of something whining inorganically as what seemed to be a hatch opened. Bracket then grabbed the tablet, fiddled a little with its orientation a little… And slid it into the hatch with a click before Patricia closed it.

    "Eh?! You put the tee-yem in her!" Pleo cried out, as the pupils on Melissa's eyes faded and she began to drone in a monotone.

    "External Disc detected. Entering Data Read Mode. Detecting External Disc encoding."

    "Oh, that's not creepy at all," Elty yipped, his fur beginning to stand on end. Nida too, couldn't help but be unnerved by this sudden change in demeanor in what, just moments ago, was the cheery Move Tutor.

    "M-Melissa?" she stammered, as the Nidoran fanned out her barbs… Just in case.

    "Are you okay-?" Crom asked, before Bracket interrupted.

    "That's her trance. It'll start getting into the good stuff shortly, so just stay still, Protector," the Corphish chittered. Bracket and his Tropius partner eased Melissa up onto the vacant stone cube and righted her, pointing Melissa's beak at Pleo. The vacant look persisted in her eyes as the Porygon continued her monotone.

    "Hidden Machine detected. Biodata is unlearnable by this Porygon instance. Do you wish to tutor another Pokémon?"

    "Yes," Bracket chirped.

    "Command accepted. Booting Move Tutor Routine. Starting Biocompatibility Analysis."

    A light shot out from it and moved up and down the young Protector, who was at once mesmerized and mildly intimidated by the experience. It was then that a voice called from the doorway.

    "Ahem. Kiran?"

    "Hmm-? Oh!" the Swellow turned and discovered that, much to his surprise, it was none other than Guildmaster Hatteras. Or Mayor, or Judge, or Lighthouse Keeper, as the time and scarf dictated. The wizened Ampharos of many trades was a steadfast shepherd for Bluewhorl Town through its trials and tribulations, but what had brought him here?

    "While Pleo's being tutored, might I see you for a moment?" he asked. He quickly qualified his request after seeing Nida, Crom, and Elty creeping for the door. "In private, that is."

    "Um… Sure?" the Swellow replied. Kiran's words caused a disappointed look pass over the faces of his teammates. There would be no escape from watching this most peculiar and chilling magic that Melissa was practicing in the room, it seemed. The three sighed and resigned themselves to sitting through the rest of Melissa's session close to the door. Just in case, they figured, so that Kiran could come to their aid quicker if something went amiss with the Porygon's magic.

    As Kiran followed the Ampharos out of the room, he could hear Melissa droning "Biocompatibility Analysis Complete. Target compatible." She then asked some sort of question that Kiran couldn't make out that the Corphish affirmed. A few more mechanical-sounding words resounded from the next room, including what Kiran swore was "Beginning biodata transfer." For a fleeting moment before he crossed the doorway, Kiran saw an arcing and waving blue light shoot from Melissa's beak and connect with Pleo.

    Kiran took a moment to collect himself and involuntarily ruffle his feathers. Safe as it was, he was unable to dispel the nagging sensation that he shouldn't be leaving his younger charges all alone in the room as Melissa's eerie rite droned on.

    "You had something you wanted to do out here?" the Swellow chirped reluctantly.

    "Well, I did overhear that Pleo received a little keepsake a few days ago… A King's Rock, I think?" the Ampharos cheerily asked.

    "Hmm? You mean this?" Kiran asked, before he dug into his bag with his beak and pulled out a stone, crown-like ring.

    "Yep! I was hoping to make it into something for Pleo… a lucky charm, you might call it," Hatteras replied. The Ampharos took the stone ring from Kiran, untied some cord he had fastened about the knot on his scarf, and began to thread the cord through the stone ring. As the Ampharos closed the loop little by little, motions of his paws progressively betrayed an uneasy tenseness in the creature.

    "Guildmaster Hatteras… You didn't really call me out here just to watch you make a fashion accessory, did you?" Kiran asked.

    "No, I can't say that I did," the Ampharos bleated as he peeked over at Pleo in the next room and adjusted the cord in between his paws. The Ampharos hesitated a moment before he began to speak again.

    "In terms of things on the island, things are going well… Or at least as well as we could have hoped with recent events," he said as he formed a knot with the cord and tightened it. "And Pleo has been making admirable progress for someone starting from a total vacuum of experience."

    Kiran gave a perplexed tilt to his head. Why, everything that Hatteras had said so far sounded like good news!

    "Then what is the problem?" he asked.

    "I'm afraid that as fast as Pleo has been progressing towards awakening his true power... That he might be running out of time," the Ampharos sighed, as he rubbed his brow with a free paw.

    "Running out of time?" Kiran squawked and beat his wings out of surprise. "How? It's not as if he'd need to worry about keeling over overnight!"

    The Swellow quickly became mum after he saw Hatteras motion for quiet. It would defeat the purpose of a private conversation if the kids could just overhear it all, but… What was the electric sheep getting at?

    "On his own, time surely would not be an issue. But what with that Aggron, or one of his better-prepared friends..." Hatteras said as he slipped the newly crafted necklace into Kiran's bag. The Ampharos shook his head, and the expression on his old face became increasingly serious.

    "On top of all that, we have at most a matter of months before the Company comes after the next harvest. And that's assuming that they don't come beforehand for whatever pretext their overseers have thought of."

    "But Guildmaster, Pleo fought off a pirate captain!" Kiran replied in a hushed tone, spreading his wings to convey his surprise in lieu of running his beak off. "I don't understand what the problem you're getting at is!"

    "The problem is, Kiran. Pleo fought that pirate captain off using his true power. We don't know if Pleo will be able to draw out that power if we wind up in such straits again. And worse, if he finds himself in such straits."

    Kiran caught himself and froze. That… was a rather good point that Hatteras made. Why, if Pleo's power hadn't been awakened as it was during the raid, he would have been knocked out just as easily as his teammates were. And, if the Aggron were a little less foolishly preoccupied with that shrine bell…

    Why, he could have kidnapped Tromba's Protector! And gods knows where Pleo might have ended up after that.

    Kiran shook his head, hoping to dispel that dark fantasy from his mind.

    "What do you propose then, Guildmaster?" he asked.

    "To discover whether there's some way that Pleo can draw out his true power reliably. Or at least reliably in the circumstances where he would most need it," Hatteras replied. It was a suggestion that immediately took Kiran aback with a cry.

    "Eh?! You're not suggesting that I put him in harm's-!"

    "I'm suggesting that we need to find a way push up against the boundaries as much as it's safe," Hatteras interrupted. The Ampharos' serious expression held firm and now began to show shades of adamance as he continued on. "To see if whether or not our strategy should be to put Pleo at the vanguard of the town in troublesome times…

    "Or if our strategy should be to make ourselves his vanguard in such times for the foreseeable future."

    "But how can we do that?" Kiran demanded. "I mean, if we organized a mock pirate raid… If we succeeded at drawing out Pleo's power, wouldn't we put the volunteers in danger?"

    "You think a little too grand in scale, Kiran. There's something that's more controllable that we could use to test him. Something that two rookies of yours have been waiting for a while now."

    Something that two rookies of his had been waiting for? The Swellow scratched his head blankly for a moment, just what could Nida and Crom be looking forward to that could possibly-? Wait! Surely Hatteras wasn't referring to...

    "Eh?! You want to send Pleo into the Mystery Dungeon?!" he whispered back, shocked.

    "Along with your rookies on a solo run, yes," the Guildmaster replied. "You would obviously be shadowing them with some help in case anything went wrong, and the teleporters would be monitoring their presence closely."

    "But he's younger than most of the kids at Hariti's!" Kiran protested, flapping his wings.

    "And in spite of that, he has already delivered this town once," Hatteras quietly reminded the team leader. "Surely that's grounds for making an exception, yes?"

    "I mean," the Swellow mumbled, trailing off a bit. Hatteras did have a point. Even if Pleo was young enough to be in the Day Care, he definitely had contributed more to its defense than anyone else from it had at his age. "I guess it would have been a matter of time for Nida and Crom but... Surely there's another way this could be done, isn't there?"

    Hatteras sighed and gave his head a slow, sad shake as he found himself looking at the floor.

    "It is the best that I can think of, Kiran. For all these generations, we've been taught that the gods were bigger than us. That they knew more, that they were stronger, that all that they needed in order to protect and bless this island were a few gifts and adoring words every so often… we never realized that there would be a time when they would need to be protected by Pokémon like us.

    "If there is some better way of doing this, it's not in the books," the Ampharos said, as he shifted his head to meet Kiran's gaze. "I won't blame you if you refuse to undertake this, but... The stakes are both high and real here, and waiting only will raise them."

    There was a long, dead silence in the room, punctuated only by Melissa's continued droning and some indistinct chatter from the rest of Team Traveler in the background. Eventually, Kiran made up his mind, and spoke.

    "I'll do it. On the condition that Pleo's made aware that he's being sent into the Mystery Dungeon to test himself."

    "I see. I'll let you get back to your little lambs… and your muzzled wolf for the time being," Hatteras replied. The Ampharos gave a passing nod, and then quietly walked out the door of the peculiar hut composed of stone cubes and back out into Bluewhorl.

    As the Ampharos' footsteps faded away, Kiran headed back for the room where the rest of the team was, just in time to see the arcing light between Pleo and Melissa vanish.

    "Biodata transfer complete. Terminating Move Tutor Routine. Please eject disc to exit Data Read Mode," the Porygon continued in her monotone. As Bracket and Patricia quickly went over to fetch their employer from her seat and set her on the ground on her side again, Pleo gave his wings a thorough series of beats. To get his blood flowing, Kiran surmised, as he and his teammates went up to see just what had Melissa's handicraft had done.

    "Wait, Pleo… Do you feel any different?" Crom asked. The question prompted the young Protector to inspect his body and pat himself down… Nope, he felt just like same old him from a few minutes ago.

    "I don't see or feel anything that's different," Pleo responded

    "Well of course he wouldn't, it's a move!" Elty barked.

    "Heh, so tutoring went well, I take it?" Kiran questioned in a cheerful, if slightly forced, tone.

    "Mmm hmm! Mmm hmm!" Patricia insisted, as she looked up from Melissa while holding the disc from earlier. The pink bird was now moving her appendages again and the vacant stare left the Porygon's eyes. The sight made the Swellow's expectations soar as he turned to the white and blue Protector.

    "Well, let's see it!" he cried excitedly to Pleo as Melissa floated over, seemingly unfazed by her strange episode earlier.

    "Jump after taking a moment to breathe in and focus, Protector," she instructed.

    Pleo hunched down, tensed his legs, and after a short wait, sprung up… Finding that he could now reach the canvas roof with his hop.

    "Whoa!" he cried. He was finally so high in the air, he began to flap his wings, and… This was it! He was flying!

    "Wow! I'm flying! I'm fly-!"

    Or at least that's what he thought for the few seconds before he fell to the ground with a dull thud, much as a stone thrown into the air does, flapping his wings fruitlessly.


    As Pleo rubbed his head a bit from the fall and dusted himself off, Kiran turned to Melissa with an ever-so-unsubtle hint of concern in his eyes.

    "Uh… Melissa, I thought you said that your tutoring would teach him how to fly…"

    "My tutoring awakens the potential for using a move and gives a small foundation," the Porygon corrected. "The Protector will need to practice in order to make the most of those jumps… Let alone to be able to leverage them into flying."

    "Then what was the point of all of that?!" the Swellow cried, screwing his eyes shut in frustration and beating his wings.

    "Everything takes practice, Kiran," Melissa chirped. "Surely you of all Pokémon would understand that."

    "Aw… So I still can't fly?" Pleo asked, disappointed.

    "Not exactly," Bracket replied. "But! It should help you learn a lot faster!"

    "Yeah, Pokémon that get tutored by Melissa always get the hang of their moves a lot sooner!" Patricia added.

    "Let's hope." Nida sighed.

    "What were you and Guildmaster Hatteras talking about out there anyways, Kiran?" Crom asked.

    "Oh, he made this for you, Pleo!" Kiran cheered as he dug out the stone necklace that Hatteras fashioned out in the hallway and slipped it over Pleo's head.

    "Oh! It's the 'offering' that ziggy-zaggy thingy gave me!" the young Lugia cheered.

    "Uh huh! Just remember to slip it under your scarf later! It'll keep it a bit safer from the elements," Kiran chirped back, as the other Pokémon on Team Traveler scrutinized their leader.

    "The sheep seriously spent all that time talking with you about a rock on a string?" Elty asked, lowering his eyelids skeptically.

    "Er," the Swellow hesitated. "Well, not exactly..."

    "Then what was he going on about then?" Nida pressed.

    A few moments later, from the path outside, the din of daily life found itself abruptly pierced by a chorus of overjoyed cries from inside Melissa's stone hut.

    "Woo hoo!"

    Yes… This was going to be quite the transition. In more ways than one if the Sentret holding his ears in pain from the shout was any indication.

    "Gah… I didn't know 'blowing around hot air' needed a Move Tutor to learn!"

    Author's Notes:

    - en recreo - Spanish: "on break"
    - Chodź i weź to! - Polish: "Come and take it!"
    - kurczę - Polish: lit. "chicken", general use euphemistic interjection. Analogous to saying "darn" or "crud".
    Last edited:
    Chapter 10 New
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    After the session at Melissa's, Kiran left his charges to themselves to prepare for their excursion in the morning. The team of four made their way towards the harbor, as Pleo eagerly practiced the skill he had picked up at Melissa's. That is, hopping up high into the air every so often above the eaves of the wooden, canvas, and thatch roofs that covered most of Bluewhorl Town's buildings. Every time the white bird went up, he would almost as quickly come back down only to repeat the process again, hoping his latest launch might be the one to finally give him flight. The passerbyers on the path would turn their head time to time to watch Pleo pass... if not as frequently as they had a couple weeks ago. After all, the sea god had become more and more a fixture of their mundane routines.

    As the group carried along their way, Crom began to get a little ahead of himself over what Kiran had told him about tomorrow's mission in the Mystery Dungeon.

    "I don't believe it, we're finally going to graduate to Normal Rank!" Crom cried.

    Ah yes, the moment that Crom and Nida had been waiting for all these moons was finally upon them at last. That said, the importance was a bit lost on Pleo, who came down from his most recent leap into the air and gave a puzzled tilt of his head to the Druddigon and Nidoran.

    "Hrm? 'Normal Rank'?" Pleo asked. Didn't the two go on missions all the time with Kiran? So why was 'graduating' so important?

    "It means we're gonna be able to do more as Rescuers!" Crom declared, puffing his chest in triumph. "Why, we'd even be allowed to start our own team if we wanted to!" He continued proudly… until Elty promptly knocked his little moment back down to earth.

    "What are you going on about? You're being tested! If you don't impress your leader, he's not gonna pass you!" the Growlithe barked, flattening out his ears. "And frankly, I'm not exactly convinced that 'ganging up on the Growlithe' is gonna get you through a dungeon without handholding."

    The Growlithe's words immediately dampened Crom and Nida's high spirits, and the two shot annoyed glares at the Fire type who so rudely dragged them back to reality.

    "Elty, couldn't you have just let us have our moment?" Nida snapped, fanning her barbs a bit at the little dog's tone. Pleo, blissfully ignorant to why this 'moment' couldn't go on, cheerily tried to reassure the team.

    "Aw, don't worry! I'm sure they'll pass with your help, Elty!" he chirped as he hopped up onto an awning of a shop that had been left intact during the raid. "Why, you can just dance around the ferals like you did on the battlefield!"

    "Wait, what?" Elty spluttered. "Why on earth would I help you pass your ranking test when you've been using me as a sparring dummy for the last week?"

    "Because Kiran said that the entire team was getting tested?" Crom said, giving a piercing glare at the Growlithe.

    "Because you're supposed to help me?" Pleo replied, tilting his head before he jumped across the lane onto another shack's roof.

    "Because it's a break from getting pounded on at the Dojo?" Nida asked, flattening out her ears in annoyance. "Besides if we don't pass, just what do you think we're going to be doing afterwards to toughen up?"

    The former pirate opened his mouth to speak only to catch his tongue and blink. Elty had to admit, while he didn't exactly like the rationale, these 'teammates' of his made a decently convincing argument for helping them tomorrow.

    "Grr… What on earth do they teach amatorzy at your guild anyways?" the orange and cream dog frowned.

    "How to stand up for ourselves," Nida responded, sticking out a tongue. During this, Pleo hopped up once again. Although he flapped his wings hard enough to shake a few loose feathers free, he still couldn't seem to get the hang of staying airborne. This time he landed a bit less gracefully than normal on his breast, the 'lucky charm' that Guildmaster Hatteras fashioned from his stone ring jabbing him a little.

    "Oof! What do we need to do to prepare for tomorrow anyways?" the young guardian asked as he dusted himself and his new charm off, ruffled his feathers, and took a moment to preen himself after his landing.

    "Well, there's supplies, which we'll take care of as soon as we get to Calino's," Crom replied. "And we oughta check things with our parents to see if we have to do anything before we leave."

    "Um… Yeah," Elty muttered as he flattened out his ears. "I'm just going to head back to-"

    "You're sticking with us during this, thanks," Nida huffed. "Teams are responsible for their members' behavior and I don't trust you on your own."

    "Are you supposed to be 'teammates' or 'babysitters'?" Elty growled under his breath, his words failing to elude Nida's hearing.

    "Most teams don't have members that tried to rob other Pokémon just a week ago. Just saying," she retorted, narrowing her eyes at the Growlithe.

    "Aww, come on! It'll be fun!" Pleo insisted. "And Calino's is right there anyways!"

    Sure enough, Calino's little shack was right there, just across the main square by the harbor… If it was appropriate to call it that. Yes, it was busy with Pokémon again and not quite the moonscape of rubble and trashed shops that it was after the raid, but most of the businesses were still shuttered for repairs- or, as in the case of a few juice bars and sundry shops, had simply stubbornly continued their business in what was left of their tents and shacks as and slowly rebuilt around their customers.

    Calino's store fell into the latter category. It was scorched, blackened, and had hasty canvas patchwork thrown up over gaping holes in the walls and roof. Even so, its Kecleon proprietor could still be seen dutifully shuffling merchandise around in the back.

    Some things just didn't change, Nida guessed, as she hopped up onto the counter and called into the back of the shop.

    "Hey! Calino!"

    "Coming! Coming!" the shopkeeper's reply came as he hurried out, if a bit slower and more haggardly than normal. As soon as he saw that his customers included a certain town guardian once again, the Kecleon's face momentarily slipped into an expression of despair. The chameleon shook his head a moment and steeled himself before he addressed his customers.

    "Before you ask, I really can't give any discounts this time," he said. The poor creature appeared sleep-deprived, the green scales on his body having developed a dull and dingy color to them.

    "Eh?! But why not?!" Pleo cried, batting his wings out. Hadn't Calino given the party that 'buy one get one free' last time? By chance, Pleo happened to brush part of the shack, which shook, and with a groan, dropped a chunk of burnt timber from the awning onto his head.

    "Ow! Ow! Ow!" Pleo groaned, nursing his head.

    "Pleo, are you alright?!" Nida cried.

    "Yeah, I think I'm okay," the young Lugia replied as he shook his head. "But-"

    "Sorry about that, Protector. I can't exactly keep a hut up when it's dropping pieces of itself on customers. Even if it is a placeholder." Calino sighed, his scales starting to flush an apologetic teal. "Between this and that storm earlier, I'm never gonna get a replacement for my old tent at this rate… You understand, right?"

    "It does look like Calino's shop took the raid kinda hard," Crom said to himself while looking around.

    "Yeah, by the way, thanks for that, mutt," Calino growled at Elty, glaring from behind the counter.

    "Hey! Hey! I didn't torch this shop!" Elty protested before he stopped himself to try and jog his memory. "… I'm pretty sure I didn't… I think. Kinda hard to remember with the whole 'getting beaten unconscious' thing."

    "It's fine, Calino. We'll pay full price... This time," Nida answered with a sigh as she hopped off the counter.

    "The usual, I take it?" Calino asked. The Kecleon's scales returned to their default green along with the congenial if business-like attitude he tried to greet all his customers with. That is, at least as much as several straight nights' worth of poor sleep allowed him to.

    "Actually, I know it'll cost more, but can we get the same as last time?" Crom asked. "I'm sure Kiran will understand, we're exploring with a bigger team now and all!"

    "So you... do want to help my renovation fund!" the Kecleon chuckled, turning a rosy pink as his expected burden on business transformed into a surprise boon. "Hrm… Lemme see what I can do."

    Nida opened her mouth to object, but after sizing up the even sorrier appearance of Calino's already normally sorry-looking wooden shack, she held her tongue. Calino then ducked into the back of his shop and spent a short while rummaging behind some crates. Sure enough, when he returned, Calino brought over a tray full of the same berries and seeds that Team Traveler had ordered at their last visit to his shop. The Kecleon stuffed the goods into Nida's satchel and dutifully ignored Elty's protests that he also had a perfectly good satchel to hold stuff as well. After Calino gave his customary thanks for the team's patronage, Nida and Crom lead the team off and up towards the hills. On the way up, Pleo couldn't help but wonder...

    "I don't understand, Nida. Why did we let Crom give Calino more of those shinies for the same stuff you got last time?"

    "Well, Calino's kinda mean with his sense of humor sometimes," Nida answered. "But it just seemed wrong to press him when his shop was in the shape it was in."

    "Huh? How come?" Pleo asked.

    "Well, when a Pokémon is having a tough time, it's generally nice to not give them extra things to worry about on top of it," she replied.

    Elty was quick to butt in. "So… That means that you'll go easier on me during sparring-" Only to be just as quickly cut off by Nida, too.

    "Hey! I said 'tough' time, not 'deserved'!"

    Soon enough, Team Traveler's younger members found themselves approaching a hut that smelled strongly of toasted grain. Barring a stray gouge into a wall here or there that had been hastily filled in with some manner of mismatching-colored resin, there was hardly any sign that this little shack had been visited by hostile company just a few days ago.

    Crom was the first to enter the hut, calling in to the shop as he crossed the doorway.

    "Mom? Are you in there-? Oof!"

    Only to trip and fall down against one of the display tables that for some reason or another had a small pile of apples on it. Looking down at his feet, Crom saw a Trapinch that had been loitering in the doorway, looking around the inside.

    "Yeargh! Watch where you're going, you abrasive clod!" the Trapinch squealed in pain, as he quickly scuttled into a corner to try and nurse his injury.

    "Sorry! Sorry!" Crom replied as he rubbed his head from the fall and the effects of a few falling apples conking him afterwards. As his teammates entered the room, a realization dawned on him about his victim and the Druddigon's tone became less apologetic and more gruff. "Wait a minute-"

    As Nida entered the room and saw the Trapinch, she lowered her ears, recognizing him as being one of Elty's former… erm... companions.

    "Shouldn't you be digging ditches at Mildrew's field or something?" she asked in a biting tone.

    "Psst! Managed to sneak one past your slave driver, eh?" Elty whispered to the Trapinch in a hushed tone from behind the Nidoran. "And got any tips?"

    "Mrph. I wish, Eltenios," the little antlion chittered in a grumbling tone. "I only got allowed to come down here because I said I'd drop off some apples during my break!"

    Aha. So that explained the pile of apples on the table. In spite of all of that, something still bothered Pleo about the Trapinch's actions.

    "Why would you go through all that trouble, though-?"

    "Veikka, is that you?" a voice cried out from the backroom.

    "Pyry!" the Trapinch eagerly responded, as the voice's owner, a haggard-looking Gabite coated in flour, burst out into the room and scooped up the Trapinch in his claws.

    "Pekka, please! Tell me there's an open spot to dig ditches!" the Gabite pleaded, staring into the Trapinch's eyes with a desperate gaze that seemed to all but bore into the creature.

    "Um… Veikka? You're kinda scaring me," the Trapinch squeaked.

    "I can't take it anymore with these weirdos! Stuck here all alone with nothing but flour, dough, and an oven all day! And they make me help with dinner, too! I go to bed each night looking like I fell into chalk dust!"

    "Oh yes, poor you," Nida grumbled. Why, aside from all of the spilled flour on his scales, the Gabite just described exactly what Crom and his brother did on a normal day when not doing guild work!

    "Hrmph! Maybe you shouldn't have stolen from here, then!" Crom snarled at the Gabite.

    "Oh for crying out loud! Why are you going on about it as if you're being made to burn out waste pits? You're working in a bakery!" Elty groaned as he put a paw over his face. "Some of us would punt hatchlings for a chance to make food for this 'Community Service!'"

    "Um… Pyry," Pekka said as he flailed his legs in the air. "I'm not saying that I don't feel your pain. But-"

    "And worst of all, there's that whiny little ipana and his mother I have to put up wi-!" the Gabite continued, before a young Druddigon smaller than Crom stormed in from the backroom with a growl.

    "Oi! Thief! Get back to work!" Cenn shouted.

    The Gabite snarled indignantly back at the shorter Druddigon, upset that this little whelp was pushing him around. He dropped his Trapinch companion, who cried out a little after hitting the ground, and whirled around and advanced on Cenn.

    "Okay, listen up you yappy little ru-!" only to yelp after he felt a claw digging into his shoulder from behind, as the voice of a much larger Druddigon who had just come in from outside with a sack of flour began to speak.

    "Grr… For someone who complains as much as you do about honest work, you sure seem eager put your mouth to use!" Gwenith growled, giving an overpowering glare that seemed to all but say "Go ahead, make my day" at this Gabite that had the temerity to threaten one of her children.

    The Gabite's aggression quickly evaporated with a blanch at the thought of having to stand his ground against the elder Druddigon.

    "Erk! S-Sorry! I'll get back to work right away!" he squeaked, as he quickly ran back into the backroom to help with the next day's loaves. Cenn stuck out his tongue behind him as he followed Pyry into the backroom. Crom couldn't help but roll his eyes at the Gabite still not understanding who the biggest and meanest dragon in this house was.

    "... I think I'm gonna get out of here before she gets ideas," Pekka said to himself. The orange antlion quickly bolted out of the bakery, leaving Gwenith to push the sack of flour into a corner and turn to her elder child.

    "Something come up, Crom?" she asked.

    "Uhm… Well-" Crom began, shifting a bit uneasily.

    "We're getting tested to graduate into Normal Rank!" Pleo interrupted. Crom flinched out of surprise, hoping that his mother wouldn't be upset over his sudden testing getting in the way of baking. However, Crom quickly found that his apprehensions to be unfounded, as the very next words from his mother's mouth were...

    "Oh! That's wonderful to hear!" Gwenith cried. "Why, with the way you're growing up, you'll be big and as strong as your father in no time! Here, let me get some things for your adventure!"

    Crom's mother ducked into the backroom, her presence accompanied by sounds of rummaging and Pyry continuing to bellyache on the job. The backroom's sounds eventually died down after a Druddigon's growl, and Gwenith returned with a satchel filled with loaves fresh from the oven and handed it off to Crom.

    "Just make sure to rest up well tonight," she instructed. "You've got a big day tomorrow!"

    "Eh?" Crom asked. This had seemed to go over rather- Well, wasn't there supposed to be some sort of catch? "You don't need my help at the bakery tonight?"

    "I'm sure that I can make my extra set of claws fill in," Gwenith replied. "It is a special occasion for you, after all. And it sounds like you'll already have yours full with some extra heads to keep track of."

    "Ahehe, well when you put it that way-" Crom began before his mother interrupted him.

    "Crom… One more thing."

    "Huh?" the Druddigon asked, only to abruptly find himself being pulled into an embrace by his mother, who gave him a nuzzle with her snout.

    "Be careful out there."

    "Moooom! You're embarrassing me!" Crom protested, squirming a little to try and break free.

    "Not to interrupt the moment, but doesn't the spike ball here also have her parents to check with, too?" Elty asked, rolling his eyes at Crom's struggle with his mother.

    "Ack! That's right! If we dawdle here, I won't be able to catch Mami at the Day Care!" Nida cried, hopping up off the ground, and then bolting out the door.

    "See you, mom!" Crom waved as he followed after his teammate.

    "Bye, Gwenith!" Pleo chirped, as he and his Growlithe teammate followed after Crom and Nida.

    By the time the two made it out, Pleo had to hop up into the air to see where Nida had gone off to. Seeing that she was making her way towards the creek that ran through Bluewhorl Town, he quickly darted off after her, Elty in tow behind him.

    By the time the two caught up, they found themselves approaching one of the bridges over the creek, with a certain Froslass' tent visible on the other side.

    "Nida? Why are we going to the Day Care and not your home?" Pleo asked, putting a wing to his mouth.

    "Mami usually leads my siblings home from there at this time of day. So if we catch her there, we can explain things on the way to the guild hall-!" Nida explained, only to have her words interrupted by a protesting voice from the direction of the Day Care.

    "What?! You said that I didn't have to worry about twerps that had parents after dark!"

    As Team Traveler continued on, the protesting figure revealed himself to be the Quilava that Hariti had taken under her wing. The cream and teal stoat stared down a scowling Nidorina that Crom recognized as Marley, prompting the Druddigon to shuffle behind Nida to keep a healthy distance.

    "First off, it's 'youngsters'," Hariti admonished. The Froslass floated to and fro at the entrance of her tent, occasionally glancing over her shoulder to make sure the rowdy children inside weren't getting too out of hand. "Second of all, I said that you didn't have to worry about most of them after dark. Specifically, you'll be dealing with-"

    Suddenly, six purple and blue spike balls burst out of the tent entrance, hopping gleefully past Hariti and towards the Nidorina. The Nidoran sprinted towards their mother, prompting the Quilava to yelp and dart out of the way lest the lumps of fluff run him over.

    "Whee!" a female Nidoran cheered.

    "Mami! Mami!" a purple spike lump called out.

    "You're back!" a blue ball cried.

    "Who's watching us tonight?" a male Nidoran from the group asked.

    "You'll be able to stay right here with your normal playmates until I'm done in the field with Papi tonight," Marley cheerily explained. "Auntie Hariti and I found someone to watch over you…"

    It was then that the Quilava became aware that Hariti, the Nidorina, and all six of the Nidoran with her… Were staring at him.

    "Those little dweebs?! N-No way! I've been picking their spikes out of my pelt all week!" he cried out. From the sidelines, Nida quietly sighed, somewhat relieved that she wasn't going to have to babysit her younger siblings tonight. As for the predicament that this former brigand found himself in… she couldn't tell if she felt sorry or amused about it.

    "I heard you talking the other day, you've got a ton of kids of your own! Have some of them help you out!" the stoat protested.

    "They're all grown and busy with their own lives. Also, need I remind you that I do have an alternate use for you if you don't pull your weight babysitting?" Hariti glowered at the Quilava as the little Nidoran began to draw near to him. "Besides, it is just six Pokémon. I'm sure a former pirate like you can handle them and keep them away from my Pomeg bushes."

    "This is cruel and unethical punishment and you know it!" the Quilava whined as he started darting this way and that to keep the little poisonous pests away from him.

    "Aww, stay still Mr. Fireplace!"

    "We want to nuzzle you!"

    The Quilava found himself running head-on into the Nidorina, and then felt his body getting lifted up by something pointy that was faintly jabbing his stomach.

    "Oh yes, poor you. Now do your Community Service and get back to babysitting," Marley growled, the horn on her head resting on the Quilava's belly.

    "And do be aware what I'll do to you if anything happens to the kits," she warned. The Nidorina jabbed her horn a bit more firmly into the creature's stomach before letting him drop to the ground. All just in time for her cheering children to swarm him as she began to head off.

    "H-Help… Me…" the poor creature feebly whimpered as the six little Nidoran began to press up against him.

    "Well, I guess that's one way to get a reliable babysitter for your siblings," Elty murmured. The little dog sighed out of relief, now quietly thankful that the Froslass hadn't taken a fancy to him on the night that Community Service sentences were handed down.

    "It's an unorthodox solution, yes… But anyways- Mami!" Nida called after her mother, hopping off after her as the rest of her team followed her tracks.

    "Eh?" the Nidorina asked, as she turned around just in time to see Team Traveler passing the Day Care and heading for her.

    "Hey wait, they have older siblings?!" the Quilava cried out, hopping up and away from the Nidoran around him with a start as Team Traveler passed. "Why don't they just-!"

    The Quilava suddenly yelped, and stumbled forward as a shard of ice promptly struck his rear. As the Nidoran caught up with him, the creature nursed his rump and hastily tried to mollify a glaring Hariti at the tent's entrance.

    "Gah! Okay! Okay!" his voice trailed off as the team moved further up the path.

    Nida came face to face with her mother, who waited with an impatient scowl for her daughter to say something.

    "Um, well… I was just going to say-" Nida began. Had- Had she gone about trying to get her mother's attention the wrong way? "That I'm going to the guild hall tonight, and testing to graduate from-"

    "It's alright, mija," her mother interrupted. "I knew this day was coming."

    "You're... not worried at all?" Nida asked, a bit taken aback at her mother's apparent lack of concern.

    "Of course not! Why, not every team has the Protector helping it!" the Nidorina chuckled to herself as she pointed out Pleo waiting with Crom and Elty a few paces away.

    "This way, me and your papi can count on you wrapping up your service and coming to help work in the field again a bit sooner!" the Nidorina cheered.

    "Uhm… Mami…" Nida grumbled, flattening out her ears a bit.

    "Now, now, it's a part of growing up and becoming a responsible Pokémon!" she admonished.

    "Mami…" Nida groaned. Why, Mami was treating this as if it was just another day's update from her elder siblings! Of all the nights to be just another face in her crowd of brothers and sisters, did Marley really have to be this way on this one-?

    "Enough with the attitude already, Nida!" the Nidorina huffed, which abruptly caused Nida to hop back and brace herself. Only to find that the next words from her mother's mouth were softer than she anticipated.

    "You'll want to save it for inside the dungeon, won't you? After all, tomorrow's the big opportunity to impress your team captain!"

    "Heh, well I guess I can't argue with that-" Nida began, only to be cut off by her mother drawing forwards and nuzzling her snout.

    "Good luck, mija. Your papi and I will be wishing you the best," Marley said. The Nidorina gave her daughter a pat on the head before she headed down a side lane.

    Team Traveler turned and continued up the path, past some less damaged huts and tents. Slowly but surely, the team drew near to the entrance of the Guild Hall's complex of tents and buildings.


    As the team approached the Mission Board, freshly repopulated with listings since the trials and tribulations from last week, they found Kiran there waiting for them. The Swellow flew over, and cheerily greeted his charges.

    "I was wondering when you all were going to show up!"

    "Well, we're here," Nida answered.

    "So, did you find out who's going to be our shadowing team tomorrow?" Crom questioned.

    "That would be us," a voice answered. When the Pokémon of Team Traveler turned, they found that the speaker was a Shiftry accompanied by a Croconaw and Loudred.

    "Wait… Team Sawtooth is shadowing us?" Crom asked, surprised at their team's company.

    "Team 'Sawtooth'?" Pleo asked, tilting his head.

    "Yup! Don't be fooled by these dainty-looking things here!" the Shiftry proudly answered, showing off the fans on her arms. "They'll cut through wood like cloth!"

    "That's where the 'saw' comes from!" the Loudred cheerily explained.

    "Yup, and Alto and I here have got the teeth!" the Croconaw added, proudly opening his stout jaws and showing off the fishhook-like teeth that lined them.

    "I… guess that makes sense?" Pleo chirped, blinking a bit at the enthusiastic trio.

    "Eh?! I thought that you were busy looking for an 'ahp-gredh'!" Nida cried out.

    "Eh, I think we can put that on hold for a little," the Croconaw replied with a shrug.

    "Who are these Pokémon, Kiran?" Pleo whispered over to his team's leader.

    "The Shiftry is Pitys, the Loudred is Alto, and the Croconaw is Cardellini. They're one of the tougher teams at the guild. When Hatteras told them that you were going to be tested tomorrow… Why they practically begged to come along!" Kiran cheered.

    "After all, someone's gotta make sure that the Protector goes through his test safely," Pitys proudly declared.

    "And to keep fat little thugs like that Growlithe there from causing you too much trouble," the Loudred loudly chortled.

    "Har har har-" Elty groaned, screwing his eyes shut in frustration before he abruptly flicked his ears. "Wait-"

    The Growlithe whirled around, and saw a short green bug sketching on some paper a ways back on the side of the path, occasionally looking at the group further ahead.

    "Was that Scyther sketching us earlier?" Elty asked the other Pokémon in the group.

    "Scyther?" Kiran asked, as Team Traveler and their companions turned around. It was then that Pleo saw that the little bug was the artist with the blotched head from the Day Care he met last week.

    "Oh! Hi!" he called out, waving. When the Scyther saw that she had been spotted by the white bird, she gave a startled buzz.

    "A-Ah!" she cried out, before taking off down the path back in the direction of the Day Care, abandoning the piece of paper she had been drawing on.

    "Hey! Wait!" Pleo cried out as he darted to where the Scyther was, and picked up her doodle. "You dropped your picture!"

    Pleo then inspected the picture. It was a sketch of the Guild Hall's entrance, with Pleo and his teammates facing towards it. While the doodle was still a little basic, it had a remarkable resemblance to reality, the buildings and objects really looked like they were further back, and there was even some simple shadowing on it! As the others drew near, they too saw the picture, the elder Pokémon finding themselves commenting on the Scyther's work.

    "Huh… Ander's kid really does have some talent with art," the wood sprite murmured to herself.

    "Bah, Cassie shouldn't be sneaking out of the Day Care on her own anyways," Cardellini muttered.

    "I'm sure she can just draw another one if she doesn't feel like coming by," Alto chimed in.

    Pleo looked down at the picture, and then off in the direction that this 'Cassie' fled down. She seemed to have put an awful lot of work into the little image, and Pleo couldn't dislodge an uneasy feeling that surely Cassie would be in low spirits without her handi- uh… scythework.

    "We can always stop by to give it back to her later, Pleo," Kiran reassured.

    "I… Guess that's true," Pleo said to himself. Still, he couldn't help but wish that the Scyther hadn't run off before he could compliment her.

    "Let's head on in, dinner should have just started being set a couple minutes ago," the Croconaw beckoned. It was getting late in the day, and Pleo could hear his stomach growling… As well as those of a few of his teammates.

    After taking a moment to look out in the direction where Cassie had run off to, Pleo turned around, and followed the others towards the Guild Hall. After all, it was no use worrying about these things on an empty stomach.


    Eating at the Guild Hall was always a rather raucous occasion in Bluewhorl Town. Every day- morning, noon, and night- food was served in a long, wooden hall full of rude tables and stools illuminated by candles and bioluminescent moss stashed in jars. The cost of admission was merely showing off a Rescue Team's scarf and badge at the door. It was an amenity that led the guild's Pokémon to tend to spend their free time frequenting the guild's grounds when missions and other obligations did not keep them away.

    That is not to say that the mess hall was only good for the free food. It acted as a convenient place to find and interact with peers from other teams, to trade gossip, tips, and general enjoyment between errands and missions. A Persian's off-color joke at the expense of some past incompetent from the Company here, a Hoothoot's request for advice for finding a mate on another team there...

    And of course, there were also a few scattered whispers and murmurs about the white and blue bird that was greedily inhaling a spread alongside a pair of teams.

    "Liking the food, Pleo?" Nida asked as she looked up from her own dinner seated in her customary place right beside Crom.

    The spreads were always simple, but filling, servings that were provided by the town. Meals were apportioned by species based off of the recommendations of a well-worn tome with messy notes and records of trials and errors that had been passed down through the years among the Pokémon that worked at the mess hall. The typical result was some mix of berries, leafy greens, grains or lentils, a salt or a sugar cube depending on the time of day, and of course- gummis.

    The little morsels were about the size of small berries and about as colorful, but had a tough but edible exterior. Their insides had a pasty-textured filling and a savory flavor. Depending on how they were prepared, the filling would leave sweet, sour, spicy, bitter, or astringent aftertastes in the mouth. Nida couldn't remember what exactly went into them, but she was pretty sure that she remembered hearing 'seaweed' being involved once. All in all, it probably didn't matter so much what was in their recipes that had supposedly been passed down since the beginnings of the Cradle (and was probably better for keeping one's appetite). Whatever the diner's species or what their teeth looked like, gummis kept the conversation about dinner at the guild limited to what as opposed to who would be on the table.

    It was all fine and dandy, but more importantly for Pleo...

    "Mmm hmm! It's pretty and tasty!" the Lugia chirped in between mouthfuls of his dinner. That is not to say the gummi-laden servings at the guild were perfect meals. After all, a food that was equal before all also had the net effect of being equally odd before all, which Elty couldn't help but grumble about.

    "Eh… Could use some meat, in my opinion," Elty mumbled as he scarfed down a few grains along with a half-bitten gummi.

    "Not saying that I don't agree, but you know the rules, bub," the Shiftry lectured with an unamused scowl. "Pokémon that specifically want meat need to go out and buy it for themselves through a registered and inspected scavver like Ander."

    "Yeah, 'whine' isn't on the menu here!" Cardellini snapped.

    "Mrph, I know what a scavver is and how they work. We had them where I'm from," Elty grumbled, rolling his eyes. "All I'm saying is that if I'm expected to be buying stuff, then why'd my bag get cleaned out for 'reparations' then?"

    "Well look at it this way... a full stomach, even if it's not your favorite food, will improve your alertness in the dungeon!" Kiran said while fanning out a wing. "Why, from my own observations, it helps raise your alertness by 150%!"

    "Hmm? What will that do?" Pleo asked.

    "Well for one, it'll help you sniff out traps easier so you don't trip over them," Nida replied, as she helped herself to another gummi from her spread.

    "And tomorrow's mission is a simulated rescue! Why, sensitivity is key for finding stranded Pokémon in a Mystery Dungeon!" Kiran chirped. "After all, a Pokémon that's lost or damaged their badge in there can't communicate with the Psychics at all."

    Ah yes, that was why the team and anyone else who entered a Mystery Dungeon always made sure to carry some paper and envelopes with them. If they ever somehow got completely stuck and deprived of working badges, they could write a distress note. From there, the winds that reshaped floors in the Distortion would catch them up, the note's light weight allowing the winds to carry them out of the Mystery Dungeon.

    It was said that any self-respecting settlement always made sure to reward the discoverers of such notes, whether a resident, a visitor, or a feral. It was an erratic method to be sure, but as long as a team could tough it out, hide in stable zones in between the Distortion's wiping of floors, and didn't move around too much, an attentive team could find them. Except… that seemed a bit overly-detailed for this 'simulated rescue' to Crom. After all...

    "Aren't we just tracking down a Substitute, though?" he asked. "I mean, I guess it's still important to be able to pick out entrances to stable zones hidden in alcoves and the like, but… It's not like it would up and run anywhere, right?

    "Well, training mission or not, you never can be too careful. After all, a migrating feral getting blown in or stranded in the Mystery Dungeon sea una posiblidad real," the Loudred said as he snarfed down a fruit from before him

    "Blown in? Stranded?" Pleo asked, as he stopped himself from grabbing another morsel with his beak.

    "Yup, you never know with those cases. Sometimes they'll come up to a team they run into crying for help, and we'll bail them like we would a lost Pokémon from town. It's the ones that don't want your help out of there that are trouble," Alto said as he polished off his fruit. "Those ones are usually just itching for a fight. Sometimes they're about as tough as normal, other times they're a lot stronger and more dangerous. Why, Nida there got into a close shave with a feral like that that was out of her league just last year."

    "Huh?!" Pleo cried out, knocking the table with a start with a wing. "What happened?!"

    "It's really not-" Nida muttered. She usually appreciated others remembering her name as something besides 'Marley's girl', but this occasion was an exception. The Nidoran's ears folded back more and more, as the big-mouth at the table prattled on.

    "She got ambushed and worked over by a Skarmory that blew in during a storm," he answered. "Big and fierce as ferals, hunt for food, too. Left her jittery about going back in those caves for weeks. Why, if Kiran hadn't been around to blow the metal fiend away, that feral probably would have made a meal of-!"

    "Can we not, Alto?!" the Nidoran shouted, causing a dead silence to fall over the table and a couple nearby ones. Pairs upon pairs of eyes found themselves staring at a Nidoran half-up a table, barbs raised, giving a glare at a surprised Loudred that seemed to all but drill through his purple hide.

    "Did... I say something that I wasn't supposed to?" he meekly asked in as quiet a voice his natural boisterousness could allow.

    "You really do need to master the art of thinking before you speak," Pitys sighed as she buried her face in a leafy fan.

    "It's just that… That was a really rough moment for us as a team," Crom replied. "And it's not one we like to dwell upon."

    "Er… Hey, so about that 'ahp-gredh' you were looking for earlier!" Kiran hastily interjected in a cheery tone to shift the topic of conversation. Little by little, all signs of the outburst faded away as Team Sawtooth began to regale Kiran and his companions with their elusive quarry for Melissa. The snooping teams at the other tables similarly returned to their own discussions.

    All signs but two, that is, as Nida scowled through the rest of dinner. The little Protector of Tromba similarly didn't return to his prior buoyancy, as he lost his appetite at the table and grew more and more apprehensive as the hours passed by about this test that was going to come tomorrow.


    After dinner, the skies turned dark as the sun dipped over the horizon and the moon and stars began their customary ascendance into the sky for the night. The Guild's Pokémon traded goodnights among each other, some of them heading off to various abodes around Bluewhorl and its surroundings for the night. Many others, including Team Traveler that night, had lodging a bit closer to the watchful gaze of Hatteras' hut and signaling platform.

    Much as with meals, the guild's members could claim a free space overnight in a rude, if roomy, hut with not much to much to speak of in the way of privacy. Dozens of Pokémon were assigned to each hut, their only furnishings being mats on the floor to square off spots for straw and twig bedding or hammocks hung from the rafters. In spite of that, the price and convenient location for checking the mission board bright and early in the morning provided some degree of compensation. As such, there was no shortage of Pokémon that chose this humble lodging, as Team Traveler's members did for this night.

    In one hut, Pleo lay on a small heap of straw on a reed mat, Crom lay on another, half-curled around Nida and Elty, and Kiran was perched on an overhead rafter. Beside the Swellow, the team had hung their scarves and other personal effects for the night. All were now in the deep embrace of sleep...

    All except Pleo, that is, who was wide awake, staring up at the wall. He fidgeted, trying this position and that to try and fall asleep, only to be kept up by the Loudred's words. Nida had really run into such a scary-sounding Pokémon in the Mystery Dungeon? The one where his old cave pond was? What would have happened if such a Pokémon found him before Kiran and Crom and Nida did? What if there was one waiting for him to come in tomorrow? As the questions continued to plague the young guardian's mind, he eventually found himself turning to look out the window. In the window, light winked intermittently from the top floor of Hatteras' hut and the sea of stars glimmered brightly in the sky.

    "Can't sleep, Pleo? Or were you trying see one of the Travelers come out from behind the moon?" a voice asked.


    As Pleo turned around towards the source of the voice, he found himself coming face to face with a blue Nidoran, who had gotten up from her straw bedding.

    "What? I've got good ears and I've been hearing you toss around all night," Nida said, pawing at one of her ears. "And the Travelers are supposed to be the spirits of the-"

    "Nida, I don't wanna go in the dungeon!" Pleo squawked, getting up and beating his wings. The racket caused some of the nearby Pokémon to shift about; Crom muttered something about "Yay, flour!" as Elty grumbled about some cards or some other manner of game he played with his old companions in the past, apparently not very well.

    "Not so loud! Everyone's trying to sleep!" Nida scolded quietly, thankful that everyone else nearby seemed to be deeper sleepers than she was. "And it's the middle of the night! Of course you don't want to go right-"

    "I don't wanna go in the morning, either though!" Pleo whispered back.

    "Eh? But you were so excited earlier today!" Nida replied in a hushed tone, stepping back in surprise. "What-?"

    Nida then noticed that Pleo looked, well... scared. Or at least she was pretty sure he looked scared, since the only other times she had seen Pleo like this were on the day that Captain Hess had raided the town. The Nidoran quickly put together just what could be making her teammate so antsy.

    "Oh, this is about what Alto brought up at dinner today, wasn't it?"

    "What if the Skarmory comes back?!" Pleo asked, as he looked about the hut anxiously. The matter made Nida screw her eyes shut and shake her head.

    "That bird was taken care of ages ago and now is a long, long ways away from everyone else in a place where he won't hurt anyone," she replied, pawing at the mat. The truth was a bit less simplistic than that, but for Pleo's sake (and Elty's were he awake, she supposed), the Nidoran decided to leave the explanation at that.

    "But what about the other ferals?!" the young Lugia insisted.

    "They will only try to do what they think they can get away with. A scarf tells ferals that if they mess with us too severely, they'll be in big trouble afterwards," Nida replied, pointing up at the blue pieces of cloth that hung by their team leader's feet. "Besides, we've got badges to escape with, and an entire extra team watching our backs tomorrow. And…"

    Pleo then felt a soft sensation, and saw that Nida had walked up and was nuzzling him under his chin.

    "You won't be alone in there. We'll all be there right alongside you."

    "You… Promise?" Pleo asked warily.

    "I promise, Pleo. Now come on, go to sleep," Nida pleaded.

    "... Can I have a bedtime story first?"

    "How about a part of one?" Nida countered, sighing. Were the old gods also this demanding when they were little too? "I'll pick up on where we last left from the 'Prince of a Thousand Enemies'... If you can remind me where I left off."

    "The Prince Nidorino got scared after hearing about his enemies coming and about the old gods being upset with him. So the Prince began to dig a hole for his children to hide in," Pleo replied as he slowly sank back down onto his straw. "Then the old gods passed by him as he was still digging saying they were looking to give the Prince a gift. The Prince then pretended to be someone else and they offered him the gift they were gonna give the Prince instead."

    "Ah, right," Nida replied as she cleared her throat and shook her head to try and jog her memory. "So anyhow… 'I'm busy! My enemies are coming for me and my children!' the Prince insisted, before he spoke back to the old gods. 'If you want to give me a gift, then give it to my bottom! It's poking out of my hole!' The old gods then grew impressed with the Prince. Even as his thousand enemies approached, even as his children were in danger, even after the old gods found him after he angered them, he did not despair and give up."

    Nida noticed that Pleo's eyes were beginning to droop, and he started to curl up on his pile of straw. All that sleeplessness must have been tiring, she thought to herself with a yawn.

    "They murmured among themselves before they decided to humor the Prince, and so, the old god of the skies spoke on behalf of them all and said: 'Let it be so! Bottom, give your master strength and protection and character forever!' Just then, the Prince's hind legs grew strong and sprouted poisonous spikes that spread forward over his body. As the Prince continued to dig, his strengthened legs thumped and thumped, and shook even the very top of the skies, shaking bits and pieces of the moon off that fell to the earth-"

    Nida then saw that Pleo's eyes were firmly shut. That was a good enough place to stop, she guessed. The Nidoran looked back at her space and saw that Elty had tossed about in his sleep and drifted over it. Nida grumbled to herself, and were it not for all the sleeping Pokémon around her, she'd have had half a mind to ram the little fatty and make him give her spot back.

    But… She supposed that it wasn't unmanageable. After all, there seemed to be space enough for her next to where Pleo had curled up. She quietly crept over Pleo's feet and shuffled into the straw by his belly, settling down and drooping her eyes.

    She then felt a feathery sensation brush up past her. Nida looked up for a moment and saw that Pleo had spread a wing over her, before she became too tired to care anymore and let her eyes close entirely as a soft voice spoke.

    "Good night, Nida."


    Author's Notes:

    - amatorzy - Polish: "amateurs"
    - ipana - Finnish: "brat"
    - sea una posiblidad real - Spanish: "is a real possibility"
    Chapter 11 New
  • Spiteful Murkrow

    Bug Catcher

    The following morning, the sun broke over the horizon and its light began to filter through the treetops along the path from Bluewhorl Town to Tromba's Mystery Dungeon. Along with daylight and the blue sky, signs of diurnal life returned to the woods along the path. There was the sound of "ferals" yawning and moseying themselves awake from further off in the undergrowth. In the distance down the hill, the faint smoke and din from the town in the distance evidenced that the skeleton crew that served Bluewhorl's more nocturnal residents had traded places with the normal Pokémon that helped keep the town running by day.

    Tromp tromp tromp

    And there was also the sound of two Rescue Teams trudging up the path for the fog. At the rear was a seasoned team with scarves that consisted of a green and a white field forming a sawtooth pattern, separated by a tan divider. Their ranks consisted of a Shiftry, a Croconaw, a Loudred, and their temporary Swellow addition for the day, Kiran. Up ahead of them on the path was Team Traveler, the band of rookies who were going to prove themselves today…

    That they were ready to break into Normal Rank…

    That the sea god among them would discover just what it would take to serve as Tromba's Protector and how to draw out his true power...

    Or at least that was the hope.

    "Are we there yet?" the team's Growlithe whined as he hopped over a root, a rude satchel slung over his back, which did not escape Nida's notice.

    "We have a bag for the team, you know, so you don't need that," Nida growled, pointing to the Growlithe's bag.

    "Relax, Elty," Crom admonished. The Druddigon perched on a stump at the rear of the group, his wings spread out to catch some warming rays from the sun. The ruddy lizard then gave his wings a lively beat and glided along with a leaping start to catch up with his teammates. "We just started going up the path a few minutes ago!"

    "And why are you suddenly so hesitant to go someplace where you can pick fights with other Pokémon, anyways?" Nida grumbled, flattening out her ears.

    "Because I'm not getting anything out of this!"

    Of course. Nida sighed to herself and rolled her eyes. The complaint did make a kind of sense, albeit the kind that made her want to give the ex-pirate a stiff headbutt to knock some respect into him. Mercifully for Elty, her train of thought was interrupted after Pleo hopped up from the path onto a tree branch high above, clambering onto it on his way down.

    "Kiran? Aren't you guys supposed to be shadowing us while we rescue that Substitute today?" he called behind him to the path below, where Kiran and Team Sawtooth dutifully followed along behind their younger charges.

    "Hmm?" the Swellow asked. The blue and red bird tilted his head at Pleo curiously, as the young Lugia carefully inched along the branch, spreading his wings out for balance.

    "Well, your shadow's not touching any of us," Pleo replied as he paced tottering towards the end of the branch he was on.

    "Uh… 'Shadowing' means that we'll follow you around," Pitys corrected, the Shiftry sighing at this little Protector's rather… erm, literal train of thought.

    "Yeah, and that's what we're doing now," Cardellini, her Croconaw teammate assured, calling up to the little white bird who was perched at the end of a now sagging-branch.

    "Hmm. I guess that makes sense," Pleo mused to himself, drawing a wing to his mouth as he looked around. "But… then why call it-? Oh! Look! Look!"

    Pleo noticed something off in the direction of the sea and began to gesture wildly at it. His companions hastily tried to make out what Pleo saw between the tree trunks along the path, just in case it was another pirate ship like the day up at Marley and Teja's field. Kiran flew up over the treetops and saw that from Pleo's vantage point, one could see a simple wooden pavilion on a seaside ledge.

    "Heh, that's your ánima!" Kiran cheerily squawked. "Come on, we'll stop by it!"

    Pleo eagerly leapt off his branch, catapulting himself into the air and flapping all the way down to the earth. After stumbling to a stop on the ground, he dusted himself off and dashed on ahead, his companions quickly following suit with a chorus of "Pleo! Wait up!" and other pleas for the little sea guardian to be a bit more patient and run a little more slowly.

    Before long, Pleo found the fork in the path that led to the shrine and darted up to it, staring at this rude little structure with a strange upside-down cup thingy in it. Oh, so that must be a bell! Except Pleo couldn't understand for the life of him why that Aggron that attacked them back in the raid would think it would've been tasty at all.

    As Pleo poked his head into the little structure and began to gawk at the paintings that were plastered on undersides of the roof panels, he heard footsteps running up. The young Protector turned around to see his teammates approaching the shrine as he began to wonder...

    "I don't understand, why is this here?" he asked.

    "Well..." Nida began. "Mom says that when the Cradle was being put together, Arceus left behind eggs of new gods based on the hopes of the Pokémon that lived there. The Pokémon here hoped for someone who could use the very sea and winds to protect them, and we got your egg from it."

    "Uh huh! Uh huh!" Crom replied. "And as you protect us, and other Protectors start to wake up around the Cradle, the world around the Wastes will start to go back to normal!"

    "It… will? Just from me being a Protector?" Pleo chirped.

    "Yep!" the Druddigon cheered, wagging his tail a bit. "Your presence will help restore balance to the world, or at least that's how the stories go! That's why the Pokémon on this island built this shrine, so that we could always give thanks to you!"

    Nida and Crom seemed sunny and to be enjoying themselves as they explained the purpose of the shrine and began to look around at the surrounding seascape.

    Elty on the other hand, looked, well...

    "That pathetic little rudera is supposed to be a gesture of thanks?"

    Judging from the exasperated scowl that crept over his face and how quickly his ears folded back, 'unimpressed' probably was a generous way of putting it.

    "Eh? But I think it looks pretty!" Pleo protested, as he felt his foot brush up against something that fell against a rock with a faint thud. Pleo craned his head down, and discovered that the object that made the noise was a little red berry, apparently frozen over.

    "Eh? Isn't this one of Hariti's berries?" he asked as he inspected the little fruit.

    "Huh. Looks like she must have left it as an offering earlier," Nida said to herself.

    "Hrm? But why would she do that?" Pleo questioned, as he tilted his head at the Nidoran.

    "It's an offering," Crom explained, beating his wings a little as he stretched a bit on the sun-drenched pathway. "Pokémon in town leave food there for you!"

    "Oh! I see!" Pleo chirped, as he brought his head down to peck at the frosty red-colored little morsel, only to suddenly hear a cry.


    "Huh?!" Pleo squawked. He whirled around to the source of the voice, and saw a little yellow rodent with black ears and brown stripes hastily burst out of some bushes. Pleo wasn't sure what this little creature wanted, but noticed that much like the Zigzagoon who had caused a ruckus through Mildrew's field just before the Iron Fleet's raid on Bluewhorl, she wasn't wearing a scarf.

    Pleo looked back at his teammates and saw that all of them had tensed up and had adopted defensive positions. Nida had her barbs fanned out, Crom had his claws bared and opened his maw a little, and Elty had steadied his legs in order to pounce at a moment's notice.

    "I was going to eat that!" the Pikachu huffed, electricity dancing on the hairs of its pelt.

    Oh, this must have been another one of those 'ferals', and based off of his teammates, it seemed to Pleo as if he wasn't supposed to trust her. The little Lugia braced himself, and beat its wings in protest.

    "But it's mine! It's my 'anime'-thingy!"

    "Er… Pollito," Kiran's voice admonished. Pleo looked up and saw the Swellow swoop in and perch on one of the eaves of the shrine. Team Sawtooth, with their jagged-patterned scarves, ran in behind the younger Pokémon with blue scarves with white stars.

    The sight of all these much stronger Pokémon appearing made the sparks on the Pikachu's pelt abruptly die, and the little mouse folded its ears back and began to try and make itself look small. As the younger Pokémon began to pick up on the yellow rodent's unease, they eased themselves and traded awkward looks with each other, leaving Pleo to ask uneasily...

    "Isn't it? Nida and Crom even said so..."

    "Well, isn't that what everyone in town says?" Crom murmured.

    "So shouldn't whatever gets left there be his?" Nida asked.

    "Well, kids... over the years," Kiran began. "The town's let the ferals have the food."

    "Yeah, we assumed giving Pokémon that live lean lives a helping fan was what you would have wanted. Being a 'Protector' and all," the Shiftry added.

    "How… come?" Pleo asked.

    "Because it's my first meal since yesterday!" the Pikachu squeaked, which made Pleo stare at the creature, and then up to Kiran.

    "Pleo," he explained, flapping down and coming to a rest next to his white and blue charge. "Part of being a Protector is looking out for Pokémon that don't have it as well as you, even if they're strange to you."

    'Looking out for'? Pleo thought to himself. How was skipping out on his food supposed to be protecting another Pokémon? As Pleo looked from his berry and over at the Pikachu, he noticed that the creature seemed lean and its fur seemed scraggly and unkempt, as if she had a busy and weary day, without time even to stop and eat… all while it was still morning.

    Maybe… maybe 'protecting' Pokémon meant more than simply keeping mean Pokémon like Hess from hurting them... things like making sure the Pokémon next to you didn't go hungry.

    "I mean, I guess," the Pikachu mumbled as she looked at the ground. "If you really need it, I could skip it…"

    "It's alright, you haven't eaten for longer than me," Pleo replied. The Pikachu then eyed the frozen berry cautiously, and as she cautiously eyed the surrounding Pokémon, she scooped it up, gave a bow to the little guardian present, and then scurried back off into the bushes.

    "I guess we should get going, too," Crom murmured as the Pikachu vanished into the undergrowth. "I'll make up the berry to you. After all, we've got loaves from mom's bakery!"

    The Druddigon fished out two golden loaves from Kiran's bag. As was his custom, he left one at the base of the shrine, and began to tear up the other and share it with his companions. One for Pleo, one for himself, and of course, one for Nida...

    "Ready to get going, Pleo?" Nida asked as she took her portion of bread loaf. The question made Pleo pause for a moment as he helped himself to his piece.

    "You'll be there beside me, right?" he asked through a beakful of bread.

    "Uh huh! Uh huh!" Crom cheerfully replied as he tore off a chunk for his newest teammate.

    "Hrmph… I don't have much of a choice," Elty grumbled as he snatched up his piece of Crom's loaf, occasionally shooting dissatisfied looks at the loaf the dragon had just left there on the shrine's base.

    "Of course we will," Nida reassured in between nibbles of her portion. "We're a team, remember?"

    "Then… I think that I am," Pleo replied, ruffling his feathers as he drew near to his teammates. Crom was the first to lead the charge, marching on past Team Sawtooth. One by one, his teammates and the shadowing team followed suit, returning to the path in between the trees that wound its way up Tromba's mountains… on towards that strange, thick fog that hung from the peaks.


    Before too long, Nida, Crom, Elty, Pleo, and their shadowing team found themselves in a foggy portion of forest, standing in front of a yawning cave entrance that acted as the last barrier between Tromba and the distorted floors within the Mystery Dungeon just ahead.

    "Do we all know the rules for going in?" Kiran asked, keenly eyeing his charges who today would have to trawl through the floors on their own. Nida and Crom couldn't help but give each other exasperated looks, as usual.

    "Um," Nida grumbled, flattening out her ears.

    "Kiran," Crom added, as he slapped a claw over his snout. It was something that they had been through many times before, and judging from Elty's unamused scowl, he was certainly in their same camp.

    "Look, I might not be from your island, but what kind of moron doesn't know how to safely enter a Mystery-?" he snapped, before he noticed that Pleo was staring blankly at the Swellow.

    "Oh, right," the Growlithe grumbled to himself. Nida and Crom did say that this would be the feather duster's first time in a Mystery Dungeon, so of course he wouldn't know!

    "What are they, Kiran?" Pleo asked.

    "Why don't you explain this time, kids?" Kiran asked as he gestured to Crom and Nida with a wing.

    "Stay together in the fog, don't wander off the path, and don't run into the dungeon," they dutifully recited, this time not groaning at this routine reminder since one of their companions actually needed it this time.

    "Yeah, what they said!" Elty added hastily as Kiran quickly talked some matters over with Team Sawtooth that the younger Pokémon couldn't make out before Pitys spoke up.

    "We'll be letting you guys lead the way in today, you know how to get in, right?"

    "I sure do!" Crom answered. "All you've gotta do is make sure your feet are always on the path!"

    "And when the fog gets all espesa?" Alto asked, the Loudred's booming voice carrying off into the distance.

    "Keep your head close to the ground to check!" Crom dutifully replied.

    "Seems like they've got the hang of it, Kiran," Cardellini said. "And if you kids run into any trouble, we'll take over for you."

    "I'll follow whichever one of you will be at the end, so feel free to organize the team, Crom," Kiran replied as he turned to quickly preen some shoulder feathers. Crom stopped and eyed his teammates, before he bent down to address the Nidoran.

    "You hitching a ride again this time, Nida?" he asked, his jagged maw giving the closest approximation to a smile a Druddigon could muster.

    "Actually… I think I'll pass this time, Crom," Nida said, putting a paw to her mouth as she looked aside.

    "Eh?!" the young Druddigon cried out of surprise. "But you always-!"

    He then noticed that Nida was glancing at Pleo, who was busy preening some flight feathers on his wing.

    "Someone probably needs the company a bit more," she explained. "It'll be his first time going through the fog, remember?"

    "Ah, right. Good catch," Crom replied. "Pleo! Hold on tight to my tail as we go in-! Ow!"

    Crom then felt Pleo latching onto the end of his tail with his beak, as he cheerily replied in a muffled tone.

    "Likth dath?" he asked.

    "Um… Pleo, let's try using your wings," Nida said, sighing. The Nidoran then hopped up onto Pleo's shoulders and sat at the base of his neck and after a little prodding, the Lugia let go of Crom's tail and gave the dragon a moment to wag some sensation back into it. After Crom seemed to be ready, Pleo again latched onto the Druddigon's tail, this time by pressing it firmly between his wings. Yep, everyone was now accounted for, except...

    "Alright," declared the Growlithe's voice. "So I'll just go at the very end of the- Gark!"

    The former pirate yelped as felt himself being lifted off the ground by the scruff of his neck, then drawn into a tight clutch of two arms coated in rough scales as Crom looked down at him with those piercing eyes of his.

    "Yeah, nice try, Elty," he said. "But you'll be sticking with me today."

    "Hey! I can handle myself fine! And your scales chafe!" Elty whined as Kiran grabbed Pleo's tail with his own wings and Team Sawtooth latched onto each other, grasping tails, arms, or shoulders to finish their chain.

    "Alright, I think we're good here. Lead the way, Crom!" Kiran called out.

    "I'm on it!" Crom cheered, as he began trudging past the lip of the cave, deeper and deeper into the mist.

    As the Druddigon lead the group deeper and deeper into the haze, Pleo keenly eyed his young guide. Crom always trudged forth slowly and carefully, sometimes stopping and bending down to eye and sniff at the ground to make sure he hadn't strayed off the path. Even as his form became more and more indistinct from the haze, it was a process the young Druddigon dutifully kept up. With each step forward, less and less of the world stayed visible to the Lugia. The feeling of Nida on his shoulders, Crom's tail before him, and Kiran's wings behind him being the only sensations that seemed to not grow more muddled as he went along.

    "Why do we have to go through this fog thing?" Pleo asked the riding Nidoran on his shoulders.

    "That's just how the barrier to the Distortion works," Nida replied. "It apparently was that way even back in the days of humans."

    "Yeah, there's stories about the different ways humans would try to mark paths through them back when they were around," Crom called off from ahead. "In one of them, they tried building pillars along the path as a guide!"

    "Not that we'd ever know for sure," Kiran explained as Pleo watched the Swellow's face became harder and harder to make out in the fog. "All of those Distortions, if they're even around anymore, would be somewhere out in the Wastes."

    As they kept walking along, more and more of the world around Pleo vanished. Team Sawtooth's Pokémon were the first to vanish, blotted out from Pleo's view by the fog. Kiran was next, and soon enough Pleo couldn't even make out his own tail. Then came Crom and Nida, as the fog enveloped more and more of Pleo, to the point where he couldn't even see past the end of his snout.

    All the while, everything seemed to become… wrong. The chatter of his teammates, the smell of the path's surroundings, even the very feel of the air surrounding him and the path under his feet... all of it became murky, heavy, and strange, as if Crom had lead everyone into the clutch of some strange and awful snare that was closing in on him… leaving him all alone.

    Pleo stopped trudging forward, not daring to move his wings or take another step, and began to call out, frightened.

    "N-Nida?! Nida!"

    He tried to look about, but all there was around him was this thick, oppressive haze. Pleo's heart sank and he began to wish that he was back in the town, back where he could see the sun and the sky, where everyone seemed happy and content. All of a sudden, Pleo felt something soft on his back, and heard a small voice from the haze.

    "-eep going...! alm... -ough!" it called. Wait a minute, that voice… It was Nida's!

    "Nida! Where are you?!" he cried, before he began to hear other voices.

    "Don… -ive up!"

    "So -ose!"

    "-oin… grea…!"

    "-ollow… -om!"

    Pleo stopped and shuffled his feet… Were these sounds his teammates? Or was it all just a trick? He stood there, torn at what to do, before a voice murmured through the haze.

    "right here... -side you."

    It was then that Pleo shook his head and the fog suddenly seemed less overwhelming. Even if he couldn't see them, his friends really were still right beside him. He felt a tug ahead, and decided that as disorienting as everything seemed, it was safe to press on. So he went, trudging step by step, letting the scraping tug before him be his guide.

    Little by little, the air felt lighter and lighter and the sound of flowing water became clearer and clearer along with an increasingly strong smell of salt as the haze began to recede. Nida, Crom, Kiran… One by one, the different Pokémon that had gone along with Pleo through the mist returned to the guardian's vision, until they were all there again.

    As last wisps of fog cleared away, Pleo saw that Crom led everyone into a simple sea cave with a pool of water that stretched along the wall to the right and a narrow corridor at the end.

    "Make it through alright, pollito?" Kiran asked as he sidled up to Pleo. "You seemed like you took the trip through a little hard."

    "I think so," Pleo murmured uneasily as he looked about the stone chamber. "But why does the fog get so scary?"

    "You'll get used to it with time, Pleo," Nida explained. "It always seems scary the first time around."

    "Alright, so this is as far as we'll lead you today," Pitys declared as she brushed her fans together and shook some life into them.

    "Wait, it… is?" Pleo asked. "But I thought we were exploring!"

    "Emphasis on 'we'," Crom replied as he stretched his limbs. "We'll be leading the way for the practice rescue, Kiran and the others will be following. Think of it as kinda being like our times going through Maestra Mosca's maze."

    "I guess that makes sense," Pleo said to himself.

    "And if you guys ever find yourself in need of a speedy exit, you've got an easy way to make that happen!" Kiran cheered before he pressed his badge with a wing, which quickly caused a familiar Kirlia's voice to flood the minds of the present Pokémon.

    "Yeah, what is it, Kiran? I'm juggling stuff!"

    "Oh, hi wall-talker!" Pleo cheered as he waved ahead, and then blinked and looked around sheepishly as he remembered that the Guild's psychics didn't have to be anywhere nearby to speak with him.

    "It's Pataki, Pleo," Crom corrected. The voice, realizing who was in the party, suddenly adopted a much more congenial demeanor.

    "Oh! Right! It's the Protector's big day! Ahehe, I'm sure that I can manage if he needs some help. Or maybe someone to keep that lordly mind of his company in that dreary sea cave~"

    "You know, I'm pretty sure that you just made the whole 'being stuck alone in a dreary sea cave that shifts around' sound a lot more appealing right now," Elty said, rolling his eyes at the Kirlia's broadcast thoughts.

    "Shut it, mutt!"

    Kiran let go of his badge- no sense in getting into an argument with Pataki this early into the mission. He then motioned for his teammates to draw near, and embraced them all with his wings, even Elty.

    "Good luck, kids," he said, giving a tight squeeze before letting the group free. "We'll be rooting for you!"

    They all quietly nodded, before Crom turned around and began to trudge for the corridor in the back. His companions followed after the young dragon one by one as Kiran waited at the entrance with Team Sawtooth, watching his pupils vanish deeper into the maze.

    "Where you go here is all up to you," he chirped to himself.


    After finding each floor's stairs, Team Traveler would wait on Kiran and Team Sawtooth to come along. Then they would all go down the stairs together, the Distortion sealing up the path behind them as the Pokémon made their way deeper into the Mystery Dungeon. Once they reached the next floor, the young rookies would then once again trudge on ahead as the others sat and once again waited for them to slip out of their line of sight.

    The first two floors of the dungeon were quiet ones that day, with the only real encounters in the routine the two teams established being Pataki's gushing whenever Pleo happened to brush his badge, much to the annoyance of his teammates. Still, they couldn't complain too much about things, the Substitute that the team was to 'rescue' was supposed to be somewhere between the fifth and seventh floors that day, and here they were, still on the third.

    The third floor that day had been created by the Distortion as a simple collection of large chambers, mostly bereft of the spindly and narrow passageways that the team had trained in back at the Dojo. The trappings of this floor were mostly what one would expect from a sea cave: stony ceilings, floors, and walls, a few shallow pools and streams of sea water…

    With one rather obvious exception.

    "Look! The water's going up!" Pleo cried out.

    The young Lugia pointed at a wall in their cave passageway covered with cascading seawater. Except the direction the water flowed in went from bottom to top.

    "Er… Well, it seems to be, yeah," Nida murmured. She had to admit, watching that curious fascination that Guild members often felt their first time in the Mystery Dungeon was cute, but…

    Was Pleo going to do this for everything out of the ordinary he ran across?

    "That's so cool!" Pleo chirped. "Can we make a wall of water like this back home?"

    "Tch. Not likely, they call the thing that makes these Mystery Dungeons the 'Distortion' for a reason!" a voice called out.

    Pleo and Nida looked behind them and saw a Growlithe hopping between stones over the stream of water which emptied up the wall. The little dog keenly eyed each rock, tensing up before each leap.


    Only to slip on his final jump and fall into the stream. The Growlithe slipped under the surface for a moment, before he bolted back up to his feet and quickly climbed out of the stream, coughing up some water.

    "Bah… At least it's shallow," the Growlithe grumbled to himself. The little dog crept up the edge of the pool, dripping all the while before he stopped and vigorously shook himself to try and dry his pelt.

    "Heey! Come on! We can't find that Substitute if we're just sitting around here looking at the cave!" Crom cried from further down the passageway.

    "Come on, Pleo, we should get going," Nida said as she turned and began to carefully trudge forward to Crom's position.

    "And if we take too long here, we might get caught up when the Distortion blows away the floor," Elty chimed in as he darted off towards Crom.

    "'Blows away the floor'?" Pleo asked nervously as he followed his Nidoran teammate.

    Nida flattened out her ears. Why did Elty have to bring that up right now? This was Pleo's first time in the Mystery Dungeon, and the last thing anyone on the team needed was a jittery and panicky teammate in such an unstable environment.

    "It's something that happens occasionally. No te preocupes! We'd be able to get enough warning to get to safety if the floor was about to get shifted up," Nida reassured.

    It seemed to be good enough for the young Protector; his momentary unease wavered and then melted away as he went back to following along after Nida, occasionally casting glances back at the inverted waterfall.

    The two followed Crom deeper into the maze, down a path which led the group through a broad pool that came up to Nida's knees. There were portions of the pool that gave way to darker shades of blue; presumably the deep ends. But as long as the team stayed where it was shallow-


    A voice cried out from ahead, and was quickly joined by Crom's.


    Much to the shock of everyone present, Crom abruptly fell backwards into the water. He narrowly missed Nida and Elty, who sidestepped the Druddigon's body at the last minute. After the minor panic, everyone's eyes quickly settled upon a pink, wraith-like jellyfish that burst out from the water ahead of the Druddigon.

    "That's my tentacle you stepped on, jerk!" the Frillish hissed as she glared at the blue and red intruder.

    "Ack! Sorry! Sorry! We didn't see you!" Crom stammered.

    "Yeah, do you think we just hopped into this pool for laughs or something?" Elty barked.

    "Look, we're sorry about the trouble-" Nida began, before the pink creature cut her off.

    "I'm sure you are!" she shouted as a red and black aura began to form around her body. "Get out!"

    "Wait!" Pleo cried, waving his wings desperately at the jellyfish. "You can't attack them! I'm the Protector!"

    "E-Eh?!" the creature cried out of surprise. Her aura abruptly vanished and the jellyfish began to eye the white bird skeptically. "I mean… I guess you kinda do look like how the Protector's supposed to, but…"

    The Frillish paused for a moment, and then shook her head before gesturing at Nida, Elty, and Crom.

    "If you're really the Protector, have your friends perform your secret ritual dance!" she cried.

    "Wh-What?!" Pleo squawked.

    "What dance?!" Nida cried

    "My mother told me that back in the days of humans, a secret dance was used to summon the Protector in caves like this one! If that bird's really the Protector, he must have taught you it!"

    Nida, Crom, and Elty stared at each other blankly as they realized that they hadn't had the foggiest idea of what sort of dance was supposed to summon a bird that had trouble paying attention half the time. On top of all of that, even if they did somehow know the dance...

    "Yeah… I'm not going to dance," Elty grumbled, folding back his ears.

    It didn't look like they were going to have any luck performing it.

    "We're doomed, aren't we?" Crom groaned, throwing a claw over his face.

    "Yes, you are," the Frillish hissed, her reddish-black aura thickening and re-emerging. "That bird's an imposter!"

    Before Pleo could speak back, the aura around the Frillish coalesced and focused itself into a black beam that struck Pleo in his chest and threw him backwards.


    As Pleo struggled back to his feet and tried to shake some sensation back into his chest (and some water off himself), the others quickly slipped into battle poses.

    "We'll try diplomacy another time!" Nida cried. "Let's just fight this creepy jerk jellyfish off already!"

    "Right!" Elty grunted.

    "Leave us alone!" Crom roared at the Frillish, before he charged the creature and clamped down on one of her tentacles with his jaws.

    "Yeargh!" the jellyfish shrieked, flailing around desperately trying to break free. As she pulled at her tentacle, an indigo aura spread over the Druddigon. As he noticed the eerie aura passing onto him along with a sudden overbearing and draining feeling, the young dragon cried out in surprise, allowing the Frillish to pull her tentacle free. Just in time for the aura to coalesce in bands that wrapped themselves around Crom's snout, clamping it shut.


    Crom began to panic, clawing at the binds around his mouth. But as hard as he tried, the strange violet binds didn't show any appreciable damage and simply refused to budge.

    "Not so tough without your jaws, are ya?" the Frillish taunted as the blackish aura returned to her body. "Enjoy your curse!"

    And much as she had done with Pleo, the creature's aura focused itself into a black beam which zipped forward and bowled the Druddigon over in the water.


    As the Frillish darted forward to strike the Druddigon, she suddenly recoiled from a flying spike that narrowly missed her head, and a little gout of fire that passed close enough to her tentacles to singe one. The two attacks belonged to a certain Nidoran and Growlithe, who were staring down the Frillish that was now turning their direction. Nida stood much closer than Elty, who kept a healthy distance at the back.

    "Elty, you can help in ways beyond sticking around in the back, you know!" she huffed to her teammate.

    "Don't rush me, battling's not a science!" Elty growled back. His words were… unencouraging to say the least, as the Frillish began to close the gap with Nida, causing her to tense her barbs once more.

    "Take this!"

    She flicked another of her spikes from her body at the advancing jellyfish and watched it sail straight at her assailant, only for the Frillish to catch sight of the approaching spike and then abruptly fade just before it struck, leaving the projectile to pass through entirely.

    Eh?! They can do that with moving objects, too-?!" Nida cried out, slack-jawed. The Frillish abruptly reappeared facing up towards the ceiling, shook her tentacles and gave a relieved sigh before turning and charging at the Nidoran. Before she could fire off another spike at the advancing Ghost-Type, she felt the familiar stream of scalding bursts and accompanying glop of a BubbleBeam.


    As Nida tumbled back through the water and stumbled back to her feet, she heard the sound of something bolting through the water in the direction of the Frillish, along with Pleo's voice.

    "W-Wait! Leave her alone!"

    Nida cleared her eyes enough to catch the Frillish whirling towards Pleo, beginning to build a dark aura around herself again as Pleo froze in his tracks.


    "Don't think I've forgotten about you, imposter!" the Frillish shouted at the petrified young Lugia.

    Much to Nida's horror, the creature's aura coalesced again, and disgorged itself as a black beam that tore towards Pleo, making Nida flinch. Only… there were no cries of pain this time. Just the sounds of surprise from the Frillish.

    "Huh?! Where'd it go?!"

    When Nida's eyes opened again, she saw that Pleo had vanished from his spot. Nida gave a surprised squeak, it was then that she chanced to glance up and saw that Pleo was sailing in the air with a wobble.

    "I'm flying!" he chirped, ecstatic that he was in the air, high above everyone, just barely skimming the surface of the cave's roof. "I'm fly- Whoa- Whoa!"

    He then lost his balance and entered a steep dive, the Lugia plummeting like a stone back to the pool below with a splash… directly on top of the Frillish. The Frillish flopped weakly, stunned for a moment. Dazed by being landed on by a much larger creature, the jellyfish then feebly began to pull herself free.

    "O-Ow- EYAAAAAH!"

    The Frillish suddenly gave a shrill cry of pain intermingled with the sound of frantic splashing after Elty bit down upon her bell. Her voice wavered and her motions grew weaker until they were but occasional twitches as she slipped out of consciousness and drifted back down into the water from where she came.

    "Hrmph, that far enough from the back for you, spike ball?" he asked, spitting up the taste of Frillish from his mouth.

    "It's an improvement," Nida grunted, as she saw Crom stumbling over to help Pleo up onto his feet. The bands muzzling his snout began to evaporate, allowing the Druddigon to finally tear the accursed binds off.

    "Is everyone alright?" the Druddigon panted, still feeling the effects of the Frillish's attack.

    "My body aches a little, but I think I'm-" Pleo began, but before he could finish, the young Lugia had his attention diverted to the sight of an olive, glassy sphere that looked like it was filled with grayish, silky cords in the water. "Look!"

    "Eh?" Crom began, before he too saw the sphere in the water. "Oh! Good eye! That's a Slow Orb!"

    "An… 'Orb'?" the young Lugia asked as Nida bounded into the pool to fish out the Slow Orb.

    "It's said that unlike things like Blast Seeds, orbs are pure crystallizations of the essence of the Distortion," Nida explained, as she nudged the orb over to Pleo. "And that depending on the orb, once they're broken, they'll either affect everyone close enough who's touched it… Or for orbs like this one, everyone close enough who hasn't touched it."

    "They're supposed to be best used inside Mystery Dungeons," Crom added. "If you try using them outside, the ones that do work aren't nearly as effective out there."

    Pleo stared into the strange, greenish orb, and pecked at it gently. It felt smooth and cold like one of the glass jars in town that Pokémon put moss or candles in for light, and even made a similar plinking noise. The Lugia then pushed the bauble forward with his beak, but couldn't help but feel uneasy about something.

    "Wait… but isn't this 'orb' thingy the Frillish's? It was in her pool of water, wasn't it?"

    "Meh, who cares?" Elty grunted. "Finder's keepers!"

    "We did just get jumped for no good reason by her. And she covered me in that asquerosa bubbly glop!" Nida grumbled, flattening out her ears as she brought the Slow Orb over to the bag Crom was holding. "I'm pretty sure that's grounds for demanding something in return- Oh."

    "We don't have any space left in the bag, Crom," she sighed.

    "Well, I've got plenty of space in mine!" Elty offered, nosing at the bag he was still carrying from the evening he came to Tromba. "Put it here!"

    There was a pause as the other three Pokémon present traded skeptical looks with each other before Nida tersely broke the silence.

    "Yeah, I think we'll heal to make room, thanks."

    "Daj mi spokój! I bailed you out!" the Growlithe complained. "Can't I get a little bit of trust here?!"

    "It would get more confusing with two bags to have to juggle, Elty," Crom said as he began trudging through the water towards the shore. "Come on, we should get out of this pool and get patched up anyways."

    The team trudged on wearily to the other side of the pool and came to a rest on the rocks. It was decided that Nida would tend to Crom, and she could also tend to Pleo… as for Nida...

    "Er… How are we going to heal you, Nida?" Pleo asked.

    "Uh," Nida mumbled, mouth agape. She couldn't say that she was terribly confident in letting Crom try to treat her given his… Erm, need for understudy. But the team was supposed to take care of itself…

    "I'll do it," Elty volunteered.

    "You what?" Nida asked, her ears beginning to droop.

    "What? Basic healing isn't that uncommon of a skill, is it?" the Growlithe scoffed, before giving an askew glance at Crom. "Besides, considering your alternatives…"

    "Grr… Fine, but I'm going last so that way Crom and Pleo can beat the snot out of you if you get any ideas!" Nida huffed.

    Well, that settled that. Nida sidled over to Crom, who had sprawled out on the ground, and began to tend to his wounds. All the while, Pleo couldn't help but feel troubled about something. He was supposed to be the Protector of Tromba Island, and not just of the Pokémon that lived in town either. So why did the Frillish get mad at him and call him an imposter when he didn't do what she wanted? Pleo thought, and thought, but couldn't come to a satisfying answer before Nida's voice interrupted his train of thought.

    "Hey, it's your turn, Pleo," she said, inspecting Pleo under his feathers. "Lemme see what I can do for you about your chest. I don't think attacks like those break hide, but it should still be treated."

    "Hmm? Oh, I guess that's alright," Pleo murmured, not really paying attention as Nida brought over a peeled Oran Berry and began to inspect his chest.

    "Nida?" Pleo asked.


    "Why did-? Nnngh!" Pleo looked down and saw that Nida had begun to apply the berry's juice to his chest. He steeled himself a bit from the pain before he returned to his train of thought. "Why did the thing you called a 'Frillish' not believe me?"

    "I don't know Pleo," Nida sighed as she brushed away some more feathers from another site on Pleo's chest. "Maybe, she was just expecting something different from a Protector."

    "Am I supposed to be different as a Protector though-? Ow!"

    As Pleo winced from the last of the juice, Nida stopped and thought a moment as she passed the pulp up to Pleo to chew. While the white creature bit into and swallowed the Oran pulp in bits, Nida realized that she didn't really know if Pleo was supposed to be different as a Protector or not. The only thing she had to work with was folklore and what everyone said a Protector ought to be, and… well, the town had seen for themselves that not all of them seemed to come to pass. And apparently the ferals had stories and expectations of their own that she had never heard before!

    "Well, I can't say that I know for sure," the Nidoran murmured. "I'm pretty sure that you're more than just a Pokémon that's supposed to show up whenever other Pokémon do some special dance, like that Frillish thought."

    "Yeah, I thought that was strange too," Pleo answered. Well, that seemed to clear one thing up: even if he was supposed to be different as a Protector, it wasn't necessarily supposed to be in the way that the Frillish wanted. The realization helped to bring some relief to Pleo as Elty drew over to Nida.

    "Alright, it's your turn, spike ball," the Growlithe said as he went over to grab an Oran Berry, only for the sound of the Frillish stirring to reverberate from the pool of water.


    "Er," Elty groaned, biting his tongue.

    "Come on, we should get going before she wakes all the way up," Nida said. "I can get healed while we wait at the stairs."

    "Sounds like music to my ears," Elty sighed as the group hurriedly went further on down the chamber, the Frillish and the pool slowly slipping out of sight.

    Author's Notes:

    - rudera - Polish: "hovel"
    - espesa - Spanish: "thick, dense"
    - (¡)No te preocupes! - Spanish: "Don't worry!"
    - asquerosa - Spanish: "disgusting"
    - Daj mi spokój! - Polish: Interjection, roughly "Give me a break!"