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Pokémon Once a Thief

Glossary

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
thief-banner5.png


Two years ago, Lyle left Outlaw life for what he hoped was forever. But when wartime hardship pulls him into one last job, a stroke of fate brings Lyle and his fellows across an Axew thief after a legendary treasure, along with the army nipping at her heels.

... But why would the army send troops after a treasure during a war? And will things really be as simple as snagging it first?

Hello everybody, some of you may have already seen this coming from other places where I lurk around, but I’m here with a fresh story that’s not a rewrite of old material. This time, featuring with a grand experiment in writing a longer serial work alongside my work with @Virgil134 on Fledglings.

Okay, so for some backstory. Back in 2019, I was bandying around some plot bunnies that had been chilling in the pile of things I wanted to do one day, but lacked the confidence to write alongside Fledglings. One of them happened to be the idea of writing a shorter story from the perspective of a PMD setting’s Outlaws without having to worry about tripping over continuity boundaries in the Cradle. One thing led to another and the next thing I know, three NaNoWriMos and 2 years of on-and-off work later, I found myself sitting on something on the order of 80k words of mostly-complete text plus an additional 50k words in script outline form, so I figured that even if I was still a bit worried, it was time to take the plunge and start throwing things out into the wild.

Once upon a time, this was going to have about 20 chapters, and my outlines are still structured under that assumption and accordingly were roughly 85% complete at the time of writing. Though during the actual process of putting prose in, most chapters turned out kinda… long. So yeah, I’m honestly expecting that final run length to be something closer to '40 to 45' chapters once the dust settles. Updates target a once per calendar month schedule, since as much as I’ve fallen in love with this story, it’s admittedly a bit of a sideshow to my other work that exists for three reasons:

1: To write about PMD Outlaws doing Outlaw things. (Well, alright, it’s more complicated than that, but I should really let you read the story for that instead of just blurting it out loud for you. :p)
2: To be a proof-of-concept to get a feel for how well I can manage a shorter but still longer-burn story alongside my other writing.
3: To indulge my inner derivative hack and make a boatload of references and homages along the way. For those of you who read Path of Valor (and you should because it’s great), this story has a relationship with Tetsuya Takahashi’s Xeno series similar to what PoV has going on with Final Fantasy. It’s just usually not quite as forward about it. :V

As such, things publish whenever they’re done and I have time to push them out the door. Now, I’m not a super fan of content warnings, but I’ll be upfront and say that this story isn’t targeting a Saturday Morning Cartoon vibe and I gave the FFN version of this story a T rating. The dialogue’s a bit coarser, the general themes and content a bit darker, but if you happened to play Xenoblade or another game from its broader franchise, exactly nothing in this story should faze you beyond it being written from a less heroic perspective (well, that and you might notice some details here and there that feel a bit familiar).

Special thanks goes to @Virgil134, @Shadow of Antioch, and @Torchic from here on TR who provided assistance with beta reading and providing translation assistance for some bits in this story (yeah, I’m still doing multilang antics even if it’s not as broad of a net as in Fledglings, sue me). The multilang antics are a bit more integrated this time around, with every chapter starting off with a short snippet in German that talks a bit about the world of Wander and the things going on in it. They're intended to be read in natural order to the best of one's ability to understand them, with translations are provided at the end of each chapter as part of the Author's Notes. I won't say too much about them, other than that a keen eye might help you notice details that aren't necessarily played up in those provided translations. Though as such, there’s a Glossary this time around too, which can be found in the nitty gritty in the spoiler blocks right below:

Introduced in Prologue:

Words and Phrases

1. Erntemond - "August" (archaic), lit. "Harvest Moon".
2. Scheffel - Analogous measurement of dry weight to a "bushel" in German-speaking countries, never standardized prior to replacement by SI units. Word is the same both in singular and plural forms.
3. gottverdammt(en) - "god(s)damn(ed)" (+'en' for multiple subjects). In German, compound words involving a leading noun with an attached word that isn't a noun have the leading noun in rendered singular form for both singular and plural forms of said compound word. Thus this remains "gottverdammt" even when using it to say "godsdamn(ed)" and does not become "götterverdammt", as "verdammt" is not a noun in German.
4. Herbstmond - "September" (archaic), lit. "Autumn/Fall Moon"
5. Gendarm(en) - "gendarme(s)"
6. Grünhäuter - "greenhide(s)". Local insult/slur for law enforcement and military akin to "pig" in English. Word is the same both in singular and plural forms.
7. Vatername - "Patronym", lit. "Fathername". There are other ways of saying this in German in reality, but this way was specifically chosen since a Vatername in this setting is tightly coupled to filling the role of telling who your father was.
8. Blauflamme(n) - "Blue Flare", used as a curse/minced oath in-setting, especially by Fire-types. Note that the canonical move name is "Blauflammen" while its use as an exclamation has been modified to comply with German declension rules regarding compound words ending in nouns when directed at singular subjects.

Teaser Text

A long time ago, the Pokémon who dwell in this world had shared it with beings they called 'humans'. Strange creatures. which were given the wisdom to see and understand our world by the gods, but weren't able to use it by themselves without the help of creatures like us.

It was said that humans had acted like a mediator between the different kinds of Pokémon. Even Zangoose and Seviper were able to live together peacefully and the Wildersᵃ could live like they would never have imagined in their ever-changing natural environment.

And then came what we called 'The Great Flash'ᵇ. All of a sudden, a blinding light had enveloped our world, which removed the entire human race from our world. The dimensions were disturbed and whole continents shook. In its wake it had left behind a sundered world with distorted places which we called 'Mystery Dungeons'.

Even with such a great loss, we Pokémon, with the wisdom those humans had left behind, were able to create our own societies which resembled those of our mediators. To get a glimpse of those mysteries of this changed world. And as such, in the years according to our era, our world came to be known as 'Wander'ᶜ.

- Excerpt from 'The Collected Legends from Wander'

a. "Wilden" in the original text is more properly translated as "Wilds", rendered as "Wilders" in Commontongue which covers the same concept of a category of Pokémon that live apart from civilization.
b. "Glühende" in the original text in a faithful translation would be "fierce" (in heat), "fiery", or "glowing", which was chosen since it still accurately describes the nature of the event and "Der Große Blitz" sounds a bit more awkward in German. This is what the event that created the setting's world is known as in Commontongue in-story.
c. A more faithful translation of this would be "Mysterious Places". Under the canonical German localization, this would be "Mysteriöse Dungeons", but it sounds a bit unnatural in German prose since "Dungeons" was imported wholesale from English for the localization name.
d. The name of the setting's planet in present-day Varhyde that has arisen by corruption/language drift. Its name in a more faithful translation would be "Wonder" or "Miracle".

Introduced in Chapter 1:

Words and Phrases

1. Fähnlein - lit. "little banner". A traditional military unit of organization in German-speaking countries equivalent to a Company or Battalion in modern militaries, historically staffed by mercenaries called Landsknechte. Highly varied and non-standardized in headcount, though generally consisting of at least 300 soldiers and mercenaries at full strength.
2. Weinmond - "October" (archaic), lit. "Wine Moon".
3. Drei… Zwei… Eins… Los! - "Three… Two… One… Ready? Go!"
4. Admurai - "Samurott"
5. Rothäuter - "redhide(s)". Local insult/slur for soldiers from Edialeigh, similar etymology to Grünhauter.

Teaser Text

In the early years after the Great Flash, the Pokémon who lived among and with humans had a difficult time. Their outcry was eventually heard by the gods, who in their pity blessed and gifted us with the Vowᵃ. The grand contract among Pokémon that underpins our civilization, that hems in the different worlds of our towns, fields, the wildernesses, and the Mystery Dungeons from each other.

Afterwards, the Pokémon of Wander divided themselves into two groups. In one were the Pokémon who had been living in the wild as they had during the time of the humans, and lived their lives as nature compelled them to. In return for being able to go about their affairs in their own way, they gave up their right to interfere with the Pokémon who were living in the fields and towns, and are known today as 'Wilders'.

The Pokémon in the other group lived on the fields and in towns, pursuing the knowledge of the departed humans whom they lived with. They had been given protection by the gods from the harsh ways of nature as long as they wore their affiliations on their bodies. In return they gave up their right to feed themselves with tooth and claws, and were to only feed themselves from the crops they grew, scavenge from the departed, and consume the Gummis they created. These Pokémon became Pokémon like us, that we know as and call 'Civils'ᵇ.

As with anything that had order, there were those that persued to subvert this protection and structures. The most odious are perhaps the Outlawsᶜ, verminᵈ that wait for easy prey in the wilderness or in Mystery Dungeons, and sometimes even end lives, who cowardly attempt to hide underneath the protection of the Vow and disappear into the settlements of Civils.

Such creatures have existed for as long as our history has been written. It does not matter how harshly they are punished by the kings and rulers of our realms, there will always be those who choose that life.

- Excerpt from 'The Collected Legends from Wander'

a. The word used to render this concept in German, "Gelöbnis" is a more dated term in this usage that often carries religious connotations akin to "Covenant" in English.
b. "Zivile" is not a real word in German much in the same way "Civils" is not a real word in English, and derived from "Zivilisation" much in the same way that "Civils" is from "Civilization" as the German-language version of the term that refers to Pokémon that live in town society in this story.
c. "Ganove(n)" is the German-localization name for "Outlaw(s)" in PMD games. A more literal translation of the term depending on context would be something along the lines of "crook(s)", "criminal(s)", "bandit(s)" or "cheat(s)".
d. Unlike in English, there is not a singular term of "vermin" that is ambiguous between human and animal subjects in German. The word used here, "Ungeziefer" is specifically a term for "vermin as animals", so as to better track the depersoning nature of "vermin" in English and give a sense that the writer was very obviously not a fan of Outlaws.

Introduced in Chapter 2:

Words and Phrases

1. Götterblut! - "Gods' blood!", used as a curse/minced oath in-setting.
2. verdammtes Wiesel - "damned weasel"
3. Fräulein - "Miss", traditional address for an unmarried woman in German. Has become disused for such purposes in modern German and is often seen as having condescending or sexist undertones, with usage in that context largely displaced by the more general "Frau". In this particular context, the use of the term would be most akin to scolding a young girl in English as "Missy".
4. Komm runter! - "Calm down!" (colloquial), lit. "Come down!" / "Descend!"

Teaser Text

Moonturn Squareᵃ, 14. Herbstmond, 1027ᵇ n. d. B.ᶜ​

To Regional Leader Baan of the Roly-Poly Caravanᵈ,

His Majesty wishes to contract the services of your Roly-Poly Caravan for an urgent request to accommodate a secure wagon as part of your next caravan from Port Reyn to Newangle City. A party of interest to His Majesty King Siegmund is riding in the secure wagon, and said party's presence is to be kept secret under all circumstances. Should any harm come to the party you are transporting, it would have potentially existential implications for the well-being of the realm and the success of its current war effort against the Kingdom of Edialeigh.

His Majesty wished for your caravan's services in particular for its record of success in lands across all of Wander, your branch's track record of service on behalf of the Kingdom of Varhyde specifically, and the competence in battle of the Pokémon in your outfit by civilian standards. Due to considerations of secrecy, a detachment drawn from the gendarmes of Port Reyn and Moonturn Square will provide your caravan direct assistance, while my forces will follow along from fifteen minutes' distance by walking. Should you require assistance beyond what the vanguard force can provide, you are to signal with flares we will provide, and we will hurry aid over from our swifter members and provide relief to the best of our ability.

His Majesty is prepared to offer 200,000 Carolinsᵉ for your Caravan's services, half delivered upfront as an advance, and half delivered upon the arrival of the transported party. Who is being transported concerns you and your outfit not, and were the party of interest someone who could merely be whisked to Newangle City on the back of a Carrier without serious risk of loss, I would be flying the party there myself instead of soliciting your caravan's services through this letter. A decision is to be relayed within one day of receipt, and a lack of one will be assumed to be a declination of this contract.

Weigh your choices carefully, I will be awaiting your response.

- Letter from Grafᶠ von Wellenhafenᵍʰ, Lacan Dragoransⁱ to Regional Leader Baan Togedemarus

a. Like a number of other place names in this story, this name is derived by corruption from one in German via in-setting language drift. For the sake of brevity, not all of the ones brought up in this header will be elaborated on in this chapter's notes, but this one in particular in a more faithful semantic translation would be "Cheerful Square/Plaza".
b. Traditional header format for a formal or business letter in the German-speaking world: "[Place of sending], [Day]. [Month], [Year]"
c. Abbreviation for "nach dem Blitz", or 'after the Flash'. Modeled after actual epoch abbreviations of this style in German, especially 'n. d. Z.': a way of styling the era covered by 'Anno Domini' in German that is an abbreviation for 'nach der Zeitrechnung' or 'nach der Zeitenwende'.
d. "Pummel" in the German name is derived from "pummelig", a cutesy way of calling something "tubby" or "chubby". Note that if doing a straight localization jump from Pokédex Category to Pokédex Category, this would be "Der Einigler-Karawane" but "the Defense Curl Caravan" sounds significantly less "cutesy and kinda stupid" thematically, so the story stuck with something a bit semantically closer to "Roly-Poly".
e. A type of golden coin that was used in parts of Scandinavia and German-speaking Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The spelling in German is the one used for the coins of this nature used in Bavaria and the Palatinate, while the spelling in English tracks the Swedish spelling.
f. A middling rank in German nobility. There is no direct analogue to a "Graf" in English nobility, though it is usually treated as the equivalent of a "Count" or an "Earl" and translated accordingly. e.x. "Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin" and "Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin" being used interchangeably to refer to the same figure in English texts. In this story, the title of Graf is dealt with in an untranslated fashion.
g. Noble titles are left untranslated in this story as a flavor choice and to emphasize historical continuity. In German, a large swath of noble titles are constructed in the form of "[Title] of/from/at [Place]", and Varhyder nobility is no exception. In this particular case, the title semantically would be "Graf of/from Port Velhen".
h. The ordering of title before name is a signature convention for letters in the German-speaking world. The writer would not be referred to in this style in normal conversation, with "Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin" and the many permutations thereof once again being a prime example.
i. Contracted patronym utilized for in-setting Commontongue, in this case for "Dragoransohn". Contracted patronyms in Varhyde are the the ones employed in most in-setting contexts.

Introduced in Chapter 3:

Words and Phrases:

1. Prost! - Drinking expression roughly equivalent to "Cheers!"
2. Glühwein - A type of mulled wine. Traditionally made and served in winter, especially around Christmas. Thus the joke about the bottle's prior owner being impatient for winter.
3. Leichensammler - Roughly "Corpse(s) gatherer". In-setting term for one who scavenges the bodies of dead Wilders for meat as a trade.
4. Milza - "Axew".
5. Beiname - "Byname", "Epithet".
6. Nebelmond - "November" (archaic), lit. "Fog Moon".
7. Stabsoffiziere - "Staff Officers". Analogous concept to "Senior Officers" in English military parlance.

Dialogue:

D1. "So sei es! Du hast dieses Schicksal ausgewählt, Ganovin!" - "So be it! You chose this fate, Outlaw!" (Note, addressed to female, thus 'Ganovin' and not 'Ganove'.)

Teaser Text:

Newangle City, 13. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.
To Graf Lacan von Wellenhafen,

It brings us great pleasure to hear that after a year of pursuit, you have finally been able to secure the very Dyad we once had feared had been lost. After more than seven decades of war with the Kingdom of Edialeigh that outlasted my father and his father, going as far back to the reign of King Sansa, a decisive and lasting end is at long last within our reach.

Our only regret is that the Dyad's mind would be so poisoned by corrupting influences to the point of fleeing from you when you came to collect her. I had hoped that surely she could be reasoned with, but after all the tales you've passed of the circles she fell into over the past year, perhaps it is for the best to be sterner with her until that childish impudence is shed.

After all, while it would be ideal to secure the Dyad's cooperation prior to undertaking Operation Sparkᵃ, it is not strictly needed for its success. We and our realm do not have the luxury of derailing it over matters of mere states of the mind. It was already a miracle of fate that the Dyad would be found here in our realm and not in the Kingdom of Edialeigh as the royal seers feared, and it is a miracle we do not intend to squander.

As such, it is imperative that the Dyad be fielded for Operation Spark by any means necessary, even if it requires you and the Fähnlein under your command to transgress the laws and customs of our realm. You and I both know how grave the potential consequences of failure are for this realm, but in the balance lies the greatest hope the Kingdom of Varhyde has had in generations:

What we can finally call 'Our Peace' to break this kingdom free of its cycle of hardship that has plagued it through the ages, and 'Our Vengeance' to repay this land and its inhabitants' wounds with fireᶜ.

- Letter from König von Wahrheitᵈ, Siegmund Wieshusᵉ to Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans

a. 'Zündfunke' in German, while commonly rendered as 'spark' in English, is more accurately an 'ignition / igniting spark', as in one that starts a fire or process of combustion.
b. 'Friede' is a very formal rendering of 'peace' in German, in more normal contexts, it would be 'Frieden'.
c. The original construction of "Feuer und Flamme" is more accurately "fire and flame", but carries an equivalent sentiment here.
d. Nobiliary title for "King of Varhyde" in this setting. Takes on some other meanings in a more literal translation, but that’s another story for another day.
e. This technically ought to be 'Wie-Shus(ohn)', but that looks fairly awkward written out, so nonstandard spellings it is.

Introduced in Chapter 4:

Words and Phrases:

1. Oberst(en) - Equivalent rank to a "Colonel(s)" in militaries from the Germanosphere.
2. Hauptmann - Equivalent rank to a "Captain" in militaries from the Germanosphere, and the rank the leader of a Fähnlien traditionally held.
3. Herr - Male honorific and minor nobiliary title equivalent to "Lord". In this particular context, its usage would be analogous to addressing someone as "Mister" or "Sir" in English.
4. Brutalanda - "Salamence"
5. jämmerlich - "pathetic", "pitiful", "miserable". Can carry derogatory connotations depending on context of usage.

Teaser Text:

When the light of the Great Flash receded, the sun rose on a wounded world, one shorn of any sign of the humans we called friends and mediators beyond their works. In the light's wake, the lands churned, and the sea that now stands between the lands we now call 'Varhyde' and 'Edialeigh' opened up.

The very fabric of space and time itself was scarred from the tumult, and in places where such wounds ran deep and that fabric could no longer hold back the dimensions of the great beyond, strange fogs settled over the land and cut them off from the rest of the world. Forming what we call 'Mystery Dungeons'.

From their earliest days, Mystery Dungeons have long commanded awe from the Pokémon of this world. They make their presences known, their fog spilling over the lands they settle on and setting the skies alight at night with their auroras. A few particularly spectacular examples even hold small pieces of our world aloft with their haze, much like Drifloon floating like clouds in the sky.

Those same Mystery Dungeons have also commanded fear from those said Pokémon. The spaces within are distorted echoes of the places they once were. Mazes which confound the senses and wear away at those inside with weary hunger, subject to being churned and molded anew by the dimensions once the scouring winds of the Distortion blow away all that is in its path.

And yet, for as long as they have existed, our destinies have been intertwined with these places. Some brave souls among the Wilders, and even some Civils, call the Pocketsᵃ—the islands of stability within the Distortion, home. Some as a place of refuge, others as a lair from which to prey on others. The Orbs and other items formed or changed by these places aid our defenders and warriors, and for the intrepid and prepared travelers, a means to travel impossible distances and to impossible places.

Both triumph and tragedy await those that enter such places. Which of the two befalls those that enter is a function of cautious wisdom and learned experience. Along with strength sufficient to endure the trials faced within.

- Preface to 'The Explorer'sᵇ Handbook to Mystery Dungeonsᶜ'

a. While this is indeed what you would call 'Pocket(s)' in German, 'Tasche(n)' can also mean 'Bag(s)' or 'Purse(s)' depending upon context of use.
b. There are also other ways of saying 'Explorer' in German beyond 'Erkunder', though the term was chosen as a deliberate echo to the German localization term for 'Exploration Team', 'Erkundungsteam'
c. 'Merkwürdigen Orten' is an archaic / poetic term for 'Mystery Dungeons' in-setting that pops up on occasion. In a more faithful translation, this would be rendered as 'Strange / Inexplicable Places'

Introduced in Chapter 5:

Words and Phrases:

1. Graf Wellenhafen - Alternative manner of rendering Graf von Wellenhafen. In German, Graf [Place], Graf von [Place], and permutations incorporating names such as Graf [Name] von [Place] are all equivalent and interchangeable ways of referring to a person holding that nobiliary title.
2. Bildstock - A type of religious wayside shrine found throughout the Germanosphere, the specific style of Bildstock depicted here is more technically a 'Tabernakelpfeiler'.
3. Schild der Wirklichkeit - "Shield of Reality"

Teaser Text:

In the early years after the Great Flash and its great churning of the world, there was a great commotion to try and preserve the knowledge of the bygone humans as long as their works still remained in Wander. From the knowledge they could save, the ancients fashioned the first recipes for the gummis that fill our bellies and the first scripts that we read and wrote.

During this time, two lands across a great sea that opened amidst the turmoil of the Great Flash were settled under the guidance of two wanderers that none know from where they came. North and east of the sea, Klaus the Founderᵃ pitched his camp in a land where the goddess we call 'Reality'ᵇ chose as a place of rest from her wanderings about our unsettled world. It is said Klaus wished that the Pokémon he dwelt with would always seek the fullest understanding of the reality of the world about them, and founded a kingdom in honor of the patron who first lent it aid, which is to this day called 'Varhyde'.

South and west of the sea, Galea the Machinistᶜ pitched her camp in a land where the god that we call 'Wish'ᵈ chose as a place of rest from his wanderings amidst the world we call home. It is said that she wished that the Pokémon she dwelt with would always be filled with the yearning to pursue their wishes to reshape their surrounding world as they found fit, and she too founded a kingdom in honor of the god that dwelt there and heeded her land's pleas for help, which in honor of the patron who helped it first is to this day called 'Edialeigh'.

Little is known either of King Klaus or Queen Galea as even the kinds of Pokémon they were have been lost to the ages, but records of their sayings remain, along with their names, their epithets, and knowledge that the two once hailed from a common land. It is believed the two at some point became sworn enemies, for as long as our history has been recorded, the kingdoms they founded have yet to know a peace with each other that was not stained with bitter enmity.

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. The most common meaning of Erbauer is a 'builder', particularly a 'master builder' when used to refer to a singular party. Using it in the context of 'founder' like this is particularly flowery / poetic / glorifying in language. In more neutral prose, Klaus here would more likely be referred to as a 'Gründer' ('founder') or a 'Gündungsvater' ('founding father') with regard to his kingdom. 'Erbauer' was ultimately chosen for Klaus' epithet since the term fit his character in this setting under more than one meaning of the term.
b. German has two words that are commonly translated as 'reality', 'Wirklichkeit' and 'Realität'. While the two can be used interchangeably in some contexts, 'Realität' is used more for perceived reality while 'Wirklichkeit' carries connotations of actuality or objective reality.
c. Maschinenschlosser(in) specifically refers to a 'machinist' in the sense of someone who assembles large, complicated machines as a profession, and is most commonly utilized as a job title.
d. 'Wunsch' is normally translated as 'wish' in English, particularly in the sense of a wish as a 'desire harbored or expressed by someone whose fulfillment is hoped for'. As such, in some contexts, it can function as 'desire' and be translated accordingly.

Introduced in Chapter 6:
Words and Phrases:

1. Schöpfrad - A water wheel with attached buckets, used to raise and deposit water, lit. "scoop wheel". Of similar style and construction as ones referred to as "norias" in English.
2. Duodino - "Zweilous"
3. Scherox - "Scizor"
4. Oberwachtmeister - A rank between "sergeant" and "staff sergeant" that pops up historically in Germanosphere militaries, and more relevantly in the modern day, in police forces. This term is used as the analogue to "Sheriff" in German PMD localizations, with Sheriff Magnezone's Officers in that localization holding the title of "Wachtmeister"
5. Stolloss - "Aggron"
6. Grafschaft - A historically analogous unit of administration in purpose and function to a "county" or "earldom" in the Germanosphere, especially in regions that were once part of the Holy Roman Empire. lit. "Grafship". In most of the modern Germanosphere, the analogous unit of administration in the present day is a "Kreis" or some permutation of it such as "Landkreis", most commonly translated in English as a "District".
7. Tross(e) - a contingent of camp followers, particularly associated with historical formations composed of Landsknechte. Usually translated as "support staff", "baggage train", or "unit train" when used in such a capacity. In non-military contexts, the word can be used as a term for a generic entourage or group of followers.
8. Feurigel - "Cyndaquil"

Teaser Text:

The time immediately following the Great Flash was an era of great upheaval. As without the humans who were once our mediators, the Pokémon of our world turned upon each other. Amid confusion and violence, the Pokémon that lived among humans withdrew to the spacesᵃ their mediators built that still stood after the great churning of the world. To their towers, their amphitheaters, their great markets. Anywhere that could be fortified into a redoubt and place of refuge.

Those chaotic times subsided under the protection of the Vow, and with the guidance of Klaus the Founder, and the goddess who listened to his and our pleas for aid. After the birth of the order that underpins our world, there was a brief, shining era in which it seemed that there was hope for mankind's knowledge to be saved and passed down onto our civilizations. With a great radianceᵇ that some said had the potential to restore what our world lost to the Great Flash, while others, who some say included the Founder himself, insisted that it risked bringing it to ruin entirely.

Those hopes were reduced to rubbleᶜ with lightning and fire as Wish and Reality first clashed with each other in Wander, alongside the lands that hailed them as patrons. It was then that the two first cut each other down along with the Threshold that stood between them. Amid the disorder left behind, that radiance was shattered and faded away, and with it, the human knowledge we had not yet learned for ourselves. As whatever may have been written before that fateful clash of the gods, naught but mere scraps remained for us to pick over afterwards.

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. Raum/Räume in German can take on a number of meanings depending on context, with one of the more common ones being "room(s)".
b. A more faithful translation of strahlenden Glanz would be "radiant splendor", the phrase is sometimes glossed as "radiance" in translations into English, as is done here.
c. The original construction of "Schutt und Asche" is more literally "rubble and ashes". It is commonly glossed as "rubble" in English translations.

Introduced in Chapter 7:
Words and Phrases:

1. Weine nicht, Liebling. - "Don't cry, darling."
2. Jäger - "Hunter", "Fighter". Also a term for light infantry in Germanosphere armies, used here in a more old-timey sense to describe the likes of skirmishers, scouts, sharpshooters and runners.
3. Herrlein - Diminutive of "Herr" with similar origins and function to "Fräulein", outdated in modern German. Note that "Herrchen" can also be used as a diminutive to "Herr", but was passed over by the story thanks to it most commonly being used in modern German as a term for dog owners.
4. Sheinux - "Shinx"
5. Frau - Female honorific and address for a woman of higher social stature roughly equivalent to "Lady" or "Mistress". Can be used as a general term for a woman or a wife. In this particular context, its usage would be analogous to addressing someone as "Miss/Ms./Mrs." or "Madam" in English.
6. Kranoviz - "Corvisquire"

Teaser Text:

Moonturn Square, 19. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.​

Lacan,

I was not expecting to write to you so soon after you dispatched me to coordinate with the Gendarmen of Moonturn Square, but based on my findings, I believe our present course of action may be endangering our mission. I have reason to believe that the Dyad may not be hiding in the local hinterlands as you initially suspected, but seeking refuge in a portion of the Kingdom further afield.

Not long after briefing the local garrison about the Dyad and the Outlaws she was last seen with, I chanced to overhear an account of a party seeking passage to Toya Squareᵃ. A party whose species matches those of the band of ruffians who eluded us last night. I have been searching for any further information regarding this party and their Carrier though I do not have any findings to report at this time. I'm well aware that this could be yet another feint by the Dyad, but after the past year we have spent in pursuing her, it would be remiss of me as your Oberstleutnantᵇ to not bring up this possibility.

I will do my utmost to try and find out more about the party that was sighted, but you may find it relevant to review likely routes into Toya Square from the north and east in the interim. And if I cannot determine the Dyad's location by this evening, to consider dispatching some portion of our Fähnlein's strength to mount an interception along one of those routes, assuming we have the capacity to do so.

I still don't fully understand how the Dyad is meant to be used in 'Operation Spark'. But if it truly has the potential to so decisively end this war, such a presence further southwest from us could mean the difference between recovering her and losing her trail for weeks.

Weeks that we might not have. And if our worst fears about the Dyad are right, weeks that could mean the difference between Operation Spark being able to proceed as planned, and the Kingdom repeating the same spiral of destruction and misery it endured in the early years of this war.

- Urgent dispatch from Ritterinᶜ von Herbergauᵈ, Sophia Krarmors to Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans

a. Derived by phonetic corruption. In a more faithful semantic translation, this would be "Loyalty Square/Plaza".
b. A senior field officer rank encountered in Germanosphere armies, equivalent to a 'Lieutenant colonel'. It is employed here along the lines of its more historical usage of a title specifically for an Oberst/Colonel's deputy.
c. A title roughly analogous to "Knightess". In reality, this title would most commonly be held by the wife of a knight or a "Ritter", but it is used here in the sense of a "female knight", as is common in German translations of the likes of fantasy media.
d. In reality, most titles involving "Ritter(in)" are built around the holder's surname. e.x. 'Georg Ludwig Ritter von Trapp'. Sophia's is modeled after a few historically older knightly titles that are built around locations such as 'Ritter von Lösnich'.

Introduced in Chapter 8:
Words and Phrases:

1. Vierundzwanzig… Fünfundzwanzig. - "Twenty-four… Twenty-five."
2. Keine Angst, Schatzi. - "Don't worry, sweetie." lit. "No fear, little treasure." Usable in a context of between lovers, or as in this case, towards a child by a parent or grandparent.
3. Genug jetzt! - "Enough already!"

Teaser Text:

Moonturn Square, 19. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.​

Sophia,

I have studied your latest report, and believe I can make an educated guess as to your Carrier's route. He is most likely to take the route heading east into Toya Square. There are only so many Pokémon that could carry a party of four as a single Carrier, and their physiologies would strongly favor warmer flight paths.

There is a Mystery Dungeon there consisting of a set of overgrown human ruins near a set of falls—you are to station your units in the localized jungle and await the group's arrival. I have already dispatched Furierᵃ Strachey and Gemeinwebelᵇ Franz along with a small number of our badge dispatchers and all units capable of covering the distance to Toya Square overnight to aid you to that end.

As for me, I will be staying behind with a small formation of fliers and an Illusionist to provide cover and tasking Feldwebelᶜ Helmholtz to mobilize the rest of the rest of the Fähnlein after us. Should the local Gendarmen fail to apprehend the Dyad's party, we will tail their Carrier from Moonturn Square until they draw closer to your position. Once we come in range of badge communications, report your and your units' positions, and it should be a simple matter of herding the Dyad and her party to you as appropriate.

Were matters less sensitive and the potential consequences of being compromised less dire, I would gladly fly up and strike this Carrier out of the air the moment he left the town's walls. But we do not have the luxury of conducting our mission out in the open, and as such, it is better to remain patient so that way we can conduct this interception a safer distance away from prying eyes.

Take heart. The Dyad is almost within our grasp. And through her, Our Aegis. Our Vengeance. Who will bring this land we call "Varhyde" to lasting victory over her tormentors.

- Urgent dispatch from Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans to Ritterin von Herbergau, Sophia Krarmors

a. Furier - More commonly rendered "Fourier", a spelling of French origin. A military rank in Germanosphere militaries given to people who handle logistics commonly rendered as "Quartermaster Sergeant" in English. Historically, every Fähnlein had one Furier/Fourier in its ranks.
b. Gemeinwebel - lit. "common usher". A historical rank in Germanosphere militaries, which in a Fähnlein were elected in pairs from the ranks of its mercenaries to act as mediators between the Captain/Hauptmann and the lower ranks. Sometimes rendered in English as "Common Sergeant".
c. Feldwebel - lit. "field usher". A rank in Germanosphere militaries analogous to a "Sergeant", presently still in use in Germany and Switzerland.

And with that, let's begin the experiment. I’m ready to show off my work and throw you into the world of Wander, as seen from a few Pokémon on the other side of the Outlaw Mission board.
 
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Prologue - Once

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
REuUc52.png


Vor einer langen Zeit haben die Pokémon, welche diese Welt bewohnen, mit Wesen die sie „Menschen“ nannten geteilt. Seltsame Kreaturen, welchen die Weisheit gegeben war, die Geheimnisse unserer Welt wie durch die Augen der Göttern zu sehen und zu verstehen. Doch sie waren nicht in der Lage, diese Geheimnisse anzuwenden, nicht ohne die Unterstützung von Kreaturen wie uns.

Man sagte, dass Menschen wie Vermittler zwischen den verschiedenen Arten von Pokémon gehandelt haben. Sogar Sengo und Vipitis lebten friedlich nebeneinander und die Wilden konnten so leben, wie sie sich in ihrem unberechenbaren natürlichen Lebensraum niemals vorgestellt hätten.

Und dann kam was wir „Der Glühende Blitz“ nannten. Auf einmal umhüllte ein blendendes Licht unsere Welt, welches die gesamte Menschheit entfernt hat. Die Dimensionen wurden gestört und die ganzen Kontinenten schüttelten. In dessen Ebbe hat es eine entzweite Welt mit verzerrten Orten, welche wir „Mysteriöse Orte“ nannten, hinterlassen.

Auch mit solch einen großen Verlust, haben wir Pokémon mit der Weisheit, die die Menschen hinterlassen haben, unsere eigenen Gesellschaften entwickelt, welche dieser unserer Vermittler ähnelt. Um die Geheimnisse dieser veränderten Welt wenn auch flüchtig zu sehen. Und so bekam diese neue Welt, deren Geburt den Anfang unserer Zeitrechnung markiert, ihren Namen - „Wunder“.


- Auszug aus »Die Gesammelten Legenden aus Wunder«



The waning rays of the evening sun washed an Oran Berry field under warm orange tones, shining down on Pokémon going to and fro among rows of bushes. Here and there, the creatures would stop and gather up the blue fruits into small wooden baskets of varying sizes. Among the figures scurrying about was a tired-looking Quilava with a plain orange scarf tied about his neck, who paused to set down a basket that he lugged in his forepaws and dropped to all fours for a moment to catch his breath. The Fire-type felt the wind chill and blow over his fur, as it tended to during autumns in the north of Varhyde, which made him thankful for his body's natural warmth.

He looked down at his basket, the most recent he'd managed to fill with harvest season drawing to an end. With the bushes of the Oran field running increasingly barren, it was also likely the last he'd manage for the day. He let out a grumbling sigh and flattened his ears, before trudging off with it towards a small collection of huts off in the distance.

The Quilava gaped about his surroundings on the way over, seeing other Pokémon in similar garb still at work trying to glean the last stray Oran Berries off bushes with leaves that had long since turned red with the seasons—a sign that they'd be the last crop to be picked from them until winter. The Fire-type trudged along, until he reached the huts and came to a queue of Pokémon of different shapes and sizes. All of them waited with tubs of Oran berries at the ready, in front of a larger wood-and-sod shack with jars filled with luminous moss hung along its eaves.

There, a Crustle in a simple tan scarf stood behind a table with a set of scales on them. One by one, the Pokémon in line would pass a slip of paper over to the earthen-shelled crab, who would weigh their bucket's content before letting another Pokémon dump them onto a conveyor belt driven by Pokémon on running wheels in the background. Amidst the din of the conveyor belt's operation in the background, the Crustle would take the Pokémon's paper, scribble some marks onto it, before passing it back and moving onto the next Pokémon in the queue.

After what felt like an eternity, it came time for the Quilava to step forward. As he passed his bag and a sheet of paper across the table, much as he had every day since the middle of the last summer month of Erntemond₁ almost a full moon ago. The Fire-type tapped his foot and fidgeted irritably as he watched the Crustle take his bag, look at the scale skeptically, and then narrow his eyes back with a small click of his claws.

"… You're light today, Lyle." the Crustle weigher said.

"It can't really be helped, there wasn't much to pick on the bushes today," the Quilava harrumphed back. "It's better to gather the stuff that's still reasonable to harvest for now and wait for the last of the Oran Berries on them to ripen."

The weigher tilted his head and gave a sharp scowl in response, curling his mouthparts into an unimpressed frown back at the stoat in the orange scarf.

"You shouldn't give in so easily. These berries help to go and support our royal troops bleeding for us on the frontline," the crab reminded. "Why, that Hoppip Bucky brought in more than you today, and he's just a little grub!"

The fire along the Quilava's back vents danced for a moment, the Fire-type glaring sharply back up at the Crustle.

"Look, it takes me four trips with this stupid bucket just to gather a single Scheffel₂ of berries, and my wages are tied to each one I bring in," the Fire-type snorted back. "I think I know how much is in a day's work, Trent. So just let me go get my pay for the day and get some rest."

The Crustle said nothing for a moment, before pressing a stamp down on a scrap of paper and giving a low grumble under his breath.

"… If you say so. I'm just glad that not everyone's as unmotivated as you," the Bug-type said. "If your parents' generation quit as easily as you during the last invasion, we never would've driven those dirty Edialeighers back across the sea, and we'd all be getting kicked around by them right now."

The Crustle slid the paper across the table towards the Quilava. Lyle rolled his eyes and snatched the receipt, all but crumpling it up in his paws before nipping at a corner and making his way on all fours over to a low-slung shack at the other end of the strip. The Quilava didn't bother unfurling the paper, only a complete idiot would fail to keep track of the number of buckets he'd brought in in a day, or the number of Scheffel they added up to in volume. Eighteen. Eighteen measly Scheffel of those gottverdammten₃ Oran Berries that this field grew, for which he could expect five Carolins each for his trouble to repeat the process again tomorrow. Just enough to put two meals' worth of food and a pint of stiff lager in his belly for a day or two… and precious little else.

The Fire-type drifted past the shacks along the strip, stopping by one with a set of chests where he fished out a tatty satchel that he'd brought and left for safekeeping prior to starting his day's work. He couldn't imagine there being much worth stealing from it, but you never knew these days. After collecting his belongings, the Quilava carried along down the strip, making his way forward on all four of his legs.

Along the way, he passed a dingy hall with crude tables and seats fashioned from wooden odds and ends that carried a strong scent of alcohol. The place was a dive that served the sorriest excuse for beer he'd ever tasted, but there never seemed to be an absence of pickers visiting it after a day's work. Among the customers today were a Gumshoos and Greedent, who sat outside the door with clay cups trading low whispers with one another.

"A friend of mine who hangs around the garrison at Moonturn Square says another levy's coming down for 'mons to fight in the army's ranks over the next few days," the Gumshoos murmured, prompting the Greedent pause and to pin his ears back back in reply.

"Again?" the squirrel asked. "Whatever happened to all those 'mons who were shipped out in the campaign back in spring?"

"I dunno, but I ran into one getting patched up after being sent back from getting a paw messed up out there," the Gumshoos explained. "He seemed pretty shook up over whatever happened, so it makes me wonder just how many of those 'mons from that last levy are still around."

Lyle paused and reared up, flicking his ears uncomfortably at the Gumshoos and Greedent's chatter. It was the third week of Herbstmond₄, well into autumn and around the time when the army would try and ship more fighters off for the front line. Their last opportunity for the year to shore up their offenses against Edialeigh, before winter weather made further ones in the intervening months into exercises in futility.

There had been much crowing among those close to the army about how things were different now. It'd been seven years since Edialeigh's last invasion into Varhyde had finally been broken and chased back across the sea. Now, the ravages of war were their problem and the homefront in Varhyde could know something approximating rest. There was no fear of raids by warbands of 'mons who spoke muddled Commontongue, or at least not for now. And at times, the war could almost be forgotten as some sort of faraway nightmare…

Except it'd been the fifth time that the theater of war had moved to Edialeigh in the more than seventy years the war had been dragging on, and meant there was little enthusiasm to go around for chances at glory and vengeance. Every year since then, there seemed to be little to show for the Kingdom's offenses on Edialeigh's territory but some new funerals and chewed-up 'mons limping back to their homes to look forward to a life of unstable employment and praying that the nearest town's food dole didn't fall short yet again.

Any hope of a decisive victory had died many years ago, much like the gods who'd once fought under the banners of those two lands and met their ends on the battlefield like so many others. Even with the promise of revenge and repaying old wounds, the endless grind had burned away much of the enthusiasm and fighting spirit of Varhyde's Pokémon, and the Gumshoos and Greedent trading worried looks with one another were hardly exceptions.

"… You don't suppose they'll start dragging out 'mons like us out there, do you?" the Greedent asked.

"I dunno… I heard that the Sheriff out there's been dragging his feet over it and holding out for some sort of workaround, but if there's really a levy going on, he's gotta send somebody," the Gumshoos murmured. "After all, when was the last time you heard of anyone volunteering to go to the frontlines who wasn't desperate, drunk, or both?"

Word was that even in the capital of Newangle City itself, the local guards had largely stopped bothering to arrest 'mons for airing such sentiments, even if on the books, such talk was tantamount to sympathizing with the enemy and grounds for conscription or worse. There were too many offenders, and morale within the ranks had been lacking even back when his father was a mere Cyndaquil.

But that was someone else's problem. For Lyle, his problem was scraping together enough food for the week, and his ticket to that was the Persian paymaster at the counter of the last shack at the end. The Normal-type had just finished counting out coins for a Hoppip under the dull blue glow of a cracked ring made of some sort of clear resin that was hung from a wooden pole. Stuffed with luminous moss if the color of the light was anything to go by. And if the ring-shaped light was really the human relic it appeared to be, it was likely the most valuable thing in the entire strip of buildings.

The Quilava made his way up, reared up onto his hind legs, and uncrumpled his paper, turning it in with a sigh and pinch of his brow. He watched the cream-furred cat look over the paper and count up the stamps on it, eighteen, just as he himself had counted, before reaching into a small box and pulling out a few gold-colored coins and clinking them against the counter. The Fire-type stared blankly at the coins for a moment and let his mouth flop open, before letting his body's fire flare up and spluttering back indignantly at the Normal-type.

"Hey, what the-?! This is 60 Carolins!" he exclaimed. "I got almost a third more than this for yesterday's pickings! I even brought in more buckets today!"

"Yeah, well that reflects the new price that the army passed onto us, and they get the first cut of everything grown here on top of it," the Persian explained. "Naturally, we can't afford to pay the same as we used to."

"And you'll just hike the prices for whatever you do get to keep at market, so how on earth is that fair?!" Lyle demanded. "How do you expect me to be able to buy food this week if I'm getting paid at this rate?!"

The Persian shot a dark glare back that made the Quilava reflexively flinch and tamp his fire down, half-expecting the cat to summarily yank his already meager pay off the table. While Lyle's fears ultimately proved to be unfounded, the paymaster's gaze remained firmly trained on him as she spat back a huffing reply.

"Lyle, everyone's getting squeezed here right now. I already know that you live in a burrow out in the fringes, so grow a berry bush of your own next to whatever hole you sleep in at night like everyone else does whenever things come up short!" the Normal-type growled. "I'm sure you've got someone who can take care of it while you're working out here, don't you?"

Lyle said nothing back to the paymaster for a long while, before pinning his ears back and snatching the coins off the counter. For most of the past two years, he lived alone, and barely knew his neighbors, so he wasn't exactly rich with options to act on the Persian's advice. So what else was he supposed to do?

Lyle sighed, and held his eyes to the ground. He'd thought of stealing the difference from the field while on the job before, but… he'd always found himself unable to muster the courage. Only a berry or two at the most. It just wasn't worth the risk of being kicked out of this job too.

He'd already struggled to find employment with an interrupted apprenticeship as a glassblower and a past that he deliberately kept opaque to others. Getting banned from what few potential sources of employment he'd been able to find was a complete non-starter of an idea.

… Perhaps he should be thankful he even had this much. Considering what became of most of his old friends, getting stuck slaving away in a berry field was probably the best outcome he could've realistically hoped for. Lyle quickly deposited the coins into a small bag that he threw into the bottom of his satchel and shuffled off for a dirt path down a wooded slope with a low grumble. At the beginning of the slope, the Quilava suddenly heard the Persian call out after him and turned his head back to see her giving a stern gaze.

"By the way, you might wanna wait and see if the moon comes out before you head off," the Normal-type suggested. "The routes have been getting more dangerous on dark nights like these lately. Besides, a drink with your fellow pickers over at the canteen might take the edge off of you."

Lyle fanned the flames on his head and tail out annoyedly at the Normal-type's insistence. It was already getting dark, and he wasn't exactly deaf! He'd heard the Persian's warning plenty of times over the past moon, and were it a mere two years ago, that same warning would probably have been about him.

"I'm sure I'll manage somehow," Lyle harrumphed. "Not like I'd be able to afford the cheap swill that dive here sells with this pay anyways."

The Fire-type huffled and dropped to all fours along the ground, darting off down the path for the road where he turned left and made his way along it. Lyle slowed his pace after the entrance to the Oran field he worked at slipped from view. It was already twilight, and running or not, he'd never beat the night's dark back to his home burrow. The Quilava gaped about the tree-lined path, the last rays of light faintly illuminating the fields on either side of him.

There were the standard fields of berry bushes and fields planted with the likes of wheat and rye. Others had been planted with seeds that had been affected by the Distortion of Mystery Dungeons, yielding crops that had little use beyond being used as implements to fight with. There was at least one more field planted in such a manner than he remembered from last year, and they seemed to consume ever-increasing swaths of Varhyde's land. There were Totter Seeds to daze Pokémon, Blinker Seeds to impair their vision, and Blast Seeds to blow their ramparts to smithereens. Crops that grew without the influence of Mystery Dungeons that were similarly weaponizable also gobbled up land for the war effort, as the Apricorn field he was passing to his left evidenced. It was hard to think of any use for the damned things other than for grapeshot and mines to swallow Pokémon whole, condemning those who weren't freed from them in time to hungry, lonely deaths trapped inside.

Lyle shook his head as the skies darkened and he moved on to a more wooded patch of the trail, happy to leave the fields behind. The sun's last glimmers had given way to a gibbous moon and stars above, so there was little light left to guide him beyond the glow of the fire on his head and tail.

He supposed there was the small ribbon of blue-and-green light in the sky towards the west, but the aurora appeared to just be one of the ones that formed in the skies above Mystery Dungeons. Over Waterhead Cave from the looks of it. But it was hardly bright enough to light his way even without a bunch of treetops obscuring it. The stoat lowered his head a bit so as to let his fire better illuminate the path, when he felt a sticky glob suddenly strike his right flank from the treeline.

"Agh! What the-?!"

"I got something! I got something!" a voice chittered.

Lyle tensed up and flared out his body's fire, whirling to his right where he spotted a glob of silk attached to his flank's fur, along with a white strand that his eyes followed back up to a pair of Spinarak dangling from the trees. Unlike the Pokémon back at the Oran field, neither of them appeared to be wearing any garb. The leftmost of the two Bug-types looked on in startled alarm at his target, while his companion turned with an angry chitter.

"I told you to try and track away from the path, you moron!" the other Spinarak fumed. "You tracked some knot-neck!"

Lyle narrowed his eyes and angrily spat up a small gout of fire at the tree, making the two drop from it with frightened screeches as the patch of tree bark where they'd been resting smoldered. After striking the ground, the two Bug-types squealed and hurriedly scuttled off into the undergrowth, their cries ringing out in the darkness.

"Eyaah! Run for it!"

"J-Just consider yourself lucky you can hide behind the Vow, you furry jerk!"

Lyle looked down at the glob of silk on his fur and tugged it off, burning it with a small puff of fire on the dirt path. He could've done without the hostile Wilder run-in on the way home, but he supposed that all things considered, the encounter could've gone worse.

It was said that Spinarak and Ariados among the guards of Varhyde's settlements stalked their own prey on the job by tagging them with silk and letting them lead them back to their hiding places. Evidently, even if they killed each other off for their sustenance and petty squabbles instead of on behalf of some kingdom or for loot and plunder, the practice was much the same among their Wilder counterparts.

The comparison almost made that sort of harsh Wilder lifestyle in the hinterlands sound noble when he framed it like that. Almost. Not that it made having to get the Wilders' silk out of his fur any less annoying. Lyle flicked his ears as quiet returned to the path when he noticed the sound of flowing water coming from up ahead. It wasn't exactly the most comforting thing to hear, but it was a sign the bridge he needed to cross about halfway back to his home was just up ahead.

The Quilava sighed and carried on, when he heard splashing and his nose caught the scent of damp fur. The Fire-type froze and flared up in response as his mind returned to the Persian's warning, only to be snapped back to reality by a yipping voice calling out from under the bridge.

"I see that you're as popular as ever, Lyle."

Lyle screwed his eyes shut in frustration after he realized the voice was deeply familiar. It wasn't from an Outlaw, but he'd frankly have preferred it if it was. The Quilava looked ahead, watching as the form of a Floatzel clambered up onto the bridge and sauntered forward.

The Sea Weasel Pokémon bore a gray scarf with a bold white chevron on it, with his underbelly and back covered in overlapping green plates, with one on his head of similar design that functioned as a rough helmet. The attire wasn't exactly hard to miss, but the presence of a white triangle insignia with circles at its tips that pointed upwards along with his scarf's chevron made it unmistakeable. It was a set of the standard issue armor that was given out in Varhyde's army and among the town guards who were subordinate to them.

Each of the plates were fashioned out of tightly-banded linen that had been treated with fire retardant, then glued together in layers until they formed a segment thick and durable enough to stop the likes of an Iron Thorn. And from the Floatzel's demeanor, he clearly hadn't forgotten about his armor's protective qualities.

The Floatzel shook some water off his pelt, Lyle recoiling as some of the drops dashed against him much to his disgusted annoyance and shifted back with a grumbling sigh. After all, if nothing else, he knew who the accosting sea rat was all too well.

"What is it this time, Nils?" the Quilava demanded, prompting the Water-type to turn his muzzle up with an affected display of offense.

"Now what's that attitude all about?" the Floatzel scoffed. "I'm a soldier and here you arego giving me the third degree like a common Outlaw!"

More like a 'Gendarm₅' who was unlikely to have seen any action outside of guarding towns or countryside roads and being a pest to peasants and travelers, but that was splitting hairs. Even if it was hard for him to imagine Nils lasting a moon in Edialeigh before deserting into some forest with his tails between his legs, Gendarmen like him were still technically part of the royal army and still Grünhäuter₆, as the green-clad bastards were sometimes mocked, through and through. Soldiers went off to the front lines across the sea and tore up battlefields and villages that were out of sight and out of mind for the homefront, while Varhyde's Pokémon had to live with the likes of Nils.

The Floatzel approached and brushed the fur on the exposed regions of his head back with some stray water that clung to it, the otter peering down at his shorter counterpart with a smug smirk.

"Really, I'm on your side here!" the Water-type insisted. "Edialeigh might not be able to throw a whole lot of 'mons into Varhyde proper right now, but that doesn't mean your old buddy Nils isn't putting his neck on the line for you!"

"Hrmph, thanks I suppose," Lyle said, as he attempted to brush past the armored pest in his way. "But it's getting late and I really should get moving on."

Nils quickly cut off Lyle's path and stepped into his way, making the Quilava fold his ears back and glance up with a quiet grimace. The Floatzel chuckled bemusedly to himself, shaking his head in reply as he stepped forward and leaned in over his captive audience of one.

"Lyle, Lyle, Lyle… you of all 'mons oughta know that we bust our tails to look out for the little guys," the Floatzel insisted. "And the army's had to cut back on stipends for us folk on the homefront over the 'mons going across the sea to keep the fight from coming back into Varhyde again…"

The Water-type reached out his right paw, and motioned towards his body with it a couple times with a small, almost taunting smile.

"So how about you help out a friend in need, huh? Consider it a friendly donation," the guard insisted.

Lyle narrowed his eyes in disgust and felt the fire on his body simmer. He didn't need to deal with this crap from Nils again. Not tonight of all times.

"Sorry, I've got my own problems this time," he insisted, prompting Nils to shoot back with an unimpressed scoff.

"And just what's that supposed to mean?" the guard demanded. "You're not getting back into trouble again, are you, Lyle?"

Lyle grimaced and pinned his ears back much as if the guard had just summoned a Surf to deluge him. Yes, Nils knew the Pokémon he shook down for his… 'donations' quite well. Well enough to know that even without his natural disadvantages, the Quilava before him was particularly ill-prepared to refuse his demands.

"I mean, I heard your ma and pa were those glassblowers out in Freeden Village, weren't they? But the last time I was passing through, they said that they didn't know any 'Lyle' other than some good-for-nothing thief they chased off from their shop," Nils explained. "And then there's that old wanted poster for a Quilava from some 'Foehn Gang' that was floating around last year with a description that matches up with everything but your name, Lyle Fremders. I mean, I'm sure that he's long been caught with how old that listing is. But… it'd be awkward for you if 'mons around here got you confused with either of those two characters, don't you think?"

Lyle bristled at the Floatzel's faux amity. Even close friends didn't bring up a 'mon's Vatername₇ in casual conversation, not that 'Fremders' was even his real one. It was a stupid idea he'd had to try and hide who he was when he tried to leave his past behind, to pretend that he was some recruited Wilder who didn't have a father to record.

At the time, he thought it'd surely draw less attention than just going around as 'Lyle Igelavars' like he had back when his parents still acknowledged his existence. But all it'd done was tip off more observant types like Nils that he had something to hide when they noticed his behavior didn't match up with his backstory. And it gave the guard all that he needed to skim off his pay without him being able to so much as raise a word in protest.

"Ugh… how much do you want?" Lyle grumbled. As soon as the words left his mouth, Nils' smile vanished from his face, and his expression hardened into an icy scowl.

"20 Carolins sounds about right for tonight. The straps for the back of my armor have worn out and I need to replace 'em, and I didn't really have the heart to go asking for money from folks like Oulen either," the Water-type said. "Ever since her joey came along, she's been struggling to get by, and not because she's got something to hide either."

Lyle muttered under his breath before loosening the pouch with his pay in it and grudgingly parted ways with a quartet of golden-colored coins from it. As steep as Nils' demanded bribe was, there wasn't much point in trying to dig his heels in. Even if Nils wasn't in a position to rat him out and have the book thrown at him, Nils' kind as Water-types held the upper paw over Quilava like him in battle. A straight fight right here and now would accomplish little other than getting him knocked out and giving the damned Grünhäuter a license to clean him out entirely. After palming the coins Lyle passed over, Nils threw them into a small bag that he stuffed back under his breastplate, and stepped aside with a smarmy smile and mocking wave of his paw.

"Have a good night! And do take care of yourself out there!" the guard said. "There's been a rash of robberies by Outlaws around these parts lately."

Lyle lowered his head and spat a few embers into the dirt as he trudged along over the bridge, growling under his breath over the indignity of having to let some sea rat help himself to his stuff. If he were still with his old gang, he'd have allies to make the Floatzel whimper out an apology and scurry off all the way back to his garrison at Moonturn Square. But yesterday was gone, and he'd left that game. He was just a berry picker now and there were no allies for him to call on, and no remedy for the third of the already-meager earnings he'd collected that day that Nils had just pocketed.

The Quilava paused and reared up, seeing that he'd gone far enough for the bridge to no longer be visible, and the trickling sounds of the stream no longer reached his ears. He had ended the day expecting to have earned 90 Carolins, and was now left with 40. Whatever thoughts of lager this week were sheer fantasy at this point, and he'd need to start thinking of what other meals to skip in it if this sort of pay was going to be his new norm. He supposed there was the food dole that was distributed in towns like Moonturn Square, but using it meant making yourself known to the local authorities… and for the army's levies for 'monpower for the front lines. Right when a fresh one was just about to go out and the garrison was already known to be short on volunteers.

Perhaps he should just give in and take from it. One of the last things that had happened in his former life as an Outlaw was that he'd begun to falteringly learn how to use Flame Charge. He hadn't exactly practiced it much since then, but the fact that he'd even gotten to that point was sign enough that his time as a Quilava was nearing an end. Whenever that happened, he'd need to afford the extra food to feed his new body somehow, and it sure as hell wasn't going to happen with his wages.

Lyle folded his ears back and dimmed his head and tail fire, staring down at the ground as the sense of solitude on the brisk autumn night sank in. Just then, he heard a branch crack in the undergrowth to the right of the path, and flared his ears and fire as he whirled over towards its direction.

"Huh? Who's there-?"

The Quilava was cut off by a black-and-red blur bursting out from the undergrowth and knocking him to the ground. Lyle curled up reflexively and flared out the fire on his body, before rolling over onto his feet and bracing for battle when he felt something catch at his throat. The stoat looked down and caught his breath, noticing a pair of long, white claws digging their points in at his throat.

"Heya, miss me, Lyle?"

Lyle followed the claws with his eyes up to their owner, and saw a Sneasel in a blue scarf with a lighter-shaded wind swirl design stooping down beside him with a wry smile. The Quilava panted tensely for a moment before calming after he recognized the features of the Dark-type, who pulled her claws back, brought them up behind her feathered head and stuck her tongue out teasingly. Lyle reared up, and after brushing at his throat a couple times, turned back to the familiar Sneasel with a sharp frown.

"Would it have killed you to give a normal greeting, Kate?" the Quilava fumed. "What are you even doing here?"

"Heh, so you do recognize me!" she exclaimed. "And here I thought this scarf from the Mistral Marauders would throw you off!"

"Hrmph, you're not exactly a character who's easy to forget," Lyle grumbled back, narrowing his eyes. "And you didn't answer my question about why you're here. There's a guard on the bridge not even a hundred paces down the path!"

The Sneasel unfolded her arms and circled around the Quilava, walking about him in an arcing path around his back from his left to his right.

"Well… I'd heard that you'd been having some money troubles," Kate said, giving a playful poke at the stoat's flank. "So I figured that I'd offer you a chance to scratch my back, and I'd do the same to yours."

Lyle stiffened up from the Sneasel's jab, which vaguely reminded him of the pokes he and his brother traded when they were younger to tease and roughhouse with each other, if a bit more uncomfortable on account of her claws. Kate really hadn't changed all that much from when they parted ways… or the times they'd met since then. Now, just as then, the Quilava gave a sharp shake of his head back, and repeated words that had become almost rote to him.

"Oh Blauflamme₈, this crap again?" he snorted. "I already told you last time, no more jobs. I left that game and I'm not planning on getting back in."

Kate folded her arms and blew a puff of chilly breath up at her ear feather, giving a sour frown in reply to her former comrade.

"You could've fooled me seeing how your current scarf's just missing that pattern our old crew's had. So you obviously don't have that many bad feelings about it," the Sneasel insisted. "Besides, I wouldn't have made the offer if I thought you'd have trouble with it! You pulled your weight every bit as much as I did back when we were on the Foehn Gang!"

"Yeah, well last I checked, the Foehn Gang doesn't exist anymore and the Charizard who used to run it got pushed into an Apricorn to starve to death," Lyle grumbled. "So there's not a whole lot I can do to help you there."

"Well the Pokémon from it are still around… or at least a few of 'em anyways," the Dark-type insisted. "Including your old buddy, Alvin."

Lyle hesitated for a moment at the Sneasel's words, who keenly watched his expression and posture in response. He never had heard of Alvin turning up among the Pokémon who'd been captured when the Foehn Gang was broken up. But at the same time, Kate had never mentioned him before the past times they'd met, so what was going on?

"Alvin?" the Fire-type asked. "Since when did you still work with him?"

"Well, it was more luck of the draw with the old bonehead, really," the Sneasel admitted. "His new crew and mine are teaming up to take on a caravan that's set to come through here tomorrow."

Kate raised a claw and prodded at Lyle's chest gently with one of her claws, curling her muzzle up into a knowing smile.

"The boss wanted some local muscle to help her and the gang out with the job," she explained. "When I mentioned that there was a former pyro from the Foehn Gang who had a mean Will-'O-Wisp and made a name for himself punching above his weight who was toiling away in a field right in the neighborhood… well, it kinda piqued her interest."

Lyle hesitated for a moment, before brushing the Sneasel's claw aside and starting off, sharply huffing in reply without bothering to look back at the Dark-type.

"I'm sure you can find someone else to help her," he insisted. "Outlaws aren't exactly hard to come by these days."

"Outlaws? Or 'mons short on coin?"

Lyle's ears pricked at the sound of jingling coins when he noticed that the flap of his satchel had been pried back. The Quilava whirled around and saw Kate holding his bag of coins, before opening it, eying its contents, and looking back with a disbelieving scoff.

"Lyle, can you even feed yourself properly with this sort of money? I've seen 'mons try their luck outside the law with more than this to show to their name!" she exclaimed. "And just how badly did that Floatzel clean you out earlier? I can smell his grubby mitts all over this thing!"

Lyle grit his teeth and let the flames on his body simmer in irritation. Kate must've been shadowing him for some time if she'd known about his run-in with Nils. He thought of raising his voice to ask her just how long she'd been following him, only for her to draw the bag of coins shut, and toss it up and down in her claw.

"Oh come on, what's with that look? You of all 'mons oughta know I don't rip off friends," she insisted. "And it's not as if I'm asking you for a commitment here either."

The Dark-type caught onto the satchel and tightened her grip around it, giving a stern look back.

"All I'm asking for is for you to lend your skills and help me and Alvin this one time, doing something that should be old hat to you: we go in, we pull a smash and grab, and get out afterwards," she said. "You'll get your share of the loot, we part ways again, and you leave better off from it. From what I've heard, the caravan we're targeting ought to have enough once everything's divided up properly for your cut to help you get a fresh start away from this dump."

Kate shook her head, before throwing the bag back at Lyle's feet. The Quilava reflexively stooped down to snatch the coins up, the Sneasel watching and letting her ears droop as she couldn't help but let an almost pitying look cross her face before speaking up again

"… Or you just say 'no' and I'll try and find some other talent from around here," she sighed. "I personally wouldn't find picking berries all day along with the occasional shakedown by a troll under a bridge to be rewarding, but hey. You do you."

Lyle stuffed his coin bag back into his satchel and clamped it shut. The Quilava turned to leave but found himself unable to just shrug off the Sneasel's offer as he had in the past.

Lyle bit his lip. Everything Kate had promised was secondhand, hardly a guarantee of any sort. But she was never the type to deliberately mislead him and wouldn't have pitched this as a one-time job if she didn't genuinely believe it was going to be one… so why did he have an awful feeling in his stomach about it?

Lyle heard the quiet grumble of his stomach and pinned his ears back. Right, he hadn't been eating well lately. And with his dwindling pay from the Oran field, he likely wouldn't be for the foreseeable future. There'd be nothing left to pick within a month, and the money he'd been able to save for winter this year had been… meager, to say the least. Maybe he'd be able to find an odd job to plug the gap, but if he didn't…

Wouldn't it just be a matter of time before he found himself back in this situation? And if it came to that, did he really want to face things without friends who could watch out for his back?

"… Those crews you're working with. Who are they? And what do they know about this caravan?"



Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases

1. Erntemond - "August" (archaic), lit. "Harvest Moon".
2. Scheffel - Analogous measurement of dry weight to a "bushel" in German-speaking countries, never standardized prior to replacement by SI units. Word is the same both in singular and plural forms.
3. gottverdammt(en) - "god(s)damn(ed)" (+'en' for multiple subjects). In German, compound words involving a leading noun with an attached word that isn't a noun have the leading noun in rendered singular form for both singular and plural forms of said compound word. Thus this remains "gottverdammt" even when using it to say "godsdamn(ed)" and does not become "götterverdammt", as "verdammt" is not a noun in German.
4. Herbstmond - "September" (archaic), lit. "Autumn/Fall Moon"
5. Gendarm(en) - "gendarme(s)"
6. Grünhäuter - "greenhide(s)". Local insult/slur for law enforcement and military akin to "pig" in English. Word is the same both in singular and plural forms.
7. Vatername - "Patronym", lit. "Fathername". There are other ways of saying this in German in reality, but this way was specifically chosen since a Vatername in this setting is tightly coupled to filling the role of telling who your father was.
8. Blauflamme(n) - "Blue Flare", used as a curse/minced oath in-setting, especially by Fire-types. Note that the canonical move name is "Blauflammen" while its use as an exclamation has been modified to comply with German declension rules regarding compound words ending in nouns when directed at singular subjects.

Teaser Text

A long time ago, the Pokémon who dwell in this world had shared it with beings they called 'humans'. Strange creatures, who had been given the wisdom to see the secrets of this world as if through the eyes of the gods. But they were not able to apply those secrets, not without help from creatures like us

It was said that humans had acted like a mediator between the different kinds of Pokémon. Even Zangoose and Seviper were able to live together peacefully and the Wildersᵃ could live like they would never have imagined in their ever-changing natural environment.

And then came what we called 'The Great Flash'ᵇ. All of a sudden, a blinding light had enveloped our world, which removed the entire human race from our world. The dimensions were disturbed and whole continents shook. In its wake it had left behind a sundered world with distorted places which we called 'Mystery Dungeons'ᶜ.

Even with such a great loss, we Pokémon, with the wisdom those humans had left behind, were able to create our own societies which resembled those of our mediators. To get a glimpse of those mysteries of this changed world. And that’s how this new world, the birth of which marked the beginning of our era, got its name - 'Wander'ᵈ.

- Excerpt from 'The Collected Legends from Wander'

a. "Wilden" in the original text is more properly translated as "Wilds", rendered as "Wilders" in Commontongue which covers the same concept of a category of Pokémon that live apart from civilization.
b. "Glühende" in the original text in a faithful translation would be "fierce" (in heat), "fiery", or "glowing", which was chosen since it still accurately describes the nature of the event and "Der Große Blitz" sounds a bit more awkward in German. This is what the event that created the setting's world is known as in Commontongue in-story.
c. A more faithful translation of this would be "Mysterious Places". Under the canonical German localization, this would be "Mysteriöse Dungeons", but it sounds a bit unnatural in German prose since "Dungeons" was imported wholesale from English for the localization name.
d. The name of the setting's planet in present-day Varhyde that has arisen by corruption/language drift. Its name in a more faithful translation would be "Wonder" or "Miracle".
 
Last edited:

bluesidra

Mood
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. custom/hoppip-bluesidra-reup
  2. custom/hoppip-bluesidra-pink
  3. custom/hoppip-bluesidra3
Vor einer langen Zeit haben die Pokémon, welche diese Welt bewohnen, mit Wesen die sie 'Menschen' nannten geteilt. Seltsame Kreaturen, welche die Weisheit bekommen haben die Geheimnisse unserer Welt von den Göttern zu sehen und zu verstehen, aber nicht alleine anwenden zu können ohne die Unterstützung von Kreaturen wie uns.

Man sagte, dass Menschen wie Vermittler zwischen den verschiedenen Arten von Pokémon gehandelt haben. Sogar Sengo und Vipitis konnten friedlich miteinander leben und die Wilden konnten so leben, wie sie sich in ihrem unberechenbaren natürlichen Lebensraum niemals vorgestellt hätten.

Und dann kam was wir 'Der Glühende Blitz' nannten. Auf einmal umhüllte ein blendendes Licht unsere Welt, welches die gesamte Menschheit entfernt hat. Die Dimensionen wurden gestört und die ganzen Kontinenten schüttelten. In dessen Ebbe hat es eine entzweite Welt mit verzerrten Orten, welche wir 'Mysteriöse Dungeons' nannten, hinterlassen.

Auch mit solch einen großen Verlust, haben wir Pokémon mit der Weisheit, die die Menschen hinterlassen haben, unsere eigenen Gesellschaften entwickelt, welche dieser unserer Vermittler ähnelt. Um die Geheimnisse dieser veränderten Welt wenn auch flüchtig zu sehen. Und mit das wurde unsere Welt in den Jahren nach unserer Zeitrechnung als 'Wunder' bezeichnet.


- Excerpt from The Legendarium of Wander
My version:
Vor langer Zeit teilten die Pokémon, welche diese Welt bewohnen, sie mit Wesen, die sie 'Menschen' nannten. Seltsame Kreaturen, welchen die Weisheit gegeben war, die Geheimnisse unserer Welt von den Göttern zu sehen und zu verstehen. Doch sie waren nicht in der Lage, diese Geheimnisse anzuwenden, nicht ohne die Unterstützung von Kreaturen wie uns.

Man sagte, dass Menschen wie Vermittler zwischen den verschiedenen Arten von Pokémon gehandelt haben. Sogar Sengo und Vipitis lebten friedlich nebeneinander und die Wilden konnten so leben, wie sie sich in ihrem unberechenbaren, natürlichen Lebensraum niemals vorgestellt hätten.

Und dann kam, was wir 'Den Glühende Blitz' nannten. Auf einmal umhüllte ein blendendes Licht unsere Welt, welches die gesamte Menschheit auslöschte. Die Dimensionen wurden gestört und die Kontinente bebten. In seiner Ebbe hinterließ es eine entzweite Welt mit verzerrten Orten, welche wir 'Mysteriöse Dungeons' nannten.

Auch mit solch einen großen Verlust haben wir Pokémon mit der Weisheit, die die Menschen hinterlassen haben, unsere eigene Gesellschaft entwickelt, welche dieser unserer Vermittler ähnelt. Um die Geheimnisse dieser veränderten Welt - wenn auch flüchtig - zu sehen. Und so bekam diese Welt in unserer Zeitrechnung ihren Namen - 'Wunder'.

- Excerpt from The Legendarium of Wander

Notes:
  • I split the sentence "Seltsame Kreaturen, welche die Weisheit bekommen haben die Geheimnisse unserer Welt von den Göttern zu sehen und zu verstehen, aber nicht alleine anwenden zu können ohne die Unterstützung von Kreaturen wie uns." into two, not because it was wrong, but because of readability. It now translates as "Strange creatures, who had been given the wisdom to see the secrets of this world by the gods. But they were not able to apply those secrets, not without help from creatures like us"
  • I reworded the last sentence "Und mit das wurde unsere Welt in den Jahren nach unserer Zeitrechnung als 'Wunder' bezeichnet.". The way the original translation words it, is a bit complicated, but it also sounds like something you'd find in the bible. What I've been going for is more akin to the opening of a fantasy epos and puts emphasis on 'Wunder.' It's up to you what you like better.
    The line I wrote translates to "And that how this world in our era got its name - 'Wonder'"
  • Very correct about the comment on "Der Große Blitz". It sounds very reminiscent on the bombing of London during WW2. But the way they translated it, no one would draw that connection any more. I like "Der Glühende Blitz" a lot!
  • In the Sengo and Vipitis part, I changed the verbs around a bit to avoid repetition with "to live / leben"
  • You might want to think about the books title "The Legendarium of Wander", which is english, even though the excerpt is German. It would translate to "Das Legendar von Wunder" or "Wunder's Legendar" in German, but none of those really sound that cool. "Gesammelte Legenden aus Wunder" is a bit more freeform, but sounds like a collection of fairytales.
  • The part "von den Göttern zu sehen" confuses me, even in your version. I was tempted to replace it with "durch die Augen der Götter zu sehen", which would translate to "to see through the eyes of the gods", but then decided against it. See through one's eyes implies a bit more agency than you may have intended. But if you think otherwise, feel free to replace that passage
  • "Mysteriöse Dungeons" as translation for "Mystery Dungeons" is a bit wonky. "Dungeons" is not an inherently german term, but doesn't have a clear counterpart either. One variant would be "Mysteriöse Höhlen" (mysterious caves). If that is too concrete, maybe the more esoteric "Mysteriöse Orte" (mysterious places) would be fitting. But feel free to decide yourself.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
Notes:
  • I split the sentence "Seltsame Kreaturen, welche die Weisheit bekommen haben die Geheimnisse unserer Welt von den Göttern zu sehen und zu verstehen, aber nicht alleine anwenden zu können ohne die Unterstützung von Kreaturen wie uns." into two, not because it was wrong, but because of readability. It now translates as "Strange creatures, who had been given the wisdom to see the secrets of this world by the gods. But they were not able to apply those secrets, not without help from creatures like us"
  • I reworded the last sentence "Und mit das wurde unsere Welt in den Jahren nach unserer Zeitrechnung als 'Wunder' bezeichnet.". The way the original translation words it, is a bit complicated, but it also sounds like something you'd find in the bible. What I've been going for is more akin to the opening of a fantasy epos and puts emphasis on 'Wunder.' It's up to you what you like better.
    The line I wrote translates to "And that how this world in our era got its name - 'Wonder'"
  • Very correct about the comment on "Der Große Blitz". It sounds very reminiscent on the bombing of London during WW2. But the way they translated it, no one would draw that connection any more. I like "Der Glühende Blitz" a lot!
  • In the Sengo and Vipitis part, I changed the verbs around a bit to avoid repetition with "to live / leben"
  • You might want to think about the books title "The Legendarium of Wander", which is english, even though the excerpt is German. It would translate to "Das Legendar von Wunder" or "Wunder's Legendar" in German, but none of those really sound that cool. "Gesammelte Legenden aus Wunder" is a bit more freeform, but sounds like a collection of fairytales.
  • The part "von den Göttern zu sehen" confuses me, even in your version. I was tempted to replace it with "durch die Augen der Götter zu sehen", which would translate to "to see through the eyes of the gods", but then decided against it. See through one's eyes implies a bit more agency than you may have intended. But if you think otherwise, feel free to replace that passage
  • "Mysteriöse Dungeons" as translation for "Mystery Dungeons" is a bit wonky. "Dungeons" is not an inherently german term, but doesn't have a clear counterpart either. One variant would be "Mysteriöse Höhlen" (mysterious caves). If that is too concrete, maybe the more esoteric "Mysteriöse Orte" (mysterious places) would be fitting. But feel free to decide yourself.
Thanks so much for your feedback, it helped me and my resource iron things out and we went back to tidy up the opener to be a bit more solid and natural-sounding, with an added Author's Note explaining the jump away from the canonical name for Mystery Dungeons in this story. (I had no idea that the localization offices could get that lazy at times, but the more you know... :V)

Though on that note, it took a little longer and turned out a little longer than I initially expected, but I'm back with the first proper update to the story. It's a tad longer, but this is hovering at about the upper end of what I expect for final chapter lengths. Mostly because I don't feel like editing much more than about 20 pages at a time for a side project. ^^

Curious? Then let's pick things up right where we left off last time:
 
Chapter 1 - Thief

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
FEDDnT3.png


In den frühen Jahren nach den glühenden Blitz, die Pokémon, welche mitsamt und unter Menschen gewohnt haben, hatten es schwierig. Ihr Aufschrei hat nach einiger Zeit den Mitleid der Götter unserer Welt hervorgerufen, welche uns den Segen des Gelöbnisses geschenkt haben. Das große Abkommen unter Pokémon, welches unsere Zivilisation untermauert, welches die unterschiedlichen Welten von den Städten, den Feldern, der Wildnis und den mysteriösen Orten voneinander säumt.

Anschließend haben sich die Pokémon von Wunder in zwei Gruppen unterteilt. In eine haben sich die Pokémon gesammelt, welche zur Zeiten der Menschen in der Wildernis gelebt haben wie es die Natur vorgeschrieben hatte. Als Gegenleistung, um ihre eigenen vorgeschriebenen Angelegenheiten durchzuführen, haben sie das Recht aufgegeben mit den Pokémon, welche in den Feldern und Städten leben, einzugreifen, und sind heute bekannt als „Wilde“.

Die Pokémon in der anderen Gruppe, welche in den Feldern und Städten lebten, sind geblieben um die Weisheit der verstorbenen Menschen under denen sie gelebt haben zu streben. Ihnen wurde Schutz von der strengen Natur von den Göttern geschenkt, solange sie auch ihre Zugehörigkeiten trugen. Als Gegenleistung haben sie ihr Recht aufgegeben, sich mit Zähnen und Klauen zu ernähren, und durften nur von den Ernten ihrer Feldfrüchte speisen, von den Gegangenen ergattern und den Gummis die sie herstellten sich ernähren. Diese Pokémon sind wir, die wir heute als „Zivile“ kennen und nennen.

Und wie auch mit allen was Ordnung hat, gibt es auch diese die danach streben, diesen Schutz und die Strukturen zu zerrütten. Die vielleicht abscheulichsten unter denen sind die Ganoven, Ungeziefer, welche in der Wildnis oder den mysteriösen Orten auf leichte Beute warten und manchmal auch Leben beenden, welche sich auch feige versuchen sich hinter den Schutz der Gelöbnis zu verstecken und sich in den Siedlungen der Zivilen untertauchen.

Solche Kreaturen haben schon seit unsere Geschichte geschrieben wurde existiert. Ihnen ist es egal wie schwer oder brutal sie dafür von den Königen und Herrschern unserer Gefilde bestraft werden, es wird immer solche geben, die ein solches Leben auswählen.


- Auszug aus »Die Gesammelten Legenden aus Wunder«



The next day, Lyle left work at the Oran field earlier than usual, under the pretense that his dinner from the prior night disagreed with him. He was met with disapproving frowns and accusations of slacking off, which was to be expected when effectively claiming to have come down with the world's best-timed stomachache. But with less pay to give out that day and his recent performance having been less-than-impressive, much to Lyle's relief, his overseers hardly attempted to stop him.

Within a couple hours, he found himself following Kate through the twists and turns of Waterhead Cave, one of the Mystery Dungeons within a day's journey of Moonturn Square. It was said that places like them were areas where the space and time of the world had been damaged and intermixed with other dimensions from the effects of the Great Flash. The legendary sundering that had spirited away the humans of yore, leaving only their ruins and fragments of their knowledge behind as proof they once lived in Wander...

Along with distorted spaces like this soggy cave of a Mystery Dungeon. Most of them had formed far back enough in history for their origins to be shrouded in myth and folklore, with Waterhead Cave being one of the exceptions. The place had been formed by a patch of Distortion settling around a waterlogged cave centuries ago, and true to its name, it fed water into a nearby river that passed by just outside of it.

A low growl echoed off the surrounding gray stone walls of a small chamber in between three passages. There, Lyle paused on all fours and looked about warily for any sign of a hostile Wilder nearing. After a moment seeing naught but Kate ahead of him, he realized that the sound was coming from his own stomach. … Right, moving through a Mystery Dungeon's Distortion was supposed to wear down Pokémon, and one of the ways that manifested was through hunger pangs.

Lyle sighed and reared upright to fish a Tiny Apple out of his satchel, and chewed at it to work it down to a discardable core. Whatever his thoughts, backing out from Kate's offer now would be an ordeal in and of itself. How would he even find his way out on his own?

… Why on earth had he ever agreed to come to this gottverdammten hole?

He felt his stomach rumble again, evidently not yet quieted by his meal. Right, that was why he'd agreed to this, and backing out wouldn't solve any of his problems back outside this Mystery Dungeon. If he was going to turn Kate's offer down, he should at least get a better feel for what he'd be getting into first.

Lyle stopped nibbling at his Tiny Apple for a moment, and looked about his surroundings where he saw a nearby stream of glowing blue water running past rounded stalagmites. The blue water was Waterhead Cave's defining feature, and the primary source of light for the Mystery Dungeon's floors beyond his body's fire.

He'd heard in the past that the water was supposedly filled with some sort of plankton that gave off light in the dark. But considering the strange and surreal nature of Mystery Dungeons, he'd just as easily have believed it if the light were an effect caused by its Distortion. After all, he only needed to look up above him for a reminder of its effects.

There, off in the distance, was the cave floor's ceiling. And on it, he could see the outlines of another floor of chambers and passages. There was even a set of falls filled with the same vibrant blue water that dumped out into a set of pools, except it all remained firmly over his head and stubbornly defied gravity like a roosting Zubat.

"Oi! Hurry up, princess!"

Lyle looked over at Kate, who was waiting on him with her arms folded impatiently. The Quilava sighed and hurriedly finished up what was left of his Tiny Apple. Whatever enigmas lay behind the inner workings of Mystery Dungeons, they weren't terribly relevant to him or Kate. The two of them were there because such places were easy terrain for Outlaws to cover their tracks. Though after six floors' worth of travel through the dank, distorted floors of Waterhead Cave with Kate constantly goading him to hurry up, Lyle was starting to wonder if these Mistral Marauders and their allies had overdone it a bit.

"Would it really have killed you all to just bribe a barkeep to look the other way and planned things out in a tavern?" he grumbled.

"Tch, come now, you're not that out of practice, are you?" Kate scoffed. "We're hitting up a caravan! Where else did you expect us to gather together before the big job?"

Lyle shot back a sour frown, casting the thinned core of his apple aside before drawing up to his guide. He watched as Kate turned her attention behind her and up towards the left, and followed her gaze to a passage in one of the stony walls of the chamber they were in where he saw fog spilling out. Their destination, he presumed.

"Hrmph, I'd think someone would've considered meeting in a place with some actual creature comforts," the Quilava huffed. "If I'd known you were going to drag me all the way to some Pocket in the middle of Waterhead Cave, I'd have thought twice about agreeing to this job."

"With over fifty 'mons in the mix? You'd get townsfolk asking questions," Kate scoffed back. "And if we tried to camp in the forest with a party that big, we'd get spotted or smelt out!"

The Sneasel stopped in order to tie a string around her right claw, and passed a loose end about the length of her body and over to her Quilava companion.

"Needed some help getting in?" she asked. "The Distortion in the Pockets here gets a bit thicker than what we went through at the entrance."

Lyle flattened his ears at the gesture, and let the fire on his body flicker with a sour frown.

"Kate, I might be out of practice, but I know how to get through a Mystery Dungeon's fog," he insisted. "I'm not some rookie Hunter who needs my paw held just to make it to the first set of stairs!"

The Sneasel said nothing in reply, before shrugging her shoulders and turning for the mist.

"Suit yourself. Just don't fall behind."

Kate stepped ahead into the fog as the string trailed after her, prompting to Lyle lower his head and follow along. Such fog cropped up as barriers between the distorted insides of Mystery Dungeons and their surroundings, both around their exteriors as a whole, and around the little islands of normality inside like the Pocket they were approaching. With each step forward, the mist around them thickened and less and less of the surrounding cave passage was visible.

About thirty paces in, the fog grew too thick for Lyle to make out his Sneasel guide, and the effects of the Distortion similarly diminished his ability to hear or smell her. As eerie as the experience was, none of it was surprising. He'd been through this song and dance before, including when he and Kate had first come into Waterhead Cave from its entrance.

The Quilava stepped forward, and yelped after feeling his forepaw stumble after stepping on a patch of loose earth that suddenly gave way and dropped into a foggy void. B-Blauflamme, that was way too close. He could've sworn he was still on the path, but if he was, that wouldn't have happened.

The Quilava stood paralyzed for a moment, unsure where to even start to retrace his steps amid the thick mist about him, when he felt Kate's string from earlier brush his hindlegs. Reflexively, Lyle jumped and pounced on it, seeing that he'd come across its end as he felt it run taut in his paws.

Guess the string was good for something after all. The Fire-type breathed a quiet sigh of relief before rearing up, and after feeling tugs at the string's other end, followed cautiously after his unseen guide. After making his way forward a few steps, Lyle watched as the fog thinned little by little, until he could just make out Kate looking back at him with an amused smirk.

"So you needed help after all," she snorted, prompting Lyle to flatten his ears out in embarrassment.

"… Shut up," he grumbled. "This isn't helping your argument earlier for not meeting in a more normal place."

"Well, it means that if someone comes after us, they're gonna have to work for it. Kinda hard to scent someone when the floors constantly reshuffle and occasionally blow away everything that's on 'em," she said. "Besides, it's not as if there aren't other benefits to coming out here."

"Like what?"

The sound of chatter filtered into the fog from up ahead, as Kate motioned to follow. Lyle stepped forward warily as the mist cleared, revealing an encampment consisting of an unruly mass of tents, hastily-assembled lean-tos, and mats spread out to sleep on where a small mob of Pokémon was milling about. Three particularly prominent tents anchored the Outlaw hideout, one in the center, one to the right, and one to the left. At once, the Quilava noticed that the center tent was teeming with Pokémon gathered together, with two tents anchoring the ends of the encampment on either side of it. On the left was one with a green banner with a lighter twin-peaked design set out in front of it, while on the right was one with a blue banner with a lighter wind swirl that matched Kate's scarf. The patterns of the Outlaw bands who were pulling this job off, he presumed.

"Well, I don't think that some bar would let us go all out with interior decorating like this!" the Sneasel chuckled. "Come on! Make yourself at home!"

Lyle wandered about the encampment with Kate following at his side, gawking at the center tent that had been set up with makeshift wooden tables spread out under it. There, a number of wooden barrels that smelt of beer had been rolled into place at the corners. And in between at the different tables, Lyle could overhear Pokémon in green and blue scarves talking with each other much as the customers at the Oran field's tavern might.

There was an Arbok and a Pinsir trading wartime gossip of how an entire Fähnlein₁ of soldiers from the army had been curiously wandering the countryside. A little further off, a Granbull and Furfrou played a game of cards with drawings of different Pokémon on them as the Granbull reminded her challenger 'You know how this works, draw seven cards and play a basic'.

The entire gathering almost reminded Lyle of a market day in a village, or the reveries of the Autumn Festival around the start of Weinmond₂ in just a couple weeks, except it was significantly less legal and it had a homeliness and warmth that he hadn't known in many, many moons. The Fire-type shook his head and let his muzzle curl up in a small smile and a contented sigh, when he felt a sharp prod at his shoulder.

"Well look what the Delcatty dragged in!" a low, rough voice cheered.

Lyle rubbed at his shoulder and turned with a frown, only to pause at the sight of a Marowak in a green scarf drawing back his bone. The Ground-type shot a cheerful grin back and wagged his tail, as Lyle couldn't help but be disarmed by the greeting and ease his features into a smile.

"Alvin…"

"'Once a thief, always a thief,' huh? Took you long enough to come back, Lyle!" the Marowak chuckled. "And here I was worried that you'd gotten caught after you tried to get out of the game!"

Lyle's smile faded almost as soon as the lizard's words left his mouth. No, this was a one-time affair, and for his own sake, it was best for Alvin to be clear about that. The Quilava inhaled sharply and shook his head back with a stern frown.

"Just… don't get too ahead of yourself, Alvin," he insisted. "I'm just here for this one job. If it weren't for me being in a bit of a tight spot, I'd still be doing my day job."

Alvin's expression visibly drooped at Lyle's reply, clearly disappointed with his erstwhile friend's lack of interest in returning to a life that just two years ago, they'd happily shared with one another. Before the Ground-type could stew on the matter, Kate stepped forward, and prodded at Lyle's shoulder with her claw and gave a teasing smirk.

"Yeah, yeah, that's what they all say," she scoffed. "I know you, Lyle. All you need is to dust off those skills a bit, and you'll be back to your old self again!"

"That's right! I mean, we're probably gonna have to lay low after this job anyways, so you can hang around for a little bit at least, can't ya?" Alvin insisted. "Why with how good the Terra Tyrants have been for me and the Mistral Marauders have been for Kate, you'll be in good paws afterwards."

Lyle said nothing for a moment. He probably should've been more annoyed at the prospect of having to ghost his job for multiple days since it likely meant having to scrape and bow to not get kicked off of it. And yet, something about the prospect of spending that time with old friends seemed to drain his misgivings away, prompting him to shake his head and smile back at his companions.

"Heh, I suppose it can't really be helped with you two dragging me back into trouble, can it?" he replied. The stoat opened his mouth to ask Alvin of his exploits from the past two years, only to be cut off by a sharp shout from behind. The three turned about, seeing a Seismitoad blocking a Thievul, garbed in the same colors at the entrance of a third tent in the same style as the Terra Tyrants' and the Mistral Marauders' tents that he hadn't noticed before.

"Oi! This tent's for Riparian Raiders only!" the Seismitoad barked, making the fox flinch and shrink back.

"But the boss just went in there earlier!" the Thievul protested. "It's even got our colors!"

"Hrmph, you aren't him and there's business going down," the Water-type shot back. "Don't you see the red? Your crew's green, so sod off and poke around your own tent!"

Lyle blinked and eyed the tent as the Thievul was run off. On closer examination, the banner in front of the tent had a design with a pair of wedge-like blades laid out in a rough chevron on it. Though 'red' … as in the color of an Apple? Alvin had explained to him in the past that its color looked different enough to Pokémon like him that they could pick it out from sight alone without needing smell or other senses to help them. So then all along, the 'mons in green scarves he'd spotted were really from two entirely different bands of Outlaws!

"Pah, I told those Riparian Raiders 'mons that they ought to change the shade of their scarves for this job!" Alvin scoffed. "That's the third guy who's bumbled in like that!"

Lyle paused and blinked at Alvin's grumbling. Kate had mentioned that their job would involve the Mistral Marauders and the Terra Tyrants, but…

"'Riparian Raiders'?" Lyle asked. "I thought that this was just a job between two crews."

"It was," a higher-pitched voice cut in. "Until your friends' bosses realized that it'd take more than mere greed to get the better of that caravan."

Lyle, Kate, and Alvin turned to their left, where they spotted a Heliolisk in a scarf with the tent's same bladed pattern and evidently red fabric sauntering up, folding his arms as he shot a sidelong glance with an unimpressed scoff.

"Really, we're the ones who pointed out the caravan would be passing by a common watering spot!" the Electric-type insisted. "If you went in without our guidance, you'd probably be marching yourself straight to being press-ganged into the army!"

Lyle paused and frowned back at the Heliolisk. Attitude aside, something felt… off about the 'mon's speech. It was said that Pokémon who came from walks of life where using Hightongue was more common had it reflect in their accent. And with an accent like his, the 'mon sounded like he'd be more at home sucking up to some noble family in their salon than out here in a Mystery Dungeon's Pocket rubbing shoulders with other Outlaws!

"… I'm sorry, who are you again?" he asked.

"The name's 'Dalton,'" the basilisk answered. "It's my job to help shock and awe the Riparian Raiders' enemies on land or on water. And I'd say I do a pretty damn good job at it."

Lyle cocked a brow puzzledly, when a chirping voice chimed in from behind.

"Easy there, Dalton. Go off making too many enemies around camp, and we'll be short on help before our job even starts!"

The Quilava turned his attention over to a Swellow in the same, blade-patterned garb approaching, who ruffled his feathers with a dismissive scoff.

"The name's 'Artem', and we're from a crew under the lead of Parker the Vanguard that operates on rivers for our jobs. Hence the name," the Swellow explained. "I mean, I guess it's a bit much for us to expect more sedentary gangs to be familiar with us, given we used to operate near Port Velhen. But your bosses wouldn't have pulled us in if they thought they had a good bead on their surroundings."

The Swellow's explanation drew a sharp frown from Kate, as Alvin shook his head with a low grumble and gave an aside glance at his Quilava companion.

"We… kinda wound up taking them on as extra help at the last moment," he sighed.

"And you're certainly very lucky for it. Boss Parker doesn't shy away from sticking it to a Grünhäuter or two with her blades!" Dalton piped. "It's always a treat to part those leeches from money they shook down from others. Serves the rotters right!"

Dalton brushed past the three as Lyle looked after the Electric-type with an exasperated scowl, the Riparian Raider's Swellow companion taking wing after him. The Quilava felt a nudge at his shoulder and turned to see Kate elbowing him, whispering out of the side of her mouth with the barest attempts of hiding her words from the departing Heliolisk.

"Don't worry, the Samurott running that scaly wannabe's gang doesn't have anywhere near as much of a pole up her butt as he does," she reassured.

Lyle blinked, but decided not to question the matter too deeply as he took in his surroundings. Now that he thought about it, where were the leaders of the Outlaw bands? This entire time, he'd seen plenty of their members, but no one who obviously stood out as leader material…

"Oi! Everybody simmer down a bit!" a sharp, avian voice cried out.

Lyle and his companions quieted along with the other gathered Outlaws, turning their attention to the right of the central tent where the forms of a Staraptor in a blue scarf, a Steelix donning a few battered segments of green armor with similarly-colored garb, and a Samurott in a red scarf with the patterns Lyle had spotted earlier could be seen gathered just outside. After seeing a few other Outlaws get up and leave their seats and his friends set off, Lyle followed along, gathering with a small crowd of other Pokémon at a wide, cleared space where lines had been sketched into the ground. A few Pokémon there at the edge were practicing erecting and dispelling arcing barriers of light, Protect from the looks of it. As the three leaders made their way out, it quickly occurred to Lyle that this space was a battlefield.

"We're about ready to give the briefing for the job tonight. But it's come to our attention that we've got some prospective help here in our midst," the Staraptor said. "So everyone who's looking to join up, make your way to the front."

Lyle watched as Pokémon about the gathering in scarves of different colors made their way to the front of the gathering, joining the procession himself towards the front of the crowd in full view of the three leaders. Kate and Alvin shadowed him to the row behind, but even with their close presence, the Quilava couldn't help but feel put on the spot as the leaders sized them up and the Steelix—Ford of those 'Terra Tyrants', he assumed—let out a sharp snort.

"Naturally, we're not just going to let you come aboard," the Steelix added. "If you want in, you're gonna need to impress us."

Right. Every Outlaw leader in all of Varhyde, and probably the whole world of Wander worth their salt made a point of first getting a feel for their prospective recruits' strength. And the fastest way of doing that was usually through a quick bout of sparring. Lyle's ears pricked at the sound of keratin scraping, as he spotted the Samurott of the three stepping forward with a drawn blade and sharp scowl.

"As such, we'll be testing the mettle of anyone who wishes to join us," she barked. "You will have one minute to hold out against your choice of one of us in the ring. Should you be overpowered, fail to impress any of us, or just don't have the guts to put your hide out on the line…"

Parker raised her blade and motioned off towards the edge of the crowd to Lyle's right. There, a Beheeyem floated forward, and gave a gruff wave back as the otter turned to the gathered Outlaws.

"Roswell here will show you the exit from this Mystery Dungeon," the Water-type said. "And you can try your luck stealing from marks more appropriate for your skills."

Myra paused and shook her plumage before looking about the group, her eyes going from one unfamiliar-scarved Pokémon to the other before stopping and shaking her head with a stern frown.

"You new faces in the crowd are being rather quiet right now," the Staraptor said. "Do we have any first takers?"

Lyle looked about and noticed a few other Pokémon like him in the crowd who weren't wearing any of the bands' garb. A few seemed to be uneasy about the challenge and traded worried murmurs and glances, and it was honestly hard to fault them.

All of the Outlaw leaders seemed like formidable sparring partners, and with his acceptance on the line, he honestly didn't know which of the three was best to challenge. Ford was the obvious choice, but it was unlikely he'd just lucked across those green armor plates. Either they were some sort of trophy, or he'd kept them as a memento from a prior life in the army. Myra was imposing, to say the least, and she'd be able to easily hound him from the air. And Parker… well, it was already obvious what the hurdles for sparring with her would be.

… Where would he even start? Lyle glanced at the others for inspiration, and noticed that even in the midst of his and the other Outlaws' uncertainty, some of the audience members seemed eager for the challenge. Foremost among them was a Lurantis who strode forward and shot an arrogant grin back at the three Outlaw leaders.

"Yeah, I'll take a shot at that Samurott!" the Grass-type insisted. "I could beat her with my eyes closed!"

Parker narrowed her eyes, before stepping onto the battlefield and giving a twirl of her unsheathed seamitar, tightening her grip about the hilt and holding it tense.

"Bold words, Lurantis," she snorted. "Let's see you back them up."

The Lurantis stepped onto the battlefield and the pair took their marks at opposite ends of the dividing line, both bracing for battle as the Protect users at the fringes took their positions. Myra and Ford made their way to opposite ends of the battlefield, the Staraptor grasping a small hourglass on the ground with her talons before she spoke up and launched into a countdown.

"Drei… Zwei… Eins… Los!₃" the hawk shouted.

In a flash, the Lurantis lunged forward at the Samurott, bracing his leafy claws for a slash that he aimed at the base of the otter's neck. The mantis' strike found its mark and drew a pained bellow, prompting him to hop back and click his mandibles with a self-satisfied chitter.

"Hah! Piece of cake-"

The Lurantis' confident mood promptly crashed to earth after Parker brought the flat of her seamitar down and clubbed him across his face, sending the mantis flying off his feet and crashing onto his back in the dirt. The Lurantis tried to get up, when an icy ray abruptly sailed in and froze one of his claws to the ground. The Grass-type went wide-eyed, desperately trying to pull himself free when he looked up at an incoming blue blur and saw the otter leaping up and bringing her blades down with an overhead slash and an audible crack.

"AAAAAAAGH!"

Lyle and his companions flinched as they heard the Lurantis' screams as the blades dug into his thorax, the Water-type pulling them back trailing flecks of yellowish fluid. The Grass-Type's frozen claw had freed from the ground in the struggle, but his fighting spirit had been wholly depleted as he curled up and tried to shield his wounded thorax with a low whimper. Parker spat some water onto her blades and circled about the felled Lurantis, the hapless mantis desperately trying to scrabble away as she strode forward and threw a paw forward.

The Samurott pulled the Grass-type Outlaw up by the back of his neck, the frightened bug flinching and looking away as he braced for a finishing blow… which never came. Instead, the leader of the Riparian Raiders looked over her foe with disgust for a brief moment, before dropping him to the ground on his stomach and leaving him to look up at the three Outlaw leaders gathering about him.

"Hrmph, I expected as much," Parker spat. "The Riparian Raiders have no place for idle boasters on it."

"I'm out too," Myra scoffed. "You lost me at the whole 'whimpering on the ground' moment."

"Tch, what is this, a Day Care?" Ford growled. "Get up and take a hike already!"

Ford nipped at the back of the Lurantis' scarf and dragged the Grass-type up onto his feet, the still-shivering Outlaw hobbling off the field as fast as his condition let him for the Beheeyem teleporter at the crowd's edge. After a moment to roll his eyes at the Lurantis' now-depleted bravado, the Beheeyem grasped the Grass-type and the pair vanished in a flash, leaving the gathered Outlaws to look a moment at the blank space where the two were, and slowly turn their attention back to the battlefield where Myra shot a sour frown back.

"Any other takers?" the Staraptor demanded. "If you think that this is going to be easy, do yourself a favor and give up right now."

No immediate reply came and for a second, Lyle worried that the bosses would start forcing matches. Some nervous hems and haws floated about the would-be recruits at the front of the crowd. Some like a Pidgeotto studied the three leaders carefully, trying to gauge who their best sparring partner would be. Others like a visibly unnerved-looking Absol were unsettled by Parker's brutal opener, and debated with their peers if it was better to withdraw in advance. Lyle noticed Kate and Alvin looking at him uneasily, evidently worried he'd be scared off much the same. The Quilava shook his head and stepped forward as fire flickered to life from his body's vents.

He had to impress these three, didn't he? Even if he had to keep himself from shivering and part of him thought this was a terrible idea, fortune did favor the bold, and the boldest thing 'Lyle the Fleetfoot' could do right then and there was to dance circles around Parker for a minute.

"I would like a chance to challenge the Samurott."

Alvin went wide-eyed at his friend's request, and hurriedly forced his way through the front and up to Lyle's side. With widened eyes, he brought his free paw down to Lyle's shoulder and sharply tugged at it.

"Lyle, what are you doing?!" he hissed. "Didn't you just see what she-?!"

Parker raised a brow at the stoat's request and twitched her whiskers puzzledly, before shaking her head and narrowing her eyes in reply.

"I would encourage you to learn from others' mistakes, Quilava," she huffed. "There isn't anything you can do that that Lurantis couldn't."

… Honestly part of him was regretting this choice already, but the fastest way to make it onto a crew was by putting on an impressive display. And he didn't have to win against Parker, just hold out for a minute. And the bosses didn't say anything about how he needed to do that either. The Quilava glanced back at Alvin and gave a brief grunt in reply.

"Alvin, relax. I've got this," he insisted. "Though as for your concerns, Admurai₄…"

Lyle reared up and turned around, facing his back towards the Samurott. The Quilava forced the fire out of the vents on his head and tail, the flames coming out vigorously enough to distort the surrounding air before he looked over his shoulder with a determined scowl.

"Why not give me a chance to try and prove you wrong?" he insisted. "If I fail, then that's on me, isn't it?"

Low murmurs went about the gathered Outlaws, as mutters of 'he's crazy', 'whelp, he's a goner', and other doubts of the Quilava's odds and soundness of mind floated about that he tried his best to block out. Even Alvin and Kate seemed to be alarmed by Lyle's choice of challenger, as the Marowak attempted to speak up, only to be cut off by a sharp huff from the Samurott as she rolled her eyes and scowled down at her Quilava challenger.

"So be it," she spat. "But don't expect addressing me in a polite tone to earn you any leniency. Let's just hurry this along so we can test more serious candidates."

Lyle sucked in a sharp breath and stepped onto the battlefield as Parker took her place, as Alvin, looking around and sensing he was too late to make a difference, grudgingly slunk off back for into audience. Lyle felt the fire churn in his belly, his vents flickering anxious, impatient cinders as he sized his opponent up.

Myra and Ford took their places at opposing ends of the battlefield along with the Protect users, as Ford performed the countdown that time. As soon as the Steelix's rumbling "Los!" left his mouth and Myra flipped the hourglass timer over, the Quilava's fire sprang to life and he jumped onto his toes, darting side-to-side as the Samurott approached him with her blades drawn.

"I fail to see what you're doing differently here," she harrumphed.

Parker abruptly spat up a jet of water at Lyle's place on the battlefield, the Quilava somersaulting out of the way as he felt stray droplets cling to his pelt and heard a hiss ring out from water that had strayed into his fire. Lyle rolled onto his feet and returned to his rhythmic back and forth, a small smirk spreading over his muzzle as his unease began to dissipate. Beyond getting him a bit wet, the Samurott's attack had little to show for her effort.

Deep breaths. He might have been out of practice for two years, but he clearly still did a damn good job at living up to his reputation as 'Lyle the Fleetfoot'.

The otter narrowed her eyes and spat up another Water Pulse, only for Lyle to evade it again. She tried a third time, but the Quilava's swift feet proved to be his salvation once more as he unexpectedly bobbed and weaved aside from her attacks. The Samurott gave a sharp frown, as she realized that perhaps she'd underestimated her challenger, and barked out in reply.

"Hrmph, it's certainly a difference, but you won't land any blows just by running away all the time!"

Parker formed a large orb of water in her mouth, spitting it onto the ground as it fanned out into a spreading mass of water that she leapt onto. The mass churned forward, cresting into a wave that she rode straight towards the Quilava. Lyle froze for a moment as the wave approached, the Samurott coming closer and closer until at the last second, he jumped up, and latched onto her arm as she rode the Surf forward, feeling briny water splash against his pelt as he dug his paws into the Outlaw leader's hide.

"Gah!"

Lyle hastily clambered up the Samurott's arm and onto her shoulder as bluish-white fire built in his mouth, the Quilava spitting it down on the otter's forward shoulders as she audibly winced and looked back to see him, along with a large burn on her back. The Quilava smiled at his handiwork, as the lingering pain from the burn was bound to throw Parker off her game while moving her limbs about, and make her safer for him to approach in close quarters. The Fire-type's satisfaction proved short-lived, as Parker abruptly bucked her body and attempted to shake her unwelcome passenger loose.

The stoat threw his paws onto the Water-type's scarf and clung on for dear life, as a few cheers and entertained laughs came from the gathering of Outlaws as in spite of her best efforts, the stoat stubbornly hung on. After a few fruitless attempts to shake him loose, Parker spoke up, her tone evidencing a grudging respect for her furry nuisance.

"Hmph, clever show, Quilava," she said. "But there's a vulnerability you've been overlooking."

Lyle felt Parker lurch and tightened his grasp on her scarf, only to look to his left and his eyes to shrink to pins as he saw the ground fast approaching. The next thing he knew, the world abruptly went dark as the Samurott rolled over, the full weight of her body pressing him into the dirt. Lyle yelped and wheezed for air, the light returning to his vision just as a blur of blue passed over him. The Quilava lay on the ground stunned for a moment trying to catch his breath, when he felt a slashing pain dig into his flank and send him airborne.

"A-AAAAH!"

He sailed through the air, watching the ground shrink for about a second, before it rapidly drawing near again and he faceplanted into the dirt. The stoat's body pinwheeled over to the edge of the battlefield before he felt his back hit something warm and solid. Lyle lay there as his vision ran muddy, and looked up to see the dissipating flash of a Protect barrier and its Azumarill creator looking down at him before pushing him back onto the field. The Quilava let out a dazed groan, hearing the start of a count for time when he heard Alvin and Kate's voices calling out one after the other.

"Lyle!"

"Come on, get it together!"

Lyle staggered up just as he heard a "Zwei" leave Ford's mouth, followed by a few startled gasps in the crowd. His fur was still dripping water, and a glance at his right flank revealed ruddy droplets oozing from underneath his pelt. The Quilava panted hoarsely and tried to flare out his flames, only for them to sputter unevenly, a sure sign that Parker's attack had badly drained him. Enough that he wouldn't be able to weather a second blow of that sort. Just then, he flinched after a low growl filled his ears, making him turn his attention back down the field just in time to see Parker approach with her blades drawn.

"A better show than the last taker, but I'm afraid things are at their end here," the otter snorted. "Have at you!"

The Quilava felt his blood run cold as he heard Parker let out a piercing bellow and charge him with her seamitars at the ready. As the Samurott brought her blades down, Lyle spat up smoke from his throat. The Quilava spewed out a cloud of black haze around him and rolled aside just as Parker's left blade hit the ground with an audible chunk.

Lyle reflexively hopped back from the noise and glanced up to see Parker's silhouette in the smoke tug at her blade and struggle to free it from the battlefield's earth. She- She'd left herself open! This was as good of a chance to land a strike as he was going to get!

Without thinking, the Quilava dashed for Parker and lunged up as he neared. The stoat crouched and spat fire at the tip of his snout, leaping forward and diving into it with a wheeling somersault into the side of Parker's head.

"Grah!"

Parker recoiled and lost her grip on her blade, whirling around to see Lyle having landed behind her panting tiredly. The Samurott shot a sharp glare and let water build up in her throat, ready to deluge her weakened opponent when a loud thud rang out and Ford cried out over the din of battle.

"Time!"

Parker abruptly spluttered, her water coming out inertly and doing little more than to splatter onto the ground. As the Samurott coughed from her fumbled attack, she glanced off at the sidelines to see Ford freeing his tail from the ground, having slammed it to mark the end of the battle. The Samurott stared incredulously, realizing that the full minute had come and gone, before turning back to see Lyle step forward, shooting up a proud, if visibly tired smile back up at her.

"Heh. Sounds like it's been a minute already, and here I am still standing," he said. "That proof enough for you that I can handle this job?"

Parker winced from her burn, before yanking her stuck seamitar from the ground and sheathing it with a loud rattle. The Water-type growled and made her way over to a bag waiting on the side of the battlefield, where she fetched a Rawst Berry and shot a sharp glare back in Lyle's direction.

"Hrmph, you won't be able to run the clock out like that in the field," the Water-type snapped. "Your ability to turn a couple gimmicks in your favor isn't good enough for me to make room for you."

Lyle blanched and pinned his ears back as his body's fire ebbed away. Gods, he was such an idiot. All this time, he'd been so focused on just making it through the entire minute against a foe he was disadvantaged against that he'd completely neglected whether or not he'd offend the very Leaders he needed to impress in the process!

The stoat let his eyes fall towards the ground, feeling a sick churn in his stomach when Myra's voice abruptly spoke up from the sidelines.

"Well, I've certainly got a spot for him," the Staraptor insisted. "The challenge was to last a minute, and he more than delivered."

Lyle looked up to see Parker turning with a raised brow as Myra stepped onto the battlefield and approached him. Lyle blinked incredulously as the Staraptor neared, the hawk giving a small, guarded smile as she sized him up.

"When Kate told me about you, she just said that you could punch above your weight. Not that you could also fight your way out of a corner," she said. "Being able to come back from a tough spot like when Parker nicked there you can mean the difference between coming back to camp with loot, or getting staring down the likes of hard labor or conscription."

"And you're a gutsy one, and that Smokescreen of yours was timed so well that for a second, I thought you had military training," Ford added. "Here I was thinking you'd take the easy way out and spit some fire my way, but you took on long odds and you made something of 'em."

The Steelix also slithered out onto the battlefield, much to Parker's frowning displeasure. Undeterred, Ford looked down, paused a moment in thought, before giving a knowing smile.

"And that's exactly the sort of talent I need on my Terra Tyrants," he said. "So, what'll it be Quilava? Are you feeling like wearing my colors tonight or Myra's?"

Lyle stared up at the two Outlaws leaders, still somewhat incredulous at the turn of events where he'd gone from worrying if any of the bands would accept him, to having the fortune to choose between two who'd offered him a place in their ranks. The Quilava hesitated a moment, looking back at the crowd behind him where the other Outlaws were already trading impressed murmurs over his performance, when his eyes settled on Kate and Alvin and he mulled his choice.

After a moment's hesitation, he turned back and looked up at Myra and Ford, and opened his mouth to answer…



After casting his lot in with the Terra Tyrants and leaving the battlefield, Lyle had his wounds from sparring treated with an Oran Berry. He'd reflexively frowned at the sight at first, as it looked just like the ones he picked day in and day out. Considering his company, might very well have been one of them. But healing was healing, and he made no protest beyond an occasional wince as the fruit was pressed up against his wound so that its juices could provide gauze and help it seal up. Once that was finished, he dutifully scarfed down its pulp, making sure to wring out the last bits of the berry's healing properties.

Within an hour, the field of would-be recruits had winnowed to about ten Pokémon of the gang leaders' liking who were taken on for the night's raid, with the three bosses sizing up a Golbat who'd successfully made it through a minute-long battle with Myra. Lyle had already given his orange berry picker scarf over to the Terra Tyrants for 'safekeeping' and donned one of their green scarves in its stead, still sporting creases in it from being kept folded in storage. The Quilava pawed at his garb from his place in the audience, as Kate shot a teasing grin over at him.

"Having regrets already, huh?" she asked. "After putting on a show dancing around like that, I'm surprised you opted to stick with the slow and plodding group tonight."

Lyle flattened his ears and turned his head up with a low snort.

"It was a hard choice, alright?" he retorted. "It's just that I haven't seen Alvin in two years, and…"

The Marowak shot a sideways glance over at Lyle, when a sharp bark rang out from the center of the encampment.

"Oi, gather round!" Ford bellowed. "We're starting the briefing!"

There, the bosses were making their way with the Golbat towards a mat with a paper map that had been spread out over it. Lyle and his companions made their way over with the other Outlaws, and as they neared, they saw that various glyphs and lines had been added to a rough map of a path running through grassy fields past a riverbend hemmed in by hills on the other end. The whole of the paper was marked up with colored dots and glyphs denoting each of the three Outlaw bands taking part in the raid that night, with sets of squares in the center denoting their marks and targets.

"Alright everyone," Myra said. "Tonight, we're pulling a job that's riskier than our normal fare, but fortune favors the bold. And if we play things right, we'll get a bigger payout than we could hope for in full a season of normal work."

The Staraptor pointed a wing down and followed it along the course of the path to where the squares were drawn on the map, giving it a firm poke before looking up at her audience.

"Tonight, the Roly-Poly Caravan will be sending eight wagons and forty 'mons southbound on the northern route from Moonturn Square," Myra explained. "We're going to pay them a little visit, and help ourselves to their merchandise!"

A few of the Outlaws blinked and traded puzzled frowns with one another at the mention of the 'Roly-Poly Caravan'. Lyle vaguely recalled hearing the name before, but whenever he did, the first thing he'd heard of the outfit didn't have anything to do with its members' strength, but…

"You mean that trading caravan with all the Togedemaru with speech impediments and thing for stupid-sounding names?" a Graveler asked. "That 'Roly-Poly Caravan'?"

"Psh. We're jumping through hoops for this big team-up over a bunch of fat rodents?" a Duraludon chimed in. "How tough could they be?"

"Plenty of others have said the same before and found themselves performing hard labor alongside Rothäuter₅ captured from Edialeigh and stripped of their red plates with that sort of attitude. Or else spent the rest of their miserable lives starving away in Apricorns or marched off as cannon fodder for the army," Parker growled. "I'd strongly encourage you not to be so glib, Duraludon. The Roly-Poly Caravan moves close to half of the material the army ships around here in Varhyde, and they're second only to those lizards from the Colorswap Consortium in their ability to put up a stiff fight."

Lyle blanched at the Samurott's mention of the Colorswap Consortium, and could see the color drain from the faces of a few of the newer recruits in the gathering. The Colorswap Consortium was a network of merchants built around a clan of Kecleon that operated throughout Wander's lands, and Varhyde was no exception. They were allegedly descended from a founder who lived in the same era as Shiren the Wanderer and other early, folkloric explorers of Mystery Dungeons. And more importantly for 'mons like him, they were brutally difficult to rob. Even on the rare occasions where a job successfully was pulled off against them, they had a reputation of having the last laugh against 'mons who wronged them one way or another.

If Parker was mentioning this Caravan in the same breath as them, just how were they supposed to succeed even with the benefit of numbers? Ford seemed to pick up on their misgivings, as he cut in with a sharp harrumph.

"Thankfully for us, those spike balls still have two things they can't match those Kecleon on," he insisted. "They aren't any good chasing down 'mons off the beaten path, and their fighting spirit crumples up when they get split up and forced to fight on their own."

"And that's where our team-up comes in," Myra said.

The Staraptor pointed off at the three clusters of dots that had been drawn on the map, and took a small hunk of charcoal in her beak, drawing faint lines going from their positions into the mass of squares in the center.

"If we come at them from three directions, we stand better odds at splitting their ranks off into more manageable chunks," she explained. "The Riparian Raiders will come in from the water, the Terra Tyrants from the hills, and I and my Mistral Marauders from the route behind them…"

As the leaders continued on laying out the battle plans for their impending raid, Lyle drifted off in his thoughts for a moment. He was prodded back to attention by Alvin poking at him with the tip of his bony club, as the Marowak shot an aside glance at him with a quiet frown.

"What was with you earlier, Lyle?" he demanded. "Parker was the hardest opponent you could've picked to prove yourself, and you almost lost your chance to take part in this job because of it!"

The Quilava said nothing for a noticeable pause, before flattening his ears and shaking his head back. He wasn't really sure he had an answer to his friend's question. But what did it matter anyways at this point?

"Well, I pulled it off," he scoffed back. "So it's a bit moot now."

"Since when were you the type to take risks just to showboat? That's the sort of thing you used to give Kate an earful about!" the Marowak pressed. "Kate said you wanted to come along, so why would you put yourself on a limb like that?"

Lyle looked away and fell into silent contemplation. … Did he want to be here? After all, he'd been lucky to slip away in the confusion on that fateful night when the Foehn Gang had their encampment raided by guards not far from his hometown of Freeden Village. Many of their compatriots hadn't been as fortunate.

His family had found out about his… part-time work not long beforehand and thrown him out of the house over it, with his father being particularly offended. The time since then had been a struggle just to eke out enough to get by on his own, even before Nils had found out about his past and started extorting him… and here he was taking the same old risks in the hope that just this once would make enough of a difference to give him a chance to start over again.

No. This wasn't the same. He'd come in with his back against a wall and with a clearer understanding of what he was getting into. The moment he got what he'd come for, he was out.

"Tch, everything's a risk, Alvin. Robbing 'mons out in the fringes isn't exactly a safe lifestyle, even with numbers to fall back on," the Fire-type retorted. "It just happened that the reward for this job was good enough to chase."

"Can't the same be said for being out on your own?"

Lyle looked up over at Alvin, as his Marowak companion pawed uncomfortably at his shoulder and looked towards the ground in a low voice.

"I mean… Kate said that you weren't really doing well on your own when she found you," he murmured. "And your family at least had to find out you were robbing 'mons on routes before they cut you off…"

Lyle quirked a brow back at the Ground-type. Alvin never liked talking much about his family life, but from what he'd been able to gather back in the Foehn Gang, he was the youngest child of three who'd grown up without his mother, and under the care of a father that didn't particularly care for him. He had… suspicions given Alvin's species for how that'd all came to pass, but he never had the heart to pry deeper. Tonight would be no different as whatever thoughts Lyle had to continue the topic were dispelled by Alvin shaking his head and looking back up at him with a small smile.

"But now that you're here, things don't have to be like that!" he insisted. "I mean, the Terra Tyrants aren't the Foehn Gang, but they still provide something to lean on. And we can watch each others' backs just like old times!"

Lyle looked back at his old friend and couldn't help but feel his features soften and find himself smiling back. Yes this was a giant risk, and part of him was still screaming that it was a stupid idea. But here in this Pocket, in this encampment here with Alvin and Kate and these other Outlaws, he found himself at ease again. He didn't need to worry about the Oran field, or Nils, or how to stretch his meager pay to make ends meet, or the world that was falling apart around him. It was just him, his friends, and their allies plotting together in search of a fresh score… just like those happier days gone by that he kept finding himself revisiting.

"Hey princess!" Ford's voice cried.

"Huh?!"

Lyle jolted up and let his vents flicker to life with a start. The Quilava looked over to see Alvin stiffen up and turn to attention, and followed suit to see Ford scowling down at him with an impatient glare.

"Try to pretend you're paying attention here!" the Steelix snapped, making Alvin bow apologetically and stammer back in affirmation.

"U-Understood, boss!"

The Steel-type turned back to the map on the mat, the three looking at each other for a moment before drifting away. Parker shook her head, and stepped forward to address the gathered Outlaws.

"Mrph, we'll cover more detailed strategies as part of your assignments," she said. "Before we split up to handle them, I think it's about time we set down a few ground rules."

Lyle remained tightly focused on the leaders as they approached. He'd been through such briefings during past team-ups with other crews. Times when the ringleaders would remind their subordinates of what their roles were and what was expected of them. Myra was the first to speak that night, as she strode to the forefront of her peers.

"First off, remember that we're in this to rob those 'mons. Focus on grabbing what you can fence or use for yourself, and don't waste time on stuff that'll raise questions or bog you down," the Staraptor said. "If you can't take it, break it so it can't be used against you."

Lyle thought nothing of the Staraptor's demand, as he'd heard it before many times in the past, and it made a sort of sense. A mark that limped back to town with naught but the hide on his body couldn't come back to bite a 'mon. In the background, Ford clamped onto an empty barrel and rolled it forward, stopping it in full view of the crowd as a dark, serious expression settled over his face.

"Second. It should go without saying, but don't double-cross us," he added. "The only reason we can even think about taking on those Togedemaru tonight is because we're all working together. And if anyone gets any cute ideas…"

The Steelix tensed his tail as a gleaming sheen glinted along its contours, before he brought it down on the barrel and dashed it into splinters. Chunks of wood flew by the feet of the front of the crowd as a few Outlaws who had more sensitive ears flinched from the noise. Ford pulled back his tail, and narrowed his eyes with a low, threatening growl.

"Trust me, it won't end well for them," he snarled. "This isn't the army. If we have to take someone apart, it's gonna happen nice and slow."

Lyle couldn't help but shiver at Ford's threat, but it was simple nature. A cornered 'mon would lash out, and one risking life and limb for a score was no exception. No matter what side of the law a 'mon was on, there were few creatures lower than a traitor, and Outlaws rewarded theirs in much the same fashion as their foes outside the underworld did, if not with greater viciousness. If someone in the crowd tonight was really prepared to sell the lot of them out, he had to admit he wouldn't lose that much sleep over sending the rotter to the Spirit World if it was his hide on the line.

Lyle shook his head to try and get off of the darker train of thought. A sharp huff turned his attention back to the leaders where Parker had taken center stage, and looked about the gathering before speaking up herself.

"Lastly, keep your eyes sharp on the job and look out for your partners… within reason. At the end of the day everyone here wants to get paid and not get caught," she added. "I'm not holding up the rest of my gang to save your sorry tail if we have to retreat and neither will anyone else. So don't sit around waiting to be helped and know when you're getting yourself in over your head."

Lyle bit his lip at the otter's words as the precarity of his situation was thrown back into sharp relief. They were bands of Outlaws, not a charity. They were here to make money, and in dirty, dangerous fashion. If the choice came down to helping a struggling comrade or getting away… well, an Outlaw couldn't spend ill-gotten gains if captured, and the guards didn't cut any breaks for altruism for the Outlaws they did catch. Lyle shook his head uncomfortably, breathing in quietly as Myra looked about the group, before pointing a wing out at the gathered brigands.

"So what do you all say?" Myra asked. "Everyone clear about how this is gonna work? And are you all ready to stick it to those rodents tonight?"

The Staraptor was met by a chorus of 'ayes' and bays of affirmation from the Outlaws, a few whipping themselves up with calls of 'those rats won't know what hit 'em' and similar jeers. The hawk shook her head, before giving a knowing smirk back at the surrounding thieves.

"That's just what we wanted to hear."



Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases

1. Fähnlein - lit. "little banner". A traditional military unit of organization in German-speaking countries equivalent to a Company or Battalion in modern militaries, historically staffed by mercenaries called Landsknechte. Highly varied and non-standardized in headcount, though generally consisting of at least 300 soldiers and mercenaries at full strength.
2. Weinmond - "October" (archaic), lit. "Wine Moon".
3. Drei… Zwei… Eins… Los! - "Three… Two… One… Go!"
4. Admurai - "Samurott"
5. Rothäuter - "redhide(s)". Local insult/slur for soldiers from Edialeigh, similar etymology to Grünhauter.

Teaser Text:

In the early years after the Great Flash, the Pokémon who lived among and with humans had a difficult time. Their outcry was eventually heard by the gods, who in their pity blessed and gifted us with the Vowᵃ. The grand contract among Pokémon that underpins our civilization, that hems in the different worlds of our towns, fields, the wildernesses, and the Mystery Dungeons from each other.

Afterwards, the Pokémon of Wander divided themselves into two groups. In one were the Pokémon who had been living in the wild as they had during the time of the humans, and lived their lives as nature compelled them to. In return for being able to go about their affairs in their own way, they gave up their right to interfere with the Pokémon who were living in the fields and towns, and are known today as 'Wilders'.

The Pokémon in the other group lived on the fields and in towns, pursuing the knowledge of the departed humans whom they lived with. They had been given protection by the gods from the harsh ways of nature as long as they wore their affiliations on their bodies. In return they gave up their right to feed themselves with tooth and claws, and were to only feed themselves from the crops they grew, scavenge from the departed, and consume the Gummis they created. These Pokémon became Pokémon like us, that we know as and call 'Civils'ᵇ.

As with anything that had order, there were those that persued to subvert this protection and structures. The most odious are perhaps the Outlawsᶜ, verminᵈ that wait for easy prey in the wilderness or in Mystery Dungeons, and sometimes even end lives, who cowardly attempt to hide underneath the protection of the Vow and disappear into the settlements of Civils.

Such creatures have existed for as long as our history has been written. It does not matter how harshly they are punished by the kings and rulers of our realms, there will always be those who choose that life.

- Excerpt from 'The Collected Legends from Wander'

a. The word used to render this concept in German, "Gelöbnis" is a more dated term in this usage that often carries religious connotations akin to "Covenant" in English.
b. "Zivile" is not a real word in German much in the same way "Civils" is not a real word in English, and derived from "Zivilisation" much in the same way that "Civils" is from "Civilization" as the German-language version of the term that refers to Pokémon that live in town society in this story.
c. "Ganove(n)" is the German-localization name for "Outlaw(s)" in PMD games. A more literal translation of the term depending on context would be something along the lines of "crook(s)", "criminal(s)", "bandit(s)" or "cheat(s)".
d. Unlike in English, there is not a singular term of "vermin" that is ambiguous between human and animal subjects in German. The word used here, "Ungeziefer" is specifically a term for "vermin as animals", so as to better track the depersoning nature of "vermin" in English and give a sense that the writer was very obviously not a fan of Outlaws.
 
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Chapter 2 - Fate

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
NheTebV.png


Munternplatz, 14. Herbstmond, 1027 nach dem Blitz

An Regionalleiter Baan der Pummel-Karawane,

Eure Majestät wünscht sich Ihren Service der Pummel-Karawane für eine dringende Bitte: einen gesicherten Waggon mit ihrer nächsten Karawane von Reinhafen nach Neuengelstadt unterzubringen. Eine Partie, die für Eure Majestät Siegmund wichtig ist, reist im davorgenannten gesicherten Wagen. Mitunter sollen die reisenden Mitglieder dieser besagten Partie unter allen Umständen geheim bleiben. Sollte auch nur etwas dieser Partie geschehen, wird es mitunter existentielle Konsequenzen für das Wohlsein des Gebietes und den Sieg des Krieges gegen das Königreich der Ideale geben.

Eure Majestät wünschte besonders für Ihre Karawane für ihre erfolgreichen Einträge in Ländern von ganz Wunder, spezifisch ihre Erfolge und Erfahrungsgeschichten von Diensten des Königreichs der Wahrheit, und ihre Kompetenz der Gruppe im Kampf. Als Rücksichtnahme der Geheimhaltung, ein Kommando der Gendarmen von Reinhafen und Munternplatz wird Ihrer Karawane direkte Unterstützung bieten, während meine Streitkräfte in einen fünfzehn Minütigen Abstand zu Fuß folgen. Sollten Sie trotz der vorderen Truppe zusätzliche Unterstützung benötigen, sollten Sie mit den von uns zur Verfügung gestellten Lichtsignalen meine Truppe informieren. Unsere zügigsten Mitglieder werden Ihnen schnellstmöglich mit aller Kraft zur Hilfe leisten.

Eure Majestät ist bereit 200.000 Karolin für Ihre Dienste der Karawane zu bieten. Die Hälfte vor der Abfahrt, und den Rest bei erfolgreicher Ankunft der transportierten Partie. Wer in dieser Partie ist hat Ihnen und Ihre Gruppe keinesfalls zu interessieren. Wäre diese Partie jemand, der ohne weiteres mit einem Träger einfach nach Neuengelstadt ohne ernsthaftes Risiko von Verlust gebracht werden könnte, würde ich sie selber dahin fliegen anstatt auf Ihre Dienste der Karawane durch diesen Brief zu bitten. Sie haben einen Tag nach Empfang dieses Briefes zeit, um sich zu entscheiden, und keine Antwort wird als Ablehnung des Auftrages angesehen.

Wägen Sie Ihre Entscheidungen mit Bedacht. Ich warte auf Ihre Antwort.


- Brief des Grafen von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragoransohn an Regionalleiter Baan Togedemarusohn



A little over an hour later, under the glow of the stars and galaxies in the night sky, Lyle crouched amid the tall grass of a hilltop overlooking the chosen site of their ambush just north of Moonturn Square.

The Quilava dutifully suppressed the flames from his vents to better conceal himself as he watched other Pokémon in green garb take their positions. Ford's Terra Tyrants had fielded its stronger members up to the position and flushed out the grasses between their vantage point and the riverside route of stray Wilders with a few well-placed Foe-Fear Orbs.

Much to Lyle's relief, their efforts proved largely unneeded as the lot made their way up to lie in wait, with Lyle having been posted alongside Alvin and a Mismagius and Scyther from his crew. The other two Terra Tyrants largely kept to themselves, leaving their Marowak and Quilava compatriots to pair up a short distance away and peer down intently at the darkened path below.

"Are you ready, Lyle?" Alvin whispered.

Lyle raised his unlit head and peered up at the night sky. The stars twinkled down as they always did, and a waning half moon hung in the sky, reflecting its glow off the water of a winding river in the background. A new moon would've been ideal for mounting the raid since the auroras over Waterhead Cave were weak tonight, but it was the caravan that set the schedule and not the night sky. The lights twinkling above were out of their paws to control, and the few ways they had of even attempting to obscure them through techniques such as Rain Dance were surely net negatives from the additional attention it'd draw.

"As ready as I'll ever be," the Fire-type replied.

"Good!" a Sneasel's voice suddenly piped up. "Cause that signal from Whiskers and her gang from the river down there means that the caravan's due to show up at any minute!"

Lyle and Alvin jolted up and turned around, seeing Kate in her blue Mistral Marauder scarf waving behind them. Lyle's fire flickered to life with a start for a brief moment, before he hastily smothered it much to the sharp displeasure of the nearby Mismagius and Scyther. The raid hadn't even started yet and here he was slipping up already. But that was getting beside the point, as the Quilava flattened his ears and raised his voice in a low, sharp hiss at his Sneasel companion.

"Kate?! What are you doing here?!"

"Yeah, your crew's supposed to be stalking the caravan and following them in!" Alvin added.

Kate said nothing in reply for a brief moment, before giving a dismissive shrug of her shoulders and giving an impish grin back at her companions.

"Well, Boss Myra needed some scouts to go out," the Dark-type explained. "She never said they all had to come back…"

Lyle let his muzzle curl down into a sour frown and reared up to point a paw sharply at Kate's chest, the Quilava straining against his body to fight back irritated spurts of fire from the vents on his head and tail.

"Look, just do your job like everyone else, alright-?"

"Oi, get down and shut up for a moment, you three!" the Mismagius hissed. "That caravan just arrived!"

Lyle, Kate, and Alvin quickly hushed and sank into their cover in the tall grass, their eyes peeking just above the tips of the blades to see flecks of lanternlight and what appeared to be various Pokémon's natural illumination proceeding down the path. The lights carried on a way, before they slowed and began to pool along the riverbank in a large cluster. The meager light was evidently enough for some of the others with better farsight to make out the caravan, as Alvin raised a paw and quietly counted off the shapes of the caravan in the distance. Eight wagons, forty Pokemon… just as they'd been told. He couldn't get a solid headcount of how many of those forty Pokémon were guards and escorts, but everything seemed to align with the numbers that Myra and the other Outlaw leaders had presented in their briefing.

The lights drifted about in their space for a few minutes, before a fire pit sprang up in their midst and revealed that the wagons had stopped to rest but were not circled in a defensive arrangement. Even if the figures were a bit murky in Lyle's vision from the distance and the darkness, it was evident that the caravan's Pokémon were evidently planning on continuing further on that night—relatively soon if the way the wagons were lined up to roll back out onto the path was anything to go by.

Lyle couldn't help but find it strange that the caravan would be in such a hurry. Even in his father's days as a wee Cyndaquil, travel at night was dicey in much of Varhyde. But no matter, it would make the job of parting those rodents and their pack mules from their goods a bit easier.

"Come on," the Scyther said. "It's time to move into position."

The Mismagius and the Scyther set off down the hill, crouching to reduce their visible profile amidst the grass. Lyle and his companions followed suit, the grass rustling as they brushed past on their way down the hill, dutifully sticking to the darker patches to make use of the reduced light from the moon. On a couple occasions, one of the other Outlaws would quietly thump the ground with a foot to call for a stop after a guard with more dangerous vision was spotted, before doing so again twice to sound the all-clear. The three slowed their progress as the ground levelled out and the musk of Pokémon who'd been marching all day pricked their noses. With careful treads, Lyle and his companions crept forward, letting the canvas tops of the wagons poking over the grasses serve as their guide.

All the while, the Quilava fought back embers from his vents as he felt his stomach knot up. Part of him was quietly grateful that Kate had blown off her teammates to stick around. He should've expected he'd have pre-raid jitters coming back in from the cold after two whole years, and he could only imagine how bad it'd have been were he not skulking along with close companions. A series of sharp thuds pricked his ears and made Lyle freeze, and from the expressions on their faces, Kate and Alvin had heard it too. Thuds that kept repeating with a rhythm that revealed they were heavy footsteps from a bulky Pokémon, one headed straight for them.

"Guh," a lowing voice groaned. "Finally, some actual greens…"

Lyle breathed in sharply and grimaced at the sight of a tired-looking Gogoat in a gray scarf bearing a white circle ringed with yellow and brown triangles approaching. The goat shuffled over to the grass, and lowered his head to stoop down to graze scarcely a dozen paces away from them. The three blanched, realizing that they had made it much closer to the edge of the tall grass and the site of the caravan's temporary encampment than they initially assumed. One stray sound, one untimely sniff at the air, and they'd be discovered and their element of surprise would be lost before the Riparian Raiders had a chance to signal that they were in position. None of them dared to so much as breathe as the Gogoat started to drift in deeper, when a sharp squeak from behind rang out.

"Oi! Gogoat not wander away from caravan!" a high-pitched voice squeaked. "Dabohru say everybody go back on route once river drink over!"

The Gogoat paused and let out a low grumble, turning back and retracing his steps. There, at the edge of the grass, was an irked-looking Togedemaru in a matching scarf scowling up at the Grass-type. The ram lowered his head and gave it a vigorous shake, letting out an annoyed snort in response.

"Yeah, well we've already been pushing it long enough and we've been marching all day from Port Reyn!" the Gogoat huffed. "I was under the impression that these parts were supposed to have Outlaws come crawling out at night, so all the more reason to hunker down right now!"

"That all more reason to not wander off! Zazadan have no patience for this!" the Togedemaru shot back. "If Gogoat have problem with orders, Gogoat go tell Caravan Leader Dabohru by self!"

Back from their cover, Lyle, Kate, and Alvin crept to their left in the grass. Still close enough to hear the Togedemaru and the Gogoat's argument, but distant enough to not be found by a casual nose in the wrong direction by the Grass-type. Kate flattened her ears, and let out a quiet murmur about the proceedings to her friends.

"Tch, those dweeby spike balls seriously run the show here?" she whispered. "I'm really quaking in fear from that little squeaker right now."

Lyle and Alvin rolled their eyes, though it was hard to admit the Sneasel didn't have a point about the little spike balls having downright mockable speech patterns if this Togedemaru was remotely representative. Why it was almost as if the 'mon had gone out of his way to sound as unserious and unimposing as possible!

Even so, they knew better than to underestimate the rodent given the warning they'd received back in camp. And from the way wind blew along the argument between the Togedemaru and Gogoat, a peek through the grasses revealed the little squeaker to be adamantly standing his ground in front of the Gogoat. Far more than what any of them would've expected from a 'mon with a speech pattern that'd embarrass most hatchlings.

"Dabohru say caravan on strict schedule tonight!" the Togedemaru insisted. "So Dabohru take precautions to defend caravan better!"

The sphere-like rodent turned and sharply whistled, drawing sharp wingbeats and a low screech as a large, vaguely draconic gray creature with lavender wings donning a caravan scarf landed behind him. The Pokémon reared up, visible to the three Outlaws over the top of the grass where they could make out a pronged tail, and a horned head with a long, square snout full of teeth that looked almost like sawblades. Lyle, Kate, and Alvin held their breaths and felt their blood run cold at the sight of the imposing flyer, as the Gogoat all but jumped back with widened eyes and visibly trembled at the creature's presence. His voice coming out in something approximated a frightened squeak.

"G-Götterblut!₁" the Grass-type whined. "Wh-What is that thing?!"

The gray wyvern narrowed her eyes back at the cowering Gogoat, as she drew her wings in against her body with a sharp, offended huff.

"I'm an Aerodactyl. We aren't that special," she scoffed. "And I have a name, bub!"

The Togedemaru waddled over beside the Aerodactyl, pointing up at her with a proud smile in front of the still-quailing Gogoat.

"Reisenbach here is lead flyer tonight from headquarters!" the Electric-type answered. "Born and raised in Primordial Woods where the Pokémon are fierce dinobeasts! Dinobeasts that grow big and hungry enough to gobble up little Togedemaru in one bite!"

The Gogoat lost his nerve at the mention of the Togedemaru's mention of 'dinobeasts', much less the Aerodactyl hailing from a place where her kind ate others, making him bleat and jump back in an audible panic.

"E-Eek!"

The Gogoat tore off for the rest of the caravan as fast as his legs could carry him, leaving the Aerodactyl and the Togedemaru to look after him briefly, before the pterosaur trained a sharp scowl down at the furry spike ball.

"Really classy there, Zazadan. I left Primordial Woods and have been living as a Civil since before I could even fly!" the Rock-type snarled. "For crying out loud, I even used to be an Air Marshal with the Gendarmen!"

"What?" the Togedemaru insisted. "Zazadan just try to prove point about the rest of the trip!"

"So why didn't you tell him about those guards that came along from the last town with us?" the Rock-type demanded, prompting her Electric-type colleague to shake his spherical body back with a disappointed huff.

"Pah, guards all a bunch of useless leeches that keep getting into berries," he spat. "Especially fat white ferret with them! Why Dabohru not protest order from Regional Leader to let them along, Zazadan never understand."

Lyle froze in the grass and breathed in sharply at the mention of 'guards', before turning to his teammates with a worried glance.

"What guards were they talking about there?" he asked.

"Does it matter?" Kate asked. "I'm sure it's just some lackeys from their caravan."

"Kate, nobody said anything about extra guards being here," the Quilava insisted. "How do we know that someone didn't tip them off about us?"

"Just keep it down!" Alvin hushed. "The signal's about to go up at any moment-"

The Marowak trailed off as he looked up, where a light in the sky winked rhythmic flashes. One short, three long, another short one, and one last, long flash before going dark. The three watched as a sphere flew into the air and crashed into the ground in the middle of the encampment, spewing yellowish spheres of light as the caravan erupted into a confused uproar.

"Agh! Somebody throw Totter Orb at us!" a Togedemaru's voice cried.

The roar of churning water and a sharp bellow rang out as Parker rode a Surf into the thick of the caravan with blades drawn, accompanied by a small party of fellow red-scarved Outlaws. The Water-type at once hacked into a hapless Hippowdon, keeling her over with an agonized bellow. Arcing beams and rays of different elements zipped in from the hills, picking off a few Pokémon near the edge of the caravan as its defenders hurriedly tried to assume battle positions. Among them, Lyle noticed a Magmar make a grab for a wooden cylinder and light it up with fiery breath, the cylinder suddenly erupting in a shower of light as it shot a flare up towards the sky.

Lyle froze, realizing that the caravan was signalling for help, when a sharp wind suddenly blew the flare off course just above the wagons and sent it crashing back down to the earth, with a cutting gust of air following shortly afterwards from above and sprawling the Fire-type out onto the ground. A quick glance along the wind's direction revealed Myra swooping in, riding a Tailwind at the head of a formation of incoming fliers off to their left that fanned out into small groups to cover the airspace over the encampment. Not far away, the ground rumbled, with Ford burrowing out of the ground to their right and calling out behind him.

"This is it!" the Steelix bayed. "Get 'em!"

Lyle and his companions sprang out of the brush, the Fire-type's head and tail erupting into flame as the three charged into the encampment. Lyle held his head low to the ground and let out a reflexive yelp as covering fire of attacks and missiles zipped in from the Terra Tyrants' rearguard still on the hill and shouts and cries rang out about him. His breaths came short and sharp as he ran forward. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest.

The defenders had been caught badly off-guard, as a few of their numbers fell to incoming attacks, and others bolted from their wagons in a blind panic. Myra and the fliers had split up in the skies over the encampment, weaving about large bolts of electricity and beams from the ground as Pokémon from the caravan hastily sortied into the air. The three Outlaws ran ahead with Myra's Tailwind at their backs, trying to make their way over to the line of wagons closest to the tall grass just as a passing Murkrow tore away the canvas on one with a spread-wing slash. Just as they neared, a trio of Togedemaru cut off their path and began to visibly spark.

"Outlaws responsible for this trouble!" the leader Togedemaru cried. "Assume formation for team Zing-Zap attack!"

Alvin ran ahead at the central Togedemaru of the trio as the three whirled and kicked up electrical bursts. Lyle and Kate reflexively flinched as they heard a deafening crackle, watching as overlapping waves of electricity shot out, and their Marowak raised his voice into a bellowing snarl.

"Oh, put a bone in it!"

The waves of electricity arced in on the Marowak and settled on his hide as inert static, doing little more than to slow his pace briefly. For a second, Lyle had worried that the sheer magnitude of the attacks would overwhelm it, but that was Alvin's Lightningrod at work. The three Electric-types froze and went wide-eyed with shock as the Marowak zeroed in on the leader Togedemaru. The lizard brought his bony club down in an upward swing and a sharp thwack followed, sending the rodent flying with a pained squeak into the side of a wagon, where he flopped down and hit the ground twitching. The color drained from the other two Togedemaru's faces, as they jolted back and squealed out of fright.

"A-Aah! Outlaws got Zazadan!" the left Togedemaru cried.

"R-Run for it!" the right yelped.

The two rodents turned and bolted from the three Outlaws, prompting Kate to let out a dismissive scoff as she flicked aside some ice that had built up on one of her claws for a now-unneeded attack. Lyle and his companions continued on, closing the distance to the wagon just ahead of them that had been abandoned in haste.

"Tch, they really do lose their cool when they're not fighting in groups," Kate remarked. "Though I'm surprised nobody's disabled this thing yet."

"Look, just don't get cocky here," Lyle chided. "Let's just get started by busting up the wheels so that way those rodents can't take this stuff with them if they cut and run."

Lyle ran up and spat a thick cone of embers at one of the wagon's front wheels, the heat blackening the wood behind it before Kate smothered it with a gust of icy air she blew out from her mouth. The pair quickly ducked around the other end and repeated the process on the other front wheel, charring the spokes when they heard the crack of splintering wood and saw the wagon sink forward, the blackened and damaged spokes on the wheel closest to them giving way as the entire front of the wagon crashed to the ground. The pair ducked into the front to peel back the damaged canvas, when they saw Alvin's attention turn off behind them as he motioned with his bone.

"Look, over there!"

Alvin pointed off at a wagon tipped onto its side not too far away from them with signs of being struck by a heavy, stony missile of some sort where the Mismagius and Scyther from earlier had already stripped away the canvas and begun to pick through upended crates and barrels. The three turned their attention from the wagon they were about to clamber aboard, realizing that the pair of Terra Tyrants had already done much of the hard work of sorting through the contents of their wagon, and that any money or pocketable loot would be easier to get to.

"Heh heh! Looks like we just found payday! It'll be much easier to root through that one-!" the Marowak began, when a loud screech suddenly pierced the air.

The three flinched as the air churned overhead and a lavender blur descended on the overturned wagon. The Mismagius was suddenly wrenched from her place and pinned to the ground by the Aerodactyl from earlier, who opened her jaws and bit down on the Mismagius' neck before she could turn incorporeal. A loud, bloodcurdling scream rang out as the Aerodactyl dug her teeth in and shook the Ghost-type much like a ragdoll, the Scyther flinching and cringing as his companion's cries died out and the Rock-type threw the Mismagius aside to flop limply into the dirt.

"A-Aah…"

The Scyther froze out of terror and attempted to flee just as the Aerodactyl stomped the ground, tearing a hail of rocks out of the ground with a great dirt plume that struck the mantis from below. The Bug-type sailed into the air with the stones, before stalling and crashing back to earth headfirst with little signs of life beyond a weak twitch of his wings. Alvin and his companions felt the color drain from their faces, as they realized the Aerodactyl was scarcely twenty paces from them, and hastily ducked behind the disabled wagon just as she turned towards their direction.

"G-Gih! Never mind, let's let one of the bosses handle that one!" Alvin insisted. "Let's try our luck closer to the water!"

The three turned and ran from the scene deeper into the encampment, ducking from the cover of one wagon to another as the din of fierce battle raged around them. Mercifully, the Aerodactyl seemed to be driven away by a few beams zipping in from the grasses, which forced her back up towards friendlier airspace. A glance up revealed the Rock-type wasn't alone, as the defenders had gotten more of their own fliers into the air. All above them, the air in the sky rippled and churned with Pokémon overhead throwing attacks and pursuing after each other, with thick bolts of electricity periodically zipping up into the sky.

Every now and then, Lyle and his companions would throw an errant attack back at the defenders, as battle cries and the yelps of wounded and felled Pokémon rang out until they could see darkened water just ahead, along with Dalton and a Golduck flanking a Tauros laden with baggage that'd slipped off from a nearby wagon, with Artem circling above to provide aerial support. Even in spite of his outmatched circumstances, the bull stubbornly dug his hooves in and lowered his head, attempting to drive off his assailants with a bellowing charge as sparks danced on Dalton's hide.

"Clear!" Dalton cried.

The Swellow and the Golduck hastily fell back before the Heliolisk flared his frill and disgorged a wide hail of sparks at the Tauros, the bull seizing up with a pained bellow before flopping over unconscious. Lyle and his companions watched as the three descended on the fainted Tauros, pulling bags off of his faintly breathing body as the Heliolisk approached with a seeming spring in his step and let out a satisfied harrumph.

"Hah! It's not about how much power you have, but how you use i-"

"Dalton, watch out!" Artem squawked.

A spray of black orbs abruptly flew in, making Dalton hop back with a startled yelp as it they past and tore up a patch of earth. Lyle and his companions watched as a Zangoose, a Morgrem, and a Venomoth in silver and white scarves with matching sets of green plated armor descended upon them. The Golduck crouched and glared back at the guards, lunging for the Zangoose only to be cut off with a slashing uppercut and sent sprawled out groaning.

Dalton and Artem grimaced, the Heliolisk hastily attempting to lead with another Parabolic Charge, only for the three armored Pokémon to resist his blow from their plates and took advantage of their respite to slip back out of his attack's range. The Venomoth was quick to retaliate, flying up and blowing a plume of purple, toxic powder into Artem's face that made him lose altitude, spluttering and hacking much to the Zangoose's sneering satisfaction.

"Hah, you thieving scum all crumple up from a little love tap!" the Normal-type sneered. Artem righted himself and pulled up, fighting against the effects of his fresh poisoning to glare back at the Zangoose ringleader.

"Grr… don't you have some travellers to shake down for drinks or something?" the Swellow growled.

"We did, but then we got stuck babysitting these dweeby rodents," the Zangoose spat back. "Getting to tan your hides will be a nice bonus!"

Lyle's eyes shrank to pins at the sight of the three attackers as they lunged again at Dalton and Artem. Armor of any composition wasn't exactly common among Pokémon from how much it cost to make, and with the lot of them sporting sets of the same banded-cloth composition and the same color as Nils', that meant…

"Th-Those are Grünhäuter!" Lyle yelped. "Why on earth would they be guarding a caravan like this?!"

"Don't question it too much," Alvin insisted. "This is way beyond what we were supposed to run into, just find something to snatch and let's get out of here!"

"What, so soon?" Kate asked. "We're not just leaving Scales here get worked over like that!"

Without a further word, the Sneasel darted off ahead for the beleaguered Outlaws in the middle of their battle. Lyle and Alvin's jaws flopped open, before they ran after her, the Quilava barking after her with a frantic shout.

"Kate! Get back here!"

Undeterred, Kate fished through her satchel and pulled out a Pecha Berry, tossing it up to Artem with a sharp cry.

"Here, take it, Swellow!" she insisted. "Don't just loaf around like that!"

The three guards turned around at the sight of the approaching Dark-type, just missing the Pecha Berry which zipped up at the Swellow's head with him catching it in his beak. With no time to apply it properly, the Flying-type bit down and consumed the berry. Artem flew up, weaving around a Dark Pulse from the Mogrem Gendarm and climbing into the air as his wingbeats grew more steady—and then dove back down, clipping his Mogrem foe from behind with a spread-wing tackle.

"Heh, thanks for the help, Sneasel!" Artem snickered.

Kate's generosity had not gone unnoticed, as she was forced to swiftly jump aside from a jagged ray of greenish-yellow light from the Venomoth of the trio of guards. The Mogrem opted to leave Dalton and Artem for his Zangoose comrade and tore at Lyle and Alvin, who braced themselves for battle. With their hopes of sneaking off dashed, there was only one way left out for the Outlaws, and it was through knocking these Gendarmen into next week.

"Hey, you stupid imp!" Alvin bellowed. "Let's see how you fare when you don't have numbers on your side!"

Alvin threw his bone forward in an arcing motion, sending it twirling through the air as it sailed along and clocked the Morgrem in his nose. The Dark-type yelped and instinctively cradled his face, getting clipped from behind by Alvin's club as it flew back to him. With the Morgrem still stunned, Lyle ran up and let smoke build up at the back of his throat, spewing a Smokescreen square up the Dark-type's head that made the guard lurch back with a disoriented totter and hack for air as Artem swooped in to throw in an attack of his own. The sound of a sharp yowl rang out, as Lyle and Alvin turned to see the Zangoose stumbling back from Dalton, static still dancing on his fur.

"Oh, so it's gonna be like that, huh?" the Zangoose snarled. "Have it your way!"

The Normal-type flashed his claws and swung at the Heliolisk, his first swing missing as Dalton jolted back and readied a weak arc of electricity, only for a second to connect with the Heliolisk's chin and knock him flat on his back with a sharp yelp. The Zangoose's ears swiveled as he heard Alvin run up with a bellowing cry, turning and giving a sharp jab at the Marowak's stomach that made him gag and wheeze for air, the Zangoose noting his foe's state with satisfaction as he readied a claw for a crushing downward swipe.

"Lights out, bonehea- Grah!"

The Cat Ferret Pokémon's taunt was cut short by a burning tackle striking him from his flank. The Normal-type wheeled back, beating out the flames that clung to his pelt and armor as he looked down to see Lyle blinking in surprise for a moment before glaring up at him, and flashed his claws with a taunting smirk.

"Aren't you a gutsy one? Do you really think you can take me on, Quilava?" the Zangoose sneered. "Then let me cut you down to size!"

The Zangoose lunged for Lyle, swinging at him once with a swipe that missed his right ear by a hair's breadth, and then a second time that forced the Quilava to roll out of the way of another that was meant for his flank. Lyle rolled onto his feet, when his luck ran out and his newfound swiftness after using Flame Charge on the Normal-type fell short, as he felt a sharp slash from a pair of claws run across his back and squealed in pain.

"A-Aagh!"

Lyle pinwheeled and flopped to the ground, struggling back onto his feet and paws just in time to look up and see the Zangoose darting at him on all fours to strike again with his claws drawn. At the last step, the Zangoose lunged at him for a slashing pounce, when Lyle's ears heard the Morgrem's voice snarl from behind.

"Gah, verdammtes Wiesel!₂" the Dark-type snarled. "Let's see how you like-!"

Without thinking, Lyle hastily rolled out of the way, leaving the Normal-type's slash to carry on and dig into the Morgrem, knocking him to the ground with a pained shriek. The Mogrem looked back up from the ground, his eyes flickering as he struggled to hold a furious glare.

"D-Dolch, you idiot."

The Dark-type's eyes rolled back into his head before he sprawled out. The Zangoose looked down, seeing that he'd dug his claws into a gap in the imp's armor, and pulled them back and got up, giving an exasperated huff down at the still-groaning Morgrem.

"Eh?! Fritz?!" the Zangoose exclaimed. "You're supposed to give me space while attacking! We've been over this before!"

Lyle blinked, realizing that the entire time, this 'Dolch' Zangoose had been focused on him and not the surrounding battle. The Quilava heard a sharp yelp and turned just in time to see Kate getting knocked away from Venomoth after trying to slice at the straps for her armor when an idea dawned on him. He wasn't sure if lightning would strike twice, but if this Zangoose Grünhäuter was as reckless and inattentive a fighter as he seemed to be, perhaps he could work his magic on his other friend as well.

"Hey ferret!" he snorted. "Let's see how well you can keep up!"

That taunt certainly got the Zangoose's attention, as his red eyes lit up with fiery anger. Lyle ran ahead towards the Venomoth, where he saw Artem had flown in and pinned her low near the ground to try and provide relief for Kate and he cried out to the pair.

"You two!" the Quilava cried. "Fall back a moment!"

Kate and Artem quickly obliged and darted away from the Poison-type. Just as the Venomoth attempted to give chase, Lyle ran up behind her and spewed out a cloud of smoke, ducking under the moth's body and popping out the other end just as the sound of blows and confused shouts from Dolch and the Venomoth rang out. Seeing his opening, Lyle flashed a knowing smirk, and called out to his compatriots.

"Now! While they're distracted!" the Fire-type cried. "Keep your distance and give them something to chew on!"

Lyle breathed out a cone of cinders into the cloud of smoke, Kate following with an Icy Wind, Alvin his Bonemerang, and Dalton and Artem a Thunderbolt and Air Slash respectively. The hail of attacks stripped the smoke away, revealing a pair of haggard guards with the Venomoth visibly struggling to stay airborne, until her Zangoose partner lobbed a punch blindly and sent her crumpling to the ground. The Zangoose paused and blinked at the sight of his Venomoth comrade lying limp at his feet, before flattening out his ears with an annoyed hiss.

"Nrrgh…" the Zangoose groaned. "Why do you two dorks always keep getting in my way-? Huh?"

Dolch trailed off as his eyes fell upon a boxy wagon made entirely of reinforced wood with a set of small grates with flip-down shutters on its sides where an Azumarill and Linoone were attempting to force their way into the back. The Zangoose's eyes widened in alarm, as he seemed to forget about the Outlaws around him entirely and bolted for the wagon.

"Ack! Get away from there, you little rats!" the Normal-type barked. "Where's that lousy aerial cover when you need it?!"

A quick glance revealed the bulk of the activity in the sky coming from the southern end of the encampment, with the flash of massed Protects revealing that the caravan's 'mons had been driven off from their wagons and were attempting to dig in and repulse their attackers. Lyle and Kate spat fire and ice after the Zangoose, only for him to pay them no mind and continue barreling off for the strange wagon.

What on earth had gotten into him anyways?

As Dalton and Artem turned their attention to their Golduck counterpart's injuries, Lyle looked off back at Dolch for a moment, before making their way over to Tauros' unconscious body. A quick search revealed the Tauros had a satchel, which turned up some some money and a small handful of healing items had been stowed, among them a Tiny Reviver Seed that Dalton took for the Golduck and a pair of Oran Berries that carried faint radial lines on their rinds indicating they'd been exposed and altered by the Distortion of a Mystery Dungeon.

Lyle, Kate, and Alvin snagged one of the Oran Berries and divided it amongst themselves, pressing them haphazardly against the wounds they could reach before popping their remains into their mouths. While the sting of their juices still lingered and they still chewed the Oran Berries' pulp, a moment of dawning realization settled over Lyle's eyes: that Grünhäuter wouldn't have cared so much about that wagon if there wasn't a reason for him to.

"Finish up those berries quick and let's move on," the Quilava insisted, motioning off at the reinforced wagon. "Let's hit up that wagon over there!"

"Eh? The boxy one the Zangoose is by?" Alvin asked. "Why do we want to fight him again?"

"Because whatever's in there, it was good enough for him to drop everything to try and defend it!" Lyle explained. "Do you think he'd have done that if it was just another merchant wagon?"

Lyle's companions traded glances with one another at his explanation, as a devious grin spread over Kate's face.

"Heh heh, you really are getting back into things, Lyle!" she chuckled. "Come on, let's go!"

He probably should've been a bit more concerned by that comment, but a part of Lyle couldn't help but feel a hint of pride over the Sneasel's praise. The Quilava and his companions ran along for the strange wagon, spotting the Zangoose engaged in battle near its front with the Azumarill and Linoone. The three ducked under the wagon and crawled to the rear, popping up behind it where they discovered that it had a reinforced door with a padlock over it. Lyle stopped and blinked out of surprise at the sight. Just what sort of cargo justified that sort of security?

"H-Hey!" a small, raspy voice cried. "Whoever's out there, get me out of this thing!"

Lyle's eyes widened in realization that the wagon was a prisoner transport. Breaching it would be a point of no return and be sure to draw the attention of the guards. But if whoever was in there was friendly, surely it wasn't right to just let them rot in the middle of a raid where they'd already been caught off-guard by the defenders' strength. If nothing else, they could use some extra helping paws at the moment.

"There's someone in there!" Kate exclaimed, before Alvin shot a skeptical glance back.

"But how do we know she's not with the Togedemaru though?"

"Do I sound like one of those spike balls to you?!" the voice inside cried. "Whoever you are, just hurry up and open this thing!"

Lyle hesitated for a moment, before his eyes fell on the padlock and a quick run of his paw over it revealed the metal was brittle and weak. Outlaws didn't get many opportunities to come to each other's aid, and for whatever 'mons were inside this thing, this was as good of an one as the three would get to help out. With his mind made up, Lyle forced the fire on his head and tail out into a searing blaze, turning with a sharp bark to his Sneasel teammate.

"Kate, follow my lead and freeze that thing!" he insisted. "If we heat and cool it quickly, it ought to weaken enough for Alvin to bust it with a good swat afterwards!"

"Right!" the Sneasel piped. "Let's do it!"

Lyle breathed in deep and spewed a small cone of embers on the lock, breathing in to force more out in an almost sustained stream. The flames licked the surrounding wood and charred them as the padlock heated up and turned red under its glow. As soon as the Quilava's Ember subsided, Kate ran up and breathed out a frigid wind flecked with stray ice and snow that struck the still-smoldering back of the wagon, sizzling and dripping water on contact. The pair repeated the process again, leaving the lock visibly glowing with a noticeable crack that had sprouted along its top, which prompted Alvin to wind up his club and smash the lock.

A sharp chunk rang out, followed by the bottom of the padlock falling to the dirt in pieces. With the back of his paw, Lyle brushed away the remains of the red-hot lock still holding the door closed and threw the door open.

Contrary to their expectations, there was no immediate sign of Pokémon inside once the wagon's door swung open. Kate pinned her ears back and hesitated, looking about the seemingly empty interior.

"Is this some sort of trick?" she asked. "Sure looks awfully lonely inside for a prisoner transport-"

"I'm back here! Hurry!"

The three raised their brows when the small voice pricked their ears again, its sharp cry bidding them deeper inside the darkened wagon. Lyle hunched forward to allow his head's flames to better illuminate the back of the chamber. There at the end, they saw the form of an Axew in a cage with a wooden top and bottom with iron bars, donning a mussed gray scarf and bound up with silk webbing. The Dragon-type jostled desperately, looking up at the three Outlaws with frantic red eyes.

"D-Don't just stare at me!" she cried. "Help me already!"

The Quilava blanched, looking about the cage as a small door with an integrated lock could be seen. Far sturdier than the padlock they'd forced their way through, and without any sign of an obvious weak point to exploit. Why this was just some kid! What on earth did she do to earn this sort of treatment?

"Uh… where do we even-?" he started, when the sound of a sharp hiss reached his ears.

"You!"

The three Outlaws whirled around and saw Dolch at the entrance of the wagon, evidently having fought his way through the Azumarill and Linoone. The Zangoose entered with a low snarl, flashing his claws as he forced his way into the wagon.

"Get your paws off that prisoner!"

Lyle froze as the Zangoose approached in, the Quilava hurriedly spitting up smoke at the Normal-type's face to stall him. As the Zangoose coughed and tried to brush away the smoke filling the wagon, Kate quickly looked back at the cage and grappled onto it before calling out to her Marowak teammate.

"Alvin! Grab the other end!" she shouted. "We're gonna throw this thing forward!"

Lyle hurriedly ducked out of the way as Alvin and Kate picked up the Axew's cage, the Dragon-type's eyes inside widening with a start as they lifted it up and swung it back just as the Zangoose reoriented himself.

"Wait!" the Axew cried. "Not like tha-!"

Kate and Alvin threw the cage forward, which sailed at the Zangoose's head. The Normal-type attempted to raise his claws to shield himself, only to get struck in the face and bowled over. The cage sailed up into the roof of the wagon, before falling back down and striking the floor at an angle, which splintered the wood of its base near the bars along the front and spilled the Axew out as the cage collapsed into pieces. The Dragon-type lay stunned for a moment, before stumbling up and whirling around with a furious glare.

"What is your problem, you stupid jerks?!" she fumed. "You threw me straight at an attacking Pokémon!"

"Yeah, well now you're out, Fräulein₃," Kate retorted. "So don't argue with results here!"

The Axew bristled a bit at Kate chiding her like a child, even if she arguably still was one. The three hurriedly shepherded the Axew out, Kate stopping to snatch a coin bag off the stunned Grünhäuter along with one of the dislodged bars lying on the floor of the wagon and made their way back outside with the newly-freed prisoner. There, just as Kate left the wagon, the Zangoose got up cradling his face, pulling a paw back from a snout dribbling blood when he saw the four standing outside, and narrowed his eyes into a livid glare.

"Hey!" he shouted. "I'm not finished with you-!"

Lyle quickly slammed the door shut, prompting Kate to slip the iron bar through the hoop where the padlock had been. As soon as the bar made it through, the Outlaws jumped back with a start at the sound of a heavy thump on the other end the door, as muffled snarls and curses rang out on the other end mixed in with the din of battle in the background.

The Outlaws looked about their surroundings, and after seeing that the back of the wagon and the others nearby were unattended, sighed with relief. The thick of battle must've moved deeper into the merchants' encampment, and the caravan's still-standing defenders were surely on the run by now.

Perhaps then it was safe for Lyle to indulge his curiosity. The Quilava shook his head and scowled down at the Axew.

"Who are you?" he demanded. "And what on earth were you doing being held prisoner in-?"

A blood-curdling screech suddenly filled the air, as the four looked back towards the front of the wagon and paled. Lyle looked off at the center of the encampment, where he saw a good half-dozen of their comrades running off frantically from a hail of attacks and thrown missiles. Thick bolts of electricity lit up the sky from above, a few figures crashing to earth as others desperately tore away with frightened squawks and shouts.

Among them, he and his companions noticed a Trumbeak frantically trying to fly away from a large, swift-approaching shadow, only for a hail of stones to overtake him from behind and send him crashing to earth. And just behind where the Trumbeak had been swatted out of the sky, he saw the screech's culprit: the same Aerodactyl from earlier, now staring down at them with a Togedemaru riding on her shoulders who visibly sparked and leveled a nubby paw down at them.

"Down there! Nobody make Dabohru look like fool!" the Togedemaru cried. "Reisenbach! Don't let Outlaws by priority wagon get away!"

Lyle felt the color drain from his face and his pupils shrank to pins, as he let out a startled squeak and tugged sharply at the Axew from the wagon.

"N-Never mind!" he yelped. "We can talk later!"

Lyle tore along and tried to bolt for the tall grass, turning back to see that Kate and Alvin were doing much the same, with Alvin lagging behind thanks to his kind’s natural slowness. The din startled of cries rang out among the Outlaws further in the encampment, and Lyle's ears pricked when he heard the earth churn behind him. The Quilava briefly saw stones getting launched into the air from the corner of his eye followed by a blinding electrical burst.

And then he felt it. Something heavy struck the back of his head and Lyle tumbled to the ground and watched the world roll about him as he came to a stop. He he heard his companions yelp out in pain, the Quilava wincing and letting out a low whine as he struggled back up to his feet. He was pretty sure he wasn’t supposed to feel this light headed, and a quick glance back revealed Kate, Alvin, and the Axew stumbling up groaning, evidently not much better off than him.

A bloodcurdling cry turned his attention skyward and he felt his fire come alight and he screamed out of fear. There above them was the Aerodactyl flying in a holding pattern with her Togedemaru rider, who shot a disgusted scowl down and called out to her in that squeaky voice of his.

"Now, Reisenbach! Finish Outlaws while they still down!"

The Rock-type screeched and swooped in, as Lyle found his body suddenly locking up as the Aerodactyl dove at him with her jaw opened wide, flashing her saw-like teeth. The Quilava flinched and curled up as the sound of churning air drew closer and closer, the Fire-type desperately flaring the fire on his body to try and drive off his attacker, screwing his eyes shut out of fright when a sharp cry pricked his ears.

"Not so fast!"

A deafening electrical crackle rang out, followed by pained screams. Lyle gasped and cracked his eyes open. There, standing between him and the Aerodactyl was Dalton, static still crackling on his and the Aerodactyl’s body from the aftereffects of a thick, crackling bolt of electricity.

The Rock-type desperately pulled up afterwards, when an overpowering whirlwind kicked up and knocked her off-balance. Lyle quickly glanced off above him as the Aerodactyl fought to stay airborne and her Togedemaru passenger clung on for dear life. Sure enough, it was Artem, the Heliolisk’s Swellow buddy from earlier.

Lyle uncurled himself and got back onto his feet after hearing his teammates approaching and barking at him to get up. The Quilava quickly looked up after where he’d last seen Reisenbach and spotted her trying to wheel around, her flight wobbly as her right wing appeared stiff and unresponsive. Blauflamme. After all that, she was still up in the air?!

Wait a minute, that was it! At once, the Fire-type's eyes lit up, and he called out to his companions and their newfound allies as a bout of dawning realization came over him.

"Quick!" Lyle shouted. "Go for her right wing joint!"

One after the other, the five threw attacks up into the night sky as their elements allowed, with Lyle leading with a cone of fire. He watched as the Aerodactyl frantically ducked and weaved around the incoming attacks: past his Ember, past a bolt of electricity, and a gout of dragonfire from Dalton and the Axew respectively. Lyle tensed up and began to gave chase as he spotted a whirling bone from Alvin miss its mark.

“Agh!”

The Aerodactyl cried out when at last, a frigid gust of wind found its mark and encrusted her joint in ice. The Rock-type's right wing locked up, sending her spiraling and tumbling to earth with a dull crash. Lyle glanced back briefly to see Kate crack a satisfied smirk, before charging ahead. That Aerodactyl wasn’t going to stay down for long.

He and the others ran over to the wyvern's crash site, hoping that the impact would’ve finished her off only to freeze and flinch. There, they saw the Aerodactyl struggling to get up and Dabohru righting himself dazedly before shaking his head and sparking back in defiance.

"Th-This not over!" the Togedemaru snapped. "Dabohru will not be defeated by bunch of unwashed Outlaws-!"

Before the Electric-type could finish his words, a shrill cry pierced the air. Lyle looked up as the air rippled his fur, just in time to spot Myra swooping in at the Togedemaru's flying partner with a flurry of quick, circling tackles. The Staraptor's wings landing blows almost like punches before one final one struck the Aerodactyl in her chin. The Rock-type toppled over with a pained cry, hitting the ground flat on her back with a weak twitch of her wings.

That one was gonna leave a mark, but gottverdammt was it satisfying to watch. Especially with that dumb-looking expression the Togedemaru had right now.

The Togedemaru blanched as he looked over at his caravan's fallen aerial escort, when the sounds of shouts rang out from behind them. Lyle looked back at the center of the encampment where the emerging rout of the Outlaws had been intercepted by Parker charging in on a Surf's wave, breaking the defenders' formation as she cut down a Bisharp with a swift, retaliating bludgeon from the flat of one of her seamitars. A little ways away, Ford scattered a formation of Togedemaru behind a screen of Protects by abruptly surfacing from the ground with a Dig. All the while, Dabohru visibly quailed and trembled, when the rodent’s nerves finally failed as he let out a frightened squeal and darted off for the path.

"E-Eeeek! Run away! Run away!"

Lyle spat a few cinders after the caravan leader for good measure, as it seemed as if the departed gods smiled on them The front line of the defenders abruptly collapsed as their still-able members tore away for the path after their leader as fast as their limbs would carry them. A few parting blows were traded, the encampment fell to silence but for the sound of Lyle’s pants and racing heart. The groans of wounded Pokémon scattered about snapped him back to attention, with a quick look around revealing naught but disabled and abandoned wagons and cinders from a doused bonfire left behind as evidence of the Roly-Poly Caravan's earlier presence. Lyle and his companions looked up as Myra went over and snatched a satchel off of the Aerodactyl's shallowly-breathing body, going back over to Lyle and his expanded party with a smiling nod.

"Nice work out there," the Staraptor grunted. "Hurry up and grab what you can before these 'mons start waking up."

The order was echoed by calls elsewhere in the trashed encampment. Lyle looked about as the wagons teemed with activity with Outlaws going back to pick through them at their leisure. Others went about the fainted defenders left behind to snatch money and items off their persons, with the Quilava noticing a few felled guards that wore armor having their plates stripped as trophies. Still other Outlaws stopped to pull the wounded of their numbers aside to try and treat those who were well enough to walk or be roused, that they might have extra paws to help them cart off loot back to camp.

Dalton and Artem motioned for the others to follow, Kate and Alvin trailing along over to the wagon where they'd been ambushed by the Zangoose and his companions. Lyle started to set off after the four himself, when he noticed the Axew was no longer behind him.

The Fire-type reared up and glanced around, where he spotted the little Dragon-type attempting to slip off into the tall grass, prompting him to dash up behind her and snatch her by her arm. The Dragon-type reacted much as if she'd been suddenly burnt, whirling around and tugging at her arm with a fierce glare.

"Ow! Let go of me!" she hissed.

"Komm runter!₄"

Lyle shot a sharp scowl back after barking at the Axew to calm down and looked down, where for the first time got a good look at the scarf on her neck. The shade of gray reminded him of the shade on Grünhäuter scarves, if darker. For its design, it had a pair of black and white swirls that curled in onto each other, with dots that made them appear almost like the eyes of serpents.

He didn't know what the story was behind those colors, even if something felt vaguely familiar about them. But with his and his companions' objective being to snag as much loot as possible and slip away, he didn't exactly have the time to ask for the kid's back story.

"Look, we just saved your hide back there, and you clearly have quite a few enemies," Lyle insisted. "The least you can do in return is to hang around us long enough to explain what's going on here."

The Axew sharply huffed back and tensed her neck and shoulders, seemingly for a swing of her tusks—only to hesitate. The Axew looked off at the Outlaws pillaging the remains of the encampment, and then back off at the tall grass, where after an uneasy silence, she turned back to Lyle with a low grumble.

"Fine. I guess I can't argue the point," she admitted. "But where are you taking me?"

"A safer place."



Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Götterblut! - "Gods' blood!", used as a curse/minced oath in-setting.
2. verdammtes Wiesel - "damned weasel"
3. Fräulein - "Miss", traditional address for an unmarried woman in German. Has become disused for such purposes in modern German and is often seen as having condescending or sexist undertones, with usage in that context largely displaced by the more general "Frau". In this particular context, the use of the term would be most akin to scolding a young girl in English as "Missy".
4. Komm runter! - "Calm down!" (colloquial), lit. "Come down!" / "Descend!"

Teaser Text:

Moonturn Squareᵃ, 14. Herbstmond, 1027ᵇ n. d. B.ᶜ​

To Regional Leader Baan of the Roly-Poly Caravanᵈ,

His Majesty wishes to contract the services of your Roly-Poly Caravan for an urgent request to accommodate a secure wagon as part of your next caravan from Port Reyn to Newangle City. A party of interest to His Majesty King Siegmund is riding in the secure wagon, and said party's presence is to be kept secret under all circumstances. Should any harm come to the party you are transporting, it would have potentially existential implications for the well-being of the realm and the success of its current war effort against the Kingdom of Edialeigh.

His Majesty wished for your caravan's services in particular for its record of success in lands across all of Wander, your branch's track record of service on behalf of the Kingdom of Varhyde specifically, and the competence in battle of the Pokémon in your outfit by civilian standards. Due to considerations of secrecy, a detachment drawn from the gendarmes of Port Reyn and Moonturn Square will provide your caravan direct assistance, while my forces will follow along from fifteen minutes' distance by walking. Should you require assistance beyond what the vanguard force can provide, you are to signal with flares we will provide, and we will hurry aid over from our swifter members and provide relief to the best of our ability.

His Majesty is prepared to offer 200,000 Carolinsᵉ for your Caravan's services, half delivered upfront as an advance, and half delivered upon the arrival of the transported party. Who is being transported concerns you and your outfit not, and were the party of interest someone who could merely be whisked to Newangle City on the back of a Carrier without serious risk of loss, I would be flying the party there myself instead of soliciting your caravan's services through this letter. A decision is to be relayed within one day of receipt, and a lack of one will be assumed to be a declination of this contract.

Weigh your choices carefully, I will be awaiting your response.

- Letter from Grafᶠ von Wellenhafenᵍʰ, Lacan Dragoransⁱ to Regional Leader Baan Togedemarus

a. Like a number of other place names in this story, this name is derived by corruption from one in German via in-setting language drift. For the sake of brevity, not all of the ones brought up in this header will be elaborated on in this chapter's notes, but this one in particular in a more faithful semantic translation would be "Cheerful Square/Plaza".
b. Traditional header format for a formal or business letter in the German-speaking world: "[Place of sending], [Day]. [Month], [Year]"
c. Abbreviation for "nach dem Blitz", or 'after the Flash'. Modeled after actual epoch abbreviations of this style in German, especially 'n. d. Z.': a way of styling the era covered by 'Anno Domini' in German that is an abbreviation for 'nach der Zeitrechnung' or 'nach der Zeitenwende'.
d. "Pummel" in the German name is derived from "pummelig", a cutesy way of calling something "tubby" or "chubby". Note that if doing a straight localization jump from Pokédex Category to Pokédex Category, this would be "Der Einigler-Karawane" but "the Defense Curl Caravan" sounds significantly less "cutesy and kinda stupid" thematically, so the story stuck with something a bit semantically closer to "Roly-Poly".
e. A type of golden coin that was used in parts of Scandinavia and German-speaking Europe in the 17th and 18th centuries. The spelling in German is the one used for the coins of this nature used in Bavaria and the Palatinate, while the spelling in English tracks the Swedish spelling.
f. A middling rank in German nobility. There is no direct analogue to a "Graf" in English nobility, though it is usually treated as the equivalent of a "Count" or an "Earl" and translated accordingly. e.x. "Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin" and "Count Ferdinand von Zeppelin" being used interchangeably to refer to the same figure in English texts. In this story, the title of Graf is dealt with in an untranslated fashion.
g. Noble titles are left untranslated in this story as a flavor choice and to emphasize historical continuity. In German, a large swath of noble titles are constructed in the form of "[Title] of/from/at [Place]", and Varhyder nobility is no exception. In this particular case, the title semantically would be "Graf of/from Port Velhen".
h. The ordering of title before name is a signature convention for letters in the German-speaking world. The writer would not be referred to in this style in normal conversation, with "Graf Ferdinand von Zeppelin" and the many permutations thereof once again being a prime example.
i. Contracted patronym utilized for in-setting Commontongue, in this case for "Dragoransohn". Contracted patronyms in Varhyde are the the ones employed in most in-setting contexts.
 
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Chapter 3 - Collision

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
sHLcJlp.png


Neuengelstadt, 13. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.
Sehr geehrter Graf Lacan von Wellenhafen,

es bringt uns große Freude zu hören, dass nach einem Jahr von Verfolgungen es endlich geschafft haben, die Dyade, welche wir einst fürchteten verloren zu haben, zu sichern. Nach mehr als sieben Jahrzehnten von Krieg mit dem Königreich der Ideale, der meinen Vater und dessen Vater überdauerte, der bis zurück in die Regierungszeit von König Sansa ging. Ein endgültiges und dauerhaftes Ende ist letztendlich zum greifen nahe.

Unser einziges Bedauern ist, dass der Verstand der Dyade vergiftet von korrupten Einflüssen sein wird. Sie würde flüchten, wenn du sie einsammeln kämst. Ich hatte gehofft, dass sie sicherlich vernünftig sein könnte, aber nach all den Geschichten die Sie über die Kreise in die sie im letzten Jahr geraten ist kennengelernt haben, ist es vielleicht das Beste, strenger mit ihr zu sein, bis diese kindische Unverschämtheit abgelegt ist.

Nach alledem wäre es zwar ideal, die Zusammenarbeit der Dyade vor der Operation Zündfunke zu sichern, aber sie ist für ihren Erfolg nicht unbedingt erforderlich. Wir und unser Reich können uns nicht den Luxus leisten, sie aus reinen Gefühlslagen zu entgleisen. Es war schon ein Schicksalswunder, dass die Dyade hier in unserem Reich zu finden war und nicht im Königreich der Ideale, wie die königlichen Seher befürchteten, und es ist ein Wunder, welches wir nicht verschwenden wollen.

Daher ist es dringend erforderlich, dass die Dyade mit allen notwendigen Mitteln für die Operation Zündfunke eingesetzt wird, auch wenn Sie und das Fähnlein unter Ihrem Kommando die Gesetze und Gebräuche unseres Reiches verletzen müssen. Sie und ich wissen beide, wie gravierend die möglichen Folgen eines Scheiterns für dieses Reich sind, aber in der Bilanz liegt die größte Hoffnung, die das Königreich der Wahrheit seit Generationen hatte:

Was wir endlich „Unser Friede“ nennen können, um dieses Königreich von seiner Herrschaft und den Kreislauf der Not zu befreien, der es durch die Jahrhunderte geplagt hat, und „Unsere Vergeltung“, um die Wunden dieses Landes und dessen Bewohner mit Feuer und Flamme zu vergelten.


- Brief des Königs von Wahrheit, Siegmund Wieshusohn an Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans



"A toast! To a job well done, and to the generosity of the Roly-Poly Caravan!"

About an hour later, Myra's words boomed through the center tent of the bandit encampment in their little Pocket within Waterhead Cave as she nudged at a frothing mug of lager in full view of the gathered Outlaws inside. Cheers and laughs rang out as the Staraptor dipped her beak in and drank while the others joined in, a few scattered cries of 'Bottoms Up!' and the occasional 'Prost!' ringing out. The Outlaws had returned to the dungeon's modest Pocket flush with all sorts of ill-gotten gains: money in royal Carolins and Poké issued by the Colorswap Consortium, Orbs and Wands, lengths of cloth and metalware, a few stray discs that appeared to be 'tay-emms'—even some of the caravan's food and drink that they helped themselves to on simple wooden plates and mugs.

The caravan's Pokémon had had their own spirits, with Kate being particularly excited when a bottle of Glühwein turned up among the loot—somebody evidently had been impatient for winter to make a batch of mulled wine and bottle it before it was even Weinmond. There were the expected berries, dark bread, and the waxy Gummis that made up the bulk of the average meal for most Civils in Varhyde, and for all Lyle knew, Wander as a whole.

"Hey, Lyle, are you going to eat or what?"

Lyle blinked and shook his head just in time to catch Alvin finishing up a circular slice of a dark food flecked with lighter spots. Must've been from one of the dry sausages that turned up from among the loot.

While Lyle had to admit their smell made his stomach growl, he ultimately passed up on taking a portion while food was being distributed. Meat for Civils was made from the corpses of Wilders found dead in the hinterlands by Leichensammler like Alvin's family. Alvin had walked him through in the past over how his family processed their wares so that you couldn't tell what Pokémon the meat originally belonged to, and submitted to inspection by guards to ensure it was ethically sourced.

Still, nobody refused a bag of Carolins under the table these days. For all he knew, the meat in this sausage came from a Wilder that had been flatly hunted in violation of the Vow, or from someone who'd gotten knocked off in a town. With thoughts like those lurking at the back of his mind, he couldn't fully make himself comfortable with the idea of chowing down on literal mystery meat.

"Er… right, sorry. Just spaced out a bit," the Quilava replied, giving a bashful paw at the side of his head.

Lyle snagged a waxy orange morsel about the size of a Leppa Berry and bit into it instead. The Gummi wasn't anything to write home about, and from what he'd heard about what their base mix was composed of, he was sure he'd likely gag it up without the Tamato Berry flavoring it'd been made with. But Gummis had a consistent recipe that had been discovered just after human times in the early years after the Great Flash, one that didn't require the flesh of other Pokémon to make. They filled Pokémon up all the same regardless of species or diet, tasted tolerable from the berry flavorings they were made with, and didn't leave lingering queasy doubts over what on earth they just ate.

Though why was he even sweating all these details? There was a full plate of food right in front of him, and he couldn't remember the last time he'd had portions this generous. As soon as he finished his Gummi, he hastily went to work on another, and then the dark bread, eating loudly enough to draw the attention of the other Pokémon at his table: Kate, Alvin, and the Axew from the caravan. The Dragon-type seemed to recoil a bit at the Quilava's table manners, though his companions paid it no mind, with Kate cracking a knowing smile and giving a teasing poke of her claw.

"Well, somebody certainly doesn't have any regrets about coming along tonight," she teased. "Just don't fill yourself up too much yet. They're passing out the Lansat Berries."

Right, the main attraction that night were spiky orange berries carried off from among the loot that were currently being distributed among the tables. A few of them made their way to Lyle's table, the Outlaws' eyes lighting up from the rare treat with the visible exception of the Axew, who glanced about warily. Lyle took one of the berries from the center of his table, only to suddenly pause and examine it with a skeptical frown after he realized something was amiss.

"Wait a minute… what on earth would a merchant caravan need all these Lansat Berries for anyways?" he asked.

It was a fair question. Why between what they'd pulled from the caravan, they'd turned up enough Lansat Berries to plant an entire field, and not a small one either. Lyle had heard of 'mons who boiled berries into syrups for medicinal purposes… or recreational ones in the case of these Lansat Berries. But since when did merchant caravans get mixed up in illegal trades like those?

"Tch, don't sweat it," Kate scoffed. "It's got a great tang to it and it makes you feel great just holding it."

Kate probably had a point. They'd done good that night, and now was the time to enjoy the literal fruit of their efforts. The Sneasel bit into the berry, ruddy juice getting over her muzzle as she munched away to her heart's content. In between bites, she noticed that of all her teammates, the Axew was the only one who hadn't claimed a berry for herself, making the Sneasel tilt her head puzzledly at the Dragon-type.

"Aren't you going to take one, kid?" she asked. "I thought Axew like you were supposed to eat berries by nature, so I'd have thought you'd be all over these things."

The Dragon-type glanced over at the orange berry briefly, before turning away with a quiet frown.

"I'll pass. I'm more of a fan of Haban Berries anyways."

"Your loss, Axew," Alvin grunted. "I could go for seconds!"

The Marowak snatched the Axew's unclaimed Lansat Berry, greedily tearing into it as the Axew looked down and pawed uneasily at her scarf. With his plate now more thoroughly cleared and his own Lansat berry reduced to its inedible pedicel, Lyle turned his attention to his mug as Kate reached for another Lansat Berry for herself. The Quilava raised the wooden vessel to his mouth and paused as he watched the Dragon-type pull out a small, gray pendant around her neck that looked like some sort of dart or triangular top with black and white stripes running about it. Lyle put his drink aside for a moment and looked over curiously, shifting his eyes between the Axew and her pendant before he spoke up.

"So do we get a name to call you by?" he asked. "I mean, I suppose we can stick with 'Axew', or 'Milza' if you're the formal type, but I figured that'd be a bit cold given that we're eating at the same table together."

The Axew said nothing for a moment, before shaking her head back with a sharp frown.

"Call me 'Irune'," she said. "It's the name I'm most comfortable with."

Lyle quirked a brow at the Axew, as Kate and Alvin looked over. The Sneasel of the pair remarked to herself about how something felt strange about the name, and in a sense it was. After all, the dragon had only given one part of her name in reply.

"... Just a bare name?" he asked. "I mean, I'm not expecting you to blurt out your Vatername to me, but hearing your Beiname and what others know you for as a ‘mon would help-"

Lyle was cut off by a sharp snort and saw the Axew shooting an askew glance back at him.

"Don't get me wrong, Quilava. I'm thankful for your and your friends' help, but I don't exactly know if I can trust you yet," she harrumphed. "Pokémon don't share their full names with random strangers. I'd expect an Outlaw of all 'mons to understand that."

Lyle frowned back at Irune. He would've hoped that saving her hide would've counted for something for trust, but it was hard to fault the Dragon-type for wanting to keep things close to her chest. He'd done much the same since he first dipped his paws into banditry. Even so, she surely had something to talk about, didn't she?

"Fair enough, let's try a different topic then," the stoat offered. "That thing you're wearing around your neck. What's it for?"

Irune clutched at her pendant and hesitated for a noticeable moment, before looking back at the Quilava and speaking up in a guarded tone.

"... It's a memento," she replied. "To help me remember something important that I'm looking for."

Lyle flattened his ears out at the Axew. For a 'mon who owed them her freedom, she sure was tight-lipped about what she'd done to get into trouble—but no matter. If she insisted on playing coy with questions, there was more than one way to pull an answer out of a 'mon...

"And just what would that be-?"

"Hey."

Lyle caught himself at the sound of a Heliolisk's voice, turning along with his fellows at his table to see Dalton and Artem approach and take places at two vacant seats. The Heliolisk of the pair hesitated and pawed at the back of his head uneasily, before speaking up.

"It's Lyle, isn't it?" he asked, making the Quilava shoot a wary glance back across the table before replying.

"Yeah. Something up?"

Dalton kept a long, straight face at the four for a noticeable pause. The Heliolisk's features eased and he shook his head, speaking up with a click of his tongue and grudging sigh.

"I just wanted to say thanks for you and your friends' help in the raid earlier," the Electric-type said. "You really came in handy when those guards cornered us."

Artem ruffled his feathers and looked away uncomfortably for a moment. For all the attitude the Heliolisk and Swellow had towards them earlier that evening, they both clearly felt uneasy not giving credit where it was due.

"Yeah, if it wasn't for you three, we'd probably be stuck in the infirmary tent right now with those 'mons that got chewed up out there," the Swellow added. "Especially that Mismagius from your crew. That Aerodactyl from the caravan really did a number on her."

A chill came over the gathered Outlaws at the table. Their job had gone off without anyone getting captured, which was more than what most ambushes of this scale could hope for… but at the same time their victory hadn't come without cost. The Quilava thought back over the night's events, realizing that if not for a few strokes of fate, he and his friends would likely be too wounded to enjoy the food and drink set out before them. Or worse, left behind in the caravan if they'd failed to rout the defenders.

The Fire-type quietly breathed a quiet sigh of relief that luck had smiled on them, even with Varhyde's gods slain, perhaps there was still someone out there looking out for them. Just what he'd snatched for himself in his bag would be enough to get by into at least the onset of winter in Nebelmond, and if he hung around Alvin's friends on the Terra Tyrants for the few days it'd take to fence the rest of their takings, he'd surely get more. Why, with the amount of loot they took in tonight, his share would surely be enough to get him through to the start of next spring. Perhaps longer if he managed to stay frugal and avoid the vices of gaming and drink that his fellows on the Foehn Gang used to be fond of.

"So what is it that you're looking for anyways, kid?"

Lyle blinked as he noticed that Alvin had turned and was eyeing Irune warily. The Axew shrank back briefly, as the Marowak cradled his club and gave a small frown down at the Dragon-type.

"You never did answer Lyle's question earlier," the Marowak reminded. "I get that everyone needs to be able to keep secrets sometimes, but nobody needs to be that tight-lipped."

Alvin's eyes fell onto Irune's pendant, as she hurriedly tucked it back under her scarf. Whatever her attempts at trying to hide it from his attention, it had only made it more noticeable to him and made him tilt his head skeptically.

"And since when did anyone keep little stone spikes as a memento?" he asked. "Is that supposed to be a key of some sort?"

Lyle noticed that Irune seemed to stiffen up and pawed uneasily at her shoulder over Alvin's prodding. Why on earth was she this hesitant to give a straight answer anyways? He watched as the Axew fumbled with her words briefly, as a sharp voice from behind pricked his ears.

"Hey, Kate."

Lyle saw Dalton and Artem turn and look up, and followed their gazes along with Kate, as she paused and pinned her ears back. There, in full view of the entire encampment was the Mistral Marauders' leader Myra walking up to their table. The Staraptor turned her head and glanced over at the Axew sitting beside him, leveling a wingtip out at the Dragon-type.

"I didn't remember seeing your Axew buddy from earlier, and she's not wearing any of our colors," the Staraptor said. "Who is she and what is she doing here?"

Irune squirmed and shrank back from the hawk's obviously inhospitable demeanor. Kate looked at the Axew briefly, before turning back to her superior with a dismissive wave of her claw.

"Psh. We found her locked up in one of the wagons," the Sneasel said. "She was obviously no friend of anyone from that caravan, so I figured there wasn't any harm in letting her tag along."

"Is that why they also held onto a bag belonging to her instead of trashing or looting it?" Myra asked. "Can't say we found anything else from the caravan with Axew scales on it."

Kate set her teeth on edge as Myra held out a satchel on her wingtip, her Quilava and Marowak companions doing much the same. Irune's eyes abruptly widened at the sight of the bag, as she tried to jump over the table for it. Myra pulled the bag up with a muffled yet audible rattle, leaving the Tusk Pokémon to slip over the edge with a yelp and faceplant onto the ground.

… What on earth was in that bag to make Irune react like that? Did she have her soul stuck in a jar inside or something?

Evidently Lyle wasn't the only one who found the young dragon's reaction to be strange. The outcry put a damper over the festivities as Ford and Parker turned to stare at the table, along with what seemed like half of the three Outlaw bands' combined headcount. Lyle shot a sideways glance at Irune as the Axew got up and nursed her snout, all while Myra narrowed her eyes down at the little Dragon-type.

"Curb your enthusiasm there, kid," she said. "I'm not just giving this back until I'm sure we can trust you."

Irune looked up, and gave a pouting huff back at the Staraptor, at once seemingly unnerved by the much larger and imposing hawk while attempting to force a brave face over her features. Lyle couldn't tell if the kid was bold, or just plain stupid to try and pull this sort of attitude on an Outlaw of Myra's stature, and thought of getting up to pull her back only for the Axew to pipe up in protest.

"I- I really don't see why you're giving me such a cold welcome! Everyone here's an Outlaw, and I'm also one too!"

The entire tent fell silent as soon as Irune's words left her mouth, the Dragon-type suddenly finding herself at the center of attention of what must've been forty sets of eyes all about her. Lyle and his companions at the table traded puzzled glances at each other over the Axew's reaction. What on earth was Irune hoping to accomplish getting so lippy with one of the bosses? It wasn't as if she had superior strength or obvious experience going for her right then. Myra didn't seem particularly impressed with the Axew's outburst either, as the Staraptor stepped forward and leaned in with a sharp scowl.

"Then why don't you answer a few questions here in front of your fellow Outlaws," the Staraptor insisted. "Don't worry, we don't bite… often."

The Axew audibly gulped before following after the Flying-type into an open space at the center of the tent. Square in the line of sight of the entire encampment's worth of Pokémon… and their line of fire if their mood soured. Lyle couldn't help but feel a twinge of pity for the Dragon-type as she fidgeted uneasily for a moment, before she summoned her nerves and spoke up to the bandit leader.

"Wh-What do you want to know?" she asked.

"Who are you?" Myra questioned. "And whose pattern is that that you're wearing on your neck?"

"I'm Irune, from…" the Dragon-type began, before trailing off to herself and fumbling with her words.

"Well… admittedly it's a bit hard to keep track of places after moving from one encampment to the next…"

Irune paused and visibly blanked for a moment, before shaking her head and piping up in reply.

"But the scarf belongs to the Balance Bandits," the Axew insisted. "It was a smaller gang, but they were a bunch of up-and-comers around these parts before those blasted Grünhäuter caught up with us!"

Myra blinked a moment as a few stifled laughs and snorts came from the gathering of bandits, including from Lyle's own table as he looked and saw Kate snickering at the Dragon-type's reply.

"The 'Balance Bandits'?" the Sneasel said. "Gods, I don't blame her for being tight-lipped with a dweeby name like that!"

Myra gave a bemused smile, before stooping down and pressing on in an audibly disbelieving tone that sounded much like a mother Ambipom would right after catching her child with his tail still in the sweets jar .

"Mm-hmm, I'm sure you were," the Flying-type said. "And tell me, just what did you and the 'Balance Bandits' do to get in such trouble, hm?"

Irune opened her mouth and hesitated a moment, this time seemingly already having an answer in mind but unsure of whether or not to offer it. After a brief pause and a shake of her head, the young Dragon-type dug her feet into the ground beneath her and piped up adamantly.

"I... was working on a plan with them to clear out the treasure of the Divine Roost!" she insisted. "The army's taken an interest in… uh, things from there and they snatched me up over it!"

Raucous laughter broke out around the gathering, as even at his own table, Lyle noticed Kate laughing hard enough to be blinking tears back, and Alvin let out an unstifled laugh of his own. Back in the center of the tent, Irune looked about as the chorus of laughter washed over her, her cheeks flushing a deep, flustered red as Myra shook her head with a dismissive scoff.

"Yeah, okay then. Just sit down and shut up for a while, rookie," she scoffed. "You'll need to work on being able to tell a convincing fib if you're planning on impressing anyone with a story like that."

Myra shook her head and threw the bag at Irune's feet with an audible clatter before shuffling back off to the festivities' food and drink. The Axew gave a sour scowl after the Staraptor before hurriedly snatched up the satchel, beelining back to Lyle and his companions' table as she let her bag drop by her seat with a frustrated growl.

"I'm telling the truth!" she fumed. "Why doesn't anyone here believe me?!"

"It is a bit of a hard tale to swallow," a Heliolisk's voice cut in. "You might as well have said the army was after you because you're a human who can see visions of the future."

Irune seemed to flinch for a brief moment at the charge, before giving a sour frown in reply. Dalton gave a small shake of a half-finished pint, before shooting an unimpressed stare across the table at the Dragon-type.

"Really now, if the army really wanted anything from the Divine Roost, they could've just walked into it and helped themselves to it," the Electric-type insisted. "The deities that once made use of it died years ago in battle after the gods of Varhyde and Edialeigh took to the field to help with the war."

"I know that," Irune shot back. "But they don't know where everything is from that shrine. And from what I heard…"

She suddenly quieted down and glanced around warily. After being convinced that no one outside the table could hear her, she leaned in and spoke up.

"They think those gods that used to roost there recently came back from the dead!" the Axew whispered. "And the army's looking for ways to get them to fight on Varhyde's side."

Dalton and his Swellow partner looked over at the Axew with askew glances, before the Flying-type of the pair ruffled his feathers and let out a sharp, dismissive chirp.

"Pah, that whole 'reincarnation' yarn? For all we know, it'll be a thousand years before we get replacements for those dead gods," Artem scoffed. "If that's what the army's pinning their hopes on to turn the tide of the war for them, they're in deeper trouble than I thought."

A dark scowl seemed to settle over the Heliolisk's face briefly after his Swellow companion spoke. Even if Dalton had come off as a bit of a stuck-up from their first encounter, seeing his mood turn like that was still surprising.

Lyle blinked for a moment, wondering why the topic of the army's incompetence would've soured the Heliolisk's mood so. From the way he talked about Grünhäuter earlier, he'd have expected the Heliolisk to join in with his buddy to make some sort of quip or joke at their expense, but it was as if he was... bitter about something. Lyle debated for a moment whether to ask further, only for Dalton to make the matter moot by letting out a sharp scoff and grabbing his mug.

"Hrmph, we've got better things to do than pick apart some rookie's tall tales, anyways," Dalton remarked. "Come on, Artem."

The Heliolisk and Swellow finished their drinks and brusquely headed off from the table. Lyle and his companions looked after the pair, before the stoat took a deep drink from his mug and shook his head back to Irune with a low sigh.

"Look, whatever really happened, you don't need to make up some sort of story to impress us," the Quilava insisted. "We won't pry into things for now. After all, you're in the same boat as the rest of us anyways."

Irune frowned back at Lyle for a noticeable moment, before hanging her head in defeat. The Axew let her gaze drift towards the table with a low pout.

"I suppose I can't argue the point," she murmured. "But I really didn't make any of that up…"

"Just focus more on having a good time, alright?" the Quilava asked. "You just busted out of a prisoner transport, enjoy your freedom a bit-"

"Eyaah! Get away! Get away!"

Lyle, Kate, and Irune fell dead silent as they saw a Togedemaru in a Roly-Poly Caravan scarf run by. Behind him was a Thievul and a Duraludon in Terra Tyrant colors in hot pursuit. The pair caught up with the rodent, only for him to shock them with a startled squeak and continue running as Irune gaped at the fleeing Pokémon with a tense grimace

"Isn't that one of the Togedemaru from the caravan?" she asked, making Lyle stare blank-facedly at the fleeing Electric-type.

"What in the-?" he started, only for the Duraludon to look up at Alvin and give a sharp, baying shout.

"Alvin! Don't let him get away!" the Dragon-type snapped.

Alvin sprang off his seat just as the Togedemaru approached. The spike ball froze and tried to get around the Marowak only for him to swing his club and strike the Electric-type across his face. The Roly-Poly Pokémon crumpled to the ground with a pained moan, as the Duraludon and Thievul hastily bound up the Electric-type and drug the hapless creature off kicking and screaming

"Kidnapper! Kidnapper! H-Help!"

"Gah, where's that stupid rat's gag again?" the Thievul grumbled.

"'They're small and easy to keep penned up,' he said. 'Their patrons will pay their weight in Poké to free them!' he said," the Duraludon growled. "Cripes, what on earth was the Boss thinking when he said that? Why didn't he have us snatch those Pullers from the caravan instead?"

Lyle froze and felt his blood run cold. The- The Terra Tyrants were holding Pokémon for ransom?

That was a crime far riskier to be involved in than simple robbery, and one he wanted nothing to do with. The revelation had similarly alarmed Kate and Irune, and the festive atmosphere of the gathering had come to a screeching halt as Myra and Parker had recalled their underlings from their seats to pack up their shares of the loot and get moving. Alvin uneasily pawed at his shoulder and gave something approaching an apologetic look, as Lyle gave a disgusted snort, hopped off his seat, and snatched his bag up from the ground.

"Lyle?" the Marowak asked. "Where are you going?"

"I'm taking the cut I already have and getting out of here," the Fire-type huffed. "I didn't sign up with your crew for this, and I'm leaving before this all blows up in everyone's faces."

"Alvin, why didn't you say that Ford dabbled in snatching?" Kate questioned. "This is going to draw a lot more heat than a simple robbery!"

"I-I didn't know we were going to do that tonight, alright?!" the Ground-type insisted. "I thought that this was just going to be a normal smash and grab!"

"'Normal'?!" Lyle exclaimed. "You mean this isn't the first time the Terra Tyrants have done something like this?!"

The Marowak hemmed and hawed for a moment, before pawing at the back of his head.

"I mean… I didn't really keep track or ask too many questions, so... Maybe?"

From her end of the table, Irune slid off and grabbed her bag with a faint rattle, clearly shaken by the revelation. The Axew looked about uneasily, seemingly expecting the ceiling to cave in at any moment as she muttered nervously back to the other Outlaws.

"I- I should really leave right now," she stammered. "I was a fool to think that I'd somehow be able to hide with you-"

"Look, simmer down, everyone!"

Irune was cut off by the sound of Kate's voice crying out, as she and her compatriots about the table looked up to see that the Sneasel had hopped onto it and was waving her claws for attention. The hubbub about the Pocket died down for a moment, as some of the Outlaws stopped to hear out the Dark-type as she raised her voice to speak.

"Look, we're in the Pocket of a Mystery Dungeon a full six floors down!" she insisted. "Even if the Terra Tyrants are involved in riskier business than normal, it's gonna take time for anyone to just find this place!"

Just then, a startled yelp rang out from the front entrance of the Pocket, a Watchog running up wide-eyed, and gesturing in alarm at the fog-filled passage beyond.

"There's someone in the mist-!"

The lookout never finished his words, as a large plume of fire abruptly sailed in and sent him flying headfirst into a crude lean-to. A hulking blue figure with red wings, white segments of shell on his underbelly, a metal band with notches around his right foreleg, and segments of green armor plates along his body whose clatter evidenced they'd been built around a layer of mail rushed out, flying up near the ceiling of the Pocket before letting out a bellowing roar.

"This is the place! Mow down anyone you see!" the Salamence barked. "The Dyad is somewhere here among them!"

He dove down, striking the earth just in front of the tent and churning the ground with a violent tremor. The next thing Lyle knew, he and his fellow Outlaws about the table were thrown from their seats, pitching to earth with the remains of their food and drink as they heard the table and seats get thrown about along with yelps and shouts from all around.

Lyle righted himself with the wind knocked out of him and the table knocked over onto its side, seeing Kate and Alvin hurriedly helping Irune up as confused cries rang out in the background. Amid the din, he heard the sound of shattering glass ring out, and saw yellowish orbs raining out over the encampment, followed by another that kicked up a blinding flash that erupted from the other end of the table.

The next few moments went by in a muddy daze. As the light from the blinding flash cleared and their vision stabilized from his spinning head, he felt Alvin tugging at him.

“L-Lyle! Snap out of it already!”

Lyle blinked in a daze and looked past the table, where he immediately noticed that their makeshift gathering hall had all but been destroyed. The sight of a Corvisquire in green armor flying by revealed that even worse, more Pokémon had followed that Salamence out of the Pocket's fog-shrouded entrance. The lot of them snarling and throwing an overwhelming array of ranged attacks, orbs, and seeds deeper into the Pocket at their fellows in the encampment, many of whom were visibly tottering in confusion or fatigue from the sudden ambush. After peeking past the table, Irune shrank back, the Axew's face flushing pale as chaos erupted all about them.

"I-It's too late…"

Kate and Lyle stared blankly for a moment, before Alvin sharply prodded at them with his bone and motioned for them to follow.

"There's a second exit at the back of the Pocket!" the Marowak insisted. "Come on, hurry!"

Lyle needed no further prodding and immediately sprang onto his feet. The four bolted from behind their upended table just as a Blast Seed sailed in and reduced it into charred splinters. Lyle ducked and his vents flared to life in a panic as a splintered piece of wood zipped overhead, a quick glance over his shoulder revealing Myra and Ford rushing to the front with some of their stronger subordinates to try and stop the soldiers' advance.

G-Gods, that last night with the Foehn Gang, the worst-case scenario he'd been dreading since leaving his berry field for Waterhead Cave. All of it was happening again. H-How on earth did they even get found out like this?! Had these 'mons seen the flare after all and spotted a straggler from their group dipping back into the Mystery Dungeon?!

A glance back revealed a number of Outlaws converging together from the skirmishers, throwing up screens of light that they held up to block incoming attacks, with others massing behind them to lob Blast Seeds and Orbs from behind their cover. The impromptu shield wall was hardly an airtight defense, as Lyle hastily sidestepped an incoming Silver Spike, charging ahead with his head lowered as the din of battle rang out about them. The Fire-type turned back to Kate as they fled, shooting a sharp glare over at her.

"What was that about it taking time for someone to find this place?!" Lyle demanded.

"It was a bit shorter than I thought, okay?!" she exclaimed.

Lyle flinched after hearing the sounds of a scuffle and a pained scream ring out from ahead. He felt Kate grab onto him to pull him back as the two skidded to a stop after seeing Alvin and Irune freeze in front of them as a Pinsir was thrown across their path. The beetle hit the ground and sprawled out groaning incoherently with an ugly crack in her exoskeleton that dribbled yellow fluid. A quick glance to their left revealed a Heracross and Dusk Lycanroc in green army plates stepping out with low snarls, evidently having slipped past the defensive lines to flank them. The four braced themselves, when the pair of soldiers suddenly froze after their eyes fell upon Irune and they recoiled with a visible start.

"Ah! That's the Dyad!" the Heracross cried out. The Bug-type's Lycanroc partner narrowed her eyes, crouching against the ground with a low snarl.

"Mop up those Outlaws and grab her!"

Lyle dove out of the way as the Heracross lunged forward, throwing a sharp chop with a tarsus that found its mark on Kate's chest. The Quilava watched as she tumbled back with a yelp, as he fell back and bounded over to Alvin to try and close ranks. The Marowak charged ahead with a bellowing cry, swinging at the Bug-type's head with his club and Lyle pushed fierce fire out of his body’s vents. Deep breaths, the soldier was big, but he was a bug, and he’d burn just like any other one. Lyle felt build up at the back of his throat, and breathed out, only to feel a crushing blow from his side that knocked him off his feet.

Lyle coughed up smoke and stray cinders, reeling as his rattled mind gathered he’d been tackled. Except tackles weren’t supposed to hurt like that.


"Where do you think you're going, stoat?!" a growling voice shouted.

Lyle grimaced and rolled onto his feet—looking up just in time to see that his attacker had been the Lycanroc right before she struck him again with a second swift, dashing ram. Lyle abruptly crumpled to the ground wheezing and gagging from the blow. It felt as if he'd been hit by a sack of stones, and considering his attacker, maybe that wasn't too far from what had actually happened.

From his place on the ground, the Quilava tried to curl up his body defensively and flare out his fire to drive the wolf off, only to see Irune from the corner of his eyes run up and run a tusk into the Rock-type's foreleg. The Lycanroc yelped in pain before Irune flicked her head to the side and ran her other tusk into the same leg, the Rock-type wincing and tripping after losing her balance as Irune hopped back and motioned to Lyle to follow.

"C-Come on! Get up! We can make it to that other exit if we keep running!"

Lyle started forward, when he heard Alvin's voice yelp and turned to see the Heracross knocking him over and pinning the hapless Marowak. The Quilava went wide-eyed and reflexively dashed at the Heracross, striking the back of the Bug-type's head with a fiery tackle that made a rush of adrenaline shoot through his veins. His limbs grew looser, their movements swifter, as Lyle watched the impact of his Flame Charge force the beetle off with a sharp yelp as he cried out to his teammates.

"Now! Get him while he's down!"

They seemed to have heard him loud and clear. Alvin used his newfound freedom to tighten his grasp on his club and smash the underside of the Heracross's head. The Heracross flinched and attempted to curl and shield himself, when Kate ran in with a sharp slash of her claws across the beetle's face and made the Heracross slump over limply. The three panted disorientedly for a moment from their encounter, only to be snapped back to attention by the sound of Irune letting out a piercing scream.

"A-Aah! Let go of me!"

Lyle turned with his teammates and saw Irune's bag lying on the ground with the Axew being held aloft by the Lycanroc nipping at the knot of her scarf. The wolf began to carry her off as she flailed desperately to try and break the Rock-type's grasp, but to no avail.

"Rgh… Mission accomplished," the Lycanroc spat. "I'll let the others deal with you jerks-"

"Not so fast, Grünhäuter!" Dalton's voice cried out.

Lyle jumped back as a weak jolt of electricity zipped in and made the Lycanroc recoil and her limbs lock up, the Lycanroc freezing and stiffening up with a yelp. Sure enough, Artem swooped in shortly afterward, the bird barreling in with a spread-wing tackle that carried an almost metallic glint that struck the Lycanroc in her neck. The Swellow's blow made the Grünhäuter lose her grip on her Axew captive, who hit the ground and scurried to her feet as the Lycanroc tried to keep her footing. Lyle reflexively darted ahead to come to her aid, when he saw blue dragonfire built at the back of the Axew's throat. Before he could say anything, she disgorged it into the Lycanroc's face, sending her flopping to the ground unconscious as Irune spat disgustedly to her side.

"Pass that on to that awful Graf of yours!"

Lyle froze from his place behind Irune as she hastily recovered her bag. Graf? How the hell would she know these 'mons were bossed around by a noble, let alone his title? The only way would've been if she'd run into these army 'mons before. They had come because of her! The Quilava opened his mouth to speak, only for Artem to cut him off with an impatient squawk.

"Oi hurry it up! Those Grünhäuter just broke the defensive line!" Artem shouted. "Boss Parker's keeping the exit open, but she can't hold out forever!"

"Right!" Lyle called out. "We're coming!"

Lyle lowered his head and bolted forward as Irune ran along with Artem and Dalton. Kate quickly overtook his pace with her kind's natural swiftness, stopping briefly to snatch up a smaller bag of loot that had been dropped in a hurry, and Alvin tore along behind him. All the while, attacks flew about the encampment as the exit came into view, a few visibly panicked Outlaws managing to make it through the gauntlet and hurry past a small defensive line consisting of Parker and a few others in her garb who alternated forming walls of light and into the foggy beyond. A couple others stopped to try and help wounded and fainted stragglers through, while still others attempted to go back for some of their ill-gotten gains to carry off in their retreat.

A loud roar and the sound of churning air overhead turned his attention to Myra wheeling in the air above, with the Salamence's form barreling after her. The three blanched and dove behind an upended tent for cover, peeking out as they saw the Salamence circle the Staraptor. Now that they had a clearer view, they got a good look at the drake's scarf and blanched. It had the same gray background as the one of any other Grünhäuter, but with two white chevrons, with the top merged into a diamond enclosing a blue crystal that made Alvin flinch and tighten his grip around his club with a wide-eyed stammer.

"G-Götterblut! What sort of Grünhäuter is that?!" Alvin whined. "I thought only Stabsoffiziere had blue on their scarves!"

Why in the hell would someone that high-ranked from the army be here?! Lyle craned his head back in the direction of the Pocket's main entrance. There was no sign of the Pokémon from the shield wall barring a few panicked stragglers in hasty retreat below Myra and the Salamence, but neither of the two were focusing on anyone but each other, with the Dragon-type curling his maw up into a toothy sneer.

"You should know when you're beaten, Staraptor!" the drake roared. "That deserter of a Steelix may not have a bright future ahead of him, but if you yield here, perhaps I'll find it in my heart to vouch for you to receive a lesser sentence!"

It didn’t take long to gather that the Salamence's offer fell on deaf ears, as Myra glared and spat back with audible venom in her voice.

"Blow your hot air someplace else, you overgrown skink!"

Lyle and his fellows watched as the Staraptor dove for the Salamence with a blistering aerial tackle, her blow striking the joint of his left wing and making him bellow in pain. The Salamence faltered in the air for a moment and fought to stay airborne, baring his fangs and narrowing his eyes into a hateful glare.

"So sei es! Du hast dieses Schicksal ausgewählt, Ganovin!"ᴰ¹

The Salamence tore for the Staraptor as electrical sparks flared up and began to dance about his fangs. The Outlaw leader tried to wheel out of the way, only for the Salamence to swoop in and bite down on her left wing with an audible crunch that made the hawk scream in pain.

"A-AAAGH!"

Lyle flinched and shivered as Myra's cries echoed through the pocket, the Quilava noticing his Sneasel teammate looking up in blank shock. Up in the air above them, they watched the Salamence wrench Myra's wing back before he knocked her out of the sky and sent her spiraling to the ground with a sickening thud. There, before the wounded Staraptor could attempt to get up, the drake pounced on her with a swipe from a set of claws trailing green flecks of dragonfire, sprawling the Staraptor out limply as Kate’s face took on a horrified grimace and she cried out in reflex.

"B-Boss Myra!"

G-Götterblut it was hard to hear Kate like that. Lyle felt Kate brush up against him as the Sneasel shot up and instinctively ran forward, Alvin hastily grabbing her claw and pulling her back with a stammering, wide-eyed stare.

"C-Come on!" Alvin insisted. "We need to go!"

"Hurry it up out there!"

A bellowing cry rang out as the three saw Parker running for the exit, spitting a torrent of water back at the advancing guards just as Dalton, Artem, and Irune slipped into the mist. One after the other, Kate, Lyle, and Alvin fled the upended tent, making a mad dash as attacks and missiles zipped around them.

Lyle yelped as a deafening crack of electricity rang out overhead and a Pidgeotto crashed to the ground just a few paces away from Kate. B-Blauflamme, he could already tell he was going to have trouble sleeping for a while. Just a little further ahead! That exit out of this damned Pocket couldn't come soon enough!

He watched as the Sneasel hastily sprung aside before running for dear life into the fog. From behind, he heard the screams of a Mightyena being pinned to the ground by something big-sounding that let out a loud snarl, along with a low shudder from his Marowak companion who'd evidently seen whatever happened. The Quilava glanced back over his shoulder, where he saw Alvin running for dear life after, but having visibly fallen behind by a good dozen paces.

"Hurry it up, Alvin!" the Fire-type cried. "We're almost there!"

"I-I'm trying!" the Marowak protested. "My kind's not as quick on our feet as yours-!"

Alvin never finished his words, as in the middle of his stride, a slicing gust of air zipped in from overhead from a passing Corvisquire. The Marowak lost his footing and flopped over onto his belly with a weak groan, making Lyle's pupils shrink to pins.

"Alvin!"

No no no. This couldn't be happening. Not now! The Quilava whirled around, running against the few Outlaws still fleeing for the exit as he stooped down beside the Ground-type, desperately trying to tug him onto his feet.

"C-Come on, Alvin! Please get back up!" the stoat pleaded. "The exit's right here!"

The Marowak managed to stumble dazedly onto his feet with Lyle's help, when a hail of pointed stones zipped in and the next thing that Lyle remembered was stabbing pain pockmarking his side. Lyle flopped to the ground with a yelp as his vision started to run muddy and he felt blood ooze from under his pelt. He caught a fleeting glimpse of the Stone Edge sending Alvin flying into a partially toppled tent nearby before the canvas collapsed over him in a heap. Lyle limped up and looked on blankly when he heard ugly laughter behind him, flaring his flames with a start and looking over to see an armored Rhydon sneering down at him.

"Hah, your friend doesn't look so good right now!" the soldier jeered, as he lowered his head and pawed the ground for a charge. "Why don't you join hi- AAAAAAAAGH!"

The Rhydon’s jeers were abruptly shut up a blue blur storming in, Lyle screwed his eyes shut and recoiled as something large and bulky stormed in. He flinched as he heard the Ground-type screaming in pain and the sound of something wrenching out of hide and flesh rang out. Lyle cracked his eyes open and saw Parker draw one of her seamitars back, before shoving the Rhydon aside limply to the ground as a dark, ugly red blotch formed around a large stab through the abdominal segment of the soldier's cloth armor. Lyle laid on his rump still panting and gasping for air as the Samurott spat water over her blade, flicking it to her side along with a spray of ruddy fluid before looking down at him.

"Move!" the Samurott barked. "We've been mining the entrance with Blast Seeds on the way out and I'm blowing the exit behind me!"

"B-But my friend's still-!"

Before Lyle could finish his protest, Parker was grazed in her shoulder by an incoming gout of bluish dragonfire, making her recoil as the pair looked off to see the soldiers' Salamence leader had risen up into the air of the Pocket. Other Grünhäuter had taken wing behind him above the ruined, smoldering encampment, and a veritable horde of Pokémon in green armor charged ahead of him. The few Pokémon still holding up the Protects at the exit had their nerves fail and bolted, Parker shaking feeling back into her forepaw as she shot an impatient glare back at the Quilava.

"There's nothing I can do for your friend!" the Water-type shouted. "Either come along or stay here and take your chances fighting it out with these Grünhäuter on your own!"

Parker spat up a large orb of water and fanned it out along the ground, kicking it forward into a wave that tore along the ground for the front lines of the advancing soldiers. Sensing a narrow opportunity, Lyle darted for the collapsed tent that Alvin had been knocked into, when a stony projectile zipped just past his face.

Lyle stumbled back and yelped, the roar of charging Pokémon reverberating in his mind and his blood ran cold. His breath tightened as suddenly all he could think about was the prospect of being all alone, getting picked apart by those soldiers once the exit was cut off.

The Quilava lowered his head before he turned and bolted for the exit of the Pocket. He felt a lump in his throat as the collapsed tent slipped from view, as a single thought kept reiterating in his mind and leaked shakily over into his mouth.

"I-I'm sorry."

Lyle screamed and his mind went blank as a spray of water zipped just past his left shoulder. The Quilava let out a low whimper and bounded ahead as fast as his legs could carry him, throwing himself forward with a lunge that made the surrounding world blur in his vision. The last of the destroyed encampment vanished as he plunged headfirst into the mist. Five paces. Ten. Fifteen. Twenty. The world suddenly spun about him as a deafening blast rang out with a hot flash of heat that reminded him of when he was too slow to close the furnace in his parents’ shop hit him from behind, as a concussive wave knocked him off his feet.

Lyle pitched forward and fell to the ground with his ears ringing, instinctively curling up into a ball as his hearing slowly returned to pick up the sound of his breaths coming out in tired, frightened pants. He could hear fire on his body sputtered audibly from exhaustion, and now that the adrenaline was ebbing from his body, he could feel the accompanying aches of his battered frame. Heavy footsteps approached and a large shadow suddenly fell over him. The Fire-type flinched and screwed his eyes shut, bracing for the sharp blow that would perhaps be the last thing he remembered of the world about him.

"Get up."

Lyle warily cracked his eyes open, looking up to see Parker scowling down at him, visibly brushing at a singed patch of hide on her shoulder.

"It will take time for those Grünhäuter to dig out the exit," she harrumphed. "You should make the most of this respite while you can."

Parker shook her head and continued off along the path, the Samurott's shell-headed form melting into the mist. Lyle got up and wearily retraced his steps back towards the mouth leading into the Pocket, where there he found a wall of blasted rock, along with a few charred husks of spent Blast Seeds. The Quilava stood there wordlessly for a moment, pawing at the stones as he tried to blink back tears from the corners of his eyes. The stoat turned away and headed off into the mist, his voice hitching as he could muster but one word from the back of his throat:

"D-Dammit… Dammit!"



Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Prost! - Drinking expression roughly equivalent to "Cheers!"
2. Glühwein - A type of mulled wine. Traditionally made and served in winter, especially around Christmas. Thus the joke about the bottle's prior owner being impatient for winter.
3. Leichensammler - Roughly "Corpse(s) gatherer". In-setting term for one who scavenges the bodies of dead Wilders for meat as a trade.
4. Milza - "Axew".
5. Beiname - "Byname", "Epithet".
6. Nebelmond - "November" (archaic), lit. "Fog Moon".
7. Stabsoffiziere - "Staff Officers". Analogous concept to "Senior Officers" in English military parlance.

Dialogue:

D1. "So sei es! Du hast dieses Schicksal ausgewählt, Ganovin!" - "So be it! You chose this fate, Outlaw!" (Note, addressed to female, thus 'Ganovin' and not 'Ganove'.)

Teaser Text:

Newangle City, 13. Herbstmond, 1027 n. d. B.
To Graf Lacan von Wellenhafen,

It brings us great pleasure to hear that after a year of pursuit, you have finally been able to secure the very Dyad we once had feared had been lost. After more than seven decades of war with the Kingdom of Edialeigh that outlasted my father and his father, going as far back to the reign of King Sansa, a decisive and lasting end is at long last within our reach.

Our only regret is that the Dyad's mind would be so poisoned by corrupting influences to the point of fleeing from you when you came to collect her. I had hoped that surely she could be reasoned with, but after all the tales you've passed of the circles she fell into over the past year, perhaps it is for the best to be sterner with her until that childish impudence is shed.

After all, while it would be ideal to secure the Dyad's cooperation prior to undertaking Operation Sparkᵃ, it is not strictly needed for its success. We and our realm do not have the luxury of derailing it over matters of mere states of the mind. It was already a miracle of fate that the Dyad would be found here in our realm and not in the Kingdom of Edialeigh as the royal seers feared, and it is a miracle we do not intend to squander.

As such, it is imperative that the Dyad be fielded for Operation Spark by any means necessary, even if it requires you and the Fähnlein under your command to transgress the laws and customs of our realm. You and I both know how grave the potential consequences of failure are for this realm, but in the balance lies the greatest hope the Kingdom of Varhyde has had in generations:

What we can finally call 'Our Peace' to break this kingdom free of its cycle of hardship that has plagued it through the ages, and 'Our Vengeance' to repay this land and its inhabitants' wounds with fireᶜ.

- Letter from König von Wahrheitᵈ, Siegmund Wieshusᵉ to Graf von Wellenhafen, Lacan Dragorans

a. 'Zündfunke' in German, while commonly rendered as 'spark' in English, is more accurately an 'ignition / igniting spark', as in one that starts a fire or process of combustion.
b. 'Friede' is a very formal rendering of 'peace' in German, in more normal contexts, it would be 'Frieden'.
c. The original construction of "Feuer und Flamme" is more accurately "fire and flame", but carries an equivalent sentiment here.
d. Nobiliary title for "King of Varhyde" in this setting. Takes on some other meanings in a more literal translation, but that’s another story for another day.
e. This technically ought to be 'Wie-Shus(ohn)', but that looks fairly awkward written out, so nonstandard spellings it is.
 
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Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
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I just read the first chapter of this story and without any further ado, I'll share my thoughts about it.


To kick things off, I have to say I enjoyed the premise of this fic. I do enjoy me astory about an ex-outlaw who left the dirty life behind, gets stuck in a less than pleasant new one, and is now given a new task by an ex-associate to "one last job". It's a true and tested formula, and I'm willing to bet that down the line something will go wrong on this last job and Lyle may find himself dragged back deeper back into the outlaw life than he initially realized.


Speaking of Lyle, I don't have much of an opinion about him yet as I've only read the first chapter. From what we've seen though, he just seems pretty darn tired and down in the dumps. If successfully acquiring two meals and some liquor is what counts as a good day to him currently after toiling away on a berry farm, then clearly that's hardly a celebratory life to live.


It leads me to ask why he left the outlaw life in the first place since he clearly still has some lingering attachments to it. Maybe a major gig went south pretty bad, their hideout got raided or perhaps he simply didn't find much excitement in that life anymore. Though if it's the last one then I don't see how his current life is a better alternative. But considering he lives in a war torn world, there aren't exactly a lot of lifestyles that'll spark joy to anyone there. Except maybe rich folks profiting directly off the senseless wars lol.


Anyway to wrap things up, I like the hook and set up this chapter presents us with and I'm curious to see how this new gig will turn out. After all, what could possibly go wrong? :)
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
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Hi Fobbie I figured it was about time I got around to Reading Once a Thief. I know I've owed you a review for a while after your beta read a chapter for me, so consider this the return for that. If at any point you feel like this review doesn't go into enough detail just advise such and I'll see about doing a deeper dive into the story and approach you privately.

I feel like the pacing for these first few chapters was pretty close to spot on. While the beginning did feel a tiny bit slow as were eased into the world, once the action picked up the story gripped me and I found it hard to stop and put it down it for any length of time. And by the start of the most recent chapter the greater scope of the story is starting to make itself clear and makes me want to read more.

Something that strikes me about this story is that it has similar vibes to fledglings. Which makes sense because it's by the same writer, but it more specifically feels like fledglings without the more optimistic vibe of children. Without the Saturday morning censors, if you wanted to make an analogy. But it also has a lot of similar world building elements. Also don't think I missed the nod to the Mistral Marauder.

While I did think the beginning was a slightly slow - and I mean very slight 0 everything that happened felt like it happened for a reason. The beginning where Lyle's wages are cut served to give us an idea of the situation both he and the world is in right now. It makes it clear that he’s living pretty miserably and that he doesn't have much to go back to, or much to lose. Sure, he could get into heaps of trouble if he gets caught, but the risk versus reward ratio is much more even.

The sparring scene in chapter one gives us an idea of how competent Lyle is and, the lead up to that helps us both better understand Lyle and why he left, but also introduces us to some other characters that I suspect will be reoccurring - both new friends and old alike. After that, everything after is either non-stop action or the result of that big fight. And now we're at the point where the greater scope of the story is starting to show. We’ve got a mysterious pokemon that’s important enough for high ranking officers to go after and I find myself wondering if we’re going to be dealing with just the governing body doing bad things for the (supposed) right reasons, or if things are going to become a full-blown conspiracy. I have a feeling it’s going to be some gray spot in the middle.

The point I’m getting at is that thus far, nothing feels out of place pacing wise. Even my slight complaint will probably be minor in the grand scheme of things. I know there’s some xenoblade inspiration in this fic, and so far both the vibe and the pacing lines up pretty well with what I remember of the xeno games I’ve played. I don’t know if that was intentional.

Now to touch on characters.

Kate is a fun character. I had already seen a bit of her due to BLC, but its fun to see her shine in her home univers. I love her peppy attitude, and I have a feeling that pep may be needed to give us a breath of levity at times in the journey to come.

Lyle is interesting. Based on the bits of context clues we get along the way, he seems to be someone who has lost almost everything due to his life choices and who is trying to make a turn to get on the straight and narrow before he gets further screwed over. Unfortunately, it looks like the plot will be removing that option 8P

Don’t have much to say about Alvin at this point. We hardly knew ye, Alvin. I kind of suspected he wouldn’t be sticking around for long when he was the only of the trio of him, Kate, and Lyle that wasn’t listed in the Ao3 tags. Still, I think there’s a decent chance we haven’t seen the last of him. Though how he’ll be when we see him again, I don’t know. He could be press ganged or otherwise forced to take up arms against our heroes, or he may have an actual reason for fighting them, or maybe he’ll just get broken out of prison. Who knows?

I’m going to hold off from discussing Irune at this point in time because we know next to nothing about her. I have a feeling she’s not being entirely honest, but I also have the feeling we’ll be getting more answers in the next chapter.

The only other character I want to touch on right now is Dalton. I get the feeling he’s either ex military, or has some other reason that he’s joined up with thieves. His attitude thus far suggests as much. While he doesn’t really feel like a main character and I doubt he’ll be sticking with us for the entire story, I suspect that whatever’s going on with him will be somewhere in the B plot of the story.

I can’t think of much else I want to say, so I’ll wrap up with final impressions thus far. Overall I like what I’ve read thus far. While I was only vaguely curious at the beginning, everything from the caravan raid and onwards had me eager to jump in and read more. The pacing is pretty much on point, and everything so far segue’s nicely into the next part of the story. And the characters are pretty nice to read. While I feel it’ll take a bit more time for the characters to break out of their archetypes, they’re already growing on me. I’m looking forward to the next update. Hopefully next time we’ll get some answers to the mystery presented to us - or at least some clarification. Until then, happy writing.
 

Phoenixsong

smell ya later.
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Ah, a chance to follow along with one of your fics from the proper beginning! Let's get stuck in.

We start off with a nice, quiet harvest day at the end of autumn, albeit not a terribly successful one by the sounds of it. It's a nice establishing shot, including the pressure to bring in a good crop even during what looks like lean times. Of course, knowing what the fic's meant to be about, I wouldn't be surprised if Lyle (or perhaps the crustle) is about to have a very different problem grabbing his attention. And possibly grabbing those berries. :P

and we'd all be getting kicked around by them right now."

"It's much nicer when we get kicked around by our own government!"

Except it'd been the fifth time that the theater of war had moved to Edialeigh in the more than seventy years the war had been dragging on

Oof, yeah, that would be pretty tiring.

Any hope of a decisive victory had died many years ago, much like the gods who'd once fought under the banners of those two lands and met their ends on the battlefield like so many others.

Ah, right; Melanie was based on a legendary who was supposed to be dead, as far as Kate knew. I'm definitely looking forward to learning more about how exactly the legendaries fell as the story moves on.

The Normal-type had just finished counting out coins for a Hoppip under the dull blue glow of a cracked ring made of some sort of clear resin that was hung from a wooden pole. Stuffed with luminous moss if the color of the light was anything to go by. And if the ring-shaped light was really the human relic it appeared to be, it was likely the most valuable thing in the entire strip of buildings.

Fancy ancient ruins are neat and all, but I love it when the little remnants of human society that we take for granted are the things that are really valuable and useful to the cultures that come after.

So what else was he supposed to do?

have you considered,,, making friends?,,,

(nah man I get it I don't know any of my neighbors either lol)

So Lyle's been kicked out of other jobs in the past, hm. Interesting that he's considered stealing out of desperation. One wonders whether that might actually come to something, with a title like this...

Lyle irkely fanned the flames on his head and tail out at the Normal-type's insistence. It was already getting dark, and he wasn't exactly deaf! He'd heard the Persian's warning plenty of times over the past moon, and were it a mere two years ago, that same warning would probably have been about him.

...or, perhaps, it has already come to something in the past, hm hm! (I'm not entirely sure "irkely" is a word, though. "irately", maybe?)

Others had been planted with seeds that had been affected by the Distortion of Mystery Dungeons to yield crops that had little use beyond being used as implements to fight with that seemed to consume ever-increasing swaths of Varhyde's land.

Little bit of a run-on here, but it definitely tracks that they'd be devoting so much land to the war effort, especially after all this time. Nice logical uses of the typical dungeon items as weapons of war here.

Well, Nils is a big jerk. :/ Puts plenty of work into learning about the citizens he's supposed to be protecting, and not enough into supporting himself without bullying them. This is a great encounter for really establishing Lyle's current sorry state. (And also a neat, if unfortunate, consideration that a typhlosion is likely to need a lot more food than a quilava.)

"Would it have killed you to give a normal greeting, Kate?" the Quilava fumed. "What are you even doing here?"

Kate! :D

I left that game and I'm not planning on getting back in.

Just like this fic's full title: Once a Thief, Never a Thief Again. That's how it always works!

"Yeah, well last I checked, the Foehn Gang doesn't exist anymore and the Charizard who used to run it got pushed into an Apricorn to starve to death,"

sudden :nyahorror: at the apricorn cannons in Fledglings I'd forgotten about until now

All I'm asking for is for you to lend your skills and help me and Alvin this one time

definitely always how it works

And so our "oops actually Still a Thief" finds himself roped back into the game. Not an uncommon plotline, but the setup of this tired and struggling world around it should provide plenty of interest—and I've always enjoyed a look into the lives of thieves, no matter the trappings. Lyle's the desperate one, but so far we don't know Kate's motivation (in context). She doesn't give the impression that she's as hard up as Lyle is, or that the only reason she isn't is her jobs with her new crew...

It was said that places like them were areas where the space and time of the world had been damaged and intermixed with other dimensions from the effects of the Great Flash.

Intermixed with other dimensions, hm? Neat. In spite of Lyle's complaints, Waterhead Cave sounds kinda pretty. Bioluminescent plankton, being able to see bits of other floors and their own plankton-filled rivers and falls...

While I don't remember any see-through ceilings in Fledglings (although a. my memory is garbage and b. I still have a lot of catching up to get to... definitely want to push on during Blitz, though!), it seems like the dungeons work fairly similarly to that setting. what if one of the dimensions the Distortions mix with is the world of the Cradle

On the left was one with a green banner with a lighter twin-peaked design set out in front of it, while on the right was one with a blue banner with a lighter wind swirl that matched Kate's scarf. The patterns of the Outlaw bands who were pulling this job off, he presumed.

Multiple bands working together for this job, eh? Must be a chonky caravan. I have a completely unfounded bad feeling about complications arising from this, heh.

A little further off, a Granbull and Furfrou played a game of cards with drawings of different Pokémon on them as the Granbull reminded her challenger 'You know how this works, draw seven cards and play a basic'.

It's back! :D

'Once a thief, always a thief,' huh? Took you long enough to come back, Lyle!

they said the name of the thing in the thing!

If my gut is right about an eventual complication between the Tyrants and the Marauders, then Kate and Alvin having fallen in with opposite crews (and Lyle perhaps having to choose between them or pull one/both of them away) will be... interesting. But enough idle speculation; at least it's nice to see a bunch of friends getting to reminisce and hang out again!

On closer examination, the banner in front of the tent had a design with a pair of wedge-like blades laid out in a rough chevron on it. Though 'red' … as in the color of an Apple? Alvin had explained to him in the past that its color looked different enough to Pokémon like him that they could pick it out from sight alone without needing smell or other senses to help them. So then all along, the 'mons in green scarves he'd spotted were really from two entirely different bands of Outlaws!

Ooh, color blindness. Don't really think about that much when it comes to pokémon. Here's hoping Lyle won't have to cut any wires down the line.

And then a bit of sparring to see whether Lyle's got the right stuff. He hasn't really seemed like the battling type so far, but he's been an Outlaw for a while, and there's no way he won't have something up his sleeve. And his performance against Parker was certainly entertaining: it reminded me of the sort of thing that would be in a Redwall novel, a detailed display of a character having to lead an attacker on a little dance and show up someone who appears to be a stronger warrior. It was a lot of fun to read!

Hopefully his choice to throw his lot in with Alvin's band won't offend Kate too much, heh.

They were allegedly descended from a founder who lived in the same era as Shiren the Wanderer and other early, folkloric explorers of Mystery Dungeons.

...well that sure wasn't a reference I was expecting. What pokémon was Shiren, I wonder?

"Since when were you the type to take risks just to showboat? That's the sort of thing you used to give Kate an earful about!" the Marowak pressed. "Kate said you wanted to come along, so why would you put yourself on a limb like that?"

Aha. And so the doubts in Lyle's dedication to his new life and new leaf begin to appear. Nice catch, Alvin.

"But now that you're here, things don't have to be like that!" he insisted. "I mean, the Terra Tyrants aren't the Foehn Gang, but they still provide something to lean on. And we can watch each others' backs just like old times!"

I have a horrible feeling that something unfortunate is going to happen with/to Alvin

Lyle fell quiet at the otter's words as the precarity of his situation was thrown back into sharp relief.

I'd suggest something other than "fell quiet" here, since it doesn't seem like he was making any noise after his conversation with Alvin was interrupted.

In return they gave up their right to feed themselves with tooth and claws, and were to only feed themselves from the crops they grew, scavenge from the departed, and consume the Gummis they created

Interesting tradeoff for the Civils—to "lose" the ability to hunt for themselves and harm each other. Presumably this is just meant to be in imitation of the humans, but then why would the gods/legendaries feel the need to enforce that specifically? Curious.

Kate said nothing in reply for a brief moment, before giving a dismissive shrug of her shoulders and giving an impish grin back at her companions.

"Well, Boss Myra needed some scouts to go out," the Dark-type explained. "She never said they all had to come back…"

I can tell Kate is going to be a real source of stability and professionalism on these jobs and will not at any point be responsible for any problems that befall Lyle or Alvin. Perish the thought!

Not far away, the ground rumbled, with Ford burrowing out of the ground to their right and calling out behind him.

Ah. I was wondering how a steelix would handle what ought to be a stealthy approach. You'd think, given all my own plans for tunneling onix, that I'd remember their evolutions can also dig. :V

Lyle and his companions watched as a Zangoose, a Morgrem, and a Venomoth in silver and white scarves with matching sets of green plated armor descended upon them.

Ruh-roh.

"What, so soon?" Kate asked. "We're not just leaving Scales here get worked over like that!"

Hm. How much of this is out of the goodness of her heart or inability to listen to what Parker very clearly explained, and how much is (over)confidence in her ability to deal with the soldier-guards? And how much is forgetting that Dalton was a bit rude to them earlier for no apparent reason?

I think you're missing a "to" in here, btw—"We're not just leaving Scales here to get worked over like that!"

"Because whatever's in there, it was good enough for him to drop everything to try and defend it!" Lyle explained. "Do you think he'd have done that if it was just another merchant wagon?"

Oh, honey bear, you have no idea.

Hm! I hadn't expected His Majesty's special guest to be someone who didn't want to be there. I thought they'd just get in trouble for endangering some secret noble or somesuch, but now they're party to a prison break! This oughta be fun.

A smattering of general thoughts before I go:

- I like the emphasis on scent here as just another part of the way Lyle (and others) interacts with the world.

- So far, I think I'm most intrigued by Kate out of our thiefy trio. Lyle's a fairly straightforward character at this point, and at the moment I don't really have many questions about him after the backstory that's been revealed so far—it's filled in whatever gaps I was wondering about, and I think we're mostly spending time building up his relationships with his friends and his former skillset/lifestyle for now. Alvin's character is a bit light so far, aside from the inexplicable "somethin' bad gon' happen to this man" meta-vibe I'm getting. But Kate's acting like a pretty big wildcard already, and I want to know more about how this came about (since both of her friends, and presumably most of the rest of the Foehn Gang and now the Mistral Marauders, seem to be a lot more professional than her behavior implies she is) and how badly it's going to blow up in her face (or her friends' faces) down the line. Unfortunately I wasn't able to closely follow all of Kate's BLC scenes, so perhaps there might've been a tantalizing hint or two there that I missed, but it'll probably be more of fun to discover all that in context anyway!

- Out of curiosity, do you intend that readers wait until the end of the chapter to read the translations of the pre-chapter documents? For the prologue and Chapter 1 it didn't seem like it mattered much, but then Chapter 2's was a bit of a "spoiler"—I don't think knowing what was going on with the caravan ahead of time ruined my enjoyment of the chapter or anything, but I do wonder whether we were meant to be as surprised as Lyle when it turned out the way it did. If you recommend just reading the translation when it comes up rather than jumping ahead, I'm happy to keep that in mind for future chapters! (I mean, I suppose a reader who knows German would get the info right away anyway, so probably not actually that big a deal, haha. But then I wonder if maybe it'd be better to have the translation spoiler up top to begin with: saves the effort of having to scroll past the entire chapter to read it, and while I know you like to keep collected glossaries at the end, every other in-text German word has its translation immediately available; why not this as well?)

That's all I had time for at the moment, but I'll be back for Chapter 3 soon! Along with another chunk of Fledglings, too, I hope... I'd really love to come out of Blitz actually caught up on it!
 

SparklingEspeon

Up To No Good
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She/Her
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Review of the prologue and chapters 1 – 2

Hello! I remember the premise of Once a Thief from way back when it was first spitballed several months ago, and it left me interested enough to stop by here to see what you’re up to here! (and for V-wheel. That too.)

For a story that revolves around three outlaws and a living macguffin, I was surprised by how large the scope seems to be, and so much darker than your usual faire, too. I think I’d shudder to read the history of a world in which a 50-year, intermittent war is still happening. That’s like… generational. I will say that I’m not entirely sure why they’re fighting just yet, but then it doesn’t seem like the world is either. Eidieleigh is painted as a monstrous robot nation that just wants to invade, but we see things mainly from the perspective of pokemon in Varheid, and of course they’d think that. No-one wants to fight anymore; they mostly just want to get by. And in a situation like Lyle’s, it makes his decision to turn over to the outlaw trade when a hook is cast his way all the more understandable. I’m reminded a little of Cynsh’s Fighting Nature, with themes of the system just driving you down instead of allowing you to use your full potential. I did initially wonder if this fic would veer into Robin Hood type ‘steal from the rich’ territory, which I think would be an interesting direction in addition to the standard Run Away With A Being of Interest plot that this and Fledglings seem to share.

The prologue was good for establishing the world, though I’ll note that at 7K it feels ridiculously not like a prologue and more like a first chapter. I do think that it could have accomplished what it needed to in a more balanced way. While we got a lot of exposition for the world, it felt like what we learned about Lyle amounted less to things about Lyle, and more about his life situation. I learned a lot more about him in the second chapter with the outlaw tryouts than I did in the prologue, I feel. By the end of Chapter Three (attack on the Roly Poly Caravan), I think we have a pretty good view of what’s presumably going to be the main four characters for this fic. The standout character is definitely Kate, who has a lot of personality and flair compared to all the other characters.

I do have to ask, though… why did the team that would be approaching the ambush from the water offer Lyle, a fire-type, a spot on their squadron?

One thing I’ll note is that while the foreign language in this story seems to be more directed and with clear purpose, it’s a double-edged sword here like it isn’t in Fledglings. I don’t know if this is just my unfamiliarity with German in a way that I’m not with other languages, but it felt like the German here was a lot more intrusive and distracting to read than it was in Fledglings. I think in Fledglings, it was easier both because Spanish (the language we start with) is a lot more familiar to me as a reader, but also because you could easily piece together what they meant from context clues. The german here… isn’t like that. It feels like new game+, and the tutorials were skipped. It’s hard for me to tell what the german is supposed to mean even if I use context clues, and it often ended up being distracting. I will say in your favor, though—I think making the preambles that the chapters begin with in german and then deciphering them at the end is a nice touch. Especially in the third chapter, where it was basically the entire explanation for why the Roly Poly Caravan was so stacked when it shouldn’t have been… that we got at the start, but only really got at the end. 100% down for more of this type of thing in the future!

I basically know about the living macguffin bit from your rambling in various discords, but that doesn’t seem to be information many in-universe are privy to yet. I’m not entirely sure if the wool around that is set to come down with the next chapter, or if it’ll stay on for a few chapters more. In terms of story preferences, I can say that while I like huge scopes and political intrigue as much as any other person, I do hope this story takes on a different direction from what Fledglings went in. They’re definitely a similar setup—I get the feel ‘runaway’ stories are your vibe—but it’d be neat to see different angles and directions taken for a different story. Especially one where the characters and world are much more… morally dubious than Team Traveler.

Overall, I think that’s about it for my first impressions! I think I’ll have more to say once we get to see more of the world, the story’s proper direction, and the dynamic between the main characters when they aren’t in the middle of a raging battle. But for now I’ll say that this a pretty strong direction, and I’m interested to see where it goes.

~SparklingEspeon
 

Negrek

Play Crack the Sky
Staff
Hey, Spiteful Murkrow! I've been curious about Kate's story ever since she showed up in Blacklight, so, appropriate for a Blacklight prize review, here I am to finally learn more! It was fun to see what remains consistent with Fledglings--general structure of pokémon societies, various items and bits of tech, the workings of mystery dungeons (I really enjoy the whole "next floor visible overhead" thing), the rebirth of gods--and what's different. This certainly is a bit darker than Fledglings, but I think a lot of the swashbuckling energy remains there. Not a bad thing at all!

Four chapters in, and we're already knee-deep in action. I appreciate that this story's kicking up good and fast; we're already getting a picture of the global plot that Lyle's story's going to connect with, and you certainly haven't lost your knack for choreographing battles! I thought the raid on the caravan went on perhaps a little long--some of the segments, like the one where Lyle's group initially approach the wagon but then get scared off by the aerodactyl, feel like they may have been extraneous--but all in all the back and forth of the battle, the rise and fall in the action, was well done, and that holds true in smaller fights like Lyle's battle with Parker, and the raid on the outlaw camp is appropriately chaotic and scattered.

I'm also starting to get an idea of why Lyle decided he was done being an outlaw, lol. That was definitely a big question for the first couple chapters, but I appreciate we're getting some hints in that direction before too long--and if Lyle hadn't sworn off life on the wrong side of the law, I wouldn't fault him for doing so after this most recent trauma, heh. I do wish we'd had a little more time with Alvin before he got left behind. He and Lyle are old friends, but as a reader I hadn't gotten much of an impression from him yet. A little more time with him, maybe some reminiscing about the good old days with Lyle, a little more on who he is and why he matters so much to Lyle, would have made his loss here feel more impactful to me. But as it is, I liked the very clear demonstration of the sorts of things that can happen to an outlaw and that the thieving life isn't going to lead to fun and spoils a lot of the time.

Kate continues to be a lot of fun, and I look forward to seeing more of her later! I'm curious whether we'll be getting her POV (and maybe others) later or whether we'll be following Lyle throughout. You've obviously done a lot of writing from Kate's POV in other contexts, but in-story here all I'd have picked up on is her bold irreverence, which is a good time, but we've been pretty solidly focused on Lyle and his problems.

As always, your worldbuilding's on-point, although it's a little hard for me to know how much I'm really picking up from this story vs what I'm already familiar with from Fledglings--not in terms of these particular lands and wars, but more about how the general world operates. I don't think you're lacking in setting things up here, though; if anything I thought the prologue had a little more worldbuilding in it than it needed. Establishing the situation with the war and how it impacts Lyle's life was definitely necessary, but I think some of the details probably could have been released a little more gradually... Certainly the war isn't going to be going away anytime soon, and it's going to be prominently on characters' minds, so I think there'd be plenty of opportunity to get deeper into the details of it as the story unfolds.

Meanwhile, the detail that's intrigued me most so far was the fact that the caravan was carrying all those lansat berries. My best guess is as tribute? They're "legendary" after all, and clearly valuable. Perhaps they're a favorite of whatever god might potentially have awoken, hmmm which one might that be? (In all seriousness, I think I'd have a pretty good guess on that one even without any outside knowledge--I think you've done a solid job throwing out clues that make it pretty clear what legendary we're probably talking about without being screamingly obvious about it.) A bunch of type-resist berries or something I'd understand for defense against a potentially-angry god you might be waking up, but with lansats it's a question of whether it's just to appeal to the pokémon or whether there's something more going on. But, as always, it's little details like this that make your worldbuilding feel so convincing and lived-in, the way that items are important to the world beyond their in-battle usage, the way mystery dungeons make for secluded places to meet, the way a pokémon can dread evolution because it will mean more body to feed on a meager salary--it's all great stuff, and another element I recognize (and appreciate!) from Fledglings.

All in all, I'd say this is a solid opening! I hope things do cool off a little bit in the near future so we can get a bit more time to get to know the characters, although considering what all happened in the most recent chapter they may be fleeing for a while yet, heh. I'm curious whether we'll be seeing any more of Alvin after this point. It seems hard to imagine Lyle setting up any attempt to rescue him, giving how incredibly outmatched he and his little band of friends are by the forces who will have taken him, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's gone for good, of course. One way or another we'll no doubt be on our way to the Divine Roost soon, and that's probably where my interest goes most at this point--what Lyle's going to find when his group arrives there, and where things will go from there. This is a fun opening; look forward to the next chapter hopefully not too far from now!
 

Phoenixsong

smell ya later.
Partners
  1. custom/skiddo-steplively
  2. custom/skiddo-phoenixsong2
  3. custom/skiddo-phoenixsong3
  4. custom/skiddo-iametrine
  5. custom/skiddo-coolshades
  6. custom/skiddo-rudolph
  7. custom/skiddo-sleepytime
Hello, Murkrow! This'll be a bit quick, but since I ended up not having time to read any of Fledglings during Blitz, I did at least want to make sure I circled back around here to get caught up on OaT.

Another world that relies on scavenge, eh? It'll be interesting to see if something comes of Lyle's concerns down the line, since we are dealing with a pretty corrupt and downtrodden world here.

"... It's a momento," she replied.

Quick typo: it's "memento", with an "e".

Fun how Lyle thinks of "someone" watching out for them, beyond just luck, and with the implication that the gods would've watched over them if they weren't gone. Was there a patron deity of thieves in there somewhere, perhaps? :P

I dunno, I'm kinda with Irune here! Alvin and Lyle are being pretty pushy, haha. Surely there are other topics of conversation they could try before reading so much significance into what might well be simple jewelry.

is pleo in the divine roost, roosts are for birbs, right

Haha, lovely timing there, Kate. Might take time for the Roly-Polies to organize a rescue attempt, but unfortunately no one knew just how quickly the Greenhides'd get searching for Irune...

...but how they found the place so quickly is indeed the question! I smell a rat. Not sure who it would be yet, though. (Alvin? He's being more than a bit shifty here, and it might explain why he was pressing Irune if he wants to know why the soldiers who paid him off are looking for her. No real evidence to back up that suspicion, though.)

There are a couple of uses of "army armor" throughout the chapter that read a little funny due to the similarity of the words. Soldiers' armor? Army garb? Army plate/mail/leathers? Army colors?

I continue to enjoy the big hectic fight scenes. The pacing is a lot of fun, never dragging but also never too fast to follow, and the attacks and the back and forth are well-described.

Alvin never finished his words, as in the middle of his stride, a slicing gust of air zipped in from overhead from a passing Corvisquire. The Marowak lost his footing and flopped over onto his belly with a weak groan, making Lyle's pupils shrink to pins.

Ah, yes, welcome back, badfeels about Alvin. The rat's probably not him, then (if there is one); it'll probably be someone who made it out... hm. Although I'm sure this won't be the last we learn about Alvin and whatever he and his gang were actually up to...

And then we end with more deets on what the King's actually after regarding Irune. I wonder whether there are any active (is that the right word?) Dyads in Edialeigh? What do they actually do, or have to do with reviving the gods? Was there something to Dalton's offhand remark about "humans with visions of the future"? That's an oddly specific dismissal, and makes me think that that story's been heard in Varhyde before (whether it was true or not at the time).

So it looks like we're just down to Lyle and Kate now out of the old gang, although I'll be quite surprised if Irune doesn't end up tagging along at some point (or if they don't end up tagging along with her). Looking for answers regarding why Alvin had to (apparently) die for her and whatever's so special about her, I wouldn't half expect. I don't yet have a guess as to whether the next chapter will be just as much of a fracas or whether our "heroes" will finally get a breather, but I imagine they'll be learning at least a little more about Irune either way. Looking forward to it!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
Hey, starting things off with review responses, and… wow. Guess Review Blitz really pulled in quite the haul, huh? I’ll be putting things into their own spoiler blocks to try and keep things neat this time around. So just click and read whatever combination of things you feel like taking a gander at.

@Adamhuarts
To kick things off, I have to say I enjoyed the premise of this fic. I do enjoy me astory about an ex-outlaw who left the dirty life behind, gets stuck in a less than pleasant new one, and is now given a new task by an ex-associate to "one last job". It's a true and tested formula, and I'm willing to bet that down the line something will go wrong on this last job and Lyle may find himself dragged back deeper back into the outlaw life than he initially realized.

That transparent, huh? :V

I mean, sure I hadn’t exactly been subtle about the plot premise on other parts of the internet. But hey, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it. And that works for plot hooks too.

Speaking of Lyle, I don't have much of an opinion about him yet as I've only read the first chapter. From what we've seen though, he just seems pretty darn tired and down in the dumps. If successfully acquiring two meals and some liquor is what counts as a good day to him currently after toiling away on a berry farm, then clearly that's hardly a celebratory life to live.

Yeah… Lyle’s… kinda having problems. Granted a number of them were kinda self-inflicted, but hopefully a bit more of his character comes through for you in later chapters.

It leads me to ask why he left the outlaw life in the first place since he clearly still has some lingering attachments to it. Maybe a major gig went south pretty bad, their hideout got raided or perhaps he simply didn't find much excitement in that life anymore. Though if it's the last one then I don't see how his current life is a better alternative. But considering he lives in a war torn world, there aren't exactly a lot of lifestyles that'll spark joy to anyone there. Except maybe rich folks profiting directly off the senseless wars lol.

Hrm. Perhaps it didn’t have as much attention drawn to it as there could’ve been in the chapter, but the Prologue actually already states the answer to that question. It’s Bucket #2, which encouraged Lyle to try and run far, far away from his old life. That… hasn’t exactly worked out so hot for him as you can tell from the events of the chapter you read.

Anyway to wrap things up, I like the hook and set up this chapter presents us with and I'm curious to see how this new gig will turn out. After all, what could possibly go wrong? :)

And I hope that the rest of the story is just as fun for you to read. Thanks for the feedback. ^^

@windskull
I feel like the pacing for these first few chapters was pretty close to spot on. While the beginning did feel a tiny bit slow as were eased into the world, once the action picked up the story gripped me and I found it hard to stop and put it down it for any length of time. And by the start of the most recent chapter the greater scope of the story is starting to make itself clear and makes me want to read more.

This is something that made me really happy to hear, since Once a Thief was very consciously built around trying to target a more condensed run length. Now granted, that run length has blown up quite a bit since my “chapters” of ideas seem to have a tendency to turn out 20,000 words longer than anticipated, but OaT was very much aiming to pick up quickly, and I’m glad to hear that it delivered for you. ^^

Something that strikes me about this story is that it has similar vibes to fledglings. Which makes sense because it's by the same writer, but it more specifically feels like fledglings without the more optimistic vibe of children. Without the Saturday morning censors, if you wanted to make an analogy. But it also has a lot of similar world building elements. Also don't think I missed the nod to the Mistral Marauder.

I mean, I have been fairly open elsewhere that Once a Thief is an “80% setting” relative to the Cradle in the Fledglings. There’s a lot of assumptions about how a PMD society roughly tracking the ones depicted in Canonworld that are shared between the two that I didn’t feel like reinventing the wheel for since the story’s fundamentally about Outlaws doing a job, getting more than they bargained for, and then getting into a wild ride afterwards. That sort of narrative just works best when it’s not getting too lost in the weeds of setting-specific quirks.

Hopefully that doesn’t extend too much to their narratives. I’d like to think that I did a pretty good job at picking fundamentally different types of team dynamics and story beats for the two tales even if they both are built around “run away with a MacGuffin” as their core, but I suppose that’s an ‘eye of the beholder’ sort of thing.
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As for the ‘Mistral Marauder’ nod… yeah, I’m kinda a hack about making internal homages in my writing like that, as those with keen eyes have noticed in my rewrites of Context Switch and Dragonspiral’s Children. And to others’ stuff too that I like and find narrative opportunities to drop in from time to time. Much like in Fledglings, you’ll see a few things here and there of that ilk if you know where and what to look for. :V

While I did think the beginning was a slightly slow - and I mean very slight 0 everything that happened felt like it happened for a reason. The beginning where Lyle's wages are cut served to give us an idea of the situation both he and the world is in right now. It makes it clear that he’s living pretty miserably and that he doesn't have much to go back to, or much to lose. Sure, he could get into heaps of trouble if he gets caught, but the risk versus reward ratio is much more even.

The sparring scene in chapter one gives us an idea of how competent Lyle is and, the lead up to that helps us both better understand Lyle and why he left, but also introduces us to some other characters that I suspect will be reoccurring - both new friends and old alike. After that, everything after is either non-stop action or the result of that big fight. And now we're at the point where the greater scope of the story is starting to show. We’ve got a mysterious pokemon that’s important enough for high ranking officers to go after and I find myself wondering if we’re going to be dealing with just the governing body doing bad things for the (supposed) right reasons, or if things are going to become a full-blown conspiracy. I have a feeling it’s going to be some gray spot in the middle.

Yeeeeah, this is admittedly a point I can’t answer in too much depth since story spoilers, but I will say that most antagonists in this story are somebody else’s hero. Whether you find their overall actions and their goals sympathetic is another matter entirely, since… yeah, some of them are very much intended to be a dark shade of gray at best.

The point I’m getting at is that thus far, nothing feels out of place pacing wise. Even my slight complaint will probably be minor in the grand scheme of things. I know there’s some xenoblade inspiration in this fic, and so far both the vibe and the pacing lines up pretty well with what I remember of the xeno games I’ve played. I don’t know if that was intentional.

A little of column A, a little of column B. Now I didn’t exactly consciously rip off scenarios from the games for the main plot, but when a big part of the reason why this story exists is to make Xeno series homages, and most of it was written while blaring the games’ OSTs in the background… well, some of that stuff winds up rubbing off on a writer in the process.

Also, starting to read Path of Valor about half a year ago was handy for motivating me to just throw caution to the wind about some of those homages. I mean, most of them are still not quite as forward as in PoV, but let’s just say there’s some names, events, and the like floating around in-setting that will feel really familiar if you know your Xeno games.

Now to touch on characters.

Kate is a fun character. I had already seen a bit of her due to BLC, but its fun to see her shine in her home univers. I love her peppy attitude, and I have a feeling that pep may be needed to give us a breath of levity at times in the journey to come.

Yeah, it’s fun finally giving her a chance to spread her wings in her proper story. I did say that my main reason for joining BLC was to use it as a character test, and even if not every single detail about her in BLC survived into story canon, it certainly helped ground her character and some of the antics she gets up into here.

Lyle is interesting. Based on the bits of context clues we get along the way, he seems to be someone who has lost almost everything due to his life choices and who is trying to make a turn to get on the straight and narrow before he gets further screwed over. Unfortunately, it looks like the plot will be removing that option 8P

Yeah, Lyle’s gonna have to wait a while before he can give that whole ‘straight and narrow’ thing another try.
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Though fortunately for the narrative, that’s the more interesting path to see play out anyways. ^^

Don’t have much to say about Alvin at this point. We hardly knew ye, Alvin. I kind of suspected he wouldn’t be sticking around for long when he was the only of the trio of him, Kate, and Lyle that wasn’t listed in the Ao3 tags. Still, I think there’s a decent chance we haven’t seen the last of him. Though how he’ll be when we see him again, I don’t know. He could be press ganged or otherwise forced to take up arms against our heroes, or he may have an actual reason for fighting them, or maybe he’ll just get broken out of prison. Who knows?

Yeah, you haven’t seen the last of Alvin. Maybe for a while, but he’ll be back in the plot beyond little hi-byes further down the road.

I’m going to hold off from discussing Irune at this point in time because we know next to nothing about her. I have a feeling she’s not being entirely honest, but I also have the feeling we’ll be getting more answers in the next chapter.

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That will admittedly take a little while, since once the full story behind Irune comes out, things will be pretty different in terms of the feel of the plot. All I’ll say is that if you’ve got a keen eye for detail, you’ll likely be able to get some ideas as to what’s up with Irune and why the army would want her so badly well before the story spells things out explicitly.

The only other character I want to touch on right now is Dalton. I get the feeling he’s either ex military, or has some other reason that he’s joined up with thieves. His attitude thus far suggests as much. While he doesn’t really feel like a main character and I doubt he’ll be sticking with us for the entire story, I suspect that whatever’s going on with him will be somewhere in the B plot of the story.

All I’ll say is it’ll be interesting to see how your read on that evolves after this current chapter, since Dalton will be in the plot for a long while. You are correct that his mannerisms hint at a particular background, though I’ll let the story speak for itself for building towards what that is.

I can’t think of much else I want to say, so I’ll wrap up with final impressions thus far. Overall I like what I’ve read thus far. While I was only vaguely curious at the beginning, everything from the caravan raid and onwards had me eager to jump in and read more. The pacing is pretty much on point, and everything so far segue’s nicely into the next part of the story. And the characters are pretty nice to read. While I feel it’ll take a bit more time for the characters to break out of their archetypes, they’re already growing on me. I’m looking forward to the next update. Hopefully next time we’ll get some answers to the mystery presented to us - or at least some clarification. Until then, happy writing.

That… might take a bit of time since the story will be noticeably different in dynamic once all the cards get laid out on the table. Though there are a few details regarding what’s going on that come out here, if mostly about who’s chasing Irune. Why is a story for another day, even if it wouldn’t take too deep of a dig into some things about this story to get a couple ideas.

Though glad to hear you had a fun time with the story so far. I'll be looking forward to your future feedback if you come back for more. ^^

@SparklingEspeon
Hello! I remember the premise of Once a Thief from way back when it was first spitballed several months ago, and it left me interested enough to stop by here to see what you’re up to here! (and for V-wheel. That too.)

It was admittedly quite a bit older than those early musings, but that was around the time when the story started getting prosed out properly. Still, I’m glad to hear that the pitch was interesting enough to get you to poke your head in.

For a story that revolves around three outlaws and a living macguffin, I was surprised by how large the scope seems to be, and so much darker than your usual faire, too. I think I’d shudder to read the history of a world in which a 50-year, intermittent war is still happening. That’s like… generational. I will say that I’m not entirely sure why they’re fighting just yet, but then it doesn’t seem like the world is either. Eidieleigh is painted as a monstrous robot nation that just wants to invade, but we see things mainly from the perspective of pokemon in Varheid, and of course they’d think that. No-one wants to fight anymore; they mostly just want to get by. And in a situation like Lyle’s, it makes his decision to turn over to the outlaw trade when a hook is cast his way all the more understandable. I’m reminded a little of Cynsh’s Fighting Nature, with themes of the system just driving you down instead of allowing you to use your full potential. I did initially wonder if this fic would veer into Robin Hood type ‘steal from the rich’ territory, which I think would be an interesting direction in addition to the standard Run Away With A Being of Interest plot that this and Fledglings seem to share.

What can I say, I’m a sucker for ‘everyman’ protagonists. And when your ‘everyman’ protagonists are criminals… it means you kinda need to design your world and surrounding context such that they can outrun the proverbial bear of unsympatheticness versus the figures that you’re normally supposed to be rooting for.

Now while I fudged things a bit to try to make sure that the cast was still sympathetic since not every Outlaw out there plies their trade thanks to making bad decisions that seemed deceptively easy, starting the gang off on the note of ‘Robin Hood’ felt like a pretty big cop-out for covering an Outlaw’s perspective for a PMD story. Dalton is the closest of the four to that orbit, and even then… yeah, he’s no Robin Hood yet.

The prologue was good for establishing the world, though I’ll note that at 7K it feels ridiculously not like a prologue and more like a first chapter. I do think that it could have accomplished what it needed to in a more balanced way. While we got a lot of exposition for the world, it felt like what we learned about Lyle amounted less to things about Lyle, and more about his life situation. I learned a lot more about him in the second chapter with the outlaw tryouts than I did in the prologue, I feel. By the end of Chapter Three (attack on the Roly Poly Caravan), I think we have a pretty good view of what’s presumably going to be the main four characters for this fic. The standout character is definitely Kate, who has a lot of personality and flair compared to all the other characters.

Hm. A bit unfortunate to hear regarding the way the Prologue landed, even if the other chapters evidently picked up the slack a bit. I’ll keep the idea of reindexing the chapter names in mind, since it’s still early on in the story’s run and there is a certain flourish I have been sandbagging for the titles that should have a finalized index before rolling things out.

Hopefully this and the next few chapters will do a better job of helping to give a feel for the different characters not named Kate. Since that’s a little concerning to read, but I suppose that’s on me as a writer if not everyone in the gang is shining through all the way.

I do have to ask, though… why did the team that would be approaching the ambush from the water offer Lyle, a fire-type, a spot on their squadron?

They didn’t, actually. The Riparian Raiders was the one band that Lyle didn’t get an offer from by virtue of pissing off its leader through wounded pride. Though fate has a funny way of working like that given that Parker is the last Outlaw boss standing at the moment, and she is a bit shorthanded right now, so… :V

One thing I’ll note is that while the foreign language in this story seems to be more directed and with clear purpose, it’s a double-edged sword here like it isn’t in Fledglings. I don’t know if this is just my unfamiliarity with German in a way that I’m not with other languages, but it felt like the German here was a lot more intrusive and distracting to read than it was in Fledglings. I think in Fledglings, it was easier both because Spanish (the language we start with) is a lot more familiar to me as a reader, but also because you could easily piece together what they meant from context clues. The german here… isn’t like that. It feels like new game+, and the tutorials were skipped. It’s hard for me to tell what the german is supposed to mean even if I use context clues, and it often ended up being distracting. I will say in your favor, though—I think making the preambles that the chapters begin with in german and then deciphering them at the end is a nice touch. Especially in the third chapter, where it was basically the entire explanation for why the Roly Poly Caravan was so stacked when it shouldn’t have been… that we got at the start, but only really got at the end. 100% down for more of this type of thing in the future!

I actually got a review from FFN during this interval between chapters that highlighted that the terms were hard to get hints on their own. While that wasn’t as big of an issue here thanks to hovertext, it did prompt me to go back and patch in some context clues since… yeah, don’t feel like getting 40 reviews on FFN complaining about needing to jump to the Author’s Notes constantly. I tried to carry the practice forward into today’s chapter, so hopefully that makes figuring out what the German lingo in this story means a bit easier.

I basically know about the living macguffin bit from your rambling in various discords, but that doesn’t seem to be information many in-universe are privy to yet. I’m not entirely sure if the wool around that is set to come down with the next chapter, or if it’ll stay on for a few chapters more. In terms of story preferences, I can say that while I like huge scopes and political intrigue as much as any other person, I do hope this story takes on a different direction from what Fledglings went in. They’re definitely a similar setup—I get the feel ‘runaway’ stories are your vibe—but it’d be neat to see different angles and directions taken for a different story. Especially one where the characters and world are much more… morally dubious than Team Traveler.

I mean, I’d like to think that whatever their meta similarities, that OaT and Fledglings hit different enough notes to feel distinct as narratives. After all, Irune and Pleo are pretty different from each other as personalities, and Lyle and company don’t exactly interact with her like Team Traveller does with Pleo. But I suppose that’s something to let the story speak for itself. Given that I have a pretty solid idea of where both stories will ultimately wind up, I think you will find the “different angles and directions” front covered fairly well.

Overall, I think that’s about it for my first impressions! I think I’ll have more to say once we get to see more of the world, the story’s proper direction, and the dynamic between the main characters when they aren’t in the middle of a raging battle. But for now I’ll say that this a pretty strong direction, and I’m interested to see where it goes.

Yeah, this chapter is the final shakeout for the cast you’ll be seeing for most of the story and while the gauntlet doesn’t get cleanly thrown down yet, it starts to point things towards that aforementioned proper direction.

Thanks for your feedback, and I hope that you’ll have fun with this story as more of the world and plot fills in onscreen. ^^

@Negrek
Hey, Spiteful Murkrow! I've been curious about Kate's story ever since she showed up in Blacklight, so, appropriate for a Blacklight prize review, here I am to finally learn more! It was fun to see what remains consistent with Fledglings--general structure of pokémon societies, various items and bits of tech, the workings of mystery dungeons (I really enjoy the whole "next floor visible overhead" thing), the rebirth of gods--and what's different. This certainly is a bit darker than Fledglings, but I think a lot of the swashbuckling energy remains there. Not a bad thing at all!

Yeah, part of those similarities in dynamics are that much of the way the gears tick in the Cradle is about 85-90% of the way there to my headcanon of how PMD canonworld works shorn of its game abstractions. No excuses for the Dungeon fog though, I just liked it and kept it around even if it risked feeling a little samey. I’ll admit for a time I was seriously considering VFX closer to what Rebirth does for its Mystery Dungeons, but the shroud of fog between the normal world and Mystery Dungeons lends itself very well to dreamy and surreal landscapes, which given that Wander as a setting draws influence from settings with dreamy and surreal landscapes from the Xeno series, seemed like a decent argument to stick to ol’ reliable there.

Mind you, there are some noticeably different setting quirks about Wander from the Cradle beyond auroras over Mystery Dungeons and the relative lack of water. But we’re a couple chapters out from getting a really solid look at them, even if a couple of hints and glimpses have already turned up in past chapters.

Four chapters in, and we're already knee-deep in action. I appreciate that this story's kicking up good and fast; we're already getting a picture of the global plot that Lyle's story's going to connect with, and you certainly haven't lost your knack for choreographing battles! I thought the raid on the caravan went on perhaps a little long--some of the segments, like the one where Lyle's group initially approach the wagon but then get scared off by the aerodactyl, feel like they may have been extraneous--but all in all the back and forth of the battle, the rise and fall in the action, was well done, and that holds true in smaller fights like Lyle's battle with Parker, and the raid on the outlaw camp is appropriately chaotic and scattered.

Yeeeeah, brevity has always been one of my weaker suits as a writer (which kinda should be obvious from the wordcount of today’s chapter
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), but I’m glad to hear that even if it wasn’t as taut as it could’ve been, that you found the battle fun and engaging to read. It’s always a fun challenge to try and pull off creative party tricks by taking the canonical toolbox and factoring in movement and tactics into it.

I'm also starting to get an idea of why Lyle decided he was done being an outlaw, lol. That was definitely a big question for the first couple chapters, but I appreciate we're getting some hints in that direction before too long--and if Lyle hadn't sworn off life on the wrong side of the law, I wouldn't fault him for doing so after this most recent trauma, heh. I do wish we'd had a little more time with Alvin before he got left behind. He and Lyle are old friends, but as a reader I hadn't gotten much of an impression from him yet. A little more time with him, maybe some reminiscing about the good old days with Lyle, a little more on who he is and why he matters so much to Lyle, would have made his loss here feel more impactful to me. But as it is, I liked the very clear demonstration of the sorts of things that can happen to an outlaw and that the thieving life isn't going to lead to fun and spoils a lot of the time.

Yeah, alas. I’ll file a note away on that for the future since that’s a bit of a missed opportunity. Fortunately, Alvin’s not completely out of the plot. So I’ll have a chance to take another bite at that apple, even if it’ll take a while.

Kate continues to be a lot of fun, and I look forward to seeing more of her later! I'm curious whether we'll be getting her POV (and maybe others) later or whether we'll be following Lyle throughout. You've obviously done a lot of writing from Kate's POV in other contexts, but in-story here all I'd have picked up on is her bold irreverence, which is a good time, but we've been pretty solidly focused on Lyle and his problems.

You’ll be getting some of those other perspectives here and there, though admittedly Lyle drives the bulk of the PoV in this story in what’s currently written up. I might shake things up here and there down the road since hey, the story’s young and nothing’s set in stone until it’s actually published, though at this point in time, Lyle’s the main lens through which to show off the world.

As always, your worldbuilding's on-point, although it's a little hard for me to know how much I'm really picking up from this story vs what I'm already familiar with from Fledglings--not in terms of these particular lands and wars, but more about how the general world operates. I don't think you're lacking in setting things up here, though; if anything I thought the prologue had a little more worldbuilding in it than it needed. Establishing the situation with the war and how it impacts Lyle's life was definitely necessary, but I think some of the details probably could have been released a little more gradually... Certainly the war isn't going to be going away anytime soon, and it's going to be prominently on characters' minds, so I think there'd be plenty of opportunity to get deeper into the details of it as the story unfolds.

Yeah, alas. Though I think it’s a bit soon to seriously consider any big rewrites of the content that’s already posted, so I’ll take my lumps there and try to apply those “what if” lessons to stuff further down the pipe. Since… yeah, there’s a lot to say about Wander as a world, so it’s a bit of a tightrope act to keep the process of showing the world off from eating the plot that needs to happen.

Meanwhile, the detail that's intrigued me most so far was the fact that the caravan was carrying all those lansat berries. My best guess is as tribute? They're "legendary" after all, and clearly valuable. Perhaps they're a favorite of whatever god might potentially have awoken, hmmm which one might that be? (In all seriousness, I think I'd have a pretty good guess on that one even without any outside knowledge--I think you've done a solid job throwing out clues that make it pretty clear what legendary we're probably talking about without being screamingly obvious about it.) A bunch of type-resist berries or something I'd understand for defense against a potentially-angry god you might be waking up, but with lansats it's a question of whether it's just to appeal to the pokémon or whether there's something more going on. But, as always, it's little details like this that make your worldbuilding feel so convincing and lived-in, the way that items are important to the world beyond their in-battle usage, the way mystery dungeons make for secluded places to meet, the way a pokémon can dread evolution because it will mean more body to feed on a meager salary--it's all great stuff, and another element I recognize (and appreciate!) from Fledglings.

To answer the question regarding the Lansat Berries, it’s admittedly nothing so dramatic as that. The army just needed a way to move a sensitive figure in a fashion that wouldn’t draw a ton of attention, and embedding said figure in a caravan staffed by Pokémon that are supposed to be hard to give problems seemed like a good idea at the time. Said caravan just so happened to be carrying a bunch of Lansat Berries right then.

Now as for why the Roly-Poly Caravan would want to deal with so many Lansat Berries… it’s a Xeno series mythology gag, especially if you noticed the throwaway line in Chapter 3 of what they’re used for in-setting. If the mannerisms and names of the Pokémon in the Roly-Poly Caravan happened to feel familiar, there’s good odds you know exactly what that was referencing and what those rodents were up to with their cargo.

All in all, I'd say this is a solid opening! I hope things do cool off a little bit in the near future so we can get a bit more time to get to know the characters, although considering what all happened in the most recent chapter they may be fleeing for a while yet, heh. I'm curious whether we'll be seeing any more of Alvin after this point. It seems hard to imagine Lyle setting up any attempt to rescue him, giving how incredibly outmatched he and his little band of friends are by the forces who will have taken him, but that doesn't necessarily mean he's gone for good, of course. One way or another we'll no doubt be on our way to the Divine Roost soon, and that's probably where my interest goes most at this point--what Lyle's going to find when his group arrives there, and where things will go from there. This is a fun opening; look forward to the next chapter hopefully not too far from now!

Well, not today. But there’s some breathing room from “get chased around by an angry Salamence and a bunch of soldiers” due in the imminent future, that will ideally help with all that yes. As for Alvin, yeah. You haven’t seen the last of him, even if it’ll likely be at least a year of real-world time before he meaningfully reappears in the plot again.

Thanks for the feedback, and if you read more of this tale, I hope you'll similarly have a blast with those chapters.

@Phoenixsong
Prologue:

We start off with a nice, quiet harvest day at the end of autumn, albeit not a terribly successful one by the sounds of it. It's a nice establishing shot, including the pressure to bring in a good crop even during what looks like lean times. Of course, knowing what the fic's meant to be about, I wouldn't be surprised if Lyle (or perhaps the crustle) is about to have a very different problem grabbing his attention. And possibly grabbing those berries. :P

Well, he’s canonically done it a couple of times. But Lyle isn’t quite brave enough to rip off his employers to that extent. It’s kinda bad for job security, among other things.

"It's much nicer when we get kicked around by our own government!"

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Oof, yeah, that would be pretty tiring.

Yeah, the story aims for a general vibe of getting its characters ground down and in search of easy fixes to their problems. It animates a lot of decision-making from various characters in this story.

Ah, right; Melanie was based on a legendary who was supposed to be dead, as far as Kate knew. I'm definitely looking forward to learning more about how exactly the legendaries fell as the story moves on.

There’s some implications if you know what to look for in the details about the setting that have been laid out already. That is all I will say on the matter.

Fancy ancient ruins are neat and all, but I love it when the little remnants of human society that we take for granted are the things that are really valuable and useful to the cultures that come after.

Yeah, there’s significantly more reminders of human society lying around in Wander versus the Cradle, and it more directly brushes up against the everyday lives of the Pokémon that call this world home. You’ll get to see both ends of the spectrum for remnants of human society in this story.

have you considered,,, making friends?,,,

(nah man I get it I don't know any of my neighbors either lol)

So Lyle's been kicked out of other jobs in the past, hm. Interesting that he's considered stealing out of desperation. One wonders whether that might actually come to something, with a title like this…

Nah, he’s a good boi. Would a ‘mon with a cute mug like that really be the type to go robbing travelers on backroads? Really?

/s

Though yeah, having secrets to hide kinda gets in the way of trying to make a support network, especially if you’re not sure how your neighbors will react when they come out.

...or, perhaps, it has already come to something in the past, hm hm! (I'm not entirely sure "irkely" is a word, though. "irately", maybe?)

I went with “annoyedly” here, which was the intent.

Little bit of a run-on here, but it definitely tracks that they'd be devoting so much land to the war effort, especially after all this time. Nice logical uses of the typical dungeon items as weapons of war here.

I expanded things a bit before dividing to axe the run-on.

Well, Nils is a big jerk. :/ Puts plenty of work into learning about the citizens he's supposed to be protecting, and not enough into supporting himself without bullying them. This is a great encounter for really establishing Lyle's current sorry state. (And also a neat, if unfortunate, consideration that a typhlosion is likely to need a lot more food than a quilava.)

Yeah, if things were a bit more stable, it’d likely be less of a concern for Lyle there. But you don’t suddenly quadruple your body size without significantly hiking up your food bill. And when you’re already skipping meals on your existing pay… yeah, evolution’s going to lose a lot of its luster.

sudden :nyahorror: at the apricorn cannons in Fledglings I'd forgotten about until now

Yeah, those and other weapons of their ilk are here too. You’ll see more than just wooden tubes kicking around, since Wander isn’t anywhere near as metal-poor.

And so our "oops actually Still a Thief" finds himself roped back into the game. Not an uncommon plotline, but the setup of this tired and struggling world around it should provide plenty of interest—and I've always enjoyed a look into the lives of thieves, no matter the trappings. Lyle's the desperate one, but so far we don't know Kate's motivation (in context). She doesn't give the impression that she's as hard up as Lyle is, or that the only reason she isn't is her jobs with her new crew…

Kate’s story is an onion waiting for its layers to be peeled back at later points in this story. Granted, if you had a keen eye out in BLC, you’re already spoiled a bit as to what lies underneath since while not all the details necessarily made it into canon, the rough story is still the same.

For now, the important thing to know is that when her and Lyle’s old gang got busted up, she opted to stick on the less legit life path than her pal did.

Chapter 1

Intermixed with other dimensions, hm? Neat. In spite of Lyle's complaints, Waterhead Cave sounds kinda pretty. Bioluminescent plankton, being able to see bits of other floors and their own plankton-filled rivers and falls...

While I don't remember any see-through ceilings in Fledglings (although a. my memory is garbage and b. I still have a lot of catching up to get to... definitely want to push on during Blitz, though!), it seems like the dungeons work fairly similarly to that setting. what if one of the dimensions the Distortions mix with is the world of the Cradle

Nah, the ceiling gimmick was used in Fledglings as well. The bioluminescent plankton is definitely new though. As for the Dimensions thing… I mean, it won’t ever be a part of the canonical plot either way, but hey, if I ever wrote an out-and-out crossover, that’s certainly a convenient narrative opening to yeet characters from one world or another, now isn’t it?
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It's back! :D

I mean, I liked that little flourish back in Fledglings, so I wasn’t exactly going to stop using it here. Probably won’t be reusing the Haymaker deck gag again though, I’ll need to find some other strategy to poke fun of.

Ooh, color blindness. Don't really think about that much when it comes to pokémon. Here's hoping Lyle won't have to cut any wires down the line.

Yeah, my general assumption for Pokémon is that they track attributes of their inspiration creatures unless explicitly stated otherwise by canon (which I’m pretty sure is also something mentioned in passing in Fledglings). As such for Lyle and most other mammalmons in this setting, they cannot distinguish red objects from green objects without additional context clues.

And if you picked up on what that common in-setting slur directed at enemy soldiers later in the chapter was, that’s pretty thematically deliberate.

And then a bit of sparring to see whether Lyle's got the right stuff. He hasn't really seemed like the battling type so far, but he's been an Outlaw for a while, and there's no way he won't have something up his sleeve. And his performance against Parker was certainly entertaining: it reminded me of the sort of thing that would be in a Redwall novel, a detailed display of a character having to lead an attacker on a little dance and show up someone who appears to be a stronger warrior. It was a lot of fun to read!

Yeah, this is another one of those moments where I looked to real life for inspiration. Weasels and similar creatures of their ilk bob and weave around like this as a hunting behavior to confuse and disorient prey. The Pokédex claims that Quilava are quick on their feet and pretty good at dodging and they learn Flame Charge by level-up, so hey, why not? It certainly won’t be the last time you’ll see him do this party trick.

...well that sure wasn't a reference I was expecting. What pokémon was Shiren, I wonder?

It’s not exactly a new reference. There’s a Shiren in Fledglings as well that occupies much the same role in local folklore. It’s a Pokémon Mystery Dungeon fanfic after all, and I consider it a calling card of my PMD writing to include nods to other MD games in them.

As for who this Shiren was, I won’t spell it out explicitly since that gets revealed down the pipe, but Wander’s Shiren was a lot closer to his game counterpart in mechanics and feats than the Cradle’s. So keep ‘mons that would make good swordsmen in mind.

I'd suggest something other than "fell quiet" here, since it doesn't seem like he was making any noise after his conversation with Alvin was interrupted.

I went with “bit his lip” there.

Interesting tradeoff for the Civils—to "lose" the ability to hunt for themselves and harm each other. Presumably this is just meant to be in imitation of the humans, but then why would the gods/legendaries feel the need to enforce that specifically? Curious.

It’s mentioned in passing in the teaser, but the Vow in Wander is an amended version of a similar understanding between humans and Pokémon back in ye olden days of “don’t be a cruel dick, and we won’t be cruel dicks back” that the likes of the Veilstone Myth imply, and the local Legendaries having a tendency to get upset when that balance is upset.

Civils have a sidestep to the question of “who’s going to be dinner?”, so they don’t need to actively hunt for sustenance. As such, the Vow trades protection from a very, very old fear of Civils that allows them to take it for granted that their peasant villages aren’t going to be overrun by marauding Hydreigon or the like in return for Wilders being protected from being decimated by potential enemies that have an inherent organizational advantage over them. Either scenario is something the resident Legendaries were convinced wouldn’t be a good thing.

Also, meta-wise, it’s a convenient means for making it so that way canonical recruitment mechanics from the games can still play out.


I can tell Kate is going to be a real source of stability and professionalism on these jobs and will not at any point be responsible for any problems that befall Lyle or Alvin. Perish the thought!

Yup, totally.

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Hm. How much of this is out of the goodness of her heart or inability to listen to what Parker very clearly explained, and how much is (over)confidence in her ability to deal with the soldier-guards? And how much is forgetting that Dalton was a bit rude to them earlier for no apparent reason?

I think you're missing a "to" in here, btw—"We're not just leaving Scales here to get worked over like that!"

It’s one part confidence, and one part “if they’re healthy, they can help us carry off loot”. If Dalton and Artem had been a bit nastier earlier, Kate’d probably have cared a bit less about intervening there.

I dropped the ‘to’ in as indicated, since you have a point there.

Oh, honey bear, you have no idea.

Hm! I hadn't expected His Majesty's special guest to be someone who didn't want to be there. I thought they'd just get in trouble for endangering some secret noble or somesuch, but now they're party to a prison break! This oughta be fun.

"""fun""", yes.

- I like the emphasis on scent here as just another part of the way Lyle (and others) interacts with the world.

I’m glad to hear that. While Lyle and gang’s thought processes are admittedly a bit more human than what would be normal for a Pokémon in mainline, I did try to include reminders that they’re not exactly human entities. Sensory perception was one of those things that I tried to make a point of playing up

- So far, I think I'm most intrigued by Kate out of our thiefy trio. Lyle's a fairly straightforward character at this point, and at the moment I don't really have many questions about him after the backstory that's been revealed so far—it's filled in whatever gaps I was wondering about, and I think we're mostly spending time building up his relationships with his friends and his former skillset/lifestyle for now. Alvin's character is a bit light so far, aside from the inexplicable "somethin' bad gon' happen to this man" meta-vibe I'm getting. But Kate's acting like a pretty big wildcard already, and I want to know more about how this came about (since both of her friends, and presumably most of the rest of the Foehn Gang and now the Mistral Marauders, seem to be a lot more professional than her behavior implies she is) and how badly it's going to blow up in her face (or her friends' faces) down the line. Unfortunately I wasn't able to closely follow all of Kate's BLC scenes, so perhaps there might've been a tantalizing hint or two there that I missed, but it'll probably be more of fun to discover all that in context anyway!

Hm. A bit unfortunate for Alvin, but such is life when he admittedly didn’t get that solid of focus on him. Thankfully that isn’t my last chance at doing something with him, even if I don’t go back to patch something in for him.


- Out of curiosity, do you intend that readers wait until the end of the chapter to read the translations of the pre-chapter documents? For the prologue and Chapter 1 it didn't seem like it mattered much, but then Chapter 2's was a bit of a "spoiler"—I don't think knowing what was going on with the caravan ahead of time ruined my enjoyment of the chapter or anything, but I do wonder whether we were meant to be as surprised as Lyle when it turned out the way it did. If you recommend just reading the translation when it comes up rather than jumping ahead, I'm happy to keep that in mind for future chapters! (I mean, I suppose a reader who knows German would get the info right away anyway, so probably not actually that big a deal, haha. But then I wonder if maybe it'd be better to have the translation spoiler up top to begin with: saves the effort of having to scroll past the entire chapter to read it, and while I know you like to keep collected glossaries at the end, every other in-text German word has its translation immediately available; why not this as well?)

The teasers are intended to be read in natural order. If you understand German, you get all that info right up front including a couple details that aren’t spelled out in the Author’s Notes, while if not, you’re meant to piece together what you can, and then wait for the translation to spell things out. If you’ve ever watched the TV show Jericho, it’s a similar dynamic to what’s going on with the Morse Code messages over the title cards there.

That's all I had time for at the moment, but I'll be back for Chapter 3 soon! Along with another chunk of Fledglings, too, I hope... I'd really love to come out of Blitz actually caught up on it!

Chapter 3:

Another world that relies on scavenge, eh? It'll be interesting to see if something comes of Lyle's concerns down the line, since we are dealing with a pretty corrupt and downtrodden world here.

I wouldn’t say that they rely on it so much as that they practice it. But yeah, I mentioned in one of the earlier responses that Wander is an “80% setting” with the Cradle. Even if the lingo is different, this is part of the 80%, even if there’s darker possibilities such a system can take that are unlikely to ever leave the realm of implication if be acknowledged at all in Fledglings due to tone constraints that aren’t present here.

Quick typo: it's "memento", with an "e".

Fixed, thanks for pointing that out.

Fun how Lyle thinks of "someone" watching out for them, beyond just luck, and with the implication that the gods would've watched over them if they weren't gone. Was there a patron deity of thieves in there somewhere, perhaps? :P

I mean, patron deities of thieves have existed in a number of historical belief systems. So I wouldn’t rule out the likes of Latios having had the honor since… Latios stealing stuff isn’t exactly new to PMD as a franchise.
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is pleo in the divine roost, roosts are for birbs, right

Well, they’re certainly for things that fly.

Haha, lovely timing there, Kate. Might take time for the Roly-Polies to organize a rescue attempt, but unfortunately no one knew just how quickly the Greenhides'd get searching for Irune...

...but how they found the place so quickly is indeed the question! I smell a rat. Not sure who it would be yet, though. (Alvin? He's being more than a bit shifty here, and it might explain why he was pressing Irune if he wants to know why the soldiers who paid him off are looking for her. No real evidence to back up that suspicion, though.)

If you recall the Chapter 2 teaser, there was mention of Pokémon from the army shadowing the Roly-Poly Caravan not far behind. It was hinted at from a line of Irune’s dialogue, but Herr Brutalanda there was the writer of that teaser and the guy calling the shots over said army ‘mons. They simply followed the signs left behind by 60+ Pokémon all headed in one direction, combed Waterhead Cave for an hour or two, and that was that.

There are a couple of uses of "army armor" throughout the chapter that read a little funny due to the similarity of the words. Soldiers' armor? Army garb? Army plate/mail/leathers? Army colors?

I axed those and dropped in some subtle tweaks here and there.

I continue to enjoy the big hectic fight scenes. The pacing is a lot of fun, never dragging but also never too fast to follow, and the attacks and the back and forth are well-described.

Glad to hear you had fun with it, since it’s always a blast trying to take the nuts and bolts of Pokémon attacks and the like and come up with neat things to do with them.

And then we end with more deets on what the King's actually after regarding Irune. I wonder whether there are any active (is that the right word?) Dyads in Edialeigh? What do they actually do, or have to do with reviving the gods? Was there something to Dalton's offhand remark about "humans with visions of the future"? That's an oddly specific dismissal, and makes me think that that story's been heard in Varhyde before (whether it was true or not at the time).

All in due time. Though regarding “humans with visions of the future”, that’s a twofer mythology nod, since that’s something that hilariously has happened in both the Xeno series and PMD as a franchise. In what are arguably their best-known installments to boot.

Though you're correct that the tale (even if it might be grossly exaggerated) came from somewhere.

So it looks like we're just down to Lyle and Kate now out of the old gang, although I'll be quite surprised if Irune doesn't end up tagging along at some point (or if they don't end up tagging along with her). Looking for answers regarding why Alvin had to (apparently) die for her and whatever's so special about her, I wouldn't half expect. I don't yet have a guess as to whether the next chapter will be just as much of a fracas or whether our "heroes" will finally get a breather, but I imagine they'll be learning at least a little more about Irune either way. Looking forward to it!

Well, guess you’ll be finding out the answer to that question pretty quick, huh? Since I’ve got a fresh chapter today. :V

That said, Alvin isn’t dead. It’ll take a while for him to meaningfully reappear as a character, though.

Alright, took a while to get through all of that, but I’m onto the real attraction for today: a fresh chapter. Now while writing this chapter, I came to a point in my material where I had to make a decision between writing a chapter that was potentially thematically samey to the last one, or one that was a bit long. As you can see from the wordcount, I opted for “a bit long”.

Hopefully it’ll still be an enjoyable ride, though thanks for your patience, and let’s get right into things by picking up on the fallout from last time.
 
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Chapter 4 - Remnant

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
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Als das Licht des Glühenden Blitzes erlasch, ging die Sonne auf einer verwundeten Welt auf, ohne jegliches Zeichen der Menschen, die wir als Freunde bezeichneten und Vermittler über ihre Werke hinaus nannten. Im Kielwasser des Lichts wurden die Länder aufgewühlt, und das Meer, das jetzt zwischen den Ländern die wir jetzt „Wahrheit“ und „Ideale“ nennen steht, haben sich geöffnet.

Das Gewebe von Raum und Zeit selbst war von dem Tumult vernarbt, und an Orten, wo solche Wunden tief waren und dieses Gewebe die Dimensionen des großen Jenseits nicht länger zurückhalten konnte, legten sich seltsame Nebel über das Land und schnitten es vom Rest ab der Welt. Wir nannten sie „Mysteriöse Orte“.

Jene Orte haben schon von Anfang an Ehrfurcht bei den Pokémon dieser Welt erregt. Sie machen sich bemerkbar, ihr Nebel ergießt sich über das Land auf dem sie sich niederlassen, und erleuchten nachts den Himmel mit ihren Polarlichtern. Einige besonders spektakuläre Exemplare halten sogar kleine Teile unserer Welt mit ihrem Dunst in der Luft, ähnlich wie Driftlon, die wie Wolken am Himmel schweben.

Dieselben Merkwürdigen Orten haben auch diesen besagten Pokémon Angst eingeflößt. Die Räume darin sind verzerrte Echos der Orte, die sie einst waren. Labyrinthe, die die Sinne verwirren und die im Innern mit Hunger zermürben, welche von den Dimensionen aufgewühlt und neu geformt werden, sobald die scheuernden Winde der Verzerrung alles weggeblasen haben, was sich in ihrem Weg befindet.

Und doch, seit es sie gegeben hat, waren unsere Schicksale mit diesen Orten verflochten. Einige mutige Seelen unter den Wilden und sogar einige Zivilen nennen die Taschen – die Inseln der Stabilität innerhalb der Verzerrung – ihr Zuhause. Einige als Zufluchtsort, andere als Versteck, um andere zu jagen. Die Kugeln und andere Gegenstände, die von diesen Orten geformt oder verändert wurden, helfen unseren Verteidigern und Kriegern und sind für die unerschrockenen und vorbereiteten Reisenden ein Mittel, um unmögliche Entfernungen und unmögliche Orte bereisen zu können.

Sowohl Triumph als auch Tragödie erwarten diejenigen, die solche Orte betreten. Welcher der beiden den Eintretenden widerfährt, hängt von vorsichtiger Weisheit und erlernter Erfahrung ab. Zusammen mit ausreichender Kraft, um die inneren Prüfungen zu überstehen.


- Vorwort zu »Das Erkunderhandbuch zu Merkwürdigen Orten«



Past the other exit of the Pocket, the encampment's remaining Outlaws huddled together in a larger chamber on Waterhead Cave's ninth floor. Paths to and from Pockets had ways of skipping past floors, and from Kate and Irune had gathered from overhearing their fellow escapees, the one they'd fled the camp's Pocket with was no exception. There, Kate and Irune had settled down beside Dalton and Artem, tending to their wounds with the juice of Oran Berries as gauze. The four were among the lucky eighteen Pokémon, mostly from the Riparian Raiders, who had managed to escape back into the Mystery Dungeon. The lot uneasily settled into a chamber with a lower cave ceiling dimly lit up by a small stream of glowing blue water not far from their escape route's exit to try and regroup.

Every now and then, the four would turn their attention back towards the fogged-over path they'd used to flee into their present chamber, but it'd gone silent for the past five minutes. Just then, the Sneasel heard the sound of crunching footsteps, getting up as a few of the other Outlaws braced themselves for battle when the outline of a quadrupedal, shell-helmeted figure approached. The Outlaws settled down as they saw Parker slowly plodding into the chamber, stopping to paw at a burn on her left shoulder.

"Someone get an Oran Berry over here!" she snapped.

A blue-scarved Golisopod grunted and hastily obliged, leaving Kate to bite her lip worriedly to look off at the mist as a lower-slung figure trudged forward. There to her astonishment , was Lyle coming in with his head hung low and his fur matted and dirty, looking much as if the Samurott had rolled over onto him a second time on her way out.

"Lyle!"

The Sneasel sprang up and ran over to the Quilava, Irune tagging along as Dalton and Artem hesitated briefly before opting to check up on the straggling Fire-type. Kate stopped in front of her Quilava companion with an expression that was at once incredulous and relieved, shaking her head as she frowned and let out a sharp scold.

"Where have you been?!" Kate insisted. "Scaring us like that isn't funny, you know!"

"We thought for a moment that you didn't make it back there," Dalton said, shaking his head with a low sigh. "Glad to see you pulled through. A lot of good 'mons didn't tonight."

Lyle glumly hung his head in reply, the other four Outlaws wondering if he'd perhaps seen something that'd shaken him during his escape. It was then that Irune blinked, as she realized that the Quilava was missing something- or rather someone who'd been with him almost the entire time she'd seen him that night.

"Where is your friend? The Marowak who was with you?" she asked. Lyle said nothing for a long while, before turning his eyes away and letting a grudging croak of a reply come from his mouth.

"… He wasn't able to get away."

Dalton and Artem quietly blanched at the stoat's words, Irune looking away with a quiet murmur as Kate stood there with her mouth hanging open in shock. The Sneasel shook her head, before narrowing her eyes and stepping forward and prodding at the Quilava with an agitated cry.

"What do you mean he didn't make it?!" she demanded. "Alvin was right next to you!"

"Look—they picked him off and blew him into a tent like he was garbage, okay?!" Lyle shot back, his voice taking on a hurt, bitter tone. "How much clearer do I need to be-?!"

"Quiet!"

A bellowing cry came from the center of the room, as Parker got up still dripping Oran juice from her shoulder. Lyle watched as the Samurott raised a paw and did a quick headcount of the remaining twenty Outlaws, and from her expression he saw that she probably noticed the same thing he did: that there were fewer 'mons present than her Riparian Raiders had at the beginning of the night. The Water-type paused, taken aback briefly, before shook her head and addressing the sorry assembly about her.

"I understand that this isn't a good time for anyone," she sighed. "But for now, we need to focus on trying to ride things out until things settle down a bit."

"Well what are we supposed to do?" a Seismitoad from Parker's gang grumbled. "You saw those 'mons! It was like dealing with an entire Fähnlein!"

"They probably were from a Fähnlein," an Arbok in Mistral Marauder colors muttered. "There's been stories of one going about searching the countryside for some spies or something like that."

Lyle blinked and glanced over at Irune, who seemed to have gone stiff as a board at the Arbok's words. Spies didn't get their own prisoner transport that got snuck along with merchant caravans, they were paraded around in public to be jeered at before being dealt with. Often permanently.

The way he, Kate, and Alvin found her, it was as if the Gendarmen with her were trying to hide her. Even the Togedemaru didn't seem terribly privy to who they were transporting. Other things about the encounter didn't seem to add up, as a Linoone in Parker's colors cut in with a stammering whine.

"S-Since when were Fähnlein led by soldiers with colors like those?!" the Linoone exclaimed. "Who the hell was that guy?!"

Parker paused at the Normal-type's exclamation as a dawning realization seemed to come over her. Lyle quirked a brow as he watched the otter seemingly weigh a matter over in her mind, before she lowered her head with a quiet grumble.

"… I knew something about that Salamence's face seemed familiar," the Samurott murmured. "That was Lacan von Wellenhafen, a Graf from the old territory my band and I used to ply around Port Velhen, and a serving Oberst₁ from the army."

Some of the remaining Riparian Raiders visibly blanched and cringed at the name, including both Dalton and Artem. Irune for her part seemed curiously unfazed, though he supposed that it would make sense if she knew the 'mon leading those soldiers. Lyle bit his lip at the reaction and felt a chill run over his body. Obersten were supposed to push around entire regiments of soldiers at a time. He didn't know why one would be getting in the thick of a Mystery Dungeon, but from the way the others were reacting, it was clear the lot of them had been lucky to slip the Salamence's grasp at all.

Lyle felt a sick, sinking sensation in his stomach as he realized that that gottverdammten Grünhäuter and his underlings now held Alvin's life in their claws. Dark visions of the drake and his goons tormenting his friend and still darker thoughts of whatever fate they had in store for him swirled about in his mind.

Gods, why did he have to think about that? He could already feel his eyes welling up again over the train of thought. The Quilava was suddenly snapped back to attention around his surroundings by Parker's voice speaking up, the stoat turning alongside his fellow Outlaws just in time to see the Samurott shake her head and begin to turn off from the group.

"I have no idea why he would be here of all places instead of deployed again to Edialeigh, or why he'd be doing the job of a common Hauptmann₂ with his rank… but I don't intend to linger around and find out," she harrumphed. "We have other things to worry about at the moment."

The Samurott raised a forepaw and motioned off at another corridor on the wall left of the entrance they'd taken to find their place of refuge. Which as grounds plied by Wilders and subject to being blown away by the winds of the local Distortion was hardly a safe haven.

"Namely getting out of here, and regrouping to ply our trade another day," Parker said, before unsheathing a seamitar with a rattling clatter.

"To that end, it's critical that we work together," she insisted. "I'm the last of the remaining leaders, and you're all that I have to work with for subordinates."

"Oi! Who appointed you leader over us?!" a Graveller spat. "I'm not even in your crew!"

Parker got up and stomped over to the Graveler, leveling the tip of her unsheathed seamitar at the Rock-type's rounded chest. The Graveler's eyes shot wide as the otter leaned her head in with an overpowering glare.

"Hrmph, were the circumstances less dire, I'd have half a mind to run you through right here and now, Graveler," the Samurott growled. "You saw what that Salamence and his underlings are capable of. What do you even expect to do against them on your own? Suck up to him as 'HerrBrutalanda₄', grovel, and roll over in surrender? Is that what you want?"

The defiance in the Graveler melted away, both from Parker's imposing demeanor, and also the prospect of having to face a veritable living wall of Pokémon outfitted in military armor. The Rock Pokémon let out a quiet gulp, before timidly stammering back to his new self-appointed superior.

"N-No…"

"I thought so," she scoffed.

Parker made her way to the center of the floor and with a pair of swift slashes from her blade, cut a cross-shaped mark into the ground before turning back to the assembled Outlaws.

"We can't take it for granted that our Escape Orbs won't take us straight into a waiting ambush of soldiers at the entrances we used to come back here, so everyone pack up your stuff and break up into teams of five. It'll give us just enough 'mons to form four search parties," she barked. "Start by finding the corners of each floor before working your way to the center. Whenever we make our way to a new floor, we'll mark the place by the stairs after they seal up and split up from there to find the next set."

Parker took her blade and tucked it back into its scabbard with an audible rattle. With an impatient twitch of her whiskers, she leveled a sharp scowl about her new hodgepodge of a crew.

"Every fifteen minutes, we will regroup to see if anyone's found a lead before going back to continue searching. It may slow things down, but losing more of us to those Grünhäuter is the last thing anyone needs right now," she harrumphed. "Are we clear about that?"

The Outlaw leader was met with a chorus of affirmations from her subordinates, a few overhasty or stammering ones coming out from a couple of the Pokémon in Mistral Marauder and Terra Tyrant scarves. Parker let out a sharp harrumph, before speaking up in a gruff bark.

"Good, then pair up with your teammates and let's move out."

Lyle brushed droplets away from the corners of his eyes as one after the other, the remaining Outlaws began to sort themselves out, some opting to group up with their remaining friends, while others clamored to join up with stronger-looking allies. Lyle and Kate looked on paralyzed with indecision for a moment, as Dalton and Artem set off for the rest of the Outlaws. Much to Lyle's surprise, he caught a glimpse of a green blur scampering behind the two Riparian Raiders, realizing it was Irune giving an insistent tug at Dalton's right arm.

"Irune?" the Quilava asked. "What are you-?"

"It's Dalton, right?" the Axew asked. "Let us help you with your search."

Dalton and Artem turned around and gave quizzical stares down at the Dragon-type. The Heliolisk was the first to speak up, giving a shake of his head in reply.

"Eh? We were going to join our Boss' party, Axew," he insisted. "At least if she's still open-"

"But you saved us once already tonight," Irune insisted. "So let us repay the favor back!"

The suggestion made Kate flatten her ears out in displeasure, the Sneasel stepping forward with a wave of her claw.

"Irune, that's really not necess-"

"I don't see a reason not to humor it, Dalton," the Swellow insisted. "We do need a few teammates to get into smaller nooks and crannies to look around anyways. And she and that Quilava would be able to do that for days!"

Dalton paused, before glancing off at the rest of the gathering. Much to his chagrin, the other Outlaws seemed to have already sorted themselves out into filled teams, including none other than Parker who'd just filled her fourth and fifth slots with a Murkrow and a Trevenant. On the one claw, he and Artem could try to push out a less experienced or familiar Outlaw, but bickering and jostling for a place in the midst of circumstances as dire as theirs wasn't likely to endear them to anyone, least of all their leader.

The Heliolisk closed his eyes and let out a grumbling sigh, turning his head with an sideways glance back at the Axew and her companions.

"Fine. Just don't keep us waiting, okay?"

Kate shot a sour frown back at the turn of events, as Lyle and Irune stepped forward to join their new teammates. After waiting for the groups ahead of them to set off, the five started forward, Dalton taking the lead, as the lot slipped off deeper into the twists and turns of the Mystery Dungeon.



Lyle wasn't sure how much time had passed afterwards, but before long, he and his companions made the trek through another five of Waterhead Cave's floors. It couldn't have been longer than an hour. Maybe two at most. It could be hard to keep track in Mystery Dungeons at times.

Each floor's properties shared little in common beyond feeling like they were taken from the same waterlogged cave, though each floor sported new unnatural features. On the present floor, one such feature was a knob-like plateau with glowing falls cascading over its sides in the unreachable distance. Along with it, was a cave ceiling that hung so far above them that only faint outlines of its largest stalactites could be seen. If it weren't for them and the lack of stars or auroras overhead, one could be forgiven for not remembering that they were in the domains of Waterhead Cave's Distortion.

Not that Lyle would've likely noticed. The whole time, his thoughts drifted back to the raid on the Pocket. He'd known that a raid on their encampment was always a possibility, he'd lived through it once with the Foehn Gang. But the growls, the screams, seeing friends snatched away in front of his very eyes… G-Gods, why did that have to happen again?

… And what was he supposed to do now?

He'd likely burned through his cover and would need to lie low again. Sure he had some loot to show for it, but it would take more than a night to shake this sort of heat, and even if picking season weren't about to end, he'd doubt he'd have a job to go back to after ghosting it for so long. His mind briefly turned back to trying to go back to his parents and the glassblowing shop, to plead for their forgiveness and for a chance to go back to apprenticing under his father… except he already tried that after the Foehn Gang was broken up and had been rebuffed. From what Nils had to say about them, he doubted his parents' response would be any different this time.

Blauflamme, so much for there being someone out there watching out for him…

Lyle snapped back to attention and looked about his surroundings. Right, they were on the thirteenth floor, and he, Kate, Irune and their new allies were carrying along in a group until they reached a chamber of the Mystery Dungeon with more than two exits. There, they split up as planned to try and cover more ground before retracing their steps. The five came across a narrow and long chamber during one of their recent searches, with Irune stepping out into it only to be met with a chiding huff from behind.

"That's a Gust Trap that you're about to step on," Lyle said. "If you don't feel like getting blown into a wall, I'd advise taking a step back."

Irune paused and took her foot back warily, looking down to see a faint outline of design that looked almost like a clover or a pinwheel in the ground. The Quilava brushed past her and sidestepped past the trap to carry down the chamber, Irune staring after the Quilava with a flabbergasted expression before shaking her head.

"You seem familiar with these places," Irune said. "Did you used to go through Mystery Dungeons as part of an Exploration Team?"

"Hrmph, you learn a few things after hiding out in them a bit," the Quilava retorted. "Though honestly, you got lucky there. Traps in Mystery Dungeons aren't always that easy to spot on the floor."

The Axew hurried along after her Quilava guide as he paused at the other end of the chamber where three exits split off and the pair heard the voices of Dalton and Artem coming down the leftmost one. All the while, Lyle couldn't help but find the Dragon-type's question to be a bit strange, and perhaps a sign of her inexperience.

After all, Exploration Teams and their ilk were more commonly referred to as Hunters among Outlaws. It was shorter, to the point, and accurately reflected what such Pokémon had to offer them. A long stint of penal labor, conscription into the army, or gods-knew-what else after getting drug in before the guards for a bounty that was usually no more than a month's wage for a field laborer. Probably less if the bounty was paid in Carolins with how quickly they tended to lose value.

… Was it even safe to be around her right now? He hadn't given it much thought earlier amid the confusion of everything, but that Salamence and his underlings had come specifically looking for her. If he'd just let her go off into the grass… if he'd just left her in that cage… would those Grünhäuter still have come after them? Would he still be in that Pocket celebrating their success with Alvin and everyone else?

Whatever could've been, it didn't make sense dwelling too much on it. It wasn't as if the kid could've known those soldiers would've been that close to her while she was locked up in a sealed wagon. And he and his fellow Outlaws weren't in a position to be turning away help at the present moment.

"So what exactly are we looking for, then?"

Lyle snapped back to attention as he looked down to see Irune pawing at him uneasily. She looked about her surroundings warily, but didn't seem to pick up on his skepticism.

"There's got to be some way of telling that the stairs are nearby, isn't there?"

Lyle cast a wary glance over at the Axew, before pinning his ears with a low harrumph and starting forward.

"The stairs to the next floor here in Waterhead Cave always open up downwards," the Quilava explained. "So listen for sounds or winds that seem to be coming suspiciously from the-"

"Ack! Lyle! Watch out!" Irune suddenly yelped.

The Quilava stopped, before feeling Irune tug sharply at his flank and motion off ahead of him wide-eyed at a battered, spherical white shell lying on the ground.

"You almost stepped on that Apricorn over there!" she exclaimed. "You didn't say anything about those also being in Mystery Dungeons!"

Lyle blinked a moment before warily approaching the shell, and noticed it was lying slightly ajar on a small pebble with a circular cutout on one end. The Quilava frowned, before sharply placing a paw on the white shell.

"That's because they're normally not, not that you'd need to be worried about half of one," he said. "Besides, how many of them look like this once you chop 'em up?"

The Fire-type flipped the shell over to reveal a strange, gray surface that had been pitted and scuffed. In it were a series of circles and four lines that looked almost like the pattern that the lenses of Lock-On Specs usually had. Along the sides about halfway up, there were three strips of something that looked like glass that had been broken and cracked, with some residue left behind in space that looked like there was room for a fourth. Irune tilted her head puzzledly, poking curiously at the strange contraption.

"What on earth is it?" she asked.

"It's a human relic. You can tell since it's made of ancient resin. And these little shells tend to be one of the more common ones that turn up," the Quilava explained. "Most places outside of Mystery Dungeons have been picked pretty clean of relics this small, but they still turn up every now and then inside places like these."

Irune stooped down and picked up the white shell, gawking at it curiously as she played around with it in her claws. She tried orienting it with the shell pointing up, and then pointing down, but seemed to be at a loss for what the little husk was supposed to be.

"… Was it meant to be used as a cup or something?" she asked. "I can't make heads or tails of this thing."

The shells supposedly came in pairs to form sphere-like contraptions when complete. Though nobody in all of Wander had been able to provide a definitive answer to the Axew's question, with many a theory proposed based off snippets of conflicting folklore here and there. Some had proposed the devices were shelters, other storage containers, others weapons…

But none of that was relevant right now, and Lyle sure as hell didn't feel like giving a lecture over what the little shell might or might not be. What was relevant was that they were being chased by a Fähnlein from the army. A Fähnlein that the Axew right next to him had apparently had run-ins with before.

"What am I, an archeologist?" the stoat scoffed. "Your guess is as good as mine. Just throw it in your bag if it interests you and let's keep mov-"

"Hey, I found it!"

Lyle flicked his ears at the sound of Kate's voice coming from up ahead. From the left, Dalton and Artem emerged into the chamber. The pair trading puzzled glances with each other along with Lyle and Irune before the four filed ahead one by one down the passage. The party exited into a small chamber pockmarked with small pools of water that formed an almost checkered pattern with a solitary exit to the right, and Kate standing in the center of the room.

"You found the entrance?" the Swellow asked, his eyes widened out of surprise. "Where is it?"

"Nah, I found a Slow Wand," the Sneasel insisted, pointing off towards a blue, forking branch with a glass knob at its end. "I'd been looking for one of those!"

Lyle flattened his ears out and felt his flames flicker with an annoyed frown, a quick look evidencing that everyone else in his search party was similarly displeased… other than Kate, of course. He didn't know whether the Sneasel was putting on a brave face after the raid, or had just been more jaded about the loss of compatriots than he remembered, but she seemed to barely register their combined annoyance.

The Sneasel shrugged off her teammates' displeasure and made her way over to Slow Wand lying at the mouth of the chamber's exit. Just as she stooped down to grab it, a sudden flash of red leapt in, revealing the hissing form of an ungarbed Corphish.

"Get out of my territory, you stupid ferret!"

Before the Corphish could react, Kate threw a sharp slash forward, knocking the Wilder off his feet and onto his chitinous back, clearly taken aback by his foe's strength. The Corphish attempted to roll over and get up, only to glance up and see his Sneasel assailant hovering over him with a sharp frown and a claw already drawn back for another swipe.

"How about you let me through, and I let you off with just a little dust-up?" Kate retorted. "Sound good, Wilder?"

The fight in the Wilder abruptly ebbed away, as the Corphish wheeled back with a panicked yelp and took off scuttling down the exit corridor. Kate pulled her claws back to her side, giving them a thorough shake as she flattened her ears out with an annoyed grunt.

"Tch, I thought Wilders thinned out whenever large parties passed through to avoid hopeless battles," the Dark-type scoffed. "That's the third time just on this floor we've had a run-in like that!"

"We're not exactly in a 'large party' right now," Dalton sighed, shaking his head back. "Though we should start heading for the meeting point. Parker said to show up there every fifteen minutes to share our findings, and we're already running late."

… Right, the lot of them were Riparian Raiders now, even if they didn't have the colors to show it yet. Lyle wasn't sure how the hell that was supposed to work for him in the longer term when Parker's gang specifically specialized in navigating and raiding from rivers, an idea that he couldn't help but involuntarily shudder over. But that was something to worry about later, when they weren't stuck in a Mystery Dungeon with a bunch of pursuing soldiers.

"Ugh… already? But we barely covered any ground so far," Lyle grumbled. "Let's just hurry this up, since we've got to be running out of places to search for those stairs at this rate.."

The five set off, retracing their steps back into the corridor and through the long chamber as they followed a series of scratches and scorch marks on the surrounding walls they'd left behind to guide their way back… even if Kate spent more time at first inspecting her new Slow Wand.From the layers on its glassy knob that had formed on it, it appeared to be good for three swings. After a few minutes of walking, they returned to the chamber where they'd first entered the current floor, only to discover a crumbled pile of stone in the center of the room.

Lyle cocked a brow at the sight. Those were the stairs they'd used to come to this floor, or what was left of them anyways. The very fact that they had crumbled into a pile of rubble was a sign that the Distortion had shifted the floor, specifically a telltale sign that another new set of stairs had opened somewhere else on the floor they were on.

… It was probably just from a Wilder wandering down the last one. After all, a party the size of the one that ambushed them would prefer to try and find passages linked to Pockets to hop between floors instead of risking splitting themselves up on stairs that would begin to seal up the moment pressure was applied past about its midpoint and then fully removed. But then, it raised the question of what had happened to everyone else when this was supposed to be their meeting place…

"Oi Dalton! Artem!"

The four Outlaws flinched at the sound of a bellowing voice calling out from the far end of the chamber. Dalton was particularly startled, as he flared out his frill and he looked up towards the direction of the shout.

"Huh?"

Lyle and the others followed the Heliolisk's gaze, over to the other end of the chamber, where Parker had gathered with the other three search parties. The Samurott gave an impatient huff, motioning over with blade in paw towards an exiting passage.

"Hurry it up! We were beginning to think that something had happened to you!" she snapped. "One of the Mistral Marauders found our way out! It's by a pool in the northwest corner of this floor!"

Kate flattened her ears out at the Samurott's barking order, as Irune nervously pawed at the back of her head and Lyle quietly grimaced. Had they really been running that late in their search earlier? If Dalton and Artem had any misgivings with their leader's patience wearing thin, the two didn't show it, as Artem called out with a firm nod in reply.

"Right, let's move out!"

Parker slipped down the passage, the Outlaws filing in after the leader Samurott one by one as the tight corridor allowed. Lyle's party waited until the end, as Dalton and Artem went in first, with Lyle following after, then Irune, and Kate at the rear. After making their way down a few corridors, Kate noted that the dungeon had fallen silent beyond the sound of their footsteps and the quiet trickling of water from streams intersecting the floor, and took the opportunity to stretch her arms with a quiet sigh.

"This is more like it," Kate said. "Nice and quiet, no crabby Wilders getting in our way…"

"There'd be fewer of them accosting you if you wandered off less," Dalton harrumphed, looking back over his shoulder towards her place the end of their train of Pokémon. The Sneasel blinked for a moment, before giving a dismissive shrug back.

"Meh, it was worth the trade," she said. "After all, I wouldn't have gotten that Slow Wand if I didn't go off the beaten path a bit."

Lyle rolled his eyes as the Outlaws made their way through a large chamber, following along it for an exit on the far side. When Lyle's end of the train of Pokémon made it in, he noticed the smell of something vaguely burnt, when Irune looked off to her left and paled, tugging at the stoat frantically.

"Lyle, look!" she cried.

The Axew pointed off at a corner near the far end of the room. The Quilava at first couldn't make out what the Dragon-Type was pointing at with his vision, and took a few steps over, when the burnt smell got noticeably stronger and noticed that part of the wall had been blasted away with scorch marks around a spot a few paces away. That would explain the burnt smell he noticed. It was a Blast Trap, or what was left of one anyways…

"Tch, whoever searched this area must've been a bit clumsy," he scoffed. "It happens."

"No," the Axew insisted. "Down there by the wall!"

Lyle turned his gaze towards the chunk of the wall that'd been blasted inwards, as the rest of his companions did likewise at Irune's insistence when their blood froze. There lying blackened on the ground was a shoulder segment of cloth armor, with a set of broken straps dangling off of it. And even in its damaged state, bits of a triangular insignia and what he assumed were patches of green still came through, revealing it to belong to a soldier just like the ones who'd raided their encampment earlier.

"We need to let the others know," Artem said. "We're not alone down here."

The five hurried over to warn the other Outlaws in the chamber, Dalton calling out for attention which made the others pause and look back. Just then, a Linoone abruptly froze and looked off to a passage left of him. The Normal-type's face suddenly flushing pale as he pointed off down it.

"Ah! To our left!" the Linoone cried. "There's a large party coming straight-!"

The Linoone was cut off by a slicing gust of wind that zipped in and flung him into the wall behind him. The Normal-type bounced off, flopping over limply as a Corvisquire in green military armor and a notched band about her right leg flew in with a sharp caw, prompting Parker to brace for battle.

"Steady yourselves!" the Samurott snarled. "We've got company!"

Parker spat an icy ray after the Corvisquire, only for her to roll and allow the beam to glance off her chest plate. From the entrance, Lyle saw a Toxicroak dart up a golden orb with white light shining in it before lobbing it up into the air. For a brief moment, Lyle froze, realizing the Toxicroak had thrown a Luminous Orb, prompting him to screw his eyes shut and cry out to his teammates.

"Cover your eyes!"

A blinding flash rang out that seemed to leak through even Lyle's eyelids. Baying cries and roars rang out, as the Fire-type reopened his eyes to see a swarm of Pokémon of various shapes and sizes pouring out of the left exit. Attacks and missiles flew about in a disorienting flurry as Parker and her underlings hastily attempted to form a defensive line to pen their attackers up around the passage's mouth. As her eyes regained focus, Kate flattened her ears and started forward, motioning to her teammates with an impatient cry.

"Come on! We can take them long enough to sneak past-!"

Kate's words died in her mouth as a deafening roar reverberated through the chamber. Lyle felt his blood freeze when much to his and his companions' horror, the familiar form of the Salamence from the earlier raid barreled in, ramming square into Parker and sending her tumbling back as he punched a hole in their defensive line. The Samurott spat ice onto one of her seamitars and slashed at the drake's underside to force him off, but a rattle and glimpse of dull metal through a fresh gouge in the plates of the Salamence's armor as he righted himself revealed Parker's slash had stopped at their mail layer.

After a moment to steel their nerves, the Sneasel and her companions bounded ahead to desperately try to help their fellow Outlaws reinforce their line, only for the wall between them and the bulk of the party to abruptly rend apart about a straight line in a cloud of dust. The five coughed and shielded their faces, staring up to see an Ursaring in army plates emerge and throw aside the splintered remains of an almost pick-shaped Tunnel Wand. Kate stared blankly, the Dark-type's face losing its color as she watched the Ursaring storm out and raise a claw at them.

"Over there!" the Ursaring exclaimed. "Their rearguard's got the Dyad!"

Lyle blanched as he watched a good half dozen other Pokémon in green armor exit the newly created passage and all turn towards them. Dreadnaw, Ferrothorn, Scolipede … any one of them appeared strong enough to be a difficult battle even without armor to absorb their blows. The five stood frozen in shock for a moment, before an errant jet of water zipped over Kate's head and made her spring back with a yelp.

"Gih! Screw that!" she cried. "We'll help out from the sidelines!"

Kate hurriedly fished out her Slow Wand and flicked it back at the approaching soldiers. Lyle didn't stop to see who she hit, instead dropping to his paws and bolting with his companions for the exit behind them. He saw the passage walls just beyond the entrance approach, with Kate and Irune hurriedly ducking down it.

Just as he reached the exit, he heard a bellowing roar over his shoulder and turned to see the Ursaring charging him readying a claw swipe. Lyle spat up smoke in a panic, before a sharp crackle rang out along with a startled yelp. The Quilava wheeled around, watching as the smoke cleared enough to see the pursuing soldier stumbling back and struggling sluggishly at the mouth of the passage with static arcing on his body and Dalton and Artem hurriedly running past the stunned Ursaring to emerge in front of him.

"Don't just stand there!" Artem squawked. "Keep running!"

Lyle needed no further encouragement as he turned and ran after Kate and Irune's shadows up ahead. Gottverdammt, why had he ever let Kate talk him into coming here?!

Confused shouts of 'Watch where you're going!' and 'You tripped me!' rang out from behind them, making him realize that the Ursaring's stumble had bought them a reprieve, however short. Lyle, Dalton, and Artem hurried along the passage and followed it into a larger chamber that served as an intersection to three others splitting off to the left and right up, where they found Kate and Irune waiting for them glancing wide-eyed before they hurried along for the westerly exit.

"Oh come on, don't get slow and plodding on us now!" Kate snapped. "As if we haven't had enough problems from that tonight!"

"W-Where are we even supposed to run to?!" Irune cried. "There's no way we can take all of those soldiers once when they catch up!"

"We'll try and make it to the stairs!" Dalton insisted. "Parker and the others are bound to fight their way through. So when she makes it there, we'll go down them with whoever's still standing!"

"Stop right there, criminal scum!"

Kate and Irune jumped aside as a Nidoking stormed out from the passage they'd headed towards, making Lyle, Dalton, and Artem come to a skidding stop. The Poison-type jumped up and struck the ground with a sharp stomp, churning up forceful tremors that knocked everyone but Artem down with sharp yelps. Lyle hit the ground and lay stunned for a moment, wheezing from the blow of the Earthquake, while the others with Dalton in particular seeming to have similarly had the wind taken out of them. The sole exception, up in the air, was Artem, who zipped overhead of his struggling teammates, giving a sharp squawk back at the hostile Poison-type.

"Get out of our way, Grünhäuter!"

Artem dove as cutting air wreathed his body and clipped the Nidoking's left leg with his talons, making the soldier bellow in pain from his Aerial Ace and stumble back off his feet. Sensing a narrow window of opportunity, Dalton spat up an orb of water and fanned it out into a cresting wave at the Poison-type, as Kate flicked her Slow Wand at the Nidoking, making one of the glassy layers shatter and silken strands erupt from its tip that quickly enveloped her armored opponent.

While the Nidoking struggled against the effects of the Slow Wand, Kate hastily stashed her Wand and dashed in as her claws began to trail faint shadowy flecks, throwing a running slash aimed at the Poison-type's flank. The soldier noticed Kate's approach and whirled about, leaving her claws to run onto a segment of armor on his back where it failed to accomplish much beyond leaving a deep cut into its interlocked fabric. Lyle charged in as the Nidoking attempted to turn his attention to Kate, diving in a fiery tackle when the Poison-type noticed him approaching from the corner of his eye, whirling around with his horn held low.

"Not so fast, you overgrown rat!"

Lyle carried on with his Flame Charge, jumping up and finding his mark with a glancing blow on the Nidoking's right leg. Before he could touch the ground, he glimpsed the Nidoking swinging a low sharp, poison-slicked jab from his claws that almost scraped the ground and suddenly felt a sharp pain shoot through his stomach. Lyle saw the world spin about him, sailing through the air before he crashed back to earth with a sharp yelp. Lyle laid on the ground in a daze, looking over to see the soldier pawing at the ground, lowering his horned head as he readied a ramming tackle when the Nidoking suddenly froze up in pain from a blow from behind.

"Ack!"

The Nidoking whirled about just in time for a second chop from Irune's tusks to strike his calf, the Poison-type stumbling back with a yelp as the Axew dug her feet in and glared up defiantly.

"You want me so badly? Then come and get me!"

Lyle turned his head and watched as afterimages of Irune turned and ran for the western exit as the Nidoking growled and gave chase, wholly unaware that Dalton was building up an orb of water in his mouth just beside him. The soldier noticed Dalton's Surf at the last moment, before Dalton spat it up onto the ground and fanned it out into a cresting wave that overtook the Nidoking.

The Quilava couldn't help but wince in sympathy after hearing the Surf bear down on the Nidoking, and sprawled him out to the ground sopping with a sharp yelp. Evidently even with his armor, the wave had evidently been as painful as it looked. There in the soggy aftermath was the Poison-type lying on the ground much as he was, struggling to get back up when Artem summarily dove in with a spread-wing tackle that knocked the soldier back down. An icy flechette zipped in shortly afterwards, striking the Nidoking in the face, keeling him over limply on the ground on his side.

Lyle rolled onto his feet, struggling to keep his footing as the world spun around him. From his left, he saw Kate's form enter his field of vision, the Sneasel looking down at him with a worried glance.

"You doing alright there, Lyle?" she asked.

Lyle could only answer with a weak groan in reply. He couldn't hear his fire sputter from weakness right then and there, so he had to have some strength within him left to fight, but the Nidoking must've done a number on him. Enough of one for both Irune and Dalton to eye him worriedly as Artem motioned for them to follow from the air.

"Patch him up when we're in the clear!" the Swellow insisted. "Those soldiers are catching up fast!"

The five hurried along, tracing their way along the passages until Lyle's nose picked up the scent of damp earth and noticed scratches left in the walls pointing off in rough arrows. Right, one of the other Outlaws already found the exit in the northwest corner of the floor, and this must've been the path he took!

"Follow those markings!" the Quilava cried. "Those stairs can't be far from here!"

The group ran ahead, dutifully chasing after the water's scent and following the crude markers in the walls until they found a chamber bisected by a channel of water. The Outlaws looked around frantically, when Lyle's eyes fell upon the far right corner of the chamber. There, much as Parker had told them, was a series of stony steps that slipped into the earth at the end, the tell-tale sign of stairs descending to the next floor.

"Ah! Th-That's it!" the stoat cried, prompting Dalton to nod back with a low grunt.

"Alright! We just need to hold out a little bit, and then-!"

"Going somewhere?!"

A harsh shout rang out from behind, Lyle freezing and turning just as an Inteleon stormed in and knocked Dalton back and to his left with a sharp, gliding tackle the Heliolisk tumbled back, almost falling upon a faint impression of what looked almost like the rings of a target in the cave's floor. The Electric-type quickly righted himself, digging his paws into the dirt and throwing himself back onto his feet with a low hiss, the rest of his allies bracing themselves as the Inteleon fanned out his skin flaps and tentatively curled his fingers in against his palms.

"Scurrying off when trouble comes your way, huh?" the soldier sneered. "I know Wimpod that have more backbone than you lot!"

"Let's see you back those words up, you overgrown newt!" Artem spat.

The Swellow flew up and flung a cutting gust of wind forward, which found its mark by the white army insignia on the Inteleon's breastplate. The Water-type stumbled back from the Air Slash's recoil but seemed about as fazed as if he'd been struck by a mere Gust. Water began to wreath the skin of the lizard's right hand, as he raised it and leveled its digits square at Lyle and Irune. Lyle flared up with a start, hastily tackling Irune aside as a watery pulse disgorged from the lizard's fingertips. The two felt water splatter over them as the soldier's Snipe Shot missed them by mere hairs and stumbled up to fall back as Irune panted startledly and turned wide, startled eyes back at the Quilava Outlaw.

"I don't think this one's going to fall for the same trick as that Nidoking!" she cried.

The sound of crackling electricity pricked Lyle's ears as he turned and saw Dalton attempt to lob a thick bolt of electricity on the Inteleon. Much like Artem's Air Slash, his blow hit the Inteleon's chest plate, which while visibly damaged, once again cushioned the Water-type from the blow as he stumbled back, before springing back onto his feet.

H-How were they supposed to manage fighting this 'mon when it was taking so many blows just to degrade his armor?! From his vantage point, Lyle watched as Kate used her Slow Wand once more as a crack rang out from it splintering after being exhausted, getting silken strands all over their Inteleon assailant.

The effects of the Slow Wand proved to be less respite than hoped, as barring a brief, startled moment, the Water-type remained nimble enough to rush Dalton with a sudden lunging punch. It was when Dalton sprang back to try and duck the soldier's Sucker Punch when Lyle saw it: There on the Inteleon's flank were gaps between the plates, the straps for his armor could be seen underneath. And if they were anything like the ones on Nils' armor, then all they needed to come apart was a well-placed slash to cut through them!

"Go for the straps of his armor!" the Quilava insisted. "If we peel some of those plates off, it'll open up a place on his body we can target!"

"Got it!" Kate called back, as she threw aside the broken stub of her Slow Wand. "Just give us some cover to work with!"

Lyle ran up and spat a plume of smoke at the Inteleon's feet, making him cough and stumble about blinded for a moment. Sensing their chance, Kate and Irune ran forward, the Sneasel from the left and the Axew from the right. Kate jumped up as her claws took on an almost metallic glint, using her body's weight to rake them downwards. Her swipe found its mark between the gaps of the Inteleon's armor as she felt a pair of straps rend under her claws. From the right, Irune attempted to hack at the soldier's other flank with her tusks, only for the Water-type to jolt back from Kate's blow and her tusk chop to strike too early on a segment of armor on the soldier's thigh, accomplishing little other than to leave a set of gouges in it. After recoiling from the blows, the Inteleon jumped up, spreading its skin flaps to glide back a safe distance and come to a crouching stop with a sharp snarl.

"Little pests!" he spat. "Try this on for size!"

The Inteleon flung another Snipe Shot at Kate, the Sneasel attempting to sidestep only for the blow to catch her in shoulder and send her flying into the wall. Kate hit the wall and bounced off it, falling to her knees and claws as she struggled to get back up dripping water. The Inteleon attempted to charge and harry his struggling opponent, only for a spray of whitish fire to sail in and strike him on an exposed length of his arm. The Water-type winced and grabbed at his fresh burn, whirling about with gritted teeth and looking down to see a Quilava on all fours and snorting embers out in defiance.

"What's the matter?" the stoat taunted. "Can't keep a Fire-type from showing you up?"

Lyle bobbed and weaved back and forth in place as water built on the Inteleon's paws and the soldier tried to mow him down with a watery pulse, the Quilava side-stepping as the attack sailed just past his head. The Inteleon quickly tried to correct for his aim and brought his firing fingers down before his Quilava foe, prompting Lyle to dive between the lizard's legs and force the fire from his vents just as he passed under the soldier's tail. The Inteleon yelped from the stoat's flames singing his backside, the Water-type losing focus for a moment as Artem charged in with a sharp cry.

"Gotcha!"

Artem latched onto the Inteleon and drove fierce pecks at the lizard's breastplate, breaking the last few straps holding the plates over the lizard's white underbelly below in place as it fell to the ground. The soldier thrashed about wildly, lurching in an erratic course that took him to the edge of the watery spit that ran through the chamber as he tried to throw the Swellow loose before he flailed and grabbed at a patch of scales along his tail.

"Argh! Get off of me!" the Water-type snapped.

The Inteleon forced water out of the skin around his fingertips and pulled what looked like a blade loose from the patch of scales, swinging it at his assailant wreathed in water. The Liquidation dug into Artem's breast and sent him flying away with a spray of feathers and a sharp squawk. The Swellow hit the ground a short distance away, and tumbled back towards the ring-like impressions in the dirt, where his left wing touched it and a flash of light abruptly lit up the chamber. When it subsided, much to the Outlaws' horror, there was no sign of the Flying-type to be seen but a now-disturbed patch of dirt, as Dalton stared slack-jawed at the now-vacant cave floor.

"Artem!"

All this time, the chamber had a Warp Trap lying in plain sight. And Artem had been the unlucky soul to trigger it. Dalton stared in shock at the spent trap, before gritting his teeth and whirling around to the Inteleon as he attempted to retrieve his damaged armor plate. The Heliolisk threw a thick electric bolt at the Inteleon's exposed stomach, making him lock up, drop his knife, and slump over into the water. Dalton stomped up, still panting from exhaustion and his wounds, and threw the Inteleon's keratinous blade aside before he kicked the soldier over. The Water-type wheezed for air in the water, looking up just as Dalton raised his frill with a fierce glare and sparks began to dance on his scales.

"Where is he, you miserable Grünhäuter?!" he shouted. "What did you do to Artem?!"

Dalton sparked up and lit up the cave with yellow light as he threw another Thunderbolt at the soldier, drawing loud screams of pain. The Heliolisk waited a few moments, before striking the Water-type again with much the same effect. With electric rage, the Heliolisk let sparks dance on him a third time, when he felt a sharp tug at his tail and looked back to see Irune staring up at him wide-eyed.

"S-Stop it!" the Axew pleaded. "He doesn't know any more than you do!"

Dalton hesitated a moment as the sparks on his hide died down and looked back down at the Inteleon. Far from the arrogant soldier proudly adorned in armor that had stormed in mocking their supposed lack of backbone, the Water-type was now weakly trying to nurse his burnt arm and curl around his exposed underbelly that now sported sets of ugly black blotches. Any shred of the Water-type's earlier confidence and swagger was now absent, as the creature lay shuddering in the water with his eyes screwed shut in fright and low whimpers escaping his throat.

The Heliolisk looked down and said nothing for a brief moment, seemingly startled and taken aback. After a moment to recompose himself, Dalton shook his head with a growling 'jämmerlich₅' under his breath and turned away from the felled soldier, starting off for the chamber's entrance as he called out to his teammates.

"We need to go and find Artem!" he insisted.

"You can't be serious!" Kate exclaimed. "We're not in any shape to be going on rescue missions here! Let's just hold the fort down and wait for him to come-!"

"Over there!" a voice from further down the passage suddenly cried. "I heard Karl shouting!"

The shining ray of a Psybeam zipped in, making the remaining Outlaws hit the ground as it zipped overhead followed by a Blast Seed that hit the ground close enough to make Lyle stumble from the heat and flash of its detonation. Lyle got up and ran, Irune and Kate taking off when he saw Dalton get up and dig his feet in and spit up a Surf that he threw down the corridor at a number of armored figures he couldn't get a clear view of. The Quilava wheeled about and let out an exasperated hiss, crying out to the Heliolisk behind them.

"Dalton! We can't hold all of them off with just four of us!" he shouted. "Stop stalling!"

The Electric-type whirled around and shot back a fierce glare, the Heliolisk setting his teeth on edge as he snapped back with sparks dancing on his scales.

"No! Nobody else has made it here yet!" he insisted. "And Artem- !"

The Heliolisk was cut off by an Aura Sphere arcing and striking him in the side of his head, sending him pinwheeling along the ground towards the steps where he limply tumbled down them. At once, the earth shuddered and groaned with the sound of grinding stone, as much to her horror, Irune noticed that the mouth of the steps was beginning to seal up.

"A-Aah! The stairs!" the Axew cried. "They're closing in on themselves!"

"Time's up!" the Sneasel yelped. "It's now or never!"

Lyle bounded ahead as Kate and Irune hurriedly dashed down the steps as attacks and missiles zipped past them, the Quilava squeezing past a gap small enough for his body's flames to deflect off of hard stone as soldiers' cries rang out behind him, before they were overpowered by the grinding noise and a deep click. Lyle looked back and saw that not even a dozen paces behind him, the stairs had sealed up into an earthen overhang that served as a ceiling, the surrounding dirt churned up from an abrupt emergence.

The Quilava suppressed his fire, stumbling forward panting as he scanned his surroundings and noted that the cave ceiling was significantly lower on this new floor. There at the base of the stairs, he came across Kate and Irune tending to Dalton as he laid in an unmoving heap. After a couple fruitless attempts to rouse the lizard by tugging and prodding at him, the Sneasel sighed and reached for her bag, pulling out a Tiny Reviver Seed that she slipped into the Heliolisk's mouth. After a few moments, Dalton began to stir, coughing and gagging up the seed spent and shorn of its green sprout that hit the ground coated with spittle. The Heliolisk let out a low groan and cradled his head, when he noticed the three remaining members of his party and stared back at them with a quiet grimace.

"Did… Did anyone else make it?" he finally managed.

Lyle and Kate lowered their eyes and looked away glumly, Irune looking up at him with an expression that seemed almost guilty for a moment, before shaking her head and quietly answering.

"I'm sorry, Dalton," she said. "We were the only ones who made it."

The lizard's jaw hung open at the Dragon-type's reply, the Heliolisk instinctively darting back up the stairs where he reached at the layer of earth above and scratched desperately at it. Dalton watched as his swipes left little, shallow streaks in the earth, when a sharp bark rang out behind him.

"Dalton, those stairs aren't going to open back up and you know it!" Lyle said. "Stairs between floors are one-way! Once they seal up, that's it until a new set opens!"

The Heliolisk looked back to see Lyle on his hindlegs and peering up at him from the base of the steps alongside Kate and Irune. The Heliolisk cast a look between the sealed stairs, and the other Outlaws, before turning back to the others.

"Th-Then let's find somewhere to wait for Parker and the others to catch up!" he insisted. "Once the next stairs open up-!"

"Scales, give it a rest already. You saw what we were up against up there!" Kate grumbled. "If there were enough soldiers to spare to mob us like that at the end, do you really think that when the next stairs open up that a Grünhäuter isn't going to be the first 'mon down it?"

Lyle watched as Dalton's expression went blank and he hung his head in reply. Maybe Parker would somehow pull through, but when that 'Lacan' Salamence himself was leading the group they ran into, what were the odds the others from the encampment raid weren't right on his tail? The Heliolisk seemed to recognize it too from the gutted look on his face. In all likelihood, Dalton was the last remnant of Parker's proud Riparian Raiders, and they of the bands whose colors they wore about their necks.

The desperate rush that had carried him over to the stairs was beginning to wear off, Lyle could feel it in his burning limbs. Lyle took a moment to try to shake some feeling back into them, before turning towards a corridor that trailed off from the chamber square ahead. They were the last 'mons standing, and the one card they still had left to play against those soldiers was putting as much distance as possible between themselves and this gottverdammten hole.

"There's nothing else we can do right now but look out for ourselves," he muttered. "We won't have long before those soldiers figure out we're not there anymore."

The four set off, shuffling off deeper into the new floor of the Mystery Dungeon in the dim blue glow of Waterhead Cave's luminescence amid its stalactites and stalagmites. All the while, a crushing aura hung over the lot, as the reverie and sense of triumph they'd shared just a couple hours ago was long-dead. In its stead settled a heavy-hearted melancholy, alongside dread over what ordeal they'd face next.



Beyond brief moments to tend to their wounds, Lyle and his now-diminished circle of comrades stopped for nothing for the next four floors of the Mystery Dungeon. Their reduced numbers meant Wilders no longer shied away from them, as the four found themselves hurriedly darting from the sound of approaching steps as they attempted to avoid skirmishes and conserve what little strength they had left. After all, who could possibly know how far behind the Salamence's underlings were?

The strategy was only partly successful, but fortunately, none but other Wilders seemed to have overheard their scuffles, and a few stiff strikes were usually enough to either overpower them or break their fighting spirit and send them in panicked retreat.

The four found the stairs of the eighteenth floor, and filed down them. There, as the steps sealed up behind them, they came to a darkened, empty chamber. Lyle let his fire on his vents flicker to life, where he saw they'd come to an unremarkable stone chamber with a waterlogged path up ahead that drifted off into haze ahead. Lyle blinked before starting forward and pawed warily at the water. It lacked the glow the water elsewhere in the Mystery Dungeon had, and it didn't look terribly deep.

He didn't want to get his hopes up that they'd come across the main exit outside. But eighteen floors was about as deep as he remembered Waterhead Cave being from overheard conversations in the past. The very fact there was fog up ahead also evidenced that wherever the path led to, it went to a place beyond the effects of the Mystery Dungeon's Distortion…

"I don't suppose it'd have killed someone to leave a raft we could've used here," Lyle grumbled.

Lyle poked a paw into the water and much to his alarm, fell in deep enough to reach his eyes. As soon as his paws felt the bottom, Lyle jolted back out with his fire flaring with a sharp start, spluttering and coughing. While it was still shallow enough to cross, the water had proven deeper than expected. Too deep for him to cross without rearing up, and gods-knew-how long they'd have to go through it to reach their refuge. The Outlaws traded exhausted looks with one another, as Irune rubbed at her eyes wearily and let out a tired groan.

"Nrgh… H-How much further are we supposed to keep going?" she asked, prompting Kate to pin her ears back with an annoyed huff.

"Look, do you want to take your chances with those Grünhäuter chasing after us?" the Sneasel demanded. "If we sit and wait around, we'll risk getting discovered!"

Kate's reply made Dalton shoot a sharp frown back at her, as he folded his arms with a tired huff.

"And if we keep running until we're shambling half-asleep, we won't have any energy to fight back with if we do get discovered," Dalton retorted.

Lyle paused after the Electric-type's retort and looked down at his reflection in the water. He tried to force out his body's fire to see how he was faring, only to notice it smoke and sputter, with the light it provided revealing he tired bags under his eyes.

"… They've got a point, Kate," he said, shaking his head back. "I can see fog up ahead, let's just lay low in whatever Pocket's on the other end and rest for a bit. We can take turns keeping watch for whoever's coming."

"Tch, you can if you want to so badly," she scoffed. "I'll get some shuteye."

The stoat grumbled to himself about how Kate didn't even want to rest just a minute ago, before suppressing his body fire and inching into the water. Lyle heard the water hiss as it made contact with his still-hot vents on his tail and he walked out until the water came up to his chest, fighting against squirming discomfort from his cold, damp surroundings and carrying on a brief ways. After making it forward about twenty paces, Lyle noticed the water's depth remained constant before looking back at Kate and waving his paw.

"Hey Kate, you still have that guiding string from earlier?" the Quilava asked. "It looks like this water's shallow enough for us to ford."

Lyle was answered by Kate fishing through her bag and throwing the weighted end of the string out to him, the stoat jumping up to catch it, only to swiftly regret it as he fell into the water and got the upper half of his body drenched again for his trouble. The Quilava stood back up, shaking what he could dry and flattening out his ears as Kate made her way in, Irune attempted to follow, only to realize the water quickly deepened out to the point where she could barely keep her snout above the surface, when Dalton came up behind her and picked her up and set her on his shoulders.

"Just hold on tight, alright?" he insisted. "If you fall off while we're in the thicker portions of the fog, I can't guarantee I'll be able to find you afterwards."

Irune nodded back quietly, breathing a quiet thanks as Dalton shuffled off into the water. Lyle trudged forward, leading his teammates along into the fog where the world around them quickly faded away into the mist. With no ground to be their guide, the way of gauging if they were on the path was to stop and feel the direction of the water. The closer they were to the center of the path, the stiller the water would be, while the further from center they were, the more the water would flow towards the Mystery Dungeon's Distortion at the path's edge.

The net result was a faltering progression, which reminded Lyle of an episode back when he was still a wee Cyndaquil and the 'Igelavars' of his Vatername still accurately reflected his father's species. He'd managed to get himself stuck in the middle of the stream right outside of his home village while playing, and had been so afraid of the water that he could do little other than curl into a ball, light his back flames up, and cry. His father chanced to be nearby and rushed out, wading much as he was doing right now out to him and carrying him back to the safety of dry land.

Lyle let out a low sigh at the memory. He'd fortunately outgrown such behavior and developed a stronger set of nerves years ago, not that the little Cyndaquil back then would've ever imagined that a mere eight years later, the same father who came to his aid would kick him out of his house.

Lyle looked ahead as he started to see the fog thin, where he saw water and smooth walls about him , but most curiously, dim light up ahead.

"Huh?"

The Quilava trudged forward, leading his teammates out of the fog and into a waterlogged tunnel with smooth walls that were chipped and pockmarked in places and looked to be made of some sort of concrete. From their color and texture, they looked very old. Old enough that he'd be wholly unsurprised if they were relics from the world before the Great Flash themselves. Perhaps he'd be more curious about them if he weren't miserable and standing up to his chest in frigid water. Thankfully, he could see an end up ahead, and that it was the sight of warm sunlight and the sound of faint chirps carrying on the wind.

"I… don't think that's a Pocket up ahead," the Fire-type said. "Let's see where this tunnel goes."

The three trudged out of the tunnel and found themselves next to a creek surrounded by trees with yellowed, and—from what Lyle presumed from the season—red leaves that occasionally drifted off with the wind. Up above them, the sky was beginning to turn blue with sunlight just starting to peek over the horizon from the west. One by one, Lyle and his companions stumbled around the mouth of the tunnel and onto a grassy bank of the stream, where the lot all but flopped over and lay there for a moment, panting exhaustedly.

"Urgh… So what now?" Kate asked.



Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Oberst(en) - Equivalent rank to a "Colonel(s)" in militaries from the Germanosphere.
2. Hauptmann - Equivalent rank to a "Captain" in militaries from the Germanosphere, and the rank the leader of a Fähnlien traditionally held.
3. Herr - Male honorific and minor nobiliary title equivalent to "Lord". In this particular context, its usage would be analogous to addressing someone as "Mister" or "Sir" in English.
4. Brutalanda - "Salamence"
5. jämmerlich - "pathetic", "pitiful", "miserable". Can carry derogatory connotations depending on context of usage.

Teaser Text:

When the light of the Great Flash receded, the sun rose on a wounded world, one shorn of any sign of the humans we called friends and mediators beyond their works. In the light's wake, the lands churned, and the sea that now stands between the lands we now call 'Varhyde' and 'Edialeigh' opened up.

The very fabric of space and time itself was scarred from the tumult, and in places where such wounds ran deep and that fabric could no longer hold back the dimensions of the great beyond, strange fogs settled over the land and cut them off from the rest of the world. Forming what we call 'Mystery Dungeons'.

From their earliest days, Mystery Dungeons have long commanded awe from the Pokémon of this world. They make their presences known, their fog spilling over the lands they settle on and setting the skies alight at night with their auroras. A few particularly spectacular examples even hold small pieces of our world aloft with their haze, much like Drifloon floating like clouds in the sky.

Those same Mystery Dungeons have also commanded fear from those said Pokémon. The spaces within are distorted echoes of the places they once were. Mazes which confound the senses and wear away at those inside with weary hunger, subject to being churned and molded anew by the dimensions once the scouring winds of the Distortion blow away all that is in its path.

And yet, for as long as they have existed, our destinies have been intertwined with these places. Some brave souls among the Wilders, and even some Civils, call the Pocketsᵃ—the islands of stability within the Distortion, home. Some as a place of refuge, others as a lair from which to prey on others. The Orbs and other items formed or changed by these places aid our defenders and warriors, and for the intrepid and prepared travelers, a means to travel impossible distances and to impossible places.

Both triumph and tragedy await those that enter such places. Which of the two befalls those that enter is a function of cautious wisdom and learned experience. Along with strength sufficient to endure the trials faced within.

- Preface to 'The Explorer'sᵇ Handbook to Mystery Dungeonsᶜ'

a. While this is indeed what you would call 'Pocket(s)' in German, 'Tasche(n)' can also mean 'Bag(s)' or 'Purse(s)' depending upon context of use.
b. There are also other ways of saying 'Explorer' in German beyond 'Erkunder', though the term was chosen as a deliberate echo to the German localization term for 'Exploration Team', 'Erkundungsteam'
c. 'Merkwürdigen Orten' is an archaic / poetic term for 'Mystery Dungeons' in-setting that pops up on occasion. In a more faithful translation, this would be rendered as 'Strange / Inexplicable Places'
 
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sanderidge

Youngster
Pronouns
it or they
wow!! i clicked at a whim, seeing this in the most recent posts, but i was drawn in pretty quickly by your prose. the setting, too! i don't know any german, and in the prologue the amount of new words that popped up was almost overwhelming. i think part of it is that in that chapter a decent amount of those words are introduced very briefly, in a way that feels like they're crowding together, and then not used again - they're sort of not given time to embed themselves into a context, for me, and the more of those that pile up the more i feel like i'm sort of drowning in it. on the other hand, words that are introduced and then continuously used, or given multiple clear uses/contexts, feel a lot more rooted. that made a lot of difference between words like the counting measures and military titles, which felt thrown at me, vs. ones like Grünhäuter, which were used frequently enough in understandable contexts that it's just a normal word now, in my head. the footnotes/annotation feature helps a lot with that, though, and i felt pretty settled in by the end of the first chapter. not to say that every single word needs to be firmly established or is so relevant that it needs to be given a lot of uses/contexts! it just felt like there was a divide between how i felt like i came to understand some words vs others that felt like they wouldn't stick.

the snippets of lore at the beginning of each chapter are also really interesting! i'm curious about the Flash... what happened to all those humans? where did they go? are they just dead? the one-off comment where plastic (i'm guessing plastic?) is called ancient resin really hit me with how times have changed since humans were around.

i was particularly intrigued by the dungeon fog and the Pockets - from skimming over other reviews i think i'll check out fledglings to see more of that, hehe. the outlaws' encampment in a pocket in waterhead cave made me think of when bounty missions in the games send you into Monster Houses, and Pockets are a fantastic way to establish how so many pokemon can hide out in a dungeon without getting scattered or lost. (waterhead cave itself was so cool, too!! glowing water and being able to see through the water up to the next floor... even though it would probably horrify me, were i a fire-type.)

i keep thinking it's almost funny how the outlaw bands mostly have alliterative names. it almost reminds me of sports teams, with fancy names and color-coding and so on. the foehn gang sounds so different from the Terra Tyrants, you know? hehehe. when the other outlaws complained about "Balance Bandits" being a funny name i couldn't help but giggle.

anyway, this is more excited gushing than a proper review or anything, but i'll be looking forward to updates!

as a last thought...
"It is a bit of a hard tale to swallow," a Heliolisk's voice cut in. "You might as well have said the army was after you because you're a human who can see visions of the future."
this was so funny. help.
 

canisaries

you should've known the price of evil
Location
Stovokor
Pronouns
she/her
Partners
  1. custom/inkay-shirlee
  2. custom/houndoom-elliot
  3. custom/yamask-joanna
Hey there, chose this story for Catnip. Read the prologue, and here are my thoughts.

Something that becomes clear very quickly is that there is a lot of worldbuilding for this setting. While that is laudable, it does come on a bit too strong in a lot of places when the story seems to pause for a quick history lesson or description of how someone's armor was built. I feel that it did a lot to make this feel very slow to read, and many parts like this could do with a bit of condensing and conservation of detail. Frankly, I think the explanation of the Floatzel's armor could go entirely, as it seemed the most superfluous of these moments. Sure, it's cool armor, but when the story has gone on so many tangents of exposition already, it becomes tiring.

I noticed that the chapter (well, prologue) got a lot easier and faster to read after the Floatzel showed up. The story continued to introduce new information (Lyle's past, Foehn gang), but it was done through or weaved between natural dialogue and character interaction rather than narration, which made it much more easily digestable and even intriguing. I would strive for more of this.

Anyway, gripes about exposition aside, this chapter (well, prologue) does well to establish the setting and Lyle and his current situation. Seeing Lyle get beaten down by the world makes us sympathize with him, and it also justifies well his decision to accept the job as well as the conflict it will bring. While the details of the war were quick to slip my memory, I understood the major points of the story well enough. I did, though, have some trouble with this:
Lyle looked down at the glob of silk on his fur and tugged it off, burning it with a small puff of fire on the dirt path. It was said that Spinarak and Ariados among the guards of Varhyde's settlements stalked their own prey on the job by tagging them with silk and letting them lead them back to their hiding places. Evidently, even if they killed each other off for their sustenance and petty squabbles instead of on behalf of some kingdom or for loot and plunder, the practice was much the same among their Wilder counterparts.
I couldn't really understand what this was saying.

The last thing I want to talk about has to do with the intro text before the chapter. I'm afraid I just don't understand why there would be a multi-paragraph excerpt entirely in German. As a reader, I feel that I'm given content that I should read right there and then, but of course the only way to do that is to paste the whole thing into Google Translate and hope it works out. The translation being provided after the chapter is better than no translation at all, but when there is no indication or promise that the text will be readable at the end, I just assume that I'm meant to somehow make sense of it on my own (and in the modern day, everyone knows that it is possible through Google). This misunderstanding could easily be mended with an addition of "translation will be provided after the chapter" or the like, but I also have to question why it... has to be in German in the first place. I felt kind of similarly to the other German included here. I like the idea of different real life cultures' elements being in fantasy worlds mirroring our own, but I see nothing in this story that would necessitate so heavy of an inclusion of German elements that a glossary would be needed for every chapter. It just kinda feels like flexing German knowledge and making the reader do extra work to parse it. Of course it's your story and you can make it half Livonian for all I care, but I'll still have my own opinion of it.

That does it for my thoughts. See you around.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
@sanderidge
wow!! i clicked at a whim, seeing this in the most recent posts, but i was drawn in pretty quickly by your prose. the setting, too! i don't know any german, and in the prologue the amount of new words that popped up was almost overwhelming. i think part of it is that in that chapter a decent amount of those words are introduced very briefly, in a way that feels like they're crowding together, and then not used again - they're sort of not given time to embed themselves into a context, for me, and the more of those that pile up the more i feel like i'm sort of drowning in it. on the other hand, words that are introduced and then continuously used, or given multiple clear uses/contexts, feel a lot more rooted. that made a lot of difference between words like the counting measures and military titles, which felt thrown at me, vs. ones like Grünhäuter, which were used frequently enough in understandable contexts that it's just a normal word now, in my head. the footnotes/annotation feature helps a lot with that, though, and i felt pretty settled in by the end of the first chapter. not to say that every single word needs to be firmly established or is so relevant that it needs to be given a lot of uses/contexts! it just felt like there was a divide between how i felt like i came to understand some words vs others that felt like they wouldn't stick.

Yeah, it's a balancing act, though the annotations are definitely there to help ease readers into the meanings of the terms that get slung around in this story. I've also tried to be a bit more aggressive about adding context hints since this story is also on Serebii and FFN, and... they kinda have to do without those annotations while reading. ^^;

the snippets of lore at the beginning of each chapter are also really interesting! i'm curious about the Flash... what happened to all those humans? where did they go? are they just dead? the one-off comment where plastic (i'm guessing plastic?) is called ancient resin really hit me with how times have changed since humans were around.

Yeah, that's one of those things where even though I know exactly what happened, I'm still working out the best way of hinting or else spelling it out in the story. But one way or another, you'll be getting an answer to the matter of what happened to humans down the pipe. Even if it might take a while.

i was particularly intrigued by the dungeon fog and the Pockets - from skimming over other reviews i think i'll check out fledglings to see more of that, hehe. the outlaws' encampment in a pocket in waterhead cave made me think of when bounty missions in the games send you into Monster Houses, and Pockets are a fantastic way to establish how so many pokemon can hide out in a dungeon without getting scattered or lost. (waterhead cave itself was so cool, too!! glowing water and being able to see through the water up to the next floor... even though it would probably horrify me, were i a fire-type.)

I mean, what can I say? I had some good sources of inspiration for putting Waterhead Cave together. Though it sounds like I did a decent job at putting my own stamp on things for it to wow you like that.

... And yeah, Lyle would be a lot less enthusiastic about being in that Mystery Dungeon if there weren't loot on the line. :V

i keep thinking it's almost funny how the outlaw bands mostly have alliterative names. it almost reminds me of sports teams, with fancy names and color-coding and so on. the foehn gang sounds so different from the Terra Tyrants, you know? hehehe. when the other outlaws complained about "Balance Bandits" being a funny name i couldn't help but giggle.

Yeah, I tried to think of a cute alliterative for "Foehn" but alas. Couldn't think of one, so "Foehn Gang" it was. Besides, it'd probably strain credulity if every band of Outlaws in-setting had an alliterative name.

anyway, this is more excited gushing than a proper review or anything, but i'll be looking forward to updates!

I mean, I'm not opposed to that either. Sometimes it's just nice to take a moment and see what it is readers are enjoying about a story. Though even if it was a bit of a wait, I hope that today's update will be similarly fun for you to read. ^^

as a last thought...

this was so funny. help.

Yeah, that gag works on a couple of levels there. Glad to see it put a smile on your face. o<o

@canisaries
Something that becomes clear very quickly is that there is a lot of worldbuilding for this setting. While that is laudable, it does come on a bit too strong in a lot of places when the story seems to pause for a quick history lesson or description of how someone's armor was built. I feel that it did a lot to make this feel very slow to read, and many parts like this could do with a bit of condensing and conservation of detail. Frankly, I think the explanation of the Floatzel's armor could go entirely, as it seemed the most superfluous of these moments. Sure, it's cool armor, but when the story has gone on so many tangents of exposition already, it becomes tiring.

Yeah, if I ever go back to tweak the Prologue, making it feel a bit less slow would definitely be a priority of mine, even if it's definitely something that would require me to think things through carefully. Since a number of those things that came off as superfluous to you such as the explanation of how armor worked... really aren't. Especially when the plot hits the gas pedal in very short order after this Prologue such that it'd be tricky to explain things like that in a fashion that wouldn't distract from those moments.

I noticed that the chapter (well, prologue) got a lot easier and faster to read after the Floatzel showed up. The story continued to introduce new information (Lyle's past, Foehn gang), but it was done through or weaved between natural dialogue and character interaction rather than narration, which made it much more easily digestable and even intriguing. I would strive for more of this.

Yeah, I've noticed that dialogue definitely helps more exposition-y moments go down smoother. If I do go back to tighten up the Prologue sometime down the road, it's definitely something that I'll be keeping on the radar for the first half of it.

Anyway, gripes about exposition aside, this chapter (well, prologue) does well to establish the setting and Lyle and his current situation. Seeing Lyle get beaten down by the world makes us sympathize with him, and it also justifies well his decision to accept the job as well as the conflict it will bring. While the details of the war were quick to slip my memory, I understood the major points of the story well enough. I did, though, have some trouble with this:

I couldn't really understand what this was saying.

The intent was supposed to be "Lyle pulls off some Spinarak silk. Lyle then goes through some internal commentary about how Wilders aren't so different from 'mons like him."

I think that the main thing tripping you up was that it was that it was all one paragraph. I split things up after Lyle pulls off the silk and expanded that part a bit.

The last thing I want to talk about has to do with the intro text before the chapter. I'm afraid I just don't understand why there would be a multi-paragraph excerpt entirely in German. As a reader, I feel that I'm given content that I should read right there and then, but of course the only way to do that is to paste the whole thing into Google Translate and hope it works out. The translation being provided after the chapter is better than no translation at all, but when there is no indication or promise that the text will be readable at the end, I just assume that I'm meant to somehow make sense of it on my own (and in the modern day, everyone knows that it is possible through Google). This misunderstanding could easily be mended with an addition of "translation will be provided after the chapter" or the like, but I also have to question why it... has to be in German in the first place. I felt kind of similarly to the other German included here. I like the idea of different real life cultures' elements being in fantasy worlds mirroring our own, but I see nothing in this story that would necessitate so heavy of an inclusion of German elements that a glossary would be needed for every chapter. It just kinda feels like flexing German knowledge and making the reader do extra work to parse it. Of course it's your story and you can make it half Livonian for all I care, but I'll still have my own opinion of it.

I'm admittedly not fully sure why you would assume why those sections would be there around as a flex of some sort when I've been fairly open that those sections exist thanks to the help of another writer. It's more of a stylistic choice meant to lean into an intimate setting feature, and exploit the fact that there's another fully fleshed localization of Pokémon with its own nuances that don't always align with the English one lying around.

You're intended to read the section in order to the best of your ability, and then pick it apart to try and sift out details afterwards if so desired. Though I went and added a bit to the notes in the Prologue to spell that out more explicitly.

Even if it sounds like the story wasn't your cup of tea, thank you for taking the time to leave a review. Even if I didn't see eye to eye with all the points you raised, it was still helpful, and I can't complain about getting a timely Catnip review.

And while it's about a week later than planned, I'm back with a fresh update, in which the plot gets firmly set along its route towards its longer-term destination, and a few of Wander's more defining features get their chance to make their debut onscreen.

Let's get right to it, shall we?
 
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Chapter 5 - Hope

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
YzvVuZs.png


In den frühen Jahren nach dem glühenden Blitz und seinem großen Durcheinander der Welt gab es einen großen Aufruhr, um zu versuchen, das Wissen der vergangenen Menschen zu bewahren, so lange ihre Werke noch in Wunder verblieben. Aus dem Wissen, das sie retten konnten, entwarfen die Alten die ersten Rezepte für die Gummis, um unsere Bäuche zu füllen, und die ersten Skripte, die wir lasen und schrieben.

Während dieser Zeit wurden zwei Länder jenseits eines großen Meeres, das sich inmitten der Wirren des Glühenden Blitzes öffnete, unter der Führung von zwei Wanderern besiedelt, von denen niemand weiß, woher sie kamen. Nördlich und östlich des Meeres schlug Klaus der Erbauer sein Lager in einem Land auf, welches die Göttin, die wir „Wirklichkeit“ nennen, als Ort der Ruhe von ihren Wanderungen durch unsere unruhige Welt auswählte. Es wird gesagt, dass Klaus wünschte, dass die Pokémon, mit denen er lebte, immer das vollste Verständnis der Wirklichkeit der Welt suchen würde, und gründete ein Königreich zu Ehren der Schutzgöttin, der ihm zuerst Hilfe gewährte, das bis heute „Wahrheit“ heißt.

Südlich und westlich des Meeres schlug Galea die Maschinenschlosserin ihr Lager in einem Land auf, das der Gott, den wir „Wunsch“ nennen, als Ruheplatz von seinen Wanderungen inmitten der Welt, die wir Heimat nennen, auswählte. Es wird gesagt, dass sie wünschte, dass die Pokémon, mit denen sie lebte, immer von der Sehnsucht erfüllt würden, ihren Wünschen nachzugehen und um ihre umgebende Welt so umzugestalten, wie sie es für richtig hielten. Auch sie gründete ein Königreich zu Ehren des Gottes, der dort wohnte und ihr Hilferufe des Landes beherzigte, das zu Ehren des ersten Helfers noch heute „Ideale“ genannt wird.

Weder über König Klaus noch über Königin Galea ist wenig bekannt, da selbst die Arten von Pokémon, die sie waren, im Laufe der Zeit verloren gegangen sind, aber Aufzeichnungen über ihre Sprüche sind erhalten, zusammen mit ihren Namen, ihren Beinamen und dem Wissen, dass die beiden einst von einem gemeinsam stammenden Land herkamen. Es wird angenommen, dass die beiden irgendwann eingeschworene Feinde wurden, denn solange unsere Geschichte aufgezeichnet wurde, haben die von ihnen gegründeten Königreichen noch keinen Frieden miteinander geschlossen, der nicht von bitterer Feindschaft befleckt war.

- Auszug aus »Die Wahrheiter Chroniken – Eine kurze Geschichte der frühen Jahre unseres Königreichs«




Kate's question lingered in the autumn air for a moment, and in his exhaustion, Lyle wasn't sure he had an answer. What were they supposed to do now?

They'd slogged through Waterhead Cave all night, and for all they knew they were the last 'mons standing from the army raid on their encampment. They were dripping wet. They were exhausted. And they were hungry on top of it all, no thanks to the effects of the Mystery Dungeon's Distortion. By some mercy, at least, they had shaken the soldiers pursuing them—but that was just about the only positive he could think of. They had nothing to their names but the little loot they could carry off and some depleted stores of berries and seeds.

Just trying to make sense of it all while lying on the grassy bank of the stream they were next to made his head spin. Götterblut, where were they even supposed to begin?

"Well we could start by taking stock of just what sort of situation we're in," Dalton harrumphed, propping himself upright. "We've been up all night, we're wanted with an entire Fähnlein pursuing us, and all of the potential allies we could turn to are likely captured if not worse. On top of it all, all we have to show for everything are a couple bagfuls of loot that will likely not last us more than a couple moons at most if we tried to lie low. Am I missing anything here?"

The Sneasel sat up after the Heliolisk's litany of trials they were staring down, pinning her ears against her head as she scrunched her face into a sharp frown.

"Well gee, since you're that much of a pill about it, guess we should just lay down and wait to die," she spat.

Lyle sat and looked out at the stream exiting Waterhead Cave blankly for a moment, before motioning to his partners with a shaky breath.

"C-Come on, we need to put some distance between us and that exit," he insisted. "We'll get some ideas later."

Nobody protested the idea. The exit they'd found would probably buy them some time to rest before that Salamence and his underlings caught up, but after a night as disastrous as the one they'd just endured, it was best to play things safe for now.

The four hurried off into the undergrowth, and kept going through it under a canopy of autumn leaves with the ground coated in fallen ones. The trek felt like an eternity, and with the crunching of leaves under their slow footsteps came the paranoia of someone following them. But nobody was. Eventually, they reached a shaded clearing, where Lyle slumped against a rock, panting as the adrenaline finally wore off.

… Lyle tried to take stock of his circumstances, only to keep finding himself at a loss of ideas of what to do. There was no band of fellows to turn to, and splitting up and attempting to each go to ground on their own meant having no one to come to their aid if they were spotted or identified. Besides, part of him was terrified at the thought of being alone right now. Especially with those damned soldiers surely still skulking about to hunt the lot of them down.

The Quilava folded his ears back and grimaced, when Irune plodded forward and gave him, Kate, and Dalton an askew glance.

"Do you believe me now when I told you the army wanted to use me to get a treasure from the Divine Roost?" she asked.

The three Outlaws traded looks with each other for a moment, before grudgingly agreeing that as fantastical as it all sounded, maybe the little axe-face really did have something going on with the place. Something important enough that soldiers would shake the heavens to try and snatch her over it.

"I mean, they kept calling you a 'Dyad'…" Dalton murmured. "Whatever they're after you for, it's not for simply stealing a couple things in the hinterlands."

"Look, you've established it's possible your story's isn't completely bunk," Lyle harrumphed. "But where are you going with this?"

Irune bit her tongue and hesitated briefly, looking over the three Outlaws before sucking in a sharp breath and sighing.

"Well… I need to still make it to the Divine Roost, and it's not exactly a journey I can make on my own," the Dragon-type began. "That's… why I was going to ask for your help to get there."

The Axew's offer made the three Outlaws' faces fall. The Divine Roost was an island floating in the air above the middle of the sea, only accessible by traversing to it through one of a handful of particularly harsh Mystery Dungeons about Varhyde, with the nearest ones being almost halfway across the kingdom from where they were. After everything the little scaly runt had brought on them, she expected them to stick with her on some journey across the entire kingdom?!

"No way," Kate retorted. "Those Grünhäuter kept singling you out every time we ran into them."

"And the approaches to the Divine Roost are all the way at the other ends of Varhyde from here!" Dalton added. "You can't be mad enough to think you can get there with that sort of force chasing after you!"

"Look kid, we were lucky just to get away from everything last night," Lyle huffed. "We're already in a deep hole right now, so why on earth do we need to get involved in your problems?"

The Axew squirmed briefly, her eyes shooting wide as Lyle and the others waited briefly. The Dragon-type gave no reply, prompting the three to already start to turn away. With an almost desperate air to her voice, Irune stammered and cried out to her fellow Outlaws.

"D-Do you really think those soldiers are just going to let you go if you abandon me?!"

Lyle and his teammates froze at the Axew's question. They weren't exactly notorious Outlaws. Why, the last time Lyle saw a bounty posted for him, it was worth about a thousand Carolins. About two weeks worth of pay for the sort of field work he did. … At the same time, after letting Irune free in the first place and everything that had happened since then, betting on that Salamence Graf not sparing a few soldiers to seek them out in the area and make examples of them was… an optimistic assumption, to say the least.

Irune seemed to notice the other Outlaws' hesitation and shook her head, hardening her features into a stern scowl.

"Look, I know that we've all been through a lot and this isn't exactly a good situation, but we're all in a boatload of trouble right now," she insisted. "The only way that we'll get through it is if we stick together!"

"Yeah? So then why the Divine Roost in particular, then?" Lyle asked. "As much as everyone wants to get paid, how lucky do you think we're going to get while taking on a whole Fähnlein?"

"The idea wouldn't be to take them on, it'd be to beat them there," the Axew said. "If we're going to need to get out of these parts anyways, what's a little extra distance?"

The Dragon-type looked at the other Outlaws, who gave wary glances back at her. She paused briefly, before sighing and shaking her head with a low grumble.

"Besides, I'm aware of how tough this journey is going to be, and I'm prepared to make it worth your while if you'll help me. When we get to the Divine Roost, we divide the treasure that I and the Balance Bandits were after. Evenly, four ways."

Was this 'mon nuts? After everything they had been through, how could this scaly runt still be thinking about treasure right now?!

Lyle reflexively opened his mouth to loudly reject her offer only to catch himself. As much as he just wanted to melt away and hide, it was hard to say with a straight face that he had much of a future if he did that. From the wavering looks on Kate and Dalton's faces, it seemed like they'd come to the same realization themselves.

The more the three brigands thought about it, the more they realized that maybe this kid was onto something about this 'treasure'. Graf Wellenhafen₁ wouldn't have gone around with an entire Fähnlein for the sake of a few baubles from the Divine Roost. So then, it begged the question…

"Just how much treasure are we talking here?" Kate asked.

"There's at least one chamber that hasn't been looted yet. Big enough for a Wailord to fit in!" Irune exclaimed, waving her claws out wide for emphasis. "From the stories I heard of it, it's supposed to be filled to the brim full of gold and jewels that were brought to the Divine Roost as offerings through the ages."

Kate and Dalton seemed to ease up tentatively at the idea, and even in his fatigued state, Lyle couldn't help but smile at the thought of the idea of a payday that would allow him to live like a literal king. He'd never have to worry about eating well again, he wouldn't have to work another day at a place like that damned berry field, and it'd keep its value even if the rest of Varhyde burned to the ground!

Seeing that she'd piqued the brigands' interest, the Dragon-type warily studied the three's expressions, and after a brief, hesitating quibble of her mouth, continued on.

"It's not just Mystery Dungeons from Varhyde that link there, either. There's ways of going to and from that place to other parts in Wander," the Axew insisted. "If you felt like it, you could vanish off to a distant land that might as well be a whole different planet."

Kate flattened her ears out at the Axew's appeal. After all, there were but two lands who had Mystery Dungeons that were said to directly link to the Divine Roost. Varhyde was one, and the other…

"Oh yeah, jump from Varhyde to Edialeigh. I wouldn't call running away to a warzone where our accents will give us away an upgrade," Kate scoffed.

"That's… only partly true," Dalton explained. "There's said to be connections in those Mystery Dungeons that radiate out throughout Wander. Granted, they're volatile enough to not be mapped, but…"

"With the sort of treasure at stake, it wouldn't matter," Irune said. "Assuming you didn't drink and gamble it all away, it would be enough to buy you a comfortable existence for the rest of your lives anywhere you wanted in all of Wander!."

Lyle… admittedly didn't know if he was ready to flatly leave Varhyde for parts unknown. He knew he wasn't on good terms with his family, but even if he was in trouble now, something about just giving up hope entirely of ever smoothing things over with them didn't sit well. But if this treasure was big enough that Irune was talking about buying a peaceful life anywhere on Wander… wouldn't it also be enough to pay off prying guards like Nils to just let him be?

It might not work in a bigger town, but maybe it would in a place like the frontiers near the Great Mist. That seemed like a good place to try and avoid the attention of prying Grünhäuter, and Edialeigh's troops were unlikely to ever come through and sack the place even if they outright conquered the Kingdom. He could at least pass letters to his family from a place like that. If they bothered to accept and read them.

… He didn't know whether he was crazy or desperate, but considering the alternative was waiting for poverty to overtake them again in the dead of winter, something about Irune's plan didn't sound half bad. Sure, stealing from a shrine to the gods, which included Varhyde's patron goddess among them, was… not the proudest idea he'd entertained. But they'd hardly be the first 'mons to do so since the gods last died, and there weren't any guards to it beyond the Wilders in the Mystery Dungeons that led up to the Divine Roost…

Besides, it wasn't as if the owners of that treasure were still alive to claim it.

If the four of them were any less desperate and they had not already seen the army send a Fähnlein after this kid, it'd be the sort of offer and story that even Kate would laugh off without a second thought. But Irune had been insistent that there was a treasure at the Divine Roost since they met, and they saw what that Lacan 'mon had done to try and get at her. Why else hunt down a little Axew so ferociously—in the middle of a war where their strength was being denied from the frontlines, no less?

It was about as good a break as they could hope for with the situation they were in.

Too good of one, actually. Which meant that there had to be something wrong with it.

"Okay—what's the catch to all of this?" Lyle scowled and crossed his arms. "I didn't start ripping off 'mons overnight, and I know when a deal sounds too good to be true."

Irune folded her arms in return and let out a quiet snort in reply.

"Aside from the dangerous journey, risk of death or capture, and all that? I guess there's one catch," she retorted. "When we find the treasure, I get to pick the first item when we divide it up. Not that big a deal, right?"

Kate flattened her ears and let out a grumbling murmur to her companions. It was hard for Lyle to blame her. From the way this kid was talking, he just knew they were going to regret agreeing to that condition down the road.

"Tch, she's probably going to pick some giant golden statue as her first thing, isn't she?" she scoffed.

"I dunno, she strikes me as the type to pick something she can actually carry off," Dalton whispered back. "Though admittedly it's a curious condition. Just what's in that chamber that she wants for herself so badly?"

"So, do we have a deal or not?"

Lyle and his companions looked over to Irune as she stared at them intently. The three whispered to each other, quietly debating over whether or not to humor her offer. The condition didn't seem that unmanageable, and if they actually got their paws on that treasure and things came to blows… well, they'd rather be them than her in a scuffle. With their minds made up one after the other, the three Outlaws each came to a common conclusion:

"Yeah, I'm in," Kate said.

"I suppose we are limited on options right now…" Dalton sighed.

Lyle sucked in a breath and hesitated. What else was he supposed to do with himself? Go back to his Oran Field? He winced internally at the idea of going back there, and quickly grew doubtful that it was a workable plan to begin with. If Irune was right, that Salamence and those Grünhäuter would be hunting for him for some time.

Blauflamme, there had to be more options than this. But where else was there? His parents?

Lyle bit his lip and looked away after the thought crossed his mind. It was better to shelve that one away. There was zero reason to believe that would go anywhere, and it carried just about all the same risks as trying to wait out Lacan and go back to his meager existence. In light of those bad options before him, if he had to choose one, then it was best to go with the one that had the most upside.

"Sounds we've got one," Lyle sighed, before letting the fire on his vents come out and narrowing his eyes.

"Though you'd best not cross us, kid," he growled. "We might not have gangs to push around, but we can sure take things out of your hide if we need to!"

The Axew gave an annoyed glare back and opened her mouth to shoot back a retort, only to catch herself and let out a sharp growl. "Hrmph, glad to hear. In that case, we should start moving before Lacan figures out we've made it out of the dungeon."

Kate rolled her eyes in reply. "Now hold on a moment. You can't expect us to just keep going on like this after spending an entire night running from soldiers in a Mystery Dungeon!"

"And why not?" the Axew demanded. "Are you planning on just dozing off in your Outlaw scarves while those soldiers catch up with us?"

Lyle was about to open his mouth to retort that they could just as easily ditch their scarves before getting some rest. Except… their original scarves had still been kept for 'safekeeping' before the raid. He supposed that pretending to be Wilders was an option, but they didn't know the first thing about how the local Wilders lived or staked their territory in the area.

Besides, Wilders dealt with each other according to the rules of nature. If they fell asleep without scarves, and a hungry one came across them…

From the sound of it, Kate didn't have any of that train of thought in mind, as she let out a sharp huff and narrowed her eyes back at the Axew.

"Versus walking aimlessly in said scarves, too exhausted to fight back?" the Sneasel retorted. "After everything that just went down, just how well do you think that's gonna end?"

Irune caught herself and looked down at her scarf, along with the other brigands' patterns. After a moment of realization, the Dragon-type bit her tongue with an awkward hem and haw as Kate let out an unimpressed snort.

"Thought so," the Sneasel replied. "Point is, we're gonna need a solution to that first, even if it's only a temporary one. So as long as we line one up, there shouldn't be any harm in getting shut-eye, right?"

"I… guess that would be fair?" Irune admitted. "Though just what are you suggesting?"




About half an hour later, the sun had fully poked over the horizon and lit up the sky in a calming blue. In a clearing a short ways off from a forest path, a Dewott in a red scarf with a silver three-pronged spike on it stirred on a reed mat. The Water-type lifted his head from a small satchel he was using as a pillow as smoke curled up from a spent fire pit, yawning and stretching as he rose to his feet. After shaking his head to rouse himself, he glanced over over at a similarly-garbed Grovyle who walked up.

"Eh? Did I oversleep? Sorry, got caught up in an epic nap," the Dewott said. "Guess you were right that I wouldn't need a blanket."

"You are the one with the thick coat of fur on you right now, Cruz," the Grovyle replied, giving a bemused shake of her head. "I get that autumns are supposed to get chilly around these parts, but when that pelt's made to get by sleeping in the middle of the sea, this should be child's play."

The Grovyle trailed off and said nothing back for a moment, before looking down towards the mat with a quiet sigh.

"I never imagined this is where life was going to take me," the gecko murmured to herself. "You think we'll ever have the run of the land here?"

Cruz paused a moment and glanced up at his teammate, before shaking his head back with a dismissive wave.

"Ah, it's nothing, Vilma. Just some jitters about the new neighborhood," the Water-type insisted. "Come on, let's hurry and wake Nellie and Bel up. Those missions aren't going to complete themselves today."

The Dewott and Grovyle set off, Cruz leaving his satchel behind as they headed for the other end of their humble encampment where an Eevee and Houndour were dozing on a similarly constructed mat.

As the two went to rouse their teammates, neither noticed a pair of red eyes peered out from the brush. Nor did they notice when the Sneasel popped out and snatched up the Dewott's satchel into her claws, before dashing back into the undergrowth.



Lyle watched the treeline from a small clearing in the forest, anxiously fidgeting alongside Dalton and Irune. They’d been prowling these woods for half an hour half-asleep, and after finally having a stroke of luck and coming across a mark that Kate insisted looked promising, she insisted on being allowed to handle things on her own.

Except that had been five minutes ago, and he and his new teammates were starting to get worried she’d bitten off more than she could chew. The Quilava turned to the others with a low shake of his head, sucking in a sharp breath as he approached the wooded hillside.

“Come on, let’s go and check up on her-”

“Hold on a moment, Lyle,” the Heliolisk insisted. “Look.”

The Heliolisk raised a finger and pointed off at the treeline. Lyle glanced off and at first struggled to make out anything from the distance—Quilava were always a bit nearsighted—but where after squinting a bit, Lyle caught a glimpse of a black blur with white claws knifing through the undergrowth. Thank gods, so she had made it back.

Kate darted along with her mouth curled up in a small smirk, sliding down a small embankment and sneaking along following rustling undergrowth and footsteps left in the dirt for about a minute when she made her way back onto the forest path. Lyle brushed off some stray leaves off his body and approached with Irune and Dalton. The Dark-type gave a passing wave as she walked up and set the bag on the ground, throwing its mouth open as she began to rummage through it with a low murmur.

"Come on, come on…"

Lyle watched as Kate hesitated a moment after her claws brushed up against something inside, her eyes light up. The Sneasel poked her head in, and pulled out a fistful of red cloth with hemmed fringes, taking one and unfurling it to reveal a red scarf with a silver three-pronged spike on it in front of her teammates.

"Heh, looks like those Hunters were planning on recruiting!" the Sneasel said. "This'll solve that scarf problem of ours real good!"

Kate returned her attention back to the bag's contents and after pawing through it, revealed to everyone that much to their fortune, the 'Hunters' she'd stolen from had four spares in the bag she nicked. Their sizes were not as nice a fit for them as they could be, but they'd do well enough. The Sneasel passed them around to Lyle and Dalton, who each took one and set to work replacing their colors, and offered one out to Irune, only for the Axew to pause and shoot back a disapproving frown.

"Are we seriously stealing scarves from some random Exploration Team?" Irune scoffed.

"Correction, we're stealing a bag from them," Kate retorted. "For us, the scarves just happen to be the most important thing in it right now."

A quick glance by the Outlaws revealed there was not much else in the bags. Some stray Poké and Carolins. A couple berries, some seeds, a Blowback Orb, an abridged copy of The Explorer's Handbook to Mystery Dungeons. Why, there wasn't even a single Looplet in this thing! Just how new was this team? Dalton pawed over the contents and let out a low sigh, turning his attention back to the Axew in their number.

"We do need a disguise that won't draw attention, Irune," the Heliolisk reminded. "It seems like those Hunters Kate took this bag from seem… unaccomplished, to say the least, so I doubt we'll be drawing anyone's suspicions by using their team colors."

"But what about our scarves?" Irune asked. "What if someone roots through our bags and finds them?"

"Tch, the solution to that should go without saying," Lyle scoffed back.

Lyle took his Terra Tyrant scarf and draped it over his head. The Quilava's head and tail vents abruptly came alight and held it in place until he felt the fabric start to give way from its fire retardant burning off. The Quilava whipped the smoldering scarf off of him, throwing it to the ground and stamping on it before it could make smoke, and left a singed mess behind in the dirt that was barely recognizable as having once been a scarf. Irune stared wordlessly as Lyle reared up and tugged the pilfered red scarf about his neck to tighten it, glancing back to the Axew with a stern shake look.

"They won't do anything other than get us in trouble if we were found with them," he answered. "With the crews that wore them gone, they won't bring us shelter anywhere. It's best to just burn them and throw them away."

Kate had already changed into her new garb as Lyle torched his old scarf, and passed her blue Mistral Marauder colors for Lyle to disfigure and cast aside into the brush. Dalton visibly hesitated as he undid his Riparian Raider scarf, giving a wistful sigh before he too surrendered it for the Quilava to similarly ruin. All the while, Irune shrank back uneasily, before Lyle turned to her and motioned for her to come.

"You too, Irune," the stoat insisted. "I doubt that Lacan 'mon is magically going to forget about that scarf and pendant around your neck.

The Axew reflexively grabbed at her pendant and gave a sharp glare back at Lyle.

"No. Way. I have history with these!" she fumed. "You can't expect me to just burn them up like that!"

"Irune, was it? I understand the feeling, but we're on thin ice here," Dalton insisted. "You can't risk a passing guard happening to recognize you either wearing that scarf or keeping it in your belongings. And if it doesn't get damaged before throwing it away, someone could come across it and use your scent to find you."

Irune seemed to be wholly unmoved by the Heliolisk's appeal to empathy, turning away with a sharp huff. Lyle narrowed his eyes back at the young Dragon-type, as a sharp frown spread over his muzzle.

"Look, you either play by the same rules as everyone else, or our deal's off," the Quilava snorted. "We didn't sign up to get given away by some rookie's vanity!"

The Axew hesitated for a moment and pawed nervously at her scarf, before shaking her head and scowling back. "Fine, I'll let the scarf go. But I want it buried. And I'm keeping my pendant."

Lyle pinned his ears back at Irune's reply, as he tried and failed to stifle an annoyed growl back at the Axew.

"Oh, for crying out loud-"

"I mean it. Burying my scarf would mask the scent on it just as well, and I need this pendant for when we make it to the treasure," the Axew growled back. "Either you give me this, or else I'm calling the deal off right now and trying my luck getting to the Divine Roost on my own."

Lyle let his mouth hang open in frustrated astonishment. He'd heard that dragons were stubborn 'mons, but this kid was something else. He was about to take her up on her threat and stomp off to try and find a place to lie low on his own when Kate pawed at him and cupped a claw to his ear to whisper quietly.

"Come on, Lyle. I don't fully trust her myself, but she's clearly made her mind up," she scoffed. "Besides, it's a rock. If she keeps it hidden under her scarf, just who's gonna notice it?"

Lyle paused on the path and froze after he felt his stomach growl and his mind turned back to the idea of being all alone in winter with no pay and no job. He glanced at his teammates, and noticed that they weren't budging from beside the Axew. Clearly they didn't find her demand to be as much of a deal-breaker as he'd anticipated. Lyle bit his lip, before sighing and rolling his eyes. With a low grumble, he raised a paw out and gruffly huffed back to the Axew.

"Fine, but make it quick, alright? We should be finding a place to sleep anyways," the Quilava said, before sharply narrowing his eyes.

"Though I'm just going to say this upfront," he warned. "If that little spike of yours causes us trouble later on, I'll break it myself."

Irune tightly grasped onto her spike-like pendant, undoing her gray scarf and balling up her gray scarf in her claws with a disgusted snort as she passed Lyle for the brush.

"Hrmph, you tell yourself that."

Lyle waited as Irune ducked into the brush and tapped his foot impatiently. He glanced around warily for any sign of onlookers, but barring a dozing Wilder Starly in a nearby tree, there was no sign of any eavesdroppers. After a few moments, the Quilava grew impatient, and after trading some glances with his teammates, sighed and turned for the brush just as Irune came out much to his blinking surprise.

"What on earth took you so long out there?"

"I needed a moment to mark the tree I buried my scarf under," the Axew explained. "Just in case."

Lyle noticed a stray splinter clinging to the Axew's right tusk and frowned. He didn't like the extra risk involved, but remained silent and opted to move on. This kid was their only hope at the moment, and it didn't make sense to pick too much of a fight over a scrap of cloth they'd never see again.

Lyle sighed and tugged the Axew along retracing their steps under the red and yellow boughs of the treetops above as the four set off southward along the road. There was bound to be an encampment left behind along the path they could take over and play off as having slept in. They were taking a brave leap forward into the unknown for the dangerous journey ahead of them, and they were going to need every last advantage they could claw together.



About fifteen minutes down the path, the scent of smoke and cinders tipped Lyle and his fellow Outlaws off to the site of a small encampment in the brush.

Recently vacated, and built around a still-smoldering firepit with a tree trunk on one end that served as a crude table. There were Dodrio feathers left shed on the ground, with some rubbish left behind as a sign that the occupants had left in a hurry… or else just didn't care to clean up after themselves. An empty jug with a few drops of lager left in it evidenced that those 'mons had been drinking the night before. Nearby, a gag-inducing smell from the bushes suggested that that hadn't turned out too well.

The four settled down on the bare ground, curled up, and let sleep quickly overtake them.

As the world faded out, time seemed to drift by in a blur for Lyle. The smells and sounds of the woods about him faded away. And yet, in spite of the shade of the trees and the fatigue from the sleepless night dragging him off to slumber, Lyle kept finding his rest marred by fits and starts.

Instead of the sensations of his resting place and the forest about them disturbing his sleep, the Quilava kept finding himself returning the Outlaw encampment in his mind.

It was exactly as he had left it. The screams, the baying cries and roars of charging soldiers, the smell of burning wood and fabric. Time and time again, he helplessly watched Alvin slumping over to the ground and being flung into the remains of the tent by the back exit. The stoat squirmed in his sleep and pawed at the air as a low whine came from the back of his throat.

"No, no…"

"Hey," Kate's voice cut in. "Get up, Lyle."

Lyle's eyes shot wide, and the Quilava reflexively curled up as his head and tail flames came alive with a start.

The Fire-type panted tensely for a moment, the world about him running muddy and unfocused as he cracked his eyes open and discovered that he was back in their commandeered encampment surrounded by the red-leaved forest. Lyle sucked in a sharp breath and rolled onto his feet, before looking up to see Kate peering down at him, giving her right claw a shake as she hadn't been quick enough to draw it back.

"Götterblut! Would it kill ya to open your eyes before lighting up like that?" she grumbled. "Look I know a 'mon needs beauty sleep and all, but it's almost noon already. Scales found a map in that book those Hunters had, so we should settle on where we want to go and get moving while we can."

Lyle looked to see Dalton was already up and waiting on him at the tree trunk with a slim book spread out open on it, the Fire-type muttering back an apology before he stretched and yawned. The stoat put out his body's flames and grabbed his satchel, slinging it across his back before he shuffled over for the tree trunk with his teammates. Along the way, he spotted Irune picking up a few glassy spheres and putting them back into her bag, prompting him to stop and train a puzzled frown.

"Why are you just picking up that clutter anyways?" he asked.

"… I like my shiny baubles. They help me sleep better," the Axew insisted. "If I'm having a bad dream or the like and wake up from it, it helps calm me down a bit."

Lyle heard the Dragon-type's bag rattle slightly as she shifted it onto her shoulders when he realized that her bag must've been filled with similar clutter. He swore it was the most stereotypically 'dragon' thing he'd ever heard of a 'mon doing in his life… and yet after a night like the one they'd all been through, he couldn't say he'd begrudge anyone indulging their creature comforts. Who knew? If the firepit had still been going with warmth for him to curl up beside, maybe he'd have dreamt of something other than that damned raid.

"… Whatever," he harrumphed. "Let's just look through that map and get out of here."

Lyle, Kate, and Irune crowded about the tree trunk where they noticed Dalton had propped the book open to a page with a map of Varhyde on it. Land to the east, with sea to the other three cardinal directions. Except there weren't any maps of roads or the likes on it, just natural features, some dots to indicate settlements, and triangles on the paper seemingly scattered about at random.

"… The hell's wrong with this map?" Kate asked. "I'm pretty sure we could've found a better one rooting through a trash pile."

"That's because it's focused around the Mystery Dungeons of Varhyde," Dalton explained. "That's what all these triangles are."

Lyle blinked and looked down at the book as Dalton brought a claw over to a dot with runes neatly labeled 'Moonturn Square', with strange glyphs written directly above them, including some that looked vaguely like Unown. There was a triangle northwest of it, which he guessed must've been Waterhead Cave that similarly had the strange scribbles over its label. Kate glanced over the map, noting many of the triangles had faint lines drawn between them, and gave a puzzled frown at her companions.

"… I'm not sure if I follow here, how does this map help us again?" she asked.

"By helping us get a sense of where we want to go," Dalton explained.

Right, the approaches to the Divine Roost were Mystery Dungeons. So it was only logical that they'd pick one of those approaches, and then make their way towards it. Irune went up and pawed at the map, highlighting a few triangles near the eastern edge of the map where a few fog-wreathed hills and plains lay.

"The closest Mystery Dungeons that link to the Divine Roost from here are in the frontiers with the Great Mist," the Axew explained. "Those were the ones that I was trying to make my way to before I got caught."

Kate pinned her ears against her head and frowned over at the Axew. The frontiers that Irune spoke of rubbed up against a great mass of Mystery Dungeons that cut Varhyde off from the rest of Wander to the east and were sparsely populated by Civils. It wouldn't be a bad place to go to to try and lay low after shaking heat, but…

"You realize that almost nobody lives out that way, right? At least nobody that's not a Wilder," she said. "Just how are you planning on getting there?"

"It'd only be a few days' journey," Irune insisted. "We wouldn't need that many supplies just to get there."

"What, you really think it'll take a few days for a Salamence to catch up with you?" the Sneasel pressed. "That you're going to outrun him on foot? Traveling to a place you already tried going to once?"

Irune blinked and bit her tongue as Kate and Dalton paused for a moment. The Heliolisk looked back at the map, and saw that of the lines coming from the Mystery Dungeons that Irune pointed out, that none of them linked any others that were relatively close to the one marked 'Waterhead Cave'.

Irune faltered a moment, before shaking her head with a low sigh.

"I… suppose that'd be a good enough reason to want to keep other options open," she murmured. "But how are any of the other options better when they're even farther away?"

"Farther isn't necessarily a bad thing," Lyle said. "From experience, we've likely got at most a day to work with before wanted posters of us start going up around Moonturn Square, and begin circulating around to other guilds."

Kate blinked and raised a brow puzzledly at her Quilava teammate.

"Not that I'm super confident about those first couple options, but—how's going farther out gonna help us, huh?" the Sneasel asked.

"Because," Lyle explained, "depending on where these other Mystery Dungeons are, we could pay off a Carrier to let us hitch a ride and skip a few days' worth of walking. It'd put distance between us and that Fähnlein, except…"

"They follow trade routes, since there's not much sense for Carriers going where Pokémon don't live," Dalton finished. "Though you might be onto something there, Lyle…"

The Heliolisk brought a finger towards the eastern edge of the map and hovered over a treacherous-looking mountain range that seemed to spill out from the Great Mist and jab into the middle of Varhyde. He then moved it off towards an island not far from the western coast that bore the brunt of many a past invasion from Edialeigh, and finally brought his digit over an inland desert towards the mountainous southern coast of the map that Dalton seemed to linger over briefly before shaking his head.

"It certainly wouldn't be hard to get a Carrier to take us towards any of those Mystery Dungeons," Dalton remarked. "Not a direct flight, but close enough for the journey afterwards to be shorter than going towards the Great Mist from here overland. We'd just need to settle on where we wanted to go first…"

"How about that big dot there?" Kate asked. "It looks far enough to be a couple days' journey from here normally. If we went there, we could just go towards whichever of those Mystery Dungeons you spotted would be the least likely to get us in trouble."

Kate's companions fell deathly silent and stared at her wide-eyed for a moment, before Dalton narrowed his eyes with an annoyed growl.

"… Are you even bothering to read the labels before you speak?" the Heliolisk snapped. "That big dot's Newangle City, the royal capital. Why on earth would we want to go there as Outlaws?"

Lyle looked over at Kate as she seemed to recoil from the charge. Right, Kate's ability to read had always been shaky. There was some story behind it, about how she'd gone much of her childhood without schooling thanks to something about her parents' job requiring them to move around constantly.

"L-Look, I just overlooked it, alright?! It happens to everyone sometimes!" she insisted, prompting Lyle to shake his head.

"To some more often than others, clearly," he sighed.

The Sneasel shot a sour frown over at him. Kate was always tight-lipped about what exactly happened with her parents, and always got a bit defensive when her lack of literacy made a fool of herself like this.

But there was no need to dig out the truth behind all that here and now. Besides, after stopping to think it over, Kate might've been onto something.

"Though her plan's actually not all that bad, Dalton," Lyle spoke up. "After all, there's not exactly a shortage of Carriers going to Newangle City…"

Lyle pawed at the map just east of the large dot and rubbed a circle around it, before looking back up at his teammates.

"We just need to go towards it," he explained. "There's a bunch of trade routes that converge on the capital, and it shouldn't be that hard to convince a Carrier to make a stop at a smaller town along the way."

The other Outlaws paused and thought the matter over to themselves. The plan didn't seem unreasonable, and even Irune seemed to show signs of wavering over the idea. Even so, the little Dragon-type couldn't help but paw uneasily at herself as she couldn't think her way around one last problem.

"There's just one problem, Lyle," she said. "How are we supposed to come across a Carrier in the first place to make an offer after all the trouble we got into?"

Lyle paused and hesitated for a moment, before glancing down at the stolen scarf about his neck and turning to his fellows with a wary click of his tongue.

"There's a town nearby we can try, but we're really going to be counting on these disguises to carry us if we go there…"



Not even two minutes later, the Outlaws came to a shared decision to try their luck finding a Carrier as Lyle proposed, and made their way back onto the dirt path through the forest.

The four headed south along the path, stepping around occasional ruts left behind by wagons that had come through and brushing past red-leaved bushes and trees. Their destination, as Lyle explained, was a nearby trading town called Moonturn Square, and as a 'mon who lived in the area, one he was uniquely well-prepared to help them navigate around.

A quick glance up in the sky revealed that it was already past noon. While their rest had been much-needed, it was unlikely that Lacan hadn't already realized that they'd found a way out of Waterhead Cave. As they made their way forward, the group's eyes caught the sight of a tiny shingled rooftop poking out from a bend in the path ahead. The Quilava blinked briefly at the sight but otherwise paid it no heed, while Irune cocked her head curiously at the structure.

"Huh? I didn't think that anyone had a shop or a house all the way out here…" the Axew murmured. "I thought that Civils that lived this far out in the hinterlands usually kept nests or burrows."

"That's because it's not a house," Lyle said. "Though I think I have a pretty good idea of where we are right now."

As the four came around the bend, they came across a tall column made of white stone topped with a spindly enclosure made of whitewashed wood and light gray shingles. There inside, was a statue fashioned of white stone of a Pokémon with broad wings, a cone-like tail, and a wispy split mane that trailed off behind a head with lupine features. A glance at the column's surroundings revealed that it had been built slightly off-center of a space fashioned from gray tiles. Off to the left, in the direction the statue's head was facing off in, was a stub of a column formed of black stone. The wear on it seemed to indicate it'd been broken some time ago, but like so many things in Varhyde these days, it had simply never been repaired or replaced.

"Well, that'd be a half-truth, Lyle," Dalton remarked. "It's still a place for a Pokémon, but not a normal one."

The Heliolisk wasn't wrong. Lyle recognized the column as the Bildstock₂ on the western approach into Moonturn Square. A shrine built around a roadside pillar to the kingdom's patron goddess right before travelers would start encountering its ringing fields and earthier accommodations fringe-dwellers kept like the dingy burrow he'd called home for the past two years. The four neared the pillar, where they noted a triangular insignia with circles at its corners, the same Schild der Wirklichkeit₃ emblazoned on the armor of every Gendarm and soldier in the army… except it felt like it rightfully belonged here. As the three made their way up to the column, Dalton cocked his head puzzledly, before letting out a quiet murmur.

"Huh. Looks like it's not all that old either," the Heliolisk said. "If I had to guess, it couldn't possibly be older than King Sansa's reign."

Irune looked over with a stunned blink at her Electric-type companion, her mouth hanging slightly agape.

"… How were you able to tell that from just looking at it?"

"Well, I did learn a few things before I became an Outlaw. But the biggest tell is that the runes engraved on it are the same ones we use for everyday writing," he replied. "Older shrines of this sort usually have ones that look like footprints, and the really old ones that are still around use a different script that looks completely different."

Lyle blinked a moment at the Heliolisk's explanation, but it did seem to check out. Along the column were inscriptions on its different sides in neat rows of runes. Their orderings revealed segments that were clearly meant to be read in Commontongue and others meant to be read in Hightongue, a mark that whoever had commissioned the shrine up had been learned and likely had deep pockets.

There were notes wedged in between gaps in the stones, and one of them had chanced to have fallen out. Lyle couldn't help but let curiosity get the better of him as made his way up to the slip and stooped down to open it. The Fire-type darted his eyes back and forth along the paper, reading a string of muddy runes…

"… 'I have a crush on my cousin, Lime'?"

Lyle blinked, and flattened his ears out with a befuddled frown as he double-checked the slip to make sure he didn't misread it. As he gaped over it, he felt a scaly set of fingers brush at him, as he turned to see Dalton narrowing his eyes at him with an unimpressed frown.

"You shouldn't read through those, Lyle," the Heliolisk harrumphed. "Someone obviously felt deeply in over their head to be moved to appeal to this goddess for help like that."

"Well obviously if he had a crush on a 'mon named 'Lime' of all things," Kate scoffed, drawing a disapproving frown from her Axew counterpart.

Lyle glanced further down the paper, and instantly felt a pang of guilt over having read it. There, right below the confession of the author's feelings for his cousin, was a plea for protection from the rumored Army levy that was said to be about to go out in Moonturn Square.

… Right, it was said Reshiram was quickest to lend aid those who acknowledged reality and hid no truths from her, so Pokémon like whoever had written this thing aired their dirty little secrets in the hopes that they'd get divine aid… not that he had any idea how that was supposed to work with a goddess who was dead.

The Quilava slotted the paper back in between the stones as his attention turned to the offerings that less bold or desperate Pokémon brought to such places: a small pile of gummies, berries, and a few hunks of bread had been set out in front of the white column. Lyle felt his stomach growl at the sight of the food, and licked the corners of his mouth as Kate waltzed up beside the pile, waving to her teammates.

"Well look on the bright side," the Sneasel said. "We just found breakfast for ourselves."

Kate stooped down and snatched a red gummi from the pile of offerings and gingerly bit into it.

Her teammates visibly hesitated. Dalton turned his head with an askew glance as she ate, while Irune rolled her eyes with an unimpressed grumble. Sensing the frosty reception, Kate popped the rest of her gummi into her mouth and gulped down the remains, before turning and folding her arms with a sharp scoff.

"Oh come on, what's that look for?" she asked. "If I don't take this stuff, it'll just wind up in the belly of some Wilder!"

Dalton shot her an annoyed look. "That's the point. You leave an offering knowing that the gods will share it with passing Wilders in need—"

"Yes, and the gods are dead," Kate shot back, crossing her arms. "Besides, these offerings are also for needy travelers. See anyone else who fits the bill better than us right now?"

Lyle rolled his eyes with a small scoff. "Kate, that's not what you think that word means-"

"Oh, come off it already!" she snorted. "After everything we've gone through, are you really getting hung up over helping ourselves to a little food?"

The Sneasel stooped down and gathered up a few gummis and berries into her paws. All the while, Irune and Dalton both watched with disapproving frowns, as the Heliolisk shook his head with a low grumble.

"Kate, this is a shrine to the patron goddess of Varhyde," Dalton snapped. "I know that we're in a tough situation, but doing this isn't exactly going to make you popular if you get found out-"

"We're already unpopular, Scales. So are you going to eat, or what?"

Kate took her pawful of food and ducked off a few paces to eat as Dalton shook his head and slipped back out of the shrine with a low sigh. Irune opened her mouth to protest, only to think better of it and slip off muttering to herself under her breath. Lyle went up towards the statue to pull Kate along, when he felt his own stomach growl.

The Quilava reared up and pawed at his belly, realizing that he hadn't eaten anything since their merrymaking back at the Pocket in Waterhead Cave… and that a full nine floors of a Mystery Dungeon and half a day had passed since then. As if he'd been eating much even back on his job at the Oran Field..

… The offerings were supposed to be fair game for desperate travelers, weren't they?

The Fire-type sighed, before grabbing a hunk of dark bread from the offering pile as Kate shot him an aside glance with a quiet scoff.

"Hey, don't beat yourself up too much," Kate teased. "A 'mon's gotta eat."

Lyle flattened his ears in reply and bit down into the bread chunk, grudgingly consuming it. Beyond being a bit stale, there was nothing wrong with the bread. But even so, something didn't sit right with him about doing this.

Lyle didn't consider himself a superstitious type, after all, he was born and raised in Freeden Village. Growing up in a place where the largest shrine to a god was boarded up long before his father was born, one that 'mons who were more superstitiously-minded said was uniquely disfavored by the gods, had a way of inuring one to such sentiments.

… Was it those memories of home that made him uncomfortable? Was it the times Alvin had drug him along to shrines like these before jobs he was nervous about? Alvin had always put more stock in Latios shrines since the dragons were allegedly patron deities for thieves. But he'd always play along and leave a few berries or coins from his loot alongside the Marowak. 'Just in case', he'd reassure him…

… and every time, it would never fail to lift the Marowak's spirits or raise his confidence. Not that that his patron was there for him in the end.

"Hey, Princess."

Lyle shook his head back to attention and turned to see Kate prodding at him impatiently.

"We had a town to get to," she said. "Were we going, or what?"

Lyle turned back and blinked briefly, looking down at a half-eaten gummi in his paws. … Maybe it was just those raw doubts of last night lingering on him, and he was overthinking everything. The Quilava let out a low sigh, before turning his attention back to his food.

"Right, let's get going."

The stoat hastily finished up his meal, lowered his head, and returned back to the path with Kate, who downed the last of her pilfered breakfast on the way back, and made their way back towards Dalton and Irune just in time to hear them talking with one another.

"Er… actually, what are we supposed to do for food?" Irune murmured.

"There should be some wild berries we can forage along the way," the Heliolisk insisted. "It'll tide us over until we can snag a better meal. I hope."

Lyle could hear the pair's stomachs rumble as he neared, as Irune cast a glance back at the Bildstock and for a brief moment began to retrace her steps, only to stop herself before begrudgingly continuing on instead. The two sure were an unlikely couple when it came to being judging over taking shrine offerings meant for the needy. He hoped that wasn't a sign of something deeper about the two…

"Are these two going to be this picky about choosing out marks?" Lyle sighed.

Lyle picked up his pace, leading the group back down the path. After making their way along the path, the Heliolisk tilted his head and spoke up warily.

"You already know where we need to go, Lyle?" the Electric-type asked.

"Well, yeah. I've been through this path a few times," the stoat replied. "Based off the shrine back there, we should be about an hour's trek from Moonturn Plaza. We should be coming up on some landmarks that'll help point the way forward for us."

The other Outlaws blinked and traded puzzled glances with one another. Lyle was supposed to be from around these parts, but to know signs to find Moonturn Square? From all the way out here in the woods?

"Wait, we are?" Kate asked. "How on earth can you tell? Just what are we looking for?"

Lyle said nothing as the top made their way to the top of the hill. There, as they crested it, they could see a tall, vaguely triangular gray tower with missing rectangular patches on its surface off in the distance. It loomed over the surrounding fields and a large river bend that appeared to pass near its base. After moving their gaze towards the ground, they saw it: the stony ledges and earthen ramparts of a bastion fort, which barely hid the shingled and thatched rooftops that rose behind them. The Quilava shook his head in reply as his teammates gaped at the tower in the distance, before speaking up with a low harrumph.

"Signs of civilization. And it's not too much further ahead from the looks of it."



Author's Notes:

Words and Phrases:

1. Graf Wellenhafen - Alternative manner of rendering Graf von Wellenhafen. In German, Graf [Place], Graf von [Place], and permutations incorporating names such as Graf [Name] von [Place] are all equivalent and interchangeable ways of referring to a person holding that nobiliary title.
2. Bildstock - A type of religious wayside shrine found throughout the Germanosphere, the specific style of Bildstock depicted here is more technically a 'Tabernakelpfeiler'.
3. Schild der Wirklichkeit - "Shield of Reality"

Teaser Text:

In the early years after the Great Flash and its great churning of the world, there was a great commotion to try and preserve the knowledge of the bygone humans as long as their works still remained in Wander. From the knowledge they could save, the ancients fashioned the first recipes for the gummis that fill our bellies and the first scripts that we read and wrote.

During this time, two lands across a great sea that opened amidst the turmoil of the Great Flash were settled under the guidance of two wanderers that none know from where they came. North and east of the sea, Klaus the Founderᵃ pitched his camp in a land where the goddess we call 'Reality'ᵇ chose as a place of rest from her wanderings about our unsettled world. It is said Klaus wished that the Pokémon he dwelt with would always seek the fullest understanding of the reality of the world about them, and founded a kingdom in honor of the patron who first lent it aid, which is to this day called 'Varhyde'.

South and west of the sea, Galea the Machinistᶜ pitched her camp in a land where the god that we call 'Wish'ᵈ chose as a place of rest from his wanderings amidst the world we call home. It is said that she wished that the Pokémon she dwelt with would always be filled with the yearning to pursue their wishes to reshape their surrounding world as they found fit, and she too founded a kingdom in honor of the god that dwelt there and heeded her land's pleas for help, which in honor of the patron who helped it first is to this day called 'Edialeigh'.

Little is known either of King Klaus or Queen Galea as even the kinds of Pokémon they were have been lost to the ages, but records of their sayings remain, along with their names, their epithets, and knowledge that the two once hailed from a common land. It is believed the two at some point became sworn enemies, for as long as our history has been recorded, the kingdoms they founded have yet to know a peace with each other that was not stained with bitter enmity.

- Excerpt from 'The Varhyder Chronicles - A Brief History of our Kingdom's Early Years'

a. The most common meaning of Erbauer is a 'builder', particularly a 'master builder' when used to refer to a singular party. Using it in the context of 'founder' like this is particularly flowery / poetic / glorifying in language. In more neutral prose, Klaus here would more likely be referred to as a 'Gründer' ('founder') or a 'Gündungsvater' ('founding father') with regard to his kingdom. 'Erbauer' was ultimately chosen for Klaus' epithet since the term fit his character in this setting under more than one meaning of the term.
b. German has two words that are commonly translated as 'reality', 'Wirklichkeit' and 'Realität'. While the two can be used interchangeably in some contexts, 'Realität' is used more for perceived reality while 'Wirklichkeit' carries connotations of actuality or objective reality.
c. Maschinenschlosser(in) specifically refers to a 'machinist' in the sense of someone who assembles large, complicated machines as a profession, and is most commonly utilized as a job title.
d. 'Wunsch' is normally translated as 'wish' in English, particularly in the sense of a wish as a 'desire harbored or expressed by someone whose fulfillment is hoped for'. As such, in some contexts, it can function as 'desire' and be translated accordingly.
 
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Negrek

Play Crack the Sky
Staff
All right, back at last to catch up and close out your Blacklight prizes for this fic!

Chapter 4 is kind of an extension of Chapter 3–a pretty brief respite, and then it’s back to running for our lives, trying to evade the resurgence of the soldiers. A little interesting worldbuilding in the lull, there. I’m always interested in how the human and PMD worlds relate, so the remains of the pokeball certainly piqued my curiosity! The whole “great flash”… based on the author’s specific headcanon, I’d tend to guess either the Ultimate Weapon or something nuclear there. Very curious to learn more about it and, of course, what exactly caused a die-off of the gods…

I also enjoyed the little moment with the inteleon where Dalton ultimately decided not to roast him. Always here for a ”true colors” moment like that where we see our thieves aren’t as hard-hearted as one might assume. I’m also curious to see whether they’ll be able to keep that compassionate streak despite the tough journey they have ahead. In Fledglings the answer would be clear, but with this fic I can’t be entirely sure!

As of this chapter, though, I was feeling a bit of battle fatigue. The action was well done as always, but after all the battling that’s unfolded already, I wasn’t super excited to see more. Arlen wasn’t a character I knew very well, so his loss didn’t mean a lot to me. I did kind of wonder if there might be some way to condense the latest chapters a bit. For example, I understand why you wanted to get everyone split up into teams, but perhaps not so much time needed to be spent on the process of doing so, or on Lyle’s group heading our on their own, not finding anything besides the pokeball and then coming right back, etc.

So I was glad of a break in Chapter 5! This is where it feels like the plot truly kicks off as we get our ultimate objective and start making plans to reach it. You’ve certainly put your characters in dire straits here… exactly what I like to see!

I’ve got to wonder what Irune was up to when she was supposedly off burying her scarf… No way did I buy that she’d give it up that easily. Kind of surprised the other characters did, tbh. And that whole “I get to choose first” thing… yeah, they’ve definitely locked themselves into a bad deal with that. I’m sure the payoff there will be a lot of fun, however far off down the road.

I also enjoyed the bit of Reshiram lore here. Crumbling ruins and half-forgotten gods (sounds as though there was a Zekrom pillar there at one point?), and I was loving the wistful sense of decay here. I was also glad to see Lyle wrestle a bit with his experiences in the dungeon. I’m hoping we’ll see a bit more about how Dalton feels after losing his friend later, too. Right now he feels a bit apart from the other characters—I don’t have much grasp on him yet. Hoping for more development for him in the near future!

Like I said, it feels like the fic is properly underway now! You’ve got quite a journey set out in front of your cast, and I’m looking forward to how they handle it. But perhaps the greatest draw for me at this point is learning more about this world of yours and the mysteries of its past. Hope to keep up with this one going forward. It’s got the kind of update rate I can handle, heh.
 
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