• Welcome to Thousand Roads! You're welcome to view discussions or read our stories without registering, but you'll need an account to join in our events, interact with other members, or post one of your own fics. Why not become a member of our community? We'd love to have you!

    Join now!

Pokémon Once a Thief

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
@Venia Silente
...Always a Protag.

Or so I've heard the saying goes.

Could’ve fooled me with all those Outlaws I drug in for cold, hard Poké in my game runs. Even if it applies here. :V

This review is part of a review cycle so that I can keep enough silverware sane that I can still eat cake. As such, Lyle has been CHOSEN!!!! To be pulled out of his little post-Outlaw comfort life and back into the demands of screentime. He's going to be *so* glad for screentime once this chapter is over, lol.

Lyle:
laughter-worried.gif


So yeah, we start with a blurb telling us that this world is not having a nice time. For starters, the blurb is in another language but comes with a translation in the glossary. For seconds, it talks about an apocalypse that rendered what was a Trainerworld into basically a post-apoc post-human Terranstyle!PMD world.

Which means there was a good </sarcasm> transition time for anyone who made it past the initial post-apoc whole. Yay everyone who made it through!

Survivors:
View: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h_lFbdP8xMU


I'm gonna say that while I can't read German, what I tried to read felt like it had a tonal and narrative form like tales of an expedition that survived a shipwreck or returned from a salted/scorched land, whereas the translated version feels more like a narration of events behind the trenches or from a facility or community hosting people looking for asylum. I don't know yet if either are intended, but they do paint a mental imagery of those Pokémon who survived the apoc and what vision of the world they had.

It’s deliberately intended to be one of those “glimpse from another perspective” things, yes. “German” in this setting is a cultural carryover from the world-that-was for Varhyde, and as such the openers are used to show things off from perspectives that aren’t necessarily our protagonists' and to hint at things to come for particularly observant readers.

This kind of catastrophe is becoming a staple of your 'verses, @SpitefulMurkrow . I mean, the Cradle's world basically went through the same, yes? Just saying :p

But yeah, I hope for the next setting they keep a better rein on those Fairy types and others mixing and mashing magical spells just to see what comes out. You don't really want to be known as the one who "Wingardium LeviOSÁH!"'d (or, in your better words, "oopsie'd") an entire race off the world, *and* made Waze and OpenStreetmap mappers' lives a living nightmare.

Technically, the Cradle’s world went through something a bit different than Wander’s, even if both met their end through unintended consequences of some flavor. o<o;

As for the Great Flash, those similarities weren’t really planned on the story’s part, and it was more part and parcel with the fundamental meta premise behind it. If you know of said meta, you probably can get some ideas of what the Great Flash roughly entailed within the span of a few chapters from where you are.

He's a Quilava which automatically makes him cute and cool like all the Gen2 starters inb4 Chikorita. It's good to see some G2 representation. He's living in a potentially awesome world too. But hey he still has to earn the coins, I take it he's working basically as a seasonal gatherer and, given it's about to be the end of harvest season, he's not being happy about it.

I mean, field work even in the best of times is kinda a tiring and thankless profession, so…

Ooooooooor, you could just windshield them with a cover, and keep one or two NPCs close to water them and fertilize the soil for the next 48 hours, right? Right? I mean, berry farming in the games was easy, right? </sarcasm>

Yeah, alas. Things aren’t quite that easy for them here.

Oh no! it's the Rey scenario back at Jakku all over again! Jakku is a shit world btw. Noone likes Jakku.

Thankfully I know diddly of post-Lucas Star Wars, so I can safely say that any resemblances are a big coinkydink. ^^;

Fck off, Trent. You have our little protag in the one state of things that's actually WORSE than the modern gig economy. Lyle is a poor little precariat, and a seasonal one at that!

And when the world's a sorry state of things as that, the best thing to do after hours is rise and revolt against the capitalist masters hit the local tavern. Or whatever passes for that. Once there (or what counts as "there"), Lyle hears some news about the sorry state of the war effort.

Yeah, things aren’t exactly doing terribly well in Lyle’s neck of the woods, though glad to hear that things came through in such short order.

Dead, Greedent. They're dead.

De-employed.

Dilapidated.

Desouled.

Deceased.

Dismembered.

Defenestrated.

Decayed.

Done.

Well, there’s also those captured in action and MIA for various reasons that may or may not get said ‘mons in trouble, but otherwise that’s not far from the mark.

Like, seriously, why else there would be *more* drafting? That's what happens in wars to those not smart enough to avoid being assigned as literal cannon fodder. And Pokémon wars have lots more potential for going nasty, elemental powers and all.

Just sayin'. If I was any of those NPCs I'd high-tail out of there before the next draft comes. Let's see if Lyle picks up the hint.

Well he does… sort of.

Pick up the hints, Lyle! Listen, I have a very good spot here in the Suocéverse for a Quilava protag. You can be a Traffic police officer, how about that?

Isn’t that position filled already for you? :V

Listen, I can move you up to Drugs busting. I have a severe case of Lansat dealership going on. How about that?

Hold onto that thought, really.

There, are we happy? Can we rescue Lyle? insert "I've met this Quilava for only a page and a half" meme.

Well hey, if I’ve gotten you in the mood to yeet him out of his universe in half a chapter, I must be doing something right. [loltias]

See? See what I'm sayin'? PICK UP THE HINTS LYLE!!!!! Get outta there while you can.

Well, hey. He does wind up taking your advice… in a manner of speaking.

No no no no. YOUR problem is to pocket yourself a train ticket outta there. Come on! Farming berries every day like it's Animal Crossing: New Leaf is not exactly going to get you anywhere. Even tho it's a good start that you should have been doing like, two backstory arcs ago.

Speaking of pocketing something, let's see if Lyle can pocket enough money for his work.

bender-laughing.gif


Great! Shrinkflation! Exactly what we needed! </sarcasm>

Such is life when your land’s economy is hobbling along with the residual effects of an on-and-off war that’s ground on for generations. Like even if your neighborhood isn’t actively being torn up, wars aren’t cheap resource-wise.

Yeah that was more or less what I was suggesting back there. Just do the berry farming on your own, glitch the game clock a bit, sell the results for brief enough that you can just walk off your way out of there.

I'm gonna say tho, those crabs and cats are sounding just about as detached from reality as any economist I've seen mouthing off about how great capitalism is for climate change and interregional wars since 2018, because really you have to guesstimate that at least half of everyone who is still alive complains of the same issues here at temporary precariatship as Lyle does.

I’ll admit, some of this is meta cheating to have characters that can be active criminals that have a leg up at raking in the audience sympathy, but… yeah. Outlawry in general tends to thrive best in unsettled circumstances, and the local neighborhood was designed accordingly.

From what we heard of the place, it sounds like they should be paying people to drink their stuff, instead.

Such is life when you need to forget about the world around you on a budget in the midst of rampant inflationary pressures.

Sucks to be Lyle then because he doesn't have a Pokémon of his own to protect him. First things first then he's hit by a few random Bug-types.

-Lyle blinks-
Lyle: “Waaaait a minute there…”

Yeah, life outside of the numbered Routes sucks sometimes. At least this time Lyle's got it easy, he's got an elemental advantage and one of the attackers attached himself to him. One flame later, the two are scurrying away.

So basically we're reminded that besides the war effort going on and its drain on the populace, this also means they lose resources they could have used to control an important culture clash phenomenon that can reasonably end with civilized peoplemons becoming lunch.

Oh well. Screentime for the ferals!

Fortunately, things aren’t so dire for them on that front. Right now, anyways. I wouldn’t exactly rule out a loss of control of that phenomenon under certain circumstances, given that that’s not exactly foreign for human wars in history.

Oh so now he also has his own personal "Protection" end-air-quotes Racket parole officer! Another part of the dirty business that comes with war efforts, truly, is assigning guards to keep backyard towns happy compliant, yet let them do as they please. In this case we have Nils who also knows enough of the past that Lyle tries to keep hidden, to boot.

Nils: “Love ya too, buddy.”
:trollzel:


Protection racket or not, Lyle does have a point that he can't really afford to fight it, not so close to the end of the season while he still has a job (even if it pays bad). So let's hope Nils is reasonable here when it comes to this, assuming it's even true he's not shook Oulen from her money already.

As a result of the meeting Lyle has to carry on with a whole third of his earnings of the day taken from him.

Still beats the fees at Wigglytuff’s Guild, as you already pointed out.

Yyyyyyeah no, as much as "there's always someone who has it worse", Lyle needs a hug. And a better job. And to find a train ticket out of there.

Lyle: “... Wait, what’s a ‘train’?” ^^;

You know what I'm going to relaunch the idea of just do some berry farm glitching of his own, because last time my monthly payment got cut off by one third, I joined the revolt that ended us here with *almost* getting a New Constitution.

It admittedly is something that I’m still playing around with openings of when I can bring it up, but there’s actually a reason why the locals haven’t gone torches and pitchforks here. Let’s just say that the last time that happened, things didn’t go as planned.

Some interesting worldbuilding hints here. One thing that you have pressed on for worldbuilding discussions is to pay attention to / not ignore the costs in livelihood that come with having a more evolved body, so it starts to show here as early as Ch.1 which is good (just not for Lyle).

But also, does this imply that in this setting Pokémon don't have control over their own evolutive triggers, at least for the ones that are "by level"? I mean, it should be as easy as tapping B when the time comes up, right? In particular if your body *knows* already that it doesn't actually have access to the caloric energy intake to sustain a more evolved form, one would think the body would actively preempt evolution attempts.

Let's call it the Dark Eviolite of Capitalism.

Yeah, this story makes the assumption that such controls over evolution are not consistently triggerable. After all, if your body is already primed to evolve, you’ll always be one more heated bar fight or attempted robbery where your guard is down away from getting stuck in a new body.

Well, if you don’t have an Everstone anyways, but it’s not like Lyle’s going to be able to afford one of those when he’s struggling to square away the base levels of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Oooooor not. Really, Lyle can't walk ONE "city block" of distance without his life getting extra suck? Makes one wonder what his offscreen days of life go like.

And lo and behold, here we have an attacker Sneasel. A f(r)iendishly one, even.

Kate: “Pleasure to meet you too, pal.”
:blepcat:


Geez, I knew the economy in your settings was going bad but like, THIS bad?????? Absolutely no one is safe.

Anyway, this Sneasel, 'Kate', was part of the same eeeerrrr, enterpreneur collective as Lyle back then and now seems to have also wanted to target Lyle specifically. Let's admit, it seems Lyle is quite the wantable character or everyone is just fighting for screentime payments so yeah I'm gonna take it.

It seems however, that at least 'Kate''s initial offering might be more worth it for Lyle considering his current situation.

I mean, her offering doesn’t involve Lyle losing more money out of pocket, so…
:wellyousee:


So Kate wants to recruit Lyle for a "like the old times" kind of job. Because those always go nicely and without issues. Lyle stands his ground like it seems he's had to do already for a few times, sure these ex-Foehn people are persistent.

Kate: “Hey, when you’ve got a skill, you might as well use it.”
:gardeshrug~1:


Alvin, boys! Not Dalvin, Alvin!

So, 'Kate' describes the general job offer. Her crew and Dalvin's Alvin's are re-teaming up into a sort of Foehn 2: Electric Boogaloo job which consists of taking on a caravan coming up. Interestingly enough, they are teaming up under new management together as we hear of a new, female boss. And apparently Lyle's resume sells well enough that they'd come try and recruit him also explaining the plan out in the open.

Yeah, let’s just say that if Lyle got stuck on the Iron Fleet from my other story, he’d shoot up the ranks pretty quickly. He wasn’t exactly designed to be a helpless incompetent at his old day job.

You know, Kate is making that proposal sound quite alluring. If anything, it's loot that well hidden will remain safe from Nils.

Kate: “Sounds like I’m doing my job well, then.”
:smugcat:


It's called hunger, Lyle. It happens often to mons who don't GROW THEIR OWN FOOD!

3f2.jpeg


Considering his situation, it's even worse than that, because if he can't secure his well-being soon enough there will be nothing he can do to protect himself from the... what, ninth draft of Losers that's coming up?

Compared to that, if he can at least gauge that the Foehn 2 Electric Boogaloo group at least know what they are doing, Lyle might be looking at some form of economical safety within the next, what, 24 hours? And shawarma screentime after.

Yeah he won't want to be on the Losers side.

Lyle: “Uh… yeah, that would probably be for the best, really.”
:quilaeep:


And thus, Lyle's decision is made. After all, a protagonist is born.

Image


All in all, a pretty good intro. A world that in the lines and between the lines is dying the "stop the Earth I want to jump off" kind of death, from what we can see at the local scope. What basically counts as an eternal war that has already killed gods is... not exactly the scenario you want to find yourself having to commit responsibility to.

Add to that the anus end of the capitalism trends, Lyle's already existing resume and, well, there's not much he can do other than being dragged around by whatever plot finds him at the moment.

So it's important that the first chapter ends with him at least executing some agency here. With any luck, who knows? He might find himself out of the whole war situation and living a happily ever after life. AAAHAHAHAHAHA.

Ahem. Yeah, he's so gonna die out there. The summary and the blurbs already promise a lot, lol.

Lyle: “H-Hey! I’ve got some hope! Possibly… Maybe… I hope.” >.<

In general a good job. Also good to see yet another setting of yours in action. Do try and be a bit nicer to your population tho. I can't really imagine Lyle taking it in good stride once he finds out the role and kind of story Neela was offered.

Fortunately for me, I’ve got a fourth wall to protect me from that. ^^;

Thanks for the review, your gag sequences were a blast to read like always.
:seviuwu:

@Ambyssin
How to Succeed at Pissing Everyone Off Without Really Trying, by Quilava "Baguette" Lyle

Which is a pretty funny and apt title for the entire story thus far.
:LULgia:


Talk about a literal crash course of running into basically everyone the team had pissed off up to this point in the story. Because that's exactly what happened. I don't personally care much for the Team Pathfinder skirmish because it's another brawl with a group straight of the heels of one in the previous part. I'm also surprised at how strong the bystander effect is here. Yeah, someone eventually gets the sheriff involved, but considering these are magic creatures, you'd think some others might try to intervene. XD

I mean, the locals do start getting involved once property damage gets into play. Though yeah, bystander effect can get depressingly strong even in real life, so in a setting where fights with elemental powers are “but for me, it was Tuesday” coupled with just about everyone having their own problems weighing them down, most locals aren’t going to pay that much attention to a seeming dispute on an Exploration Team that for all they know was caused by someone drinking away the team’s last payday.

I enjoyed the scramble away from the angry mob a bit more, mainly because it was a good mix of tension with little bits of humor that don't detract from the action taking place and are a nice break from the typical "Combatant tries to boast or make a comment, then gets interrupted by an attack" fold you've done before.

I mean, I do make a point of trying to keep things fresh for my battle scenarios. Mind you, I don’t always succeed, but it certainly sounds like this sequence did the trick quite well.

Also thought the brief aerial battle was a nice change of pace, too, with the team having to balance hanging on for dear life with fending off attackers. They don't entirely succeed, of course, but that's to be expected with these types of things. :P

Ditto here, really. It actually took a couple revisions for me to get the flow of events into a state where I felt satisfied with things such that Team Forager weren’t just passive observers to their fate. I think that in the end, things turned out well for it.

Really? Doesn't even have the guts to go with the "Reshiram's Crotch Fuzz?"

Didn’t roll off the tongue as smoothly, even if it’d have fit thematically.
:gardeshrug~1:


Roll credits.

Lyle: “Huh? What? There’s more chapters after this?” .-.

I cannot for the life of me that Hermes wouldn't just turn them over to the authorities at this point. Is he tipsy? Maybe he's tipsy.

Also, Hermes just dropped an entire flask full of drugs in front of the fuzz while they were in a bad mood. Right when a rumored levy is about to go out and ‘mons in the clink for even petty reasons would be on the shortlist for getting drafted.

I’ll try and think of a way to try and make that a bit more obvious with an added sentence or two.

Yeah, see? No self-preservation.

To be fair on Hermes, he at least considered dumping Team Forager off there, so…

Ah, yes, every dragonite's true weakness: rope-type.

Yeah, during a revisioning of the aerial pursuit sequence, I looked back at Corvisquire’s game data to see if there were any particularly neat party tricks Sophia could do. The moment I saw the Sword dex entry, I instantly went “yup, I’m doing this onscreen”.

"Well, yeah, author's fond of that tactic."

Lyle: “... What did we just get ourselves into?”
:quilaeep:


Though glad to hear that you had fun with this chapter, even if some things didn’t quite stick the landing for you.

@GumPlum
Hello, I’m here for catnip, and I just wanted to start off by saying that I did like this initial chapter quite a bit for introducing who I assume is the protagonist of the story and the world that they inhabit. It’s not every day that I get to read a PMD story that very much puts war, civil conflicts, and likely politics at the forefront of it all, and I think there’s plenty of ground to be explored there (not to mention outlaws as the protagonists, which is cool) And as for this initial chapter, there’s a lot of exploration on that front alone, which I think is good and at points not so good.

Technically, it’s less “forefront” as “unavoidable piece of backdrop that colors literally everything about the setting and how the characters attempt to get by”, but I’m glad to hear that the general premise caught your eye.

But first, I do like what you’ve introduced so far, especially Lyle within the context of the world you’ve developed. I think he comes across very well as a character marred and painted by his environment and experiences, all supplemented by the way the world works right now. His tiredness, desperation, and teetering on extremes is something I especially like in this first chapter, because it defines him a lot as someone who’s at their limit, which leads well into him accepting Kate’s offer at the end coming across as a believable decision. The chapter does well in introducing him, which is a definite point in your favor for me, because I’m a character focused reader and writer, so the story’s captured me alone on it.

I mean, I’ve always counted characterization as being one of my stronger suits as a writer. I mean, some of that might be a bit overly-rosy of a read of my part, but it sounds like I did my job with what this Prologue chapter was intended to do.

I also think you do well in prose and description (though I admit a decent number of words flew over my head, which is my fault for not being well versed). Environments and physical descriptions are vivid, and I felt them pretty well, and the prose through Lyle’s tired eyes is palpable; there’s a sense of seeing everything through spent eyes. Where it falls a bit for me (and this is probably just a me thing so you’re likely fine) is that there’s a bit too much frequent exposition about the world and the situation the characters live in. I do appreciate what we do get, because it’s intriguing and I’m excited to learn more about it, but at times it felt like it was too much emphasis on the situation of the world, where Lyle frequently pauses to think about a certain topic. I don’t think it’s the worst thing in the world, but I found myself towards the end just wanting more of the characters talking or doing things rather than exposition or thinking that certain parts of the exposition could be saved a bit later for a more natural delivery.

I know I’m being a bit vague, and this might just be my preferred way of story telling and such not aligning with yours, so feel free to disregard me as well. Hell, one of the parts that I felt we spent too much time in exposition (namely the frequent mentions of the levy and how everyone wants to avoid it) was used later on as a way to gatekeep one of the easier solutions to Lyle’s food problems, where by doing so makes him more likely to get shipped off in the levy, and thus adds to his desperation to find a way out and survive, or plain give up and let what happens simply happen to him. So, it has a purpose and it’s used well. I may just be talking out of my ass here, but I felt it was worth mentioning.

Yeah, I cop a bit of criticism about the Prologue being a tad slow and exposition-heavy. I’d like to think that the later chapters are a bit better about that, though glad to hear that even if it wasn’t all to your liking, that it didn’t take you out of things too much.

Regardless, I think you have a solid start to the story here, and I know things will only ramp up since only half the characters in the banner appear, so the story is bound to get more interesting. Characters, prose, environments, and plenty else land really well to get me hooked in wanting to know more and subsequently read more. I can’t really tell what direction it’ll take or what themes will permeate the story aside from civil conflicts and survival, but this is just the first chapter. I can almost guarantee that you’ve got a lot more special stuff down the road, and that’s plenty exciting. In essence, though I think there’s a bit too much emphasis on some of the exposition, I think this story starts off really intriguing and I can’t wait to read more when I have the time. With Lyle alone you caught me, because he’s a cool character so far and so early, and I can’t wait to see how he develops (and what other characters appear too.)

Well, I suppose that’s a reason for you to come back and find out a bit more, eh? And maybe to whap me over the head a few times if my inner expositioner gets too firm of a grasp on my keyboard. :V

So, yeah, really good start, and I’m glad I was able to read this. I’m a bit wordy and not used to reviewing a ton, so this may have not been a thorough review. If so, feel free to ask questions or simply talk about the story and my points more through dms or wherever you can catch me. I’d be glad to learn more about the story myself, so I think the healthy dialogue could be nice.

I mean, you gave me your honest thoughts about what you thought worked and didn’t work about the chapter. I’d say that’s already a pretty decent review right there.

Though hey, the best way to learn about a story is to see more of it. If and when you feel an urge to come back and say a few more things, I’ll be all ears.

Great work, and goodbye! I wish nothing but good things for you and this story!

Ditto, and thanks for the Catnip review. ^^

Alright, so this took a bit longer than I’d have hoped to get together due to my production pipeline hitting a snag, but in the end, I figured that I was best off just taking a bit of a leap of faith on this chapter and ironing out any bumps afterwards. So with that, I’m ready to pick up where I left off last time, as Team Forager finds themselves prowling through the strange confines of a lost world.
 
Last edited:
Chapter 10 - Dissension

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
x9rFfl4.png


Unsere Welt ist eine, die auch Jahrhunderte nach der Abwesenheit der Menschen noch immer von deren hinterlassenen Spuren geprägt ist. Ihre erhaltenen Werke sind überall auf der Oberfläche von Wunder und damit auch seine Mysteriöse Orte verstreut. Unter ihnen ist der Großurwald einzigartig unter seinen Gegenstücke im Land der Wahrheit.

Während die meisten mysteriösen Orte, die menschliche Ruinen absorbiert haben, Teile vergangener Gebäude und Strukturen zwischen ihren Böden produzieren können, sollen die Wildes, die in und unter den wärmenden Effekten dieses Ortes wohnen, zuerst durch menschliches Eingreifen in diese Ruinen gebracht worden sein. Einige sagen, dass die Ruinen dort, die von der Verzerrung verschlungen wurden, ein Ort waren, an dem die Vorfahren derer, die heute dort leben, aus den Gräbern zurückgebracht wurden.

Was auch immer die Wahrheit hinter solchen Geschichten ist, ein Entdecker in den Großurwald muss große Vorsicht walten lassen. Es ist ein Ort mit Geschichten aus sagenumwobenen Zeitaltern, die behaupten, dass die Vorfahren der Pokémon, die derzeit dort leben, Armeen verkrüppelt haben, die versuchten, ihn zu durchqueren. Nachdem man die Wildes gesehen hat, die diesen Dschungel ihr Zuhause nennt, könnte man sich verzeihen, wenn man solche Geschichten für bare Münze nimmt. Die Pokémon dieses Ortes sind uralte Kreaturen, die stark und mit wilden Veranlagungen zu gewaltigen Höhen wachsen, besonders wenn ihre inneren Rhythmen aus dem Gleichgewicht geraten.

Wenn die Menschen, die diesen Ort geschaffen haben, solche Kreaturen wirklich zum Leben erweckt haben, kann man sich nur vorstellen, dass sie, was auch immer ihre Beweggründe in der Vergangenheit waren, verstummen würden, nachdem sie das Labyrinth aus Gefahren und Schrecken gesehen haben, zu dem es geworden ist.

- Vorwort zu »Das Erkunderhandbuch zu Merkwürdigen Orten«




Step by step, Team Forager carefully crept their way through the fog-shrouded cave passage from the jungle-shrouded bluff they entered. Lyle stayed at the group's head, attempting to give off what little light he could by venting fire from his body as he latched firmly onto Kate's guiding string in his paws. As he and his teammates made their way forward, Lyle noticed that the mist began to turn a visible white, a sign of light filtering in from up ahead. The stoat made his way forward, giving a tug at the team's guiding string as he stepped forward, the mist melting away to reveal an overgrown forest much like the one near the top of the falls that they'd fled from.

The Quilava stopped, waiting for his teammates to catch up with him as he noticed that the air was hot and somehow even more uncomfortably damp than it had been back on the plateau. When the rest of Team Forager came in, they looked up and noticed a spindly lattice of impossibly large branches overhead, interlinking with each other much like a strands of a Spinarak's web. Lyle couldn't say he'd ever seen a lattice of branches like that on the surface world before, and from the way the others were blinking and staring up blankly, he supposed none of his teammates had either.

"Where are we?" Irune murmured.

"Well, a Mystery Dungeon, obviously," Kate scoffed. "I can't remember the last normal place that had tree branches all tangled up in a web like that."

Lyle looked over to Dalton, who seemed visibly tense and on-edge for a moment. Had he been here before? From the way he was reacting, it almost seemed as if he recognized the place.

"Did you come here once with the Riparian Raiders?" the Quilava asked.

"No," the Heliolisk replied, as he started reaching for his satchel. "It's just… I think we should take a moment to get our bearings and figure out what Mystery Dungeon we're in. We didn't get a sighting of the Lesser Mist before Hermes crashed, so it'd likely help us narrow things down a bit."

The 'Lesser Mist'? The arc of Mystery Dungeons further west of Newangle City that served as its shield from the western coast? Lyle wouldn't have thought they'd have seen it from such a distance, but if he could see Raptor Rock from Hermes' back…

"Scales, it can wait after we've put a few floors between us and this entrance," Kate huffed. "For all we know, those Grünhäuter found our ledge and are already starting to make their way in!"

Dalton paused, with his hands halfway through pulling out that handbook about Mystery Dungeons they'd lifted off those Team Pathfinder Hunters. From the way he reflexively peeked back at the entrance, the Sneasel's remark must've unnerved him.

But at the same time Lyle couldn't really argue with her point. He shook his head, before turning deeper into the jungle maze. The ledge they entered from hadn't been that well-disguised.

"She's right. Try to figure out where we are during some slower moments, but it's not safe to just be waiting here like this."

Dalton studied his surroundings carefully, before pushing the team's handbook back into his satchel and shaking his head with a sigh.

"Alright, just… stay on your guard as you go ahead," he insisted. "I can't place it, but something about this Mystery Dungeon makes me feel like I've heard about it before."

Everyone nodded back afterwards, before pressing on ahead into the gouges in the undergrowth. All the while, Lyle kept his fire burning strong and his ears pricked at attention. Maybe it was just the humidity getting to him, but something about this place made him feel like he was being watched.



This should've been a satisfying moment for Lacan. His sense that his soldiers would struggle to find the Dyad in time before she fled Moonturn Square had been on the mark, as had his instincts about the route her Carrier would take. The interception had gone smoothly enough, and from the chatter through his badge, he'd learned that said Carrier had been successfully taken into custody mere minutes after his shootdown…

Except, nobody had been able to find any of his passengers. Including the Dyad.

It'd been a tense hour since then, with naught but the unseasonal tropical heat surrounding the Mystery Dungeon, his own wingbeats, and the occasional broadcast from his badge from his Fähnlein's Psychic dispatchers to keep him company. He heard the brief hum of a badge on his line flicker to life, and then Sophia's cawing voice speaking over the line.

"All units, this is 'Rakete₁'. One of the search parties found the Dyad's footprints near the falls. We followed them to a ledge overlooking the Mystery Dungeon."

Lacan cast his glance towards the falls, and sure enough, noticed a number of figures gathered at a bluff in front of the treeline a little ways off from the river's edge. The Salamence wheeled, flying along the plateau's edge until his eyes came upon Sophia standing at the fore of a small party of soldiers in green plates gathered by a ledge overlooking a thick layer of fog. Lacan swooped down, landing in a patch of open grass near the edge as he trotted to a stop and trained a stern gaze at his Corvisquire subordinate as she saluted at attention.

"Oberstleutnant Sophia, what exactly is going on here?" the Salamence asked. "Why would you fire off your signal right after finding the Dyad's trail?"

"Because we also found where her trail ended."

Lacan blinked as Sophia raised a wing and motioned off for the ledge, a quick glance down revealing footsteps heading over it. The Salamence reflexively froze and felt his blood chill. He knew the Dyad had been growing increasingly desperate over the past year and surely was starting to become more cognizant of her nature, but surely she wouldn't have done anything as rash as trying to harm herself, would she?

… No, it wasn't like her. And there was no reason to believe that she'd learned anything specific about her nature or what His Majesty's army intended to use it for that would plant such an idea in her head. The way that the footsteps turned back near the ledge all but confirmed it. They were a clear indication that she and her fellow Outlaws had stopped to climb down something. Lacan paced over and craned his head down to see a sea of fog beneath him, along with a set of mangled vines that flowed over the edge and abruptly stopped.

The Salamence peered down and stopped to fish a golden, faintly glowing orb from a satchel slung about the back of his neck. The Dragon-type gave it a small kick over the ledge, the glassy sphere vanishing into the mist before bouncing off a small outcropping in the cliff that launched it out about about his neck's length before it vanished entirely. Lacan watched intently after the Luminous Orb, waiting for it to burst and flash its light, only for no sight or sound to come from it.

"So nah und doch so fern…"ᴰ¹

Lacan looked up and turned back to his underlings with a grumbling shake of his head. The Dyad and her companions had fallen into the Mystery Dungeon's Distortion, so it was unlikely they'd die outright from their landing inside of it. With the way that space wrapped in on itself in such places, by the time it spat them up onto a floor, they'd likely fare much as if they'd fallen through a Pitfall Trap from one floor to the next. To top it off, from what he knew about this particular Mystery Dungeon, there would be dense thickets of foliage much like the surrounding forests to break their fall.

At the same time, sending a party to search this place of all Mystery Dungeons…

Lacan noticed his Corvisquire lieutenant staring at him worriedly, and he stopped to suck in a sharp breath before turning to a waiting Houndoom at the front of the group.

"It would seem the Dyad and those ruffians opted to try and shelter in Primordial Woods and got in over their heads in the process," he remarked. "I'll notify the others. Put up some markers around the perimeter for them to find and then report back."

The Houndoom grunted and obliged, heading off towards a waiting Medicham before the pair disappeared into the brush. A few moments later, the Salamence sighed and pinched a wing at the left side of his scarf, briefly leaving behind an impression of a badge that had been pinned against its inner surface.

"All units, this is 'Sucher₂'. Stay on the line for new search assignments and converge on our signal, our targets fled into Primordial Woods and appear to have bitten off more than they could chew."

The drake let his wing linger as affirmations came through the badge, before letting the hidden metal lump go and furrowing his brow with a low sigh.

Prior to this mission, it had been years since he'd used that callsign on Varhyder soil, and he couldn't say he ever imagined this was how he'd use it again. Chasing after a little whelp who'd spent the past year slipping through his claws from one improbable escape after another.

A whelp who was at once Varhyde's aegis and her bane. Who had feints waged on Edialeigher soil for her sake lest their spies learn that the key for one of either Varhyde or Edialeigh forcing the other to its knees was already on their hated enemy's soil.

"So what are we waiting for? Let's find an entrance and start canvassing the place!"

Lacan snapped back to attention at the sharp pipe of a nearby Talonflame in green plates. The nearby soldiers visibly lacked the hawk's enthusiasm, and audibly hemmed and hawed in reply. A Yanmega among their number was particularly taken aback, the Bug-type casting a glance at the swirling fog before she shrank back nervously.

"Wait, you mean to actually go in there? Herr Gemeinwebel, have you been drinking Drive again?" she protested. "That Mystery Dungeon down there's Primordial Woods, for crying out loud!"

… Drive 'again'? Sophia clearly needed to have a conversation with Frantz about his habits sometime later. Even if Lacan didn't think much of the Bug-type and her fellow soldiers' visible display of nerves, it was hard to fault them.

"Yeah? So?" the Talonflame scoffed. "It's just another Mystery Dungeon, isn't it?"

"You'd be wise not to jump to conclusions so swiftly."

Lacan loomed over the Talonflame with a sharp glare that promptly shut him up after he noticed it. The Dragon-type glanced off to his left, where almost at once, he found just the sign he needed to disabuse the Talonflame of his undue confidence:

There in the brush was a group of trees that had been obviously disturbed by some sort of large creature with dark stains on it and clawed, three-toed footprints leading up to it in the dirt. The Talonflame blinked at the sight, as Lacan narrowed his eyes at him with a sharp huff.

"Go and inspect that damaged foliage there, Gemeinwebel Frantz," the Salamence instructed. "I will accompany you so you can make your argument about how this is 'just another Mystery Dungeon' to my face."

The Talonflame inched forward to inspect the site as Lacan shadowed him, only for the bird to freeze halfway there. He must've noticed the same thing that Lacan could already pick up on his nostrils from the ledge: the scent of blood in the brush. The Fire-type made his way over to the damaged foliage, and at once recoiled with a startled squawk. Clearly whatever Frantz found didn't sit well with him. Lacan thought to press the Talonflame for a report, but opted to defer as Sophia flitted over and shook her head.

"I suppose that you've gathered by now, Gemeinwebel, but Primordial Woods is well-known to be a challenging Mystery Dungeon to pass through even in the best of times. Its Wilders have become more and more agitated in recent years," the Corvisquire explained. "I'm sure that the Graf and I could traverse it if we had to, but even with our armor, I wouldn't be confident that we wouldn't incur casualties were we to search it thoroughly."

"So unless you'd care to volunteer to take the lead, I'd strongly encourage you to be less glib about venturing into it," Lacan added. "After all, I won't be the one struggling to make it through there."

The Talonflame gulped and nodded back overhastily when Lacan turned his head at the sound of crunching brush. The Salamence peered off towards the treeline, where he caught the sight of a haggard-looking Dragonite with a visible cut on his belly being marched along with his claws bound behind his back with a small party led by a Lucario. As they neared, the Lucario kicked the Dragonite's shins to trip him forward and sent him flopping onto his belly in the dirt. A Scolipede from the party came up alongside the captive, throwing some of the Carrier's tattered bags onto the ground before saluting his superior.

"Oberst Lacan, this is the Carrier that was transporting the Dyad and the others," the Lucario said. "What shall we do with him?"

"I say we break those wings of his and then see how well he flies off that ledge here afterwards," the Scolipede huffed. "That bastard and his buddies messed up Zig!"

Lacan growled for silence, before turning his head and frowning at his captive. The Salamence paced over and glared down at the Dragonite, who visibly froze and quivered as he neared. Even if the Carrier had lived to tell the tale, hiss landing hadn't been kind to him, as his orange hide was visibly covered in scrapes and cuts and his right wing was held out stiff and wounded.

It was hard to believe that the pathetic wretch in front of him was of a species spoken of highly for its prowess and strength. Let alone the same one as his departed father. He leaned his head in and after noticing a strange smell, gave a wary sniff, and narrowed his eyes after he recognized it carried a distinctive sweet and spicy odor.

"You certainly have a way of courting trouble, Dragonite. I can smell that Lansat Syrup on your breath," Lacan snarled. "State your full name and purpose."

On the ground, the Dragonite quivered and shrank back, trying to scoot away from the Salamence with a low, frightened whine.

"H-Hermes Dragonirs the Swift," the Dragonite gulped. "Wh-Whatever's going on here, I don't know anything about it! I-I was just trying to run some parcels out to the Capital!"

Lacan narrowed his eyes and turned his head aside with an unimpressed scoff at the Dragonite's explanation.

"Hrmph, I hope your service as a Carrier's better than your ability to tell a convincing lie," the Graf snapped. "If you truly were just trying to deliver your goods, you would have yielded to us after our first warning shot."

Something about the comment seemed to hit a nerve with Hermes. In spite of his bindings, the Dragonite suddenly fought against them, gritting his teeth and glaring with a palpable sense of indignation.

"Warning shot, my ass!" he fumed. "You ambushed me and were trying to shoot me out of the sky from the start-!"

Lacan lowered his head into Hermes' face and let out a low snarl, flashing his fangs with hot, irritated breath. The color abruptly drained from the Dragonite's face along with his defiance as he pinned his antennae back against his head with an audible squeak.

"I- I suppose there's always room for it to have just been a misunderstanding," he gulped.

Pathetic. And from the reactions of the nearby soldiers, Lacan gathered that his subordinates weren't any more impressed than he was. A few of them gave unimpressed scoffs at the quailing Dragonite, while others cut in with churlish voices and threw taunting sneers at the captured Carrier.

"Aren't you a brave one, Fettwanst₃."

"What's the matter, Outlaw? Not so tough when you don't have numbers on your side?"

"Ten Carolins says he craps himself during interrogation."

Lacan silenced the chatter with a low snarl and turned his attention to the Dragonite. He probably wouldn't have taken that bet against Hermes' cowardice himself, but that was fine by him.

After all, in both Varhyde and Edialeigh, his type were always the quickest to run their mouths off about all sorts of topics. Especially when given appropriate motivation.

"Is that also your excuse for aiding and abetting Pokémon committing seditious acts against His Majesty's realm?" the Salamence spat.

Hermes' eyes widened briefly as Lacan threw a foreleg forward and kicked his captive over. The Graf bared his fangs, watching as the Carrier screwed his eyes shut out of fright, and threw his mouth forward at the Dragonite's neck. Lacan felt the fabric of Hermes' scarf brush against his teeth, and for a brief moment, the Dragonite's neck scales.

But there was no need to go that far—not yet, anyways. He still needed this waste of flesh well enough to tell him what he needed. And he hadn't decided yet what he'd do with him afterwards.

Lacan bit down on the hem of Hermes' scarf as the Dragonite let out a sharp squeal. The Salamence briefly heard the wounded drake audibly whimper and felt his scales tremble, before giving a sharp tug at the hem. The sound of tearing fabric rang out as Lacan wrenched the teal and white cloth from the Dragonite's neck and pulled it off in a mangled strip. It took a moment for the Carrier to register he could no longer feel the Salamence's breath against his scales as he let panicked breaths in and out on the ground. Lacan watched Hermes tremble and squirm, when sure enough the Dragonite cracked his eyes open warily to see what Lacan could feel in his mouth.

The teal-and-white colors that had been on his neck just moments prior.

"A-Ack! Wh-What are you doing?!" Hermes yelped. "That's my scarf!"

"Hrmph, aren't you an observant one?" Lacan scoffed. "I noticed that your colors didn't seem quite right."

The Salamence spat the torn cloth into the dirt with a dirty glare. "Perhaps you should ask your Outlaw companions for a matching replacement after you rejoin them."

Lacan's remark drew a moment's hesitation from his Corvisquire companion, before the Graf turned his attention to the Scolipede and Grimmsnarl standing guard over the Dragonite.

"I have no more use for this wretch," he harrumphed. "Push him in with the rest of those Outlaw scum!"

The pair nodded before they hoisted the bulky Dragon-type up by his bindings and began to shove him forward. It was a gamble, but if the Dragonite knew anything about the Dyad or her companions, putting the fear of the gods into him was the fastest way of getting it. And if he clammed up or genuinely didn't know anything… well it'd save him the trouble of having to use an Apricorn to dispose of him.

Lacan watched as the color visibly drained from Hermes' face after seeing the approaching ledge. He fought against his restraints and wrenched his head back, crying out in an audibly panicked tone.

"Y-You can't push me in there like this!" Hermes yelped. "That's Primordial Woods! Those Pokémon inside will tear me up if they think I'm a Wilder!"

Lacan scowled wordlessly after the Dragonite when he heard rustling feathers. He cast a glance from the side of his eye and noticed Sophia seemed to be wavering after hearing the Dragonite's protest. The crow briefly saw him staring at her, before hardening her gaze back at Hermes and shaking her head with an unimpressed scoff.

"You're a Dragonite," she said. "Show a little self-respect."

"I-I used to be on an Exploration Team when I was younger and evolved early from Distortion exposure in the past!" Hermes insisted. "Pl-Please, I'm not really as tough as I look!"

Sophia looked away with a low mutter. "Then you'll have the skills to take care of yourself. I'm sure you'll last until you can be rescued by an Exploration Team."

Lacan briefly cocked a brow, as something about Sophia's voice felt like she was trying to convince herself of her own words. The Scolipede and Grimmsnarl shoved Hermes forward towards the ledge, and he was now but a few paces from pitching over it. The Dragonite tried to dig his feet in, only for his attempts to fight against his guards to come to naught as he drew closer and closer to the plateau's edge and the foggy abyss below. About five paces out, Hermes visibly bowled over and pulled his tail in towards his body and his head into his chest, much like he might've if his stomach had grown upset. And still, he kept begging, his voice beginning to come out audibly hitching and whining.

"Pl-Please! I'm a loyal subject of King Siegmund!" the Dragonite pleaded. "Th-The only reason why I'm not serving in the army like you is because I failed my vision test!"

"Well, that's not my problem, now is it?" Lacan scoffed. "Though I would be more inclined to listen to your groveling if I knew you weren't from among those Outlaws' numbers."

"Th-Those three paid me for a ride out to Toya Square! The Axew with them mentioned she wanted to go to the Divine Roost! I s-swear! Th-That's all I know! Th-That's all I-"

Lacan looked on wordlessly as the Dragonite began to choke back frightened sobs. He watched with a hardened scowl as the Carrier went up to the ledge, when he felt feathers prodding at his leg, and saw Sophia sidling up against him with an uneasy look.

"Graf Wellenhafen, I think he's being earnest," the crow insisted.

The Salamence barked out to the Scolipede and Grimmsnarl to halt. The pair stopped with puzzled frowns, as Lacan turned his head over to his Corvisquire subordinate.

"Sophia, what are you getting at?"

"He did cooperate with us, Graf. And last I heard, Soldat Zig's injuries ultimately weren't life-threatening," Sophia explained. "Aside from this Carrier's possession of contraband, the offenses he committed were a result of being duped."

Lacan said nothing and frowned down at the Corvisquire for a moment. She hesitated briefly, before ruffling her feathers and speaking up.

"I'm aware that our mission is a sensitive matter, but considering this Carrier's substance habit, it would likely raise fewer questions to just let him go," she insisted. "After all, how many Pokémon are going to believe a syrup-drinker if he says he was set upon by soldiers from His Majesty's army?"

Lacan looked back at the still-trembling and sniffling Dragonite, and made his way over. The Grimmsnarl and Scolipede soldier traded glances, when Lacan stamped the ground impatiently. He hadn't decided what to do with his captive just yet, but either way, the march to the ledge had given him what he wanted. Now it was time to settle this wretch's fate with his own claws.

"Turn him around."

Lacan watched as the Scolipede and Grimmsnarl did as ordered and turned the Dragonite to face him. Hermes' eyes were screwed tightly shut and visibly damp, and the Dragon-type was quietly gagging. Lacan had heard that serpentine Pokemon often grew nauseous when frightened, somehow he didn't realize that the whimpering wreck in front of him would be much the same.

The Graf sized up his quivering captive and the foggy abyss below. He turned and noted Sophia looking and hesitated a moment, before he made his mind up.

"Unbind this commoner and send him on his way with what's left of his scarf and his cargo," he growled. "I've gotten what I need from him."

The Scolipede and Grimmsnarl blinked briefly, as Sophia flitted in with a sharp glare, with a set of Hermes' bags in her claws.

"That wasn't a suggestion," she snapped. "You heard Graf Wellenhafen, now heed his orders!"

The soldiers hastily stammered back affirmations as the Grimmsnarl hurriedly undid the knots of the Dragonite's bindings. Hermes slumped forward, trembling on the ground as Sophia threw his bags in front of him.

"The nearest route is about five minutes walking north of here through the forest. You'll surely find it from the paths our more ground-bound members had to tread in order to get to you," Sophia chimed in. "Begone and do make a point of keeping better company in the future, Dragonite."

Lacan watched as Hermes whimpered and nodded back before hastily scooping up his belongings and limping away through the brush. A few of the nearby soldiers floated snide remarks about how unbecoming the Dragonite's display was for a Pokemon of his kind, along with a passing exchange to "pay up those ten Carolins". Somebody had evidently won his bet on the Dragonite keeping some scrap of his dignity. Barely.

Lacan shook his head and nosed at Sophia and motioned for her to follow the plateau's ledge towards the falls in the distance. The pair drifted off from the other soldiers, before Lacan narrowed his eyes with a low harrumph.

He knew that Sophia had had a sense of chivalry drilled into her from her knightly order, but moments like these always worried him…

"Du bist zu nett zu deinem eigenen Besten, Sophia. Dieses Zögern von dir wird eines Tages dein Ende als Ritterin bedeuten." ᴰ²

Hermes wasn't the first Pokémon he'd relented from for the sake of his Corvisquire companion, and Lacan doubted the Dragonite be the last. Sophia had been the first Pokémon there for him since that awful day when he'd had to flee his home, and a stalwart companion in the years since then who'd been at his side during most of his lowest moments. The one he'd passed the Eviolite that King Siegmund had originally gifted him precisely because of a time when he wasn't able to do the same for her.

Perhaps he ought to have been less surprised that he still didn't have the heart to challenge her over it.

Lacan didn't know how much of that Sophia was aware of, but she didn't seem to be thinking about it right then. The Corvisquire turned her head back up to him and hesitated a moment. After a brief pause, she ruffled her feathers uncomfortably and cast a glance past her superior's wings with a shake of her head.

"Lacan, we're still in earshot," she whispered back in protest. "If there was something you wanted to talk about-"

Lacan cut her off with a beat of his wings, which prompted her to bite her tongue. He cast a glance back off at the other soldiers as they settled in and broke off into small groups, before opening his mouth to chide her.

"Aus diesem Grund wurden die restlichen Soldaten dieses Fähnleins aus Alltagsleuten mit schlechten Kenntnissen der Hochsprache gezogen, Sophia. Genau deshalb können wir Gespräche über eine so heikle Mission ohne Angst vor Abhörungen führen."ᴰ³

The roar of the falls' water had grown louder, with a quick glance up ahead revealing they were approaching the edge of the river where the water ran over the falls and into the Mystery Dungeon's fog below. From how loud their roar was, Lacan figured this was probably as good an opportunity as they were going to get to converse openly, and he opted to take it.

"It sounded as if you had something of your own you wished to say, Sophia," he said. "What is it? Though do be mindful if it's something you want the others to also hear."

The Corvisquire raised a wing and opened her beak to answer, only to catch herself. After a brief pause, she shook her head and cast a glance back at the other soldiers behind them in the distance, before speaking up again in a guarded tone.

"Ich … weiß nicht, wie wir diese Situation retten können, Lacan. Diese Ganoven sind jetzt wahrscheinlich tief im Mysteriösen Ort und die Dyade wird in den Klauen dieser Wilden im Inneren sicherlich in Gefahr sein."ᴰ⁴

The Salamence batted his tail and gave a low snort in reply to the Corvisquire, all but rolling his eyes in response. While it was a fair worry, after how much the Dyad had kept exceeding their expectations, he was surprised that Sophia kept thinking of her as some helpless child. The Generalstab₅ wouldn't have pulled out years-old war plans for Operation Spark if that was all she were.

Nor would they have tasked him and Sophia with combing the kingdom for her for the past year or changed their campaign strategies in Edialeigh in preparation for her deployment onto the frontlines over that same time when Varhyde needed every claw it could to press down on her ancient nemesis' throat.

"Oh come now, you don't need to try and disguise a matter like that from prying ears, Sophia," Lacan chided. "It's not exactly a crown secret that exits out of Primordial Woods are fairly well-mapped, so it's just a matter of posting forces where the Dyad and those Outlaws would pass nearby to intercept them."

The Salamence looked out over the expanse below the fog, and motioned with a foreleg off at rolling plains near a large lake in the distance.

"We'd do well to review what other Mystery Dungeons link to this one and try and dispatch units there as well. Or at least send notice to any local garrisons to be on the lookout for the Dyad and her companions," he mused. "I know offhand that Raptor Rock is one of them, and it has exits that open up not far from Newangle City."

Lacan's expression hardened as he remained firmly fixed out at the dungeon fog at the base of the falls, letting out a low growl from the back of his throat. The Corvisquire's worry didn't shift much, and it was honestly hard to fault her. They had already run their forces and themselves hard just to make it to this ambush and were waiting on a good three quarters of their Fähnlein to catch up from Moonturn Square. If they pushed on immediately without rest and making contact with the rest of their forces, they ran the risk of whatever forces they could marshal out towards search areas further afield would arrive exhausted and overstretched.

"We'll be cutting it close," he murmured. "If they have a run of good luck, they could be in an entirely different Provinz₆ by the morning."

Except, that wasn't the matter that worried him the most about their current circumstances. No, that had to do with the Dyad's present state. Something that he supposed had to be addressed sooner or later…

"Was Angelegenheiten betrifft, die zwischen uns sollten, zeigte die Dyade kurz vor ihrer Flucht Anzeichen eines Wiedererwachens. Bei so viel Kummer, den sie uns bereitet, sollten wir davon ausgehen, dass sie stark genug geworden ist, um durch den Großurwald in Sicherheit zu gelangen."ᴰ⁵

Sophia gave a concerned tilt of her head back, and after a brief moment of cawing hesitation, spoke up warily in reply.

"Kann man überhaupt davon ausgehen, dass sie immer noch eine Dyade sein wird, wenn sie am anderen Ende auftaucht? Wenn sie wieder erwachte, bevor sie an die Frontlinie gebracht werden kann…"ᴰ⁶

Lacan stiffened up and turned back from the view off in the distance. Time had been ticking against them since when they first came across the Dyad in that riverside hamlet they initially found her in. Likely for much longer than that. And if that time ran out before she could be moved in place as part of Operation Spark…

No. There was no point in worrying about such dark possibilities. Things weren't that dire. Not yet, anyways. From the state the Dyad was in at the time they caught her, they could at least take that for granted right now.

"Zu der Zeit, als wir sie verloren haben, war nicht bekannt, dass sie ihre ganze Macht offenbarte. Ich möchte nicht annehmen, dass wir einen großen Spielraum für Fehler haben, aber die Situation ist noch nicht so kritisch, dass dies Anlass zur Sorge geben würde."ᴰ⁷

The Dragon-type said nothing for a moment, as a cruel, knowing smile spread over his mouth.

"Besides, I assume she'll have more immediate worries on her mind once she makes it back to the outside world. She'll likely be looking for someplace to patch up what's left of her new friends. It'll help us narrow down our search area considerably."



Creeeaaak!

Dalton flinched after hearing the earthen stairs seal behind him. They climbed upwards between floors in this Mystery Dungeon, into rock ledges and mats of vegetation that formed ceilings, not that the misty sky ringed by stone outcroppings in the impossible distance above would've made one think that at first.

It'd been three floors since they first entered this place, two of them fortunately having gone by quickly from finding the stairs in short order, the first of which they'd found had quite fortuitously taken them into a chamber with another set of stairs at the other end. Their current floor had been less fortunate, and they'd been combing along paths in thickets and undergrowth long enough that Lyle was beginning to grow increasingly paranoid over anything that sounded like it might be Dungeon Winds.

"Wait a minute, are those ruins? Just what sort of dungeon did we jump into that'd have those?"

Dalton blinked and watched as Lyle stepped forward warily, crouched low and sniffing at the ground. A little ways forward, Dalton noticed Lyle come across something like hard stone underfoot, and stepped onto it with his teammates and found that it felt much the same. A quick glance at the pits and cracks at the slab they were on gave away its composition—concrete.

After scanning their surroundings, they realized they were in the remains of some sort of chamber. One of them had a faded, red sigil that looked like two comets swirling in on each other nestled among the jungle's overgrowth, making the Heliolisk stop with a startled blink.

"What in the-? What's that doing here?" he asked.

Irune looked back at Dalton, before giving a puzzled tilt of her head.

"Huh? Is there something wrong, Dalton?"

The sigil was one that some human relics and ruins in Varhyde sported, including on some of the tallest ruins still standing in Newangle City. It was the sigil of a mysterious human institution predating the Great Flash called 'Vector Ah-ghee'. Dalton remembered from his studies back in better times of his life that all the Kingdom's historians couldn't agree what on earth it even was, and all manner of competing theories as to what purpose it served for humans had cropped up: a royal house, a merchant guild, an institute of learning. Only a few things were definitively known about it, among them that the founding King of Varhyde apparently had some sort of tie with it.

But a Mystery Dungeon with human ruins inside near Toya Square? He'd only heard about it in stories from some of his fellows from the Riparian Raiders, but… surely they didn't have the misfortune to wander into there

Dalton looked down and noticed that near the edge of the concrete, there was a footprint with three prominent claws stamped down into it. He froze and grimaced. That left no confusion as to where they were.

"I… know where we are right now," Dalton said. "We're in Primordial Woods."

"Primordial Woods?" Irune asked, tilting her head puzzledly.

"It's a Mystery Dungeon that formed around a set of human ruins that have since become overgrown. According to legend, it used to be a place where humans brought dead Pokemon back to life," the Heliolisk explained. "Nobody knows how true those stories are, but the place is full of Pokémon that are rarely encountered as Wilders elsewhere in Varhyde."

A low scoff followed almost immediately after Dalton's explanation. A quick glance to his right revealed the culprit was Kate, who was in the middle of rolling her eyes and blowing a puff of frigid breath up at her ear feather.

"I think we could've done without the folklore lesson there, Scales. And I haven't heard a whole lot about why we're supposed to treat this place any different than another Mystery Dungeon," she harrumphed. "Go through, give the occasional Wilder a scare, and duck out the exit once we find it. Crappy weather and weird 'mons aside, how's this any different from going through a place like Waterhead Cave?"

"Stick around and find out, Invader scum!"

Dalton and his teammates froze as they heard a sharp snarl. Kate turned her head and her eyes instantly shrank to pins at the sight of something off in the distance. Dalton followed her gaze and immediately felt his blood run cold as the ground trembled underfoot. There, a hulking red beast with white feathers about its neck sprang out from the brush with a mob of other Pokémon all around the chamber. Strange Pokémon that he'd only run into as Civils in towns or on roads between them: a Tyrantrum, a trio of Tyrunt, an Aurorus, an Archen, a Cranidos…

If the stories he'd heard about this place were anything to go by, Dalton was sure he was going to wish things had stayed that way. The Tyrantrum from their number stepped forward, giving a low snarl as she rounded onto the four Outlaws.

"We don't take kindly to your type around here," the Rock-type growled. "So it's about time we got it through those thick heads of yours!"

They'd blundered into a Wilders' ambush. What did Hunters call these things again? Monster-Räume₇? Monster Houses? Whatever the term, it was all the same: a swarm of angry Wilders itching for a fight. Just like the ones in front of them, because of course they would run into one in a place like this.

"As I was going to say," Dalton piped. "Primorial Woods is also infamous for being a treacherous place to travel through! One where Civils that pass through it are commonly attacked!"

"So you've heard of this place," one of the Tyrunt snarled. "Then let us teach you to listen to your warnings!"

The Tyrunt lunged at Irune, only for Kate to cut in with a sideways chop of her claws. The Sneasel's Brick Break struck the Tyrunt in the side of her head and launched her back, sending the Wilder flopping onto the ground with a low, pained whimper as she weakly twitched her limbs.

"Get them!"

Any hopes that the Tyrunt's defeat would cow the other Wilders swiftly died as the Tyrantrum charged in with jaws bared. Dalton hurriedly threw a bolt of electricity at the Rock-type and scampered back, seeing his teammates doing much the same as the other Wilders charged them snarling and throwing attacks forward. A yelp from his right turned his attention to Lyle hurriedly rolling out of the way just as a Cranidos charged in with his head lowered. The Quilava hastily spat up a Will-O-Wisp and turned and bolted after his teammates as startled fire poured out his vents.

"Gah! K-Keep your guard up!" Lyle cried. "We're gonna need to dig in at a better place than this!"

Dalton hurriedly scanned his surroundings: undergrowth, concrete walls, tree trunks, when his eyes noticed a path sprouting off towards the left between a gap of ruined concrete segments. It wasn't as foolproof as hunkering down between cavern walls like in Waterhead Cave, but…

"Over there on the left!" the Heliolisk cried. "We can use the mouth of that path as a choke point!"

"Dalton! Look out!"

Dalton blinked after hearing Irune cry out and yelped as he suddenly felt something lift him by his bag. He felt hot breath against his scales, then looked up and screamed. There right above him, was the Tyrantrum sinking her teeth into his bag, her teeth just barely missing his scales.

Dalton reflexively threw his frill wide in a hail of sparks and a deafening crackle. The attack worked well enough, as the Tyrantrum let him go with a startled shout along with other cries filling the clearing and left him to tumble to the ground in a panting daze alongside a mix of items and coins that had spilled from his bag.

The Heliolisk blindly scrabbled to his feet. As he regained his bearings, he saw his Discharge had left an Archen and a Kabuto slumped over limply, and that the Tyrantrum herself was reeling with a pained whine about "he's not supposed to hit that hard".

Before the Electric-type could say anything, he watched as Kate blew an Icy Wind at some of the other Wilders in the group. Irune was also there, darting in and swiftly scooping a blue object off the ground that she flung at the Tyrantrum.

The object struck the dinosaur's snout with an audible pop and then she vanished in a flash of light. A Warp Seed? Perhaps those Hunters they ripped off weren't as poorly equipped as he originally thought.

"Dalton! Help us out here!"

Dalton stumbled up after a sharp tug from Irune, before she took off after Kate for the path's entrance. Just behind him, a bellowing roar turned Dalton's attention over to Lyle pinwheeling through the air after being hit by a spray of rocks from an Aurorus. The Quilava hit the ground and yelped in pain, Dalton narrowing his eyes as he ran at harrying Wilder.

"Oh no you don't!"

Dalton stomped the ground and sent a shockwave along its surface that churned the earth around the towering Rock-type, who recoiled with a pained bellow. From the ground, Lyle hurriedly righted himself and threw himself forward with a fiery somersault square into the sauropod's chest. The Aurorus jolted up with a pained scream, before wavering and flopping over onto his side with a dazed groan.

Dalton supposed the stories about evolved Wilders in Mystery Dungeons sometimes evolving unnaturally early really were true. He'd certainly have expected an Aurorus to put up more of a fight than that.

"You! I'll chew your tusks when I'm done with you!"

A sharp snarl turned the pair's attention over towards a blue Tyrunt pouncing on Irune and snapping at her, with a Shieldon and an Amaura running in seemingly to aid their fellow Wilder. Irune dug her feet into the dirt, trashing her head wildly as Lyle's eyes shot wide.

"Get off of her, you little runt!"

Lyle spat up a spray of cinders at the blue Tyrunt's back, which stunned him briefly. Long enough for Irune to force him off with a pair of chopping slashes with her tusks. Dalton began to build up electricity to dispatch the lot of Irune's attackers when the Tyrunt of the group got up with a low growl.

"Hrmph, have fun fighting these Invaders on your own, sharptooth!"

"Yeah! Go take it up with your leader that just got warped away!

Except this time, the Shieldon and Amaura didn't come back to his aid, and blew raspberries before darting away. The Tyrunt glanced over his shoulder and flopped his jaw open as the pair fled, his earlier confidence abruptly vanishing.

"H-Huh?! Hey what the-?!" the Tyrunt yelped. "You two are supposed to be helping me-!"

Dalton didn't wait for the Tyrunt to finish his words and threw a Thunderbolt at him that made the Rock-type thrash and squeal in pain. The dinosaur keeled over with a low whimper, struggling to get up when a blue gout of dragonfire sailed in and struck him in the face. The Tyrunt crumpled up limply, as Irune panted and narrowed her eyes back at her Heliolisk and Quilava teammates.

"I-I was handling myself fine, you know!" she insisted.

"Well excuse me for assuming his buddies weren't going to run off!" Lyle snapped back.

A pained howl rang out from the opposite end of the path's entrance, the three looking over to see a third Tyrunt staggering and flopping over wreathed in frost. There, Kate was braced for battle, turning her attention to a nearby Tirtouga and Archen, but as soon as the pair saw the Tyrunt hit the ground, they looked back at their comrades deeper in the chamber.

It was then that Dalton saw it. The rest of the Wilders were turning and fleeing. There was a brief moment of hesitation, when the Tirtouga and Archen's will to fight seemingly evaporated in front of Team Forager's eyes as the pair backed off and shot dirty glares at the fainted Tyrunt.

"H-Have fun dealing with those Invaders, jerks!" the Archen spat. "We're out of here!"

"Yeah, serves you sharptooths right!" the Tirtouga huffed.

The Archen and Tirtouga hastily darted off, joined by the Shieldon and Amaura, and then the rest of the still-standing Wilders. Team Forager looked on blankly at the emptied chamber and the seven fainted Pokemon littering it.

The Wilders that organized Monster Houses were supposed to generally be more aggressive types. They'd fought their way through less than half of their ranks, without properly defeating their ringleader and here the rest of them had just abruptly given up and turned tail!

"What on earth?" Lyle murmured.

"Tch, so they scare easily once the tough guys among them get taken out," Kate said, shaking her head with a dismissive snort. "Figures."

Dalton looked about the fainted Pokemon, and noted that of them, three were Tyrunt and the Tyrantrum they assumed was their ringleader was currently gods-knew-where on the floor from the Warp Seed.

Why, the way that the fleeing Wilders had behaved at the corridor entrance felt… familiar. Uncomfortably so. It almost reminded Dalton of stories he'd heard of mutinous conscripts turning tail after seeing their superiors fall in combat.

"I don't think that's it, Kate," he insisted. "It's almost as if they… abandoned them."

Dalton and his teammates shuffled uncomfortably for a moment, before they turned to move along. Whatever was going on was a problem for those Wilders to figure out amongst themselves, and not for them to get tangled up in. Not while that Tyrantrum was still out there prowling the floor. The Heliolisk turned at the head of the group and began to make his way for the left corridor with his fellows, when pattering footsteps and a wary voice reached their ears.

"Uh… H-Hi?"

Dalton and the rest of Team Forager whirled around, just in time to see the Cranidos from the Monster House darting at them. Dalton braced himself alongside his teammates, the Heliolisk stepping forward as electricity crackled on his hide.

"Gah! Looks like our battle isn't over!"

And then much to Dalton's surprise, the Cranidos' eyes shot wide as the Rock-type jumped back with a startled yelp. Dalton blinked a moment as he watched the dinosaur shrink back, doing his best to make himself look small as he stammered out a hasty explanation.

"A-Ack! It's not like that at all!" the Cranidos yelped. "It's just that… you're scarf-wearers and you're supposed to take Pokémon that want to come with you, right?"

Dalton eased up as the sparks on his hide dissipated and looked over at his teammates to see them trading wary glances with one another. None of them were quite sure what to make of the Cranidos' words, when Dalton spotted a brief flash of realization coming over Lyle's face. The stoat took a brief moment to shake his head, before narrowing his eyes and pinning his ears back with a sharp scoff.

"Are you asking us to recruit you?" the Quilava pressed. "You sure have a funny way of showing interest from the way you tried to jump us with your buddies a couple moments ago!"

"W-Well you can't expect me to just join someone who isn't strong enough to look out for me!" Cranidos shot back, lowering his head with a defensive huff. "The world's big and dangerous, so of course I want to go along with someone tough who will have my back!"

Dalton frowned, but he supposed it was a hard point to argue from a Wilder's perspective. After all, losing a battle as a Wilder often had consequences as dire as falling on a battlefield, if not moreso. Perhaps it'd also explain why the Cranidos was so on-edge. The dinosaur glanced about his surroundings nervously, before turning back to Team Forager's members with an uneasy fidget of his claws.

"Look, the point is, I… I want to get away from here, and you don't really seem to know how to get around, so we'd be able to help each other," the Cranidos explained. "So then… if I help show you the way out, can I be a part of your team?"

Dalton traded glances with Lyle and Kate at the Cranidos' offer as they weighed the Rock-type's proposal. He… wasn't sure how he felt about the idea, really. The Cranidos looked young, enough so that were he a Civil, Dalton wasn't sure the army would even accept him into a Tross as a camp follower. Was it really a good idea to get someone like him sucked up into their problems?

… At the same time, the Cranidos clearly had problems of his own, and they were in a unique position to help each other. Not to mention, they couldn't make it to the Divine Roost if they didn't make it out of Primordial Woods in one piece in the first place.

Dalton hemmed and hawed to himself briefly and was about to open his mouth to speak just as a small smile crossed Kate's muzzle and she folded her arms in reply.

"Heh, I don't see anything wrong with it," she chuckled. "We've already got one ankle-biter on our team. What's the harm in having another that hits like a charging Rhyhorn?"

Dalton wasn't sure how he felt that he was agreeing with the loose cannon of his team and he probably ought to have been more worried about it. He wasn't sure how he felt about the idea of having to introduce a Wilder to civilization, but the four of them weren't exactly super welcome to it themselves anyways…

"Having a guide would help us here considering this is Primordial Woods," he mused to himself. "What do you think, Lyle?"

Dalton watched as Lyle sized up the Cranidos and hesitated for a moment. Lyle seemed to visibly waver briefly, before he pawed at the back of his head with a small smile.

"Well… I guess it would help if we had another set of paws on the team-" the Fire-type started, only to be cut off by a sharp growl.

"Where is the closest exit from here?"

Dalton turned his eyes downward alongside Lyle and Kate just in time to see Irune stomping forward. She stormed ahead, encroaching on the Cranidos with a sharp scowl that made the Rock-type visibly squirm and shrink back uneasily.

"H-Huh?"

"The fastest way out of here," the Axew demanded. "Where is it?"

… What on earth was she doing? The Cranidos was all but ready to join them and now Irune was deciding she didn't trust him? A flash of alarm came over the dinosaur's face as he seemed to suspect that his chance for coming along was slipping away, as he began to uneasily stammer in reply.

"I-I mean, th-there's a passage ten floors up that links to another place like this beyond the mist," he explained. "But there's better places to- Agh!"

And then the clearing came alive with a flash of blue light as Irune spat up a gout of dragonfire at the Cranidos, striking him in his right arm. Dalton and his teammates' jaws dropped at the sight, the Cranidos doing much the same as he recoiled with a loud yelp and shrank back wide-eyed as the Axew rounded on him with a sharp snarl.

"Good. Now turn around and leave!" she shouted. "This team isn't capable of doing anything for you, and the quicker you get that through your head, the better!"

That was enough from her, really. Dalton hurried over and sharply pulled the Axew back, but it was too late. The Cranidos scrabbled out of the chamber as fast as his legs could carry him, leaving Kate to run after waving after the fleeing Rock-type.

"Wait! Come back!"

Kate stared blankly after the Wilder as he disappeared into the brush. Lyle approached Irune with his vents visibly smoldering in frustration and Kate looked little better when she turned around. For a second, Dalton raised his voice to try and urge the pair to calm down, but Kate was already upon Irune, latching onto the Axew's scarf and hoisting her off the ground wide-eyed.

"What is your problem, you little brat?!" the Sneasel hissed. "We had a guide get us out of this miserable hole!"

Dalton honestly couldn't say he wasn't wondering the same that himself at that moment. The Axew looked down at Kate's claws near her neck and her mouth briefly flopped open with a start. She fought back a stammer, as her eyes narrowed and her voice came out thick with angry defiance.

"A-And after that, then what?! Were you seriously planning on dragging a young 'mon like that along all the way across Varhyde?!" Irune demanded.

Kate tightened her grip and bared her fangs in reply, her red eyes glaring daggers into the Dragon-type in her grasp.

"And so what if we were?!" he spat. "We could've looked out for each other since we would've had another teammate!"

"You mean another Pokémon you can use as a distraction and abandon once the going gets tough like you did with the rest of your friends?!" Irune retorted. "Some teammate that is!"

Kate's expression faltered for a moment, as Dalton grit his teeth as sparks began to dance on his hide. Artem… and everyone else from the Riparian Raiders a distraction? When he was the one who wanted to hold out for them? How dare she?

The Heliolisk made his way over, only for Lyle to cut in with a swift dash and knock Irune out of Kate's claws. The Axew fell to the ground with a quiet yelp, as the Quilava stood between her and his teammates with his vents blazing, shooting a sharp glare between his fellow Outlaws.

"Alright, that's enough! All of you!" Lyle barked. "I'd like to remind everyone that we still need her to make it to the Divine Roost."

… Lyle was right, even if the shrine seemed no closer now in their present situation. Dalton backed off with a begrudging growl, as the Quilava turned his attention over at the Axew and leveled a piercing glare at her.

"And you've already caused enough trouble for one day," the Fire-type snapped. "Do you have anything else you want to get out? At this rate, we'll be lucky to make it off this floor with you blowing things up on us like that!"

Irune faltered and stared back up into the Quilava's eyes. She shook her head briefly, and after digging her feet into the dirt, grit her teeth and spat back in reply.

"Y-Yes, I do! It's called 'stop being such repulsive leeches and think about something other than your next payday for once'!" the Axew shouted. "You were ready to put a 'mon who was blindly looking for a way to leave this place into danger just so that way you could find your way out faster!"

… The story with the Balance Bandits was all some stupid act, wasn't it? Even if becoming an Outlaw himself had been a jarring experience at first, Dalton would never speak of his comrades-in-arms like that. Dalton snapped to attention from a sharp huff as Irune stomped down the leftward corridor, turning a disgusted glare back at him and his fellows.

"A-At least try to give me a reason to not have to look over my shoulder all the way out to the Divine Roost!" she snapped.

Dalton shot a venomous scowl after the Axew as she continued down the passage. What the hell would she know about what he'd been through? About the years he'd spent trying to get back some of what those damned Grünhäuter had taken from him and his family when there were no other options left?

Dalton's turned his head at the sound of a sharp, unimpressed hiss. After a quick glance to his side, he saw Kate glaring daggers after the Dragon-type before turning to him with a low mutter.

"Hrmph, was she ever an Outlaw to begin with?" she harrumphed. "Or has she been lying to us this entire time?"

… She couldn't have lied about everything. She'd done something to get the army to pursue her. But it didn't make sense to get to the bottom of that right here and now. Especially when it didn't sound like Irune particularly wanted their help.

"I don't know why she even bothered asking to work with us with an attitude like that," Dalton huffed. "Perhaps we're better off just letting her walk and taking our chances getting to the Divine Roost on our own."

"No."

Dalton blinked as he turned with Kate to see Lyle pacing forward and shaking his head insistently. The Quilava stared after the Axew drifting off and let out a grumbling sigh.

"I don't like it either, but we don't have any other options right now. She knows what's out there in the Divine Roost better than any of us," the Quilava said.

There was a moment of silence, as Lyle closed his eyes and shook his head with a low sigh.

"Whatever's going on between her and the army, we've seen too much for them to just let it go," the Quilava said. "We go along with her, get our share, and go our separate ways. Until then, just try and ignore her when she runs her mouth off like that."

Dalton heard a low growl and froze after he felt trembling footsteps. He and his teammates peeked around the cormer and turned their attention back to the far end of the chamber where they glimpsed the Tyrantrum from earlier returning into the clearing.

"Oi! You all just let yourself get wiped by those Invaders?! Get up!"

Dalton grimaced before looking around the rest of the chamber. The other Wilders from the Monster House were groaning and already starting to regain lucidity—as good a sign as any that it was time to leave.

"Not to be a nag, but we should get out of here. Now," Dalton said. "I don't exactly feel like fighting them all those Wilders off a second time."

"Hrmph, music to my ears," Kate grumbled. "Besides, even if I'm not thrilled about it, it wouldn't do any good to lose our little treasure guide in the middle of a Mystery Dungeon like this one."

One by one, Dalton and his fellow Outlaws hurriedly ducked down the corridor after their Axew counterpart. All the while, as the jungle and the ancient ruins flecking it drifted past around him, Dalton couldn't help but bristle at Irune's earlier tirade. He had endured all manner of abuse and invective hurled his way as an Outlaw, but something about the Axew's tone sounded almost like an angered parent.

His parents had never learned about his present… employment, and with how long ago since he'd heard from them at all, he wondered if they were still around to judge him. Even so, he'd spent many a night quietly terrified about what they'd think if they ever found out. That their remaining son they'd invested their hopes in was now some bandit prowling the hinterlands.

The Electric-type drifted in his thoughts for a moment, before shaking his head sharply. It was probably just idle yearnings that the past could've been different rearing their head again. After all, what would Irune know of any of that? And he and the others had more immediate things to worry about at hand.

Like not getting torn apart by this strange, primeval world all about them.



Author's Notes

Words and Phrases:

1. Rakete - "Rocket", "Missile"
2. Sucher - "Finder", "Seeker". Most commonly used in modern German for camera viewfinders.
3. Fettwanst - "Fatass", "Lardo". lit. "fat paunch/belly"
4. Soldat - Rank in contemporary Germanosphere armies equivalent to "Private", lit. "Soldier"
5. Generalstab - "General Staff"
6. Provinz - "Province"
7. Monster-Räume - German localization term for "Monster Houses", lit. "Monster Rooms / Spaces"

Dialogue:

D1. "So nah und doch so fern…" - "So close and yet so far…"
D2. "Du bist zu nett zu deinem eigenen Besten, Sophia. Dieses Zögern von dir wird eines Tages dein Ende als Ritterin bedeuten." - "You're too kind for your own good, Sophia. That hesitance of yours will be the end of you as a Ritterin one day."
D3. "Aus diesem Grund wurden die restlichen Soldaten dieses Fähnleins aus Alltagsleuten mit schlechten Kenntnissen der Hochsprache gezogen, Sophia. Genau deshalb könnten wir Gespräche über eine so heikle Mission ohne Angst vor Abhörungen führen." - "Which is why the rest of this Fähnlein's soldiers were drawn from commoners with poor grasp of Hightongue, Sophia. Precisely so we could have conversations regarding a mission this sensitive without fear of eavesdropping."
D4. "Ich … weiß nicht, wie wir diese Situation retten können, Lacan. Diese Ganoven sind jetzt wahrscheinlich tief im Mysteriösen Ort und die Dyade wird in den Klauen dieser Wilden im Inneren sicherlich in Gefahr sein." - "I… just don't know how we can salvage this situation, Lacan. Those Outlaws are likely deep within the dungeon by now and the Dyad will surely be in danger in the clutches of those Wilders inside."
D5. "Was Angelegenheiten betrifft, die zwischen uns sollten, zeigte die Dyade kurz vor ihrer Flucht Anzeichen eines Wiedererwachens. Bei so viel Kummer, den sie uns bereitet, sollten wir davon ausgehen, dass sie stark genug geworden ist, um durch den Großurwald und in Sicherheit zu gelangen." - "As for matters that should remain between us, the Dyad was exhibiting signs of reawakening soon prior to her escape. With how much grief she's given us, we should anticipate that she's become strong enough to make it through Primordial Woods to safety."
D6. "Kann man überhaupt davon ausgehen, dass sie immer noch eine Dyade sein wird, wenn sie am anderen Ende auftaucht? Wenn sie wieder erwachte, bevor sie an die Frontlinie gebracht werden kann…" - "Is it even safe to assume that she will still be a Dyad when she emerges from the other end? If she reawakened before she could be moved into place onto the front lines…"
D7. "Zu der Zeit, als wir sie verloren haben, war nicht bekannt, dass sie ihre ganze Macht offenbarte. Ich möchte nicht annehmen, dass wir einen großen Spielraum für Fehler haben, aber die Situation ist noch nicht so kritisch, dass dies Anlass zur Sorge geben würde." - "She was not known to manifest her full range of power at the time we lost her. I don't mean to presume that we have a large margin for error, but things have not yet reached as critical a situation for that to be a concern."

Teaser Text:

Our world is one that even centuries after the absence of humans, continues to be characterized by the imprints left behind. Their surviving works litter the surface of Wander, and so too its Mystery Dungeons. Among them, Primordial Woodsᵃ stands unique among its counterparts in the land of Varhyde.

While most Mystery Dungeons that have absorbed human ruins may produce chunks of bygone buildings and structures amongst their floors, the Wilders that dwell in and among the warming effects of this place are said to have been first brought to these ruins by human intervention. Some say that the ruins there swallowed up by the Distortion were a place where the ancestors of those that dwell there in the present day were brought back from the grave.

Whatever the truth behind such stories, an Explorer in Primordial Woods must exercise great caution. It is a place with tales from myth-shrouded ages alleging that the forebears of the Pokémon that presently dwell there crippled armies that attempted to make passage through it. After seeing the Wilders that call this jungle home, one could be forgiven for taking such stories at face value. The Pokémon of this place are ancient creatures that grow strong and to towering heights with fierce dispositions, especially when their internal rhythms become unsettled.

If the humans that created this place really did bring such creatures to life, one can only imagine that whatever their motivations in the past, that they would fall silent after seeing the maze of dangers and terrors that it became.

- Excerpt from 'The Explorer's Handbook to Mystery Dungeons'

a. This name is flatly different from the one given in Hightongue. A more proper translation would be "Great Jungle" or "Great Primeval Forest".
 

Torchic W. Pip

~ Utterly glorious ~
Location
Sootopolis City
Pronouns
they/he
Partners
  1. torchic
  2. custom/torchic-blue
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:
Torchic then proceeded to read through the whole glossary before reading even the first chapter.

I must resist the urge to use this fic as a German class, because I'm already in a German class. Anyway, onto the story.

Prologue
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.
This is a very small thing, but I really like the imagery here, especially the orange/blue contrast. Like,,,,, that’s the best complementary color scheme, imo. Something about it just works so well.
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.
I think this is a sentence fragment? Like the “As” makes it a dependent clause, but there doesn’t seem to be an independent clause before the period.
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.
Seventy years????? :wowzard:
… Perhaps he should be thankful he even had this much.
Perhaps he should just give in and take from it.
I think it should be “should have”? Maybe. “Should” sounds present tense-y and “should have” is more past tense-y.
"I'm a soldier and here you arego giving me the third degree like a common Outlaw!"
Arego? Typo maybe
"Including your old buddy, Alvin."
Alvin
ALVINNNNNNNNN
View: https://youtu.be/OxD6mmJaYqk

Dumb question maybe but does Foehn rhyme with own or Hoenn.

The setup for this story is really strong. We have a former Outlaw caught in financial distress with the backdrop of a useless war. This isn’t a plot-useless it’s more a “Torchic is anti war” useless coupled with a “this war is making things worse for everyone” useless. And then an old friend from Lyle’s past offers one last hurrah in his past life (or more maybe?) I’m excited to see how this heist plays out.

There were a few moments where I tripped on the prose, but it was mostly very atmospheric and set the tone and built the world really well. Your characterization is also very strong. Every character is a stand out to me.

I shall slowly but surely read through this. Just you wait.
 

BestLizard

Bug Catcher
Pronouns
He/Him
Helllooooooooo I thought I'd do my next chapter review on Thousand Roads for a change :). I'm reviewing chapter 3, Collision.

Putting my review in spoilers just in case.

The first thing I noticed coming back is just how distracting all the German words were. I may not have grilled you hard enough about the whole thing :X.

I think you're intending the German words to give a bit of immersion to the world. But language makes worlds more immersive because they show how the inhabitants view the world or various topics. There is no immersion to be gained when the German words are just 1-to-1 of English words with no context added. Some words do this - the word for November and corpse gatherer thing, for example - but most don't. And needing to either skip over the word or skip to the bottom on some platforms (I read this on FFN) shatter flowing and pacing in a way other narratives could accomplish, given the audience has to LITERALLY pull themselves out of the reading.

The best solution may be to trim down how many German words you feature to the only ones that need an explanation (or be more inventive about what expressions the world uses for things), and then shift the meaning of the words into the narrative itself. You'd have to be delicate with rewording to keep tone and pacing and make it relevant to the prose and if it's not possible, then it means the German word has zero purpose and should be replaced with English. After all, it's breaking the flow to read the explanation as a footnote as it is now.

And Axew referring to herself as "Axew" and then her German name made no sense and really shattered my suspense of disbelief. I thought they'd been speaking German the entire time.

If it was a book maybe you can get away with footnote annotations but we can't flick our eyes to the bottom of a page.

I hope you forgive the grilling, I'm doing this because I'm your friend! Gonna talk about the chapter itself now.

I think you have a good sense of plot and structure. I find a lot of PMD fan fiction get distracted from the big picture, and by most chapter 3-5 or so, I start wondering if there actually is a story other than the protagonist getting adjusted to the Pokemon world/guild life. Prologue, bam, the problem the protagonist needs to solve. Then stuff happens. It leads right into this chapter where I feel like there's a lot of potential to explore but a clear sense that there is something bigger going on and Lyle is involved in it. Seriously, you got a story in your story, I'm so grateful.

This is something I noticed in previous chapters and should have mentioned earlier but I'll say it now. I feel like you're writing the side characters (and even some main characters) to fit an archetypical notion of "outlaws". They're sounding tough and cool but I find their actions don't make sense because of it. As a specific example, someone teased Irune with her bag, saying "we don't trust you yet". If they were a threat, it wouldn't make sense to keep her bag from her - she should be threatening her life instead. Anyways, Irune talked. Everybody believes she's lying, yet the Pokemon gives her bag back, despite her kinda inadvertedly showing she's untrustworthy?!?

I also find this goes for dialogue. I feel like a lot of Pokemon are trying to speak as thieves and hardened outlaws and not as individuals. I don't have any proof though :X

I'm also kinda surprised they were pretty alarmed by the Togedamaru kidnapping because that brought a lot of heat. Given how you set up your world, I'm surprised that people in power value their lives more than the treasure itself. Not that this is really an issue though ;)

Also, the Anvil scene was pretty good. Enough of him was set up that it'd be a bit heartbreaking that he was left behind, and it makes sense to give a sense of Lyle being in all-new danger due to the Axew and whatever conspiracy is behind her. That being said, so much happened in the chapter that the scene felt dragged out and it was hard to stay immersed in the emotion. There was a point where I stopped - around where it mentioned Lyle's throat lump - and wondered "how does so much stuff happen in the time Arvil gets left behind". So much detail and specific events and character interactions got described that it all got blurry to me. After all, the chapter is 9k words long and only describes a feast and a raid. I think the story would benefit from less is more: streamlining the actual events so less is actually needed to be said so what is said is having more of a punch and impression.

Lastly, I have a guilty pleasure for dark stories, and I think this story is satisfying that. Salamence biting down on the Staraptor's wing was awesome!
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
Heya, been a bit of a busy Thanksgiving, but I figured my downtime was as good a time as any to bump this story.

@Torchic W. Pip
Torchic then proceeded to read through the whole glossary before reading even the first chapter.

I must resist the urge to use this fic as a German class, because I'm already in a German class. Anyway, onto the story.

Well, I don't know if it'll cover that much German to be an effective surrogate for a class, but I did make a point of working with a L1 speaker to make sure that the German content was as well-formed and natural as possible.

Prologue

This is a very small thing, but I really like the imagery here, especially the orange/blue contrast. Like,,,,, that’s the best complementary color scheme, imo. Something about it just works so well.

Well hey, if I'm making such a strong impression off the bat, I must be doing something right. :V

I think this is a sentence fragment? Like the “As” makes it a dependent clause, but there doesn’t seem to be an independent clause before the period.

Dropped the leading 'as' there, thanks for the heads-up.

Seventy years????? :wowzard:

Yeah, it's very deliberately meant to be for a length of time long enough that Pokémon would start getting hazy memory-wise over how on earth this all started. If I make any retcons for the background war's timeframe at some point, it's gonna be to add years to its duration.

I think it should be “should have”? Maybe. “Should” sounds present tense-y and “should have” is more past tense-y.

That makes sense for the first spot you highlighted. I did an alternative workaround for the second, though.

Arego? Typo maybe

Yeeeeeah, that's me not cleaning up some notes properly. That should just be "are", should be fixed now.

Alvin
ALVINNNNNNNNN

You're actually not the first to make that joke, but I admittedly chose Alvin's name more with its semantic meaning in mind. Make what you will of that.

Dumb question maybe but does Foehn rhyme with own or Hoenn.

Neither of the two, actually. It sounds like "feign".

The setup for this story is really strong. We have a former Outlaw caught in financial distress with the backdrop of a useless war. This isn’t a plot-useless it’s more a “Torchic is anti war” useless coupled with a “this war is making things worse for everyone” useless. And then an old friend from Lyle’s past offers one last hurrah in his past life (or more maybe?) I’m excited to see how this heist plays out.

There were a few moments where I tripped on the prose, but it was mostly very atmospheric and set the tone and built the world really well. Your characterization is also very strong. Every character is a stand out to me.

I shall slowly but surely read through this. Just you wait.

Well I'm glad to hear that the Prologue was such a hit for you, since I've always considered characterization and worldbuilding to be some of my stronger suits as a writer. I'll be looking forward to that feedback whenever you get around to it. ^^

@BestLizard
The first thing I noticed coming back is just how distracting all the German words were. I may not have grilled you hard enough about the whole thing :X.

I think you're intending the German words to give a bit of immersion to the world. But language makes worlds more immersive because they show how the inhabitants view the world or various topics. There is no immersion to be gained when the German words are just 1-to-1 of English words with no context added. Some words do this - the word for November and corpse gatherer thing, for example - but most don't. And needing to either skip over the word or skip to the bottom on some platforms (I read this on FFN) shatter flowing and pacing in a way other narratives could accomplish, given the audience has to LITERALLY pull themselves out of the reading.

Yeeeeeeeah, I made some attempts to give context hints for those bits of terminology. Sounds like I have some spots here and there where I need to go back and give more of a hint there for the non TR/AO3 audience.

The best solution may be to trim down how many German words you feature to the only ones that need an explanation (or be more inventive about what expressions the world uses for things), and then shift the meaning of the words into the narrative itself. You'd have to be delicate with rewording to keep tone and pacing and make it relevant to the prose and if it's not possible, then it means the German word has zero purpose and should be replaced with English. After all, it's breaking the flow to read the explanation as a footnote as it is now.

I'll put some thoughts as to what I want to do here, but I've actually been making an attempt at meaning shifting into the narration for German usages thus far. If you feel there's a spot that isn't doing the job well enough, feel free to point them out since that way I can make an attempt at resolving them.

Though when in doubt, just read things in natural order, since some of the German content isn't meant to be reflexively understood the moment it pops up unless you happen to know German.

And Axew referring to herself as "Axew" and then her German name made no sense and really shattered my suspense of disbelief. I thought they'd been speaking German the entire time.

Nope. They are speaking a daughter language to "German", or more accurately a Pokémon language rendered in English that is the daughter of one rendered in German that they know as 'Hightongue'. That language is called Commontongue, and bits of Hightongue leak into everyday speech as an artifact of the local culture and history.

That's admittedly a bigger part of the setting worldbuilding, so I might need to go back at some point in the future to make sure that's getting beaten across the readers' heads harder such that it's not ambiguous.

If it was a book maybe you can get away with footnote annotations but we can't flick our eyes to the bottom of a page.

Yeah, that's the point of the hovertext on the TR and AO3 versions, and why they're the ones I reflexively recommend to readers. Not sure what can be done for the FFN and other versions, but I'm always open to suggestions.

I hope you forgive the grilling, I'm doing this because I'm your friend! Gonna talk about the chapter itself now.

Nah, it's fine. I'd rather get honest criticism than dishonest praise, and not all of the stylistic choices I make will sit well with every reader.

I am curious as to if these issues would be as jarring to you in the TR and AO3 versions, though. It might be something worth trying out for a future chapter here or there, since it could give me a better idea about the sorts of things that work and the ones that don't.

I think you have a good sense of plot and structure. I find a lot of PMD fan fiction get distracted from the big picture, and by most chapter 3-5 or so, I start wondering if there actually is a story other than the protagonist getting adjusted to the Pokemon world/guild life. Prologue, bam, the problem the protagonist needs to solve. Then stuff happens. It leads right into this chapter where I feel like there's a lot of potential to explore but a clear sense that there is something bigger going on and Lyle is involved in it. Seriously, you got a story in your story, I'm so grateful.

This is something I noticed in previous chapters and should have mentioned earlier but I'll say it now. I feel like you're writing the side characters (and even some main characters) to fit an archetypical notion of "outlaws". They're sounding tough and cool but I find their actions don't make sense because of it. As a specific example, someone teased Irune with her bag, saying "we don't trust you yet". If they were a threat, it wouldn't make sense to keep her bag from her - she should be threatening her life instead. Anyways, Irune talked. Everybody believes she's lying, yet the Pokemon gives her bag back, despite her kinda inadvertedly showing she's untrustworthy?!?

I also find this goes for dialogue. I feel like a lot of Pokemon are trying to speak as thieves and hardened outlaws and not as individuals. I don't have any proof though :X

Yeah, that wasn't really intentional. I will say that banditry does place a premium on making sure that you're not seen as weak and rollable, so that would logically impact the dialogue that would pop up. Also, most of those side characters get run over in short order, so admittedly I might have phoned it in a bit on some of them. ^^;

I'm also kinda surprised they were pretty alarmed by the Togedamaru kidnapping because that brought a lot of heat. Given how you set up your world, I'm surprised that people in power value their lives more than the treasure itself. Not that this is really an issue though ;)

Part of being a criminal is knowing what you can reasonably get away with or escape from, Parker and Myra went in expecting an in and out for loot that wouldn't move the needle enough to get them actively hounded by law enforcement. Same deal as bank robbers freaking out when someone on the team casually blows away the teller.

Granted, that was a bit of a moot point given what they stole, since they were pretty hosed even without Ford bringing the extra heat down on them.

Also, the Anvil scene was pretty good. Enough of him was set up that it'd be a bit heartbreaking that he was left behind, and it makes sense to give a sense of Lyle being in all-new danger due to the Axew and whatever conspiracy is behind her. That being said, so much happened in the chapter that the scene felt dragged out and it was hard to stay immersed in the emotion. There was a point where I stopped - around where it mentioned Lyle's throat lump - and wondered "how does so much stuff happen in the time Arvil gets left behind". So much detail and specific events and character interactions got described that it all got blurry to me. After all, the chapter is 9k words long and only describes a feast and a raid. I think the story would benefit from less is more: streamlining the actual events so less is actually needed to be said so what is said is having more of a punch and impression.

A bit unfortunate to hear that the length wound up dragging things down a bit, though I suppose that's something I'll need to keep in mind for future chapters.

Lastly, I have a guilty pleasure for dark stories, and I think this story is satisfying that. Salamence biting down on the Staraptor's wing was awesome!

Yeah, that's an artifact of this story's sources of inspiration, since they're fairly (in)famous for "dark for their rating" narratives. Glad to hear that it's coming through.

Thanks for the feedback, everyone, and for your patience waiting on this month's update. We left off on a bit of a tense note both from the surroundings and between Team Forager's members last time, so why don't we check in and see how they're all doing right about now?
 
Chapter 11 - Will New

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
d2iXznR.png


Es wird gesagt, dass die Menschen, als sie auf der Erde lebten, Kreaturen waren, die nach Wissen suchten. Sowohl als Mittel zur persönlichen Erleuchtung als auch zur Information über ständig fortschreitende Errungenschaften und Heldentaten. Sie erschufen Türme und Bauwerke, die unsere Ingenieurskunst nicht nachbilden konnte, und erschufen komplizierte Maschinen und Geräte mit Funktionen, die fast wie Magie wirkten.

Leistungen und Heldentaten, auf die viele von ihnen stolz waren. Genug damit, dass Klaus der Erbauer die Menschen in dessen damaliger Welt mit hochmütigen Worten wie "Einst war ein solches Wunder Göttern vorbehalten," prahlen hörte. "Aber heute geht die Menschheit einen Schritt auf das Göttliche zu!", als sie ihre großartigen Werke betrachteten.

Und dann, während des schicksalhaften Jahres, welches den Beginn unserer Ära markierte, kam der Glühende Blitz während der Mittsommertage von Heumond. In einem Augenblick hat es unsere Welt umgestaltet und dabei unzählige, noch unbekannte Wunder und das Wissen, sie im Handumdrehen neu zu erschaffen, weggefegt.

Als Pokémon in den folgenden Jahren versuchten, die Scherben aufzusammeln, soll sich der Erbauer Sorgen um einiges Wissen gemacht haben, das Pokémon bewahren wollte. Dass die Dämmerung der Menschheit von großer Hybris und Zwietracht geprägt war, auch unter denen, die einst die Macht hatten, das Schicksal der Menschheit zu ändern.

Er bestand darauf, dass ein Teil des Wissens am besten mit der Menschheit verblassen sollte, und er befürchtete, dass wir als Erben dieser Welt die gleichen Fehler erben würden, die dazu führten, dass die Menschen von der Teilung unserer Welt überrascht würden. Was dieses Wissen, das er so fürchtete, ist mit der Zeit verloren gegangen und kann nur erraten werden: Einige vermuten, dass es mit jenem strahlenden Glanz zusammenhängen könnte, der Wunsch und Wirklichkeit in dieser Welt zum ersten Mal in den Krieg gezogen hat.

Andere sagen, dass sich der Erbauer mehr Sorgen um die Denkweise von Pokémon wie uns gemacht hat. Dass wir, wenn wir uns zu sehr an die Lebensweise der Menschen klammern, dazu verdammt wären, ihre Fehler zu wiederholen. So ernüchternd die Prämisse auch ist, beim Blick auf die Geschichte unserer Zivilisationen kommt man nicht umhin, sich zu fragen, ob seine Befürchtungen gerechtfertigt waren.

- Auszug aus »Die Wahrheiter Chroniken – Eine kurze Geschichte der frühen Jahre unseres Königreichs«



The next six floors after the Monster House went in a tangled blur of towering trees and paths and chambers wedged amongst nigh-impenetrable undergrowth. True to the stories, Primordial Woods' Wilders really were strange types. Most were little runts, but occasionally Lyle and the rest of Team Forager would run into bigger and stronger Pokémon like an Armaldo and a Bastiodon, with even a Kabutops making an appearance after emerging from a stream.

As with the Tyrantrum and Aurorus, such Wilders weren't as strong as their imposing appearances made them look. But with each passing floor, the gap between perception and reality shrank further and further. By the time they'd made it to past the fifth floor down from their ambush, when they encountered an Aerodactyl, they opted to just lob a Stun Seed and hurriedly leg it away from the creature. With how quickly the Wilders they'd been encountering had been toughening up, they were not particularly eager to see how his strength compared to the Aerodactyl they'd fought from the caravan raid.

On the sixth floor down, under the shade of cascading falls that fell overhead from right to left into a seemingly endless abyss, Dalton chanced to spot a Pocket where they found a carved message from a prior traveler that marked it as the seventeenth floor of the dungeon as a whole. A quick consultation with their abridged copy of The Explorer's Handbook to Mystery Dungeons revealed that, much to their relief, they were but a few floors away from where a Link to Raptor Rock that connected the two Mystery Dungeons in spite of their vast distances apart from each other in the outside world was known to appear. A state of affairs which matched up with the guidance the Cranidos provided.

There were some things from the handbook that gave them pause, such as a worrying description of the Wilders that dwelled in Primordial Woods, as was a mention that some of the exits from Raptor Rock itself were within a day's journey of Newangle City. In spite of it, just knowing that there was an escape in sight from this miserable, damp weather was enough to lift Lyle's spirits somewhat.

"Let's try searching to the east. We've searched the entire western side of this floor, and I doubt we're going to find any more of a lead to the next set of stairs here."

Lyle blinked back to attention as Dalton pointed down a dirt path that headed off between one side lined with dense undergrowth, and fragments of a wall formed of what looked like concrete with pieces of rusted metal poking out along the top in parts. The Quilava waited for Dalton and Kate to set off, and followed after with Irune trailing behind him.

All the while, a lingering cloud seemed to hover over the group from the Axew's earlier outburst. Lyle supposed that he shouldn't have been surprised that Irune wouldn't have been cut from the same cloth as him, but something about her comments stung more than he expected. As he made his way forward trodding the damp earth underfoot, he cast a glance back at the Dragon-type from the corner of his eye, and noted that her gaze seemed to have drifted towards the ground below.

"Something the matter? You haven't said anything since that Monster House earlier," Lyle remarked. "You didn't exactly strike me as the quiet type."

Irune gave no answer for a brief moment, before turning up her gaze with a quiet scowl.

"Hrmph, we're in a Mystery Dungeon," she scoffed back. "The more noise we make, the more we'll give our position away to the Wilders that live here."

Lyle narrowed his eyes and flattened his ears out. However much the Axew was genuinely concerned about attracting Wilders, she obviously wasn't worried enough to not give that snippy retort.

"I think that our footsteps are making about as much of a racket," the Quilava harrumphed. "Besides, there was something that I wanted to know…"

"What?"

Lyle stopped, turning around and rearing up onto his hindquarters as Irune paused behind him. He folded his arms and looked down at the Axew, peering into her red eyes with a stern frown.

"Why us? There's a bunch of Pokémon out there in the world who could've helped you get out to the Divine Roost," he asked. "You obviously don't like being around us, so why didn't you ditch us back in Moonturn Square?"

Lyle waited for a reply as Irune stared back wordlessly. There was a brief, awkward silence between the two, before the Dragon-type shook her head and let out a quiet grumble.

"You don't have to like someone in order to work with them," she said. "You three were there, you all had the skills that I need for traveling partners, and I know how to get to the treasure that you want. Our interests just happened to align and we all didn't have other options."

Lyle honestly wasn't sure what to make of this kid. With how judgmental she'd been towards them, he was pretty sure she wasn't an Outlaw. At the same time, she sure knew a thing or two about keeping a 'mon at arm's length.

The Quilava frowned and let out a small huff in reply, before he turned back for his teammates and darted forward to try and make up for lost progress. When he and Irune caught up, they found that the lot of them had gathered in a chamber lined by a deep pool on their right, with two passages that branched off on opposite sides of a set of concrete pylons: one going forward, and one that turned off to their left.

Dalton eyed the pool and noted a narrow path that ran along its length towards the east, the Heliolisk taking a moment to brace himself before running at the water. Much to Lyle's astonishment, the lizard managed to run along the top of the water's surface for about half the length of the pool, before sinking into it and swimming the rest of the way over. Clearly the 'mon was a better fit for a band of river raiders than he'd given him credit for.

The Heliolisk pulled himself out of the pool, before he turned left and slipped out of view behind trees and ferns following a hidden path. After a few moments, the sound of dripping footsteps rang out, as Lyle, Kate, and Irune looked ahead to see Dalton approaching them from further down the forward path ahead of them, shaking his head.

"Alles klar.₁ This path's a straight shot, if a roundabout one," Dalton said. "It winds around past this patch of undergrowth here until it turns back towards the pond."

"Well, it narrows down our options at least," Irune grunted. "Though are we better off seeing what lies further down that path you found, or trying the left one?"

Lyle opened his mouth to answer, when he felt a sharp thump and watched as the nearby plants shook. His vents came alight with a start, the stoat feeling his muscles tense up as he turned warily to his teammates.

"What was that?"

Another thump shook the ground, and then another, and another. Kate flared her ears, when she turned towards the left entrance and listened in, before pinning them back and looking at her teammates with a tense grimace.

"Quick, go down the passage Dalton's in!" the Sneasel hissed. "Someone's coming from the left, and they don't exactly sound like bulliable runts!"

Lyle needed no further encouragement and scampered ahead on all fours after the Sneasel with Irune at his heels. The three hurriedly ducked down the path Dalton came from and tucked themselves up against a small, overgrown mound of concrete. The Fire-type looked back and felt his blood run cold as an Archeops and a Rampardos entered the chamber. He sucked in a sharp breath and hurriedly smothered his body's fire as he and his fellows went silent, just in time to see the two Rock-types warily eye their surroundings before turning to each other with sullen frowns.

"So why has everyone been in such a terrible mood today?" the Rampardos grumbled.

It's the lower levels," the Archeops harrumphed. "They've been in a panic since the Grazers haven't been bringing in enough berries as tribute to please Rankar."

Lyle twitched his ears and blinked at the Archeops' reply. "Tribute"? Wilders offered that to each other? That was the sort of thing that kings among Civils demanded of Pokémon who were their vassals. Conquered ones, at that.

"Still? Hasn't that useless glutton had his fill yet?" the Rampardos growled. "The hunting grounds outside have become increasingly barren ever since he developed that sweet tooth of his and even the Grazers are starting to complain about there not being enough food to forage! How could he possibly want more?"

Team Forager's members blinked from their hiding place, Kate giving a puzzled tilt of her ear as Lyle saw her glance over with a puzzled frown.

"Wait, are we listening to Wilders here?" Kate asked. "Or a pair of asshole nobles-?"

Lyle quietly shushed the Sneasel back and motioned for silence, as the Quilava and his companions continued to eavesdrop on the Wilders. The Archeops in the clearing ruffled his feathers briefly, before replying to the Rampardos with a low huff.

"Hrmph, well it sure seems like that old fossil is dead set on going out tearing apart this Mystery Dungeon and the alliances that have held its Pokemon together since time immemorial," the bird scoffed. "Though perhaps there's an opportunity amidst this madness for Pokémon like us…"

The Rampardos hesitated a moment, glancing about warily before he continued on in a low voice.

"What do you mean?"

"What I mean is all of the stub-arms left in this dungeon are either a bunch of unevolved runts, or have evolved early and weak from the Distortion's influence. After the way Rankar forced out the last High Chief, everyone else would be relieved to have a change of leadership," the Archeops explained. "Once he's gone, it'd be easy for the Chiefs of the other kinds of Pokémon like you or me to fill his place. Why simply backing off the Grazers' food and toning down the threats would get a good chunk of them on our side!"

The Archeops tented his wings, before shooting a knowing smirk at his counterpart.

"And if the stub-arms have an issue with it…" the bird mused. "Well, after Rankar's rule as High Chief, there'd be no shortage of the others inclined to banish the lot of them and let them try their fates outside these woods."

"You're getting ahead of yourself there, Rankar first needs to be dealt with first," the Rampardos harrumphed. "All of the old tricks that've been tried won't work on him. The 'mon holes up in his den and doesn't so much as eat without making someone else taste his food first!"

The Outlaws traded wary looks with one another, as Dalton shuffled his feet uneasily. From the mention of a 'High Chief' and the way the two Wilders were being so furtive, it was evident they were talking of some sort of leader of theirs. And more specifically how to dispose of him.

"If I didn't know any better, I'd think we were overhearing members of the Hofstaat₂ scheming against King Siegmund with talk like that," the Heliolisk murmured.

"Look," Irune whispered back. "Let's just turn around and try and find another way-"

The Archeops frowned back and looked out over the pool with a grumbling shake of his head.

"There must be a faster way… there has to be," the bird muttered.

"Wait," the Rampardos said.

All of a sudden, the Rampardos paused and raised his head, the dinosaur tensing up with narrowed eyes as he sniffed at the air.

"… I smell smoke," the Rampardos said. "Smoke like a fire was just burning here."

Lyle felt the color drain from his face and turned to see his teammates glancing at him wide-eyed. He hadn't thought the scent of his body's fire would've lingered that long, but whatever had stuck around on his pelt was enough for the Archeops to already make his way down the corridor in search. The four Outlaws hastily ducked back around the corner and darted for the path passing the pool, when they heard a sharp cry and turned to see the Archeops flying over its waters with bared teeth.

"Ah! There's Invaders here!" the bird snarled. "Get them!"

Lyle froze as the Archeops barreled forward, screeching and flashing his clawed wings for a lunging slash. The Quilava yelped and hastily dug through his bag, his paws settling on a glassy sphere that he pulled out that a parting glimpse revealed to be a Luminous Orb.

It'd have to do right now.

"Close your eyes!"

The stoat dashed the Orb against the ground, exploding it into a hail of glass shards and a blinding light that leaked through his eyelids just as the Rampardos rounded the corner. As the flash dissipated, Lyle heard a pair of sharp yelps, and opened his eyes to see the Archeops struggling to stay airborne as the Rampardos cradled his face and complained about "My eyes!"

They could work with that, Lyle hurriedly whirled around to his teammates, crying out the one word that crossed his rattled mind.

"Run!"

Lyle lowered his head and bounded forward, throwing himself forward with a Quick Attack down the corridor that made the surrounding jungle blur around him. When his vision settled, he looked back, seeing his fellows from Team Forager running after him for dear life. They caught up after a short while, as the four followed the winding course of the corridor around the bends and turns of a thickly-vegetated path all as bloodcurdling roars and heavy thumps rang out behind them.

He supposed that was as clear a sign as any that those Wilders weren't going to be content with just running them off. Dalton was at the middle of the group, while Kate was at the rear and dragging Irune ran along. The whole time, the Axew stole frantic glances behind her. A quick glimpse by Lyle to see what she'd seen revealed the silhouette of the Rampardos just falling on a ruined wall behind them.

"I don't suppose any of you picked up on some sort of hint to where the stairs were, did you?!" the Axew panted. "That Rampardos is catching up with us fast!"

"Just keep running!" Dalton cried. "We haven't checked the eastern side yet, so it must be somewhere there!"

That was all the motivation Lyle needed. He bounded ahead, coming out into a chamber ringed with walls of shattered concrete just as the others caught up with him. One that a quick scan revealed was overgrown with trees and vines and paths that branched off in three directions. Instinctively, Kate started off for the path branching rightward when a loud screech sliced through the air. Lyle turned his head and at once, his eyes shrink to pins. There was the Archeops, flying at them with fangs bared for Kate and Irune.

"Gah!" Kate yelped. "Not that way!"

The Sneasel hastily breathed frigid breath over her claws and flung a spray of icy flechettes, stopping the Archeops briefly before bolting for the corridor opposite their entrance. Lyle spat a Smokescreen at the Archeops for good measure before he and Dalton hurried after their Sneasel teammate. Lyle ducked as the sound of stones crashing into tree trunks rang out behind him and splinters zipped past his ears. Probably something like a Rock Slide, which was a sign that the Archeops wouldn't be bogged down by that Smokescreen for long.

The Quilava began to feel a burning pit in his stomach as he hurried after Kate and Irune down their present corridor. Gottverdammt, hadn't they been chased around enough for one day?! It was then that he noticed Irune turn her head, and as he snapped back to attention, Lyle heard it himself: the sound of grinding and creaking stone.

"Ah! That noise!" Irune exclaimed. "It's coming from the north!"

Lyle blinked a moment, when he realized that the creaking and groaning sounded just like a set of stairs forming on the floor. Not far away, from the sound of it, and with nary a moment to spare!

…Then again, it could've just as easily been the sound of a set of stairs sealing, but it was the only lead they had to work with. And with that Archeops and Rampardos nipping at their heels…

"Paws crossed that that's a way out…" the Quilava muttered. "Though come on! It sounded close!"

Lyle and his teammates cast a glance northwards, and while it didn't have ruined walls blocking the way, the thick undergrowth and densely spaced trees would've made attempting to move through it a fool's errand even without the Archeops hot on their tails.

"Fat lot of good that's going to do us here when we can't go that way!" Kate cried.

"We've got a Tunnel Wand somewhere in the bag!" the Quilava cried. "Just hang in there and cover me for a moment!"

A loud hiss rang out as the Archeops finally caught up with them, snarling with his wings spread and ready for a lunge.

"Got you!"

"I think not!" Dalton cried.

Lyle flinched as a loud crackle followed by a sharp screech rang out, glancing over his shoulder briefly as Dalton just finished up a Thunderbolt that stunning the ancient bird. Lyle briefly glimpsed Kate following up with an Ice Shard and Irune whigging a Totter Seed at the Archeops when he hurriedly turned his attention back to his bag. The Quilava hastily rooted through his bag, feeling a stick that a quick glance revealed to be the white, branched form of a Surround Wand, then the crook of a Switcher Wand… Gottverdammt, didn't those Hunters have any Wands that would actually help them out here?!

At last, his paws felt a pick-like shape, and a wave of relief came over him as he pulled it out and saw that sure enough, it was the Tunnel Wand he'd seen earlier. With one last glassy nub at its end marking it had a final use left in it.

"Get ready to run!" he cried. "We're going to need to make this count!"

The Quilava reflexively brought the wand down and heard the glassy layer around it shatter, followed by the wood of the Wand splintering. In a flash, the roar of rending dirt and trees joined in as the air distorted in front of them. The undergrowth and foliage in front of them abruptly parted left and right much as if a giant wedge had plowed them aside, as a gouge of cleared dirt formed directly in front of them.

Lyle didn't wait for the dust to settle and charged down the clearing, turning back and calling after his teammates.

"There's our exit! Come on!"

The rest of Team Forager's members didn't bother to protest and hurriedly ducked down the newly-opened corridor. For a brief moment, Lyle saw the Archeops stumble past it in a daze, before his teammates' bodies cut the bird off from view. Kate's ears swiveled briefly from a sound on the wind, when her eyes suddenly lit up in realization.

"Ah! Those stairs are close!" she said. "Come on, let's find them and get out of here!"

Lyle bounded ahead and out into a clearing ringed by overgrown ruins. He flinched briefly from the sudden change in light, though before he could make sense of their surroundings, he suddenly felt stones dig into his pelt and heard his teammates cry out. Lyle rolled along the ground, coming to a winded, wheezing stop on his flank as he weakly got up to his feet and saw his teammates doing likewise from being freshly sprawled out. Lyle panted as fire poured out of his vents, when his blood ran cold after a low snarl rang out from further ahead.

"Going somewhere?!"

Lyle and his companions turned towards the voice and he watched the color drain from their faces… and supposed the same was happening to him from the chill coming over his body. There, right in front of them were the steps onto the next floor, along with the Wilder Rampardos from earlier standing square in the way with his head lowered and ready to charge.

"Well I think not," the Rampardos growled back. "Since the only thing you Invaders will be seeing is the backs of your eyelids after you keel over!"


How the hell had he beaten them here?! Lyle and his teammates stood dumbfounded for a brief moment as the ground shook and the Rampardos began to charge. After a moment to shake his head, Lyle braced himself, and threw himself forward as he heard Irune cry out in alarm behind him.

"Lyle! What are you-?!"

"Just follow my lead and get to the stairs!" he shouted.

They just had to make it down the stairs before either of the Wilders, and even if the Rampardos packed a punch, if Lyle could run circles around Parker, he was sure as hell he could do the same to this Wilder. The Quilava ran at the Rock-type as fire wreathed his body, clipping him with a Flame Charge before he hurriedly sprang away. The Rampardos stumbled back slightly, before lowering his head with a menacing growl.

"Was that supposed to hurt?" the Rampardos sneered. "Your fire barely singed me!"

The dinosaur let out a loud roar and plowed ahead with another running charge. The Rampardos was right, that Flame Charge really hadn't done much to him. But that wasn't what Lyle was counting on right there.

Lyle waited as the Rampardos dashed at him, steeling himself as the ground trembled and he could hear his teammates' cries indistinctly in the background. He briefly saw the dome of the Rampardos' head, and right as the Rock-type was about to bear down on him…

"Hup!"

He sprang out of the way. The Rampardos dashed past, Lyle watching the dinosaur's head ram empty air and the Rock-type's red eyes widen just as he slipped behind him. Fire danced on Lyle's vents and white-hot cinders built up in his mouth just as the Rampardos turned his head back and noticed him.

"Huh?!"

Lyle spewed out a cone of whitish cinders, which found its mark on the Rampardos' rump. The dinosaur stiffened up with a sharp yelp, glancing back to see a fresh, reddening burn spreading over his scales. As the Wilder locked eyes with him, Lyle felt his heart pounding, mixed with a flash of confidence. Enough so that he turned his back towards the Rampardos and flared out fire from his vents, looked over his shoulder with a taunting smirk.

"Bet that one really burned your ass!" the stoat jeered. "For someone who wants to be king of this dump, you sure are a bad shot!"

From the bellowing roar the Rampardos replied with, it'd gotten under the 'mon's hide. And that was exactly what he was counting on. Lyle darted aside and sprang back and forth on his toes as the Wilder stomped the ground, calling up large stones from the ground that abruptly sailed at him. Lyle dropped and rolled out of the way as the stones zipped overhead, missing his body by mere hairs.

The Quilava sucked in a sharp breath. A bit close, but nothing he couldn't manage. Lyle got back onto his feet and bobbed around on his toes, weaving around a second hail of rocks. A glimpse back at the Rampardos revealed he was visibly fuming, the dinosaur losing his patience and then attempting to charge him, which proved even easier to weave about.

Hah! This Wilder made Parker look like an Accelgor with how easy it was to dance around him. A flash of confidence came over Lyle's face, as he stuck his tongue out at the now huffing and puffing Rampardos opposite him.

"Is that really the best you can do?!" Lyle sneered. "Hope that 'High Chief Rankar' you were going on about earlier's a slow fart like you!"

The Rampardos visibly grit his teeth in reply and glared back daggers. Lyle supposed he would have done the same himself if he had to deal with a foe that kept bouncing and weaving about just a few hairs out of his grasp.

"Stay still and fight, you cowardly furry!" the dinosaur snarled. "You'll never defeat me by just running away!"

The Rampardos was right. Even the items in Lyle's satchel wouldn't have been likely to turn this matchup around in a one-on-one fight. Except there was something the dinosaur didn't know about this matchup that Lyle did…

"You're right, I won't beat ya," the Quilava said. "But I don't need to!"

Footfalls pattering against stone rang out as the Rampardos turned his head and went wide-eyed. That was the cue that the jig was up and it was time to run. Lyle glanced over his shoulder, glimpsing Dalton and Irune running up a set of steps and into an overhanging earthen ledge as Kate followed closely behind. The Rampardos let out an exasperated cry, which Lyle quickly cut off by blowing smoke in his face. He turned and bolted as the dinosaur broke into hacking coughs afterwards, bounding ahead for the stairs when a sharp screech rang out.

"Not so fast!"

It lasted all but a few moments. First came the sound of wingbeats, then came the crushing tackle into Lyle's right flank. Lyle squealed as agony shot through his body, tumbling along the ground as he struck something sharp and sprawled out. The Quilava gasped for air as his vision went muddy, when he glanced up and saw the Archeops above him, diving in.

Lyle curled up and forced fire out of his vents, screwing his eyes shut with a low whine as he braced for the Wilder's blow. Except it never came. A pained squawk rang out and Lyle cracked his eyes open just in time to see the Flying-type reel from an Icy Wind. The Quilava panted hoarsely, when his body suddenly lurched off the ground and he stumbled to his feet after a rough tug, coming face to face with a wide-eyed Kate.

"Lyle, hurry it up already!" the Sneasel cried. "The stairs are starting to seal up!"

Lyle tore off along with Kate, pain shooting through the right side of his body as he limped after his Sneasel teammate. The Quilava looked up and to his horror saw the stairs began to seal off with earth sliding along the overhang's ceiling with a gods-awful grinding noise, the Fire-type lowered his head and lunged forward with a dash that made his surroundings blur even more around him. Not a moment too soon from the way the Archeops and the Rampardos were bellowing behind him. The stoat staggered up the steps as they quaked and groaned underfoot, when he suddenly felt small clawtips dig into his forepaws. The Fire-type's eyes widened as he was pulled sharply forward just as flying rocks struck the steps behind, sending stone fragments and dirt flying before he pitched forward face-first into damp, dark earth.

Lyle lay there as his heart pounded and his head spun as the grinding racket continued in the background. He let out a weak groan at the back of his throat and looked over to see Irune staring back at him wide-eyed. Had- Had she been the one who pulled him up the steps?

The Quilava watched as Dalton and Kate ran up and stared off at the steps, and for a second, he flinched, thinking that the Wilders had successfully followed them up the steps. And then the grinding noise stopped with a quiet click, and the floor fell silent beyond the sound of their hoarse breathing.

Lyle blinked and looked at the spot the stairs had sealed themselves off from the floor below, still gasping for air as he saw what had once been a passage sealed by dirt and rock. B-Blauflamme, that was way too close…

"L-Lyle! Are you alright?!"

Lyle looked over to see Irune running up and pawing at him. The Axew's eyes were visibly wide and startled. Was… she worried about him? The Quilava Outlaw dismissed her reaction as merely just being shaken from a close call. He was sure she'd be right back to harping on the lot of them for being thieving scum before he knew it. Lyle shook his head and staggered up, trying to project confidence in his voice, only for it to come out as a wavering stammer.

"Y-Yeah, just got nicked a bit by that bird back- Nrgh!"

Lyle flinched as he felt a sharp pain flash through the right side of his body. The Quilava looking back and saw just past his forearm, there was an oozing streak under his pelt where he'd struck the concrete outcropping. Lyle's breaths quickened and he felt his fire come alive in a panic at the sight. G-Gods, how badly had he gotten hurt back there?!

"Easy, Lyle. I don't think it's as bad as it looks."

Dalton came up to the Fire-type and eyed the wound with a quiet grimace, before shaking his head with a low sigh.

"I suppose this was to be expected, but at least it's nothing we can't patch up for now," the Heliolisk sighed. "Hang on, I think that we've got some berries that'll be able to seal this cut."



A few minutes later, Dalton had finished mashing the third piece of a quartered Oran Berry just above the wound on Lyle's flank and letting the juices seep in. Even if the topical application of healing berries could be skipped in a pinch in favor of just scarfing them down, after how harrowing the past floor had been, none of Team Forager's members were in the mood to try and make Lyle walk things off until his body metabolized the berry.

Irune looked on worriedly as Lyle lay on his side and Dalton pulled the Oran wedge back to examine the cut. A quick glance over revealed that Lyle's wound seemed to have coagulated enough for the last wedge to be applied directly onto it. Everything had worked out in the end…

… so why was she feeling this guilty about things?

"Dig in your paws and brace yourself, Lyle," Dalton instructed. "This last part's going to sting a bit."

The three of them were Outlaws, bandit scum who preyed on the weak for their pay. A part of her told her she ought to have felt coldly indifferent to their plight. They plied a dangerous trade and the only reason why they were on common ground to begin with was because of Lacan and his Fähnlein.

Except, as she watched Lyle fight against curling up into a fiery ball by reflex, those thoughts rang increasingly hollow. The more she saw the three like this, the more it gave her an uncomfortable sense of deja vu.

And it made her think of others she'd let herself grow close to over the past year against her better judgment, and thoughts of what ultimately became of them. A sharp wince turned the Axew's attention back to Lyle and Dalton, just in time to see the Heliolisk pawing aside Oran-stained fur on Lyle's flank and pressing the final Oran wedge square into his wound. Irune cringed from her place on the side as the stoat audibly winced and fire danced from his vents with sharp flickers. She neared as Lyle panted from Dalton's treatment, focusing on the Quilava and then up at her other teammates with an alarmed stammer.

"Wh-Where did those two Wilders come from?!" the Axew cried. "We didn't run into any Pokémon that could do something like this on the earlier floors!"

"We've been going deeper into the Mystery Dungeon, it quite literally comes with the territory for just about any Mystery Dungeon," Dalton explained. "The Wilders that live in Mystery Dungeons like this usually like to make their homes in the Pockets further away from the entrance where they won't be disturbed. Their tougher members usually patrol closer to them to drive off would-be threats."

That… made a decent amount of sense, really. Irune herself had seen similar dynamics in other Mystery Dungeons over the past year, just… not anywhere as dramatic as this. Kate pinned her ears back at Dalton's reply and turned a sharp scowl over at Irune. The Axew braced herself as the Sneasel exhaled a puff of icy breath out and folded her with a sharp huff.

"Just saying, but that's something we could have known if we had someone to guide us," the Sneasel grumbled.

Irune raised her mouth to protest indignantly, only to fall quiet and let her gaze drift to the ground. She… still didn't think much of the idea of them recruiting the Cranidos, especially knowing what the odds were for this 'Team Forager' all making it to the Divine Roost. But even then, it was hard to argue that things would've gone worse without his help.

Had she been too rash in making her decision? Even if the odds for her present teammates weren't favorable… had her choices made things worse for them? Had they made them worse for herself?

No answer came to those questions for her as Dalton finished applying the last Oran wedge. The Quilava let out a quiet wince, before snatching the pulp of the spent quarter out of the lizard's hand with a low grumble as low, irked flames simmered on his head and tail.

"Ngah… Dalton, what on earth did you do to that cut?" the Quilava demanded. "Press salt into it?"

"Oran juice carries a sting when it's applied to damaged hide," the Heliolisk harrumphed back, folding his arms. "You didn't strike me as being new to Mystery Dungeons, Lyle. You of all Pokémon should know that."

Irune told herself that it didn't make sense to dwell on things too much. After what became of the Balance Bandits, it was probably for the best to keep her present teammates at arm's length. She turned her head as Lyle bit into the pulp of his berry wedge and warily gaped about her surroundings. There weren't any ruins on this floor, and the towering, unnaturally tall and thick trees blotting out the sky weren't something they'd seen on the last floor either.

Even so, time was a luxury with the likes of Lacan and his underlings hounding their tails, and the longer they spent in Primordial Woods, the more likely he or his underlings would catch up with them. From the looks of it, Kate had realized it too with the way she uneasily shuffled and pawed at her shoulders.

"So now what?" the Sneasel asked. "Are we supposed to just hop right back into delving and hope we don't draw the short stick for run-ins again?"

Irune noticed Lyle glance over at her from the corner of her eyes. She thought of speaking up and saying something, but let her eyes drift towards the ground. Wh-What was she supposed to say to him? That she should've kept her mouth shut after the Monster House? Thankfully, the stoat didn't linger long on her before looking over at Dalton, who brought a hand up to his chin in thought before speaking up.

"We should find a Pocket and rest for a while," the Heliolisk said.

At once, Irune jolted up and stared wide-eyed at the Electric-type. Lyle and Kate looked similarly alarmed right now. W-Was Dalton even listening to himself right now?! They hadn't gone that deep into the Mystery Dungeon since they first entered it!

"B-But we're just six floors from that exit the Cranidos told us about!" Irune spluttered. "If we linger here, Lacan will-!"

"Be highly unlikely to catch up with us without us knowing it," Dalton answered. "After how much trouble the local Wilders have been giving us, do you really think entire squads of soldiers are going to be able to just march through here without us hearing them getting into fights?"

Irune blinked a few times. Now that Dalton mentioned it, with how fiercely the local Wilders had defended their territory, and how big their stronger Pokémon were… would Lacan and his underlings have been able to cow the Wilders into backing down from them? It certainly didn't seem like a safe bet.

Irune paused in thought, before she heard Dalton's tail brush the ground, and looked up to see the Heliolisk frowning down at her.

"Look, you already made it clear that you're not exactly fond about working with us, but charging ahead with Lyle in this state isn't exactly a safe gamble," Dalton harrumphed. "We should at least give him time for the berry's healing effects to kick in before we continue on again in earnest."

Irune quietly bit her tongue. She knew she'd gotten pointed after the Monster House, but she didn't go so far that she'd scared her teammates off… had she? The Axew quietly grimaced and looked away, just as she heard Lyle sigh to her right. The stoat looked down at his now-treated wound, which still sported juice stains from the Oran Berry that had been applied, before shaking his head back.

"Sounds like music to my ears," he grumbled. "Let's just hurry up and find that Pocket. There's no sense in worrying about that treasure if we can't make it off this floor in one piece."

So they were still ready to work with her. Or at least until they made it to that treasure that awaited them in the Divine Roost.

One by one, Team Forager's members set off. Lyle opted to take the rear just after Irune this time. It was hard to blame him given how he surely wouldn't fare well if he stumbled headfirst into another skirmish. A part of Irune was quietly grateful that he'd done so. Even if it wasn't as noticeable in a jungle like this versus in more normal climates for this time of year, she could swear that the air felt ever so slightly warmer around him.

Somehow, it made a little part of her feel more at peace.

Irune followed along after her Heliolisk and Sneasel teammates, as quiet doubts began to swirl in her mind. Was… she doing the right thing? She knew she didn't have many choices, and even if she hadn't fully gathered what Lacan planned on using her for, it was surely for nothing good. But if her teammates fully knew what they were facing, would the Divine Roost's treasure still be enough to motivate them? She supposed she hadn't lied to them at any point about it, but…

Irune snapped back to attention after feeling something furry and warm prod at her back. The Axew turned her head, and saw Lyle frowning over at her.

"Hey, stay focused for now," he insisted. "We're not exactly in a safe place here."

No. Even if everything she'd been told about herself really was true, those three didn't need to know about it. And if she told them everything and they ran off from her afterwards, Lacan would likely just hunt them down for leads to her and then do gods-knew-what to them. They had shared interests at the moment, and until that was no longer the case, it made sense to stick together.

…Even if it made her uncomfortable. Even if it meant that the past repeated itself.




About twenty minutes later, Team Forager came across a vine-shrouded gap between the thick roots of a tree that towered unnaturally high up into the Distortion—enough so that for a second, Kate thought they'd found a cave entrance of some sort. There, the familiar presence of Dungeon Fog spilled out, tipping them off that they were approaching a space where the Distortion's effects ended and some manner of stability began.

One quick retrieval of her guiding string from her bag and a march through later, Kate and her teammates found themselves in the hollow of a giant tree that wrapped up a stony cave at its base, with the wood growing in on each other to form what looked like a solid wall ringing the entire space. That was as clear a sign as any that they were in a Pocket and not truly back out on the surface.

That didn't worry her. What did was the presence of large, three-toed footprints in the cave's earth, along with red scales, stray white feathers, and the broken remains of brown eggshells. It was a sign that the den in the Pocket they were in belonged to a Tyrantrum.

… Or at least it had at some point. None of them could catch the scent of any Pokémon that had been in the Pocket lately, and the feathers and scales similarly lacked odor—a sign they'd been shed some time ago. Faint gouges here and there in the den's stone and healed scars in the wood gave the impression that there'd been a fierce battle here once… one that made her doubt the Wilder Tyrantrum that once lived here would ever come back to claim this place again. That should've been the end of that line of curiosity and to let her rest easy like she was supposed to, but after overhearing that Rampardos and Archeops, something kept making her wonder just what on earth happened here.

Team Forager had kept shifts since then, taking turns posting one of their number in the foggy passage back out onto the floor before coming back and trading places. Kate's turn had ended some time ago, and it had mercifully been uneventful…

Pshhhh…

Aside from how it'd been pouring buckets since about five minutes after they arrived into their Pocket and how the trip in and out of their shelter had gotten her soaked. As the sound pricking her ears reminded her, those rains hadn't gone anywhere. The sound of cascading water and a faint drip on her snout prompted Kate to sit up and turn her head towards the cave entrance. That would explain why she was thinking about Wilders' affairs. It took her mind off of having to think about that.

Dalton said that book about Mystery Dungeons they'd stolen said something about this place having midday downpours as part of its local climate. They must've lucked out while going through the past few floors, since Kate could only imagine how miserable the experience would've been if they had to go through them drenched on top of everything else.

The Sneasel laid her head down and tried to close her eyes, when she noticed a dim glow of orange fire on the walls. She turned her head and saw Lyle curled up, staring at the ground as small flames flickered on his head and tail vents.

Kate got up and made her way over beside her Quilava teammate, giving him a quiet nudge at his shoulder with her claws.

"…Can't sleep?" she asked. "You are the one who needs rest the most, you know."

The Quilava looked up at her briefly with a small frown, before turning away with a grumbling huff.

"After everything that happened back at Waterhead Cave?" he grumbled. "Were you expecting me to?"

… She should've expected that, really. Losing friends on the job was something that stung even if you got used to it. Going two years out of practice and then coming back into the Outlaw life like that

Kate thought to say something, only for the Quilava to turn away and slump his chin against his forepaws with a sullen grumble.

"I should never have agreed to go with you."

Kate stiffened up and at once narrowed her eyes down at the Quilava. Was he blaming her for the army raid? Kate folded her arms and scowled in reply. Lyle was supposed to be the grounded one between the two of them. Surely he'd know better than that.

"Oh come on, what's with that attitude?" the Sneasel demanded. "Weather getting to you-?"

Lyle got up and whirled about as his body's fire came to life. Kate watched as a harsh glare came over his face and his voice came out in a bitter huff.

"Kate, I'm stuck in the middle of this gottverdammten jungle!" he snapped. "I had to relive one of the worst nights of my life, and my best friend's getting shipped off to die in some field gods-knows-where across the sea!"

… He was definitely a different 'mon than Kate remembered from the Foehn Gang. Laughing and making jokes alongside Alvin and their friends. Adamantly insisting that it didn't matter if his family cut him loose so long as they were there at each other's backs.

She'd held out hope that that 'mon in him would come back out once he was in good company again. From the way he was shaking his head and looking away, she was starting to doubt that that part of him would ever return.

"Really, why did I expect anything different?" Lyle muttered. "Of course a 'mon from a cursed town would have my luck."

Kate blinked at the Quilava's remark. Right, Lyle was from Freeden Village. It was a place that supposedly had incurred the disfavor of the gods sometime at the end of the last war between Varhyde and Edialeigh before the current one. As a result of that, all sorts of stories had sprung up about that disfavor carrying over to Pokémon that hailed from there.

Except, she didn't put stock in that "curse" crap. And when he was in more normal moods, Lyle didn't either. Maybe he just needed a little reminder to snap him out of that mood of his.

"And would any of that have changed if you didn't come?" Kate demanded. "Do you really think the rest of us wouldn't have still run into that Graf and his goons?"

She watched as Lyle froze and blinked back at her. It was a bit sobering to think about it, but the more that she thought about it…

"Really, the only difference would've been that you'd still be stuck in that Oran field waiting to go hungry in the winter and wouldn't have known about any of that," the Sneasel scoffed. "Would you really be happier if you found out we got raided by the army a season later on an empty stomach?"

Kate trailed off and looked away, hanging her head.

"… There's a good chance none of us would've made it out of Waterhead Cave that night if that happened," she muttered. "You're the reason why we're not getting pushed into a penal unit with Alvin right now."

Lyle bit his lip and pinned his ears back as the fire died down from his vents. His face took on a regretful twinge as the Quilava audibly tripped over his words while trying to speak up in reply.

"Th-That's not what I was trying to say-"

"Yeah, I know," Kate sighed. "And I don't blame you for looking out for yourself. It's not as if I was expecting everything to play out the way it did."

Kate shuffled up against Lyle, giving him a small poke against his side with her claw. The Quilava squirmed and recoiled in discomfort briefly and shuffled back. Glad to see that trick still worked on him, at least.

"But we've got a chance to put this all behind us don't we?" Kate insisted. "So why not take it? It's what Alvin would've wanted."

Lyle hesitated briefly, before turning aside and glumly casting a glance off at the gray, stony walls of their den.

"Maybe, but it's not like the universe really gave a crap about what he wanted," he muttered.

"N-Ngh… no… stop…"

Kate and Lyle turned their heads at the sound of Irune murmuring. There, off in a corner atop a small pile of her "treasure", the Axew was stirring in her sleep and pawing at empty air. The Sneasel blinked, before trading looks with her Quilava partner.

"… Looks like you're not the only one who's been having trouble sleeping," Kate murmured.

A flash of worry seemed to cross Lyle's eyes briefly. It was a little strange he felt so bothered by the problems of a 'mon that didn't like them all that much, but Kate supposed this must've been hitting home for him a bit. Lyle shuffled up as Irune tossed and turned in her sleep, the stoat hesitating briefly before he put a paw out and prodded at her gently.

"Irune?"

Kate watched Irune's eyes shoot wide as the Axew abruptly jolted up, prompting Lyle to jump back with a start as his vents came alight. From the way she was gasping for air and visibly quivering, she must've had one hell of a nightmare.

… Kate supposed she could see why Lyle was getting a bit worried about her. Sorta. The Sneasel sidled over as the Axew looked up at her and her Quilava teammate and shot a wary frown down.

"You doing alright?" Kate asked. "You were thrashing about in your sleep."

Irune sucked in a few sharp breaths and let her eyes drift towards the ground. She got up and pawed at her shoulder. Kate waited for the Axew's reply, only for the Dragon-type to audibly hesitate and turn her glance to avoid making eye contact.

"I've… just been through a lot lately," the Axew replied. "It's kinda been getting to me."

"Story of our lives, really."

Kate's ears pricked up at the sound of wet footsteps and dripping water, where she saw Dalton entering the cave visibly drenched. The Heliolisk fanned out his frill briefly, stopping to brush some water off his scales as he walked up, only to stop and catch himself in front of Lyle.

"Oh, by the way, it slipped my mind earlier in between the chaos of us skipping town…" Dalton began.

The Heliolisk dug through his satchel and fetched out a cloth purse, dropping it in front of the Quilava with an audible clink. Kate blinked at the sight and Lyle seemed similarly at a loss before Dalton narrowed his eyes with a small sigh.

"It's your share of the loot from this morning. You didn't forget, did you?" he asked. "I was hoping to do this someplace in Toya Square, but now's probably as good a time and place as any."

Right, Dalton had held onto Lyle's share of their loot from last night as part of being trusted to handle the goods for Hermes. Kate noted to herself that she probably should have remembered that better given that she was the one who suggested Dalton do that in the first place.

Lyle eyed the purse and quietly pawed through its contents, counting under his breath. After a brief moment, he sealed it and stuffed it into his satchel. That was as good a sign as any that Dalton had been honest in his dealings. Even if it was cold comfort at the moment, at least they could take it for granted they could trust the 'mon. Probably, anyways.

Kate watched the cave briefly come aglow as Lyle stretched and a spurt of fire came from his vents. Looked like the rest in the cave had done him some good given that he wasn't moving as stiffly as when they stopped to patch him up earlier.

"…Thanks. Though what are you doing back so soon?" Lyle asked. "I thought that it was your turn to keep watch."

"There's no point right now," Dalton said, shaking his head. "The Dungeon Winds caught up with the entrance outside and are currently scouring the floor."

Right, that was a thing in Mystery Dungeons and why any Pokémon, Wilder or Civil, sought out Pockets if they were going to stay on one floor for any length of time. Every so often, the Distortion would shift and wipe floors clean so that way they could form anew, through howling winds that came along and blew away everything in their path into gods-knew-where else in its confines. Sometimes, a 'mon would get lucky and get dumped by such winds at an entrance, but more normally it meant getting thrown to some floor with no idea of where one was, much like if one fell into the Distortion from venturing too far off a path.

… Probably worse than that, since she'd heard stories of Pokémon who'd suffered both fates. Pokémon that fell through the Distortion usually were able to get up and tell the tale afterwards, there were definitely fewer who got swept up by those winds who could say the same. A 'mon would also need to contend with flying debris or getting blown into things, a recipe for disaster in just about any Mystery Dungeon, but in one with Wilders as aggressive as this one…

"Well, I suppose that's one way to tell us that we won't need to worry about Grünhäuter for a while," Kate murmured, shaking her head.

"Actually… that gets into the point that I was going to get at," Dalton replied. "Namely that we probably don't need to worry about Grünhäuter while we're in this Mystery Dungeon."

Kate blinked at Dalton's explanation, and noted Irune looking similarly surprised. The Axew tilted her head at the Electric-type, giving a wary frown in reply.

"What makes you so sure, Dalton?"

"Because Lacan's goons were in earshot when we entered and it's been half a day since then," the Electric-type answered.

… Had it really been that long? Kate knew that they'd gotten a run of good luck with the first few floors, but now that Scales mentioned it, it did seem a little suspicious that they hadn't even overheard the Wilders going on about 'Invaders'. One would think that a Fähnlein wouldn't exactly be subtle while barging through a Mystery Dungeon.

Even so, something about this wasn't adding up for Kate. Lyle seemed to think similarly, judging from the way that the Quilava was pinning his ears back and frowning.

"Not that I'm complaining, but why would that Salamence do that?" Lyle asked. "He's not exactly a pushover, and he wouldn't be able to get Irune any faster just sitting and waiting outside."

Irune suddenly blanched and her jaw flopped open. The Axew's eyes visibly shrank to pins, as she turned to her teammates and waved her arms in alarm.

"Th-That's exactly what he's doing right now! He's probably sent his soldiers to try and wait near the exits to ambush us!" Irune exclaimed. "It's not the first time that he's done that to me, either!"

… As counter-intuitive as it sounded at first, maybe Lacan really could get at Irune just by sitting and waiting outside. If he had some sort of book about Mystery Dungeons like them, he almost certainly knew that between the Wilders and the gods-awful weather, that this place was wearing them down. Then for all they knew, there wasn't a safe place to leave this gottverdammten hole.

Kate bit her lip and pinned her ears back, before looking over to her teammates.

"So just what are we supposed to do now?"

Dalton and Lyle both remained silent. The Heliolisk raised his voice to say something, only for him to trail off and quietly grimace. Whatever idea he'd had, he'd clearly realized it wouldn't work. Lyle was visibly on-edge as his vents were flickering with nervous fire, staring down at the cave floor with a blank expression much like if Lacan's soldiers had just barged into their Pocket.

A great sign for their odds, really. Curiously, Irune seemed to pause and catch herself. The Axew raised a claw to her mouth and mused a bit, before she looked back at the rest of them and murmured to herself.

"That Cranidos…" she said. "He said there was a Link to a 'place like this' four floors from here."

Kate thought back to the encounter with the Cranidos, and tried to keep herself from being too bitter over the way that Irune had blown up their chance at getting a guide out of this place. A starry-eyed kid like him full of fight would've done them a lot of good right now. If Irune was talking about what Kate thought the Axew was, the Cranidos had mentioned 'a passage that links to another place like this beyond the mist'. Kate turned her head over to Lyle, as a light seemed to go off in his eyes and he stiffened up.

"The copy of the handbook we've got did say there was a Link to Raptor Rock not far from where we were," Lyle mused. "That must be what he was talking about. But didn't we already know this? How's that change anything?"

"Wouldn't the exits from that Mystery Dungeon be harder for him to get to?" Irune asked. "It looked far away on the map in the handbook."

Right, Raptor Rock was just barely visible over the horizon before they crashed on Hermes. A Fähnlein usually had around 400 'mons on it, and there weren't 400 'mons there back at the ambush. Even if Lacan knew about the way Primordial Woods and Raptor Rock linked with each other, he only had so many 'mons to go around, and it meant they had decent odds of beating his goons out of there. Or at least coming across a party that was small and likely winded enough from a long journey that they'd have better odds fighting their way past them.

Kate supposed the plan sounded like it could work on paper, but…

"Hold on just a minute. Raptor Rock's a day's journey from Newangle City!" Dalton protested. "Why would we want to be going there again when there's tons of soldiers garrisoned in the Royal Capital?!"

That actually wasn't the problem Kate was thinking of, but now Scales brought it up, that was another risk of trying to sneak out from there.

"Because we're having trouble holding up now, so we should logically try to get out of this Mystery Dungeon while we can?" Irune said. "Also, coming out onto the surface someplace away from Primordial Woods' normal exits isn't exactly a bad thing. It'd give us time to make ourselves scarce before Lacan could catch up or otherwise tip off the local Grünhäuter about us."

Kate admitted that that was a decent argument. After all, if Newangle City really was as treacherous for Outlaws as Dalton implied the other day, would Lacan really expect them to flee towards it? Surely that'd throw him off their trail at least for a little bit.

It was all fine and great, except it didn't take care of the problem the Sneasel had had with this idea all along.

"Yeah, but the Cranidos also made it sound like something was wrong with that exit."

A moment of tense silence hung in the den's air afterwards, and Kate noted that her teammates were trading worried looks. She initially hadn't thought much of the Cranidos' words, but after how much of a slog the past few floors had been, it didn't exactly inspire confidence about what could be going on with the entrance to that Link.

Lyle bit his lip and hesitated a moment, before shaking his head in reply and stepping forward.

"… We'll try and prepare for a fight beforehand and do what we can to dodge it," Lyle said. "We can try laying low in quieter places on the next floors until it gets later in the day. We'd be most likely to have smooth sailing towards the evening when the Wilders that are awake by day are starting to tire out and the ones that are awake by night are just starting to get up."

Kate opened her mouth to reflexively protest. Before she could get a word out, the Quilava spotted her and motioned for silence, before looking around at the others.

"… I know it's not a good option," the Fire-type murmured. "But if Irune's right about what Lacan's up to, I'm not sure if we have a whole lot of better ones."

Kate paused and inhaled sharply. She didn't like this idea, but it was hard to argue that Lyle didn't have a point. Between what would likely boil down to fighting their way through strong, angry Wilders and strong, angry Grünhäuter fresh from the army… it was hard to argue with a straight face that fighting the Wilders wasn't the lesser evil.

The Sneasel cast a glance over towards her teammates. Irune for obvious reasons had made her peace with the idea, while Dalton seemed visibly hesitant. The Heliolisk stared off towards the mouth of the cave, before shaking his head with a low sigh.

"It's as good a hope as any, though it'd be best not to pass up the Dungeon Winds on this floor," he said. "If we want to avoid the local Wilders leaving this place, we should set off out of this Pocket as soon as things settle down outside the fog."

…Wait, as in right now? Kate peeked out at the still-pouring rain outside and grimaced. She wasn't looking forward to getting drenched again. Irune seemed visibly uneasy about the idea herself, while Lyle was stiff and staring out blankly much as if Lacan himself had entered their pocket.

Kate watched her Quilava teammate pin his ears back as a disgusted shudder briefly went down his back. He turned over to Dalton and traded glances between him and the rain with an uneasy paw at the back of his head.

"… Dungeon Winds usually last a decent while, right?" the Quilava asked. "Let's… try to wait for the rain to settle down a bit more first before we go and check."

Yeah, that was an idea she could definitely get behind.



Author's Notes

Words and Phrases

1. Alles klar - "All clear"
2. Hofstaat - "court", in the sense of a sovereign's household or entourage.

Teaser Text

It is said that when humans walked the earth, they were creatures that sought out knowledge. Both as a means for personal enlightenment and to inform ever-advancing accomplishments and feats. They fashioned towers and structures beyond the ability of our engineering to replicate, and created intricate machines and devices with functionalities that seemed much like magic.

Accomplishments and feats that many of them grew proud of. Enough so that it is said that Klaus the Founder heard humans in the world-that-was boast with haughty words such as "Such a wonder was once reserved for gods. But today, humanity takes a step towards the divine!"ᵃ as they beheld their great works.

And then, during the fateful year that marked the beginning of our era, the Great Flash came during the midsummer days of Heumond. In an instant, it reshaped our world, and in the process, swept away untold wonders and the knowledge to recreate them in the twinkling of an eye.

As Pokémon attempted to pick up the pieces in the years that followed, it is said that the Founder worried over some of the knowledge that Pokémon strove to preserve. That the twilight of humanity had been marked with great hubris and dissension, including among those who once held the power to change humanity's fate.

He insisted that some knowledge was best left to fade with humanity, and he feared that we as inheritors of this world would inherit the same flaws that left humans to be caught unawares by our world's sundering. What that knowledge he so feared has been lost to time and can only be guessed at: some theorize it might relate to that radiant splendor which first drew Wish and Reality to war in this world.

Others say that the Founder worried more over the mindset of Pokémon like us. That by clinging too tightly to the ways of humans, we would be doomed to repeat their mistakes. As sobering as the premise is, when looking over the sweep of our civilizations' histories, one cannot help but wonder if his fears were justified.

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

a. This quote is delivered in two parts in the original German due to grammatical rules. The combined form here is a roughly equivalent gloss.
 
Top Bottom