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Pokémon Places We Call Home

windskull

Bidoof Fan
21
Places We Call Home
Haru is more than happy to live the slow life of a hard-working bidoof. But when a strange, injured sneasel from far-off lands throws Theran Village into disarray, she finds her life flipped upside-down dealing with pokemon with morals far different than her own, and with strange pokemon from beyond the sea that will stop at nothing to capture the deities of their land.

Places We Call Home is a fic that's been in the planning stages on and off for a little less than three years, and that I finally got around to writing recently. This work is set in an original universe based loosely on the Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games. I'll be uploading a chapter every Friday until I get caught up with the FFN and AO3 versions, then I'll be updating them all simultaneously.

Rated T for mild to moderate violence and blood, death, and the occasional mild swear. This may be subject to change at a later date.
Additionally, I am including a content warning for discussion of pokemon eating other pokemon. If you read through and feel there should be content warnings for anything else, please don't hesitate to let me know.


Extra Content:

 
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windskull

Bidoof Fan
Prologue

There are many legends in this world…

...

A young sneasel sits at attention, wide awake as the other children have drifted on to sleep, entranced by his elder’s stories. Stories of a great bird, with wings of black and red, the ender of lives. A deity that grants them favor in the afterlife.

The sneasel looks up to the night sky before puffing out his chest, and proudly declares that one day, he’s going to be the one to find their god.

The elder gives him a warm chuckle and reminds him that he needs to rest if he wants to grow big and strong enough to find them.



Some share stories of power. Others provide comfort or promise safety.

...

A bidoof settles down to bed next to her younger brother. He asks their dad for a story in a chipper tone. Just one more, please?

Their father huffs, but settles down in the straw to share the legends of the mountain. Of the great beast that slumbers there. The mountain mover, continent tower, protector of the small. He tells of his father before him, who went up the mountain in search of the great god.

The big sister rolls her eyes and declares that those legends are for babies. But her brother’s eyes are full of stars. Her father insists the story is true, that one day, the king will reawaken, and that when he does, he’ll protect them all from the coming calamity.



Many of these stories are nothing more than that. Legends. But the gods? Oh, the gods are very real.

...

A proud ninetales sits with his mate, murmuring the stories his father used to tell him. Of a deity far to the north. A dragon that had lost its purpose. A dragon that was as empty inside as the people that followed it, that blew icy winds from the mountain tops and froze their hearts, so they might be strong enough to survive.

His mate tells him what a horribly sad story it is, and he gives her a grunt of agreement. He hopes that they’re only tall tales.



These gods… they may be useful to us. The life in this world is filthy, like vermin. We seek to cleanse it.

...

A bisharp stands in a clearing, the pelt of a slain mamoswine draped over her shoulders. She speaks to her fellow pokemon of the teachings of their deity, of the life-giver. Of their importance. For if the forest were to quit providing life to the prey mon, then surely they would perish as well.

She raises a hand into the air and asks for their deity's blessing.



For our people, we will do whatever it takes. We will find these gods. We will bend them to our will. We will use their power to reshape the world.

...

A litten takes his place in front of the sacred stones, sitting down between the two for his vigil, closing his eyes as he recalls the inscriptions.

We give thanks to the Sun Devourer. We give thanks to the Moon Bringer. We ask for their blessings and we pray for their safe returns.

He raises his head and lets out a mournful cry.



We must succeed. I will stop at nothing to make this world ours.




A tired torracat waits for his gods. A scarred bisharp commands her followers. A world-weary ninetales listens in horror. A stubborn bidoof gets in an argument. A terrified sneasel flees his kin, and the place he once called home.

A ship runs ashore in an underpopulated bay, teeming with activity as the pokemon on deck get to work, putting their plans into motion.



For me, there is no sacrifice too great.


Chapter 1: The Stranger
Haru’s morning routine typically started out with a slow stretch in front of her family’s hut, watching twigs and leaves float by in the river’s lazy current. She’d lap at the water’s edge in the shallow pools created in her mother’s dam, quenching her thirst after a long, restful night and contemplate the same old schedule for the day.

Today as she exited the hut, she found herself blinking in the mid-morning light. One by one, she stretched her legs, sniffing at the air in hopes of catching a whiff of breakfast on the breeze. Her mother had brought bread home the day before and had planned to make fresh blukberry jam this morning, a treat she eagerly awaited. She could still smell the lingering scent of berries, despite her mother having got up early to finish it in the first place.

She continued on to the water’s edge, slowly lapping at the water as she contemplated her day. After breakfast she would head out into the yard for her day’s work, helping her father by prepping the trees he had brought back the day before, chipping away at the branches and gnawing away at jagged cuts, cleaning the leaves from the wood and stripping the bark from the trunk. Perhaps she would head to the village around lunch time, trading her money for vegetables or a trinket or two as she listened in on the day’s news. Perhaps, if she was lucky, one of the local expedition teams would come by, with news from some far-off village, with new stories that the village pokemon had yet to hear. Then, satisfied with her peek into the outside world, she would return home for the day to finish her chores, and for a well-earned dinner.

The life of a bidoof was hard work, certainly, but taken at a slow and steady pace that would make many a pokemon jealous.

But lately, these past few months, her days seemed less than normal.

“Is that Haru?”

“I believe so.”

“Hey! Hey Haru! Helloooo! Good mooorrrning!”

Haru let out a groan, raising her head up with a scowl on her face. Of course, her morning would be interrupted by those two.

She turned to look up the path that led to their house. Headed down the dirt and gravel path was a young absol, calm and composed. On her back, on the other hand, sat a much more cheerful looking kirlia, waving down at her. The kirlia’s hair had been bound together in thick, pink bands on either side of her head, an accessory anyone in the village would recognize. Haru caught herself considering returning to bed.

“Good morning Shimmer, Muse,” the bidoof called out, holding back a sigh.

With only a quick acknowledgment, the duo finished their climb to the bank.

“Good morning, Miss Haru,” the absol, Muse, greeted with a dip of her head. “Shimmer was hoping that your brother might be home this morning.”

The bidoof looked back towards the house. In truth, her brother was probably still asleep. And she was sure he would rather stay asleep than deal with Shimmer’s antics. “I’m afraid he’s a bit busy at the moment,” she lied.

“Aww, and I was really hoping we could talk to him!” Shimmer pouted.

“Sorry to disappoint,” Haru responded perhaps a bit too bluntly. “Some of us have to make a day to day living.”

If the kirlia realized the statement was meant to be passive aggressive remark, she did not show it. “We had been hoping he’d come with us to pick wild herbs in the forest today.” She paused for a second before a realization seemed to hit her. “Oh! Why don’t you come with us instead then! It would be fun! Besides,” she added in a teasing voice, “you could really stand to get out more.”

“As nice as it sounds,” Haru began in a much more tactful tone, “I really have a lot of work to do. More important things.”

“What’s more important than spending time with your future in-law?”

“You do realize you’re not my brother’s mate-“

“Yet.”

“You’re not even dating!” The bidoof let out an indignant huff and turned away. Why did every conversation with Shimmer seem to end up like this?

The kirlia waved a hand dismissively. “That’s beside the point. I’m sure we will eventually. So.” She paused to clasp her hands together. "Are you coming or not?”

Haru turned back to stare down the kirlia. “I just said-” Haru began, but a voice behind her cut her off.

“I think you should go with them, dear.”

The group of pokemon’s attention was turned to towards the speaker, a bibarel that had lumbered out from the family’s hut, stretching in the morning sun. Muse dipped her head in respect to the older pokemon. “Good morning, Mrs. Saku.”

“But Mom!” Haru began to protest.

“No buts!” the bibarel chided. “You could use a day off. Besides, I could use some more dandelion crowns, if you can still find any this late in the summer. And it’s not safe to go into the forest alone, so why not go now, while the opportunity's there?”

“It’s not that dangerous in this part of the woods,” Haru argued. “I could take care of it myself if that was the case.”

“But why risk it? Besides, Anu stopped by this morning - on his way back from patrol - to say he spotted a wildener kangaskhan nested not far from here. You don’t need to be running into something like that alone.”

Haru opened her mouth, but bit back a reply, and instead let out a groan. There was no winning with her mom when her mind was made up. She lowered her head. “Okay, Mom, fine.”

Behind her, Shimmer clapped her hands once. “Great! Muse and I already have our gathering supplies, so we’ll leave once you’re ready!”

“Just give me a moment to eat,” the bidoof responded sullenly, turning back to try to scoot past her mother by the door.

“Have you two ate?” the bibarel asked, turning her attention to her guests. “We have day old bread and fresh blukberry jam, if you’re hungry.”

Muse took a second to look towards her kirlia companion, who gave her an excited nod. She dipped her head to the bibarel. “We would appreciate it. Thank you for your hospitality.”

The absol followed behind their bibarel host, lowering her head to speak quietly into Haru’s ear as she passed by. “Sorry about this,” she mumbled.
“But look at the bright side. There’s always something to find or something to do in the forest.”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”

*****​

Once their bellies were full of delicious bread and jam, and Muse’s back had been laden with satchels for herbs and a bundle of berries and sweets for an afternoon snack, the trio set off, following the path up the river towards the northern forest. Shimmer sat atop Muse’s back, softly stroking the absol’s mane and chatting about her plans for the evening and about her father’s plan for expanding the village daycare to add a separate, permanent nursery.

Haru brought up the rear, ignoring the conversation entirely. Instead, she found herself lost in thought about where she’d rather be: back at home helping her dad prepare trees for carpentry. Did she enjoy getting out and exploring from time to time, or taking long walks after a stressful day? Sure! Did that mean she wanted to be out here spending time with Shimmer and just wasting her time when there was work to do? Absolutely not!

If she was going to be out and about, she would much rather take a trip to one of the neighboring settlements, helping spread her parents’ business. Her dad’s lumber work – both felling and the finer art of carpentry – was the finest work in the village. And her mother’s wooden sculptures were uniquely beautiful in her eyes – not that her lumberjacking was subpar. Oh, if only she could spend all day working away at processing lumber, it would make her a very happy, relaxed bidoof!

But no, she just had to be out here with one of the few pokemon she couldn’t stand to be around. Maybe her brother could try to ignore it and be nice for civility's sake, but Shimmer drove her nuts! At least Muse was nowhere near so bad. In fact, as they made their way deeper into the woods, Muse at least made an effort to try and keep the conversation away from Shimmer cooing about her brother.

Muse had always been an interesting case, in Haru’s opinion. She had never known the details about Muse’s early life, only that she had been working and living alone in the Mayor’s – Shimmer’s father’s – estate. At a younger age, she served just as a friend and companion for the kirlia. But as they grew older, she also took up the mantle of bodyguard, especially when the two ventured to a neighboring village or into the surrounding forest.

Haru did not envy her one bit.

“Hey Haru! What would your brother think about these flowers?”

The bidoof snapped out of her thoughts just a little too late, accidently bumping into Muse’s legs. After a hasty apology, she turned her attention to the kirlia, only to closer her eyes and take a deep breath after giving the patch of flowers a quick glance-over. “Well, I think they're nice, but the flowers won't matter to Toshi because he doesn't-”

“-Care about the kind of flowers, he cares about me? Aw, that's so sweet of him!”

Haru considered snapping back that no, she meant that he doesn't care about her. Not like that at least. But she held her tongue. They had been over this dozens of times the last several months, but it never did any good. Shimmer’s long-standing crush had always been annoying, but lately it had been the cause of most of the stress in her life.

“Sure,” she finally grumbled with an edge of sarcasm. “That’s definitely why.”

She turned away as the kirlia bent down to begin gathering up flowers, fuming. She could hear Shimmer and Muse talking behind her as Shimmer put the flowers in one of the baskets on Muse’s back. Wasn’t this trip supposed to be for wild herbs and other edibles, not the cutest flowers for a love bouquet?

In desperate need of a distraction, she took a moment to look out for trouble, sniffing at the air. The wind carried the scents of the forest. Moist earth, wild herbs, the smell of a rattata that had ventured from its burrow. The rancid scent of some long-dead pokemon. And some scent that seemed familiar, and yet a little odd at the same time. Perhaps someone from another village had passed through recently? Nothing too out of the ordinary.

Satisfied with her assessment for the moment, she closed her eyes and settled down in the grass to wait for the other two girls to finish what they were doing, listening to the sound of the forest around her.
Then she heard it.

Her head jerked up in alarm as a fierce screech sounded from somewhere beyond the trees. And a roar. The sounds of a battle raging nearby. At once she was on her feet in a defensive stance, should the combatants come barging in their direction. Muse had taken notice too, now on edge and standing in front of the kirlia. Even Shimmer, despite not having as good of hearing as her two four-legged companions, had stood up apprehensively, able to hear the ruckus in the distance. Haru shivered as her mother’s earlier warning about a kangaskhan rang in her ears.

An anguished cry. A victorious roar. Then silence. Life continued on. Slowly, the wildlife around them returned to their normal noises, as if nothing had happened at all.

Shimmer immediately turned to her companions. “I’m going to check that out,” she announced.

“Shimmer,” Muse responded grimly, shaking out her fur. “I cannot advise that. It is not our place to interfere in the affairs of wildeners. The survivor may be something very territorial as well.”

“But what if the other pokemon survived?” Haru pointed out uneasily, trying to relax as she turned to look at the absol and kirlia. “And beyond that, what if they’re not a wildener? What if they’re just some unfortunate traveler?”

The absol seemed to consider Haru’s explanation for a moment, before finally conceding with a sigh. “Very well. We will go look. If they’re alive, we can take them back for medical attention, should they allow us to. And if they’re not and there’s enough of a body left… well, I’m sure Mandi will know what to do.”

With the decision made, the trio began to move as quietly as possible through the underbrush. Muse took the lead, nearly crouching as she walked, pausing to sniff the air every once in a while. Shimmer and Haru followed closely behind on either side, Shimmer allowing her psychic powers to focus and branch out, keeping an eye out for danger from behind.

Before long, they came across damage to the underbrush, signs of a fierce battle, of a larger pokemon coming through without care of what they destroyed. The odd smell she had noticed earlier was growing stronger, Haru realized, along with the hair-raising smell of fresh blood. They were moving along at barely a crawl now, all senses peeled for danger.

Muse stopped in front, raising a paw to stop the other two from advancing and sniffing at the air. A few seconds later, she lowered herself onto her belly and continued forward at almost a crawl. The two behind her did the same. Or at least, as similar as they could; neither of them were built for sneaking around the forest, after all.

The absol tilted her head back and motioned for silence as she crawled under a bush, poking through with her nose low to the ground. Haru took note of a streak of blood on the leaves. The injured party had come through here, it seemed.

Suddenly, the leader stopped, backing out of the bush with an unreadable expression. Her attention turned to the bidoof.

“Haru, listen,” she started quietly and firmly. “There’s someone back there. They’re bloodied and unconscious, but still breathing. But… they need medical attention. Fast. You’re the smallest. I need you to go in there and bring them out. Shimmer can help you get them on my back once you’re out here. Then we need to take them back to the village as quickly as possible. Understand?”

Haru responded by dipping her head before moving in front of the absol, who stood up straight at attention and sniffed the air, watching for danger. The bidoof crouched low to the ground and shimmied her way inside, following a small trail of blood droplets past the bush and through a small thicket of thorns.

At the far end, almost as deep as they could have gone, was the unfortunate victim. They were a sneasel, albeit smaller than the ones she usually saw around the area. And they were an absolute mess.

She took only a second to make the assumption that he was a male, based on the size of his ear feather. Speaking of the feather, it looked as if it had been torn to shreds, and his tail feathers were not in much better shape. The tip of his ear had been sliced away, it and another nick on the side of the ear oozing blood. A nasty bite wound decorated his upper leg, the marks jagged, as if his attacker had thrown him around. And right in the middle of his back was a nasty burn, the scent of singed hair combined with the smell of blood nearly overwhelming the poor bidoof. Several other small cuts marked him as well, though they were not nearly as bad as the bite or the burn.

The sneasel’s breathing was labored and shallow. Haru set to work crawling through the brambles until she was right up next to him, angling her head underneath his stomach to roll him onto her back as carefully as possible. Even with him being small for a sneasel, he was still quite a bit bigger than her, his feet and front claws scraping along the ground as she practically dragged herself and the injured sneasel out into the open.

She heard Shimmer let out a gasp as she emerged with the injured pokemon on her back before she felt him lifted up from above. As soon as the weight was off her, she stood up on her hind legs, carefully helping position him so that he was straddled across Muse’s back.
With the stranger now set, the trio began to make their way back to the main forest path, speaking in hushed voices.

“I’ve never seen a sneasel like him,” Shimmer whispered first, her eyes darting to the unconscious dark type.

Now that she mentioned it, Haru realized Shimmer had a point. The sneasel’s colors were a bit off. Although his fur was fairly close to the grey she was used to - though perhaps with a bit of a more brown undertone – his bent and broken feathers were more of a mint color.

“Neither have I,” Haru agreed. “He doesn’t smell like any of the nearby villages. Where do you think he’s from? Seadra’s Tail? He doesn’t smell like Ruffle though.”

“Maybe,” Muse muttered. “Ruffle hasn’t lived in Seashoal village for a long time, so she doesn’t have as distinct of a smell. There’s a whole world beyond the Great Misty Canyon; there’s always a chance he came from there. If he survives, maybe we can find out.”

If. That one word managed to sober the trio even more. They were back on the open path now. The absol gave one last wary look back and forth, checking for any danger on their route, then took off at a sprint, bounding into the lead.

“I’m going on ahead,” she called back to her companions. “Shimmer, you stay with Haru and go get back to the village together. Watch each other’s backs. I want to get him back as soon as possible though, okay?”

Haru set her face with determination and uttered a sound of agreement. She would set aside her complaints about Shimmer. For the moment. The kirlia seemed to hesitate though, running to try and catch up. “But I could teleport back and let them know what’s going on!”

“And that would leave Haru alone in the woods,” Muse pointed out.

“I can take care of myself, you know,” Haru interjected.

“I’m sure you can usually, but whoever - whatever did this could still be nearby. None of us should really be alone here right now.”

“What if I were to teleport him back?”

“You know you still have trouble taking companions along. Just trust me, please. We have little time.”

The kirlia hesitated again, before giving a sullen nod. “Fine, you win,” she grumbled. “But I’m so going to chew you out when we get back.”

The absol slowly blinked back to Shimmer but said nothing more, darting off down the path.

Haru gave the kirlia an unamused look at her response before continuing at a slower pace. Hoping, for once in her life praying that Muse would make it back in time.
 
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NebulaDreams

Well-known member
Yo! It's nice to see a new face on the forums! I'm woefully behind on starting new fics, so I thought I'd pop in and check this one out. I'll briefly mention a few bits and pieces I noticed throughout this first chapter, as well as things I just liked and wanted to add commentary to.

A young sneasel sits at attention, wide awake as the other children have drifted on to sleep, entranced by his elder’s stories. Stories of a great bird, with wings of black and red, the ender of lives. A deity that grants them favor in the afterlife.

The sneasel looks up to the night sky before puffing out his chest, and proudly declares that one day, he’s going to be the one to find their god.
The elder gives him a warm chuckle and reminds him that he needs to sleep and grow strong if he wants to grow strong enough to find them.
So on the whole, I really like this prologue, as it's atmospheric, previews what I assume will be the important characters in the story, and showcases the mythology in this PMD world. The only issue I had was the phrase 'he needs to sleep and grow strong if he wants to grow strong enough to find them', since it's a tad redundant, but aside from that, it grabbed my attention.

She continued on to the water’s edge, slowly lapping at the water as she contemplated her day.
Again, a little redundant, since this bit of description was repeated from chapter 1's first paragraph.

“As nice as it sounds,” Haru began in a much more tactful tone. “I really have a lot of work to do. More important things.”

“What’s more important than spending time with your future in-law?”

“You do realize you’re not my brother’s mate-“

“Yet.”
Subtle Shimmer is subtle.

Oh, if only she could spend all day working away at processing lumber, it would make her a very happy, relaxed bidoof!
Yes, if only, and there certainly won’t be a future call to adventure... nudge nudge wink wink

I don't really have much to say on the first chapter except that it's a solid start. We get a good idea of what the characters are like, with Haru being the down to earth workaholic, (and props to you for having a Bidoof as a POV character), the stoic bodyguard Muse, and the airheaded Shimmer. Their chemistry is quite enjoyable, and it also presents them with clear enough motivations that they feel like living, breathing Mon in their own setting. That is, until crap hits the fan and they stumble upon the injured Sneasel (which I can only assume is from the prologue). The setting also feels wide despite taking place in one location for this chapter, as we get hints that there's a bigger world out there outside of Haru's home village.

The only thing other thing I would say is the way that it ends doesn't provide much of a closing hook. It just sort of stops as Muse takes the injured Sneasel to safety, leaving the other two alone. Maybe if it hinted at some danger lurking, that would've provided a bit of a cliffhanger or a segue into the next chapter, but oh well.

Aside from that, I'm invested and excited to find out more. I'm aware this is on FFN, but I'll probably be reading it through here so I can check back periodically. I tend to be a slow reader with fics, so I tend to come back more to updates rather than binge-read through stuff. If you wanna chat more about the review or anything else, I'm on Discord, so I'll catch you later.
 

Negrek

Dreaming of Spring
Staff
Welcome again! Nice to see this here, and I like having the prologue and first chapter posted together here like this. The prologue flows nicely into the start of the story, and having chapter one gives the reader something a bit more substantial to bring them into the story proper. I've already talked about the prologue, so, starting with the first chapter...

Haru let out a groan, raising her head up to the air.
Saying that she raised her head up "to the air" makes it sound like she's underwater and going up to the surface, which I don't think she is? Unless I missed her getting in the water. If she's standing next to the river and raising her head, I think leaving it as "raising her head" would work well.

The kirlia’s hair had been bound together in thick, pink bands on either side of her head, an accessory anyone in the village would recognize.
Hmm, I hope it's not an accessory that I'm also supposed to recognize, because I totally don't, heh.

“I’m afraid he’s a bit busy at the moment,” she lied.
Sleeping totally counts as busy in my book! XD

“Oh! Why don’t you come with us instead then! It would be fun! Besides,” she added in a teasing voice. “You could really stand to get out more.”
Since "Besides, you could really stand to get out more" is broken up by a dialogue tag, you actually want a comma after "voice," and "you" shouldn't be capitalized. Like this:

Besides,” she added in a teasing voice,you could really stand to get out more.”
Same kind of deal in the next sentence:

“As nice as it sounds,” Haru began in a much more tactful tone. “I really have a lot of work to do. More important things.”
There should be a comma after "tone," rather than a period.

“That’s beside the point. I’m sure we will eventually. So.” She paused to clasp her hands together. Are you coming or not?”
Missing the opening quote on the second piece of dialogue here.

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”
Once their bellies were full of delicious bread and jam, and Muse’s back had been laden with satchels for herbs and a bundle of berries and sweets for an afternoon snack, the trio set off, following the path up the river towards the northern forest.
Hmm, was there supposed to be a scene break here that got eaten?

Did she enjoy getting out and exploring from time to time, or taking long walks after a stressful day?
Somehow I get the feeling that Haru's probably going to be doing a lot more exploration/adventuring than she's really ready for soon...

Maybe her brother could try to ignore it and be nice for civilities sake, but Shimmer drove her nuts!
* civility's

At once she was on her feet in a defensive stance, should the combatants come barging in their direction.
Kind of weird phrasing here. Something like "in case the combatants came barging..." would sound more natural to me.

And if they’re not and there’s enough of a body left… well, I’m sure Mandi will know what to do.
D: What's Mandi going to do with a dead-but-not-too-destroyed body??

Muse stopped in front, raising a top to stop the other two from advancing and sniffing at the air.
Raising a top?

Shimmer can help you get him on my back once you’re out here.
Kind of weird for Muse to use "him" here, when it's "them" for the rest of the paragraph.

- The detail of the characters discussing where the sneasel might be from based on his smell is neat. Of course pokémon like absol and bidoof would get a lot of information about the world through scent, and different places would certainly smell different. It's nice to see you using the pokémon forms as more than just window dressing.

That one word managed to somber the trio even more.
I think you want a verb after "managed to," so something like "sober," rather than an adjective like "somber."

This is a nice first chapter! I think that it does a good job of getting us acquainted with the characters, while giving some important information about the setting and putting together the beginnings of a plot. Haru is a fun protagonist; I like that she has strong opinions that are contrary to what you normally see for heroes (e.g. not particularly invested in fighting or exploring). Much better than having a kind of bland character who goes along with things, imo. It's also neat to see someone hardworking and with a strong sense of family, though I imagine the story's going to force her to leave her life behind. It's also really nice to see a bidoof character who isn't played as a joke (although sorry, Haru, I find the kirlia crushing on a bidoof hilarious).

Some interesting tidbits with the mention of "wildeners" here. It's always interesting to see how MD fics handle the pokémon that live in civilization vs the ones out in the dungeons. I imagine we'll be seeing more of them later.

Overall this is a solid example of a story beginning with an ordinary day that quickly develops into something unusual. You spend enough time devoted to Haru's usual morning to build up a sense of the characters and the kind of life that they're used to, but not so much that it's overlong or infodump-y. I have to imagine that the mysterious sneasel's going to kick the plot right off, and I look forward to seeing how the hard-headed bidoof is going to get swept up in everything. Hopefully not by having her village destroyed by the bad guys or anything, it would be nice if she could hope to go back to her peaceful home at the end of anything. In any case, I look forward to seeing what happens next!
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
@NebulaDreams
The prologue was really fun to write. Especilally since it doubled as building up bits about the world, as well as dropping hints about what is to come.

@Negrek Thanks for bringing those errors to my attention. Even after multiple editing sessions, sometimes things slip right under my nose. I'll be sure to fix them next time I do a cleanup of the first chapter. I did go ahead and fix the scene break though. I swore it was there when I looked the chapter over. Oh well, it's fixed now.

D: What's Mandi going to do with a dead-but-not-too-destroyed body??
We'll learn about that in just a couple chapters.

Raising a "top" was supposed to be raising a "paw." I have no clue how that one happened.

Hmm, I hope it's not an accessory that I'm also supposed to recognize, because I totally don't, heh.
Oh, they're just extra thick hairbands, more or less (that I totally forgot to put in the cover art, whoops!)

Thanks for the feedback, both of you. It always helps to have things like that pointed out, since sometimes stuff like that even slips past my beta readers. With that out of the way, onward to the next chapter!


Chapter 2: Theran Village
As the sneasel slowly opened his eyes, the first thing he noticed were the empty plains that stretched out beyond the horizon. With his vision blurred, he could not make out where the ground ended and where the sky began. Carefully, he pushed himself to his feet, holding his arms out to steady himself as his perception cleared.

He looked down to his pristine white claws, narrowing his eyes, before looking out at the nothingness that spread out around him. It looked like sunset, a deep red tinge just barely clinging to the sky. But there were no moon or stars here. The ground seemed watery, reflecting the bit of light. The reflection was unusually opaque; he could not tell how deep the water was at any point.

Looking up and squinting, he could make out a small dot on the horizon. He began to walk towards it, his feet causing a quiet splish-splash as he trekked through the fortunately shallow water.

At least, it seemed shallow.


Is this a dream? The sneasel wondered quietly. Certainly, he had never seen a place like this, not even in the depths of a mystery dungeon.

Before long, the dot began to take form. A small, earthen mound rose on the horizon, an island reflected in the water. On it, a single, withered, leafless tree stood against the sky.

He began to creep closer, aware of his exposure in the open air. Cautious steps closed the distance between himself and the mound.

But then it was far deeper than he expected.

The sneasel let out a startled screech as he tumbled in, engulfed by the watery depths. He thrashed and flailed and tumbled as he sucked in a lungful of water, gagging as he tried to pull himself to the surface. But something seemed to grab hold of him. Dragging him deeper and deeper, his lungs filling with water…


*****​

He gasped awake with a start, sitting up bolt right, wheezing as if water still invaded his lungs. But no, he was okay. It was a dream. All just a dream.

Even as he came to the realization that it had been a dream, he continued to suck in air with a slight rattle. Sharp, throbbing pains coursed though his body as he moved, and with every breath. And a chill cut through even his thick fur and down into his bones. He tilted his head down to take a look at the damage, only to notice weird white bands that wound around his stomach and back, and leg.

Finally taking a look at his surroundings, the first thing he noticed was the nest he was in, made of straw and grass woven along with twigs, and lined with a something fluffy and white. The second thing he noted was the wooden ground beneath him, cut into uniform, near perfect boards, something that seemed far too unnatural to him.

The wall behind him, however, was more natural: the wood twisted and warped as if he was inside the trunk of an old, hollowed tree. The room stretched high above him, a domed roof covering the top; if he could hazard a guess, the walls were at least five times his height. A single hole near the top of the room allowed light to filter inside.

If he strained his hearing, he could make out muffled voices of other pokemon, though they were too distant for him to make sense of their words.
He turned his attention back to the floor around him. More empty nests lined the wall, with a second ring of larger nests looping around the center with a walk space between the two circles. Across the room was a wooden partition. And beyond it, the single exit: a large, unnatural opening leading down a wooden tunnel.

The sneasel tried forcing himself to his feet, fighting the dizziness and nausea produced by the movement. This room was too large, too open, and yet left him cornered at the same time. Straining his senses, he tried to make out any sounds or scents of danger. He needed to move. To escape. To hide. To shroud himself in the bushes or trees.

Cautiously he sniffed at the air, ears straining for any sound of movement. The voices from outside still seemed distant. He could hear more voices beyond the wooden barrier too, though their sounds were muffled. And what traces of scent he could make out in this room were masked by the pungent smell of berries. Lots and lots of berries.

“Pull yourself together,” the sneasel mumbled to himself. Despite his body’s protests, he slowly inched forward in a crouching position. “Think. You’ve been in worse situations. Just… relax.”

As he reached the opening, he paused, ear twitching. A buzzing sound caught his attention from beyond the tunnel. Between the partition and the tunnel was another room, this one with a small wooden platform balanced on cut stone in the center. Beyond that, the tunnel curved out of sight at an angle.

The buzzing, as it turned out, was an illumise, who came zipping around the corner a moment later, excitedly blabbering about something until they took notice of dark-type up and about. Their ramblings came to a stop. The sneasel froze, cautiously flexing his claws and baring his fangs in a pitiful threat that he couldn’t back up.

For a moment the illumise stared at the slightly larger pokemon, blinking once. And then seemingly without a care, they smiled, and spun around to buzz back down the tunnel. “Lecha!” They called out in an accent unfamiliar to the sneasel. “Your patient is awake!”

The illumise’s reaction disarmed the sneasel, his threatening glare wilting into a confused tilt of the head – his pupils were still narrow slits. Once again, his attention shifted to escape. The only ways out were either to follow the illumise back down the tunnel, or to try climbing the wall and continue through the hole in the wall.

As he put weight down on one foot, a sharp pain shot through his leg.

There would be no daring climbs today.

He managed only a few steps beyond the partition before his leg gave out. He fell to the ground with a startled yelp. Mere seconds passed before the illumise returned. This time, a fluffy, feathered pink and purple pokemon followed behind. An aromatisse, he thought.

“See,” the illumise said, gesturing towards him. “I told you they brought in one of those wild ones.”

The aromatisse let out a concerned chirp before placing a bundle she had brought with her to the side, then turned to chide the illumise.

“Now, now Twi. He’s no less deserving of help than anyone else here.”

“I know,” the illumise, Twi, responded. “But you think they could have left us with someone who could help out if he got… violent?”

The aromatisse sighed. “I know you’re young and this is your first time dealing with something like this, but not every wildener is out to get you. Many of them are quite nice, in fact. Honestly, what have your parents been teaching you?”

The sneasel blinked. Had they forgotten he was there already? Carefully and quietly, he pushed himself into a sitting position.

After a firm look in the illumise’s direction, she looked down to her bundle for a moment. She paused, then turned her head back. “Besides,” she added with a wink. “I’m stronger than you might think. I’m sure I can handle things should it come to that. Old Lecha still has some tricks up her sleeve yet!”

With that out of the way, the aromatisse busied herself with the bundle, pulling loose a knot. The fabric fell open around the contents: a couple oran berries, a sitrus berry, and another pale blue berry that the sneasel did not recognize, as well as a small wooden bowl. Lecha hummed, looking over the contents, then looked back to the tense, sharp-clawed pokemon.

Finally, she picked up the pale berry and tore it in half, taking one half and the sitrus berry, while holding out the other to the illumise. “Twi, I want you to use the two oran berries and the remainder of the rawst berry to make a poultice. Can you do that?”

“Both oran berries?”

“Yes, I don’t want to apply the rawst to the burn itself, but I’m hoping absorbing the juices into the other wounds will still help.”

Twi shrugged before landing on the ground. “Whatever you say.” They reached an appendage down to grab one of the oran berries to inspect it for a moment, then finally got to work peeling the thick skin away.

Satisfied, Lecha turned her attention to the anxious sneasel watching from across the room. She began to approach slowly, eliciting a warning growl from the dark type. She held her hands up, holding nothing but the berries.

“You don’t need to fear me,” she began in a soft tone like she would use to speak to a frightened child. “We do not wish to hurt you dear. We only want to help you, if you’ll let us.”

The sneasel’s growls quieted, but he still stayed hunched, eyeing her cautiously, sizing her up.

“You seem like you went through a terrible ordeal,” she continued, taking another small, calculated step forward. “Some of the pokemon in our village found you collapsed in the forest. We just want to treat your injuries. Okay?”

The sneasel pondered her statement for a moment. When he finally spoke, it was in a cautious, guarded tone. “This is a… village?”

Lecha nodded slowly, taking another step towards the crouched pokemon. “That’s right. You’re in the medic building of Theran.”

“I have never heard of this… ‘Theran.’”

“We’re a little village by the Gorebyss River!” Twi piped up from behind Lecha. “Our carpenters and lumberjacks are some of the best in the region. We also have the best oran berries this side of the mountains!”

The sneasel considered their words, scrunching his nose, but at least managed to relax a little bit for a moment, his hair lying flat.

Encouraged by the change of demeanor, the aromatisse closed the gap between them, and offered out the berries two berries.

“Here, eat these,” the fragrant-smelling pokemon said in a soft tone.

The sneasel gave the berries a skeptical look, but eventually struck out, spearing the berries on the tip of his claws, and gave the sitrus berry a cautious nibble, sucking and licking away the juice that spurted out.

For some time, he nibbled at the berry in the near silence of the room. While he did so, Lecha made herself busy unraveling the white bands wrapped around him, revealing nasty cuts and bruises underneath. But finally, the sound of buzzing made him jerk, his attention springing back to the illumise.

The bug had arisen from their spot across the room, buzzing across to deposit a bowl of blue pulp in front of him. He recoiled, the fur on his shoulders raising.

“Thank you, Twi,” the aromatisse hummed, reaching a paw down into the pulp, inspecting it. “Now, would you please go get some fresh gauze from the shelf?”

The bug type buzzed in response, taking to the air. A quick zip to a shelf carved into the walls, the they were back with a white substance that reminded the sneasel vaguely of woven spinnerak silk. Now that he thought about it, he realized it was the same type of stuff that had been wrapped around his wounds.

With another hum of thanks, the aromatisse scooped a pawful of the berry pulp reached over to begin working it into the fur around the sneasels ear.

The sting of the juices caught the sneasel off guard. He shrank away from the paw with a warning hiss.

The aromatisse seem unconcerned, however, keeping a calm composure as she slowly lowered her arm to hold it in front of the sneasel. “This is to help you heal, the juices have healing properties that will help with your cuts. Will you allow me to help you?”

For a moment, the sneasel stayed stiff, eyeing the paw through narrowed eyes. But after a tense moment, he relented, lowering his head.

The aromatisse let out a cheerful chirp as she returned to her work, spreading the pulp over the stinging wound before beginning to wrap the gauze around the sneasel’s ear and moving down to do the same with his leg.

She worked in silence for several minutes. But when the sneasel continued to stay quiet the doctor finally spoke up.

“So, you’re not from around you, are you dear?” she questioned, not looking up from her work.

“Are you from the forest?” Twi butted in. “Do you have a name? Do forest ‘mon have names?”

Lecha shot the illumise a sharp glare for a split second before returning to her work.

The sneasel glanced blankly between the two pokemon, narrowing his eyes suspiciously as he looked over to the illumise. But once he was fairly certain there was no ill intent between the two, he relaxed slightly.

“Nip,” he finally grunted. “My name is Nip.”

Lecha hummed in response. “Nip? Okay Nip, that’s a start. Do you mind telling me what happened to you? It might help me treat your wounds better after all.”

Another pause. “A kangaskhan,” he admitted with a bitter tone. “Got me with a fire punch in the back.”

“Your voice is kinda funny,” Twi interjected.

Your voice is kind of funny,” Nip hissed back.

The doctor hummed as she finally finished dressing the wound. “Mhm, that makes sense. You must have gotten too close to the one nesting nearby.”

A pause. “You could say that.”

Lecha nodded sagely. “The wilder ones usually stick to the plains on the other side of the forest. I take it she’s responsible your leg and ear also?”

He glanced down to the dressed wound and responded with a grunt. “Yeah.”

Licking the last remains of the sitrus berry off his claws, he began nibbling on the second berry. Already, he could feel a bit of his strength beginning to return as the berries began to do their work. He began to chew faster as his nurse stood back to look over her handiwork.

A distant sound caught Nip's attention. His ear-feather twitched as he made an attempt to listen, stiffening and straining to hear better.

“Lecha!” A voice called from down the tunnel. “Are you here? Are you busy?”

The aromatisse turned her head back towards the tunnel. “I’m in the back! You can come on back here though.”

There was the sound of shuffling in the distance, then of footsteps from a rushed, waddling gait. Finally, a plump, brown rodent came around the corner, a small satchel dragging the ground behind her.

“Oh Haru!” Lecha called out, turning her attention away from the sneasel. “What are you doing back so soon? Is everything alright?”

Haru gave Lecha a quick affirming "mhm" sound. “I’m fine, nothing bad happened, dad is just feeling a little weak this afternoon. I was wondering if maybe I could pick up a few white herbs?”

The aromatisse seemed to consider for a moment. “I believe I’ve only given him two this month… Okay, give me just a minute and I’ll prepare some for him. I can give him three more.”

The bidoof quickly bobbed her head. “Three sounds perfect.”

Lecha nodded again in return before pausing to wipe her paws off on the cloth she brought the bundle in. “Wait here for a moment while I go jot my patient’s information down in my books, then I'll be back with those for you.” With that, the aromatisse scurried off.

As the bidoof waited, she caught a glance of dark fur behind where Lecha had been standing. She propped herself up on her hind legs, straining to get a better look before recognition seemed to light up in her eyes.

“Oh, it’s you! You're awake!”

The pokemon waddled over with a toothy smile, sniffing at the sneasel, who recoiled as she approached, narrowing his eyes.

She paused with a tilt of her head. “What, never met a bidoof before?”

Nip blinked a couple times in stunned silence. “No, just never one without sense of self preservation.”

The bidoof seemed taken aback by the response at first, but quickly shook it off. “Nah, there’s nothing to fear inside the village gates.” But she still backed off, regardless. “But I’m glad to see you doing alright. When we brought you in yesterday, we weren’t sure you were going to survive.”

“Haru here was with the group that found you,” Lecha interjected as she returned from the tunnel. “You should consider yourself lucky.”

The sneasel looked towards the rodent pokemon, then back to the aromatisse before turning his head away with a grunt. “All I mean is that I have never met a plant eater that wasn’t overly cautious and was so willing to put themselves in harm’s way.”

“You aren’t exactly in any condition to cause anything harm though,” Twi buzzed. “Even if you were, Lecha would never let any harm come to Haru or anyone else here.”

Nip opened his mouth to say something else, but nothing came out and he quickly shut it, lowering his eyes, though not before shooting the illumise a sharp look. Earlier they were cautious, but now they acted like he was totally harmless. How foolish could these pokemon be?

“So,” Haru started, settling down a few feet away as she changed the subject. “You don’t sound like you’re from around here. Are you a forest ‘mon or other sort of wildener? Or are you from one of the other villages? Oh, could you be from the other side of Mount Domo? We don’t get visitors from there very often.”

Stuck between staying and talking or retreating to the room of nests, Nip chose to sit down. “You keep using that term. Villages?”

“You know, Pokemon settlements. Places where all types of pokemon gather instead of just a single species.”

Finally, something seemed to click with the sneasel. “Oh, you must be speaking of tribes. Yes, I come from the Half-Moon tribe of the north.” He paused, scrunching his brow before continuing. “Are they known out here?”

The bidoof shook her head. “I've never heard of any village that called themselves a tribe. Let alone any called the Half Moon Tribe. Maybe… I might have heard an explorer mention a tribe in passing, but nothing comes to mind.”

“I see…”

“Is something the matter?”

He scrunched his brow for a second, before perking up - his expression relaxing - and shaking his head. “I must have come further south than I realized. You.” He raised a paw to point at Twi. “Where did you say I was, exactly?”

“You’re in Theran village pal,” the illumise chimed in. “Home of the best carpentry and the finest oran berry orchard this side of Mount Domo.”

“I see… Wait. You guys grow oran berries down here?”

“Of course!” Haru replied, tilting her head. “They're delicious and make for a great food supplement for anyone traveling through the mists or over the mountain.”

“And are an invaluable part of any good medics first aid supplies,” Lecha interrupted, returning from the tunnel. “Does that surprise you?”

“Of course not,” Nip responded. “Even the youngest kits should know the values of oran and sitrus berries. I've just never heard of see anyone growing entire fields of berries. Let alone using them as food. Not when they're so hard to come by.”

“Oh, but they grow great here, there's so many produced, that there's no reason not to use them as emergency rations. Are they rare where you come from?”

The sneasel nodded. “Very. A well protected bush may only yield one or two harvests in the warm season. And the bushes are few and far between. Not to mention the race to gather as much as possible up before outsiders take them for themselves.”

“Outsiders?”

“Pokemon that are not a member of our tribe, whether they be single mons trying to survive on their own or rival tribes trespassing on our territory.”

“Oh!” The illumise perked up. “We call the pokemon that live in the forest ‘wildeners,’ since they live off the land and are a bit more on the wild side, what with the usual lack of a code of honor.”

“Some of them have morals,” Haru interjected. “Some just prefer the quiet of life on their own. But living alone has its downsides. There's no one to protect them if a hungry wildener thinks they look like easy prey.”

Twi piped up. “Killing pokemon for food or for sport, instead of trying to settle in and either change their diet or work with a meal vendor? I wouldn’t call that morals.”

A moment of awkward silence filled the room as Nip gave the bug-type a blank expression, until Lecha broke the void by clearing her throat. “Now, now,” the aromatisse started, waving a paw. “Every loner pokemon and wildener makes their choice, you can’t force a pokemon to change the ways that their fathers and forefathers taught them.” She shook her head, adding with a mumble, “I really need to speak to your father about what he’s been telling you next time he’s in town.”

Twi gave a grunt in response. Then their facial expression relaxed before they buzzed their wings, taking to the air, the awkward pause forgotten. “Oh! I should go let the others know that Nip woke up. Shimmer and Muse would want to know, right?”

Haru let out a groan and tilted her head up towards the ceiling. “They were over at my parent’s place when I left. Off pestering my brother, as usual. Let my mom know I’ll be back home soon, would ya?”

“Of course!” The illumise buzzed. And then they were off, zipping down the tunnel in a rush, leaving Nip, Haru, and Lecha alone in a slightly more peaceful room.

Nip continued to stare down the tunnel Twi had disappeared through for a moment. “You mean they don’t-” he began to mumble, before cutting himself off with a shake of his head. Carefully, he began to push himself back to his feet, finding himself with a fair bit more strength than he had when he had woken up. Though the pain had yet to subside.

“I thank you both for your hospitality,” he began. “But I should take leave as well.” He began to take a step forward, still limping slightly.

“Now hold on,” Lecha interjected. “You’re still in an uneasy condition, and in no way in shape to travel. Where do you intend to rush off to?”

The sneasel paused mid step before slowly turning his head to the fairy type. How much should he share? “I am on a… spiritual journey of sorts,” he explained. “For my tribe. For myself. I really must get going.”

The bidoof shifted her gaze to the side. Lecha, however, was far less shy about speaking up.

“A spiritual journey you say? I can understand the desire to hurry dear, but you really must rest. At least overnight. I need to keep an eye on those wounds of yours, apply another round of medicine. You’ll never complete any trip in this condition. If I find you’re doing significantly better in the morning, you can leave then.”

“And if not,” Haru added in, “you can always stay in the village for a day or two. Most ‘mon here would love to hear about what the northern part of the land is like. I know I would. Are you from the other side of the Great Misty Canyon? Actually, you must be. All the land between here and there is charted out, and like I said, I’ve never heard of any ‘half-moon tribe’.”

Nip tilted his head, his ear feather flicking. “A canyon? Well, yeah, I did pass through one, now that you mention it.”

“Not many ‘mon risk passing through the canyon,” Lecha added in an impressed tone. “It's the most dangerous known mystery dungeon this side of the continent.”

“That rift?” The sneasel scoffed. “I went through far more dangerous challenges for my coming of age.”

“Who in their right mind other than an explorer or seasoned rescue crew would enter a mystery dungeon?” Haru asked.

“Are you kidding? All kits have to go through a dungeon’s mists to complete a task and earn their final spot in society!”

“It sounds like your tribe puts value on different things than our village,” Lecha interjected. “Perhaps you two could continue your discussion over in the resting area? You do need rest, after all, my dear guest.”

“Actually…” the bidoof began, “I should probably get back home.” She bowed her head slightly to Lecha. “Thank you very much for the herbs though. I’m sure my dad will make good use of them.” She then turned her attention to the sneasel. “You know… I have tomorrow off. Perhaps if you’re in better condition, I could show you around the town? You seem like the type that would visit the local temple… what did you say your name was?”

“Nip.”

“Alright then Nip, if you want to check out our temple, you’re free to come with me tomorrow.”

Nip closed his eyes for a moment, considering his options. He was in no condition to rush off on his own at the moment, and it certainly would not hurt to find out how things were run around this part of the land. He finally gave the rodent a nod. “It would be appreciated.”

The bidoof gave a signature buck-toothed grin. “That would be great! I’ll see you tomorrow then!” With those parting words, the pudgy pokemon waddled on out around the corner, leaving Nip alone with the doctor.

“Now,” Lecha started. “I can help you back to a nest, if you need me to.”

The sneasel shook his head quickly. “No, no I’m fine.” Slowly, he pushed himself to his feet, testing his strength, then turned and began to limp back into the room he had been in just a short time before.

“Trust me, I know how to take care of myself.”

The aromatisse clucked her tounge. “Well, if you insist dear. Don’t push yourself too hard though. You’re safe here.”

Reaching the nest he’d been in before, Nip settled down and closed his eyes. As he listened to Lecha leave the room, he mumbled to himself, “easy for you to say.”
 
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NebulaDreams

Well-known member
I don't really have much to say this time around except that it's a good continuing chapter, and all from the perspective of the Sneasel this time around! Nip seems like an interesting character, since he has a moral code of his own, appears to be on some sort of ascetic journey, and is a bit more rough around the edges compared to everyone else. I felt kind of sorry for the poor guy, seeing how he spent most of the chapter being so wary of everyone around him, not to mention, well, Twi being a bit of a rac-- I mean, tribe-ist pain the ass. I can tell Nip's really out of his element here, which I'm sure will lead to plenty of 'fish out of water' moments on the way.

I found this to be more of a transitional/opening chapter where not much happens, but still lays the groundwork for the rest to come after. Really, it's only just one scene, not including the dream sequence at the beginning (and our tree of foreshadowing). So in the grand scheme of things, it didn't really progress the plot that much, but I'll be looking forward to the next one in any case to see where it goes from here.
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
Location
The Yangverse
Pronouns
Any
Heyoooooooooooo I wanted to do some newbie fic reviews and I figured I'd start with you since you're not as far along here.

I love, love, LOVE your prologue. That sort of in-universe myth and legend shit is -chef's kiss-

I like the term "wildeners" to describe non-civilized Pokemon - the difference is a common enough thing in PMD and other Pokemon-POV-heavy fics but it's always fun to explore. Nip's reactions to the "civilized" Pokemon were a treat.

(Also Nip is a mood. Haru is also a mood.)

One thing I like in fanfics in general that PMD fics tend to be pretty good at is intrigue. Yours has what I'm talking about - a sense that Something is going on and the story is working toward building up to it - within, what, a prologue and two chapters? That's good.

Anyway I will try to get back to this after later updates. Try. Keep up the good work in the meantime.
 

Negrek

Dreaming of Spring
Staff
On to Chapter 2!

He gasped awake with a start, sitting up bolt right, wheezing as if water still invaded his lungs.
It's "bolt upright."

Finally taking a look at his surroundings, the first thing he noticed was the nest he was in, made of straw and grass woven along with twigs, and lined with a something fluffy and white.
The only ways out were either to follow the illumise back down the tunnel, or to try climbing the wall and continue through the hole in the wall.
I think this would sound a little better if you rephrased it so you aren't repeating "the wall" near the end.

One thing to watch out for is that when a character calls another by their name or title in dialogue (e.g. "Hey, Tim!" or "Whatever you say, Mom."), the name should be set off by a comma. For example:

“Now, now Twi. He’s no less deserving of help than anyone else here.”
There should be a comma before "Twi" ("Now, now, Twi.").

We do not wish to hurt you dear.
Likewise, "dear" is here being used in place of a name, so it should be "We do not wish to hurt you, dear."

“So, you’re not from around you, are you dear?” she questioned, not looking up from her work.
Same deal here; should be, "So, you're not from around here, are you, dear?"

This happens a fair amount throughout the chapter; I just picked a few examples.

Encouraged by the change of demeanor, the aromatisse closed the gap between them, and offered out the berries two berries.
Looks like something went wrong at the end of this sentence.

A quick zip to a shelf carved into the walls, the they were back with a white substance that reminded the sneasel vaguely of woven spinnerak silk.
*spinarak, unless there's a fakemon or the name's supposed to be rendered differently in this story

With another hum of thanks, the aromatisse scooped a pawful of the berry pulp reached over to begin working it into the fur around the sneasels ear.
I think you're missing an "and" before "reached."

His ear-feather twitched as he made an attempt to listen, stiffening and straining to get a better sound.
Tch, this sentence really wants whatever the equivalent of "view" is, but for hearing. Unfortunately I don't know what that is (or if it even exists), but "straining to get a better sound" reads strange to me. Maybe consider rewording this one.

Finally, a plump, brown rodent came around the corner, a small satchel dragging the ground behind her.
Dragging *on the ground. What a cute image, though! It does seem pretty awkward for quadrupedal pokémon to have to carry stuff without proper shoulders or arms or anything, though I hope Haru's got a better system rigged up for stuff she has to tote regularly, heh. Like saddlebag-style things or whatever.

“And are an invaluable part of any good medics first aid supplies,” Lecha interrupted, returning from the tunnel.
*medic's

They were over at my parent’s place when I left.
*parents', if her parents live together

A quiet chapter here, but I think it serves as a nice way to give some more information about your world. Nip's quest also lays in some hints about where the story will go on from here... Guessing we'll get more info about that next chapter, unless something more immediate comes up and it ends up being a later-story reveal!

I like how you used Nip's POV to get across how different his culture is from Haru's, with details like him not recognizing the bandages to how different his body language and mannerisms are from the other pokémon. At first I thought he was a wildener, so it's interesting that he's actually from another pokémon settlement, just a rather different sort than what they have around here. Plus some confirmation in this chapter that mystery dungeons do exist in this world, and simply aren't something that Haru and her friends would have much knowledge of or interest in. I'm guessing a lot of Nip's emphasis on self-reliance and general suspicion of outsiders is cultural, but I also wonder if he's particularly independent even for his tribe.

I also imagine his reaction to Shimmer will be pretty great. If he doesn't think these "villagers" are weirdos already...

Using Twi's misconceptions was a clever way to draw out more of the worldbuilding in a natural fashion, and it's nice in that it says a lot about some of the assumptions people in the village might make without being super didactic about it. Overall you did a really nice job of getting a lot across here without a lot of pure exposition dump and illuminating character while also delivering info about the world.

All in all, a nice little chapter. I'm curious to see how things will move on from here.
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Edit 12/26/2019: Made some minor tweaks to the final scene based on feedback to try and make it feel more believable.

@NebulaDreams
I felt kind of sorry for the poor guy, seeing how he spent most of the chapter being so wary of everyone around him, not to mention, well, Twi being a bit of a rac-- I mean, tribe-ist pain the ass.
Nip is definitely a fun character to write since he's so different from the rest of the main cast. As for Twi, I would consider them a case of "teen parroting nasty remarks from their parents," something that comes up again later down the road.

I found this to be more of a transitional/opening chapter where not much happens, but still lays the groundwork for the rest to come after. Really, it's only just one scene, not including the dream sequence at the beginning (and our tree of foreshadowing). So in the grand scheme of things, it didn't really progress the plot that much, but I'll be looking forward to the next one in any case to see where it goes from here.
Haha, yeah, most of my chapters end up keeping themselves to the pov of one character, outside of short scenes at the end of a chapter with one exception a few chapters down the road. On the negative side, it ends up limiting the movement of some chapters, but not often. This next chapter is really the last of the "setup" chapters before the plot really starts to kick off, so I'm looking forward to hearing your thoughts on it.

@Umbramatic
I like the term "wildeners" to describe non-civilized Pokemon - the difference is a common enough thing in PMD and other Pokemon-POV-heavy fics but it's always fun to explore. Nip's reactions to the "civilized" Pokemon were a treat.
Glad you're enjoying it so far! Most PMD fics I've read tend to use "ferals" to describe pokemon living in the wilderness, but I wanted to do something different and give that idea an in-universe name. It came down to wildeners and wildlings, and wildeners won out in the end.

@Negrek
Thanks once again for pointing out those errors! I'll keep what you pointed out in mind, for when I get around to fixing everything.

At first I thought he was a wildener, so it's interesting that he's actually from another pokémon settlement, just a rather different sort than what they have around here. Plus some confirmation in this chapter that mystery dungeons do exist in this world, and simply aren't something that Haru and her friends would have much knowledge of or interest in. I'm guessing a lot of Nip's emphasis on self-reliance and general suspicion of outsiders is cultural, but I also wonder if he's particularly independent even for his tribe.
In early planning for my fic, mystery dungeons didn't exist in the world, but they were added later when it made sense to add them to the lore and I found a couple of places where they could be plot-relevant, so they ended up coming back. As for Nip's suspicion, you are at least partially correct, though you'll have to wait to learn more.

Using Twi's misconceptions was a clever way to draw out more of the worldbuilding in a natural fashion, and it's nice in that it says a lot about some of the assumptions people in the village might make without being super didactic about it. Overall you did a really nice job of getting a lot across here without a lot of pure exposition dump and illuminating character while also delivering info about the world.
Even though there's a lot of lore to cover in my world, since I created an original PMD setting, I try really hard to not let things become an info dump and for it to be revealed naturally, so I'm glad you feel like I did well here.

With that said, we're on to chapter 3, which is really the last set up chapter before the plot begins to unfold. Enjoy.



Chapter 3: Customary
In truth, although Haru had stopped by Lecha’s to pick up herbs for her father, she had volunteered in the first place because she wanted to check in on the sneasel. Although she never had the adventuring blood of her brother, she still found herself wanting to learn more about places far from home. Certainly, she had no interest in exploring them for herself, but how would she ever draw business from other places without learning about their wants and needs?

So, a strange and mysterious pokemon was certainly someone to question, right?

As she began to make the trek back home, she let her mind wander back to the meeting, only giving distracted greetings to pokemon that passed her by. A pokemon from the other side of the Misty Canyon, how rare an occasion! Only the strongest expedition or rescue teams ever ventured out there, many of which only traveled if hired as bodyguards for a weaker research team or to rescue an unfortunate soul that had managed to wander in and become lost in the maze of ever-shifting landscapes.

“Yoo-hoo! Haru!”

The bidoof shook her head, clearing it as a familiar voice caught her attention. She slowed to veer off the road and to one of the nearby stands where the voice originated from. The wooden stand was painted a bright, pale yellow, though the paint was chipped and faded with age. Baskets of berries sat out both on top of the stand, and in front of it. Also standing on top was the shop keep: a lone bellossom.

Haru stood up on her hind legs to get a better look, placing her front paws on the shorter end of the counter. “Good evening, Ruffle. How’s the shop been?”

“Slow today,” the bellossom said with a dismissive wave and a sigh. “Making up for yesterday’s rush, I suppose. But the long-term exploration teams returning from the west should be pass through in the next moon.”

Haru closed her eyes, letting out an understanding “hmm”. Much of the foot traffic in and out of the village came from expedition teams passing through on their way to or from one of the western mystery dungeons. With summer shifting to fall though, many of the more research-based groups would soon head back to their homes in Brinash for the winter.

“But enough about me,” Ruffle continued. “I happened to see you leaving Lecha’s. Is everything okay? How’s that sneasel doing?”

“Oh! He actually had woken up sometime today. He looked worse for wear, but he at least was alert. In fact, I think he was already ready to leave, not that he was well enough to. Lecha put a stop to that.”

“Well, that’s good to hear,” Ruffle responded firmly, smoothing down her petal skirt. “When Muse came rushing through town yesterday with the poor thing on her back, Roselei and I were worried he’d already passed. It’s nice to hear otherwise. Did you happen to find out where he’s from?” A pause before she continued with a hint of unease in her voice. “He’s not a local wildener, is he?”

Haru shook her head. “Nope, said something about being from some ‘tribe’ north of the canyon though.”

The bellosom’s eyes grew wide in surprise. “That far away, really?” She only continued once the bidoof nodded. “Huh. Well, it’s a relief that he’s not a wildener sneasel at least. I’d hate for poor Tor to have even more on his plate to worry about on top of the daycare renovations and those two ghost kids he took in a few months back.”

“You have a good point there,” Haru agreed before pausing. “You’re from one of the barrier islands south of here, right Ruffle? What was it like, traveling here? Did you have to pass through any mystery dungeons?”

“Indeed I am!” Ruffle responded, following with a pleased hum. “I grew up in Seashoal Village, on Seadra’s Tail Isle. There’s an entrance to an underwater mystery dungeon not far from there, but it can be sailed around, so no. Why do you ask?”

“I was just trying to get an idea of what traveling so far would be like,” she admitted. “Especially travelling through a mystery dungeon alone. At least, I figure he traveled alone.”

“You can always ask him tomorrow,” Ruffle pointed out.

“You have a point there.” At the thought of tomorrow, it suddenly occurred to Haru how late it was getting. “Oh shoot! I just remembered I need to get these herbs home to dad. Sorry to cut things Ruffle, but I really gotta go!”

“No worries,” the bellossom replied with a pleasant wave. “Say hello to Saku and Chipper for me, would you?”

“Of course. Take care Ruffle!” With that, Haru turned, scurrying back along the road home.

*****​

Fortunately, Haru had no more interruptions on her way home, managing to get back to the river before the sun had dipped even halfway below the horizon.

Unfortunately, Shimmer and Muse were still hanging around by the time she got home. Twi also had not returned to Lecha’s clinic yet, but they were less of a concern to the bidoof.

The absol had taken up a spot laying by the river, watching water slowly seep through the bibarel dam the occasional leaf floating by in the lazy current. Twi had fallen asleep against the absol, relaxing in the evening light. Haru dipped her head to the absol as a greeting when she passed by.

As she continued indoors, she was greeted by the smell of cooked potatoes and carrots and onions. Her mother had mentioned making a soup today. The bibarel in question was busy at work, carefully balancing filled bowls on her tail as she passed it out to the other occupants of the hut: her father, her brother, and Shimmer. Her dad - another bibarel - had spread himself out on the dirt floor, his eyes closed - though he still appeared to be awake. Shimmer had seated herself on a stool. It happened to be the only stool in the house, used specifically for guests since her family had little use for it. Her brother, Toshi, a slightly smaller bidoof, sat nearby looking like he wanted to be anywhere but here.

“Oh, there you are Haru,” Saku greeted as she held her tail up to Shimmer and Toshi. The two took one each, Shimmer lifting hers with ease while Toshi carefully balanced his between chubby paws until he could get it to the floor. “I invited Shimmer and Muse to stay for dinner, and Twi too, if they choose to.”

“That’s…” Don’t be rude, Haru reminded herself. “That’s great. Mom. I just got back with the herbs for dad.”

The other bibarel cracked open a single eye, a small smile growing on his face. “Oh, thank the gods, he groaned. “I swore I could carry that log, ya know, but I guess I’m not as young as I used to be.”

Haru backed herself out of the satchel’s strap and reached a paw inside to pull out the three herbs, then grabbed one with her teeth and carried it over to her father.

“I was just telling Toshi about how we rescued that sneasel yesterday, and how brave I was, isn’t that right, Toshi-boo?”

“Yeah…” her brother, Toshi, began with a nervous chuckle, turning his head in an apparent attempt to hide his discomfort. “It sounded… awesome.”

“Oh, I knew you would enjoy hearing about my exploits!” The kirlia exclaimed.

“So, Twi tells us that the sneasel woke up and seems to be recovering.” Muse’s voice came from the doorway behind Haru. She turned her head to look back at the absol who had entered the hut, Twi hanging onto her back.

“That’s right,” Haru responded with a nod while her mother continued to pass out bowls, using a wider, shallow bowl for the four-legged mon in the room. “His name is Nip, and apparently he’s from north of the Great Misty Canyon. He came down this way on some sort of spiritual journey, and he’s not planning to stick around for long.”

“Well, I can understand that,” her father chipped in. “You know, your grandfather went on a pilgrimage all the way up to the peak of Mount Domo back in his youth, before they relocated the main shrine down here.”

Haru resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “I know, dad, you’ve told me the story before. And he swore he caught sight of Regigigas in the swirling mists.”

“He did!” Her father insisted. “Now I know that no one has seen Regigigias for certain in several lifetimes. But perhaps that’s because fewer pokemon risked the trip up to the old shrine?”

“Fewer pokemon go, because they have more important things to do than to go off chasing legends that might not even exist!”

“Haru. Chipper,” Saku interrupted, her tail slapping the ground impatiently. “I know you two don’t see eye to eye on these things anymore but… can we please be civil. In front of our guests?”

For a moment, Haru stared down at her mother, then averted her gaze, staring down to her bowl of soup. “Sorry.”

“Didin’t mean to start an argument…” Her father grumbled.

The bibarel continued to stare at her daughter for a few seconds before giving a terse grunt. “Good.” She then turned her head to Shimmer, Muse, and Twi, who had taken seats next to each other. “Sorry you three had to hear that. I hope you’ll forgive our inhospitality.”

“It’s all fine,” the kirlia responded. “Father isn’t the most spiritual mon himself. But he says that it’s important to let everyone follow the deities they want to. It’s fortunate for some of the pokemon here, since some of them follow less widely-accepted gods. Did you know that Ruffle has a small shrine to Hoopa in her house?”

Really?” Toshi interjected. “Hoopa? I find that kind of hard to believe.”

“It’s true!” Shimmer insisted. “I mean, it’s not just to Hoopa. She and Roselei are also firm followers of the nature gods, but Ruffle says that Hoopa reminds her of home.”

“Huh.” Chipper shook his head. “I don’t know a whole lot about Seadra’s Tail, or Hoopa. But I never thought I’d hear about someone worshiping it, from what I do. Especially someone as… friendly as Ruffle.”

Shimmer shrugged. “You’d be surprised. I learn all sorts of things from dad about the other pokemon in this village.”

Haru tuned out not long after that, her mind drifting between Shimmer’s information and Nip. She found herself wondering what kind of pilgrimage Nip was on, what kind of god he might follow. Could he be traveling down to Seadra’s Tail? Perhaps he too was a follower of Hoopa. What was Hoopa supposedly like?

She had quit listening to the religious tales of other pokemon long ago, even though she knew it was probably a poor idea with how ingrained it was in many pokemon’s lives. Sure, it might hurt future working relationships, but it drove her nuts, how much some pokemon depended on following supposed teachings about mythical beings, without at least taking the time to investigate it for themselves. Even some expedition groups focused less on research and exploration, and more on trying to find some of these mythical pokemon.

What a waste of time, when there was so much they still did not know about the world! So many places that needed to be charted. The fact that she had never heard of where Nip was from was proof enough of that. And who knew what was really across the sea! Everything they new about the lands beyond were second-hand stories from water pokemon.

Though… Perhaps she should try to listen to whatever Nip had to say about his deity. The more that she could find out about the uncharted territory, the better. Maybe she could even pass that information on and make a name for herself! Certainly, it would be a great way to build up the family name.

Even as their guests said their goodbyes and she settled into bed for the evening, she found herself thinking about what questions she might want to ask, what she might be able to learn.

She was going to make the most out of tomorrow.

*****​

“You shouldn't be putting so much stress on your leg, dear. You’re going to worsen your wound.”

“I wasn’t born yesterday! I’m no newborn kit, exposed and mewling for the safety of a nest. I know how to take care of myself.”

Waiting in Lecha’s reception room, Haru caught herself having second thoughts. Despite having arrived bright and early, it seemed Nip had arisen even earlier, and was causing a heap of trouble for the poor aromatisse doctor.

He still had a limp as he rounded the corner of the hallway into the reception room, sniffing cautiously at the air. Still, he certainly seemed better than he had the day before, his strength starting to return. His fur also looked better, groomed neatly into place with no straw sticking to it. And despite the look of discomfort on his face, he seemed determined to stand on his own, removing his paw from the wall as he stepped into the open. Finally, he caught a glimpse of Haru, locking eyes with the smaller pokemon.

“Oh, the bidoof from before. So, you did show up.” His voice was quiet, perhaps a bit surprised.

For a moment, Haru was stunned into silence, disarmed by the blunt response like she had been the day before. She shook her head to clear it. No. She had promised herself now that she would get to know the strange sneasel. If nothing else, she’d do it for the possible fame, to spread her and her family’s name! Resolve set, she took a firm step forward. “Of course I did. I said I’d show you around, and I intend to keep that promise.”

For a second, a frustrated expression crossed his face. But he quickly shook it away. “Fine, I wouldn’t mind checking out the shrine you mentioned at least. And I could use a proper meal. Lecha only offered me vegetables and berries, and told me I needed to speak with a ‘Mandi’ if I wanted anything with meat in it.”

Haru hesitated. She always made an effort to avoid Mandi’s shop, and all the unfortunate implications that came with it. She had no need for it, after all. But if she wanted to get on Nip’s good side and learn more about where he came from… “Alright, I guess I can help you with that.”

Lecha finally appeared from the room beyond the hall, a cloth stained with berry juices in her paws. “Are you going to show our guest around town, Haru? Take it slow, would you? I’ve told him he needs to rest his leg, but since he insists on moving around, I suppose I can allow it as long as he stays nearby and rests frequently.”

“You can’t make me stay here if I don’t want to,” Nip argued. Lecha chose not to respond to that.

“Don’t worry, we bidoof aren’t exactly known for our speed,” Haru joked. Her comment seemed to placate the tension. For now.

She turned to the curtain-shrouded exit, making sure that Nip followed before making her way back into the open air. The sneasel followed afterwards, blinking as he adjusted to the mid-morning light. Haru gave him a moment to gather his senses as he made his way out into the open before beginning to walk.

“So, this is Theran Village’s central square. You’ll notice that there are a lot of small vendors around here. Ruffle - that’s the bellossom over there - has a stand where she sells the berries that she and Rosalei grow. The building next to it is a sweets shop that works with them for supplies. It’s run by a swallot, but you’d be surprised how careful he is about keeping his workspace clean. There’s a slurpuff that sets up shop around here sometimes but… it’s really just a bunch of junk. But she’ll buy some of the weirdest things from you for high prices! Don’t ask where she gets all that money, you won’t get an answer. Let’s see, what else…”

“What about that place over there?”

Nip had paused to point at one of the larger buildings in the square. It was a miss-mash of bright colors: pink, blue, and purple. A few pokemon were hanging nearby at the moment, running around with lumber and dirt and metal. “Oh, that’s our nursery and daycare. They’ve been working on expanding it. Grombert - that’s the diggersby over there - and my father have been hard at work the last moon or so to get it ready, and they’re almost done. Tor, the blissey that runs it, lives there, along with a couple of orphaned mons that stay there all the time.”

The sneasel scoffed, catching Haru off-guard. “Why would you make your nursery the brightest, most obvious place in town? You’re only going to attract trouble, you know.”

“Well…” She began, averting her gaze as she considered his question, and the relatively valid point. But soon, an answer came to her, making her respond in a firm, confident tone. “It makes the kids feel more comfortable, apparently. Tor also really likes the bright colors, not that you would know from the way he talks about it. Besides, it’s safe here, especially in the middle of the village. We only have a few guards, but they take their job very seriously. No wildener would ever dare try to break in here.

His ear twitched, appearing unconvinced. But he dropped the matter. “So, how about you tell me where this ‘Mandi’ is? Or who, for that matter.”

“Oh. Right.” Remember what you’re doing this for, Haru. “Her shop is actually a bit of a walk away from here, so, um, if you could follow me, please?” She began walking at a slow gait, making sure that the injured sneasel would be able to keep up. Though perhaps she was dragging her feet a bit. Until they arrived though, she supposed it would be as good of time as any to learn more about him.

“So, I know it hasn’t been very long yet,” she started, “but what do you think of the village so far?”

“It’s… odd. You have all these… ‘buildings,’ as you call them. Weird dens that seem too to be safe. And they’re so spread out. Why would you do that?”

“I think a lot of pokemon like to have space. And with them being more spread out, it both gives larger ‘mon a way to maneuver and helps keep a fire from spreading, should one of them catch fire.”

“I guess… But why is there no tree coverage? Or brush? I can understand a central clearing for everyone to gather in, but trees and the brush provide cover and protect from danger. Why would you settle somewhere with so little coverage?”

“There’s no trees in the center because we cleared them out and leveled the ground so we can build on it. Same for the brush, although you’ll notice we have a few bushes and trees here and there for decoration. Why? Are things different where you come from?”

“Oh yes. Where I come from, we build and carve our dens out of dirt and stone and bring in brush and moss and other plants to build our nests. They’re lit by sunlight and moonlight, and glowing mushrooms harvested from nearby caves. The nursery and children’s den are built the same way, but with brambles and thorn bushes protecting the entrance. And we use harvested pelts from our hunts to line our nests and to build more mobile shelter for emergencies.”

Haru came to a sudden stop, stiffening. Nip almost bumped into her. She turned back to look at him incredulously. “I’m sorry, did you say that you hunted other pokemon?”

He blinked a couple times. “Of course. How else would we get the food we need?”

“By not killing at least!”

The sneasel shook his head and scoffed. “I wouldn’t expect a plant-eating mon to understand. The gods blessed us with sharp claws and teeth for killing and tearing. We do what we must to survive. Besides, death is an inevitability. And the sooner you accept that, the sooner you can get in Yveltal’s good graces!”

“Who?”

Nip looked taken aback. “Yveltal, the overseer of death itself! My tribe follows the teachings of Yveltal, the most important of the legendary pokemon of our land.”

Haru blinked. “Nope, never heard of them. But I’m not the best mon to ask. If you ask me, I think too many pokemon follow the myths and legends too closely, and don’t think for themselves. Sometimes I wonder if we’d be better off forgetting the legends in the past.” She paused to shake her head. “But that’s beside the point. Anu is supposed to be tending to Regigigias’ shrine today, so perhaps you can ask him if he knows more about Yevetal or whatever their name was.”

It occurred to Haru that she might be acting like a huge jerk. But the idea of anyone hunting down innocent pokemon - whether for food or sport - made her blood boil, and made everything else hard to focus on. There was plenty to go around, right? Mandi’s business proved that, did it not?

Speaking of Mandi’s business…

“Sorry,” she said bluntly, in a tone that suggested that she was not very sorry at all. “Anyways, this is Mandi’s.”

She stopped in front of a small, plain wooden shack. It was old, but still looked to be in good condition other than a worn paint job. Mandi probably had not spent much time worrying about that. What really sat the building apart from the others they had passed on the way, however, was the entrance. Instead of the usual open doorway, or cloth covering at best, the entrance was covered by two separate wooden doors hinged at the top. One was quite big, obviously built for larger customers, while the other one was small and looked to be made with smaller and weaker pokemon in mind.

Haru lead the way inside. As she pushed her way past the wooden door, the movement set off a bell, prompting a voice to call from inside, “I’ll be with you in just a minute!”

She heard Nip shuffle in behind her, silent after her outburst. The room they stepped into was surprisingly clean, if mostly empty. There was a counter at the far end with both a tall and short portion, made from carefully carved and polished stone. Above her, she could see a hole cut in the roof that light leaked through; likely an entrance for any flying types that could not easily push one of the doors open. Beyond the counter was another doorway, this one just covered by a cloth like most. There were even a couple sweet-smelling potted plants next to the counter and a couple stools and woven mats. Everything seemed relatively normal for a shop.

Except for the smell.

Even with plants to help mask it, and the curtain to help contain it, Haru could pick up the scent of blood and the stench of death. It made her hair stand on end. Nip, perhaps unsurprisingly, seemed rather undisturbed.

Finally, after what felt like forever to the poor bidoof, Mandi emerged from the backroom, thankfully cleaned up.

The bird that waddled inside was nearly four times Haru’s size, her head nearly devoid of feathers with a thick, tan, feathery collar around her neck. Tucked and woven neatly inside the few feathers that she did have on her head was a single bone.

“Ah, Miss Haru!” The mandibuzz said in a cheerful voice. “Never thought I’d see you visiting my little shop. Either you’re here to help that sorry looking sneasel over there, or you’ve suddenly grown a taste for meat. What can I help you with?”

Haru thought it best to ignore the sorry excuse for a light-hearted joke. “I am here to help the sneasel, actually. This is Nip. He’s from some far-off place and is looking for a... meal more to his tastes. We’re hoping you could help him out.”

Mandi seemed to catch on immediately. “Of course, dear heart,” she said in a sing-song tone before turning her attention to the sneasel. “So, what kind of flavor are you in the market for? We have a couple rattata ready to go, just brought ‘em in this morning and already checked them over for disease. If you’re more a fan of the watery taste, I have a remoraid I could sell ya. Or I have a bit of ponyta flank left. Everything else is still being processed I’m afraid.”

“Oh, I haven’t had fish in forever. I could go for some of the remoraid.” He paused, considering a word that stuck out in her statement. “Er… what do you mean, processed?”

“Ah, you really must have come from somewhere far off. All the meat vendors around here are required to process any bodies they bring in and check with neighboring towns to see if any unfortunate souls are missing, so their bodies can be returned for a proper burial instead of being salvaged.”

“Do you have no way to tell that you aren’t hunting pokemon from neighboring… villages, then?”

“Hunt?” she squawked. “Oh, heavens no! Everything we bring in is scavenged. Along with all the other vendors around here. It would be questionably moral at best to hunt others. Every pokemon that’s brought in here died of causes out of our control. They could be of something natural like old age, or something less natural like drowning or being unfortunate enough to cross a territorial wildener’s path.”

“Do they have ways of knowing who belongs to what tribe where you’re from?” Haru asked.

“Of course! Every tribe marks their members with something. Dying fur or skin with berry juices are the most common ways, but some of them use more permanent marks, like specific scars or piercings.”

Haru looked the sneasel over. “So, what’s your mark then?”

“We typically use half-circle markings and occasionally asymmetrical lines. But, er… mine were washed off during my travels, and I haven’t bothered to reapply them.”

The bidoof mentally stored that information away. “Interesting… but that’s getting sidetracked, sorry.”

“It’s all fine,” Mandi said. “Now, for the next question. Do you just want that dethawed to prepare yourself? Or did you have a specific preparation in mind? I assure you, Zylar is quite skilled in all sorts of preparation techniques. He can do it as a filet or on the bone. He has equipment for grilling, frying, deep-frying… you name it.”

“Why would you cook perfectly good meat?”

“To reduce the risk of contamination, dear. But I assure you, we keep everything frozen so that it lasts longer.”

“Is it really that old?”

“You never know with scavenged meat. Usually it’s not that old, but we believe in playing things safe.”

For a moment, Nip hesitated. “Fine, fine. Just dethaw it, I guess. And I guess you might as well cut out the bones if you’re going that far.”

The mandibuzz bobbed her head cheerfully a few times. “You got it! I’ll get Zylar on it right away!” With that, the bird turned to shimmy back towards the back room, squawking out an order to whoever Zylar might have been, leaving Haru and Nip in an awkward silence.

The dark type watched the doorway that Mandi had disappeared through, and when it became obvious that she would be a while he instead hobbled over to one of the stools, looking it over for a moment before taking a seat himself. Haru followed after, choosing one of the mats.

She was starting to have regrets about this whole situation. Maybe she had jumped into things just a little too quickly. Maybe this was not the best way to begin making a name for herself.

With her turmoiled thoughts, she was the first to break the silence.

“How… do you live with yourself?”

The sneasel shot her an unamused glare. Crap. Maybe she should have worded that better. But the words were already coming out of her mouth. “How do you live with yourself knowing you cut someone’s life short. You’ve cut several lives short, all for the sake of eating when you could have… I don’t know, not done that? At least I’m assuming you’re eating, and not just hunting for sport.”

Nip was silent for several moments, staring down the Bidoof. When he finally responded his tone was cold. “No. There is no way that we could have sustained everyone on this ‘scavenging’ concept. Not while competing for territory with some of our sibling and rival tribes as well.” He paused to shake his head. “Death is inevitable. And while I agree that killing for sport is wasteful and wrong, taking a life to be able to live is just the way the world works.”

She quickly sensed that she would get nowhere with this. So, she opted to drop the subject, turning her head. It was silent again, for a time. Hoping to brighten things up, she asked, “so, what is the climate like where you come from?”

For a moment, he seemed to consider whether he wanted to answer. “Cold,” he finally said. “Well, cold in comparison to here, I mean. Where I come from, snow is not uncommon by this time of year. It was forested, where I lived. Live. To the north, there are mountains. We don’t travel up there - Tempest always warned that the tribe up there was even less receptive to outsiders than us.”

“Hold on, back up please. Who’s Tempest?”

“He was - still is, I suppose - my mentor. A majestic ninetales. He was adopted into our tribe at a young age, orphaned after his father, Snow Weaver, vanished - and was probably killed. He never really talked about it, so I did not force the matter. He taught me much of what I know.”

“Including how to hunt?”

The blunt interjection earned Haru another sharp glare. She muttered a quick apology, if only because she had not meant to bring the issue back up.

“If you must know. He taught most of my hunting skills, yes. And most of my battle skills as well. I would consider myself a seasoned fighter, and one of the better in the tribe, thanks to him.”

Thankfully, before she could stick her foot further in her mouth, Mandi returned to the counter, this time followed by a cubone in a cloth apron, carrying a bundle wrapped in wax paper. Haru recoiled when she noticed the bloodstains on the cubone’s apron.

Nip rose from his seat, meeting with the cubone across the short counter.

“Your order,” the cubone began. “It’s ready. Take it.”

“Ah, thanks. Er… what’s your name, again?”

“Zylar.”

“Thank you then, Zylar,” the sneasel said before backing away with the package in his claws, already starting to tear into the paper.

“Pleasure doing business with you two!” Mandi chirped. “Now, about payment… That’s going to be ten poke for the meat, add five for the dethaw, and two for the cut… that’ll be seventeen poke.”

Haru glanced back to the sneasel - who had paused to stare dumbfoundedly at Mandi - as it suddenly occurred to her that he probably had no money. Did they even use poke where he came from? Who knew? With a sigh, she pulled off her satchel. Fortunately, she always carried a little with her when she was around town. She dumped a few of the coins onto the counter, carefully counting out just enough for the meal. A glance back revealed that Nip had already sank his teeth into the slices of meat almost ravenously, without even cooking them! How weird. And kind of gross. Maybe not totally weird since she’d heard of others eating aquatic pokemon raw, but still.

With a quiet thanks to the shop keep she moved to exit back the way they had come.

Cosmos, please let the rest of the day go better.

*****​

Fortunately for Haru, most of the remainder of her tour went off without a hitch. She had the opportunity to show off some of the other shops, the dojo where the town guard trained and where many of them stayed, and even showed him the sprawling fields of berries and vegetables at the town’s edge. Nip had seemed to be in awe of just how much food they grew there.

But as the sun began to descend from the sky, there were still a few things left to show. Still, she had saved the temple for last, hoping that he might open up more about his home while there.

The two were now on their way up the path towards the temple, Haru leading the way, with Nip trailing a bit behind, his limp more pronounced than it had been in the morning. She paused when he started falling too far behind.

As he finally caught up, she spoke up. “Do you need a break? We can stop for a bit if you need to.”

The sneasel responded with grit teeth and shook his head. “I’m. Fine,” he huffed. He glanced up the street and, noticing a building up ahead, pointed it out.

“Is that. The place?”

Haru turned her head to the building he was pointing at. It was more isolated than most of the village’s huts, and far bigger too. The land around it was surrounded by a carefully placed wooden fence, four uniform horizontal planks making up each section.

“Oh, no that’s not the shrine. That’s Mayor Jhorlo’s house.”

“Is this… Mayor Jhorlo one of your village elders?”

“Er… No. He’s just our Mayor.”

“Oh, Mayor is his title. I see. What is a ‘mayor?’”

“He’s sort of like… the guy in charge of making sure everything runs safely and efficiently here,” Haru explained.

“Oh, so he is not an elder, but his function is similar to one. I understand.”

“I… guess? Are these elders something important in your tribe?”

“The tribe’s leadership is made up of the elders,” Nip explained. “Pokemon that have been fortunate to survive into their twilight years, that choose to impart their… wisdom. To the rest of the tribe.”

Haru took a moment to digest that. And to digest the hesitance in his voice. “Are you okay?”

He blinked at her a couple times. “It is nothing important, it’s fine,” he finally said. “Well, I have no need to learn about this mayor’s house. The shrine must be further ahead?”

“O-oh. Of course.” With that, Haru took the lead again, traveling in silence for some time until another building came into view.

This one also stood out from most of the other city architecture. While most of the houses had been built out of wood and clay, and occasionally cobbled together stones, this building was made of carefully carved stone. It was square in shape, with intricately designed pillars, depicting the stories of Regigigias that she’d heard her whole life. Stories of the titan dragging the continents and islands into place, of him forming the golems. Of the golems taking their place resting in the mountains, protecting Regigigias’ “Tomb,” the shrine supposedly somewhere deep in the peak where they slumbered. Haru could not help but have her doubts.

Nip, on the other hand, seemed entranced by the design. By the stone building and all its art. The two made their way up the ramp leading into the building through a huge open entryway.

The inside was lit with a combination of candles and of the luminescent plant life that many of the villagers used in their home. The building was surprisingly empty for the time of day, save for a pair of pokemon. The first was a reserved lucario, a broom in hand, sweeping away dirt and leaves that had managed to blow in through the entrance. The second was a proud hawlucha, her arms crossed as she spoke quietly with the lucario. She was the first to notice the visiting pair, tilting her head up slightly to signify to the lucario that they were no longer alone. The lucario turned his head to look back towards the duo, his eyes widening slightly in surprise.

“Haru, is that you? I never expected to see you here.”

It seemed like that was the theme of the day. “Good afternoon Anu, Whisper.” She nodded her head in the direction of both pokemon. “I, um, this is Nip. The sneasel we found the other day. He said he’s on some sort of spiritual journey, so I offered to show him the shrine.”

Only then did Anu seem to notice the sneasel standing beside her. “O-oh, o-of course! Good afternoon sir.” He paused when the hawlucha, Whisper, interrupted him, mentioning something to him quietly before taking her leave. She brushed her claws against the lucario’s shoulder before she left. Whatever she said, it seemed to fluster Anu.

He turned his attention solely to the sneasel. “A-Anyways. So, tell me, what made you make this journey. Are you a follower of the great Regigigas? Or perhaps of his titanic creations?”

Nip quietly shook his head. “Not directly. I know very little about Regigigas, actually, other than snippets of a long-forgotten story of the land’s formation.”

The lucario seemed taken aback for a moment but smiled regardless. “I suppose I should not expect much more from a foreign mon. After all, I knew little about the gods followed by the pokemon of Seadra’s Tail until Ruffle moved in. It’s to be expected that pokemon from other places would have limited information about Regigigas. So, tell me. Who do you follow?”

“My tribe follows the legends of the trio of balance, although the elders say they were once known as the aura trio, so you might know them by that name. However, Yveltal is our patron deity. Our neighboring tribes though, the ones we are friendly with, pay tribute more specifically to Zygarde and Xerneas.”

The lucario smiled weakly. “I’m afraid I haven’t heard of them. I would love to hear more about them sometime, but I’m afraid now is not the time, as I need to finish clearing the shrine of debris before the evening patrons come in to pay their respects.”

Now it was the sneasel’s turn to act surprised. “Really? No one down here has heard of them?”

Anu shook his head. “I don’t know for sure, but I would be surprised. Not even the passerby explorers have ever mentioned them. Where did you say you were from?”

“The northern mountains. On the other side of… I believe your healer called it the Great Misty Canyon?”

The lucario let out a hum. “Oh! That would explain it. Last I heard, the Expedition Society only just started making plans for a permanent outpost on the other side. Information is… quite limited, if they haven’t been there yet. Not many explorers travel north of the canyon, unfortunately.

“Regardless, you are free to stay here for a while, if you would like. We have a small room to your left for visitors that wish to pay their respects to their own deities.” Anu gestured to another large doorway to the side him, leading to another dimly lit room. Haru could make out a handful of candles on a stone slab, as well as a few other items that she couldn’t identify from here.

“I appreciate it, thank you.” With a dip of his head, the sneasel limped past the lucario and into the room.

In hopes of passing the time, Haru turned her attention to Anu, who had returned to sweeping. “So,” she started, “how are things with you and Whisper? I believe your egg should be close to hatching, right?”

The lucario looked up with a surprised expression, then quickly busied himself with sweeping again, a tiny smile on his face. “We were talking about that, actually. She was heading over to check with Tor when she left.”

Sensing how flustered Anu was, Haru just gave him a quick hum before turning her attention to the display beyond. The main statue on the shrine was of Regigigas. Unlike most everything else, his statue had been molded from bronze. Metal could be a bit hard to come by. And metal-workers were even rarer, so getting the statue built had to have taken a lot of work and money.

A few offerings lay at the feet of the statue. She still had no clue what Anu did with those, but she remembered them disappearing from time to time when her dad used to bring her and Toshi, back when they were younger.

In front of the statue of Regigigas were three smaller statues of his titans, the golems of rock, ice, and steel. Unlike the first statue, these were only made of stone, though they had been painted. Or at least, they had been at one time; much of the paint that had covered them had chipped and weathered away over time, and never been replaced.

Her attention turned up to the wall behind the statues. Although there was little light to make them out with, she could see the bits of the paintings of the creation trinity, and the single egg painted in the middle. Of all the legends she had been told, the story of Dialga, Palkia, and Girintina was the only one she could believe. Because unlike the others, there was something that told her beyond a shadow of a doubt that they had to be real: the mystery dungeons were proof enough of their existence.

Deciding to not dwell on the stories that would sour her mood, she began to make her way over to where Nip had gone, to see if he had finished whatever he was doing.

He had not. As she approached the room, she could make out the outline of the sneasel in the dim light. He was sitting with his legs almost crossed, his claws in his lap. She suspected that his eyes were closed, but she could not tell from here. As she got closer, she began to make out bits and pieces of something that he was mumbling.

“Do I disgust you, Yveltal? ...Sorry… I don’t… why… can’t forgive…” Then his words became completely incomprehensible for a moment, mumbled.

On their own the words would mean little, perhaps being a little weird at most, suggesting a wrathful relationship with Yveltal. But then he said something that made her blood run cold.

“I don’t know how much longer I can keep running. Yveltal, if you hold any favor for me still after what I did, let me make it someplace safe.”

Haru backed away slowly. Perhaps it meant little. Perhaps she should not be quick to judge. But after all the odd behavior, she found herself having a hard time believing that any of what he said was for something good.

She waited by the entrance, ruminating on the feelings until the sneasel finally emerged, a hard to read expression on his face.

“Thank you for waiting for me,” he mumbled.

“No… no problem,” she said, trying to not avert her gaze. “We should… probably go back to Lecha’s, huh? It’s getting late, and she’ll probably want to apply fresh bandages.”

He grunted an agreement before beginning to make his way back down the ramp. Haru followed behind at a slower pace, her mind dwelling on what she overheard, and what little she knew about Nip. He had said before that he was on a spiritual pilgrimage. Perhaps it had some truth to it, but what he said suggested he was running from something, or someone. And based on what Anu said, there was no knowledge of Yveltal down here, which would suggest that he was not here to find something about them. So it raised the question.

If he was not really on some sort of pilgrimage, what had he come all the way here for?

*****​

Twilight was perhaps the liveliest time of day in the forest. As sleepy pokemon made their way back to their nests and shelters, out came the kricketot and kricketune, singing their evening songs. Out came the volbeat and illumise, dancing their twilight dance. And out came the nocturnal pokemon: hoothoot and sneasel, murkrow and morelull, all waking for evening activity.

As dusk began to settle in, a particular kangaskhan was settling down in her carefully constructed shelter. Today had been kind to her; no pokemon had been foolish enough to try attacking her unborn child. No threat had been stupid enough to trespass on her territory.

But as she tried to settle in, a sense of unease overcame her. Something was wrong. She quickly realized the forest around her had become silent. No chirps, no buzzing, not even the rustle of a rattata dashing from bush to bush. She gently rubbed a paw over the egg hidden in her pouch, as if worried it would no longer be there. Slowly she stood back up, sniffing at the air, peering deep into the undergrowth.

Suddenly, she heard something burst from the bushes behind her.

By the time she spun around, they were already upon her.

She felt a powerful set of jaws clamp down on her leg. She let out a howl and tried to shake the pokemon free, swinging her leg wildly. The pokemon did not let go; if anything, they bit down harder. She caught a glance of cream and black in the fading sun. She could not easily reach down to bite, so she did the next best thing she could think of to do. She took a deep breath, focusing energy into her left hand. It became alight with fire, a technique she had inherited from her father and perfected with help from her mother. In one swift strike, she struck the jaws that had clamped down on her leg. The blow was just enough to dislodge her assailant, sending them flying in an arc when she swung her leg again.

The other pokemon landed on their feet a short distance away, finally giving the kangaskhan a short opportunity to look over her opponent. She was tiny, not even a fifth of the kangaskhan’s size. But just as big as her body was the massive second set of jaws that protruded from the top of her head. Besides the black and cream, a red curved design had been dyed into the fur on her chest. Another design, a spiral, had been dyed around her right arm.

The kangaskhan let out a huff. “Try to attack me, eh?” she roared. “You ain’t any bigger than that sneasel I smashed up. You’ll crumple just as easy!”

For a second, the mawile seemed caught off guard by the statement. But then her resolve strengthened. She dashed forward head-first.

The kangaskhan was faster. When the mawile had almost reached her, she spun, swinging her tail in hopes of knocking her attacker off balance. Her tail connected, tripping up the mawile and throwing off her momentum. But it did not keep her down for long. As soon as she had her balance, she dashed again, this time springing up. The kangaskhan brought her hands up defensively, protecting her chest from the brunt of the steely headbutt. Even so, despite the small pokemon’s stature, the force of the blow made her skid back a few inches.

By the time the mawile landed she had already begun her next attack. As the mawile sprang again, this time with her second pair of jaws first, the kangaskhan focused just long enough to allow her hand to become alight with flames once more. Jaw made contact with flame. The kangaskhan felt jagged teeth graze her arm, only for them to be knocked away as her fist connected. The mawile was knocked sprawling backwards, bouncing in the grass. She did not move.

The kangaskhan let out a triumphant roar and turned her back. That’s what she gets for trying to attack her!

Then she felt a blow to the back of her head.

She whipped back around. The mawile was gone.

Another blow, this time to her flank. She tried to whip around, but the mawile was already gone again. Another blow to the head. She let out a frustrated roar, snapping at the air.

She turned her head back. The mawile was already upon her, striking her directly in the stomach, knocking her off-balance. As she desperately tried to regain it, she felt teeth snapping at her heels. She stumbled, falling back onto her back.

The mawile was on top of her in an instant. She felt teeth sink around her neck. At any second, she expected the pokemon to rip her throat open.

But it never came. Instead the mawile remained there, staring her down.

“I had planned to kill you,” the mawile began, “but you have piqued my interest.”

The kangaskhan tried to raise a fist. The teeth sank in deeper.

“Do not try my patience. You said something about a sneasel earlier. Tell me, what did he look like?”

Sensing the danger, she and her unborn child were in, the kangaskhan began to stutter, fumbling over her words. “I-I- yes! The-the sneasel! He was kind of a gre- a grey brown! W-with weirdly colored feathers. Y-yeah, they weren’t red!”

The mawile narrowed her eyes, the jaws threatened to tighten. “And what did you do to him?”

“He- he tried to steal my egg! S-so so I made sure he wou-wouldn’t be able to do that again, see?”

The pressure relieved slightly. “Tell me, did you kill him?”

“I-I don’t know, he tried to drag himself off but- I never saw the body, I swear! He might’a survived!”

The mawile seemed to consider it for a moment before finally pulling her jaws away, only to strike at the kangaskhan’s shoulder, digging fangs in and ripping a small chunk of flesh free, making the normal-type shriek in pain.

“Something to remember me by,” she grunted with one last look at the kangaskhan before hopping down. “If I see you again, you will not escape with your life.”

She began to walk away, leaving the kangaskhan to tend to her wound. She could have killed her; she had planned to in the first place. But it would have been such a waste, with only herself to feed. And besides, the kangaskhan had given her valuable information, valuable enough that she considered sparing her a fair trade.

Nip was nearby. And if he was alive, he could not have gotten far.
 
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kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Okay! I actually read this on Bulba and can crosspost to there if you'd like.

Prologue - I like the broad strokes here. We get a good grasp on how many different places are being called home here; I recognize Nip and Haru but I imagine all of these characters are going to be terribly important later. You cover a nice sense of breadth here, and it's a clever way to set up your cast and a backdrop of multiple viewpoints/important mentalities for later.

Chapter 1 - Bidoof is a main character and we're taking her seriously! Love.

The life of a bidoof was hard work, certainly, but taken at a slow and steady pace that would make many a pokemon jealous.

But lately, these past few months, her days seemed less than normal.
Sylistically you do a really good job of setting up a calm tone for the initial chapters -- I imagine shit's going to hit the fan soon-ish, so it's nice and quiet here. There are a few times where I think your micro-pacing slips a little? These shorter paragraphs feel more terse; something's up, something's wrong. I don't think it really fits in with the laid-back nature of the other opening paragraphs here, which are all sunshine and daisies.

while the opportunity arises
I don't think "arises" is the word you want, as that implies that it's constantly in a state of becoming available. Maybe something more like "while the opportunity's still there"?

Although his fur was fairly close to the grey she was used to - though perhaps with a bit of a more brown undertone – his bent and broken feathers were more of a mint color.
yooooo is this the G/S era of shiny sneasel i'm on board

Chapter 2 - N I P I T I N T H E B U D

The sneasel considered their words, scrunching his nose, but at least managed to relax a little bit for a moment, his hair lying flat.
Encouraged by the change of demeanor, the aromatisse closed the gap between them, and offered out the berries two berries.
I think you dropped the paragraph break between these two.

“Are you from the forest?” Twi butted in. “Do you have a name? Do forest ‘mon have names?”
I like these little bits! Based on the prologue, it seems like a common theme is going to be cultural differences between your characters, so it's great to get little teases peppered in the dialogue like this before they actually start conflicting.

Chapter 3 - mandi the mandibuzz??

I really like the introduction of the different gods here -- ties it all back together with the prologue and you weave it into the narrative pretty well. There's some really poetic description about the temple that worked nicely too!

The sneasel shot her an unamused glare. Crap. Maybe she should have worded that better. But the words were already coming out of her mouth. “How do you live with yourself knowing you cut someone’s life short. You’ve cut several lives short, all for the sake of eating when you could have… I don’t know, not done that? At least I’m assuming you’re eating, and not just hunting for sport.”
I... hmm. This ongoing debate was really strange for me in the context of your fic. You do a good job of making the rest of the world feel unique and non-derivative of our world -- there are different gods, and tribes, and traditions, and so forth. Locations feel alive, they're populated with characters, and they feel special.

For me the meat-eating vs plant-eating debate that sort of frames this chapter fits a little awkwardly; it uses arguments for both sides that are more akin to how human omnivores who eat meat would view eating meat (and how human vegetarians view humans who eat meat) rather than how pokemon in a world like yours would. From Nip's side, understanding that the pokemon he hunts and kills are as sentient as he is, he's basically justifying cannibalism with a "hey, it happens *shrugs*". And from Haru's side, given that no other named pokemon in Theran village are obligate carnivores, she may as well ask him to change his colors or breathe fire. Both of them are arguing based on a framework that makes sense on a human framework but not in the universe that you've written, if that makes sense. In the human framework these arguments are common because: meat-eaters can justify their consumption assuming animals aren't sentient in the same way humans are and that cruelty to non-humans is inevitable; non-meat-eaters can debate this because humans can survive without meat and do not need it to live (compared to sn/weasels, for example). But in a pokemon framework where all consumable species are of similar sentience and not all sentient species appear to have the option to sustain themselves on non-meat alternatives, these arguments aren't really logical for either side to be making.

JUST A WEIRD LIL' WORLDBUILDING GLITCH THAT I SAW. I think overall you do an excellet job of making an immersive world, which (ironically) made this one stand out to me more.

And neat, this mawile character looks evil as hell and I like her.

Overall - I like where this is going?

Your characters are you introduce them are lovely, and I think you've got a really clever way of coaxing your world out through dialogue by having Nip be a stranger to it; you're able to deliver a fair amount of exposition without making it seem too forced.

From a pacing perspective things do seem a little slow. You mentioned this in Discord so I won't beat the dead horse too hard, but. We are three chapters in and there's just this feeling that things are about to implode alongside the fact that the only major disruption is this sneasel. For the most part Nip plays off your cast well enough that it's still an interesting read, but for the most part I get this overwhelming feeling that something is trying to happen even when not much is. I think it'll be easier to articulate this more clearly once the action kicks off -- again, from what you've mentioned in chat it seems like there's going to be a significant genre shift from this idyllic village, and I do wonder how much of this establishing stuff could either be woven into an introductory subplot so there's something else going on in the background, or mentioned later once shit Hits the Fan.

Anyway! This was a really cute read, and you've got some clever ideas playing against one another. Looking forward to seeing where things go!
 

NebulaDreams

Well-known member
Chapter 3

The absol had taken up a spot laying by the river, watching water slowly seep through the bibarel dam the occasional leaf floating by in the lazy current.
I think you might want to add a comma or semi-colon before 'the occasional leaf...'

“I was just telling Toshi about how we rescued that sneasel yesterday, and how brave I was, isn’t that right, Toshi-boo?”
Cute gushing from Shimmer aside, I was a bit confused by the lack of a dialogue tag, since Haru was the one who spoke before, making me think it was her saying that.

She had quit listening to the religious tales of other pokemon long ago, even though she knew it was probably a poor idea with how ingrained it was in many pokemon’s lives. Sure, it might hurt future working relationships, but it drove her nuts, how much some pokemon depended on following supposed teachings about mythical beings, without at least taking the time to investigate it for themselves. Even some expedition groups focused less on research and exploration, and more on trying to find some of these mythical pokemon.
Ah yes, Haru the edgy 14-year-old atheist. It did strike me as a bit odd since she believes Dialga, Palkia and Giratina (misspelled as Girintina, so you might want to change that) to be real while dismissing the other ones. Since shrines are so widespread, it's hard to think they're not real in this world, though maybe Haru hates the idea of people idolising the legendaries than the legendaries existing.

And we use harvested pelts from our hunts to line our nests and to build more mobile shelter for emergencies.”

Haru came to a sudden stop, stiffening. Nip almost bumped into her. She turned back to look at him incredulously. “I’m sorry, did you say that you hunted other pokemon?”

He blinked a couple times. “Of course. How else would we get the food we need?”
Ooh, interesting, so this is where we get into the 'Pokemon eating meat' dilemma. It's an interesting idea, and naturally, with this PMD world being so grand in scope, there are bound to be different Pokemon that don't exactly see eye to eye. I think it's worth bringing up, as necessity is a factor, but the problem I have with that though is Nip's perspective and how that reflects on the rest of the world. He has hangups about killing needlessly for sport, but has no qualms killing other Pokemon for food, which is understandable, but... Uh...

Just to go on an aside here, it would be worth addressing the sapience of the Pokemon in this world and how the lines would be blurred between wildeners and Pokemon belonging to tribes. At the moment, I don't think that's been fully established. If Nip's culture purely hunts wildeners that don't have the same degree of intelligence or agency as him, then that would be more justified, but if they just hunt anyone regardless of creed simply because they're hungry, well, that makes it a lot more questionable. It's like if a human tribe in our world hunted random strangers (not discriminating from animals or humans) for the same reasons. If his following of Yveltal is to be believed, then he just sees death as the great equaliser and that makes him a lot more morally grey. That might've been the point, but it's not immediately apparent because of the vagueness.

So, that just begs the question of where his morals are. Does he have some ethical code behind that tough exterior, or does he really not see a problem with killing whoever's close to him out of necessity? What does that mean for his eventual team here (since I'm guessing him and Haru have to band together at some point), and can he be trusted around them if crap hits the fan?

It's not a huge problem at the moment, since either direction would be interesting, but the blurred lines between the two do make it a bit hard to swallow.

“He- he tried to steal my egg! S-so so I made sure he wou-wouldn’t be able to do that again, see?”
This was a little unsatisfying to find out. So Nip wasn't really wounded for anything plot significant, but just because he tried to steal a mother's egg, so he kind of got what was coming to him anyway.

---

This chapter was a bit more description heavy than the last one. On the one hand, this did rely a bit more on exposition and characters just talking (that was a feature of chapter 2 as well, but what the hey), which made it feel slower in comparison. On the other hand, it was nice to get a further look at Theran village and all its inhabitants. Even the side characters feel like they're living, breathing Pokemon in this setting (especially the cute Lucario/Hawlucha couple), and it made me feel more attached to your world as a result. It was also nice seeing a bit of a 'fish out of water' scenario for the both of them, since Nip is fascinated with the village's excesses and Haru is just as fascinated with his world. I chuckled a bit at her enthusiasm at the beginning, finding Nip to be a bit of an exotic figure.

I did have a few reservations about some of the worldbuilding and character elements, but it isn't a major flaw at the moment, just something that could really use expanding on later. Something else I'll also point out is that we haven't really seen that much about the tribes or the wild environments outside of parts of chapter 1 and some of Nip's description. It makes it a bit harder to relate to him since we haven't seen it for ourselves in detail yet (or how the other characters would react to being placed in those extreme conditions), but again, I'm sure it'll come up later.

All in all, I'm equally looking forward to and dreading the next chapter, considering that Mawile's just stepped into the picture. Seeing as she's out for Nip, she'll probably stop at nothing to find him, and considering he's at the village... oh dear. Even though I probably know where this is going to go, I'll bide my time until the next one comes out.
 

canisaries

everyday is halloween
Location
the middle of nowhere
Pronouns
she/her
Hi there! Been meaning to check this out for a while, but never got around to it until now. Here are my thoughts on the prologue and first chapter.

windskull said:
Haru’s morning routine typically started out with a slow stretch in front of her family’s hut, watching twigs and leaves float by in the river’s lazy current. She’d lap at the water’s edge in the shallow pools created in her mother’s dam, quenching her thirst after a long, restful night and contemplate the same old schedule for the day.
I feel like this paragraph is rendered a bit redundant by the ones that follow, as Haru does end up doing pretty much what's described here and so it's kind of the same mental image given to the reader twice in a row. Mentioning her actions being ones she's very much used to while she's doing them would make it more concise and also help to get to the inciting event faster.

windskull said:
With only a quick acknowledgment, the duo finished their climb to the bank.
The word choice of 'climb' threw me off a little, as they were going downhill on a path that wasn't specifically described as steep. It might just be an non-native thing on my part, though.

windskull said:
“No buts!” The bibarel chided.
windskull said:
Have you two ate?” The bibarel asked,
Note on punctuation: in the standard rules, dialogue tags aren't begun capitalized even if the comment ends in an exclamation or question mark (unless the first word is a proper noun, of course).

windskull said:
Muse took a second to look towards her kirlia companion, who gave her an excited nod. She dipped her head to the bibarel. “We would appreciate it. Thank you for your hospitality.”

The absol followed behind their bibarel host, lowering her head to speak quietly into Haru’s ear as she passed by. “Sorry about this,” she mumbled.
“But look at the bright side. There’s always something to find or something to do in the forest.”

“That’s exactly what I’m afraid of.”
Once their bellies were full of delicious bread and jam, and Muse’s back had been laden with satchels for herbs and a bundle of berries and sweets for an afternoon snack, the trio set off, following the path up the river towards the northern forest. Shimmer sat atop Muse’s back, softly stroking the absol’s mane and chatting about her plans for the evening and about her father’s plan for expanding the village daycare to add a separate, permanent nursery.

Haru brought up the rear, ignoring the conversation entirely. Instead, she found herself lost in thought about where she’d rather be: back at home helping her dad prepare trees for carpentry. Did she enjoy getting out and exploring from time to time, or taking long walks after a stressful day? Sure! Did that mean she wanted to be out here spending time with Shimmer and just wasting her time when there was work to do? Absolutely not!
If she was going to be out and about, she would much rather take a trip to one of the neighboring settlements, helping spread her parents’ business. Her dad’s lumber work – both felling and the finer art of carpentry – was the finest work in the village. And her mother’s wooden sculptures were uniquely beautiful in her eyes – not that her lumberjacking was subpar. Oh, if only she could spend all day working away at processing lumber, it would make her a very happy, relaxed bidoof!
Alright, so, throughout the prologue and chapter, there were a couple of spots where it seemed like there was an accidental row change or lack thereof. I'm gonna assume they're indeed unintentional, but if that's not so, I have views on that as well - but taking Occam's razor here, I won't give them preemptively.

windskull said:
At a younger age, she served just as a friend and companion for the Kirlia.
Kirlia is capitalized here while it isn't in other mentions?

windskull said:
The two behind her did the same. Or at least, as similar as they could; neither of them were built for sneaking around the forest, after all.
Well, I could argue that bidoof would be excellent at keeping close to the ground, but I can get what you mean.

---

I'm a fan of what you've done with the prologue here! Showing small snapshots of who I imagine will be important characters all tied together with a common theme of stories and legends, that's intriguing. It's also cool to see actual worship or religious practice regarding these godlike legendaries, as I've bumped into a lot of cases where legendaries are kind of just stated or taken as granted to be gods with no people really doing stuff that would uphold that image and status. It's a bit odd that it's in present tense while the story proper seems to be in past tense, but maybe you're going for something that makes sense with future information?

As for the characters, it seems that you're going to have a diverse cast of them. I always like to see characters that stand out from each other even early on, and I like it even more when they've got depth. I was glad to see Shimmer get serious when the situation called for it, as that means the trap of making the "annoying" character unrealistically and one-dimensionally annoying was avoided. Gotta wonder what she sees in Haru's brother, though? Bidoof don't seem exactly hunky - though I do appreciate the humor in an individual of one of the more, ahem, appreciated mon lines have unrequited feelings for one of the goofiest ones.

Also, I much like that sneasel's design. Always a sucker for color variations. Very cool cover art, too.

The strongest point here so far I'd definitely say is the setting. It's very grounded and believable thanks to the details put in, like the relationship with legends and the bidoof family's everyday life. It's what I'm most looking forward to learning more of should I read on, and I hope to do so.

One gripe I have with the chapter is that I feel like the pacing could've been a little faster from the start up to the encounter in the woods - but beside that, I think this was very solid. Good luck in writing onward!
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
@kintsugi
Chapter 1 - Bidoof is a main character and we're taking her seriously! Love.
It always makes me happy when people get excited about a serious bidoof protagonist. Bidoof deserves more love.

yooooo is this the G/S era of shiny sneasel i'm on board
It's actually the regular G/S sneasel, but yes, that's exactly where I got it from. I originally planned to have Ruffle, the bellossom shop-keep use the G/S coloration as well, but decided to save it for another time.

I'll try to fix the paragraph break issues when I next comb through. I had that issue crop up in the first chapter too when I cross-posted, but I thought I caught all those.

Regarding the meat-eating argument, that's something I'll try to cover better if I do any revisions on thich chapter, but I think it's worth mentioning that there are obligate carnivores in Theran Village, we just haven't met any yet. (There's one introduced the next chapter in fact, though it isn't talked about till later.)

@NebulaDreams
Cute gushing from Shimmer aside, I was a bit confused by the lack of a dialogue tag, since Haru was the one who spoke before, making me think it was her saying that.
Ah shoot, I thought I caught all those. It used to be worse honestly. I'll clear that up when I go through to fix errors.

Ah yes, Haru the edgy 14-year-old atheist. It did strike me as a bit odd since she believes Dialga, Palkia and Giratina (misspelled as Girintina, so you might want to change that) to be real while dismissing the other ones. Since shrines are so widespread, it's hard to think they're not real in this world, though maybe Haru hates the idea of people idolising the legendaries than the legendaries existing.
I'll try to make that more clear if/when I get to another revision, because your thought is more what I was going for. Haru is less of an athiest and more agnostic, and just hates that everyone puts so much faith into and idolizes pokemon that might not even exist, and haven't really done anything for them.

Sapience of wildeners is definitely something that comes up later, but for now it's supposed to be a bit blurry, especially since Haru really... doesn't know a lot about Nip. I'm interested to see how you feel about what happens in the next chapter.

For what it's worth, I'll mention that Chapter 3 is currently the longest chapter in the story, clocking in at more than 8k words, which is longer than any other chapter, which could contribute to the pacing.

@canisaries First off, thanks for the review! And thanks for the critiques, I'll try and go back to look at that stuff later when I have more time. Some things were stuff I hadn't thought about at all, and others were typos that I just didn't catch, like the dialogue tag issue.
Alright, so, throughout the prologue and chapter, there were a couple of spots where it seemed like there was an accidental row change or lack thereof. I'm gonna assume they're indeed unintentional, but if that's not so, I have views on that as well - but taking Occam's razor here, I won't give them preemptively.
You read it on bulbapedia, right? I forgot to fix some of the paragraph breaks that got messed up when I pasted it over there. I'll fix that asap.

It's a bit odd that it's in present tense while the story proper seems to be in past tense, but maybe you're going for something that makes sense with future information?
That was just a stylistic choice, though it's one I might revisit in the future.

Gotta wonder what she sees in Haru's brother, though? Bidoof don't seem exactly hunky - though I do appreciate the humor in an individual of one of the more, ahem, appreciated mon lines have unrequited feelings for one of the goofiest ones.
That's a story that's going to come up eventually, probably in a special episode.

Again, thanks for taking the time to check things out! Hopefully I can get things you mentioned cleaned up soon.

With that, on to the next chapter!

Chapter 4: Rash Decisions

Nip woke to warm sunlight filtering down onto his nest from the opening overhead. He stretched in the beams of light, letting out a silent yawn. As he stood, he gave his injured leg an experimental stomp, winced, and grinned when the pain was little more a dull throb. Much of the pain had subsided in the four sunrises that had passed since he woke up in Lecha's clinic. Perhaps he would have been healed quicker if he hadn’t strained himself the last several days, running around the village, but the difference would have been minor, he was sure.

Much of his time had been spent wandering the village alone, learning more about the inner workings of the community. Many things - including food - cost "money" or required trade, unlike the communal meals of home. And what was offered to him were mostly things he could care less for. Grains and vegetables, as far from his diet as they could be. He'd gotten sick when he tried to cave and eat a meal with nothing but bread and potatoes and carrots, all things he had never eaten before. But he had no money with which to purchase more meat, and Haru had insisted that he would have to find a way to make money if he wanted more. His injuries had made hunting an unlikely scenario. He had curbed his hunger on extra oran berries, something he could digest at least, but that wasn’t sustainable.

But now? Today, he felt well enough that he might just stand a chance. Today, he planned to head to the outskirts of town, to the forest that Haru had pointed out. A good meal, a good night's rest, and then he would be on his way.

He couldn’t stay here forever, after all.

He didn’t want to stay here forever, even if he could. They were too strict. Too stuffy. Too single-minded. Too much like things he wanted to leave behind.

He made his way down the tunnel (or hall, as Lecha had called it), and stepped out into the lobby.

Haru was… okay, he supposed. She had been a bit obnoxious, when he had not given her the answers she wanted. But she spoke her mind more so than anyone else here. Still single-minded, but willing to go at least a bit against the status quo. That much, he could appreciate.

He took pause when he stepped outside. Speak of Yveltal’s curse itself.

To his left, he noticed two bidoof standing outside a little way down the dirt path, conversing pointedly with each other. One he recognized to be Haru. The other, he assumed, must be her brother. He considered continuing without greeting them, but he supposed it would be rude. Afterall, she had not only been involved in his rescue, but also the one to help him understand how things worked in this odd little place. He should honor that.

As he grew closer, their voices became clearer.

"Are you sure you can't get out of this?" He heard Haru groan.

"Sorry," the other bidoof replied. "Mom's the one that said yes to Shimmer. Will you please help me with this, just come with me so I won't be alone? I'll make it up to you, I swear!"

Haru raised her head to the sky and let out a huff. "Fine, but you owe me!" She turned to look at the other bidoof. "So why is Shimmer headed out to the forest again? Didn't she bring your flowers just earlier this week?"

He shook his head. "Nope, she never made it back with them after you guys found that sneasel. So, she decided she wanted to just take me looking herself." He paused, looking back towards the clinic, and let out a startled yelp when he realized that the pokemon in question was standing just behind them, prompting Haru to look his way as well.

She forced a weak smile. "Oh, Nip. Out and about again?"

The sneasel nodded. "Sorry, I kind of overheard you talking. Did you guys say you were going to head into the forest? Do you mind if I join you part of the way? I need to make some preparations - I plan to leave in the morning."

Haru seemed to hesitate for a moment. "I mean, we're just going out to gather wild herbs. Then again… You don't have any money to stock up on supplies with, do you?" The sneasel shook his head in response. "Well, if you can find some of the more useful medicinal ones, Lecha might buy them off of you. Maybe you could get yourself a bag and some travel supplies?"

He considered for a moment. Perhaps he could get one more meal as well, without having to spend energy to hunt. Or even two, since he could keep the meat frozen. It was in no way ideal but… it might allow him to cover more ground. "You make a good point. If you are alright with it, I think I will come."

The other bidoof stepped forward. "Nip, right? Haru told me your name. I'm Toshi." He glanced back to his sister with a hint of nervousness. "Actually, I'd appreciate it if he came too, I think. The more company besides Shimmer and Muse, the better."

Nip gave an appreciative blink before moving to stand beside the duo. "Muse and Shimmer are the kirlia and absol, right? Is there a particular reason you don't want to be alone with them?"

"W-well," Toshi said, nervously rubbing a paw against his face a couple times. "See… Shimmer likes me. A lot, maybe too much. I mean, she's nice and all but… I just can't see her that way! She's too pushy! But mom really kind of… eggs it on, encourages her. Encourages me to hang out with her. She's the mayor's kid, so she's rich and has a lot of power in the village. Muse is nice enough and kind of keeps her from being too pushy but… It's just nice to have company so I'm not stuck talking to her the whole time, you know?"

Nip let out a little hum. "I think I can understand. It can be frustrating, being forced into a relationship that neither party wants, or that only one party wants in your case, just because others think they know what's best for you."

"Tell me about it. I mean, I don't think my mom would ever actually force me to get together with Shimmer but… I don't know, it's all just so frustrating and hard to argue against!"

The sneasel considered for a moment. "So, you are not forced, so much as pressured? …It is still frustrating, I know, but consider yourself lucky you have a choice. It could-"

"Is that supposed to be some sort of sagely advice?" Haru interjected, prompting Nip to suck in a breath.

"I suppose if you want it to be. I… Oh, never mind. It’s not that important."

If the two bidoof were going to say something, neither of them did. Instead, something behind Nip caught Haru's eye. "Oh, there they are. And is that… Why is Shimmer's dad here?"

Nip turned to look back to the group of pokemon behind him. Walking up the path were the kirlia and absol that he expected. But in addition to the two, three other pokemon walked with them. The first was a purugly, his fur groomed neatly to perfection, a small gem attached to a string around his neck. The other two were each purrloin, one walking at attention on either side of the group.

"That's her dad?" he asked, whispering his question to Haru. "Does that work?"

"He and her mother - a gardevoir - had been together a long time, but I think she had a surrogate father."

"Her mom died not long after she hatched," Toshi added in. "So, it's just been her and Jhorlo for years.”

"Jhorlo… That's the mayor you spoke of before, correct?"

"That's right," Haru said, curtly. "I don't know why he's out here though. Usually he considers Muse more than enough protection for Shimmer."

The group of pokemon came to a stop a few feet away from Nip and the two bidoof. The purrloin both sat down at the same time, but continued to stay at attention, seemingly unblinking as they stared ahead at the group.

Shimmer hopped down from her absol mount, giving a friendly wave. "Hi Toshi-boo! Oh, Haru and the sneasel too! Nip right? You should have told me you wanted to make this a double date."

Nip, Toshi, and Haru all three did an immediate double take, looking to Shimmer and then amongst their group. Haru was the first to speak.

"What? No, it's nothing like that! Toshi asked me to tag along so he'd have more company, and we extended that invitation to Nip!"

"A-and this isn't even a single date!" Toshi added, stammering.

Shimmer took their response all in stride. "Oh, you are too silly, cutie-pie. But whatever you say." Regardless of what she really thought, she did not press the matter. "Anyways, my dad is here because he wanted to speak with us briefly before we headed into the forest is all."

The purugly chuckled. "Indeed. I really am sorry to bother you fine folks. I just needed to speak with you before heading into the forest, you see." Nip took note of his silky-smooth voice. Something about it put his fur on end, like perhaps it was a well-rehearsed show.

"I wanted to make sure you all knew to be careful, is all. Whisper came by this morning with some disturbing news, you might have heard already. She said there's reason to believe that a nasty predator wildener has been hanging around the village, you see. Even that problematic kangaskhan has run off! Now you… five should be fine as long as you stick together, but you never know, so I want you to all take extra precaution, understand? I don't need a mess to pick up, and I'd like my daughter and her friends to stay safe, make sense?"

His explanation and request elicited slow nods or understanding murmurs from each of the other pokemon - except the purrloins, who were still at attention. Satisfied, he let out a purring noise before turning. "Jaques. Lotte. We're finished here. Back to the villa, okay?" He looked back towards Shimmer over his shoulder. "Take care sweetheart!"

The two purrloin stood and turned in unison, walking just behind the purugly. Shimmer gave her father a wave.

"Bye, Dad, have fun!"

Now slightly more somber, the group turned each other.

"A predator, huh?" Haru mumbled. "In that case, is there anything we should take with us?"

"A few oran berries and reviver seeds couldn't hurt," Toshi said. "Worst case scenario, we just have leftover seeds we can save for later and we can snack on the berries at the end of the day."

"Good idea," Haru agreed, anything else?

"Perhaps we should designate a lookout," Muse suggested. "Who of us has the strongest senses?"

"Probably you or Nip," Toshi answered. "But since you're really the muscle of the group… Nip, do you mind acting as our spotter? Do you know what that means?"

"I was not planning to stay around the whole time but… I suppose I could," the sneasel responded. "I have a pretty good idea of what you're talking about. Bring up the rear, keep an eye out for trouble, especially when the rest of you are preoccupied, correct?"

"Close enough," Haru said. "You can either flank or bring up the rear. Normally, this level of cation wouldn't be needed this close to town, but if Jhorlo felt the need to bring it up, we should be careful." She pointedly turned her head towards Shimmer. "Technically, we probably shouldn't be going out there at all, if things are that bad."

"Oh, dad is probably just being silly," Shimmer said. "But if it makes you feel better, then I'm all for the extra caution."

On one hand, he could not help but feel flattered that these pokemon trusted him enough both to do such an important job, and his skills. On the other… part of him was in shock for the same reasons. He had previously thought the bidoof had little sense of self-preservation. Now he was feeling that all over again. But still, it would give him a chance to gather up some money, which he had quickly learned he would need if he ran into any more settlements.

"I'll go purchase the supplies," Muse offered. "I'll meet the rest of you at the edge of town." Her words gathered responses that ranged from cautious to enthusiastic. Satisfied, she headed back up the road to the nearest shop. The remaining four headed the opposite direction towards the line of trees in the distance.

*****​

The formation ended up being Muse in the front with Shimmer on her back, the kirlia sensing the nearby area as best as her skills allowed for danger. The bidoof siblings took up the middle, Toshi casting cautious glances into the woods on either side of their path. Haru on the other hand was much surer of herself, though Nip thought it might just be for show.

Said sneasel brought up the rear, his ears straining for any signs of danger, occasionally sniffing at the air. So far however, the journey had been quiet. Maybe too quiet, in his opinion. But perhaps this was normal for this part of the woods?

Still, it was hard to focus when Shimmer just kept chatting away.

She seemed to be recounting some story from her childhood, as far as he could tell. "So, I told him that I demanded that he paint his shop pink, that it would be more becoming of him. I told him that my daddy would make him paint it pink, and that seemed to make him consider things a little. But Muse stepped in and pointed out that he couldn't do anything until the next season, when the smeargle crew came through. And I guess by the next season I had already forgotten. Oh! That makes me think though, don't you think it would be neat if we paint our eventual house pink, Toshi?

"Err…" the bidoof stammered, searching for any sort of response. "I'm really more of a blues and greens guy, actually."

"Well a dark shade of either of those could work well with pink, right? We can compromise!"

Sensing no hope of winning, Toshi just mumbled, "I guess."

Nip tuned out the conversation. There was no need to let himself get distracted by such silly discussion. He turned his attention instead back to listening for trouble. He heard a rattata skittering in the underbrush, squealing about the larger, scary pokemon entrenching on their territory, calling for more of their kind to take cover, for fear they might decide to turn on them. He could smell that a combee had passed through here, carrying nectar back to their hive. Somewhere above him, a taillow flew by, letting out a chittering song. Nothing dangerous so far.

He turned his head to the side, expecting to see nothing. But instead, he caught a glimpse of distorted air, and of a ring of trees that were not only unnatural in formation, but in color too, with glimpses of red and orange patches of leaves in the in the wavering air.

Haru caught his look, turning to look towards the distorted location. "Oh, that's Sunglow Thicket," she said in a matter of fact tone. "It's the only mystery dungeon that's less than a day's journey from here. That's part of why we don't have a rescue guild branch in town. Not many pokemon pass through there. And there are so few that get lost inside that the local guard can handle whoever does.

The sneasel tilted his head. "Rescue… guild? I apologize, we don't have anything like that where I'm from. You'll have to elaborate."

The remainder of the group stopped, pausing to look at the sneasel. "Really?" Toshi questioned.

"It makes sense they would not have a rescue guild branch," Muse pointed out. "As far as I know, there are no guild branches on the other side of Great Misty Ravine. Though the fact that they have nothing similar is surprising, I will admit."

"We rarely enter a patch of distortion outside of coming of age trials," Nip responded with a grunt, turning his attention back to sniffing at the air. "So, there would be no need to form any sort of rescue outside of emergencies. Everyone is expected to know how to take care of themselves in danger, save for the kits. And they aren't meant to leave our nesting grounds."

"You know, you use kind of silly words," Shimmer cut in, holding back a giggle. "Sorry, I don't mean to be rude."

"What, you don't know what a nest is? I would say you all are the ones using the 'silly' words. I mean… what does 'guild' even mean?"

Haru let out a sigh, shaking her head. "Well… a guild is sort of… like a group of pokemon that band together under a certain cause and skillset and vow to look out for others? Toshi, you're the one that's into all the expedition and rescue stuff, help me out here."

"Okay," Toshi began. "Well. Your explanation is pretty good. Down in Southern Harbor Town-"

"Where?" Nip interjected.

"All the way down south, it's one of two major port towns responsible for ferrying goods up and down the rivers."

"O...kay?"

"Anyways, Red's Rescue Guild headquarters is stationed there. In most towns near a major dungeon, Red - that's the flareon that runs the place - has a guild branch set up to handle rescues. Now, this is not to be confused with the Expedition Society, which is a group of researchers that work to learn more about mystery dungeons and their containment, or the Enforcer's Union, who specifically focus on tracking down outlaws that may be hiding in hard to reach areas or mystery dungeons. Both of those are in Brinash Town - that's the other major harbor town."

"Creative name, Red," Nip mumbled sarcastically.

"Hey, you're the one that's named after a bite, do you really have room to talk?"

"If you must know, my name specifically relates to frostbite." The sneasel stuck his nose in the air, turning his attention back to their surroundings. Muse and Shimmer had veered off into a patch of grass nearby, the absol digging at the roots of some plants in the soft soil. Some of the ones that had already been laid aside reminded him of the plants he had seen in Lecha's clinic. Haru had followed them over, sniffing at a nearby bush. Toshi busied himself carefully picking up the dug up plants with his teeth before standing on his hind legs to place them in a satchel on Muse's back.

A stiff breeze blew through the trees. Nip sniffed at the air again, catching a whiff something different on the wind other than the usual forest scents. Something familiar. He opened his mouth, taking a deeper breath as he processed the scent. The scent was masked by other more recent smells: the earthen smell of mud that had not quite dried out, the sticky-sweet smell of razz berry bushes, and a third, unidentifiable smell. But underneath it all was a smell that was far too familiar, that made the fur on the back of his neck bristle. A familiar pokemon's scent that carried the faint, faded tone of pine needles and frost-bitten plants. He stiffened, eyes narrowing to slits. She was here? Now? Already?

Toshi was the first to catch on to the change in body language. He wobbled unsteadily before dropping back on to all fours. "Hey, um, Nip, are you alright? You look like you saw a ghost or something" The rest of the group looked up from their busywork, taking notice of the distressed sneasel.

The sneasel took a deep breath. Focus, he told himself. Okay, relax, you're downwind right now. You just need to find somewhere to hide and lay low for a bit. But where… The mystery dungeon. He slowly turned his head to glance back towards the shifting and distorting trees in the distance, then glanced back to the others. They could get caught up in his troubles if they stuck around.

"Listen," he began slowly. "There's someone very dangerous nearby."

"The 'predator' pokemon Jhorlo warned us about?" Muse asked.

"Possibly. We need to go somewhere to keep them from finding and following our trail." He turned his head back towards the dungeon entrance. "How deep does that dungeon run?"

"About five… maybe six zones," Toshi answered.

"Zones?"

"Floors, sections, whatever you want to call it. Any of those terms are acceptable in the eyes of the guild."

"Okay, I get the idea. The point is, I think that's the best place to go."

Haru eyed the sneasel skeptically. "Are you sure that's necessary? This kind of seems like a big waste of time. There are five of us. The only one of the four of us that's a trained fighter is Muse, but we all know enough to defend ourselves. We could probably take down whatever pokemon you picked up on."

He shook his head. "No offense, but none of you would stand a chance against them. Neither would I."

Muse stopped to sniff the air. "There is an odd scent in the air but… Why don't we just head back to town? We still have some distance from whatever that is, and I doubt that they have noticed us yet. That would spare us the danger of the dungeon, which could be just as dangerous."

Nip considered for a moment. "You may have a point." He turned his head back to where he had smelled trouble. "Fine, but let's hurry. The longer we stick around, the more likely we are to be spotted."

The group looked amongst themselves and nodded. Stuffing the few plants remaining they had managed to gather into Muse's bag, the group started heading back towards town with haste in their step. Every once in a while, Nip would glance back behind them and to the side, or sniff at the air. But his dreaded danger never came. At one point, he swore he caught a glance of black fur in the bushes, but when he blinked it just turned out to be a large rock.

Still, he more than anyone else was relieved when they finally reached the village outskirts. Only then did they stop to rest for a moment. There was a general feeling of unease amongst the group. Shimmer was the first to speak up.

"Sorry guys. I know we were really looking forward to finding some good herbs, but it's best we stay safe, right?"

"I agree," Muse said. "Nothing out there is worth risking our safety. Although… I am curious Nip, you seemed nearly petrified at first. Could you please explain what made you so frightened?"

The sneasel considered for a moment. How much could he safely share? How much was too much information? "Someone I've had a run-in with before," he finally said. "She's not the fastest, but she's cunning and persistent and tricky. You don't want to get in a fight with her if you can help it. She won't get in a fight against several pokemon unless she thinks she can win."

"And you think she would have thought she could win against us?"

"Definitely."

Haru let out a huff. "What makes you so certain?"

He sucked in a breath. What to say? How much should he share? "She's a mawile. She'd have an advantage."

A silence fell over the group. "What's she doing here?" Haru asked. "Do you have a clue?"

He shook his head quickly. "Not really. But if it's any consolation, I figure she's just passing through. She'll be out of your fur soon enough. I mean, I could be wrong, but based on my experience with her, if you stay out of her way, things will be fine."

The other four pokemon stared at him for a moment, but eventually seemed to accept his explanation. Toshi and Shimmer were the first to give a nod. Followed by Muse after a hard stare as if trying to scrutinize his explanation. Haru was the last to accept, turning her head away.

"I think I should go let my dad know about this now that we know more," Shimmer finally mumbled, before continuing in a louder voice. "Muse let's go. Sorry about having to cut things short Toshi-boo, I'll be sure to make it up to you!"

"Great…"

Muse gave a nod to each of the remaining members before turning to the kirlia and crouching to make it easier for her to climb onto her back. "We will see you all later. Good luck on your journey, Nip." With that, she took off, running down the path off to the big manor.

"Oh yeah, speaking of your journey, Nip," Toshi said, turning his attention to the sneasel. "Are you sure you need to leave right away? After all, if this mawile is going to cause you trouble, why not stay a while longer and give her time to pass through?"

Nip hesitated. "Because," he began, pausing when he noticed Haru watching him intently. Why did she seem to question him so much? Did she know something? "I mean, I guess it wouldn't be a bad idea, but I'll have to think about it."

Toshi gave him a bucktooth grin. "Well, I hope you'll think about it. You seem pretty neat, and I'd love to have time to learn more about you."

"Ah, thanks, I think. But really, I'm not as interesting as you might think."

"Do you need us to walk you back to the clinic?" Haru asked.

He shook his head. "No thank you. I think I might go up to your temple for a bit first, actually. I remember where it is.

The bidoof paused. "Well… if you say so. If you do leave, let us know before you head off, alright? I'd like to get to say goodbye, you know?"

He tilted his head upwards slightly. "Really? I was under the impression that you didn't care much for me."

His harsh statement caused Haru to flinch, averting her gaze. "I mean, there are some things I don't really see eye to eye with you on, yeah. I think the idea that you hunt down innocent pokemon is awful, and I really hope that on this… journey... or whatever this is, you'll reconsider it. But I still have found what I've learned about you and where you came from interesting."

Toshi looked back and forth between the two. "Wait, hunting?"

"I'll talk to you about it later," Haru said.

The sneasel closed his eyes, letting out a long breath. "I've already explained my reasoning, and you obviously don't get that. But that doesn't really matter, it's not like we'll see each other again after this."

Haru looked down, leaving a long pause between the two. "You mean, you won't be passing back through when you return home?"

He quickly averted his gaze to the side, then back to the bidoof. "Probably not," he finally said. "Especially if that mawlie is still hanging around."

She gave him a scrutinizing gaze for a moment, long enough to make him uncomfortable. Was she questioning what he said? But finally, she shook her head. "I guess that's reasonable..."

She turned, looking back down the path. "Well. We won't keep you. Come on Toshi, we should get back home. I've spent way too much time away from work this week. I'm going to have so much to do to catch up tomorrow, mom’s probably going to chew me out." She began walking away.

The other bidoof gave a glance to the sneasel, then slowly followed behind his sister. "Good luck!" he called back behind him.

Once alone, Nip began slowly making his way back towards the shrine. But as he got close, something stopped him. What if she had picked up on his trail? What if she managed to track him into town? The first place she would check is a temple, he was certain. No, he could not go there now, not even to ask for Yveltal's favor. He would just have to hope that they heard his words.

As he began to turn back towards the clinic, he muttered a quick prayer under his breath. "Yveltal, if you can hear me, if you have any favor for me left after everything I've done, please let me make it away from here. I just want to start over and be left alone, is that too much to ask for? Surely my devotion to you, despite everything is sign that I still have a decent bone in my body?" As always, he was met with silence. He was never any shaman, or any special pokemon to his god, and he knew it. But he still had to hope, did he not?

The prayer for safety out of the way, he began to plan. He would have to leave tonight, under the cover of darkness and head for that southern town that Toshi had mentioned. He might could find a pokemon to ferry him to another area and throw off his trail that way. He would need to rest beforehand, if he was to get far - and the further he got from Umbra, the better.

His stomach gurgled. Right, he wouldn't get very far without a proper meal, and he realized too late that the others had forgot to share some of the small yield they had gathered to exchange for food, due to the excitement. On top of that, the stress had made him aware of just how sore his leg still was. Oran and sitrus berries may have sped the recovery along heavily, but it would still take time for his leg to recover fully. As soon as he could, he would have to take a longer rest to give it time to recover. And he could use some oran berries for the road. But again, money would be an issue. Perhaps if he was lucky, Lecha would allow him to take some with him. But he had nothing to carry them with…

He pushed his way through the cloth covering the clinic's entrance, ignoring Twi's greeting as he swiftly made his way back to the nest he had been staying in. He paused as he passed the platform on the way back - an "examination table," Lecha had called it - noting several satchels laid up on top. Lecha kept herbs in those, did she not? She had so many, perhaps she would not miss just one…

What was he thinking? It would be awful, to take advantage of her kindness like that! And yet, the more he considered his limited options…

He continued past the table, and on to his nest, patting at the straw until he was satisfied before sitting. True, it would be rude to take advantage of their kindness… but they had been the ones foolish enough to trust a stranger, had they not? And besides, he's only doing it because he has no choice, right? He had to get out of here before she realized he was in the village, no matter what. Yes, him being here is putting everyone in danger, he decided. It only makes sense logically to take what he needs to get out of here. It would be like them helping him out for their own sakes, just without them knowing.

He gave his shoulder a quick lick, before continuing to groom himself further down his arm. So that took care of a way to carry berries, but now he still had one other issue: food. Berries would never satisfy him and would be a waste of his limited healing supplies. He had no money to buy meat, and no time to waste around hunting, and he did not want to risk making himself sick with vegetables. But he needed to eat something to have enough energy to fuel his escape.

It left him few options. He would have to steal food too. He was quite confident in his stealth skills, but he did not want to hang around town after the leaving the clinic. Heading to that mandibuzz's place and lifting some meat off of them was an option, but he feared it would take too long, with how far away it was from the main square. There had to be something closer, something like…

An idea popped into his head. A terrible idea, he was certain, but an idea none-the-less. A cruel idea that there would be no going back on. But also, an idea that would be much faster than running all the way to the mandibuzz's shack. But then again, he had done worse, hadn't he?

He settled down, closed his eyes, and began to plot out his night.

*****​

Nip made his move when the moon finally peaked through the hole above his nest. Lecha had long since retired to her quarters on the far side of the clinic, leaving him alone to quietly rise from bed. He swiftly made his way to the cabinet of herbs on the far side of the room, choosing a satchel with a long strap that he could sling over his shoulders. The contents were dumped onto the table - he had no use for them, and he planned to steal as little as possible. In their place, he instead placed four oran berries, a heal seed, and a reviver seed. Hopefully he would not need the seeds, but it was best to be prepared.

He gave one last look back to the nest he had stayed in the past several days. Indecision twisted a knot in his stomach, and he found himself wondering if this was the best way to do things. He shook his head. No, he had already made his decision. Now he would live with the consequences. Or at least run from them.

He crept out lightly on his tiptoes, taking great care to not let the wood below him creek. The entrance was dark and empty, a single, unused luminous orb inside a dark, tinted container providing just enough light for him to avoid stepping on anything that would have woke Lecha and alerted her of his movement. He carefully crossed this room too and pushed through the cloth exit into the night air.

The village was much quieter at this time of night, the streets empty save for a single guard further down the road, their back turned, silhouetted only by the flame of a torch they carried in their hand. He would have to work his way around them later. One thing at a time.

He turned his back on the guard and instead made his way back towards his destination. Even in the moonlight, with his perception of color limited, he could make out the patchwork of different color values of the daycare. He moved swiftly, scurrying from hiding spot to hiding spot as he approached, praying the wind would not change and carry his scent to the guard, or else they would not notice it or find it unusual.

The daycare was only slightly more protected than he initially thought. Bars covered the openings, more likely to keep the children in than any threats out. The front, however, only had a cloth covering like the clinic, albeit a slightly thicker and sturdier type of fabric. He pushed it aside with ease.

Although he couldn't make out the details, he could tell that the inside was just as garishly colored as the outside. His stomach knotted slightly in anticipation. For a moment, he considered giving up this part of the plan, and instead chancing a trip to the mandibuzz. But a growling stomach and fear of losing time to get away from his pursuer egged him on. He swallowed once and steeled his resolve, then continued further in. Fortunately, and surprisingly, the floor here was just dirt. Perhaps part of the renovation? It would not matter.

He sniffed at the air before taking an entryway to the left, carefully straining his senses for any sign of other pokemon. The room it led into was small and cramped, but also noticeably warmer than the first. And there, nestled in individual nests around a small dugout with a flame orb was his target: eggs.

There were only four, none of them particularly large. The smallest could not have been bigger than his head, and the largest was no bigger than he was. He couldn't even guess what pokemon any of them might be in the darkness. It would not matter though.

For a second, he hesitated. Was this really his best route? His only route. What if he just told the truth. Would the village pokemon protect him? Believe him? Or would they throw him out or even turn him over?

He was too scared to risk it.

He reached forward, grabbing one of the mid-sized egss in both paws.

"Tor won't like it if you mess with those."

He froze, hearing a quiet voice behind him, their tone grating in a way that sent chills down his spine. Slowly, without letting go of the egg, he turned his head. A single pokemon, a small shuppet, was floating just a few feet away. A child, he thought. No real threat, but he had no time for a confrontation.

"What Tor doesn't know won't hurt him," he hissed. He carefully lifted the egg, tucking it just barely under one arm. Then he took a single, threatening step forward. "If you'll excuse me, I must be going."

The shuppet stared for a few seconds, then finally let out a loud, ear piercing screech. Nip yelped and flinched, covering one ear with his free paw. He muttered a swear to himself. Crap, half the village would probably be woken up by that!

"You can't take that!" The shuppet yelled. "Tor will be mad! I won't let you take it away!"

Nip scoffed, ignoring it in favor of attempting to flee before a more dangerous foe appeared. But the shuppet showed no signs of letting him go without a fight. It dashed around to cut him off, then sped forward horn first. He stopped dead in his tracks and focused, waiting until the last second, then swung out his claws in an upward swing for a sucker punch, dark energy connecting with the small ghost.

The shuppet let out a startled cry, knocked back, and hit the wall hard. It slumped and did not get back up.

Nip dashed past the unconscious pokemon back into the main room. He could hear the sounds of movement and voices in the room just beyond.

"Aves? Tor, where's Aves? I can't see him he's not here I heard him scream!" The first voice was soft, but distressed and just as grating as the shuppet's, its tone rising as it continued to speak.

"Stay here," a second voice replied monotonously. "I will go find out what is going on."

The sneasel burst through the flap just as the large form of a blissey appeared in the other doorway. Stealth was no longer in his favor, instead opting for speed to get as far away as possible first. He made it all the way past the square before the blissey discovered what had happened and let out the call of alarm.

"Thief!" The blissey called out. "Egg thief!"

Nip dove to the side into a bush on the side of the path, clutching his prize tightly in both paws. He stayed deathly still, not daring to even breathe as the guard from before, a hawlucha, rushed past him. He waited till they got just a little way further before bursting out of his hiding place, continuing down the path. The sound of movement made the hawlucha spin, letting out an alarmed caw.

"You there!" He heard the Hawlucha squawk. "Halt!"

Nip yelped as he heard something shatter behind him. Suddenly, the whole area lit up as if it was daytime. He squeezed his eyes shut against the harsh light but dared not stop. The hawlucha must have seen him in the burst of light, because he could hear her pursuing him, slowly catching up.

He sucked in a sharp breath of air and turned his head, exhaling a burst of frigid air, small crystals of ice forming in the stream. He did not look to see if it actually hit, instead choosing to focus on the quickly growing tree line. If he could make it into the forest, he could probably lose them.

He chanced a glance to the left and realized with alarm there was a growing speck dashing towards him in an attempt to cut him off. He pushed himself to run faster. As the other pokemon grew closer, he realized he could make out the form of a manetric in the moonlight. Sparks danced on the pokemon's pelt, and he could hear it let out a growl.

A flickering flash of light as electricity surged across the field. Nip let out a pained yowl as one of the arches hit him square in the back, sending pain coursing through his body. He stumbled.

But perhaps the attack worked out in his favor as well. He heard a pained squawk from his pursuer as well. "Vale!" The hawlucha cried out. "Watch where you're aiming that!"

The manetric was nearly caught up to them now. He couldn't get caught! Not now! Not when he was so close! He took a painful step forward, fighting the painful electrical spasms. Turning his head slightly, he caught sight of the Hawlucha forcing herself to her feet out of the corner of his eye. If either of them managed to catch up to him, it would be all over, and his theft would have been for nothing.

He sucked in another breath of air and forced his body to move, despite the lingering tingling numbness. Sharp chunks of ice quickly began to form against his arms, on his tail, and in his mouth as he focused, flash-freezing the moisture in the air around him. Just as the manetric entered pouncing range, sparks now dancing on its fangs, he spun, launching the shards of ice at the electric type's face in point blank range. It let out a pained yelp, its own attack thrown off.

He spat out the shards that had formed in his mouth at the hawlucha as a quick follow up, then turned and fled once again despite the numbness in his limbs, finally reaching the trees. He was out of range of the effects of the luminous orb now, leaving him with the advantage in the cover of darkness. But the other two also knew these woods better. He could hear another pokemon rushing to catch up with the pursuing duo in the distance. He scrambled and stumbled amongst the underbrush, slowed down by the lingering numbness and by the egg. He may have gotten a head start, but they would catch up soon if he did not find somewhere to hide.

Pushing through the undergrowth, he found himself back at the path that he had traveled with Haru and the other village pokemon earlier that day. He could still smell the faint scent of the mawile in the air, no fresher than before.

An idea sprang into his head. The mystery dungeon! He had considered using it to throw the mawile off his path, why not the village pokemon too? If he could get inside before they caught up, it would provide him with short-term shelter so he could eat and treat his fresh injuries.

Without he pushed through the bushes in the darkness, desperately looking for what might be a dungeon entrance. All he needed was two trees that seemed slightly off. He could hear voices growing closer; the manetric must be tracking his scent. He was so close! So close to escape, so close to freedom.

He strained his sense of hearing and caught note of a dead zone of sound to his right. He spun and rushed towards it as quickly as his numb limbs would carry him. The distortion of space would create a void without sound from the outside, so logically that had to be where the dungeon was.

As pushed through the entrance to the dungeon, he felt the shift of warm, humid summer air to crisp fall air. He felt leaves crunch beneath his feet and heard the sounds of his pursuers suddenly cut off.

He was in. The sneasel let out a relieved breath and slumped to the ground, his legs giving out. The dungeon had deposited him in small, empty clearing, perhaps three or four body lengths either way.

His claws slipped into the bag, fumbling for the thicker of the two seeds he had brought along, the heal seed. Popping it in his mouth, he let out a sigh of relief as he felt feeling return to his limbs. But as the adrenaline of his daring escape died away, a realization struck him: They would know he went into the dungeon. If this dungeon only had one true exit, all they had to do was wait for him find his way back out and ambush him.

He may have just trapped himself between a waiting party of angry pokemon and the ever-shifting maze.
 

Adamhuarts

Well-known member
Pronouns
He/Him
I just read the first chapter, and I must say I quite like this story. The characters were lively and I could tell you had a lot of fun writing them. With the dynamic of Haru the grounded one, Shimmer the obnoxious princess type and Muse the mysterious one, you've got quite a lot to work with here.

Oh and I noticed a typo down below.

And they were an absolutely a mess.
You should remove the a before mess.

I look forward to seeing what more this story has to offer. ^^b
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
@Adamhuarts Thanks for the review! I'm glad to hear Muse has her fans. She tends to be a character that people don't have strong feelings on. And thanks for pointing out that typo, I'll get it fixed later.

After some delay, I finally got around to cleaning up this chapter. Things are starting to pick up!

Chapter 5: Into Sunglow Thicket
Haru stretched out in the morning sun, letting the warmth relax her tired muscles. Her morning had been nice and normal for the first time in nearly a week, free of interruption. A break from all the excitement. And after any hopes of getting any sort of fame or discovering anything useful from learning more about where Nip was from had been dashed by his caginess and hurry to move on, she was ready to return to her usual schedule.

Perhaps she could finally get some uninterrupted work done today. She had let her dad down enough this week as it was.

But still, there was still one loose end to tie up before her life could truly return to normal. One thing that she needed to take care of. Nip may have failed to provide her with the fortune she had been hoping for, and she may still have been skeptical of his motivations, but it would only be polite to say goodbye.

Returning into her family's hut, she waddled over to where her mother had sat out the morning's food on a small, clay platter. It was on the simpler side; an apple had been paired with a small, flat piece of bread and a few assorted nuts. She sat back on her haunches, lifted the apple between her paws, and began to gnaw away.

Her mom, surprisingly, was nowhere to be seen. She assumed that she had left early to help her dad fell trees before he left to help remodel the nursery, to make up for her slack. As bad as she felt for that, she couldn't help but appreciate the silence. Even her brother was out and about already, something she found a bit unusual.

After scarfing down the simple breakfast, she nosed her way into a small bag with coins and a couple berries, letting it hang around her neck, and sat off, beginning the short walk towards the village proper. Yes, a quick, polite goodbye to Nip, and then she could get back to work. It was wise to keep her options open, was it not?

As she began to make her way towards the village center, however, she began to realize that something felt… off. She passed not a single mon in the first few minutes of her journey, the road eerily quiet. The few that she saw as she got closer to the square were headed towards the center in a hurry, speaking in hushed whispers. A knot beginning to form in her stomach, she picked up her pace as well.

Many of the pokemon that lived closer to the village center had gathered there already, with more arriving by the minute. Some speaking in anxious and serious voices, some rubbing sleep from their eyes, and all surrounding some pokemon in the center that she could not see over the taller, bulkier pokemon. She ran up to the edge of the crowd, catching sight of Ruffle, who waved her down and gave her a curtsey in greeting.

"Ruffle, what's going on?" she asked.

The bellosom shook her head. "I don't know. Something to do with Whisper and Vale. They came out of Lecha's clinic early this morning looking a bit roughed up and headed straight for the daycare. Anu came rushing from the temple just a few minutes ago too."

Haru opened her mouth to say something else but closed it again when she heard hushed voices nearby.

"Look, the mayor's coming!"

"The mayor and his head guards now? Something big must of happened."

"Where is he? I can't see!"

"Haru!"

The bidoof whipped around at the sound of her name. To her left, she could see Jhorlo making his way down the road from his manor, his face grim but in no rush. Just behind him, Muse - with Shimmer on her back as usual - had veered off, heading her direction at a light trot. Normally, she would be more than a little annoyed at the pair's appearance. But if anyone might be able to fill her in, it would be the mayor's daughter.

The pair skidded to a stop in front of her. She pawed at the ground nervously. "Shimmer, Muse, please tell me you have an idea of what's going on."

They exchanged an anxious glance before turning their attention back to Haru. The fact that Shimmer of all people seemed worried only further twisted the knot in her stomach. "Nothing good I'm afraid," Muse answered. She paused to lay down on her stomach. "Here, climb on behind Shimmer, we'll go where we can see better."

Any other time, she would have turned the offer down, would have refused to hang around the duo with no one to intervene. But with something big enough that it had drawn this much of a crowd… she wanted to be at the front, to find out what was going on. She stood up on her hind paws and scrambled up onto the absol's back.

Muse pushed through the crowd, weaving between bodies and stepping over smaller pokemon. Recognizing Muse and Shimmer, most pokemon parted to let them pass.

Wow, Haru thought, her thoughts distracted for just a moment, is this what it's like to be high up on the social ladder?

At the center of the crowd were the pokemon Ruffle had mentioned: Vale, Whisper, and Anu. In addition to the two guards and shrine attendant were the mayor and his two personal guards, as well as Lecha, Tor - a blissey - and the two young ghost pokemon that stayed at the daycare. The shuppet of the pair seemed tired and unsteady, resting in air against the phantump's side.

They arrived just in time to catch Vale raising his voice at Tor, a few sparks bouncing from his pelt. "Really? You did everything you could? You sure seem pretty relaxed and uncaring for someone who had an egg stolen right out from under their care!"

The blissey turned to look at him, a neutral, almost bored expression on his face. "I assure you I am oh so torn up inside." His tone was dull, unperturbed by the manetric's harsh words.

"Yeah? Well you sure did a hell of an awful time stopping the thief!"

"I already told you, the thief had already left by the time I discovered the theft. I would not have woken up at all if not for Aves' bravery."

At mention of his name, the shuppet meekly tried to hide himself.

"Yeah, well that doesn't mean-"

"Vale!"

The manetric flinched, turning his attention to the hawlucha that had made the outburst. Up close, Haru could see that Whisper's feathers were singed in spots, and her eyes hinted at exhaustion. Besides that, she also had a patched-up gash on her shoulder, and Vale had several recent cuts on his face.

"Fellow pokemon, please," Jhorlo started, cutting in. "I know tensions are high right now, but I am here for a reason. I need the full story, from the beginning, you know. Let's start with this: what all was stolen, and when did the theft occur?"

"I had a bag and a few minor supplies stolen," Lecha began, "the most valuable of which was a single reviver seed. But that's minor in the grand scheme of what happened last night."

"Agreed," Tor said, still in his usual monotone. "I was awoken by the sound of Aves' screech at perhaps halfway through the night. I saw someone make an exit out the door at that time but did not get a good look. I instead went to find Aves and check the egg room and discovered Aves had been knocked out and an egg stolen, at which point I alerted the guard."

"I started running that way," Whisper said, beginning her part of the story. "I got about halfway there and heard movement behind me. I broke a luminous orb and was able to catch sight of someone fleeing the scene, carrying-" she cut off, taking a deep, steadying breath. "-carrying the egg with them. I turned to pursue the thief, and chased them out towards the forest, where Vale came in to try to help. He discharged electricity, but unfortunately I was caught in the fray, and the thief managed to get away."

"Do you have any clue where they went then?" Jhorlo asked.

"Vale tried to track their path. We have good reason to believe they entered Sunglow Thicket. As far as we know, they're still in there, but we aren't certain."

The purugly let out a long breath of air, coming out as a frustrated hiss. "I suppose I should fill the crowd in, before we start making preparations to track him down. Whisper, are you sure you want to be in charge of the operation? I can let you rest if you would like, given the situation, you know."

The hawlucha nodded slowly. "I am positive. This has… unfortunately become personal, and I'd like to see him brought to justice myself."

"Very well," the mayor replied before turning his attention to the still growing crowd. He cleared his throat loudly, bringing most of the uneasy murmurs in the crowd to a stop.

Haru leaned forward to whisper to Shimmer. "Do they even know who the thief is?" Haru asked.

Shimmer and Muse shared a look. "...You'll find out soon enough," Shimmer replied grimly.

Her reluctance only served to further twist the knot in Haru's stomach as she quickly caught on to the implications. She turned her attention back to Jhorlo.

"Pokemon of Theran Village," the purugly began, "this meeting brings no good news, I'm afraid. I'm sure some of you heard the commotion late last night, and others have been filled in on it by those that did. Yes, the rumors are true; last night, we had our first egg theft in more than twenty years. Whisper and Anu's egg was stolen from the nursery." He paused, giving the pokemon surrounding them a chance to quiet down after breaking out into uneasy whispers.

"An egg theft? Here?"

"When was the last time we had any crime this serious?"

"Could this be a sign we've lost Regigigas' favor?"

He allowed the pokemon to murmur amongst themselves for several minutes before finally cutting in."

"Now, now, dear villagers. I know this comes at a great shock, but please let me talk, there is more to discuss. Although our valiant guard gave chase, the thief was able to escape, unfortunately. However, we have been able to track him to the Sunglow Thickets. We already have a guard watching each exit. As soon as this is over, we'll be sending a few more guards and some volunteers to go and stake out the known dungeon exits."

"But Jhorlo!" A villager from the back of the group called out, someone that Haru could not see. "Do we know who the culprit is?"

Haru tightened her grip on Muse’s back, paws gripping clumps of fur as she waited for the answer, playing that it wasn’t who she thought it was.”

"Please give me a moment, I was getting to that. Yes, thanks to witnesses and the hard work of the pursuing guards, we were able to identify the thief as none other than the sneasel that had been staying at Lecha's clinic these last few days."

More voices broke out, some louder than others.

"What?!"

"I knew bringing an unvetted stranger into town was bad news."

"Was he a wildener? What did we know about him?"

"How could this be happening? He seemed so nice!"

"Order!" The purugly called out. "Order please!" Slowly, the cacophony of voices quieted down. "I know this is a lot to take in. It's unfortunate that someone we gave such care to has betrayed us. As I said, the guard will be preparing a stakeout of Sunglow Thickets. Anyone who wants to volunteer should meet with Whisper. We will bring this thief to justice. That is all. Please disperse and go about our daily business."

Slowly, the crowd began to break away in small groups of pokemon talking amongst themselves in hushed whispers. Some pokemon made their way over to where Whisper, Vale, and Anu were to offer their help. Jhorlo turned to where Muse, Shimmer, and Haru were hanging around.

"Shimmer, dear, I have business to attend to at the villa. Will you see to it that anyone that didn't happen to be here gets filled in on the situation?"

"Of course, daddy," the kirlia replied. "I'll touch bases with Numi at the post office and make sure a memo gets delivered to everyone. Would you like me to send a message out to the enforcers union also?"

Jhorlo shook his head. "Not right now. I would like to keep this problem just village business if at all possible. We'll reconsider it if he manages to give us the slip out of the mystery dungeon."

"With all respect sir," Muse cut in, "how do you know he hasn't already?"

"Even a seasoned explorer would take several hours to work their way through Sunglow Thicket. By then we had at least one guard watching every exit, you see."

"What if he happened to have an escape orb with him?" Haru asked.

"No one reported any orbs being stolen, you know. Only a few medical supplies and a bag from Lecha. And although it's possible he could find one in the dungeon, the chances of that are slim, based on the size and how little we explore it. Now, if you'll excuse me, I must be going. I have a lot of work to do, with a trade shipment supposed to come through today, as you may already know."

The purugly nodded to his daughter, then he and his two purrloin guards began to walk back to their home.

Haru carefully slid off of Muses back, her mind distracted by the unfortunate news. She thought back to the conversation they’d had on his second day about hunting. It was always a possibility, she should have known. Could she have prevented this? Or was it a fluke, a misunderstanding? She found that hard to believe however, with the circumstances in mind.

She opened her mouth to excuse herself, but Shimmer spoke first, looking back to make sure her father was out of range of their voices.

"Okay you two," the kirlia began, "go get any exploration gear you have together, we'll meet back at the edge of town in an hour."

"E-excuse me?" Haru stammered. "What on earth are you getting at?"

Before Shimmer could answer, the call of "Haruuu!" sounded behind her. The bidoof whipped around, her brother hurrying up the street as fast as his stubby legs could take him. He took a second to catch his breath. "Did you already hear about Nip?"

Haru gave him a grim look that answered his question. She opened her mouth to say something but was cut off by a squeal from Shimmer.

"Toshi-kins!" Shimmer exclaimed. "Oh, this is just perfect, now we have a full team!"

Toshi slowed to a stop in front of Haru, tilting his head up towards the kirlia. "Huh?" he deadpanned.

Muse turned her head back to look at the kirlia as well. "Shimmer… I think I know what you're getting at, and I cannot advise it. We don't know Nip's strength."

"Wait," Haru interjected. "Are you suggesting we go into the mystery dungeon and track him down ourselves?"

"That's exactly what I'm thinking, oh you catch on fast! Think about it, we're the ones that brought him here, so that makes it our problem, doesn't it?"

"But Shimmer," Haru protested, "none of us are trained for battle, except Muse."

Shimmer shook her head. "I know that, but we still would have the upper hand in numbers. Four on one."

"Shimmer…" The absol pawed at the ground nervously before shaking her head. "I want you to know that I believe this is a poor decision. But if we go, I would like it if Haru did accompany us, at least."

"What? Why?"

"Because, you've had the most interaction with Nip, and thus have the best chance of convincing him to come back without a fight."

"We don't even know if he's still there!"

"I don't know…" Toshi mumbled. "I think it's worth a shot. Besides," he added, with a bit of mischief in his eye, "wouldn't this be a great time to make your name known, if you could help bring a criminal to justice?"

"That's…" Haru began, but she couldn't come up with a satisfactory argument. He did have a point… As did Muse. "Oh… Why are you taking their side Toshi?"

"I want to go out there and join the Rescue Guild or Expedition Society one day. I have to practice dungeon exploring at some point, and what better time to start than now?"

Haru groaned, outmatched. Technically, she could just not go, leaving the rest of them to explore without her, but she also couldn’t bring herself to let her brother dive into danger without her. "Fine, just one attempt to find him. But make sure you bring an escape orb. I'm not risking any of our lives down there to peacefully stop an ungrateful egg thief."

"Aw come on, where's your sense of adventure?" Shimmer teased. "Fine. You and your brother go get your supplies. We'll meet you in an hour."

*****​

"You're better at this, Toshi. What kind of supplies do you think we'll need?"

"We mostly have heal seeds and oran berries, but if you happen to have any pecha or aspear berries, I'd bring them too."

"Pecha berries I get," Haru started, pausing to grab a couple in her mouth by the stems and pull them into her bag. "There's plenty of bug and grass-typed wildeners out there in the thicket. But why aspear? I don't know if we even have any. They're not all that common out here."

"Nip's an ice type," Toshi explained, pawing a couple of oran berries out of a basket. He knocked them over to where Haru was before retreating to his room, returning with a couple of seeds that he spat out of his mouth. "It's possible he's packing moves that could freeze us. Better safe than sorry. But if we don't have any, we'll just have to use heal seeds."

Haru finished placing the items in her small bag, then nosed her head through the strap so that it was hanging around her neck. "Well, there's not a lot of space in here, so we'll go with what we have. Hopefully Shimmer and Muse have stuff more useful for exploration on them."

"They should still have the leftovers from yesterday. C'mon let's get going before mom gets home and questions where we're going."

"I've missed so much work this past week, you guys owe me for this," Haru grumbled, following her younger brother out the door.

The two set off down the path, going opposite the direction to town, heading instead for the path to the forest. She could see a few tired looking pokemon working their way up the path, likely the few that had been watching the exits before the meeting. A marshtomp among the group let out a yawn and began to speak with the others in his group in a hushed tone, sparing only enough time for the pair of bidoof to give a quick wave of a hand.

A white smudge against the tree line alerted her to Muse's location, just off the path. She adjusted her route slightly, cutting through overgrown grass and bushes to reach them faster.

More details became clear as they emerged from the patch of grass. Muse had been outfitted with a bigger satchel than usual, carefully secured to her back. Shimmer was down from her usual perch, instead resting against Muse, running fingers through her thick neck fur. "Okay, so you still have the sitrus berries from yesterday, and you bought a few cheri and pecha berries, an escape orb and a totter orb?"

The absol nodded. "That is correct. I also brought a petrify wand, but it only has a few uses left in it."

"That's fine, we'll save them for emergencies." The kirlia opened her eyes. "Oh look, there they are, finally!" A hand raised up, waving Haru and Toshi down. "Hey you two! Come on, hurry up already! We're losing daylight here!"

Haru huffed, but picked up her pace regardless, Toshi following close behind. Once the four were together, they did a quick look over of their supplies before setting off, heading down the path into the woods. At first, Shimmer prattled on about various things, intent on offering a distraction, but eventually her small talk gave way to uneasy silence, as they grew closer to their destination. Before long, they could spot splotches of red and orange and brown amongst the greenery.

"Do you see anyone from the village?" Toshi asked, breaking the silence.

"Not here," Haru responded with a shake of her head. "But as far as I know, there's not a dungeon exit in this area. Better for us, I don't want anyone questioning us. I mean, I know we're all adults here, but can you imagine how most of the village mon would react if they saw us headed into the dungeon, especially right now?"

Toshi grimaced. "Eugh, fair enough. I think mom would flip." He went on to mimic Saku's voice. "'Putting yourself in danger like that?' She'd say. 'How could you? You worry your mother so much.'"

Haru snickered slightly as the group made their way down a hill towards the dungeon. "Gotta love mom. She's great, but she's got way too many expectations on us. I mean, moving out to expand the family business? Yeah, I don't mind that. But she's got it in her head that I'm going to become mates with some powerful dragon-type or something. I mean, really? Maybe I'm not ready to settle down mom, I've got a life ahead of me still!"

The other three suddenly stopped. "Um… Sis?" Toshi mumbled.

Shimmer covered her mouth to restrain a giggle. "Wow Haru, you got some issues!"

Only then did Haru realize how long she had been rambling, and how loud her voice had grown. "Er… Never mind. Let's just focus on the task ahead."

She took the lead, making a beeline for two twisted aspen trees that marked where the distortion began. The grass here came nearly up to her nose, but in little patches on the other side, she could see shorter grass covered in fallen red and yellow leaves. She had never been to Sunglow Thicket, but from what she could tell from the outside, it always seemed to be fall there.

As she stepped through the point where normal and distorted world met, she immediately noticed the drop-in temperature from summer to fall air. She paused and shook, as if casting off the cold. While she had only been able to see patches from the outside, in here the trees were completely red and gold. The sound was different too. After passing through, it was as if the normal quiet chatter of forest life just dropped away, leaving only the rustle of trees from an unnatural wind.

The other three followed closely behind, Toshi walking up to stand beside her and Muse and Shimmer following just behind him. She shifted her weight as she took a better look at her surroundings.

The dungeon had deposited them in a clearing, thick brush impeding their ability to proceed in most directions. Even behind them, the way they came, there was nothing but thick undergrowth. Just to be certain, she took a moment to waddle over and try to push through, only receiving a few thorns in her face for her trouble.

"You don't think he'll still be in this zone, do you?" Haru asked, turning back to the group.

"I doubt it," Toshi said. He kneaded the ground anxiously. "The zones typically shift layouts every few hours or so and sweep out any unfortunate pokemon that happen to be traveling and don't know their way to safer areas. He would have probably tried to get to the base floor as quickly as possible - the only stable area - so that he could rest."

"A good point," Muse agreed. "Still, I think it would be best that we try to sweep every zone as carefully as possible, to make sure we don't miss him."

Shimmer reached out to brush her fingers through Muse's thick neck-fur. "Good idea Musey. You come up with the best ideas!"

Muse lowered her head and rubbed a paw across her face, though Haru could tell she was smiling.

"Well, I try to come up with reasonable solutions."

"Actually…" Toshi started, taking a step back towards the group. "I think we should hurry through this zone. We can spread out our search in the next zone. I'm almost certain he would have moved to the next zone by now."

"I feel that's fair enough," Muse agreed. "Let's hurry. We're wasting precious time standing around here."

With an air of caution about them, the group set off, crossing the clearing with their senses pealed, as if expecting wilderners to burst from the undergrowth at any given time. The clearing narrowed into a thin path, just wide enough for them to pass through single file. Muse took the lead, head raised high and treading cautiously, with the other three following close behind.

It felt like they traveled the path for hours - though it had probably been less - sunlight slowly shifting as it filtered through the thick, golden canopy, undergrowth feeling like it was closing in, threating to swallow the group of pokemon. The path twisted to and fro, leading then in a caravan around tight, blind corners to a point that Haru could not be sure they had not doubled back on their path at some point.

But finally, the path began to widen slightly, enough that they could walk in pairs of two. Then it opened into a small clearing a bit further down the path. Muse paused, giving the following pokemon a chance to spread out behind her.

Haru stepped forward to stand beside Muse, scanning the room for any signs of danger.

"Hey, what's that over there?"

Haru turned her head to the left where Muse was pointing a paw. Across the clearing she could make out something glimmering in the sunlight.

"I don't know, I'm going to check it out real quick."

One last quick, cautious look around, and she began to rush across the floor to the glimmering object. As she got closer, she could tell that it was some sort of orb, although she could not tell what kind yet.

"Sis, wait!"

Haru glanced back towards her brother, slowing her gait. But before she could say something, she felt the ground shift slightly below her, and heard a soft, clicking noise.

A powerful gust of wind whipped up beneath her. She tried to hold her ground, digging her paws into the dirt, but the gust was too much, and she was hurled into the air backwards towards her teammates, her fight broken by crashing into shimmer. She let out a pained squeal as she flopped to the ground.

"Go away!"

Haru groaned and pushed herself to her feet, her vision blurred. The sound of beating wings turned her attention back to the orb. As her vision cleared, she saw that a fletchinder had landed in front of it, a couple of fletchlings hiding just behind him.

"This is ours!" The fletchinder chirped. "We found it and you can't have it!"

Muse backed up slightly, lowering her head. "My apologies, we did not realize it belonged to someone. We are just passing through. If you would, please allow us to pass.”

The fletchinder gave pause, looking back to the fletchlings behind them, who returned skeptical looks.

"Really," Haru grumbled under her breath. "Who leaves something so valuable just laying around on the ground for anyone to grab like that?"

Although she thought she had been quiet, apparently she was loud enough for the fletchinder to catch her words. It whipped its head back around, talons scraping at the dirt and leaves below it. "What was that?"

"Haru," Toshi urged in a whisper, bumping against her front right leg. "Watch what you're saying! You never know what kind of mood a wildener is in. Especially in a dungeon!" He turned his attention back to the birds. "Oh, it was nothing! My sister is just in a rush is all. We're looking for a sneasel that might have passed through here."

The fletchinder scraped at the leaves again. "A sneasel? You're with one of those egg munchers?"

Toshi blinked a couple times. "What? No! We were-"

But the fletchinder was no longer listening. Both it and the two fletchlings had taken to the air now, along with the two fletchlings. Muse jumped to the side as the evolved bird dove for her head, talons outstretched.

"Shimmer!" The dark type called out. "Get back!"

"No way!" Shimmer called back, stepping up beside her guard. Her eyes glowed blue with psychic energy. She raised her hands up on either side, and turned her attention to the nearest fletchling, who was now diving towards her. For just a second, she squeezed her eyes shut, then pushed outwards with both hands. The same pale glow from her eyes seemed to envelop the fletchling, stopping it in its tracks.

"Ha ha! Finally! I'm really getting good at using my psychic powers in a fight, Muse!"

The absol grunted in response, slicing at the air with her sickle-like horn to ward off the fletchinder. "Don't you think you should stop talking and finish the attack before it breaks free?"

"Oh, right!" The kirlia giggled, seemingly unperturbed by the danger they might be in. She brought her arms back, then swung them to the side in an arc, sending the captured fletchling flying into a tree. It fell to the ground with a pained chirp and did not attempt to get up.

Haru and Toshi meanwhile found themselves back to back, each with a few welts coming up where the other fletchling had managed to peck at them with its beak or scratch at them with its talons, severely out speeding the two bidoofs. When it would flutter too close to her face, Haru would snap at it with her fangs, but so far all she had managed to do was pluck a feather or two.

"This isn't working!" Toshi called out.

"You think?" Haru called back.

"I'm going to try something, cover for me!"

Haru spun around as her brother took off, running a little way into the clearing, chasing after him just behind the fletchling. Once he had built up a decent amount of speed, he turned in an arc so that he was facing back towards the fletchling. He sprang into the air and came down curled into a ball, rolling and quickly gaining even more speed. Haru barely dodged out of the way as he came barreling across, knocking into the fletchling as he passed.

The fletchling tumbled in the air, barely managing to keep its balance. But Haru was on it before it could get away this time, rearing up on her hind legs to chomp down on its leg, pulling it down to the ground. Its wings beat against her face as it twittered in alarm, trying to peck at her face. With it still trying to attack, she only bit down harder until she felt the delicate leg bone snap in her powerful jaws.

Only then did she finally let go. As the bird tried to rise back into the air, she charged head-first, knocking into it and sending it sailing back a few feet. The small bird tumbled along the ground, coming to a stop a few feet away. Slowly, it managed to turn. Faced with her and with Toshi rolling back for another attack, the bird struggled to take to the air and fled back to the edge of the clearing, ducking down into a patch of grass.

Haru turned her attention back towards Muse and Shimmer to see how they were faring, just in time to see the absol take a blow to the side from the fletchinder, wreathed in flames. The smell of singed fur filled the air. Muse grunted, skidding a few inches back from the force of the blow, but stayed on her feet. She sprang back a few more inches to put distance between herself and the bird.

Muse turned to face the bird head on as it regained air, then dove at her once again. She crouched slightly as dark energy began to creep up her horn, the fletchinder missing as he swooped by overhead. He dove again. Just as he closed in, no more than a few inches from her face, Muse sprang up, swinging her head sideways so that the sharp tip sliced across his chest, knocking him back and sending him tumbling through the air. He hit the ground hard.

As he attempted to climb back to his feet, weakly spitting embers in their direction, Muse rushed over to swat him away with one hard strike of her paw. He tumbled a few feet across the clearing to a stop on his stomach and did not rise, fainted.

The group slowly gathered in the center of the clearing, looking over each other's injuries. Both Toshi and Haru had a few wounds from their fight with the fletchling, but nothing more serious than a couple of cuts. Muse had taken a few embers to the face, and her right flank had been singed by the flame charge. Only Shimmer had gotten out of the battle without injury.

"How's everyone faring?" Shimmer asked.

"Pass me an oran berry," Toshi replied. "That should keep me going for a while."

"I could also use an oran berry," Haru said, raising a paw before pulling herself out of her bag to divvy out the two berries.

"I will be fine," Muse said. "I do not wish to slow down our pursuit."

Shimmer looked the absol over and frowned before approaching to place a hand on her hip. Muse scraped a paw across the ground, gritting her teeth.

"Nonsense," Shimmer said with a shake of her head. "You're hurt and trying to continue with that limp will slow us down more. Let me take care of this."

The absol lowered her head slightly. "But I… Yes, of course, I'm sorry to have worried you, Shimmer.

The psychic type giggled slightly. "You don't need to apologize to me Muse! Now hold still, this might feel a little weird." She laid a hand over the absol's flank again, taking a deep breath. Her eyes began to glow with a slight pinkish tint. A wave of pink energy expelled from her hand, then another, and another, washing and wobbling over the absol's injury and across her body. The action continued for about a minute, then the glow faded.

"How's that feel?"

Muse carefully took a step on her hind leg. "Much better."

At the positive response, the kirlia sprang forward to wrap her arms around Muse's neck. "Oh, good! I hadn't tried using that heal pulse since I pestered Leche into helping me learn it, so I’m glad it worked. And I’m glad you’re feeling better!"

Muse chuckled weakly reaching a paw up to put just a bit of space between the two of them. "Shimmer, you're embarrassing me."

"There's nothing to be embarrassed about," Shimmer replied. Though she backed off regardless. "Now come on, we're losing daylight!"

The group gathered up their things and continued on across the clearing, Haru picking up the orb – a slumber orb, she thought – that had caused the conflict in the first place along the way for their troubles.

The next path was surprisingly short and straightforward. By her estimate, Haru suspected that they spent no more than five or ten minutes crossing to the next clearing. This clearing, fortunately, was devoid of any other pokemon.

"There's the entrance to the next zone," she heard Toshi say. He raised a paw to point to the left, where there was a gap in the undergrowth. But instead of a path, it appeared more like an indentation, the trees just behind seeming to warp and twist at odd angles.

"This was a small floor," Shimmer mused. "But we didn't run into Nip, so that must mean that he's deeper in the dungeon, right?"

"Hopefully," Toshi agreed.

The group quickly crossed the clearing, stepping into the small dent in the undergrowth. When they did, the trees beyond seemed to shift away, opening into another clearing. As they stepped across the threshold, the trees beyond distorted and twisted and when the group turned back, there was nothing but trees and thick shrubbery behind them.

There were two ways to exit this clearing. One to their left, and one from the top-right corner. Both seemed to curve northwards, from the bit down the paths Haru could see.

"Let's start with the left," Toshi suggested, turning. "We have to start somewhere." And so, the group sat off once again, working their way across the zone. After a while, it all seemed to blur together. Path, clearing, path, clearing. They all seemed the same, yet different as they trekked through leaves and around bunches of bushes. Occasionally they came across more wilderners, but none were as bold as the flechinder from before, and most fled before they even saw them.

When the search through the second floor proved fruitless, they returned back to a room where they'd seen the distorted route onwards into the third zone.

"Figures he would be further in," Haru mumbled. "It couldn't be easy, could it?" She shook her head before addressing her teammates louder. "Hey, do you think he might have taken shelter in the stable zone already?"

"All the way at the end?" Toshi asked. "I mean… it's possible. But I don't know if he would have traveled that fast."

"Besides," Muse added, "we can't risk missing him and allowing him to slip away as a result."

"Fair point," Haru said "But at the same time why can't we just-"

She cut off as Muse suddenly perked up, raising a paw to shush her.

"Shh, someone's coming," the absol warned, lowering herself into a crouch. The other three took up defensive stances as well, following Muse's gaze to a path into the clearing with a blind corner. It wasn't long before the rest of them heard the tale-tale crunching of leaves as some pokemon approached their position.

"Probably just another wilderner that'll turn tail when they see us," Haru muttered. But as the pokemon rounded the corner, it quickly became clear that they had run into something much more dangerous.

The pokemon on the far side of the clearing was similar in size to the two bidoof. But they were bipedal, with cream and grey fur. Some of the lighter fur had been dyed with some sort of reddish tone, a spiral design climbing one arm and a crescent design adorning their chest.

Judging by the large second set of jaws, Haru inferred that the creature must have been a mawile.

The mawile seemed to notice them as it entered the clearing and noticed their defensive stances. It turned to face them and reached out an arm.

"You there!" She barked in an accent that Haru had come to recognize the last few days. "If you've seen a sneasel around, then you will tell me where he is, if you know what is good for you!"
 

Negrek

Dreaming of Spring
Staff
Nice, another chapter! I'm going to have to catch up before I get truly, hideously behind.

Chapter 3

Certainly, she had no interest in exploring them for herself, but how would she ever draw business from other places without learning about their wants and needs?
Oh man is someone ever in for an unwelcome adventure! It's neat how excited Haru is about getting into the family business, though; it's pretty rare to see a PMD protagonist with ambitions other than adventure.

Take care Ruffle!
You can be a bit inconsistent with your direct-address commas. Whenever

The absol had taken up a spot laying by the river, watching water slowly seep through the bibarel dam the occasional leaf floating by in the lazy current.
Should be *lying, not "laying," and you're missing a word before "the occasional."

Her comment seemed to placate the tension.
Hmm, you don't really placate tension. You can only placate something sapient, really, since it means to appease. It's more common to say that someone "defuses" tension, like defusing a bomb.

Today had been kind to her; no pokemon had come to try to kill her or her unhatched child.
Ha ha, does that happen... often? tbh Kangaskhan seems like one of the scarier pokémon out there, like there aren't many others that would want to try and tangle with one.

Out of the chapters I've read so far, this one's my least favorite. There's definitely good stuff in here--you've done a nice job characterizing the town, I like Haru's curiosity and skeptical attitude towards pokégods, and you do a nice job starting to lay in some hooks about Nip's story. However, I think you might have spent a little too long characterizing the town; like kintsugi, I kind of wonder whether some of that exposition could have been weaved into the story later--though the answer might well be no, because I don't imagine we're sticking around here much longer. The question of meat-eating, for example, was interesting, but it took awhile, and I don't know that it was the best place for it. Things like visiting the shrine and passing the mayor's house felt a little more connected to the main story since they both gave us a little more insight into Nip's situation.

The fight between Kangaskhan and Mawile at the end also struck me as a bit wonky. The kangaskhan shouting out that she beat up a sneasel two days earlier seemed really weird to me--like, who makes that kind of boast with someone they don't even know and who has no reason to be impressed about this hypothetical random sneasel? It's obvious you needed the kangaskhan to say that for plot reasons, but I think you might have been able to give Mawile the clue to Nip's whereabouts in a more natural way. She obviously suspects that Nip's in the area and has presumably been tracking him, so perhaps she does attack the kangaskhan with the intent to kill, but then before doing so asks whether she's seen a sneasel around recently, tell me and I might spare your life, etc. Something like that.

I'm also still not convinced that kangaskhan's the most attractive prey-pokémon in the area, heh.

But! Like I said, I enjoyed the extra characterization we get for Haru in particular here. Although she goes on about how she only wants to find things out in order to further the family business, she does seem to have some genuine interest in how the world works, what far-off places are like, etc. Like Nip, I have to respect that she thinks a little differently than the people around her. As somebody else pointed out above, it would be kind of weird for her to straight-up not believe that the legendary pokémon exist at all, like total atheism, since I think there's pretty good indication that they do in-story. But being exasperated that pokémon put so much faith and emphasis on them makes sense, and I can totally understand skepticism in that sense.

As always, you've done a good job of making this feel like a lived-in and diverse world, where there are a lot of different pokémon civilizations all kind of trying to live together, not necessarily knowing what each other are really like. That in mind, one thing that did stick out to me is that all these different groups seem to have their own set of legendaries that they worship that the others have heard of little, if at all. Which is fine, and better than "everybody believes in Arceus/Mew," but it would be nice sometime if there were a pokémon religion not centered around legendaries! Ancestor worship, reverence for nature, belief systems more focused on behavior than on external forces... We see all kinds of these in human religions, so while it makes sense for pokémon to latch onto the godlike beings they're familiar with, there are a lot of other options.

Chapter 4

As he stood, he gave his injured leg an experimental stomp, winced, and grinned when the pain was little more a dull throb.
More *than a dull throb, probably.

Afterall, she had not only been involved in his rescue, but also the one to help him understand how things worked in this odd little place.
"After all" is two words.

Nip, Toshi, and Haru all three did an immediate double take, looking to Shimmer and then amongst their group.
Kind of odd to me that Nip doesn't know what a mayor is, but does seem to understand "double date."

That would spare us the danger of the dungeon, which could be just as dangerous.
It's kind of awkward to have danger/dangerous repeated so close together; maybe look into rewording this.

As the other pokemon grew closer, he realized he could make out the form of a manetric in the moonlight.
*manectric, here and the other places it's mentioned in this chapter

Without he pushed through the bushes in the darkness, desperately looking for what might be a dungeon entrance.
Missing a word after "without."

But as the adrenaline of his daring escape died away, a realization struck him: They would know he went into the dungeon.
You don't generally capitalized words after a colon, and "They" should be lower-case here.

And now here's where things really start picking up. It was pretty clear from the moment the mystery dungeon was mentioned that we'd be going there eventually, and I like how it was described as this place that's stuck in autumn while the rest of the world goes on around it. It's interesting to see here how Nip's first real concern is to get away from the village so the mawile doesn't end up hurting people there on his account, while he then decides to go and steal one of its eggs for the road. He does have concern for other people--probably quite a bit of concern--but push comes to shove, he does put himself first. I wonder what Yveltal would make of that?

I don't really get Nip's reasoning for going for an egg here. I may have the wrong impression of the village, but I thought it wasn't that big? So going to the meat shop seems like it wouldn't have taken that much longer. All moral considerations aside, surely it's better to risk ticking off a mandibuzz and her helper, which maybe would end with you having the town watch set on you, rather than stealing someone's child which is very likely to end with basically the entire village hunting you down? I'm just not convinced that getting meat from the butcher's is going to be difficult enough, relative to breaking into the daycare, to justify targeting the daycare instead.

I'm curious what's up with that daycare blissey. Just a little background character, but they certainly seem to have an odd personality!

Chapter 5

Returning into her family's hut, she waddled over to where her mother had sat out the morning's food on a small, clay platter.
*set out

After scarfing down the simple breakfast, she nosed her way into a small bag with coins and a couple berries, letting it hang around her neck, and sat off, beginning the short walk towards the village proper.
And here it's *set out, heh.

With an air of caution about them, the group set off, crossing the clearing with their senses pealed, as if expecting wilderners to burst from the undergrowth at any given time.
*peeled

- A couple times here you use "fletchlings" instead of "fletchling." Pokémon species are the same in both the singular and the plural, and you usually adhere to that rule, so it looks a bit weird to see it broken.

And so, the group sat off once again, working their way across the zone.
*set off. "Sat" only ever refers to sitting.

It wasn't long before the rest of them heard the tale-tale crunching of leaves as some pokemon approached their position.
*tell-tale

And, predictably, the village is heavily mobilized to go after Nip, and he's now trapped in the dungeon with people guarding every entrance. This was a great plan. :P Presumably he's now hiding somewhere... I would have expected those mawile to find him already if he's just chilling on the final floor. It's a nice cliffhanger to have them show up here; guess we might just find out whether Nip's right about that mawile being able to take the whole group down. Whatever Nip did back home, it must have been pretty dire to get people chasing him all the way out here.

This has been an interesting story to follow so far, quite different from the standard Mystery Dungeon tale. It's fun to see a story focused on more local-level problems than major world-threatening issues, and you've done a lot to build up your world here, so that readers care about what happens to this little village and the people in it. At times, though, it does feel like you're taking a lot of words to cover things, like in this chapter where we get a recap of what all went on the previous night, despite knowing all of it already since we read about it from Nip's POV. It's not so much that the story needs to jump right into the action, since that isn't what it's really been about so far, but there are places where I think you could make cuts that would simply make the more interesting aspects of the story stand out more.

In this chapter I again enjoyed the descriptions of the mystery dungeon; it definitely feels like an otherworldly place, and I think you captured some of the beauty that the PMD games give to their environments. Of course, they're filled with cranky wild pokémon, but the aesthetis are nice! I'll be looking forward to where this plot thread goes, and whether the gang will be able to find Nip and get him to stand down. I wouldn't be surprised if he showed up to help them fight off these mawile--but then, I wouldn't be surprised if he didn't, either. It should be interesting either way!
 

Adamhuarts

Well-known member
Pronouns
He/Him
Aright, I just read the second chapter now. There's not really much for me to say about it I suppose, but I do want to comment on the interesting portrayal of how pokemon in this world seem to live differently depending on where they are, which makes sense.

We have the ones in the south who have a village based societal structure, the northerners who live as tribal groups with hierarchies based on strength and then there are the wildlings who live by kill or be killed. This does make me wonder if carnivores exist in this world, aside from the wildlings of course.

I don't have much of an opinion on Nip, but he seems interesting a bit at least. I hope to learn more about him and his spiritual journey. I can't tell where this story is going just yet, but I'll stick around and see.
 

NebulaDreams

Well-known member
Chapter 4

"Err…" the bidoof stammered, searching for any sort of response. "I'm really more of a blues and greens guy, actually."

"Well a dark shade of either of those could work well with pink, right? We can compromise!"

Sensing no hope of winning, Toshi just mumbled, "I guess."
Whipped Toshi is whipped.

"Yveltal, if you can hear me, if you have any favor for me left after everything I've done, please let me make it away from here. I just want to start over and be left alone, is that too much to ask for? Surely my devotion to you, despite everything is sign that I still have a decent bone in my body?" As always, he was met with silence.
Aww, how nice, he's praying to Yveltal in a moment of self reflection. Well, I wonder if he'll make good on his promise to start over and be left alone...

The room it led into was small and cramped, but also noticeably warmer than the first. And there, nestled in individual nests around a small dugout with a flame orb was his target: eggs.
...or he could steal someone's unborn child in a facility full of people looking after it, therefore putting him in even hotter water. Nice going, Nip.

Chapter 5

Her morning had been nice and normal for the first time in nearly a week, free of interruption. A break from all the excitement. And after any hopes of getting any sort of fame or discovering anything useful from learning more about where Nip was from had been dashed by his caginess and hurry to move on, she was ready to return to her usual schedule.
Oh, my sweet summer child...

Haru snickered slightly as the group made their way down a hill towards the dungeon. "Gotta love mom. She's great, but she's got way too many expectations on us. I mean, moving out to expand the family business? Yeah, I don't mind that. But she's got it in her head that I'm going to become mates with some powerful dragon-type or something. I mean, really? Maybe I'm not ready to settle down mom, I've got a life ahead of me still!"

The other three suddenly stopped. "Um… Sis?" Toshi mumbled.

Shimmer covered her mouth to restrain a giggle. "Wow Haru, you got some issues!"
Yeah, wow Haru. I was a bit surprised here, since I don't remember Haru having any other thoughts like that. She seemed quite content with her situation, but given her general skepticism, it also felt like a natural thing for her to say.

---

So, long overdue, but I thought I'd give my thoughts on chapters 4 and 5. I enjoyed the general banter in chapter 4, with Nip having more of a team dynamic with the rest. And even though Haru and him still weren't on the best of terms, it was still a little bittersweet for them to part ways. If they had a bit more time, they could've worked well toge-- oh wait, nope, Nip just stole an egg from a daycare, furthering his suspicion with the guild and getting him chased into a Mystery Dungeon. Granted, he was trying to get away from there as soon as possible and still survive, considering the Mawile was hot on his trail, but I do have two main complaints about chapter 4.

Firstly, I'm not sure the scene with Nip and the rest of the gang escaping back to the village served much purpose. Maybe to reinforce the fact that Nip needs to run away from the Mawile and not let her get on his trail, but this was already confirmed on the reader's part by the end of chapter 3 with the Kangaskhan encounter. It's a small thing, since I still enjoyed it, but I found Nip's decision to rush off with the egg a lot more questionable. Like Negrek suggested, stealing from the Mandibuzz shop would've hedged his bets a little, especially if there were only a couple of Mons manning the shop as opposed to lots of guards outside the daycare. I do like it in the sense that I still don't know how to feel about Nip, but it just seemed odd, given his prayer to Yveltal about starting anew and all that.

I don't really have much to say in regards to chapter 5, except it was a nice transition into a bit more action, as well as continuing on the plot thread of Nip and the Mawile's cat and mouse chase. I think with the initial news that Nip was the egg thief, you could've banked more on Haru's reaction. She did consider if she could've done something different, but I would've expected her to be more shocked or at least disheartened with her raw reaction.

That being said, I'm still really enjoying this. You left it on one hell of a cliffhanger at the end of the chapter 5, and I'm dying to see how this Nip/Mawile situation escalates. Until next time, then.
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Now that November's over, I'm ready to get back to upadating here. Before we get into the story, replies to comments, of course.

@Negrek
As always, thanks for the feedback! I'll be certain to take what you mentioned into account when I eventually get around to another round of edits for this chapter.

You can be a bit inconsistent with your direct-address commas.
Yeah, I'll be honest. I totally forgot about that grammar rule until it was pointed out here. I've been trying to go back and fix it up, but I still keep missing them. Thanks for pointing that one out.

I'm also still not convinced that kangaskhan's the most attractive prey-pokémon in the area, heh.
Definitely fair, though I do hope to explain why the mawile would go after one eventually.

Kind of odd to me that Nip doesn't know what a mayor is, but does seem to understand "double date."
That is definitely a fair point. Something I will have to rework when I do edits.

I don't really get Nip's reasoning for going for an egg here. I may have the wrong impression of the village, but I thought it wasn't that big? So going to the meat shop seems like it wouldn't have taken that much longer. All moral considerations aside, surely it's better to risk ticking off a mandibuzz and her helper, which maybe would end with you having the town watch set on you, rather than stealing someone's child which is very likely to end with basically the entire village hunting you down? I'm just not convinced that getting meat from the butcher's is going to be difficult enough, relative to breaking into the daycare, to justify targeting the daycare instead.
You're not the first one to bring this up, which means I probably could have done a better job of depicting this: Mandi's shop was meant to be kind of out of the way, since the less carnivorous members of the village find it kind of creepy and off-putting at best, even if they understand that other pokemon are obligate carnivores. Other reasons are explored in a later chapter, so I won't say anything else there.

I'll finish by saying I'm glad you're enjoying my depictions of dungeons. They were at least partially inspired by the Etrian Odyssey series. Something about fantastical places that feel off and unique compared to the environments around them just struck a chord with how I wanted to envision the mystery dungeons in my world when I decided to include them.

@NebulaDreams
...or he could steal someone's unborn child in a facility full of people looking after it, therefore putting him in even hotter water. . Nice going, Nip.
Nip is a lot of things. Smart is not always one of them.

Most of what else I had to say was already covered when I spoke with you over discord or in my reply to Negrek, so I'll move along.

@Adamhuarts
I'm glad you like the story so far, the differing societies in particular. As for everything else you said... well, you'll have to read to find out!

As a final note before the chapter, chapters from here on likely won't get as many edits, due to two things: for one thing, I haven't had as many reviews on more recent chapters, especially ones that break down into the nuances of a single chapter. This was also the first chapter that got beta read by two separate people, so hopefully between that and my revisions, I will have caught more errors. Enjoy!

Chapter 6: Umbra
"If you've seen a sneasel around, then you'll tell me where he is, if you know what's good for you!"

Haru glanced uneasily to the mawile on the far side of the clearing, then back to her companions. Her mind drifted briefly back to the conversation with Nip the day before, when he had mentioned the mawile, and how dangerous she was. Could that information be trusted, knowing what they knew now? Or had it been a ruse to avoid danger? To avoid them learning about how much of a traitorous piece of garbage he was?

Her nose twitched as she stepped forward, choosing her words carefully. "We're actually looking for a sneasel right now."

The mawile looked her over, seeming to size up the quartet. Then she turned away, speaking over her shoulder. "So, I suspect I'm on the right path. That is all I needed to know.” She raised one paw back over her shoulder. “You should turn back now. It will be dangerous ahead. He is dangerous and is not to be taken lightly."

Haru glanced back over to her three travel companions. Each of them gave her some sort of encouraging motion, grim looks on their faces. "With all due respect," she began cautiously, "he said the same thing about you. Or at least, I'm guessing it was you he was talking about."

The mawile paused, the second jaw on the back of her head opening ever so slightly. She turned back to give Haru a dangerous look. "Is… that so? You've spoken with him, then?"

Haru took a single, unnerved step back. "I…"

"I take it that means you have been harboring him, then, and that is why I have not been able to find him." When none of the pokemon answered right away, she scoffed. "You best leave now; you're trying my patience. My business is with him, and I have no time for pokemon such as you that might get in the way of my goal."

Haru sucked in a breath, looking back over to the others. Her brother frowned but stood his ground. Shimmer was sharing a look with Muse, who turned and dipped her head to Haru before moving forward to address the mawile. "I'm afraid this is our business. Nip needs to be brought back to our town to have his misdeeds there addressed. He was staying there for a time yes, but he's run off now."

The mawile narrowed her eyes and snapped her jaws threateningly. "I do not work with mon that would harbor a bottom feeder like him. This is my final warning. Turn back and allow me to deal with my kin's problems, or I will be forced to be rid of you too."

Haru gulped nervously. She opened her mouth to say something, but the words died in her throat. This mawile was crazy! Was she really threatening them? It was instead Toshi that stepped forward. "Sorry, but we have a way of doing things around here, and we can't let you leave until we know what's going on." Shimmer and Muse glanced to him for a moment, then - getting the idea - rushed ahead to block the exit.

The mawile watched as the two moved into place with a flat expression, though that expression quickly soured when they did not move from their new position blocking her way out. "And my kin have a way of dealing with our problems," she growled, shifting her posture. "We let actions speak for us." Before anyone else had a chance to say something, the mawile charged, dashing straight for Muse, and sprang forward.

"Here she comes!" the absol cried out, leaping out of the way of the detected opening attack, the mawile's jaws snapping at empty air, brushing uselessly against fur.

The four pokemon scattered across the clearing, Muse and Shimmer separating and the bidoof siblings running together

Missing her attack hardly phased the mawile. By the time she had landed, she was already spinning to face her opponents again.

Muse was the first to meet her, pouncing forward horn first, dark purple energy forming a glowing aura around her horn. The two met in the center of the clearing, Muse swinging her head to the side to slice at the mawile as she ran by, the other blocking the brunt of the blow with her steely jaws, seemingly unfazed.

As the mawile turned to pursue Muse, a small branch, glowing with psychic energy, was swung at her head. She stopped in her tracks and turned to glare at the kirlia that had tossed it at her. Deciding that she looked like a much easier target, she turned her attention to Shimmer instead. The top of her head seemed to glisten in the light as she charged.

Caught off guard, Shimmer attempted to slow her down with a disarming voice, letting out pulses of fairy-type energy around her as she shrieked. "EEK! No! Bad mawile, stay back!"

"Shims!" Muse called out, running towards the kirlia. "Move! Teleport out of here!"

"No way I'm leaving you guys behind!" she called back, but she did close her eyes to focus, warping across the field at the last possible second.

"Hold still!" The mawile called out in frustration, whirling around, only to be greeted by not one, but two bidoofs rolling - no barreling - towards her, quickly picking up speed. She only just barely sprang out of the way of one of them, the other one knocking her arm and shoulder. While the one that missed slowed to a stop to realign themselves, the other kept moving, picking up speed as they rolled in a wide arc in the field to turn back to her.

This time, however, she was ready. She braced herself as the bidoof came speeding towards her yet again, waiting. The two made hard contact, knocking her back a good few inches from the force of the blow alone. But she stood her ground, the contact enough to slow the bidoof's momentum. As they bounced back and landed, she dashed forward and raised a jaw full of razer-sharp fangs, managing to clamp down Haru's abdomen as she tried to recover.

The bidoof let out a panicked, pained squeal, panicking and struggling in her grip. "Ouch! Let go! Guys gett’er off me!"

"Sis!"

The mawile turned her head towards the voice. Toshi had recovered, now running at the mawile, sucking in a breath of air, determination and concentration on his face. As he drew closer, water began to form and spiral around his tail.

"Your fighting skills leave a lot to be desired," the mawile growled. With practiced motion, she swung her jaw in an arc, tossing Haru in the direction of her brother, using her as a living projectile to throw off Toshi's pursuit. The bidoof landed with a heavy thud, dazed for a moment as the world swirled around her

Haru felt herself being pushed up as Toshi struggled out from underneath her. She groaned and shakily pushed herself up to her feet. She could feel the sticky sensation of blood on her back and could see an oozing row of punctures along her stomach. Fortunately, the wounds seemed shallow; a minor relief.

Toshi took a second to look her over. "Take a moment to pep yourself up. I'm getting back in there." He waited for her to huff out an agreement before turning back towards their opponent

She sat back on her haunches to reach into her bag, fumbling for an oran berry. Once she felt her paw brush up against the thick rind of one of the life-saving berries, she pulled it loose and popped the entire thing in her mouth, spitting out the nasty, bitter rind as she fell back onto all fours and took off after her brother.

The mawile danced out of the way of a headbutt from the younger bidoof, ignoring him in favor of charging towards Muse with fists raised. She steeled herself for the blow that would come, dark energy surrounding her horn again. A pink energy surrounded the mawile as she drew closer; the force of Shimmer's confusion attack did little, but did slow the mawile enough to soften her opening blow.

At the last second, the mawile leapt into the air, coming crashing down with her arms stretched out onto Muse, sending the two of them tumbling to the ground. The absol slashed and kicked at the smaller pokemon, trying to knock her away as she grappled with Muse's thick mane, her second jaw snapping and trying to find a purchase. Most of Muse's strikes did little more than swipe uselessly through the thick fur around her legs or leave small nicks in the mawile's steely jaw.

"Shim-" the absol cried out, only to cut off with a yelp when the mawile managed to land a punch to the jaw.

"I'm trying!" Shimmer called back in a panic, one hand stretched out toward the struggling pair, and the other clutching her head as she tried to grab hold of the mawile again with psychic energy. "You're moving around too much, I can't get a good grip!"

"Don't worry!" Toshi yelled as he ran past the kirlia. "I'll help out!"

He skid to a stop and barely managed to avoid being flattened when the two rolled, exposing the mawile to his side. He raised up on his hind quarters, throwing his weight into the mawile in hopes of pulling her down, trying to bite down on her shoulder. She let out an angry screech, jabbing him in the stomach with her elbow. Still, he refused to be pushed away, managing to bite down on one of her earlobes.

As soon as his back legs hit the ground, he pulled with all his might, pulling the mawile down with him. She let out an angry screech, flailing in the fallen leaves as she tried to right herself. Still, Toshi did not let go, even when she did manage to get on her feet, a determined expression on his face. The mawile breathed heavily, chest heaving as she stared the bidoof down with clenched fists.

Haru let out a triumphant cry as she rushed over to meet and help her brother, Muse carefully climbing back to her feet behind her.

But before she could reach them, things went downhill fast.

With a pained grunt, the mawile suddenly yanked her head, pulling Toshi loose from his braced stance, tossing him into the air when he did not let go of her ear, even as it began to tear. As he flew through the air above her, she sprang up and whipped her head to the side, using her jaws like a club to knock him out of the air, slamming him into the ground. A storm of leaves blew up from the ground around where he landed just from the sheer force of the attack.

But she was not finished. She landed and barely dodged out of the way of a slash from Muse, the absol's horn brushing up against fur as the mawile stumbled backwards. Muse kept up the attack, advancing on her as she tried to spring further and further away, until she spun and clubbed her with her jaws too, knocking her sprawling to the ground.

The mawile took this opportunity to dash towards the still recovering Toshi, the bidoof struggling to get back to his feet after the brutal blow. In a move too fast for anyone to react to, she snapped the defenseless pokemon up in her jaws. Sharp fangs painfully dug into Toshi's softer, exposed belly. He let out a shrill, pained squeal, freezing everyone in place with horrified expressions.

"Nobody move!" the mawile shouted as she clenched her jaw. Toshi cried out as teeth dug deeper the more he struggled. Once she was quite certain that she had the attention of the three pokemon, her grip loosened slightly, just enough to relieve the pressure while preventing escape.

"I would not normally resort to such cheap tactics," the mawile began, punctuated by huffed breaths, her face scrunched in anger as blood dripped down her wounded ear, "but I refuse to let you waste my time any longer. Any sudden movements and I'll snap him right in half!" To punctuate her words, she squeezed the unfortunate bidoof in her jaws again, making him squeal again before instinctively going limp.

Haru glanced nervously to Muse and Shimmer as the mawile began to back away towards the nearest path out of the clearing, the other two just as frozen as she was.

Or so it seemed.

Although Muse was just as still as she appeared, Haru could see the look of concentration on Shimmer's face. Stealing a cautious glance back to Muse, she could see the absol's bag being jostled ever so slightly. She turned her gaze back to the retreating mawile, not wanting to draw attention to whatever the kirlia was doing.

The mawile - and her bidoof hostage - were almost halfway across the clearing by the time Shimmer spoke up, her voice surprisingly clear and level, considering the situation.

"Hey, hold on just a moment!" she called out. "Where do you think you're going with my Toshi-kins?"

For a moment the mawile kept walking, ignoring her, but she seemed to think of something and paused. "I have no interest in harming him further, so long as you three do not get in the way of my goal. Once I am certain you're not following me, I will let him go, so that he might find his own way home."

Haru glanced back to the kirlia for a moment, watching the psychic type flinch. Or at least, it appeared to be a flinch, but Haru had seen that expression enough times to know better. A psychic pokemon teleporting themselves was easy enough; teleporting other pokemon or items was a whole different problem. The kirlia closed her eyes, sucking in a deep breath. "Well… I suppose I can't let my dear Toshi get hurt, can I?" A pause, a beat of silence followed. Haru did her best to ignore the orb floating just above the mawile's head.

Then Shimmer squeezed her eyes tight, clenched her hands into fists and used her psychic abilities to slam the orb down directly on the mawile's head. The glassy ball shattered at the impact, swirls of bright blue mist bursting forth and spreading out through the clearing in tendrils. Some of the tendrils only made it as far as the mawile and Toshi. Glowing, psychic energy quickly began to spread over the pokemon from where the mist made contact.

The mawile growled, swatting at the mist only for the energy to spread even quicker. Once she was fully enveloped there was a bright flash of light, and then she was gone. Toshi fell to the ground with a pained whimper, only for him to disappear as well a second later.

"Oh no, that's not the totter orb!" Shimmer exclaimed. "Good going, Shimmer. Everyone get ready, looks like we're making an emergency exit."

Muse turned to spring towards shimmer, allowing the kirlia to grab hold of her as they were hit by the nearest tendril of psychic mist.

"Toshi, hang tight!" Haru called out as she dashed towards the nearest tendril, tensing as psychic energy washed over her body. Then the three of them, too, were gone in a flash of light.

Haru had been through the sensation of teleportation a few times in her life, mostly through psychic-type children messing around in their youth. She could recall a time when a younger Shimmer had tried to teleport her away so that she could talk to Toshi alone.

An escape orb behaved similarly, like an emergency teleport sealed up inside a glass prison, waiting to escape when the orb shattered. A product created in the distortion of mystery dungeons and perfected by pokemon, when a pokemon was caught up in the bits of psychic energy that burst out, they would be teleported out to the last undistorted place they had been. The sensation was like falling in darkness from a high place, only to pull up fast at the last second. It only lasted a few seconds, but it was still frightening, to say the least.

She doubted she would ever get used to it.

It took her a moment to reorient herself as her vision returned, along with the familiar smell of tree sap and wildflowers. She was back just outside the dungeon, sprawled out on the ground. A few feet away Shimmer and Muse were recovering - or rather, Muse was recovering while Shimmer looked her over for injury. Figures, Shimmer would have been used to teleporting, after all.

But she had bigger problems. Toshi? Where was he? The bidoof raised her nose up into the air, sniffing, tensing at the smell of fresh blood. She turned her head towards the scent and caught sight of her brother in the bushes a few feet away.

"Toshi!" she cried out, rushing towards the injured pokemon, only to stop short when she caught sight of cream fur just a few feet away. The mawile groaned as she climbed to her feet. Haru quickly moved to put herself between the hostile pokemon and her younger brother. A quick glance told her he was conscious but breathing heavily. Several deep punctures oozed blood that matted up his fur. He let out a high-pitched whine as Haru stepped in front of him defensively.

"Haru… my leg hurts real bad." His voice came out a hoarse whisper.

The mawile caught sight of her a moment later. "You! What have you done?" she spat, clenching her hands into fists. She widened her stance in an attempt to appear larger and more intimidating. "We're outside the dungeon now. I've lost nearly half a day's search thanks to you! Any chance of finding a trail will be gone now!"

Haru heard Muse and Shimmer run up behind her, taking defensive positions on either side. "Well that's just fine because you aren't going anywhere," the kirlia said in a sickeningly sweet tone. "Not after what you did to Toshi."

And yet… were they really in any position to make demands of the mawile? Muse looked exhausted and worse for the wear, with clumps of fur missing here and there, and shallow cuts and scratches along her flank. Shimmer was physically unscathed, but Haru imagined she was likely mentally taxed after using so much psychic energy in such a short period of time.

And she was no fire.

She gulped as she realized that if they got in another fight with the mawile, they would not win.

The mawile scoffed and turned her head, not all that concerned with the trio of pokemon in front of her. "Why should I waste any more time with you? You are obviously no match for me, and the dungeon would finish you off, should you attempt to pursue."

Haru caught sight of a grin on Shimmer's face as soon as the mawile turned away. The kirlia had something planned, that much she was certain of. "If you had just agreed to talk things out and explain why you're trailing Nip, this all could have been avoided," she pointed out, her voice wavering and exhausted.

The mawile turned her head back for a moment, then turned away entirely, fangs snapping dangerously before she began to walk. She stopped a few paces away, however, to speak. "Because there's no point in worrying about what he did to your kin when I am going to make sure he pays for what he did to mine."

"But if we've both have reasons to track him down," Haru argued, "we could have worked together."

"I do not need pokemon like you slowing me down."

"What's that supposed to mean?" Toshi said, shakily trying to climb to his feet behind the girls, glaring daggers at the steel type.

"You are weak," the mawile replied bluntly. "And you have no knowledge of the situation at hand."

"You don't have knowledge of our situation though," Muse pointed out, raising a paw. "We have our own reasons for tracking down that sneasel."

"Perhaps I did not make myself clear? I do not care about your reasons. I will be going now; I have wasted enough time."

"You'll be doing no such thing!"

The whole lot turned their heads to look to the side, Shimmer punctuating the motion with an, "it's about time."

Three pokemon appeared amongst the trees, rushing ahead to help surround the mawlie. Anu lead at the front, using his extremespeed capabilities to pull ahead and cut off her path. A rapidash followed close behind, an espurr riding on her back, directing the two runners.

The mawile turned to look to the arriving pokemon with narrowed eyes, before whipping her head back go glare dangerously at Shimmer. "You… you called for them?"

With help having arrived, Shimmer relaxed, no longer at attention, and leaned against Muse, draping her arms over the absol's side. "That's right! We couldn't let you just go after attacking us without explanation, but I thought we might need help. You'll be coming back with us to the village now. Oh by the way, there's a leaf stuck to your shoulder."

Shifting her gaze slightly, the mawile made note of the leaf Shimmer mentioned and shook it off, then turned her attention back to the new arrivals to size them up. "You are wasting my time," she growled. "The longer I have to spend dealing with you, the more likely it is that he will get away." Still, she made no motion to attack.

Anu turned his attention first to Shimmer, raising a paw up to his chest, and took a deep breath to steady his speach. "Blessings from 'Gigas that you are safe, my lady. Essra filled us in on the details you sent her along the way. Thank you for calling for us."

Shimmer raised a hand in turn. "Of course, Anu! Sorry to take you away from the watch. I know how important it is to you."

Satisfied, the lucario turned his attention to the aggressing mawile. "A-As for you… You don't have to worry about the sneasel – that is who you're looking for right – getting away. We are watching every known exit of Sunglow Thicket. No one will be leaving without us noticing. But I'm afraid… I'm afraid I'll have to ask you to come with us back to Theran Village. We can't let your aggressive attack just go. Do not worry, you'll have a chance to explain yourself. If all is well, we will probably let you leave town afterwards, after passing judgement."

The mawile turned on him with a snarl, flexing her fingers and raising her steel jaws threateningly. But still she only held her ground. A tense, silent moment passed, then she finally relaxed, if only slightly. "Fine. I will go with you for now, only because it would do me no good to waste my energy fighting. Maybe then I can convince you why it is so important for me to be out here hunting for Nip. Make it quick."

The lucario flinched at Nips name, then paused to brush a paw against his aura sensors to calm himself. "Very well." He turned his attention to the espurr. "Ah… Essra, will you help Shimmer get Toshi situated on Muse's back? Then Muse, would you please take him to Lecha for treatment?"

"Of course I will," Muse replied, bowing her head.

"Mmm, you got it boss," the espurr said, waving a paw before shimmying down off of the rapidash's back. She landed on the ground hard, holding out her arms to steady herself.

Satisfied, Anu turned his attention to Haru. "What about you? Your wounds do not seem as deep, but if needed I'm certain Romi would give you a ride back."

Haru winced, standing up on her hind legs to get a better look at the bite marks on her stomach. Now that the rush of battle was starting to wear off, she found herself a bit weak in the legs, pain starting to take its toll. Still, her stubborn pride got in the way.

"I'm… I'm fine," she decided, lowering herself back to the ground. "Yes, I can walk."

Anu let out a quiet hum, raising a paw to his chin and tilting his head slightly. "Very well. Let me know if you change your mind."

"I am going to go ahead with Toshi and let everyone know what's going on," Muse announced, turning her head to check up on the injured bidoof.

The lucario gave her a nod. "Run swift as Dialga's Messenger."

The absol lowered her head, a slight, sheepish grin on her face. "Thank you for your blessing, Anu." Satisfied, she took down the trail.

Anu turned his attention to the remaining pokemon. Both Essra and Shimmer had seated themselves on the back of the rapidash, who took up the rear. Anu lead the way, with the mawile just a bit behind him. Haru fell in line just a bit behind her, not wanting to be close enough to risk being snapped up by those jaws a second time, but also wanting to be able to keep an eye on her.

"Is it really alright to pull this many pokemon from watching the exits?" Haru could not help but ask.

"Romi and I came from separate groups, so that there's still pokemon there to watch," Anu replied, holding up a paw in the air. "I'll be sending her and Essra back after we get to town though."

Haru hummed in response and said nothing more, instead dedicating her energy to keeping pace with the longer-legged pokemon as they made their way back to the village.

*
"Alright dear, you're free to go, but I want you to relax and do nothing strenuous for the rest of today. And tomorrow, if you can help it. Understand?"

Haru bowed her head slightly in response to the aromatisse, holding in a frustrated sigh. "I understand Lecha, thank you."

Less than half an hour had passed since the group of pokemon returned to town. Lecha was already nearly done treating Toshi by the time she arrived, his fur damp from being washed of blood, the wounds treated with berry pulp and bandaged, and his back-left leg carefully held in place with a splint. He fell into an uneasy sleep while Lecha worked on Haru, with plans to stay the night under the aromatisse's supervision. Haru silently thanked the fact that Lecha had sent Twi home, making her treatment quiet and far less stressful.

Her own wounds tended to, she left a few coins in front of the straw bed she'd been treated in, said her goodbyes to Toshi and her thanks to Lecha, and lumbered out of the clinic, making her way towards the center of town square, where most of the pokemon that were not out guarding the Sunglow Thicket had gathered.

It seemed that she had arrived at just the right time, as Jhorlo was just beginning to speak as she pushed her way towards the front. He and his two purrloin guards stood in the center of the crowd, the mawile standing a few feet away. Shimmer, Muse, Anu and Whisper all stood in the center as well, though off to the side. Most of the pokemon seemed relatively relaxed, though Muse and the two purrloin stood stiff and at attention.

"So mawile," Jhorlo began, speaking loud enough for the audience to hear. "You attacked a group of pokemon from this village in Sunglow Thicket, or so I heard. Would you care to explain?"

"It is simple, really," the mawile responded, turning her head to address Jhorlo directly, though with enough volume to also address the crowd. "I was hunting for a sneasel, and they got in my way."

The purugly let out a puff of air, turning his back on the mawile for a moment. "My daughter tells me that you refused to explain the situation, and that they felt they could not allow you to continue without at least that much. So why not explain now? Start with your name, if you please."

She brought a hand up and over one eye, a frustrated sneer working its way onto her face. "You are wasting your time as much as you are wasting my own and giving that piece of dung a chance to escape. But very well." She paused for a moment, relaxing her expression, brushing her fingers along her damaged earlobe before dropping her hand back to her side.

"My name is Umbra. It is my understanding that your… 'village' had trouble with Nip. I don't know how much you know, but he and I come from the same tribe. I was sent after him to bring judgement upon him for crimes against our kin."

The crowd around Haru broke into hushed whispers.

"Crimes?"

"What could one sneasel have done?"

"Don't underestimate him, look what he did to us!"

"Quiet, quiet all of you, please!" Jhorlo raised his voice. When even that could not settle the crowd, he yowled even louder, loud enough that some pokemon covered their sensitive ears. Only then did the chatter die down. Satisfied, he turned his attention back to Umbra. "Please continue."

The mawile raised her hands in front of her, closing her eyes. "That is all there is to it, really."

"If you'll excuse me speaking out of line, I think we have a right to know what crime he caused, with all due respect," Jaques, one of Jhorlo's purrloin guards, said with a dip of his head. "There is a big difference between petty theft or juvenile delinquency and, say, murder or stealing an egg from the nursery."

Umbra opened one eye, peeking at the purrloin. "Your tone suggests to me that something of that sort happened here. Am I correct?"

"Indeed, you are," Jhorlo said. He sat down and raised one paw. "This sneasel was found injured in the forest a few days ago. We nursed him back to health, you see. Last night he broke into the nursery and stole one of the eggs before taking off and fleeing into Sunglow Thicket, however. We have several pokemon guarding every known exit path of the dungeon, to catch him when he attempts to leave."

"Including the entrance?"

The purugly sat his paw back down. "Well…"

Haru held back a snide remark, silently thinking back on how she’d asked something similar, only to be shot down.

"I see. Very well, considering the situation, I believe it fair to tell you what happened in our tribe. You see…" She paused, lowering her head slightly. "Almost two moons ago now, Nip left the tribe in a fit of anger. That in of itself is not a crime, even if it would have been frowned upon. However… before he left, he… he attacked our nursery, destroying several eggs in the process."

Alarmed voices broke out in the crowd.

"He did what?!"

"How could he do that?"

"Only a monster would attack defenseless eggs."

"How could we have ever let him into our village?"

"Why would he do that?"

"I do not pretend to know his exact reasons," Umbra said, raising her voice over the ruckus. "Perhaps he decided that if he could not be happy, no one could be. We were fortunate that our nursery was well-fortified, or else we would have lost even more. However, none of that matters in the end. What matters is that he did it, and that my attempt to catch him in the dungeon was foiled." She shot a pointed glare in the direction of Shimmer and Muse.

"Hey now!" Haru called out, ignoring the stares she drew to herself with the outburst. "That was a fight that could have been avoided if you had just explained things in the first place. For all we knew, you were there to help him escape!"

Umbra visibly recoiled at the accusation. "You really think I would conspire with that… that… monster? What do you take me for?"

"How are we supposed to know that? You wouldn't tell us anything!"

"I have told you now. And now that I have explained the situation, I need to be on my way before he sneaks his way out of the dungeon."

Jhorlo looked the mawile over for a moment. "Very well. I think we are mostly in agreement.” He paused, looking to several faces within the crowd. “You may leave on the stipulations that you do not attack any of our village pokemon again, and that once your business is finished you leave this area and do not return. I do believe that is fair, I think."

"Very well, I believe I can abide by those rules." She turned and made a motion to leave, but Muse stepped in front of her, bowing her head slightly.

"With all due respect, Miss Umbra, may I offer a suggestion?" the absol asked.

The mawile narrowed her eyes. "Make it quick."

"If you would give us just a night's time to prepare, I am sure the pokemon of our village would be more than happy to help track down Nip. We have reasons to bring him to justice too, you know. He stole an egg from our nursery. And while we're preparing, we have the town guard, as well as other volunteer pokemon watching all the ways out of the dungeon."

“Except the entrance, apparently.”

“I can fix that,” Jhorlo announced. “I’ll have word sent to the guarding pokemon to spread out.”

Umbra blinked once. "Why should I agree to this?"

"There is power in numbers. And besides that, the dungeon is constantly shifting. By sending in multiple teams, we could check multiple zones at once and have a better chance of flushing him out, if nothing else. Sunglow Thicket is not a deep dungeon either, so there's no concern of stretching our numbers too thin."

She paused for a moment, turning her head towards Jhorlo. "Apologies for speaking out of line, sir. But I wanted to get the idea out in the open for everyone to consider while I had a chance."

"Oh no, you are quite fine, Muse," the purugly said. "I think it's a splendid idea. However, we should really be asking dear Anu and Whisper, since they're the ones leading this operation, you know."

Anu stepped forward. "I am… hesitant. To send so many pokemon into a dungeon at once… However, it is likely our best bet."

Whisper spoke up next, raising a wing up as she addressed the crowd. "We'll take volunteers today. Tomorrow, we can split up everyone into teams of three or four. I'll have three sets of two monitoring the exits. Other than that… the number of teams will depend on the number of pokemon that sign up."

The hawlucha paused, bringing one set of claws up to her beak. "That said… based on what we know of the dungeon’s patterns, if he has not left by morning, he would have to be hiding out in the dungeon's stable zone. I still think it would be best if we stagger each teams entrance by a short period of time, and have each team do a quick sweep of every zone before moving on.

"That will be all, anyone who is interested in volunteering should see me as soon as this meeting is over."

The purugly let out a contented purr. "Very good. That will be all, I believe. You are all dismissed. Spread the word to anyone who may have missed the meeting. And Umbra, I would like a word, if you will?"

The crowd began to disburse in small groups, most of them making their way over to Whisper. Haru began to turn and make her way back towards Lecha's to check on her brother again, but stopped when she felt a paw brush lightly against her back. Muse stood just behind her, her expression unreadable, with Shimmer at her side.

"Haru, I'd like to speak to you for a minute," Muse began, raising a paw before walking a few paces away, waiting for Haru and Shimmer to follow.

The bidoof let out a sigh and followed. Whatever Muse wanted to talk about, she doubted she was going to like it.

Their walk continued a little way further, until they were a good distance away from the crowd, coming to a stop under a shady tree. Muse laid down in the shade, gesturing for Haru to do the same. Shimmer took a seat next to Muse, leaning against her side.

"Alright," Haru began, "what do you want now?"

"I think Muse has some sort of plan in mind, don't you Musey, my friend?"

"Indeed," the absol said with a bow of her head. "I brought up the idea of groups going in to look for Nip because… and please don't get mad about this… because I think we need to go back ourselves."

Haru was up on her feet in an instant. "Are you crazy? Look what happened when we tried to do that today! I got hurt. Toshi got seriously injured. It'll take days for him to recover at best! You got hurt and you haven't even gone to get treatment! Obviously, none of us were up to handling a mystery dungeon. We should just leave it up to the pokemon that know what they're doing. Besides, they've got Umbra to help them. I'm sure she can take care of Nip without us."

"Don't you find her story a bit… suspicious?" Muse asked.

"I mean…" Haru trailed off, glancing back in the direction they'd come from. "I found it odd that she only told the story now, under scrutiny, if that's what you're talking about. But otherwise it all checks out. Her story even goes along with his actions here."

Muse opened her mouth to speak, but hesitated, turning instead to look to Shimmer for support.

"You must know I'm with Muse here, Haru," the kirlia said, flipping her hair. "It's just too… odd to me. I'd like for us to go back and try and get Nip's side of the story, at least."

Haru was baffled "Why do you care so much about his side of the story?" she huffed. "For gods sakes, he stole an egg from us Shimmer. He's probably killed Whisper and Anu's child by now. Think about it, use your head!"

Muse closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. "We don't know that for sure. Yet. Admittedly, it probably is too late for the egg by now. But… we can always hold out hope."

Haru turned her head to stare Muse dead in the eye. "And why are you taking Shimmer's side all of a sudden? This morning, you were suggesting it was a bad idea. You're supposed to be Shimmer's voice of reason! Besides, the main reason I even went along was because I wanted to keep an eye on Toshi. And look how that turned out!"

"The encounter with Umbra was unfortunate, but not the norm," Muse pointed out, keeping her voice even. "Consider the fight with the fletchinder beforehand. She was in a whole different league than the normal pokemon that live in Sunglow Thicket. I think that with Umbra's appearance, the situation has changed. Besides..." She trailed off, dropping her gaze.

Shimmer gave Muse a scrutinizing look before beginning to run her fingers through the absol's thick mane. "You had a premonition, didn't you?"

"I… Yeah, something of that kind. It's the first one I've had since… since before my parents died." Muse visibly sagged.

The change in tone was just enough to make Haru's anger dissipate. "A… premonition? Now?" She hesitated, thinking back to the way Muse had been at attention while everyone else was relaxed when Umbra spoke. She had thought it was just her usual protectiveness of Shimmer, but perhaps there was a different explanation "Is that why you seemed so… on edge?"

"It wasn't much," Muse admitted. "I don't really know what it means. I don't know why Umbra put me on edge, and yet Nip did not, despite him being the one to truly wrong us. Perhaps I just was not paying close enough attention. If I had, maybe… maybe I could have prevented something. I want to see if I can get Nip to tell us more before the whole of the village catches him."

She turned her head to look at Shimmer, then back to Haru. "Tomorrow morning… I'm going back to Sunglow Thicket, whether you two come or not. I must apologize in advance, Shimmer, if this means abandoning my post."

"Oh Musey, you know I'd never let you go alone!" Shimmer punctuated her statement with a giggle and brushed up to nuzzle the absol's cheek. Muse pulled away just slightly, caught off-guard by the sudden contact.

“Why not just tell everyone? I’m sure they’d understand where you're coming from,” Haru pointed out. “Or at least tell Jhorlo, or Anu and Whisper! They’re the ones that have a stake in this. The ones that should be handling the situation. Not us. Muse, we’re barely adults!”

Muse dropped her gaze. “I didn’t think they’d listen.”

Seeing the absol's lack of confidence, Haru visibly deflated and finally gave the idea some thought. If it had just been a matter of catching Nip for glory's sake, or to show him mercy, she would have no problem just leaving the two to it. But this was different. Superstitious or not, an absol's premonition was nothing to play around with. She let out a groan. "Fine, I'll help you. But only for the sake of the village.”

Muse let out a relieved, breath. "Oh, thanks so much Haru, I really appreciate it. I-"

Shimmer pat her hand against Muse's cheek, making a shushing noise. "It's time to be quiet guys. Someone's coming."

Haru turned to look behind her. The coast seemed clear at first, but then a group of pokemon rounded the corner. Jhorlo lead the group, followed close behind by his purrloin guards, Jauques and Lotte. Just behind them was Umbra, her expression unreadable.

"Ah, Shimmer, my dear daughter," the purugly began, bringing a paw up to rub behind his ear. "I'm so glad I found you. I've been talking with Umbra and wanted to let you know that I've offered her a guest room. She'll be staying with us until our resident egg thief is brought to justice. I wanted you and Muse to take her over, if you would."

Shimmer shot a side-eyed glance over to Muse, but quickly shifted to a smile. If she was upset, she did not show it. "Oh, that sounds great, Dad! Of course we will."

She stood up, stretched, and gestured for Muse to do the same. "Sorry, Haru, we gotta go. I'll be sure to come see you and Toshi-kins in a bit, okay?"

"Great…" the bidoof grumbled, before pepping up just a bit. "I should go check on him, speaking of, and fill him in on what happened at the meeting. Have a good evening, everyone."

The purugly rumbled in amusement. "Tell your brother I wish him well, would you?"

"Of. Of course." Before her mood could give away their plans, Haru turned and began to lumber off at a leisurely pace. Toshi… oh, he wouldn't be healthy enough to go along, leaving her with just Shimmer and Muse as traveling companions.

“Gods, Haru, what have you gotten yourself into this time?”
 
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windskull

Bidoof Fan
7 Scheming in the Evening

“And so that’s the story we were given and what we plan to do about it. Crazy, right?”

Toshi shook his whole body before stretching out in the straw bed, the action interrupted by a wince. “Wow, that’s… a lot’s happening, huh? You’re so lucky to get to go do something so important, even if it is with Shimmer.”

Haru recoiled a bit and let out an exasperated sigh. Of course, Toshi would find excitement in something like this – chasing a criminal through a mystery dungeon - even after the nasty injury he had received in their first attempt. With that in mind, she tried to approach his statement with tact. “Toshi… I know it sounds cool to you and all, but it’s all so dangerous. I mean, look what happened to you, you could have gotten killed. I don’t like putting any trust in that mawile after what she did to you but… why should I bother helping Nip, after what he’s done here?”

“Because it’s the right thing to do,” Toshi responded firmly. “If she went so far with us, how do you know she wouldn’t kill Nip - someone she apparently actively has a grudge against - on the spot? Justice has to be served, but it should be served fairly.”

“I guess that’s a fair point…” Haru grumbled begrudgingly. Then she spoke up. “But even if she would go that far, I’m still not entirely convinced the danger is worth it. Especially when none of us are trained for a fight. Well, except for Muse.”

“When I’m not sure what the right thing to do is, I sit back and think to myself ‘What would Expedition Head Blue do?’ And in this case, I think they would say that Nip’s side of the story deserves to be heard at least, even if it does end up being a big fat lie. I think most of the town guard would say the same. I think even Anu would say the same. Not sure about Whisper though, I know this must be particularly hard on her…”

Haru grunted and scraped a paw across the wooden floorboards. “Ugh… I… Kind of hate that you’re right there, to be honest.” She paused for a moment. “To be fair… I guess I don’t really want to kill him either, not without giving him a chance to defend himself at least.

“But!” she added quickly, stamping a foot on the ground for emphasis, “I also think Shimmer, Muse, and I going into the dungeon again is a poor idea. There’re enough town guards dealing with it. Pokemon that are actually trained to deal with troublemakers. I’ll go with them to keep an eye on them, and because I probably have the best chance getting Nip to come along quietly. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.”

“If I wasn’t so beat up already, I’d go out there myself!” Toshi exclaimed, jumping back to his feet, only to whimper and sink back down into the straw. “I mean… it would be good practice. To be honest… I’ve been thinking about asking Anu or Vale to train me someday soon, to give me some practice so that I can get strong enough to join the Expedition Society or the Rescue Guild. Besides, every pokemon deserves at a second chance, even if it’s under close scrutiny.”

Haru deflated slightly. “I know. I really do understand how you feel. You have a dream you want to chase, and this fits in with it. On the other hand, I just want to settle down and handle the family business, you know? Sure, fame and glory to put our name forward would be nice, but not at the risk of my life and everything Mom and Dad have been building up over the years. And all this mess keeps pulling me away from it. I feel like I’m having to do things for everyone else but myself, for someone I don’t even care about.”

She stepped forward, leaning in to nuzzle against Toshi before continuing. “But… I guess you’re right. If I was able to end this without bloodshed and I don’t, and more pokemon end up getting hurt, I would feel pretty bad about it. I’ve already agreed, so I’ll do it this time. But you guys still owe me, big time.”

The younger bidoof chuckled, nipping playfully at Haru’s ear. “Thanks sis, I’m sure you won’t regret this.”

Haru pushed a paw up against his face and pushed him away, then circled back to settle in a nearby nest. “Now we just need to wait for Muse and Shimmer. They said they’d meet me here.”

“No need to wait!”

Haru groaned at the chipper voice. Of course, a quiet break was too much to ask for.

Muse and Shimmer entered a few seconds later in usual form, with Shimmer sat atop Muse’s back.

“Oh, Toshi, I was so worried about you!” The kirlia cried out, jumping down from Muse’s back to run over and give him a hug.

“Ow ow ow! Shims stop, please!” Toshi paused and pawed against Shimmer, gently attempting to separate them. Fortunately, Shimmer was quick to let go and pull back, giving the bidoof room to breathe.

“Sorry sweetheart, I was just so worried about you and glad to see that you were safe!”

“Yeah,” he replied with an awkward laugh. “Thanks…”

“Could we just-” Haru began, cutting off when she realized that no one was listening, Shimmer babbling on more nonsense about her love of Toshi instead, keeping everyone’s attention. She raised her voice. “Could we just please discuss the matter at hand?”

That finally caught the kirlia’s attention. “I’m not sure what’s left to discuss? We have plenty of items leftover from today, other than the escape orb and a few oran berries that we had to use. But those are easily replaced.” She paused to brush some dust off her soft fur. “Well, the oran berries are at least. But it shouldn’t be a big deal, since we’ll be headed to the stable zone anyways. And besides, if we run into any trouble, there will be other pokemon out and about in the dungeon that can help us out!”

“I’m not sure it’s… the best idea to rely on running across others,” Haru muttered. “But whatever.”

“I hope I don’t hear my patients discussing running right back into the dungeon when they’re supposed to be resting.”

Haru clamped her mouth shut as the aromatisse doctor entered the room, a shallow bowl in hand.

“Oh no, of course not, Miss Lecha,” Shimmer said, waving her hand dismissively.

“Hm…” Lecha stared down the kirlia for a moment, an awkward silence that seemed to stretch on forever. “Well, I suppose I should get a better look at you while you’re here, Muse. You left in such a hurry before I didn’t get a chance to examine you properly.”

“Oh no, I’m fine,” Muse insisted. “I mean, my jaw is a little sore, but… it’s nothing serious.”

“Nonsense. I can tell you’re exhausted; it’s written in the way you’re standing and in the clumps of missing fur. Stay right there. I’ll be with you in a moment.”

Muse let out a sigh, slumping down into one of the nests, resigned to being checked on. “Well… While we’re waiting… I suppose we could discuss the fact that Umbra will be staying the night with us.”

“Who?” Toshi asked.

“The mawile.”

Excuse me?” the bidoof squeaked, attempting to hop to his feet. The action was a poor choice, however, and he ended up sprawled out again, front legs trying to clutch his stomach in pain.

“What did I say about sudden movements, dear?”

Toshi whined before carefully settling himself back into the straw. “I know, I know ma’am. Sorry.”

Lecha let out a satisfied huff and sat her bowl aside, turning her attention to Muse as she began to work through the absol’s thick fur, looking her over for wounds.

“Anyways,” Muse said, suppressing a wince when Lecha brushed up against a nasty scrape, “taking her over to the villa was an… awkward situation, all things considered.”

“I imagine so. Did she say anything on the way over?”

Shimmer chimed in. “Not a word. Though I couldn’t tell if it was because she felt awkward about the situation, or if she was just being stubborn. Didn’t stop me from rambling on to her.”

Lecha stood up straight, nudging the empty bowl in front of the absol, and walked off towards her shelves of berries and herbs.

“I got the impression that it was both,” Muse said.

“Sometimes I gotta wonder what’s going on in Dad’s head. Imagine if one day we found out he was involved in some cover up? How crazy would that be? My dad, in the middle of some huge conspiracy! Why-”

“Now dear!” Lecha interrupted, calling back to the main part of the room. “That’s no way to speak about your father. Jhorlo is a good mon. He’s done a lot to keep the village safe for the last several years, ever since...” She trailed off, continuing in a quieter voice. “Well… since your mother died.”`

“I know, I know,” the kirlia replied, waving a hand dismissively. “You’re right, it wouldn’t really be cool. It’s just interesting to think about how everyone’s lives could be different, you know? For example, imagine if Toshi wasn’t so shy; we’d already be mates!”

Haru snorted. “Ha! As if. If Toshi wasn’t so shy, he’d have told you off more explicitly by now.”

“That’s what you think!” Shimmer responded in a singsong voice. “You should let your brother speak for himself. Right, Toshi-kins?”

The younger bidoof sank embarrassedly deeper into his nest. “Hah hah… yeah... Sure…”

A moment of awkward silence followed, interrupted only when Lecha returned with a wet cloth and a sitrus berry.

“Here,” she said, placing the berry in the bowl. “Fortunately, none of your wounds are deep. I’m going to clean them out and then you can be on your way. The sitrus berry will help with the pain and speed up recovery. Keep them clean and eat an oran berry tomorrow morning, and you should be back to normal within the next two to three days.”

“Oh, good.” Muse paused to stifle a yawn. “I should be able to sleep well then.”

The absol dipped her head down to scoop up and chew on the berry as silence fell on the group once more. Toshi was the one to break the silence this time.

“By the way Shimmer,” he asked, shifting slightly. “How did you get help so fast?”

“Oh, I improvised. That whole thing was improvising. First off, I meant to use the totter orb so we could throw her off and keep going, but I accidently grabbed the escape orb instead. So when we ended up outside, I just searched for the nearest psychic connection and told them to send help. Oh, and I said to send fire and fighting types too.”

Muse let out a tired chuckle and closed her eyes, lowering her head to the ground. “You didn’t say it like that though, did you?”

“Oh of course not,” Shimmer agreed. “It was more like, ‘Oh Essra, dear, is that you? My Toshi-kins got himself really hurt and a mean pokemon is threatening us. Would you send help really quick? Oh and maybe send along the nearest fire or fighting time too, that seems like a good idea. Thanks!’ It worked like a charm, don’t you think?”

“Well enough,” Haru said, getting up to stretch. “I suppose I should head home. It’s getting dark, and we’re going to have to get up early to...” she trailed off, mindful of Lecha still being around. “Well, I’m going to have to get up early to catch up on work. I’ll see you guys later. Toshi, you staying here?”

“Mmm, guess so,” the other bidoof said, closing his eyes. “I’ll talk to you tomorrow, ‘kay?”

“Don’t worry Toshi-kins. Everything’s going to turn out alright, and things will go back to normal soon.”

“That’s right,” Haru said firmly, before adding under her breath, “I hope.”

*​

Despite his exhaustion, Nip had forced himself to keep moving throughout the night. Or at least, he suspected it was night, though he could not be certain how much time had actually passed from within the mystery dungeon. It could have been an hour, it could have been five. Fear that the dungeon would shift and sweep him out kept him moving. Fear of being followed, of being caught and hauled back, kept him looking over his shoulder. Only once he made it through the second shift and into the dungeon’s third division did he allow himself to rest for a moment.

There, he was able to turn his attention to the egg. There, as he took a moment to rest, guilt finally had a chance to gnaw its way into his belly.

Two ideas warred within his mind. One was of hunger. The innate need to eat to survive. Even if stealing an egg from his saviors was cruel, the ends justified the means. His mouth watered imagining his claws cracking the egg open, lapping up the golden ambrosia that leaked out.

The other thought that held him back was reason and moral consciousness. If he were to be caught, he reasoned, he would have a better chance of surviving the encounter if the egg were still intact. In hindsight, he could have just stolen meat from the mandibuzz and cubone; he would have had enough time, even factoring in the longer walk there, and if they had caught him, he would have had the advantage against both of them. And would it not be cruel to kill a child that had a much better chance at a good life than any of those from his homelands? Even if some of the rules of the village seemed senseless, it still seemed like a better life than what he had been offered, for the most part.

And yet, why did it matter? Another part of him pointed out. So long as he was not caught, he would never see any of these pokemon again. Why should he care about their feelings? Once he gave them the slip, he could continue south until he found the ocean, follow it around a good distance until he was certain he was untraceable, and then settle down somewhere for a quiet, solitary life where no village could tell him that his way of life was evil, and no tribe could set up arbitrary rules that locked him in misery.

There was one ultimate question, however, that left him more conflicted than any other.

Did eating an egg stolen from people that saved him out of the goodness of their heart make him a monster? If it did, could he live with that?



By the time he reached the fourth division, all that remained was a lingering sense of guilt, and littered pieces of shell that would be swept away by the dungeon winds.

*​

The end of every dungeon is different. Every dungeon Nip knew of hosted a stable area at the end, a single area the dungeon winds would never touch. Legends in his tribe spoke of dungeons far away, where pokemon like Yveltal hid themselves away, watching the world move around them. Other legends spoke of treasures and artifacts that kept the world in balance. Sometimes those two legends intersected.

But most dungeons were nothing like that. Most dungeons were much more ordinary, like this one. The dungeon had led him to a large, open field of tall grass that came almost up to his neck, void of undergrowth but filled with a low, thin mist that obscured the distance. Trees were sparse here, ancient oaks occasionally sticking up out of the fog like twisted sentinels.

Though the land was mostly flat, it occasionally dipped into a crater that had long grown over with grass. As Nip carefully tread through the tall grass, taking great care to be certain he was not accidently stumbling into one of the steeper dips, he found himself wondering what ancient battle had left scars like these on the land. Were these truly a result of the time and space gods? The fact that a mystery dungeon brought him to it would suggest so. Yet he always found himself wondering how many details had been lost to time. Had other pokemon fought alongside Dialga and Palkia? Were they other legends? Or ordinary pokemon like him?

He shook his head to clear the thought away, nervously combing his claws through his ear feather. Now was no time to be thinking about that. He instead should be focusing on more important, relevant things. Like figuring out if he was being followed.

Could the village pokemon be laying outside in wait for him? Or had they pursued him into the dungeon? Or both, even, sending pokemon to flush him out and lead him right into an ambush? He had heard hide nor hair of pursuers since he’d entered, though he had no clue how much time had passed since his ill-planned escape. Still, the tall grass, mist, and still air of the stable division would provide him cover, so long as he stayed still, quiet, and low to the ground. With that in mind, he listened carefully as he advanced towards the center, occasionally sniffing at the air.

Several minutes passed in near silence, only the muffled sounds of him shifting through the tall grass reaching his ears. Nip could not help but wonder if any pokemon lived in this stable zone. He had seen pokemon living throughout the dungeon, some of them attacking him. And his few excursions into mystery dungeons in the past had usually ended in populated stable pockets. Yet here? It seemed like nothing. So far at least. Perhaps there were some spaced out amongst the grass, and the fog was muffling the sound of their movements.

As he neared what he suspected was the center, he found himself in a ring of shorter grass. At the center of the ring was the biggest crater he’d seen yet. This one, however, had long ago filled with water, creating a moderate sized pond in the center. A lone, ancient tree stood at the water’s edge, parts of its roots exposed by erosion.

Nip glanced at the sky and across the water before cautiously inching his way towards the shore. No, no one seemed to be nearby at the moment. How fortunate, that he had found a water source. So long as he could also find food, he would be able to sustain himself down here for a while and hide until things died down.

Satisfied that he was safe for the moment, at least, he finally approached the water’s edge, peering down into the murky depths. Unfortunately, it was not the clearest, most clean water he’d ever seen, but it seemed drinkable enough, and it would sustain him for now.

He crouched down by the water’s edge and lean forward to lap up a few mouthfuls. Unsurprisingly, it had a slight taste of dirt. He scrunched up his nose but powered through it.

And yet, there was something that sat him on edge. Something that felt like a little sting in the back of his head. He paused, going still as he stared out into the water. Though the water was murky and limited his vision, he could still see the ripples in the water, could still see the shadow swimming towards him.

He scrambled back from the water’s edge just in time to avoid the snapping fangs that shot up where he had been just seconds prior. The pokemon sank back into the water, staying just enough above water level to be able to peer out and get a good look at Nip. He did much similar, edging closer to where land met water, watching cautiously.

The aquatic pokemon was surprisingly vibrant in color. A gaudy pink made up most of their scales, but some were of blue and yellow and purple.

“Ah, a dark type, that explains much,” the bruxish mumbled to herself. Then she spoke louder to address Nip. “A clever one you are, pulling back in just the nick of time. Tell me, what brings you to Storyteller Bruxi’s pond?”

Nip gave the bruxish a skeptical, distrusting look. “Storyteller… Bruxi?”

The bruxish scoffed. “Yes dear, that is my title. Bruxi. Storyteller and lore seeker of Sunglow Thicket. I also try my fins at offering psychic advice from time to time. You may relax, by the way. I don’t try to eat pokemon twice. Besides, you look much too tough to eat.”

Nip wasn’t sure if he should be relieved or offended by that. Slowly, he managed to relax, his fur flattening out as he stood all the way up.

“There, that’s better, isn’t it? Come closer. It’s been a while since anyone new came to visit me. How has the world been outside of these waters?”

“Uhh…” The sneasel hesitated, rubbing his claws together. “Fine, I guess? Er… if you don’t mind me asking, how did you get down here, in that pond?” He glanced up, squinting in an attempt to make out the shore on the other side. “There doesn’t exactly seem to be a water source. And I don’t know that it rains inside dungeons. Without something like a rain dance, of course.”

“Trying to figure out the logic of a mystery dungeon? Hah! You are a funny one. Yes. You simply must tell me your name.”

“Nip.”

“Well, Nip, if you really must know, there are diglet tunnels that flooded a very long time ago, that used to connect to the world outside the dungeon before they caved in. Before they caved in, I swam in here as a wee little bruxish and decided to stay for a while, but then I grew too big! Or perhaps I was dropped into the dungeon when a staraptor tried to make off with me as their meal. Which of these stories is true? Does it really matter?”

Nip averted his gaze, hiding his frustration with the coy answer. “I suppose not, in the end. I do not plan to stay for very long anyways, so why bother?”

“I suspected as much,” Bruxi said, her tone lofty and nonchalant as she swam just a bit closer to shore. “Only a small group of pokemon live here permanently. And most of those travel out into the rest of the dungeon to gather supplies or prey on forest mon that were foolish enough to wander inside. Perhaps you have noticed, but this dungeon – the stable zone in particular - is quite lacking in food. A few berry bushes grow here and there in this zone. And a fruit tree or two. But carnivores like you or I are far less common. This dungeon will not sustain you for long.

“Besides,” she added with a wry, toothy grin, “I suspect there’s more to you being here than just passing through, isn’t there?”

At once, Nip’s mood shifted from cautious to angry and apprehensive. His ear twitched and he visibly tensed, looking the bruxish over cautiously as he shifted into a defensive pose. “What is that supposed to mean? Are you working with the village pokemon? Are you just trying to stall me? Answer me!”

Bruxi laughed, sinking lower into the water, bubbles escaping as she continued to laugh even as submerged, throwing off Nip’s defensive posture. She returned to the surface a moment later though. “Oh, good gods, no! You won’t find many down here that think fondly of that lot. They’re quite cowardly, most village mon. Only traveling into the dungeon if they absolutely have to, looking down upon the wilderner way of life, taking our possessions if we protect our territory. If you’re avoiding village pokemon, for better or for worse you’ll find a mon or two here that will defend you from them.

“Bruxi! Bruxi!”

The two pokemon whipped around at the high-pitched chirp sounded in the distance, still clear enough to hear, even in the fog.

“Case in point. Why not take a moment to listen to what dear Blais has to say?”

The call of the bruxish’s name sounded twice more before the pokemon arrived at the pond. There were three of them, all looking worse for wear. A fletchinder swooped down first, nearly losing his balance when he landed. A few feathers were bent here and there, and a few scrapes left behind dried blood. And he was absolutely filthy, dirt and dust and even a twig sticking to their feathers. Two fletchling landed shortly after the fletchinder, looking no better. The worse looking of the two fletchling leaned against the other, standing on only one leg. Its other leg hung at an awkward angle. Once they caught sight of the sneasel, they both took to the air again with shrill, panicked tweets.

The fletchinder got one look at Nip and squawked in alarm. “You- You’re the sneasel they were looking for! What are you doing here?!”

“Calm down, Blais,” Bruxi said in a calming voice. “The sneasel will not harm you. Please, tell us what happened. Start from the beginning, if you will.”

You don’t know that, Nip thought to himself, though he relaxed his posture enough to appear non-threatening. A moment later, when no more sounds came from him, the two fletchling returned, landing just behind Blais, and huddled together behind him anxiously.

Blais looked to Bruxi, then to Nip, and took a few seconds to preen anxiously. “W-well… We found one of those neat orbs recently, when we were out looking for supplies. We found a gust trap and placed it there to protect it from being stolen until we could come back for it, and then left to search for more supplies in that zone.”

“Why not just take it with you?” Nip questioned.

“I had to make sure we could carry any more important stuff back,” the fletchinder countered. The two fletchling behind him bobbed their heads in agreement. “Regardless of that, we’d only gotten halfway to the next field when we heard the trap go off. We raced back as fast as our wings would carry us and saw a bunch of those town pokes there, trying to take it from us! They said they were looking for a sneasel. We tried to fight them off, but there were too many of them. They knocked us all out, and when we came to, they’d already left, and they took the orb with them! I wanted that orb! It would have looked beautiful in my tree!”

The bruxish hummed in thought. “The only one that’s come through today is the sneasel here. What pokemon were they, if you don’t mind me asking?”

“There were two bidoof, a kirlia and one of those, umm…” Blais hesitated, trying to think of what the last one might be, making a curved motion in the air with his beak. “Four legs. They had a horn like that.”

“An absol?” Nip suggested, a pit forming in his stomach.

“Yeah, that’s the one!” one of the fletchlings chirped out.

Nip’s throat felt dry. Not a mawile – not Umbra, and not just any village pokemon, but instead those four were pursuing him. Possibly among many others, for all he knew. Umbra could be in the dungeon as well, for that matter. At best, he could hope they might slow each other down.

“What did you do to make them mad enough to chase ya in here anyways?” Blais asked in an accusatory tone, experimentally flapping his wings before wincing. “Steal an egg or something?”

Nip visibly tensed at the accusation, an action that did not go unnoticed by the fletchinder. Blais squawked indignantly. “You totally did, didn’t you! Why I oughta chase you back out of this dungeon myself!” To punctuate his words, Blais spread out his wings in an attempt to appear more intimidating, a small gout of fire escaping the side of his beak as he squawked.

In response, Nip crouched, a low growl sounding from the back of his throat. But before either of the combative pokemon could jump the other, they each received a spurt of water to the face.

“I will not have fighting at my pond,” Bruxi said, her words coming out firm and dangerous. “Sneasel, you would do well to explain yourself, at least. Pokemon do not take well to egg theft around here, perhaps even less so than hunting.”

“It’s not like I go out of my way to poach eggs,” Nip grumbled, shaking water from his fur. “In fact, I much prefer the taste of most meat over eggs. I just… was in a tight spot and thought it was the best solution, alright?”

The fletchinder turned his back, though he did turn his head to keep one eye on the sneasel. “And why should I trust you now?”

Nip closed his eyes and turned away slightly. “You have no real reason to. But in all honesty, it really did seem like the best solution… at the time.”

“Whatever.” Blais’ remark was punctuated by a couple flaps of his wings. “I’m going to go get some oran berries out of the stash. And maybe see if old Chimes is around and can do something about Fleet’s leg.”

He turned his head to stare Nip down with a glare that could penetrate the soul. “Don’t expect me to stick out my neck when they come looking for you. If they hadn’t already wronged me, I’d sell you out for a single oran berry.”

Bruxi watched as the flying type took to the air, kicking up dust as he took off. Then she turned her attention back to Nip. “You’ll have to excuse him. He has a lot on his mind, taking care of his younger siblings.”

“Really? Those two were his siblings?”

“Mhmm? His parents are… well, not around anymore. Why, does this surprise you?”

“Things are different back where I come from. There, we don’t…” Nip trailed off, his ear flicking. “Well, it probably does not matter to you. I plan to rest here, perhaps find something to eat, and then I will be on my way.”

“Mmm, running away from your problems, yes?”

“I’m not-” Nip started, but the bruxish cut him off with a spritz of water that barely missed his face.

“Oh, hush darling, it’s written all over your face. I may not be able to read the mind of a dark type like you, but I know a troubled soul when I see one.”

Nip had nothing to say to that. So, he clamped his mouth shut and instead focused on wiping as much water out of his fur as possible.

When he failed to speak up, the bruxish turned away, swimming back a little way into the water. “You may rest here if you would like, but if you wish to eat you will either have to stick to plants, or else leave. The stable zone has a bit of a truce, of sorts. No one will bother you here, but if you try to hunt any of the pokemon here, they’ll turn on you in an instant. The rest of the dungeon is fair game though, and everyone knows it.”

“You tried to attack me at first though,” he pointed out, eliciting a chuckle from the water type.

“Oh, fair enough, but can you really blame me? I’m confined to this pond. Surely, I have to find food somehow, or else rely on the good will of others.” She paused, humming in thought. “It’s the price we pay to live free of the rules of villages and towns.”

With barely a splash, the bruxish disappeared back into the murky pond waters, leaving Nip alone with his thoughts.

He decided to claw his way up into the tree nearest the pond, claws digging into the bark as he scrambled up. From here, he was at least partially shrouded from view by leaves, and could get a better look out over the fields of grass. Although the fog still limited his vision, he could at least see further than before. Silently, he thanked Yveltal that his feathers were more of a mint-green, instead of the more common red variant; it kept him from sticking out like a sore paw.

Here and there, he caught sight of movement now that he could see further out. A rattata running here, a bounsweet bouncing there, an ursaring flattening the grass as they lumbered through, a poochyenna playfully pounced after a butterfree in the distance. Bruxi’s parting explanation rang in his ears as he watched. Though all these pokemon were safe here, leaving for food meant risking their life. A pokemon that was a friend here could be an enemy if they crossed paths elsewhere.

What a terribly lonely way to live, he thought.

And yet, had he not given everything up for this? When he had left hom- when he had left his tribe in a fit of anger, he knew what he was getting into. He knew he was leaving the protection of many for a life alone, on the road, fending for no one but himself, but also with no one to stand up for him.

He always considered himself a loner; he never expected that he would actually miss the companionship of pokemon - or at least some pokemon - that cared.

When Nip finally drifted to sleep, he dreamt of a barren cliff of dry grass and dust, an ocean soaked crimson by the setting sun, and the ebony silhouette of a flying pokemon soaring across the dimming sky as stars began to twinkle.

*​

If Umbra could describe Theran Village in one word, it would be “strange.” There were a lot of things in the sleepy community that she found odd and unusual.

She found it strange, first of all, that a bidoof and an absol would work together, fighting in one unit. Or even live in the same community, for that matter. The psychic type - kirlia, she thinks she called herself - the kirlia’s place in the food chain was harder to place, but she suspected the companionship between a kirlia and an absol would be strange too. Psychic types were relatively uncommon in her region, so her lack of familiarity was understandable, at least.

On that note, their whole community was strange. She could not think of one tribe in which herbivores and carnivores lived in harmony with each other - or even any large groups of herbivores that banded together for that matter.

Even the way they made their dens was strange. Instead of carefully dug out and compacted earthen tunnels or painstakingly carved caves, they built their own of stone and felled wood, with no brush and undergrowth to protect and hide the entrances, leaving their homes exposed.

No wonder Nip had such an easy time wreaking havoc.

The mawile stretched out in the straw bed with a yawn, situating herself on her belly, digging deeper into the herbage. She couldn’t be certain that all beds were like this, but even this was odd. She thought back to her own bed back at home. Sure, straw and twigs and reeds built up a base, but it was also carefully lined with fur and feathers to keep out the cold.

She would love to be back there, instead of halfway across the land chasing after a pokemon as ungrateful as nip.

But as she closed her eyes and tried to put that… that… scavenging… egg stealing… cretin out of mind, a soft scratching at the - oh what did the kirlia call it, a door? There was a scratching at the door that caught her attention and made her spring to her feet.

“Who’s there?” she called out, voice on edge.

“Please come out,” a voice mewed from the other side. “Mister Jhorlo would like to see you.”

At the name of the leader of sorts around here, she relaxed, if only slightly. She took a second to brush out any stray bits of hay that might have clung to her fur, then approached the door. She pushed the wooden latch that kept it shut up, then cautiously pushed the door open.

Two purrloin stood outside, one on each side of the door, waiting for her to exit. She edged her way out, carefully looking both ways to be certain it was not a trap. Once she was certain though, she stepped all the way out so that she was between the two of them.

The two turned in unison, the one to her right raising a front paw. “Follow me, please,” he said, voice firm. “Jhorlo’s room is this way.”

The lead purrloin guided her down the wood and stone den’s tunnels, and up an incline to the second level. They passed by an opening along the way, wooden boards bound together to create a place to overlook the sleepy village buildings below. And then they were back into the dim tunnels, rounding a corner until the moonlight was out of sight, coming to a stop in front of another door.

The lead purrloin sat down on one side, bowing his head. “We have arrived.”

The second one sat on the other side of the door and motioned in the same way. “Mister Jhorlo is waiting inside for you.”

Umbra could not help but hesitate in the doorway, her training and caution coming back to her. Here she was, without ally in unfamiliar territory. For all she knew, she was walking into an ambush.

Relax, she chided herself. No one here has been particularly strong. As if they could defeat me. She elected to ignore the fact that she’d avoided fighting the lucario and rapidash earlier. After all, their appearance brought the fight from four against one to seven, and even she had to hesitate at those odds.

Now resolved, she took a confident stride through the doorway.

Th room was much more lavishly decorated than the nice, though sparse, room she had been placed in. An opening in the back of the room allowed moonlight to filter in, lighting the room partway. For those dark corners the light did not reach, luminous moss had been placed in jars, giving the majority of the room a dim, blue-green hue. The walls had been painted a deep purple, with an occasional painted design breaking up the monotony.

To her left, a wooden block - or perhaps a chest - rested against the wall, several old-looking trinkets neatly lined up on top. At the center of the room was a low-rising wooden platform, the top carefully sanded and glazed down into a smooth surface. Atop the table was a candle, a bowl filled with water, a well of some sort of ink or dye, and some type of parchment. On the floor on her side of the platform was a plush object made of fabric that reminded her of spinnerak silk. And on the other side sat Jhorlo, grooming down the fur along his shoulder.

“Ah, there you are,” he began, looking up towards her. “Please, come stand across from me at the table. Or if you prefer to sit, feel free to do so on the pillow.”

Umbra wordlessly followed the instruction, hesitating and brushing her fur before taking a seat on the plush object she suspected he was referring to. Even then, though, she stayed attentive, listening for the first thing that might sound off.

If Jhorlo noticed her discomfort, he said nothing of it. He leaned forward to lap up a couple mouthfuls of water while waiting, then sat up straight to address the mawile.

“Ah, apologies, I did not think to have a cup of water brought in for you. I’ll have someone bring you some to your room after we talk, is that alright?”

Only then did Umbra realize how parched she was, having not drank since before she’d entered the mystery dungeon that morning. But thirst would show weakness, so instead she responded, “that will be fine.”

“Good, good. Then with that out of the way, how about we get down to business, yes?”

Wanting to appear nonchalant, Umbra reached up to scratch behind her undamaged. “Oh, of course. Though I cannot imagine what sort of business you have with me?”

“You’ll have to refresh my memory a bit, I don’t remember if you explained all of this already. My understanding of your story is that you’re here hunting down that no good sneasel, Nip, yes? Tell me, what do you plan to do once you catch him? Be honest, if you please.”

Umbra let out a quiet hum. How much did she need to share? “Once I catch him, I must make sure he faces justice for what he did to our kin.”

The purugly stared her down. And then he chuckled. “Hmm hmm hm… Quite the vague answer, you’ve given me there. But your sense of justice and the village’s may not align, you see.”

When Umbra said nothing in response to that, he stood up and began to pace along the other side of the table. “It would do you better to answer me honestly, you know. I’m actually on your side, despite what you might think. Sometimes the village pokemon can be far too soft; the fact that you walked free after your little fight is proof of that, if my daughter and her friend’s side of the story can be believed. What if they just let him go with a slap on the wrist, as they did you? I can help you get to him before they do, so that you can enact your own justice, but only if you’ll be truthful.”

Umbra remained quiet while listening to his speech, carefully considering his words. Only when it reached an end, and he stopped to look up at her expectantly, did she speak. “I suppose you may have a point. Very well. If you must know, I was told to try and drag him back to our tribe to face judgement. However, if that was impossible, I was given permission to kill him, so long as I bring back proof of his demise. We are nearly a moon’s journey from my tribe, if one were to head directly there. I think my decision is obvious.”

Looks like I was correct then, I suspected as much.” The purugly sat back down, voice coming out silky smooth. “In that case, I do believe I can help you out. I’ll have Jaques and Lotte accompany you. Should you get there first, you should have the chance to enact your plans. There’s just… one little catch.”

Umbra narrowed her eyes dangerously. “Explain.”

“Oh, I don’t think it’ll be anything major,” he added quickly. “No problem at all. My only request is that you leave the body behind. I suspect you wouldn’t want to travel with a corpse, after all, and I’m sure poor Mandi could use more stock. It’s so hard to scavenge enough food for all the carnivores in town, you see.

“Besides,” he added, his voice rumbling with a purr, “I’ve always wondered what sneasel tastes like.”

“Excuse me?” Umbra growled, slowly rising to her feet. “Do you have any idea how disrespectful it would be to leave a tribemate to be scavenged? Yveltal’s code says that any pokemon that’s been a friend to you should be given proper burial.”

Jhorlo scoffed. “Like I would just scatter his bones about. What kind of pokemon do you take me for? I don’t know anything about this ‘Yveltal,’ but if it really bothers you that much, I can promise that our scavengers will bury whatever’s left once they’re done, as they always do. But even if they didn’t, do you really think he deserves that, after what he did to the pokemon of your tribe? Or is there something more you’re hiding?”

“Of course there’s not!” she snapped, her second set of jaws clamping tightly. It took her a moment to relax after the accusation. “No, everything I’ve said thus far is truthful. I… suppose you have a good point though.”

For a second, she swore she saw a glint of light in the purugly’s eyes. He stepped closer to the table, placing his paw in the well of ink, then pressed it firmly to the paper. Even in the dim light, she could see the bright red pawprint it left behind. He then sat back down, placing one paw next to the well. “Well. Do we have a deal then?”

She hesitated only a moment longer. What difference did it make to her what they did to Nip? Or rather – to his body, once she had enacted revenge for her tribe. Once she killed him, he’d be out of her - and her kin’s - fur. She could take his feathers as proof and wash her hands of this whole ordeal, returning to the home she loved.

She placed her hand into the thick ink, then pressed her palm against the parchment, next to his print. “Well, Jhorlo, I think we’ve come to an agreement.”

The purugly let out a pleased rumble. “I must thank you for your cooperation, Umbra. I’ll have Jaques and Lotte prepare to leave with you first thing in the morning, and get you outfitted with a bag to carry your belongings. Get some rest; you have a big chase ahead of you tomorrow, and you’ll need to hurry ahead of the rest of the villagers.”

“Of course I will, Jhorlo. I won’t let this opportunity go to waste.”
 
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