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

    Join now!

Pokémon Places We Call Home

NebulaDreams

Pokémon Trainer
Partner
luxray
Chapter 6

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.
Aw Anu, you widdle bundle of nerves, you.
"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."
Hmm, I am sort of sceptical given what we know or don't know about Umbra so far, but that does seem in character for Nip.

Chapter 7

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.
Yup, probably should've thought that one through, Nip. Whoooooooooops.
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.
Yes, I guess he could live with that.
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.”

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.
Aww, so on top of being an egg thief and murderer, he's also a loner.
She would love to be back there, instead of halfway across the land chasing after a pokemon as ungrateful as nip.
Shouldn't Nip be capitalised here?
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?
'That half witted... scruffy looking... nerf herder...' There's something about that phrase that seems a tad tsundere. Also, I find it amusing that Umbra doesn't know what a door is.
“Besides,” he added, his voice rumbling with a purr, “I’ve always wondered what sneasel tastes like.”
JESUS CHRIST, JHORLO! I mean, even eating other wild Pokemon is still considered quite taboo in this world, but this just seems like straight-up sapient cannibalism.

--

I don't have much to say about chapter 6 except that it served as a proper introduction of the Mawile that's been stalking our cast all this time. And what an introduction. The fight scene definitely didn't sugercoat how ruthless she is, and that also possibly sets things up for later, since she doesn't seem like a trustworthy figure at all. Aside from that, there wasn't much significant progression in the 'Finding Nipo' plot, and was wondering what the heck he was doing all that time. However, safe to say that was answered with the next chapter.

I really liked the more in-depth look into Nip's mindset. On top of having an interesting setting for a mystery dungeon (plus, Bruxi was a joy to read about), there was more introspection in this chapter. He's still rather alien compared to the rest of the cast, and he still makes a lot of rash decisions that will continue to haunt him throughout the fic, but he isn't just a mindless egg thief since he does reflect on his actions and seems to hate his situation. That inner passage with him missing the companionship of other Pokemon was great. It kind of occurred to me that Nip probably has a lot of things going on in his head he doesn't know how to process since most of his life has been about survival and his asceticism. Like the hunger for something else is there; he just doesn't realise it yet.

And also, WOW, JHORLO. I didn't expect that sort of ruthlessness from him, especially being Shimmer's Dad, and the fact that him and Umbra are teaming up together while Haru and co. are trying to see Nip's side of the story is not a good sign.
 
Chapter 8

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partner
sneasel-nip
@NebulaDreams
'That half witted... scruffy looking... nerf herder...' There's something about that phrase that seems a tad tsundere. Also, I find it amusing that Umbra doesn't know what a door is.
Heh, well, I'm sure we'll learn more about her tribe's way of life sooner or later. For now, suffice to say that doors aren't exactly a thing.

Aside from that, there wasn't much significant progression in the 'Finding Nipo' plot, and was wondering what the heck he was doing all that time. However, safe to say that was answered with the next chapter.
Yeah, I remember worrying about this chapter when I initially posted it, since I worried it slowed down the plot too much. Glad to hear it served its purpose though.

It kind of occurred to me that Nip probably has a lot of things going on in his head he doesn't know how to process since most of his life has been about survival and his asceticism. Like the hunger for something else is there; he just doesn't realize it yet.
You might just be on to something 8). I'm sure we'll learn more in the coming chapters.

And now, on to this week's chapter!
Chapter 8: Race to the Finish

Haru found it difficult to sleep that night, her dreams plagued by nightmares of Shimmer, Muse and herself dying in increasingly terrible ways in their attempt to catch Nip. In one particularly nasty dream, she found herself ripped apart by an angry mawile, left alone to die as the other two fought desperately to keep themselves alive.

In some ways, it felt like it took forever for the first light of dawn to arrive, and in others it felt like it rushed by in no time at all. But as light started to peek into her window, she forced herself to her feet, shook off the stray bits of straw that clung to her fur, and lumbered out of the house as quietly as possible, making sure to grab her bag along the way. She’d replenished the oran berries they’d used the night before, but otherwise their supplies were the same.

Shimmer and Muse were already waiting for her as she stepped outside, the absol looking almost as tired as her, while Shimmer was wide awake and as bouncy as always.

“Got everything?” the kirlia asked in a whisper.

“I’m good to go,” Haru answered. “Remind me why we have to leave so early, though?”

“Because we need to get there before everyone else, silly.” As she spoke, Shimmer took a moment to look through Muse’s saddle bags, making sure everything was in place. “Especially Umbra. You know she’ll be the first one in. She seemed like she was still asleep when Muse and I left, but I doubt she still is.”

“Right, right,” Haru mumbled, thinking once again how she very much would like to be back in bed. Or really anywhere but here, getting ready to head into Sunglow Thicket again, for that matter. “I guess we should get going then. Are people going to ask questions if they see us leaving town, though?”

“No one is going to question me,” Shimmer assured, with a giggle. “And if they do, I’ll just tell them it’s business for dad. That’ll shut them up.”

Haru was not totally convinced, but she supposed it was as good of an excuse as any. With that, the trio headed down the path out of town in silence, watching the sun slowly rise into the sky in front of them. Haru swore she caught a glimpse of cream fur as they neared the edge of town. One little possible glimpse was more than enough to get her moving just a bit faster.

The race to catch Nip was on.

*​

Despite the discussions of the previous day, the entrance to the dungeon was just as barren as it had been before, with not a single guard watching it yet.

“I still think that was a huge oversight,” Haru muttered as they passed through the distorted space and took a moment to reorient themselves amongst the golden-leaved trees.

“Maybe so,” Muse agreed. “Which is why we must hurry, and keep our eyes peeled for any signs of Nip. I don’t know how often the dungeon shifts, but it’s best we move quickly. He would have to be in the stable zone by now. If he’s still here.”

Time seemed to move at a crawl as they made their way through the first three zones, working their way amongst the twisting paths and open clearings. They only met a single wildener along the way, an oddish that took one look at the trio of pokemon and ran off, thinking better of trying to start a fight on its own.

The fourth zone was a bit less forgiving.

“Don’t just stand there, run!” cried Haru as she barely rolled out of the way of an ursaring’s claws. She took off, skidding on leaves, spraying them into the air in her attempt to flee.

“An ursaring? Here? Who knew we had so many scary pokemon living this close to the village!” Shimmer’s voice came out in a shriek as she shot pulses of fairy-type energy out in the direction of the ursaring, holding tight to Muse’s thick mane as the absol fled.

“Don’t worry about attacking it!” Muse called, looping back towards Haru. “It’s not worth the fight and you’ll just make it angrier! Grab Haru and let’s go!”

The kirlia finally quit shrieking at the top of her lungs, the waves of energy dying away. “Oh, fine,” she agreed, sifting her attention. She held one hand out, letting it glow with blue energy as she turned her attention to the fleeing bidoof.

Haru cried out as she felt her limbs seize up. Yet her feet began to lift from the ground. She shifted her eyes towards Shimmer, as she flew, slowly catching up to the two. Once she was close enough, Shimmer lessened the connection, holding her as tightly as she could in her arms while providing extra support with the psychic.

All three of them together now, Muse turned tail and ran, making a beeline for the nearest path out of the clearing. “Do we have any blast seeds?” She yelled back to Shimmer.

“Even if we do, I can’t check and keep a grip on Haru!”

“Turn me a bit, I might be able to reach!” Haru cut in. She felt shimmer twist a little bit, so that her paws could reach into Muse’s saddlebags.

Muse grit her teeth. “I can’t stand around and wait. Hold tight, I’m gonna run as fast as I can!”

Haru flinched as she heard a roar behind them, the Ursaring still pursuing with more speed than she expected out of the lumbering normal-type.

The path in front of them slowly began to veer to the left, guiding them in an arc that seemed to lead back towards the clearing they had started from. Angry roars and crashing sounds drove Muse to push herself forward. They were slowly outrunning the beast, but they couldn’t be quick enough.

“I’ve got something!” Haru announced, her agile little paws wrapping around a stick in Muse’s bag. She pulled out the wand, gripping it for dear life as she watched for the ursaring to appear around the corner behind them.

Muse skidded to a stop as they reentered the clearing, sending up a spray of leaves. “Which way?” She called over her shoulder.

“Try the path to the left!” Shimmer shouted, glancing back over her shoulder nervously, expecting the brutish beast to reappear any second. “The left!”

The absol wasted no time speeding off, feet scrabbling in the leaf litter.

The ursaring reappeared. Haru swung the wand wildly in a panic, a wave of yellow energy expelling from the orb at the end. She watched, holding her breath, as the wave hit the ursaring square in the chest. It let out an angry roar and tried to take another step, only freeze in place, twitching as it tried to fight the wand’s effects.

“Told you the petrify wand would be useful!” Shimmer called as they disappeared down the path she’d chosen.

Even with the ursaring petrified, Muse did not stop, running through the twists and turns aimlessly until Shimmer spotted the distortion leading to the next zone a few clearings later. The trio let out a sigh of relief as the noise of the previous zone died away, leaving them in silence outside of Muse’s heavy breathing. She flopped onto her side, panting, unceremoniously dropping her kirlia and bidoof passengers in the process.

“Sorry guys,” she gasped between breaths. “I just need... A minute.”

“Look on the bright side,” Haru tried weakly, wincing as she tried roll onto her belly. “We found the next zone faster.” She stood up slowly, stretching out the aches. “And we haven’t come across any of the others yet, so we’re probably still ahead.”

“Unless someone else had the same idea that we did,” Muse pointed out, still breathless. She rolled back onto her stomach. “Then they could be ahead of us.”

Shimmer took a moment to carefully dust herself off, then combed her fingers through her hair. “Good points, both of you. You’re both so clever! We gotta keep going then, to catch up or stay ahead, whichever it may be!”

The absol hummed in agreement, slowly climbing to her feet, and addressed Shimmer. “Um… Sorry, do you mind walking for a bit? I’m kind of exhausted.”

“Of course, of course,” Shimmer said with a dismissive wave of her hand. “Save your strength and all that. We should be to the last zone soon enough and we need to be in tip-top shape for that. Everyone keep an eye out!”

The crew sat off in an apprehensive silence, making their way through the forest of perpetual autumn with their goal in mind. No one dared speak, for fear of drawing unwanted attention when so close to their goal. If Nip got away because of them, not one of them would be able to forgive themselves.

How long they spent in the fifth zone was unclear; certainly, they were there for more than a few minutes. But it could have been an hour for all they knew, with only the passage of twisting paths and thousands of fallen leaves to say they were making any progress at all.

But after what felt like forever, the end was in sight. Shimmer was the first to spot the distorted break in the undergrowth, at least a half dozen clearings later.

“Ready?” Muse asked.

The three of them looked amongst themselves, determination set on their faces, and stepped into the distortion.

Haru waited for the vertigo to pass as she stepped through the narrow path, then took a quick, cursory look around, only to discover that she had to stand on her hind legs to see anything over the thick, tall grass.

Unfortunately, even then she could see little, for fog kept her from seeing much further.

The trio huddled close together, looking cautiously about for any signs of life. Muse raised her head to sniff at the air, then tilted it downwards to sniff at the ground.

“It’s faint, but I smell something… off. Something different from the scent of these woods. Nip, possibly. Stay close and on guard, I’m going to try and track it.”

Muse began to walk, each paw step careful, stopping to sniff the ground every moment or so to make certain she was staying on the correct path. Haru walked just behind, following the absol’s path exactly, trying to sniff out the abnormalities in the scent of damp grass and dust. Shimmer brought up the rear, her eyes glowing a soft blue as she attempted to feel for anyone around them with her psychic abilities.

Haru’s sense of smell was, unfortunately, dampened by fog in the air, moisture clinging to her fur. “I think I hate this dungeon,” she mumbled under her breath as she pushed further through the grass, only to almost bump up against Muse’s leg.

The absol had come to a stop just ahead, staring down into a crater just a few feet away. The other two sidled up beside her.

“Did he go down there?” Shimmer asked.

Muse shook her body, flinging moisture and dust into the air. “No. The path veers to the left. I was just… thinking for a moment. Legends say that the mystery dungeons are the scars of the War of the Ancient Ones. It’s…. Kind of sad, to look at it in person, and see that even hundreds… thousands of years later, scars still remain on the land.”

Haru stared down into the hole for a moment, looking at the grass that grew thick at the bottom. Then she let out a scoff and turned away. “Who cares about some ancient battle in the past. It happened so long ago, it doesn’t really matter anymore. We should be looking to the future instead. Or the present, at least. Come on, we’re wasting time.”

Muse turned to look at the bidoof for a moment. “I would argue it still matters, since mystery dungeons still exist, but I can’t fault you for your feelings.” She turned back and peered down into the crater for a moment longer, then let out a hum of ascent and turned, sniffing at the air again. But instead of continuing to follow the trail, she froze.

“Musey?”

“I think they’re here,” the absol said in a sharp whisper. “She’s here.”

Shimmer paused for a moment, eyes glowing as she probed for other minds. “I think you’re right. Come on, we’re out of time!”

Muse pushed forward at once, nose low to the ground once again. Haru sniffed at the air for a moment, then took off at a run after the others. She fought the urge to jump at every noise, at every rustle of grass or cry of another pokemon, expecting to be ambushed at every turn.

The path Muse lead them on was a winding one, twisting and turning deeper into the stable zone, avoiding each crater or hole they passed. Haru followed the trail just behind, confirming that the absol was on the right path. The next few minutes passed in a tense silence, coming closer and closer to the center.

Then finally, they were free of the grass, the scent trail leading to a small pond in the middle, mixing and mingling with scents of the forest.

“I’m getting a drink of water,” Shimmer mumbled. “Give me just a moment.” She stepped forward to the water’s edge, lapping up a few mouthfuls of the water, scrunching up her face a moment later. ‘Tastes like dirt.”

Haru, on the other hand, had no interest in stopping, sniffing the trail even as it moved into mud. She followed it closely at the water’s edge, until it came to a sudden stop. She was so intent on the smell, however, that she didn’t notice the tree until she had knocked her head on it. She let out a yelp, falling back onto her butt so she could try to rub her head where she’d bonked.

Muse and Shimmer joined her a moment later.

“Is this where the trail ends?” Shimmer asked.

“Seems like it,” Muse reported. “Though… its possible he masked his scent.”

“How so?”

“Swimming in the water, caking himself in mud or… other smelly things. Either of those are a possibility.”

“Or he’s still up there,” Haru finished. “How are we gonna find out? You and I can’t climb, Muse, and I don’t know about Shims going up by herself.”

“Aw you really do care about me, future sister in law!” Shimmer remarked with a squeal.

“Don’t push it,” Haru said with a growl. “I mean, you can go if you want and I won’t stop you.”

Shimmer waved a hand dismissively. “Whatever you say, Harhar. I have an even better idea. I’m going to yell at the tree.”

“What?”

“You heard me!”

“Shims wait!”

The kirlia took a deep breath, closing her eyes as she focused and chose her words. Then she cried out in a shrill, disarming voice, “Oh Niiiip! Won’t you please come down here? We just want to talk!” As she screamed, she let out pulses of energy, aiming at the branches above.

The leaves swayed from the force of the pulse, but at first, it seemed like nothing had happened. But a second later, as Shimmer’s energy died away, Haru caught sight of a dark form hanging from one of the higher branches: a sneasel with mint-green feathers grumbling curses under his breath.

“Hey, I see him! Up there!” Then she turned her attention to the fugitive. “Hey! Nip! We’re serious! Come down from there peacefully, and we won’t have to fight!

“Yeah! If you come with us, we’ll take you back to the village before Umbra can get you!” Shimmer added.

“She probably knows you’re here by now,” Muse added, “thanks to Shimmer’s yelling.”

“Hey, no fair Musey, don’t pin it on me.”

“Sorry.”

The sneasel slung himself around, so that he was balanced safely on the branch. He peered down at the trio for a very long moment as they stared back up at him.

And then he sucked in a deep breath and exhaled, blasting them from above with air so frigid that small shards of ice began to form, sending a chill through the trio. Then he jumped, landing several yards away on his feet, immediately taking off at a run.

“Aw, looks like we’re doing this the hard way!” Shimmer called out. “Let’s go guys!” No sooner had she taken a step, however, a blast of water from behind knocked her off her feet. She turned her head just in time to see a pink tail disappear into the depths of the water.

“Stupid water-type!” the kirlia cried. “What’s their problem? Oh, don’t just stand there, guys; don’t let him get away!”

Muse took off first, following the parting grass. Haru bounded after them as quickly as she could, not waiting for Shimmer to scramble back to her feet.

Nip had the advantage of speed, but Muse had the advantage of height and being able to see where she was going over the grass, cutting corners around pitfalls to slowly gain on the sneasel, who was running practically blind.

Haru was less lucky, being even slower than the long-legged absol. All she had to guide her were chance glimpses of Muse’s pale fur between gaps in the grass.

Shimmer caught up with her a moment later. “He’s really moving!” she reported. “But he keeps having to readjust himself to avoid the craters. Wait- they’re both stopping up ahead! I think they’ve run into someone!”

Haru forced herself to move faster, guided by Shimmer towards where the two had stopped. A moment later, the two burst out into a small clearing barren of grass, perhaps twice as wide as Muse was across and three times long.

A serviper stood blocking the way, hissing angrily. Nip stood behind it, glancing anxiously back towards Muse. And beyond him were two other pokemon: a tediursa and a steenee.

“I don’t care what he’s done,” The serviper hissed angrily, apparently in the middle of an argument with Muse. “We do not. Break. The pact.”

“We don’t care about your stupid wildener pact,” Shimmer announced, garnering a flinch from Muse. and a warning noise from Haru. “He did a crime. We’ll be taking him back to face that, if he wants to live.”

“The stable zone is neutral territory,” the serviper shot back. Either respect that or - if you choose to attack - we will be forced to intervene.

A tense stand down followed as the trio sized the enemy up. If they attacked, it would give Nip a chance to slink away. The tediursa seemed anxious, and unprepared for battle. The serviper and steenee on the other hand…

Before they had a chance to decide, however a voice called out that chilled the trio of village pokemon to their core.

“NIP!”

The mawile appeared a moment later, took one quick cursory glance at the two frozen sides, then set her eyes on nip and launched herself at him.

The sneasel sprang out of the way of the snapping jaws. Immediately the six other pokemon sprang into action, the clearing breaking out into the chaos and cacophony of fighting pokemon.

The tediursa cried out in alarm and barely avoided getting hit by Umbra on the rebound.

The steenee sprang up and shot razor-sharp leaves at the mawile.

Muse charged towards the serviper, dark energy accumulating on her horn.

Shimmer gasped out in alarm as she spotted familiar faces emerging from the grass.

“Jaques? Lotte?”

“Shimmer?”

“Miss Shimmer?”

Haru hung back, trying to catch sight of who was fighting who. She caught sight of grey and green slinking out of the cloud of kicked-up dust, getting ready to disappear back into the grass.

She sprang out of the way of a whirl of claws and scales, barely avoiding the poisonous tip of the serviper’s tail.

“Shims! No time to explain, look!” She raised a paw to point towards the slinking sneasel, who had nearly reached the grass.

“Throw me! Quick!”

Shimer stared at her long enough to blink once, then Haru’s plan clicked with her. “Got it, hold tight to your bag!”

Haru winced as she felt psychic energy surround and lift her stiffly into the air.

“I’ll catch up as quickly as possible. Good luck!”

By now, more pokemon living in the stable zone were appearing, jumping into the fray with little notice of who was friend or foe, drawn by the sound of battle. Before she could make any more sense of the fight, though, she was flung through the air, flying directly towards Nip.

She let out a battle cry as she fell, crashing into his back with all forty pounds of raw bidoof power and fury, sending him sprawling to the ground. She held tight for a moment, digging paws into his back as she tried to sink her teeth into his scruff. In response he screeched and scrambled and twisted beneath her.

But she had underestimated how long his arms were. He twisted just enough to strike at her, raking one set of razor-sharp claws against her side.

She let out a pained squeal, her concentration broken, giving him just enough of an opening to wiggle and struggle free from under her, shoving her aside.

As soon as he was loose, he scrambled to his feet and took off at a run again, shards of ice beginning to form in his mouth as he prepared another attack.

Haru had no interest in letting him go. She climbed back to her feet and flew forward with all the speed she could muster. He had gotten a head start, but he hadn’t got back up to speed yet. In a last-ditch effort, she leapt, springing forward with paws outstretched, tackling him without holding back.

Right into one of the craters.

The two tumbled head over heels as they bounced and skidded down the steep slope, coming to a painful stop at the bottom.

Haru groaned, shaking her head in an attempt clear the dizziness and gather her bearings. She caught sight of Nip a few feet away, also trying to climb to his feet. He coughed and spat out a few lousy ice crystals.

“We can stop this now, you know!” Haru called out, stamping her foot as she faced him down.

He turned his attention to the bidoof and took up a defensive pose, eyes narrowing to slits. “Yes, we could. You can let me go and then I’ll be out of your fur and you’ll never have to worry about me again. You can pretend I never existed.”

“Don’t you try to play that with me! You stole an egg from us. Unless you still happen to have it, there’s no taking that back!”

The sneasel crouched, dark energy forming around his claws. “We don’t have to fight. I don’t want to fight.”

Haru shook her fur and glanced to the side. In the confrontation, her bag had been knocked loose. She darted her gaze back to the sneasel. “Then give up, because that’s the only way you’re getting out of this without one.”

Without waiting for an answer, she raced forward with her head lowered, prepared to headbutt him.

Only to earn a sharp pain to the side of the head as he struck first.

She stumbled, knocked off course by the glancing blow. As she reeled, he turned tail in an attempt to flee.

She responded by chomping down on one of his tail feathers and tugging.

The sneasel yelped as his balance was lost and stumbled, momentum lost.

Unfortunately, all she got for her trouble was a pulled tail-feather. She spat the feather out and charged again, knocking into him with a hard headbutt.

Finally, she had the upper hand!

“You again?!”

Haru glanced up at the angry squawk above her. She caught sight of orange and blue, just in time for the flame-wreathed bird to crash into her side, knocking her back several feet.

“Give me back my treasure!”

She climbed back to her feet as the fletchinder took to the air again, the flames dying away. But the bird was already circling back for another attack. Even worse, Nip had taken the opportunity to attempt an escape again, already climbing halfway up the steep crater walls. And the sounds of fights in the distance still raged on.

If he got away now, then they may never find him.

“Ha! Did you think you could escape me that easily?”

Haru glanced up behind her to the rim of the crater. Outlined in the mist was the form of a mawile. Umbra must have broken off from the fight when she realized Nip was gone.

Nip paused his upwards climb, sucked in a breath, and spat shards of ice at the steel-type. Umbra responded by shielding her face with her hands, the worst of the shards either striking there or bouncing off harmlessly. As soon as he had to take a breath, the mawile took the opportunity to dash to the other side, preparing to block his escape.

If she got to him first, it was over.

An angry caw sounded overhead. Considering her options, time ticking down as the fletchinder dove at her again, Haru glanced to the torn bag to her side.

The sleep orb.

She had heard stories that orbs were less effective in stable parts of the dungeon. If ever there were a time for those stories to be false, this was one of them.

She reached over to grab the orb.

“Fine, if you want it so bad, come get it!”

She dropped it right in front of her and steadied herself, waiting just a few more seconds for the fletchinder to come closer.

Then she dashed forward to headbutt the orb, sending it flying with as much force as she could muster, shattering it against the side of the crater.

Green powder burst forth from the orbs remains, whipping up into a cloud, spreading quickly as it ballooned out. Haru forced herself to hold her breath and hunkered down.

The others caught in the cloud were less lucky, unprepared for the orb to take its effects.

Nip let out an angry screech, trying to climb his way out of the cloud before the effects could take hold. But it was too late. His eyelids began to droop, his voice died in his throat, and his grip weakened. Unconscious, he tumbled back to the bottom of the hole.

The fletchinder, similarly, was caught mid attack, hitting the ground and skidding to a stop in a half-asleep stupor.

Even Umbra was sagging, teetering dangerously on the edge before pitching forward, falling into the pit.

Haru let out a breath as the green mist dissipated and relaxed slightly, feeling a bit safer now that the three others aggressing pokemon were asleep. How long the artificial nap would last, however, was yet to be determined.

And she still had another problem to deal with. Even though she may have stopped Nip’s escape, she had no way to get herself out of the crater, let alone with Nip in tow.

She sank to the ground, legs splaying out under her as the rush of battle died away. Her wounds, however minor, were stinging, now that she had a moment to dwell on it. For one thing, her head ached, where Nip had struck it, though she was pretty sure he had not broken skin.

She twisted her head to get a look at her side. On one side, her fur was singed, a nasty burnt smell wafting up. On the other, Nip’s claws had managed to cut, but the wounds were fortunately shallow. Two lines of red had oozed up, clumping in her fur. But she would live.

Relieved that she was in no danger of bleeding out, she turned her attention to other important matters. She strained her ears for the sound of the other battle nearby and realized that she could no longer hear it. Had the fight ended? Who won? Had everyone moved on without her, thinking that perhaps she had run off? Surely Shimmer would have said something right?

Unless she had been knocked out, of course. Or perhaps they had all been defeated, left at the mercy of the angry wildeners? The fleeting thought of being abandoned was enough to strike fear into the bidoof.

Stuck as she was, Haru did the one thing she could think to do.

“Is anyone out there?” she called out into the fog. “Help me! I’m stuck down here!”

Several moments passed with no sound. She called out twice more. Hoping that some kind soul would help her out, even if the others had moved on.

She closed her eyes for a moment, feeling exhausted now that the danger had passed.

“Haru? Is that you down there?”

Her eyes snapped open at the sound of the familiar masculine voice. Slowly, she climbed up to her feet, tilting her head up to put a face to the familiar voice.

Anu stood at the edge of the crater, peering down inside with squinted eyes.

What Haru should have said was “yes, it’s me.” Instead, she blurted out, “Anu? What are you doing here?”

The lucario raised a brow. “I should be the one asking you that. You didn’t sign up to help, if I remember correctly.”

Haru sheepishly turned her head. “Well… Shimmer and Muse were planning on going, and I didn’t feel good leaving them alone after last time.”

Anu let out a noncommittal hum in response to that, then turned his attention to the unconscious figures resting in the base with Haru. “Is that-”

“Nip and Umbra, yes.” She paused, slightly altering the truth in her head as she spoke. “I used a sleep orb to knock him out and Umbra got caught up in the attack.”

“And the fletchinder?”

“Er… the fletchinder wanted the sleep orb and attacked me for it. That’s pretty much all there is to say about him.”

The lucario took a moment to hum in thought. “Okay, let’s get you out of there then. Give me just a moment.” He grew quiet, closing his eyes. Haru watched as the dangling aura sensors on either side of his head stiffened, raising up slightly. He took a step back from the edge and turned, walking away.

Haru was left alone once again. She turned her attention back to the trio of sleeping figures, watching for any sign of movement.

The mawile began to stir.

Of course the orb’s effects wouldn’t last long down here; that was too much to ask for. She tensed, watching with bated breath as Umbra squeezed her eyes and clenched her hands. She let out a groan, slowly opening her eyes and climbing to her feet.

“What happened?”

Haru kept her mouth shut as the mawile began to look around, taking in the injured bidoof and the sleeping forms of the fletchinder and Nip. She turned her attention to Haru, piecing things together in her head.

“You used an orb, didn’t you?” She grumbled. “You did not need to do that. I could have stopped his escape easily.”

“I was still being attacked!” Haru countered. “Isn’t it better to fill two needs with one move?”

The mawile only grunted in response, turning away from Haru to instead approach Nip again.

“Anu will be back in a minute,” Haru blurted out. “He went back to get help to get us out of here.”

Umbra tilted her head to look towards the top of the crater. “I suppose it would be difficult to climb out of here…” She turned, twisting so that she could scoop up Nip within her second jaw. “Guess I can just take care of this now though.”

Haru sucked in a breath and tensed, her mind jumping to the worst possible conclusions. Umbra would kill him. She was going to kill Nip right now, in front of her. Maybe her too, for being a witness. Even if she lived, they would never get the answers. They’d never know if the egg was still around, or why he did it. They’d never know how true Umbra’s story was.

Perhaps she was overreacting, but it wasn’t worth the risk.

“Wait.”

The mawile paused, turning her attention to Haru. “If you have something to say, spit it out.”

Haru could not help but flinch at her tone, but she spoke, forcing herself to be brave and even a bit defiant in the face of a pokemon she knew could kill her.

“There’s no need to rush into any judgement. Once we get back to the village, we’ll have a chance to get everything sorted out, and Nip will get what’s coming to him for everything he’s done.”

The mawile tilted her head away, considering for a moment before sticking her nose up in the air. “As I’ve said before, my kin have our own way of dealing with things. He is my responsibility, and as such I will deal with him and judge him in their place.”

Her jaw clenched, squeezing the sneasel a bit harder. Apparently, this was enough to wake him up. He jolted with a gasp, eyes opening wide. At first, he panicked, squirming and struggling in her grip, claws scraping uselessly against the steel jaws.

“No no no no,” he began to mumble incoherently, as his strikes became more and more desperate. “I’ve made it so far. Not now not now!”

“Oh, quit your whining, it’ll all be over soon” Umbra growled, her tone darkening as she addressed Nip. She squeezed her jaw even harder, like a vice. Nip let out a pained yelp and went limp in an attempt to keep the fangs from cutting deep. For a second, Haru thought he might be dead - or at least unconscious - but shallow, panicked breaths and the occasional twitch of his claws proved otherwise.

“Umbra, stop,” the bidoof demanded, climbing back to her feet. “You came with the village, which means you have to use our laws.”

“Do not make me your enemy, bidoof,” the mawile replied, narrowing her eyes. “I will deal with this brigand the way I promised to. It’s nothing personal, just what I have to do for my kin.”

“It’s very personal!”

Haru’s gaze quickly shifted over to Nip, his voice catching her attention. As soon as he noticed, he spoke again, words tumbling out of his mouth like a waterfall, his pitch raising in urgency the more he talked.

“I-isn’t that right Umbra? That’s why they sent you after me isn’t it? You told them you-you wanted to deal with me yourself, right? Because it w-wasn’t enough that you ruined my life, right?”

The mawile responded by turning to slam him against the side of the crater with a huff. “Your lies will get no sympathy from me. You ruined your own damn life.”

Nip spat dirt out of his mouth. “That’s a lie and you know it!”

“Can you both just shut up!” Haru called out!

“No!” Nip and Umbra yelled in unison.

“You expect me to be calm! Umbra’s gonna snap me in half!”

“You expect me to be calm when Nip is telling lies to try and get you on his side?”

“Yes, I do,” Haru growled. “I’ve had enough nonsense! I’ve been dragged out here twice in two days, to hunt down you.” She paused to angrily gesture her head towards Nip. “And then I’ve been bitten, burned, clawed at, and chased in the process. And you, Umbra! You attacked us for no good reason yesterday! Why should I trust anything you say? No. We are all going back to the village and getting an explanation. Do I make myself clear?”

Neither of the two other pokemon said anything, instead staring blankly at the enraged bidoof.

“That’s right, they’re over this way.”

Haru turned her head back towards the voice. A few seconds later, Anu emerged from the fog, Shimmer’s hand in his paw and with Essra resting on his head. The espurr hopped off his head, and dove head-first into the pit, slowing her descent with psychic once she was close enough to see Haru.

“Sorry we took so long, everyone,” she announced, dipping her head to Haru and then to Umbra. “Thank you for holding on to the criminal, Miss Umbra, let me get you back up to the top, then Anu can take over.”

"I can hold on to him just fine!" Umbra snapped.

"I'm sure you can miss, but if you have an issue, you have to take it up with the boss." As the espurr spoke, she brushed a paw up against Umbra. a few seconds passed before a soft blue hue overtook the mawile.

Essra squinted her eyes shut, using a great deal of concentration to keep the steel-type within her psychic hold. She raised a single paw and, after a second, the mawile was raised into the air and up to the edge of the crater, Nip still held in her grip.

She turned her attention to the fletchinder next, carefully raising him out of the crater and depositing him in front of Shimmer, who then took over the psychic hold.

“Um…” Haru began, her brow furrowing. “Why are you taking him?”

The espurr turned to look at Haru, raising a paw. “Anu said he attacked you, right?”

“Well, yeah, but-”

“That’s why. They’re taking in the wildeners that started the fight in for questioning. The serviper and steenee at least. The teddiursa is just a kid, and we wouldn’t want to be on the receiving end of an angry mother ursaring.”

“I guess that’s fair enough,” Haru mumbled, stiffening as she felt psychic energy grip her muscles, lifting her into the air and back up onto solid ground. Essra floated back over the edge just a moment later.

Now that she was up close, Haru could see that Shimmer had not escaped the battle against the wildeners unscathed. There was no serious damage, but several lacerations lined her arms and torso, the small cuts staining her fur red. Otherwise, however, she looked okay.

The group made their way back the clearing where the fight had first broken out. Several unconscious pokemon were sprawled out in the grass, and the few that were still awake were hiding in the grass on the fringes, licking at their wounds.

Whisper had arrived by now and had gotten straight to work organizing things. The serviper had been draped over Romi’s back, the rapidash pacing anxiously back and forth. At the moment, Whisper and a roserade were helping hoist the steenee onto Vale’s back.

Jaques, Lotte, and Muse were to the side, Jaques holding a slice of a pecha berry up against a nasty bite in Muse’s shoulder while the absol ate a second one. Besides the nasty bite, one of her eyes had swollen nearly shut. The two purrloin looked not much better, with cuts along their backs and one nasty slice along Lotte’s flank.

The hawlucha turned her attention towards the arriving party. “Anu, there you are.” She paused, crossing her arms as she looked over Haru and Umbra. “Good, it looks like there’s no serious injury, other than Muse’s bite.

As she locked eyes with the sneasel still in Umbra’s grip, she narrowed her eyes, before returning her attention to the roserade beside her. “Roselei,” Whisper started, her voice firm, “go help Umbra out and take the prisoner.”

The mawile took a step back, speaking in an annoyed rumble. “Why does everyone insist on treating me like a newborn. I can take care of holding him just fine.”

The hawlucha looked Umbra over. Out of all the pokemon that had been involved in the fight, she was the least injured, with nothing more than a few scrapes and a single cut.

“I’m sure you can,” Whisper replied flatly. “But I still want those wounds looked at. You’ll go with the others to the infirmary to get your injuries treated. Don’t worry, we won’t be passing any judgement without you.”

"Why don't I just take care of things myself? I don't have to follow your rules."

"Because if you don't," Whisper said in a frustrated growl, "I'll lock you up for your attack on village Pokemon yesterday. I don't have time to deal with your tantrum."

Umbra opened her mouth to protest but thought better of it and closed it again. “Fine. Do make it quick though.”

The roserade approached Umbra with an unreadable expression on her face. Thick, thorny vines unraveled from underneath her flowers as she waited silently for the mawile to open her jaw. Once the teeth were just loose enough that she could slip a vine in, she snaked the vines inside with just a bit of concentration, wrapping them tightly around the sneasel so that his arms were bound to his sides. Only then did Umbra let go entirely.

“You may want to bind his mouth, by the way,” Umbra said, turning away. “He has nasty icy wind and ice shard attacks that he might spit at you otherwise.”

“Fair point,” Roselei agreed. The vines snaked just a bit further out, reaching up to wrap around his snout.

“How dare you say that! You just don’t want me to ta-” The sneasel let out a yelp as thorns dug into his face, but it cut off as his mouth was forced shut, turning into a pained whine as he was dragged to his feet.

Satisfied, Whisper turned to her mate. "There should be three more groups coming though later. Will you and Essra wait here for them to let them know we're done?"

The lucario bowed his head. "Of course, dear. We'll meet you in the village."

"Thank you." She turned her attention to the remainder of the Pokemon. "We will be returning to the village now. Those that are injured should go to Lecha's when we get there. The rest take the wildeners to the guard hut for questioning."

She paused to look over to Shimmer. "I apologize, but do you mind taking the fletchinder over for us? Vale and Romi are the only ones big enough to carry him, and both of them are preoccupied."

"Of course, I can," the kirlia said, waving a hand dismissively. The movement also caused the unconscious fletchinder to move.

He's really out of it, Haru thought to herself as Shimmer passed her by. Weird. Both Umbra and Nip woke up pretty fast. Is he okay?

She was jostled out of her thoughts by Whisper's voice. "Alright everyone, move out!"

The Hawlucha leapt forward to take the lead. Romi and Vale followed next, carefully balancing the wildeners on their backs. Roselei followed next, half leading, half dragging Nip. Umbra wouldn't stray far from the sneasel, practically looming over him, despite her smaller stature.

Shimmer and the fletchinder, Haru, Muse, Jaques, and Lotte all followed behind in a loose group at the rear. They made their way in a straight line - or as straight as they could while dodging craters - heading through the fog until they reached an area where the trees and fog seemed to grow thicker. And then they continued further still, until the fog grew so thick that Haru could barely see the pokemon in front of her.

But then the fog began to clear, and it began to grow warmer, the crisp, cool autumn air replaced with humid summer heat. They found themselves back in the forest outside Sunglow Thicket. A small group of pokemon – a quagsire, a pidove, and flaffy – charged forward at first, ready to strike at the pokemon that exited. But once they caught sight of Whisper, they stopped short. And when they saw the captured Nip, they broke out into excited chatter, the pidove taking off back towards the village to let everyone know the good news.

Haru spent much of the journey in silence, even as the Pokemon around her talked. Some were excited. She caught Muse asking Jaques and Lotte why they were there but did not catch the purloins' answer. The fletchinder woke up at some point, squawking obscenities as he struggled to pull loose from Shimmer’s psychic hold. A few quick strikes from the two purloin and Muse were enough to subdue him.

But Haru’s mind was otherwise occupied. On one hand, she should be excited. They captured Nip! And soon he’d be punished and exiled or else locked up and she could put this whole mess behind her.

But as they continued their march towards the village, she found herself dwelling on his panicked cries from back in the crater. Her mind drifted to questions she could not easily answer. If he was sent away with Umbra, would the mawile kill him? If so, should she really care? Were his panicked ramblings only words to try and garner sympathy to get himself out of trouble and get her on his side? Or was there really something fishy going on between him and Umbra?

Whatever the answers may have been, Haru did know one thing. Lies or not, she needed to know what Nip claimed was going on with Umbra. Only then could she begin to answer those questions for herself.
 

Namohysip

Dragon Enthusiast
Staff
Partner
charizard
Oh! That’s interesting—present tense. I think this is the first fic in a while that I’ve read in third person present. Just the first thing that pops out to me.

In the prologue, I noticed that sometimes you start off your sentences as fragments that build upon the previous one, which is okay stylistically, but sometimes you also do the same thing with commas, and I wonder if you should stick to one or the other. For example, “empty inside as the people that followed it, that blew icy winds . . . “ versus, “ . . . share the legends of the mountain. Of the great best that. . . “ and so on.

Anyway, that was an interesting prologue, not really settling anywhere in time so much as setting the tone for a bunch of gods that had either left, faded into myth, or otherwise are gone missing. Prologues are always interesting for what they’re trying to convey, but I think this one, so far, is pretty straightforward on what it wants to say. But for what it means later? I’m curious to find out~

Onto chapter 1, I noticed that here and there a few of the paragraph breaks seem to be broken incorrectly, particularly at the end of the first scene. Did you manually do the paragraph breaks here for the forums? That seemed to be happening to another fic I just read. Looking into that might help, though I’m not really sure if there’s a quick fix beyond using another platform to get the breaks right, and then pasting here again.

Chapter 1 mostly introduced me to three major characters, and if the cover art is anything to go by, it seems like those are going to be our mains going forward. I see another Bidoof and the silhouette of a Mawile, so I’m gonna guess the latter is a villain based on the, uh, ominous positioning. Or something. Also apologies that I’m capitalizing the species name—force of habit. But if you want any reader feedback on impressions:

Haku seems to be a mild, simple-life-preferring Bidoof who doesn’t really want to get caught up in an adventure. So, she will. Shimmer is a very enthusiastic, maybe a bit bubbly, Kirlia. And Muse is the foil to Shimmer, a little subdued and in general trying to keep Shimmer in check. I don’t know a whole lot beyond that, but I hope that’s the impression you were trying to give off; a lot of the information about dynamics and town society exposition is something that I’m not really going to register until I see it in action.

Seeing wildeners compared to civilized Pokémon is an interesting dynamic, always fun to see different interpretations across settings. I wonder if there will be any plot relevance to how things are in that way, or if it’ll just be an aspect of the setting to use as a backdrop? Either way, I think you explained it well without having to resort to outright exposition to explain the setting’s dynamics.

Beyond that, good work on starting with the action right away, or at least some intrigue to start. One chapter in and we already have four cover characters. Not exactly the best loadout, though. Two weak to Steel, three weak to Fighting—one doubly so… Good luck, y’all! One meeting with a Lucario and you’re in some big trouble. Anyway, some specific quotes from the first chapter:

he needs to sleep and grow strong if he wants to grow strong enough to find them.
I see this a lot here -- some word repetition that's a little awkward. In this case, "grow strong" merely four words apart from each other.

She continued on to the water’s edge, slowly lapping at the water
Same thing here, 'water.'

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.
A bit of a long sentence; might be helpful to break it in two or so.

Haru caught herself considering returning to bed.
This one feels like an extremely passive statement, cushioned not only by 'caught herself' but also 'considering returning.'

“Good morning Shimmer, Muse,”
I think you need a comma after 'morning,' because it's addressing someone.

“I just said-” Haru began, but a voice behind her cut her off.
I think the entire tag could be omitted and nothing would be lost. "I just said-" and then the dialogue right after. The fact that it's behind her can be mentioned after the interrupting dialogue.

Her dad’s lumber work – both felling and the finer art of carpentry – was the finest work in the village.
'work'

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.
Another instance of commas becoming periods.

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?”
So, given how urgent the situation is, I wonder if it'd be more likely that Muse would just stop at "I need you to go in there and bring them out," with the rest of the plan being implicit and unsaid?

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.
Bit of a mouthful of actions bring chained together in one sentence.

--

Anyway, nice chapter! I'll definitely be revisiting this one in the future. Glad I could finally take a look at the work you've got going on here~
 
Chapter 9

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partner
sneasel-nip
@Namohysip
Thanks for the review! Glad to see that you've been enjoying it so far and I look forward to hearing more thoughts from you in the future.
Onto chapter 1, I noticed that here and there a few of the paragraph breaks seem to be broken incorrectly, particularly at the end of the first scene.
Man, I thought I caught all those. I went ahead and fixed that real quick. Let me know if you catch any in the future, but I think the first chapter was the only one where I had that issue.

Also apologies that I’m capitalizing the species name—force of habit.
No worries! I choose not to capitalize but I think there's fair arguments for doing it either way.

I think you need a comma after 'morning,' because it's addressing someone.
You're right. That seems to be one of the grammar rules I have the most trouble catching. I'll try and comb through later and see if there's any more I missed.

Another instance of commas becoming periods.
Hm... I see what you mean. I'll try and look it over later and decide how I want to handle it.


As a quick note, everything from this chapter and onward is the original version, as I've nearly caught up with my postings elsewhere. In fact, I only have one more chapter before we catch up! Thanks to everyone who's been dropping reviews.

Chapter 9: Trials and Tribulations

“Ouch! That stings!”

Lecha clucked her tongue and shook her head as she looked over the injured bidoof. She continued to carefully wipe away dirt and grime from Haru’s cuts with a damp cloth, ignoring the bidoof as she winced and squirmed.

“I told you not to go back to the dungeon,” Lecha chided. “And what did you do? Go back to the dungeon. You have no one to blame but yourself.”

Haru groaned, sifting slightly in the nest. “It’s not like I wanted to be there.”

“Yes, yes, you’ve already told me. Now hold still and let me get a look at your head there.”

She let her gaze shift to the side as Lecha moved around her, snagging a glance of Muse out of the corner of her eye. The absol was laying down with her eyes closed, her shoulder heavily wrapped in a pecha-soaked cloth bandage. Shimmer had draped herself against the absol’s side, small pulses of healing energy passing from her hands-on occasion. Jaques and Lotte had left as soon as their treatment had finished, speaking in low voices as they headed back to meet up with Jhorlo.

Umbra paced at the edge of the room, her minor cuts already treated with a couple oran berries from Twi. The illumise in question was on the far side of the room, humming as they worked on washing out the used rags.

“Why is it taking so long for them to get back?” she caught the mawile grumbling. “They better not do anything without me.”

Behind her, she heard Toshi grumble something inaudible. Her thoughts cut off as a wave of healing energy washed over her from Lecha’s palm, easing her pain and relaxing her tense muscles.

Lecha finally stepped away from her. “Alright, dear, get yourself an oran berry from Twi, then you’re good to go, but be careful. No strenuous activity for two days. And keep those cuts clean. Understand?”

“Are you-” Haru cut herself off with a frustrated hiss. “Fine, I understand. Nothing but stripping bark the next couple days. Got it.”

The aromatisse gave her a pointed look. “Alright, off you go then.”

She turned her attention to Shimmer and her guard. “Muse can leave too, so long as you don’t ride on her back, Shimmer. Give that bite time to heal. And Toshi… If you want to go out to the square to participate in the sneasel’s judgement I’ll allow it, but come straight back afterwards, understand?”

Toshi hopped up immediately, pausing with a wince. “Finally, some fresh air! I-I mean… Y-yeah, I got it. Thanks, Lecha.”

“You think they’re going to behead him?” Twi interjected, turning back to the rest of the pokemon in the room.

“Excuse me?” Lecha squeaked in surprise, before growing more serious in tone. “Don’t even joke about that. Where did you ever get such an idea?”

The illumise buzzed a few feet off the ground before landing again. “My dad once said that they used to do that, many years ago.”

Lecha closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly. “That was many, many years ago. Generations ago. When the woods were wilder and pokemon were less civilized. Besides, you don’t really want to see a beheading, dear. Trust me.”

The bug tilted their head. “Have you seen one, Lecha?”

“Not particularly, but I have seen some nasty injuries in my years, including loss of limbs. Those are bad enough.”

“You wouldn’t see one anyways,” Haru said. “My understanding is that the Enforcers Union are the only ones that handle executions these days. And those are only done behind closed doors.”

She stood up slowly, satisfied with her explanation, stretched, then turned to Toshi. “Are you ready to go then?”

Toshi carefully stepped out of the straw bed and gave himself a look over. “As I’m gonna be. I don’t really care too much to go but… I guess I want answers is all.”

“You and me both,” Haru agreed. “Simmer, Muse, you two coming?”

“‘Course we are! I couldn’t let my Toshi-kins go alone, now can I?”

“I’m not alone,” the bidoof mumbled while Shimmer shook Muse awake. He made no attempt to argue, though.

Muse lifted her head, then stood and shook, sending stray bits of hay in all directions. The motion caused pain to flare up in her shoulder. She winced, but took the lead once the pain subsided, walking beside Shimmer down the hall towards the visitor’s lobby. Haru let Toshi walk in front of her so that she could keep an eye on him, watching his slow, careful movements. As she walked through the hall into the lobby, she heard footsteps patter behind her. Stealing a glance back, she caught sight of Umbra following behind.

“I’m not going to stand around and wait any longer, if even all of you can go,” she growled when she caught sight of Haru staring back.

Haru elected to ignore the statement, turning her attention back to her brother as they exited the building.

The majority of the village pokemon had already gathered just outside of the square, waiting around the small building the town guard operated out of. And yet, Nip, Roselei, and Whisper were nowhere to be seen outside.

Umbra ran ahead of the beaten and battered group, pushing her way through the crowd to try and get into the building. Vale and Romi blocked the entrance, however, barring all pokemon from entry.

“Move aside!” Haru caught Umbra snapping at the manetric and rapidash. “I should be involved in whatever is going on in there.” The bidoof pushed herself to walk a little faster and tried to weave between the crowd to get a better look.

“Relax,” Vale growled. “They’re just finishing up questioning the wildeners. They’ll bring the sneasel out when they’re done so he can make his claims and face judgement.”

Umbra grumbled but stepped back, beginning to restlessly pace again.

Sure enough, the serviper and steenee emerged from the hut a few minutes later, flanked on either side by the quagsire and flaffy that had been waiting outside the dungeon. The fletchinder followed shortly after.

As he looked over the crowd, the fletchinder caught sight of Haru and let out an angry squawk, opening his wings as if to attack. But a weak jolt of electricity from the flaffy stopped him.

“Let them through,” the quagsire called out. “They’ve been cleared to visit Lecha for healing, then they’ll be returning to where they came.”

Slowly, almost hesitantly, the crowd parted, letting the three wildeners through with distrusting looks. The steenee and serviper, in turn, did little to counteract the anger and distrust, glowering right back. The fletchinder, however, took one cautious hop before taking to the sky. “Forget this. I have family to get back to.”

Soon, they turned the corner towards the doctor’s building out of sight, the two guards following them to make sure they went where directed.

A few minutes of tense chatter passed, the villagers milling around anxiously as they waited for any sort of news from inside. Enough time passed that the quagsire and flaffy returned. Finally, however, their patience was rewarded.

Roselei came out first, stretching in the afternoon sunlight before moving over to meet up with Ruffle on the side. She rubbed her flowers together, her gaze shifting anxiously to the doorway as she mumbled something about ice types. In response, Ruffle brushed her hand against one of the roserade’s flowers, pulling it down to hold onto at her side.

Another moment passed and Anu emerged, having returned by now from the mystery dungeon. In his paws was a stack of parchment, a piece of charcoal balanced on top.

Essra came next, her eyes glowing with psychic energy. Then he appeared.

Nip’s claws had been bound together by a thick rope. The rope glowed with energy, dragging him backwards out of the hut as he tried to keep on feet. At his appearance, the crowd broke out into a cacophony of sound ranging from nervous whispers to jeers at the expense of the sneasel. Once he had been brought in front of Anu, Essra cut the psychic connection. Nip stumbled, trying to keep his footing. As soon as he found his balance, his ear folded back against his skull. His eyes narrowed to slits as he faced the angry crowd.

Finally, Whisper emerged with Jhorlo beside her, the two conversing in serious, hushed voices. Haru strained, leaning forward in an attempt to catch what they were saying.

Whisper spoke first. “You know I respect your leadership and your thoughts, but… with a trial… I more than anyone… can’t do that.”

“I understand your hesitations,” came Jhorlo’s reply. “But… perfectly reasonable… we know that he… nothing this serious in nearly a decade… have a good reason to…”

“Even so, that’s... responsibility. Punishment of that… handled by the Enforcers…”

Finally, Jhorlo was close enough that she could hear his words clearly. “And we don’t have an Enforcer’s branch here. It would take far long for any to arrive. too We’ll have to make our own decisions.”

“In that case, we’ll take a vote after we hear his story, as we usually would,” Whisper replied curtly. Then she turned away, taking a few steps to stand beside Anu. She scowled at the sneasel but said nothing more for the moment.

Jhorlo let out a slow breath and turned to take a seat on the other side.

Haru considered the snippets of conversation, her mind drifting back to the conversation in Lecha’s clinic. Were they actually considering an execution? On one hand, she thought for a crime this serious, it was certainly reasonable to consider it.

But her more forgiving side still felt hesitant. Especially if Whisper of all people seemed to be against it.

Anu stepped forward, raising a paw to call for silence in the crowd. A moment passed as the clamor died down, pokemon nudging and shushing each other into silence once they noticed the lucario. Only after everyone grew silent did he begin to speak, clearing his throat.

“We…We have… gathered...” He hesitated, cleared his throat again, and continued, choosing his words carefully. “Apologies, I am… not the best at speaking to crowds, as you all know. I am sure you are all gathered today to bear witness to the trial and sentencing of this sneasel.”

“We already know he’s guilty!” shouted the flaffy from the back of the crowd. “Get on with it!”

“I understand your feelings,” Whisper said tersely, “but our laws dictate that we give accused pokemon a chance to defend themselves.”

Anu turned his head to give Whisper a grateful glance. “Ahem, right. Let me, let us review the story so far.” He paused to look down at the parchment. “Three days ago, this sneasel, Nip, was caught in the act of egg theft and was chased out of town, fleeing into Sunglow Thicket with the egg. There are… Three crimes were known to be committed, other than evading arrest and assaulting a guard. Our e-”

He cut off and took a deep breath. “An egg was stolen from the nursery, along with a bag and a handful of supplies from Lecha’s clinic. This bag was fortunately recovered, though the egg… He also assaulted a child in the nursery, as brave Aves tried to stop him.”

Anu turned to address the sneasel directly. “Do you deny any of these claims?”

“I…” Nip hesitated, eyes darting to look towards the lucario, then back to the crowd. He lowered his head slightly. “I would argue it wasn’t ‘assault,’ but rather ‘defending myself’... I… think they attacked first.”

The lucario glanced over to Whisper with a pleading expression. She let out a sigh before stepping forward, speaking up in a much clearer voice. “So, you contest the assault?”

“Why wouldn’t I?”

“Fine. But what about the other accusations?”

Nip sucked in a breath, tensing. He stayed like that for a moment, prompting the crowd to break into hushed whispers. Haru caught herself leaning forward, breath bated as she waited for how he would answer. Would he tell the truth? Or dig himself into a deeper hole.

Finally, though, he turned his head slightly away, ear and ear feather pressing back against his skull. “I… guess not…”

The crowd became rowdier. “See he admits it!”

“I told you he was up to know good.”

“That’s why I never help strangers.”

“Oh, don’t get so high and mighty just because you’re selfish.”

“Settle down!” Whisper barked waving a wing towards the murmuring pokemon. The crowd quickly fell silent, spooked by the lead guard’s harsh and commanding tone.

Satisfied, she turned her attention back to the sneasel, narrowing her eyes. Her tone shifted ever so slightly, a hint of danger under the command. “I’m only going to ask this once… why?”

Shrinking back from the fighting types thinly veiled threat, Nip gulped before replying. “Well... it just… seemed like a good idea- no, it seemed like my best option at the time.”

“You better explain before I-” she cut herself off, steadied her tone, and started over again. “Just… Explain.”

Nip’s gaze shifted to the mawile just a few feet away from him, eyes fixating on the dangerous set of jaws just waiting to snap him up. “I was… I was in a hurry, trying to think of the fastest way out of town that would also give me something to eat. In hindsight, perhaps I should have gone… elsewhere. But at the moment, I thought that the nursery was the closest and least guarded place I could go.”

“And why exactly were you so keen on leaving so quickly, and from stealing – from stealing a child – from a village that had taken you in, saved your life and offered you shelter?”

Anu stepped forward, placing a paw on the hawlucha’s shoulder. “Dear… isn’t that kind of a loaded question?”

Whisper pulled away ever so slightly, clenching and unclenching her claws. “Well he can still answer it, can’t he?”

Nip let out a huff of air, jerking his head in the direction of Umbra. “I think you already have that answer. Because I knew she was nearby.”

“Let me take this one, Whisper. I know this is hard on you. It’s hard on me too. But take a second to calm down.”

He turned his attention to Nip “So… Why were you so keen on getting away from her?”

“Because she wants to kill me!”

Haru, as well as a few other villagers, turned to look at Umbra. The mawile raised a hand in front of her and closed her eyes. “I only plan to carry out a reasonable punishment for the type of crime he committed,” she responded curtly. “If that means death, then so be it.”

“A reasonable punishment? Yeah right. This has all been about your ego! You’re only here because of our personal squabble, aren’t you? That’s why they sent you of all pokemon after me!”

“You’re reaching, Nip. And jumping to conclusions. Typical.”

“Enough!”

Whisper moved forward to stand between the two bickering pokemon, shooting each of them a dangerous glare. “Both of you calm down.

She turned her attention to Nip, ignoring the look Umbra was giving her. “Let me get the story straight. Umbra claims to be tracking you down because you attacked their nursery. Is this correct?”

A long pause stretched out as Nip stared at the hawlucha. He turned his head away a moment later. “It was… a very poor lapse of judgement. At the time, I felt like I was saving those poor souls from a life of restriction and suffering. By the time it occurred to me that there were better ways of doing that, I’d already gone through with it.”

Uneasy murmurs broke out into the crowd. Whisper gave Anu a look and began to speak in an urgent tone.

“What kind of monster thinks like that?” Haru heard the quagsire whisper.

“One that’s sick in the head,” flaffy replied.

Haru thought for a moment. She… kind of had to agree with that. Why would anyone ever think killing a pokemon was saving them? She pawed at the ground anxiously. Yet… Something didn’t seem right. There were still questions unanswered. Questions that might just make his crazy story make a bit more sense.

“So, what made you feel that way?” She blurted out, perhaps a bit louder than she’d meant to.

At once, everyone nearby turned their eyes to look at her, including Nip, Anu, and Whisper. Haru shrank back just a little, uneasy with the attention, and mumbled her thoughts.

“I mean… either you had a reason for feeling that way, or you’re totally nuts.”

The flaffy leaned in towards Haru, perplexed. “Are you trying to defend him?”

“Of course not!” Haru paused and took a deep breath before continuing. “I just… Something doesn’t add up here. Either there’s some part of the story we’re missing, or he’s completely dangerous and immoral. And…”

She paused, thinking back to the day she spent taking him around town. Sure, it could have all been a ruse to get on their good side and get everyone to let their guard down. But then again, there were the broken bits of prayer she overheard in the temple. Had that all been a ruse too?

She turned her attention to Whisper for a moment. “Pardon me for speaking out of line but… I’d like to ask something.”

The hawlucha tilted her head upwards for a moment. “I suppose we can open up the floor for questions from everyone now. Go ahead.”

She dipped her head. “Thank you, Whisper.” She turned her attention back to Nip. “So what’s the truth? What’s your deal? When you first came here, you claimed to be on a pilgrimage. Instead you’re a fugitive on the run after a heinous crime. And yet your behavior here from before Umbra showed up doesn’t match your behavior after.”

Realizing that she had started to ramble on, Haru finally asked her question. “What I’m trying to ask is… Why’d you do it? What made you feel like killing unhatched eggs was doing them mercy? And why are you so certain that Umbra chasing you was personal?”

The sneasel scoffed, his expression souring. “Umbra was the beginning- the root of my falling out with the tribe. She was supposed to be my mate. Not that she ever treated me like one, let alone an equal.”

Uneasy murmurs broke out in the crowd, pokemon wondering what this could possibly mean for the situation as a whole, or if it could be believed. As Haru turned her head to get a better look at everyone’s reaction, it seemed like the only pokemon that might be unphased by this information were Umbra and Jhorlo. The two were watching Nip, each with an unreadable expression.

“Okay, okay, settle down!” Whisper raised her voice over the clamor, waiting for the crowd to grow quiet again. Quiet enough that everyone could hear, at least.

She turned her attention to Umbra. “Is this true? Are you two mates?”

“We were,” Umbra clarified. “Obviously that was considered null and void after what he did.”

“It should have been ended a long time ago!” Nip snapped. As he continued, his voice began to waver. “How many times? How many times did you throw me out of our den because you wanted nothing to do with me? How many times did I ask the elders to reconsider our arrangement because you were too proud to, before things took a turn for the worse?”

Nip turned his attention to the crowd. For a second, he locked eyes with Haru before addressing everyone else. “You want to know why I felt I was saving pokemon from suffering? Because of what I suffered through: seasons of struggling to better my place in the tribe before the pairing ceremony, only to be assigned a mate that hated me! Whenever I went for advice or help, saying that we failed to get along, I was told they would work things out. But they never did. And then? And then that’s not even the worst part!

“They wanted to know why we hadn’t produced an egg. They wanted proof we weren’t infertile. And if one of us was- if I was, I refused to lose everything I worked towards in such a humiliating way. So, I decided to lose everything on my own terms: by leaving. But not before preventing the next generation from suffering the way I did.”

Several pokemon murmured uneasily amongst themselves as Nip’s words hung in the air. Certainly, that explained a lot of his history, as well as the hostility between himself and Umbra. But was it enough reason to change how he would be judged? Even if it was an explanation for what he did to the tribe, it wasn’t an excuse. And it certainly did not excuse what he did to them.

Muse’s voice raised above the chatter. “There’s something I would like clarified, please.”

Most of the talking died away, pokemon turning their attention to the absol on the edge of the crowd. She shrank back nervously at the attention, but an encouraging pat from Shimmer helped her find her courage again.

“When you talk about how badly you and Umbra got along, why did you end up with her in the first place?”

“Yeah,” a diggersby from the back of the crowd said. “Why’d you guys even become mates if you hated each other so much?”

Nip scowled. “I thought I made that clear. Neither of us had a choice. Mate pairings are chosen by the tribe elders based on three things: egg compatibility, expected tribe standings, and personality. The first two have the most bearing, as the reason for choosing mates for pokemon was to ensure the healthiest offspring for the survival and wellbeing of the tribe. New mates are expected to produce at least one egg by their second warm season together. Do you understand what that means?”

“I don’t get it,” the flaffy bleated into their neighbors’ ear. “Seems overdramatic if you ask me.”

Haru took a guess, anxiety twisting her stomach into knots. “That you two were together for two years before you, er... left?’

Nip let out a grunt, shifting his bound arms uncomfortably. “More or less. Can you imagine what it’s like, spending so long being treated as inferior, only to be told that you’re expected to get along and produce offspring or else lose the spot in society you spent your adolescent years fighting to reach?”

No one had anything to say to that. At most, a couple of pokemon shifted uncomfortably.

Nip narrowed his eyes, took a deep breath, and put on his best pleading expression. “That’s why I’m begging you to let me go. I don’t want to stay around and cause any more trouble. I just want to leave and get a chance to actually live. Is there anything wrong with that?”

Not technically, Haru thought to herself, but just letting you go after everything you’ve done? How do we know you won’t just do the same thing to the next village you come across?

Fortunately, she didn’t have to come up with an answer, as Umbra spoke up in a sharp tone.

“Your reasons don’t change the fact that you committed crimes!”

Several other pokemon murmured in agreement, sending a ripple through the crowd as they discussed the matter. Anu and Whisper spoke together in hushed voices, then moved over to speak to Jhorlo. Vale and Romi both approached the group as well. Haru could not make out what they were saying with everyone else talking, but she could see that Vale in particular seemed displeased, a scowl on his face. Jhorlo looked perhaps a bit annoyed, but otherwise seemed as neutral as he had before.

Finally, however, the group broke apart. Anu stepped forward and raised a paw for silence. When things were quiet enough that he would be heard, he spoke.

“It is true that Nip has committed grave crimes. Not just against our community, but against another. It is my opinion that we cannot just let him go in good consciousness. That said, I personally would not feel comfortable releasing him into Umbra’s custody, with the murky knowledge we have of the situation as a whole. But it is not my decision to make. So as is tradition, we will open it up to the village to decide what to do.”

Whisper stepped forward next. “We have come up with four ideas. We can let him go, if that seems like the best solution. We can release him to Umbra and let his punishment be handled by his tribe. We don’t have the means to jail a pokemon long-term here, so instead we could contact the enforcers branch in Oltee Village and have them pick him up and decide what to do.”

She paused with a scowl. “Or… Due to the… situation we unearthed during this hearing, we’ve decided to offer one other option. Although I personally don’t care for this option, I will yield to the village if it is the majority. If you will it, and if he is willing, we can keep him here to undergo rehabilitation. He’d be paired with a guard at all times of the day and be locked up at night. During the day he would be expected to either work around the square to help with village improvements, or else go through education on how to be an upstanding citizen. He would only be released when he has shown through good behavior that he has changed.”

“Whisper and I will be abstaining from the vote,” Anu announced. “We also asked Umbra to not vote earlier, both because she’s not a member of the community and because she’s involved. Anyone else who feels uncomfortable deciding can also abstain. If there’s anyone who believes his story and is in favor of letting him go, please step forward now.”

Haru stood on her hind legs so that she could get a better look at the rest of the crowd. A couple pokemon exchanged awkward looks or hushed whispers, but none stepped forward. She looked back to Nip and noted that he’d shrank back, his ear twitching nervously, his pupils huge and round like saucers.

“No one? Very well. Let’s… move on to the next, then. Is there anyone in favor of turning him over to Umbra?”

More awkward glances were cast, and for a moment, it seemed like no one would step forward for this either. But then Vale stepped forward, the manetric’s snout scrunched up in a scowl.

“Oh, to heck with it. He shouldn’t be our responsibility, and who knows what the enforcers will decide to do. Yellow’s known for being a bit too forgiving for my tastes. I say let his peers decide what to do with him.”

A few others murmured in agreement. More pokemon stepped forward: the quagsire, the flaffy, and a vibrava, as well as Zylar - the cubone from the butcher shop - Romi, and Roselei. Jaques and Lotte stepped forward as well, the latter leaning against her brother’s shoulder to steady herself.

Anu carefully counted out the pokemon in his head, pointing to each one as he tallied them up. “That’s… nine in favor of releasing to Umbra. Let’s move on then. Those in favor of releasing him to the enforcers?”

Haru stepped forward, having already made up her mind. But as she glanced back, she realized that Shimmer, Muse, and Toshi – none of the people she knew best had stepped forward. Even her parents were hanging at the back of the crowd. She tilted her head, honestly surprised.

She wasn’t alone, though. Tor, Essra, and Roselei all stepped forward, as well as a pidove, a slurpuff, a mienshao, and a swallot.

“I don’t feel right releasing him to Umbra, with everything that has come to light,” Tor mumbled. “But I don’t feel safe leaving him around here.” A couple of the others murmured their agreements.

“We have none in favor of releasing him, nine in favor of releasing to Umbra, and… eight in favor of releasing him to the enforcers?”

Haru chanced a quick glance to Nip while the Lucario spoke. The sneasel appeared tense, hunched, and looked ready to bolt at the prospect of Umbra winning the vote. Wait, was he shaking?

“Finally, would anyone in favor of rehabilitation and community service step forward.”

Shimmer and Muse stepped forward immediately, followed shortly by Ruffle and Mandi, as well as a plusle, a buneary, a psyduck, a meowstic and a ribombee.

Toshi hung back on the edge of the crowd. He reached a paw out like he was going to step forward, but his expression was torn.

“Nine…” Anu brought a paw up to his face, his brow furrowed. “We have a tie then…”

“In the event of a tie,” Whisper began, raising a wing to place it on her mate’s shoulder. “We typically have the mayor break the tie. Jhorlo, do you have an opinion on the situation.”

The purugly stood up, a rumble in his throat. “Of course, I do,” he purred. “I believe I already talked about it with you, Whisper. I had already carefully considered the situation, and this new information does not change anything for me. If I must break a tie, then I vote to-”

“Wait!”

Everyone’s attention turned to the bidoof that made the outburst. Toshi waddled forward, his head held high with determination. “I’m sorry, I was struggling to decide what to vote for, or to vote at all. But I have to follow my heart, and my heart says to follow what I think Society Head Blue would say. If it’s okay, I’d like to cast my vote now.”

Anu and Whisper shared a look, then looked to Jhorlo. The purugly looked annoyed at the interruption but yielded.

“Very well,” Anu finally said. “You are a member of this community too, and you have a right to vote in our judgements. What is your decision?”

“You know Blue is a big part of my inspiration, of why I want to join the rescuers or the expedition society so bad. And I believe that… Blue would want to give someone a second chance to prove themselves. That’s why I’m voting for rehabilitation.”

The lucario blinked, taking a moment to digest the verbose explanation. “Well… We…”

Whisper stepped forward and interrupted him, her response blunt. “We could have done without the long-winded explanation. But very well.”

She continued, speaking in a louder voice. “That brings the vote for rehabilitation to ten. As such, the community has spoken, and the sneasel’s rehabilitation will begin tomorrow. So long as…” She paused, turning to address Nip. “Are you willing tolearn our ways and make an effort to be a better pokemon?”

“If the alternative is going with Umbra, I’ll do anything.”

“Very well.” Whisper turned back to the crowd. “If you would like to be involved in choosing tasks for him to work on, please meet me in the Guard’s Hut after this. Vale, would you take the sneasel back to his cell for now?”

The manetric huffed, shaking out his fur. "Fine. Don't blame me if things go downhill though. You all remember how I voted if that happens."

Whisper crossed her wings in front of her, giving Vale an unamused glare. "Now, Vale."

Vale lowered his head and complied, stepping forward to push Nip back towards the hut with his snout. "Come on now, I don't have all day!"

Nip paused and looked towards Toshi. He blinked at him once slowly, then allowed himself to be herded back into the hut.

Once he was out of sight, the crowd began to disperse, most pokemon leaving in groups of two or three, or else heading into the hut. Jaques and Lotte moved to speak with Jhorlo. Vale emerged a moment later and joined the two. Jaques left with Vale a moment later, speaking quietly, while Lotte and Jhorlo made a beeline towards Umbra.

Haru moved to approach her brother but was beaten there by Muse and Shimmer.

"That was really cool there Toshi, coming in there and deciding the vote at the last second!"

Toshi turned his face away sheepishly, rubbing at his face with a paw? "You think so? I mean, I was just trying to do what I thought was right…"

"Of course, I do! It's the type of decisiveness I expect out of my future mate!"

His face fell slightly. "Ha ha… yeah, sure… Could we maybe not talk about that right now though? This whole discussion we just had makes it feel really awkward at the moment."

Muse shifted her attention away from her charge and the uncomfortable bidoof and caught sight of Haru, locking eyes with her. "Ah, there you are."

Haru quickly closed the distance between them. Toshi and Shimmer turned their attention to her as well.

“Hey, Haruru, what gives?” Shimmer asked in an overly cheerful voice.

“What… gives?”

“Yeah, why didn’t you vote with us?”

Haru gave the kirlia a flat expression. “What, I can’t make my own decisions?”

“Of course you can,” Muse cut in. “I think what she means is… Shimmer wants to know why you’d vote to turn him over to strangers?”

“Because that’s the enforcer’s job? To deal with criminals?”

“I suppose that’s true,” Muse mumbled. “But… I would have thought that you, out of everyone, would have wanted to rehabilitate him? Considering you spent the most time with him out of everyone here.”

“Spent the most time- I spent… like… two days with him Muse. Total. Maybe a little more, but not much! And I don’t have time to run around worrying about him. I have more important things to do! I-”

Shimmer interrupted with a giggle. “I think Haru is just taking this personally!”

Excuse me?

“Yeah, you feel personally betrayed that you spent time explaining how things go around here, hoping to learn stuff from him, and then he went and did a crime. Isn’t that right?”

“No, it’s not!”

“You say that, but I’m not so sure!” Shimmer’s voice came out in a sing-song tone. She turned away from the group, gesturing to Muse.

“Anyways, I wanna get back to the villa before dark. Just think about it Haru, and I think you’ll find that I’m right. You know kirlia’s can sense emotion, don’t you?”

“You sure do a lousy job of it with Toshi!” Haru snapped.

“Sis, sis calm down. Just… let it go.”

Haru took a long, deep breath as Shimmer and Muse began to walk away. “Fine. Come on Toshi, you need to get back to the clinic. And I want to go home. I’m sore, tired, and now I’m angry too.”

“Look on the bright side though,” Toshi replied. “Now that Nip’s caught and everything’s been decided, things should go back to normal, right?” He paused, scrunching up his face. “Or… relatively normal at least.”

Haru closed her eyes, considering for a moment. “You know what, you’re right. I mean, things might be a little odd around here, with everyone keeping their eyes on Nip. But at least I’ll be able to get back to my normal schedule. No more running into dungeons, no more fighting, no more getting burned by angry birds.”

She shook out her fur, then nuzzled up against her brother. “Thanks for trying to help me feel better, bro. I know you tend to like adventure and shaking things up, so I appreciate it. C’mon, let’s get you back to Lecha’s.”

As they began to walk away, Haru glanced one last time back at the guard hut. As much as Toshi’s words helped her feel better, she couldn’t help but let her mind drift back to Shimmer’s words. Was she taking things personally? No, that was ridiculous.

...Wasn’t it?

No. It had to be ridiculous. There was absolutely no reason for her to take things personally, after all.

*​

If one were to follow the Gorbyss River from Theran Village downstream, they would eventually find themselves at the eastern coast. By coincidence they would also happen to find one of the oldest known settlements: Brinash Town. In years long past, it had been a tiny settlement of only a few dozen pokemon, but as the years went by, it grew to be one of the largest and most important cities in the land.

It also happened to be the location of the Expedition Society Headquarters.

Here, an arcanine made his way through the busy streets, rushing, yet taking great care not to mow down any of the other pokemon along the way. Several stalls called out in an attempt to catch his attention, hoping to sell wares to the obviously brave and powerful pokemon. Surely, he needed dungeneering equipment, right? If only he would stop here, they’d give him the best deal on orbs he could find in town. But he ignored every call, every offer.

He had more important matters to attend to.

Soon, a building familiar to him came into view. One of the few buildings in the area made of brick, it stood out amongst everything else nearby. For one thing, it was by far the largest building, and painted with vibrant colors to attract attention. But on top of that, a huge banner hung from the front, a design of a vaporeon’s face painted on it, with the words “expedition society” carefully painted underneath.

The arcanine carefully stepped around the teams of explorers making their way out of the building, narrowly dodging a litleo that burst out in front of his shinx and meowth partners, and passing a grumpy solosis and his overly-eager frillish partner as they made their way outside. Several pokemon milled about on the ground floor, most looking over the job or announcement board.

He ignored all of that; he hadn’t come looking for a job.

Instead, he made his way up a ramp at the back of the room to the second floor. The library was not his destination either, so he continued on to the third.

By this time of day, the live-in quarters were nearly silent, most pokemon having already left for their missions. He made his way down the hall, past the apprentice rooms and the normal rank rooms, until he came to a set of large double doors. Here, a pangoro blocked the way. She walked up to meet him in front of the door, a harsh frown on her face.

“Do you have business with Society Head Blue?”

The arcanine bowed his head. “Urgent business.”

“I’m sorry, you’ll have to come back later. Blue left for the Great Misty Ravine three days ago. Can you leave a message?”

The arcanine glanced to the left and then the right before leaning in. “Mago, listen. It’s me, Maneth. I’ve come with a message from Progne. If Blue isn’t here, then we need to talk.”

The pangoro’s eyes lit up with recognition, though she continued to frown. She pushed one of the doors open. “Of course, come on in.”

The arcanine passed the pangoro and entered the room. Blue certainly had not changed over the years; the room was in a way, both clean and cluttered. No trash or other filth could be seen in the room. And yet trinkets and baubles lined every available space.

A moment later, Maneth heard a click behind him as the pangoro closed the door behind the two of them.

Only then did Mago’s frown vanish, replaced by a coy smirk. “Hmph. If you came back after all these years, something must be going on. You can shed your disguise now; we’re all alone.”

Maneth let out a huff of air and turned his head. “Can’t be too careful in my position, you know? But if it would make you feel better, fine.” A second later, the arcanine seemed to melt away, leaving a smaller black and red beast in his place. The zoroark shook out his great mane, clutching a satchel close to his body.

“Let’s make this quick then, what are you here for?”

“Like I said before, Progne sent me. They received a distress call from Tinny about a week ago now. Someone - or something - is chasing him.”

The pangoro frowned and let out a grunt, stretching. She made her way to a shelf in the wall and bent down to pick up a piece of charcoal and some parchment. Though it took great effort to write with the small piece of charcoal due to how big her hands were in comparison, she began to jot down notes. “Something?”

“That’s just it,” Maneth grumbled. “Tinny couldn’t name his attackers. He said there was a honchkrow and a girafarig, but there were also other pokemon that he didn’t recognize.”

“How could Tinny not recognize one of Mew’s creations?” Mago asked incredulously.

“We don’t know! He had to cut the connection before we had a chance to get his location or a description. Progne asked me to see if Blue could mobilize the Society and Red his Guild, have them keep an eye out. But they also wanted to warn them to be careful. We don’t know what these pokemon are after.”

He paused to adjust the strap on his bag. “I came here first, but I’m headed south to Red’s guild next.”

“Progne could always contact us directly, you know. It would be faster.”

Maneth grumbled, scratching behind his ear. “Sure would make my job easier, but you know why they won’t do that.”

The pangoro let out a groan, setting aside the parchment and charcoal. “I know. It’s still a pain. I’ll get someone to let Blue know he had an urgent visitor.”

Maneth blinked and flashed a lopsided grin. “That’s a relief. Really. Anyways. I need to get going then. I have a lot of ground to cover.” He closed his eyes, concentrating, and the illusion of an arcanine filled his place once more.

“Listen, I know this is ironic coming from me but… may the original one’s favor shine on you all.”

Mago let out a single amused chuckle. “You’re right, that’s rich coming from you. But may it shine on you as well. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have an announcement to plan out.”
 

The Desert Cat

Bug Catcher
Chapter 9

Hey! It’s been a while since I read the previous chapter, so sorry in advance if I’ve forgotten things.

At the beginning of the trial, popular opinion seems to be strongly against Nip. I was expecting that we would get an at-least-somewhat sympathetic story to explain his behavior, since he seems to be intended as part of the main team. If he’d murdered the elder who put him with Umbra, or something like that, I think that we, and Therian Village, would understand.

Instead, he killed more eggs on the theory that they might have been unhappy someday. Out of all the things he could say, I think this is about the least likely to inspire sympathy. “Yes, I do indeed deal with all of my problems in life by killing poorly-guarded children”

I can understand people being reluctant to turn Nip over to Umbra, since she’s nuts too. I can understand them not wanting to kill Nip themselves, when there’s someone else to handle executions. I don’t know how we get from here, to a plurality of the village inviting him to stay.

I do like that Nip remains belligerent throughout. It seems to fit his personality.

Did Anu and Wanderer intentionally structure the vote to split the ‘execute’ voters? They seem like the last ones who should be trying to protect Nip. Do they know that Jhorlo is up to something?

Aww, Haru. Of course it’s personal, because you’re probably going to get stuck babysitting him.

I noted a few places where dialog tags were followed by a period and capital when they should have been a comma and lowercase if it’s not a name.

“I told you not to go back to the dungeon,” Lecha chided. “And what did you do? Go back to the dungeon. You have no one to blame but yourself.”

“You wouldn’t see one anyways,” Haru said. “My understanding is that the Enforcers Union are the only ones that handle executions these days. And those are only done behind closed doors.”

“You and me both,” Haru agreed. “Simmer, Muse, you two coming?”

“Relax,” Vale growled. “They’re just finishing up questioning the wildeners. They’ll bring the sneasel out when they’re done so he can make his claims and face judgement.”

“We already know he’s guilty!” shouted the flaffy from the back of the crowd. “Get on with it!”

“I don’t get it,” the flaffy bleated into their neighbors’ ear. “Seems overdramatic if you ask me.”

“I don’t feel right releasing him to Umbra, with everything that has come to light,” Tor mumbled. “But I don’t feel safe leaving him around here.”

“Of course, I do,” he purred. “I believe I already talked about it with you, Whisper.

Looks like autocorrect gave you an extra hyphen here
Shimmer had draped herself against the absol’s side, small pulses of healing energy passing from her hands-on occasion.

His feet?
The rope glowed with energy, dragging him backwards out of the hut as he tried to keep on feet.
Your ‘too’ wandered off to the end of the sentence.
“And we don’t have an Enforcer’s branch here. It would take far long for any to arrive. too

“And why exactly were you so keen on leaving so quickly, and from stealing – from stealing a child – from a village that had taken you in, saved your life and offered you shelter?”
There’s something wrong with your ‘from’s here, and there should be a comma after ‘life’. Maybe:
“And why exactly were you so keen on leaving so quickly, and stealing from – stealing a child from – a village that had taken you in, saved your life, and offered you shelter?”
Or
“And why exactly were you so keen on leaving so quickly, and stealing – stealing a child – from a village that had taken you in, saved your life, and offered you shelter?”

‘Good conscience’
“It is true that Nip has committed grave crimes. Not just against our community, but against another. It is my opinion that we cannot just let him go in good consciousness.
‘to learn’
“Are you willing tolearn our ways and make an effort to be a better pokemon?”

Extra ?
Toshi turned his face away sheepishly, rubbing at his face with a paw?

It’s obvious from the ‘sis’ that it’s Toshi speaking, but I think it should be specified here.
“Sis, sis calm down. Just… let it go.”

‘Had been’ and ‘grew’ don’t match here. They’re both past tense, but there are different kinds of past tense that I can’t remember the names of. “Had been…had grown” or “was…grew” would be better.
In years long past, it had been a tiny settlement of only a few dozen pokemon, but as the years went by, it grew to be one of the largest and most important cities in the land.

Hey, I see Team Ion.

This is interesting, we finally get to see some of the guild. It sounds like they’re having problems of their own. Sounds like there's some intrigue within the guild. I know Blue has been mentioned a few times, and Toshi just gave us a reminder, but do we know who Progne and Tinny are? Maybe they’ve been mentioned before. If not, a sentence or two of introduction wouldn’t hurt, here. Who are they and why does it matter?

This should probably be one sentence, with a comma after ‘room’
No trash or other filth could be seen in the room. And yet trinkets and baubles lined every available space.

Double behind
A moment later, Maneth heard a click behind him as the pangoro closed the door behind the two of them.

Not sure what this was supposed to be. Given the next line maybe “…the Society, and Red and his Guild”?
mobilize the Society and Red his Guild

This should be merged with the previous paragraph or tagged with a speaker. There’s no way to know which of them is saying it until Mago answers.
“Listen, I know this is ironic coming from me but… may the original one’s favor shine on you all.”
 
Last edited:

canisaries

voted most likely to be edgy
Location
the middle of nowhere
Pronouns
she/her
Hey there! I sure took my time getting to the second chapter, didn't I. Well, let's go.

If he strained his hearing,
Straining his senses,
ears straining for any sound of movement.
Hearing/senses are mentioned being strained in three successive paragraphs, which makes it stick out as repetitive.

and offered out the berries two berries.
Extra word here?

reminded the sneasel vaguely of woven spinnerak silk
The mon is named spinarak, but I'm unsure if this is actually intentional dialect.

quick affirming "mhm" sound
This could be just "mhm" and the meaning would be the same.

The aromatisse clucked her tounge.
*tongue

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
“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
his hair lying flat.
Encouraged
lowering his head.
The aromatisse
to get a better sound.
“Lecha!”
Missing line breaks in these paragraph changes.

---

Interesting dream sequence at the beginning. I'm guessing the story further on will show what it symbolizes, if it's even symbolic and not straight up a vision of some a real place.

This chapter felt pretty uneventful beside that, though. Nip wakes up and we get to know where he's from and why he's banged up, but all of this happens in the same place with a small group of characters, half of which are only minor. For roughly 4k words, it doesn't feel like a lot happening. There's plenty of worldbuilding, but it's conveyed mostly through dialogue, though we do get to see in practice how medicare works in this village.

If I'd read about Nip before (outside his brief bit in the prologue and being unconscious in the first chapter), it maybe wouldn't feel as slow as I'd be more engaged to him as a character, but here we only learn of him as a character now, and he doesn't seem to have a very strong personality that would make an instant impression. The most interesting thing about him currently is his tribal background, but hearing how far away he is from his tribe, it seems that we won't be seeing that tribe in action for a while... unless another character there will soon be introduced?

That tribe stuff sounds intriguing, though, I will say. The worldbuilding of cultures really feels like a strong point of this fic.

Your notes seem to indicate that a plot will soon pick up, so I will keep reading. Hopefully not as sluggishly as before. :p
 
Bonus 1

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partner
sneasel-nip
@The Desert Cat
Good to see you here! Thanks for pointing out those grammar issues. I'll spend some time fixing them sometime soon.

I can understand people being reluctant to turn Nip over to Umbra, since she’s nuts too. I can understand them not wanting to kill Nip themselves, when there’s someone else to handle executions. I don’t know how we get from here, to a plurality of the village inviting him to stay.
Ah, this is something I hope to cover in more detail at some point, but there were two factors at play here other than what you already pointed out: the first is that the village hasn't had something this serious in a very long time, and so some pokemon might be a bit hesitant to do something as big as an execution. The second, which hasn't really come up at all but I really should mention soon (and probably should have been mentioned within the chapter), is that the village is independent of the Enforcers, which leaves them free to carry out sentences how they want. They might be a bit hesitant to invite them in to deal with their problems.

Did Anu and Wanderer intentionally structure the vote to split the ‘execute’ voters? They seem like the last ones who should be trying to protect Nip. Do they know that Jhorlo is up to something?
Well, I can tell you that whisper sure didn't, though they were both hesitant to just turn him over to Umbra. I'm hoping to explore their thoughts in more detail sometime in the near future.

Hey, I see Team Ion.
Heh, that was a fun cameo. Most of the unnamed characters in this section, besides Ion, were old ocs of mine from back around 2011/2012. Also, the fact that Maneth was disguised as an Arcanine was meant to be a very loose shoutout to your fic characters.

Sounds like there's some intrigue within the guild. I know Blue has been mentioned a few times, and Toshi just gave us a reminder, but do we know who Progne and Tinny are? Maybe they’ve been mentioned before. If not, a sentence or two of introduction wouldn’t hurt, here. Who are they and why does it matter?
Ah, yeah, that was actually intentional, for reasons that might be a more obvious later. We'll see more of them a few chapters down the road. Until then, I'll leave you with this: there's hints in the name and their name and the fact that they could communicate telepathically. But beyond that, you'll have to wait and see! Thanks for the feedback.

@canisaries
I think I fixed all the linebreak issues. I'll work on cleaning up everything else later. Thanks for pointing those out.

If I'd read about Nip before (outside his brief bit in the prologue and being unconscious in the first chapter), it maybe wouldn't feel as slow as I'd be more engaged to him as a character, but here we only learn of him as a character now, and he doesn't seem to have a very strong personality that would make an instant impression. The most interesting thing about him currently is his tribal background, but hearing how far away he is from his tribe, it seems that we won't be seeing that tribe in action for a while... unless another character there will soon be introduced?
Hm... I see where you're coming from. I don't want to say too much right now due to spoilers, but I will say that there's a reason we don't see Nip beforehand that will come to light over the next few chapters. Though what you said does make me wonder if I could have expounded on it a bit more here.

Regardless, I'm glad to hear that you're enjoying my worldbuilding, and I look forward to hearing more from you down the line.

We're nearly caught up with off-site chapters now! But before we delve any deeper into the main story, I'm going to sidestep and post the first of what will hopefully be many bonus episodes. These aren't going to be required to understand the main story of Places We Call Home, but some of them are more tightly tied to the plot than others, and I highly recommend reading those when they come out. If a bonus episode is particularly important, I'll note it as such in the forward of that episode.

This one, however, is not very tied in, and mostly just serves as extra information about the world, as well as the character Ruffle. This was written for a prompt in a server I'm a part of, and I hope you enjoy!


Bonus Episode 1:
Ruffle
Cycle of Rejection

There were a lot of things that Ruffle liked about living in Theran Village. It was quiet and peaceful, the pokemon were friendly, and she and her wife, Roselei, had no trouble making a living for themselves. As it was, there were few other places in the world she would want to be.

But as she busied herself packing, the bellossom reminded herself that there were some things she preferred to keep secret from the rest of the village.

Her room was dark, only a tiny sliver of light peeking through the cloth-covered entryway. Despite that, Ruffle scurried around in the dark, her leaves rustling as she rushed about, throwing things together in a frenzy. Yet, she could barely tell which berries she was grabbing, or if she’d picked up blast seeds or sleep seeds. Oh, this simply wouldn’t do.

So, she hurried out into the harsh summer light, blinking for a moment as she tried to locate Roselei.

“Dear, I’m taking the tarp down!”

The bellossom’s call was unanswered, her roserade partner preoccupied by her work tending to the berry fields. Carefully, she climbed a ramp to the roof of their humble abode and pulled away the tarp covering that protected it from the elements.

It also happened to reveal a moderately sized hole. Satisfied, she scurried back down the roof and returned inside. Now the room was better lit, sunlight filtering down the hole in the roof. The bellossom paused for a moment, letting her body bask in the warm light.

A glint in the corner of her eye caught her attention, however. Turning her head, she caught sight of the small, golden ring resting above her shrine, glimmering in the sunlight. She shuffled over and reached up to run a hand along its smooth surface before reaching a bit higher to take it down.

She’d need this for later.

Humming, she turned and placed the ring into a small, cloth bag, securing it within an inner pocket. Now that she could see, she hurried her preparations along, digging a pecha and a cheri berry from their stores to add it to the two oran and sitrus berries already in the outer pockets. Then she went back for a pair of heal seeds and a sleep seed. She paused, hovering over the bag with an apprehensive look on her face, then turned back to pick up a single, tightly rolled-up blanket before closing it up and pulling the strings taunt.

As one last check, she patted the outer pockets, feeling the weight and jingle of coins, before giving a satisfied hum and slinging the strap across her shoulder.

She stepped out of the building, taking a moment to look over the rolling fields of berries, squinting until she found the roserade again.

She took a deep breath and shouted, “Roselei! Hey, aren’t you going to come say goodbye?”

“Hm?” The roserade looked up from her work, retracting the vine she’d been using to pluck berries from a bush. “Oh, is it that time already, Ruffle?”

“The eclipse is in a week, dear,” Ruffle gently reminded the roserade. “I need to leave now if I’m going to make it in time.”

Roselei sighed before putting a smile on her face. “I know, I know. I’m just going to miss you and worry about you. Make sure you send a message through psychic courier to let me know you arrived safely.”

“Hey, no need to worry.” Ruffle reached forward to brush a nubby hand along one of Roselei’s flowers. “I’ll just be there for a couple days for the eclipse celebration, and then head right back before you know it!”

She paused, closing her eyes and soaking up the sun - and her lover’s touch - for just a few seconds longer. “Oh, I better get going. Don’t want to keep the cart waiting. Can’t really afford to travel on my own, you know.”

“Of course.” Roselei hesitantly pulled back, before adding in a whisper, “travel safe, and may Hoopa grant you insight on your journey.”

*​

Crescent Shores Beach was a much busier town than the sleepy little village Ruffle made her home in now. Unlike the charming, rustic huts that dotted the land around Theran’s center, the houses here were much more carefully planned, lined up in near-perfect rows along paved streets and divided up by sizes.

As the mudsdale-drawn cart made its way through the residential district and towards the center of town, Ruffle shifted the bag on her back and walked over to the edge, squeezing between other passengers to peer over at the pokemon passing by, heading to and from their jobs in the mid-morning rush. As she looked ahead to the lower-level commercial district, she could see a tangled cluster of larger buildings before the landscape swept out to the actual beach.

Somewhere in that tangle, she was supposed to get instructions for where to head next.

Hopping down and back away from the edge of the cart, she reached back into one of her side pockets, pulling out an opened, blank envelope to look it over, carefully re-reading the letter within.

Dearest Disciples

As you may already know, we are expecting an eclipse shortly after the fifth full moon of the year. And as our doctrine dictates, all who are able are to meet on the day of the eclipse, to renew their vows to our dearest Hoopa.

Estimates say that the eclipse will be best viewed from Seashoal Village this year, but we do not wish to raise trouble with the locals, nor to cause trouble by having all of us trying to cross the ocean at the same time. As such, we have begun making arrangements for private transportation to the far side of the island. If you are coming, please gather at White Sands Warehouse on the western side of Crescent Shore Beach’s commercial district, where we will give you more information.

Cordially yours,

Grand Master of Ceremonies

As she read through the paper, memorizing the instructions to heart, Ruffle couldn’t help but dwell on negative thoughts, of fear of how other villagers would react, were she to tell them about this. About Hoopa.

As she dwelled on her concerns, Ruffle felt something prickle uncomfortably in the back of her mind. She turned her head, trying to hide her worried expression, and caught sight of a hattrem staring at her. Before she could say anything though, the hattrem quickly looked away, and the uncomfortable prickling stopped.

Slightly unnerved, Ruffle turned her attention back towards the buildings coming closer and closer, trying to place where she’d felt this feeling before. And upon failing that, she let her mind drift, thinking about home.

*​

The business district was even bigger than Ruffle remembered. After disembarking her ride with a polite thanks, she’d began to make her way down the wide streets, keeping to the side to avoid being trampled by larger pokemon passing by. An onix slithered by down the center, pushing a huge box of produce on wheels back towards the edge of town. Silently, she thanked herself for settling somewhere so much smaller.

With the buildings arching high overhead, and the midday sun high in the sky as well, it was hard to get a good grasp of what direction she was going. But she could assume the onix had come from some warehouse and used that as a starting point in her search.

Slowly, the flow of pokemon around her thinned out, most heading away from the direction she was walking. Soon the streets became more dilapidated, the buildings shifting from bright and colorful businesses to dank and dingy, run down warehouses. From that alone, she suspected she was headed in the right direction.

She slowed down, taking the time to look at signs as she walked in hopes of spotting White Sands. She made her way down one row of warehouses, then turned and went up another. But thus far, she’d had no luck.

On her third row, something was off.

The air seemed just a bit different here, she realized, and it put her on edge. Walking even slower, she took the time to look around, taking greater care to watch her surroundings. But nothing jumped out at her. Soon, she found herself standing in front of an alley between two buildings, where she paused to peer down into the darkness, frowning. Still, nothing seemed to be there.

She wasn’t quite satisfied with her search. But, unwilling to duck into some place she wasn’t supposed to be, she turned her back and began to walk away.

But before she could take more than a step, something dropped from above and grabbed hold of her, hot pink fingers digging into her skin. . She let out a surprised squeal, struggling as she was pulled back into the shadowy alley.

“Now!” her assailant called.

In a panic, a flurry of petals burst from her flowers and from under her grass skirt as she tried to summon a petal blizzard. She struggled, trying to pull free during the distraction. Her attacker grunted, but only tightened their grip.

Something conked her in the back of her head, and the last thing Ruffle saw before blacking out was a blurry flash of blue and pink.

*​

“Don’t you think this is a bit cruel?”

Us, the cruel ones? I think all that time you’ve been spending in the library is making you soft.”

“Shh-shh she’s stirring!”

Ruffle woke to a musty smell and a dull ache in the back of her head. This certainly wasn’t home. She groaned and shifted, trying to remember what she’d last been doing, and quickly found that she couldn’t move her arms. In a panic, her eyes snapped open.

She was in a large, dimly lit room. Windows near the ceiling provided just a little light, letting her see the tops of tall shelves with boxes on them not too far away. But the sun had nearly set, leaving only a dim orange glow in the building. As she tried to make sense of her situation, she remembered what she had been doing before, and realized that her pack was gone.

Right. She’d been attacked. And knocked out.

Her heart fluttered in a panic as she tried to walk, but she quickly realized that she’d been tied to a pipe against the wall, the rope acting as a short tether.

Against her better judgement, she shouted out, “who’s there? What’s the meaning of this?”

“What’s the meaning of this?” A voice answered in a mocking tone. “I’m the one that’s going to ask the questions around here. And I want to know what the meaning of this is.”

Something clattered to the floor in front of her. Ruffle caught a glint of gold in the light and realized that it had to be her Hoopa ring.

Narrowing her eyes, she refused to answer, instead looking up into the darkness. “That’s none of your business, now is it? You think you can just go and attack strangers, rummage through their belongings, and expect them to listen to your stupid demands? You have no right to ask questions of me!

Apparently, her captor wasn’t prepared for an answer like that. There was a moment of silence, then she heard murmurings of three different pokemon.

“What do we do, boss? She’s supposed to answer our questions!”

“Relax, relax, it’ll all be fine.”

“I told you handling it like this was a bad idea. Come on now.”

She saw a small burst of flame fly through the air. A second later, a small, enclosed fire burst to life, illuminating her captors.

Before Ruffle stood three unfamiliar pokemon.

Well, two, technically. One of them, she recognized as the hattrem she’d seen watching her on the cart. The second pokemon was a salandit, her eyes glinting in the moonlight. The third pokemon she was less familiar with, but recognized as a morgrem after some thought.

Ruffle stared at the trio blankly for a moment, and they stared right back. But finally, the salandit nudged the morgrem in the side. “Psst, Creek, show her the badge.”

The morgrem, Creek, looked to the salandit with a dumbfounded expression for a moment before catching on. “Oh, I get it. Right. Good idea as always, boss.” He reached down into the bag slung across his shoulder, fumbling, until he retrieved a small object from the bag and held it out. In his hand was a round, bronze-colored badge, an indented bolt of lightning at the center.

The salandit cleared her throat. “We’re Team Fey-Wrath of the Enforcers, and you will be answering our questions.”

Staring down at the badge for a moment, Ruffle’s expression turned uncertain. It… did look like the badge of one of the teams of peacekeepers, but if she knew how their rankings worked, these guys were a newbie team at best. Or else they’d stolen the badge off one and were running some form of racketeering operation.

With her misgivings in mind, her response was not friendly. “Didn’t know the enforcers had taken to harassing random civilians in the street,” she spat, trying to shift into a more comfortable position.

“Oh, but you’re no ordinary civilian,” the salandit hissed, slinking forward before holding the ring up in the air, inspecting it. “Joy, here-” she paused as she gestured to the hattrem “-happened to pick up on your emotions and took a little listen in your brain, and just so happened to hear you thinking about a meeting of Hoopa zealots. Now, everyone can follow whatever legends they want, of course. But a meeting of followers of a chaos god can’t mean anything good.”

“That’s…” Ruffle paused, her expression turning perplexed. “That’s what this is about?” There were things that she kept secret from most people. And this was why; not everyone was understanding of her choices.

And yet, despite the situation, and despite the fact that she should be afraid, she stared for a moment before snickering. Then her snickers turned to full-on laughter. “Oh, my goodness, you can’t be serious right now! You, a bunch of rookie enforcers, thought you had the right to dig into my brain, made an assumption based on what I was thinking about, and then kidnapped me in hopes that I’d lead you to everyone else so you could harass them too? That’s hilarious. Now, seriously. Untie me and give me my stuff back, or I’ll have to report you to your superiors.”

Creek hesitated, looking over to his two teammates. “That wouldn’t be a problem, right? I know this isn’t the best way to go about things, but it’s got to be better letting a dangerous Hoopa follower wander the streets, right? We aren’t gonna get in trouble with the big boss-mon for this. Right, Venna?”

The salandit hesitated in turn. “Well… not if we prove it was for good cause. So…” She whirled back around to face Ruffle. “So why don’t you go ahead and confess already!”

“Confess to what? I’ve done nothing wrong!”

“Don’t think she’ll need to,” Joy called from behind. “Look what I found. She was reading this earlier, back on the cart.”

As Ruffle looked up, she caught sight of the piece of parchment the hattrem was waving around. “That’s-”

“Instructions as to where your little group is meeting?”

Venna smirked, her tongue flicking out before she raced over. “Nice work, Joy.” The salandit reached up to grab the parchment and unfolded it, eyes quickly scanning the page. “Let’s move out, you two, we got a cult ritual to crash! And you!” Once again, she whipped back to face Ruffle, spitting out just a couple embers as a warning, the hot flecks fizzling out on the ground. “Stay put. We’ll come back for you when we’re done and take you over to the local enforcers branch so we can figure out what to do with you.”

“You’re making a mistake!” Ruffle shouted, trying to summon up a burst of petals, but found her attack fizzled out before getting anywhere near what it was supposed to be.

“We stuffed a ban seed down your throat,” Joy announced quietly, watching her attempts. “Don’t worry, it’ll wear off eventually, but by then we should have you back at the station. Just try to relax dear, your anger is giving me a headache.”

My anger giving you a headache?” Ruffle shouted, tugging at her bonds. “You three are accusing me of something without reason! How dare you call yourself enforcers!”

Venna scoffed. “That’s pretty rich, coming from you. Try to stay calm and don’t hurt yourself. Or not. I don’t care. We’ll be back soon enough. Busting this open should be enough to move us up a rank for sure!”

With that, she paused for a second to put out the flames, then turned and trotted off, the two fairy-types following behind her, leaving Ruffle in near darkness.

Ruffle sat still for a few moments, stewing in silence. Guilt ate at her as well, leaving her tense and uneasy. She had been careless, and now other pokemon might get hurt because of her.

Not that she was willing to go down without a fight. She took a long, shaky breath to calm her nerves, then closed her eyes. The flowers on her head started to glow, taking in light as she charged a solar beam. She didn’t yet know how she was going to use that to escape, but she was certain she’d find a way.

“Er, um… please don’t do that, miss. I don’t think the building owners would appreciate it if you destroyed any of their stock. “

Ruffle let out a yelp, caught off guard by the new, uncomfortably grating voice. She whipped around, looking for the source, and felt something tug behind her. Turning her head, she caught sight of ghostly, cloth hands trying to undo the ropes binding her. The banette - half of his intangible body still hanging out through the wall - swore as he fumbled with the knots.

Finally, he gave up on just untying them, looping his fingers through a couple of notes. “Now hold still, don’t want to get you with this.”

Turning her body slightly so she could glance back, Ruffle watched as shadow coalesced around the banette’s fingers before he ripped them away, severing the ropes bonds as he did so. Slowly, she climbed to her feet, dusting her leaf skirt as she did so. “Um… Thanks…”

“Kee,” he responded, offering out a draped hand. “Bodyguard for hire, though I’m currently contracted out, so don’t go asking. Now come on, gather up your things and let’s get out of here; my charge is eager to know that you’re alright.”

For a second, Ruffle stared. Then she moved to collect her bag. Fortunately, none of her items had been scattered, though the trio of enforcers had taken both her letter and her ring with them.

“The local enforcers aren’t nicest branch around, but this is low even for them,” Kee grumbled, surveying the scene with disgust. “We’ll escort you to the local branch, if you want to write a report.”

“Thanks…” Ruffle replied slowly. “Though… I kind of need to head to my meeting first and let them know what’s going on.”

“Ah, the ‘Hoopa’ meeting that they were talking about, I assume? I’ll see if my charge is willing.”

The two made their way out of the building quietly, taking care to listen for the trio of enforcers, in case they were still hanging around. Once they made it outside without incident, the banette turned and floated ahead towards the far side of the warehouse, disappearing around the corner. Ruffle, after a second of hesitation, followed.

“Hey, Gan, you still here? I’m back.”

From behind a pile of crates, Ruffle heard the pitter-patter of feet. A second later, a piplup waddled into view, clutching a small satchel tightly to his side.

“Everything went well, I assume?” the piplup asked.

“Yeah. Just a couple of overzealous newbie enforcers,” Kee replied, waving a hand dismissively. “Didn’t like my odds though so I waited for them to leave before breaking her out. She wants to know if we’ll take her over to her meeting so that she can warn them about any trouble these guys might cause.”

Gan took a second to look up at the sky. “Well, if it’s not too far, I don’t see why not.” He held out a fin towards Ruffle. “You may call me Gan, I’m an apprentice with the local merchantry, learning how to keep the local docks organized. I assume you’ve already been introduced to my associate and bodyguard, Kee?”

“Ah, yes, thank you, Gan.” Ruffle took a little bow. “My name is Ruffle, I’m actually a berry farmer and merchant from Theran Village, if you’ve heard of us. We’re a tiny little village at the base of Mount Domo.”

Gan’s face lit up. “Oh, I have heard of it! In fact, I’ve heard that your berries are simply divine. It’s a pleasure to meet you. Now, where were we headed, exactly?”

“Ah, right.” Ruffle began to reach for her bag, and then remembered that the letter with directions had been taken by the trio of enforcers. “I believe it was… Beach Sands Warehouse… no, er… White Beach Warehouse? Something like that.”

“White Sands?” Gan suggested.

“Yeah, that’s it!”

"Well, that's not all that far out of our way, so I don't see why not. What do you say, Kee?"

The banette brought his arms together, letting the fabric hang in front of him. "I say you should ask what she's doing there first before just up and offering. I mean, I already know what she's doing there, but I’m not letting you go into a situation without knowing the whole story.”

Gan waved a flipper dismissively. "I'm sure it's all fine. You worry too much! She's a fellow merchant, after all."

For just a second, Ruffle hesitated. How would these two react? Would they react as poorly as the enforcers? Once again, she was reminded of why she kept these things secret.

Then again, she was out in the open now. If things went bad, she'd have a chance to get away. So, she slowly let out a breath and began to explain the situation. "No, the banette’s right. You have a right to know.” A pause. “Well... See, I'm... You two know about the eclipse coming up in a couple days, right?"

She waited for sounds or motions of agreement before continuing. "I'm... I'm a follower of Hoopa, and for us, the day of a solar eclipse like this is an important day where we're supposed to come together and renew our vows. Remind ourselves of what things we value. I was headed there when I was... accosted. And I'm worried those three might start something and that someone might get hurt... or worse."

Kee and Gan shared a look. Kee stared at the piplup inquisitively, waiting for instructions, while Gan's expression was unreadable. After a tense moment of waiting, however, the piplup turned his head to give her a friendly look. "Well, why didn't you say so. Some of my dad's workers are over there. I'd be happy to help out. Build friendly relations and what not."

Ruffle let out a breath she hadn't realized she had been holding. "Oh, thank you two so much. I hate to be a burden on you, so I appreciate what you're doing."

"Think of it as a favor," Gan insisted, turning to walk past Ruffle and Kee. "Now come on, the warehouse is this way."

*​

The three walked quickly in near silence, their pace urgent. Gan took the lead, showing the way. Ruffle walked just a few paces behind him, keeping her bag close and her eyes peeled for danger. Kee floated to their side, occasionally dashing ahead at an intersection to be certain everything was safe.

Though it felt like a long trip, in truth it took them perhaps ten minutes to arrive, the sun slowly setting behind them. Soon, they found themselves in front of an innocuous, brick building, a sandy-colored sign in the front announcing it as White Sands Warehouse. From a distance, nothing seemed amiss, and Ruffle was relieved to see no sign of the enforcers team. But as they drew close, she could hear loud, angry voices shouting from inside the open door. Without thought, she rushed ahead of her escorts, racing into the building.

Inside the entry lobby, she spotted the trio of enforcers accosting the door guard: a lone combusken, standing in front of the wide doorway with narrowed eyes.

"I already told ya," the combusken growled. "I ain’t allowed to let anyone in if they're not on the list, till they get approval from the Grand Master. My associate went to go look for 'em already for you. So, you're just gonna have to sit and wait.”

Creek grumbled, and whipped his head around, stomping off just a few feet with his eyes closed while Venna tried to reason with the guard.

The sound of footsteps rushing towards the door made Creek open his eyes, just in time to see Kee and Gan rushing into the doorway, where Ruffle already stood with an angry expression on her face.

"Uh... boss?" Creek called out without taking his eyes off the trio. "We got company."

Venna and Joy turned away from the combusken, their eyes bulging as they caught sight of Ruffle. The salandit cried out, "you... how did you get here?"

Ruffle ignored their question. "You, guard! My name's Ruffle. I was invited and should be on the list. These three enforcers stole my ring and my letter to try and get in because they think we're going to cause trouble. You need to let everyone inside-" She cut off with a pained cry as a spattering of embers landed on her leaves, threatening to send them up in flames.

Venna scampered forward, attempting to cut her off, but a thin jet of bubbles from Piplup knocked her off-course.

"Kee! Defensive maneuvers!" Gan announced. The banette rushed forward to stand protectively in front of him. his hands enveloped in purple shadows as he waited for any of the other pokemon to make a move.

The combusken let out a loud, pained squawk as Joy turned on him and brought her hands together, releasing a beam of bright, multicolored energy in his direction, catching him squarely in the chest. He was knocked sprawling back several feet. As she began to approach, however, he sprang back up and dashed for something just to the side of the doorway. With a shudder, a segmented metal door began to fall.

"Don't worry!" he shouted. "I'll go get help. Just hold on!"

Venna turned to look back at the sound and let out an alarmed call. "No! Don't let him get away!" But before she could give chase, she was hit with a blast of energy from behind, sent flailing through the air and landing on the ground hard.

"That's for kidnapping me!" Ruffle announced, the light from her flowers beginning to fade. With a crash, the door slammed shut, separating the fighting pokemon from the rest of the building.

"Sorry about dragging you two into this," Ruffle said to her two companions, already charging up another beam.

"No need to apologize," Gan called back. "I've been wanting a good skirmish for a while!" He clapped his flippers together before shooting water into the air, sending a misty spattering all around the room, dampening the area. "What about you, Kee, having fun yet?"

The banette grunted in response. "Less talking, more fighting." Without waiting for his two teammates to ready themselves or for the two opposing pokemon to recover, he charged, heading directly for the hattrem. With one quick swipe, he struck her across the face with his prepared shadow claw attack.

Joy let out a cry, stumbling back several feet, bringing her hands up to cover her face. She tried to shoot off another psybeam, but it went off-course, uselessly striking the ceiling, sending a spray of bits of stone and dust down around the fighting party.

While Kee dealt with the hattrem, Venna tried shooting another gout of embers in Ruffle's direction. But with the protective coating of water, the flames did significantly less damage to the bellossom's plant matter. Ruffle responded by shooting at her with another solar beam, the bright green-yellow light just barely grazing the salandit. She turned it slightly, managing to catch Creek off-guard. He stumbled back a few feet from the blow, trying to stay upright.

"Who uses water sport?" the salandit complained as she shifted strategies. With speed that caught Ruffle off-guard, Venna slithered forward, racing towards her. She tried to spring out of the way but was too slow and let out a cry as she felt the salandit's fangs sink down into her shoulder.

Instinctively, she let out a puff of spores, the yellow cloud surrounding both her and the salandit as she thrashed and tried to break free of the bite. Even as she did, she could feel her strength draining and realized with horror that the salandit managed to inject venom into her body.

Fortunately, the puff of spores was enough to loosen Venna’s grip, giving Gan a chance to blast her off with a thick, concentrated stream of sticky bubbles. From the wound oozed a nasty mix of purple venom and a greenish, sap-like fluid. As soon as she was free, she struggled to reach into her bag, the poison quickly taking its toll on her. “C-Cover me!” she shouted back to Gan.

The piplup took up a defensive stance behind her, shooting beams of bubbles as Venna and Creek tried to get in close again or else intercepting gunky wads of poison shot in Ruffle’s direction. At the very least, the stun spores had taken their toll out on Venna slowing both her movements and her attacks.

There! Ruffle’s hand closed around the soft, fuzzy flesh of a pecha berry. She pulled it free and stuffed the whole thing in her mouth as quickly as possible, waiting with bated breath for the berry to take its effect.

A cry of pain from Joy turned Ruffle’s attention away for just a split second, long enough to see the scraped and bruised hattrem fall to Kee’s shadow claw attack. The banette immediately whirled around, turning on Creek next.

“Wait! Wait!” the morgrem cried out, holding his hands out in front of him before dropping to his knees, stealing glances at his injured teamate. “I give in I give in don’t attack!”

The action in the room slowed to a standstill. Venna paused and hesitantly turned back to look at Creek. The glow from Ruffle’s flowers as she prepared another solar beam slowly began to fade. A stream of bubbles died in Gan’s throat. Joy carefully peeled herself off the ground.

Kee approached the morgrem cautiously, floating just a few feet in front of him. “Is that all? Are all you enforcers really this cowardly? Attacking random pokemon and then begging forgiveness when things get tough? No wonder you have a poor reputation around here.”

Several things happened in an instant.

The hair hanging down Creek’s back, seemingly with a mind of its own, branched out in tendrils and struck at the banette, piercing through his cloth-like body around the shoulder. A shadowy mist escaped the wound as he stumbled back in shock.

Creek sneered, tackling the banette with glimmers of fairy-type energy surrounding him. “Suckers.”

Venna shot another glob of poison, this time aiming at Gan. Still in shock from Creek’s surprise attack, the piplup failed to dodge out of the way in time, taking the glob of poison directly to the face. He cried out and stumbled, trying to clear his vision.

Ruffle had little time to prepare for Joy’s attack, the hattrem less tired out than she initially seemed. She attempted to slow her down with a puff of spores, just as she had done with Venna, but it wasn’t enough. Before she could move out of the way, she was battered to the ground with a single swing of Joy’s thick braids.

“That’ll teach them to mess with us!” Venna called out. “Alright team, everyone take offensive measures, aim for the knock-out blow!”

Desperate to protect herself, Ruffle attempted once again to summon forth a flurry of petals. It served as enough of a distraction to allow her to climb to her feet, but just like before, they dissipated before she had a chance to do anything with it, forcing her to just focus on dodging as Joy drove her back towards a corner. She ducked behind a small stool, buying her just enough time to drop a cloud of spores in hopes of slowing the hattrem down before having to dodge out of the way again..

Kee fell back, dodging out of the way of another strike from Creek as he ran to intercept Venna as she rushed towards Gan. The salandit rolled out of the way of an errant stream of bubbles, then rushed forward again. In a desperate attempt to keep her away, Gan lashed out with his flippers before going in to try and peck at her eyes. He received a spattering of embers to his face for his trouble and let out a pained screech.

What is going on in here?”

At once, the struggles of the six pokemon screeched to a halt. Slowly everyone turned their attention to the entrance, where two pokemon stood. The first was a stern looking dewott, her hands reaching down for the shells resting on her thighs with eyes narrowed. The second was a proud and dangerous looking jolteon; she had made no aggressive movements, yet the air felt oppressive just being around her.

Before anyone could explain why they were battling in the middle of the lobby, the warehouse door that had been shut rattled and began to rise. Before it was even half-way up, the combusken from before came rushing through, followed closely behind by a rather calm xatu.

Nobody dared to move as the jolteon gracefully made her way inside, standing in the center of the room. “Well, is anyone going to answer? Or is Dew going to have to take you in for questioning?”

“With all due respect,” Kee began, bringing a hand up to try and hold shut his punctured shoulder, “would you happened to be Enforcer Yellow?”

The jolteon blinked. “I am.”

The air seemed to grow even more oppressive as everyone stared at Yellow, realizing that they were standing in the presence of one of the most powerful pokemon in all the known lands.

The silence did not last long, as Dew stepped forward. “What I’d like to know,” the dewott began, turning her head to stare directly at Venna, “is what one of my rookie teams is doing here, trashing a building?”

The salandit’s pupils widened in alarm. “Miss Dew! I know this probably looks bad, but I swear it’s for good reason! See, my team uncovered a plot going on here. There’s a cult meeting here in this warehouse, getting ready to go invade Seashoal Village!

“Really now?” Yellow asked, her voice an unnatural calm that made everyone uneasy. “What makes you so certain of that?”

“W-well…”

“I-it’s all in the bellossom’s letter!” Creek stuttered, pointing a finger towards Ruffle. “It said something about sneaking Hoopa followers onto the island!”

At this, the xatu stepped forward, training his unwavering stare on the jolteon. “If I may,” he began, “I believe I can explain the situation.”

Dew stepped forward to stand next to Yellow, her fingers pulling away from her weapons, though still staying at her side ready to grab at a moment’s notice. “Please, do.”

“My name is Sol. I serve as both seer and grandmaster for this region of Hoopa followers, watching the celestial bodies to know what times we should meet. While it is true that we followers of Hoopa arranged to meet here, there is no foul play involved at all. In fact, we were given explicit permission to gather from the building’s owner.”

“Ah, that would be Sir Brine, right?” Gan interrupted, only to shrink back as Yellow and Dew shot him an annoyed glare.

“Sorry, so sorry! My apologies. I’ll be quiet now.”

Yellow shook out her fur, a couple sparks flying off as she relaxed. “So, you have permission to gather, but why have you gathered?”

The xatu closed his eyes. “Mmm… I have foreseen an eclipse in the coming days. As you may know, we see these days as a symbol of Hoopa’s power, so we gather somewhere where it is the strongest and renew our vows.”

“Vows of evil!” Joy blurted out.

“Evil?” Ruffle repeated, her eyes narrowing, her frustration shining through. “Despite what you may have been told, Hoopa is not an inherently evil pokemon. Just as much as they can be seen as the embodiment of chaos and greed, they can also represent ambition. Striving for more than this life gives you. I would have been happy to explain that, but instead of listening, you left me tied up in some warehouse under the assumption that I was evil!

Dew turned back to look at Venna, eyes narrowed. “Is this true?”

The salandit withered under her superior’s glare, stumbling a couple steps back. “W-well, we, uh…”

Yellow let out a long breath, closing her eyes. “I’ve heard enough. Dew, get your rookies back to their station and give them a long talk about jumping to conclusions-”

“-and poking around in other mon’s heads without permission!” Ruffle interrupted.

The jolteon shot her an annoyed look. “And that.” She turned to Sol next. “I apologize for any trouble my young associates have caused you. If there’s anything within reason we can do for you, I’ll see to it.”

“Yeah, how about you compensate me for my medical bills,” Kee grumbled, pulling the rip in his cloth a little tighter.

Surprising everyone, Yellow let out a rumbling chuckle. “I think we can arrange that. Well then, Sol, I wish your followers well.”

As she turned to leave, the xatu spoke up, holding a wing out.

“Safe travels, Yellow. And remember, there are things this world isn’t ready for, things that would put you - and those that you care about - in danger. Be careful who you trust.”

Yellow whirled back around, giving the xatu a searching look. For just a moment, Ruffle thought she looked… afraid? But the expression passed just as quickly, and she decided she must have imagined it.

“Yes… thank you.” And then she turned and walked out of sight, leaving the remaining pokemon to disperse. Dew herded her rookies away, muttering an apology as she ushered them out the door. Kee and Gan left shortly after.

“Do you need medical attention?” the combusken asked, approaching Ruffle.

“She will be fine,” Sol replied for her. “Her oran berries will heal the damage just fine with a little time. Come, you two. I wish to send a group out after dark.”

Surrounded by other pokemon like her, Ruffle was finally able to relax, letting her worries melt away as she silently thanked Kee and Gan for helping her. And as she chewed on the flesh of a fresh oran berry, she found herself thinking ahead to the coming ceremony.

*​

High overhead, the sun beamed down, casting its light on the clearing. Grass waved in the light breeze, tickling at Ruffle as she took her place around a circle that had been carefully carved into the ground. Here, she fumbled with the parchment that she had been given, checking the words she had written one last time before folding it and tossing it into the ring, along with everyone else.

On it, she’d written everything she hoped to accomplish before the next eclipse. She wrote about riches and bountiful harvests, of safety and shelter.

And she wrote about hoping for confidence, for understanding. For courage to tell everyone in the village about the beliefs she’d hidden for so long.

Perched from a branch on a nearby tree, Sol silently watched the proceedings below, occasionally peeking back up to watch the sun, waiting for the moment to begin.

Finally, just as before the moon began to eclipse the sun, the xatu let out a loud screech, grabbing the attention of all the pokemon around.

“For those of us who have gathered today,” Sol began in a clearly enunciated voice, “blessings to you all. As dictated by the stories passed down about Hoopa, we gather here at the time of the eclipse to renew our vows to them. Vows of ambition, of striving for more. We write down our hopes and dreams, praying that one day, Hoopa might see them and grant them to us. By Hoopa’s power.”

“By Hoopa’s power,” the gathered pokemon repeated back.

With one last look to the eclipse, Sol turned his gaze back to the circle. His eyes flashed and at once all the papers disappeared, their hopes and ambitions scattering on the winds.
 
Chapter 10

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partner
sneasel-nip
Good news, everyone! With this chapter, Thousand Roads is ofically caught up! From now on, everything on here will be totally new. Speaking of new, this chapter starts what I would consider a new arc of the story. Enjoy!


Chapter 10: A Fractured Sense of Normalcy

Century. Decade. Year. Season. Moon. Hour. Minute. Second. Most pokemon only ever moved forward in time. But for Celebi, time was his sandbox. Forwards. Backwards. Forks that peered into timelines that would never come to be. All of it twisted around him as he flew through The Passage of Time.

"Oh, where is it where is it? Why couldn't you do this yourself Dia? Where was I supposed to go again? When? Oh, this is so boring."

Slipping through the timestream was perhaps the easiest part of Celebi's job. The Passage of Time was his refuge, a place void of sound, a place to relax when other parts of the job could get noisy and dangerous.

Of course, while the traveling part of their job was easy enough, landing at the right place and time was much more difficult. And influencing events without being noticed was even more difficult. What he wouldn't do to have a convenient disguise.

He paused at one particular spot, letting pulses of light pass by him for a moment. "Right, this seems close enough, doesn't it?" As he was alone, no one answered the question. But that didn't stop him from saying, "you're right. Even if it is wrong, popping in to check won't hurt. I'll be in and out lickety-split!"

He slowed to a stop and squeezed his eyes shut, cutting his connection with the stream to reappear at the moment he stopped.

The sky was a deep red above him stars beginning to appear in the sky. He had entered into a clearing. In hopes of getting a better look, he took to the air.

Something was very wrong here.

Smoldering, fresh gouges and craters dotted the landscape. A few of them were marred with smoking corpses of unfortunate pokemon that had either fought or been caught in the crossfire. Though troubling, neither of these things were what made the air so disturbed.

No, what bothered him was how he could feel time twisting out of shape here, bending and scrunching in ways that it shouldn't. And if he had powers over space, he was certain he'd feel that unraveling too. Soon, this place would become another one of the mystery dungeons. He hated mystery dungeons and their unnatural order, creating pockets that he couldn't just enter and that screwed with his senses. As if he wasn't disoriented enough, they had to go and bend the natural order of time out of shape!

"No, no bad, you idiot. This is not where you want to be. Or when? What year is this? Hundreds of years in the past, at least? What time is the 'present' right now?"

But the view of the battleground did help clear up where he was. On the positive side of things, he was at least close in space to his destination. Now he just needed to get out of here and travel through time a bit.

Celebi placed his hands on his hips. "Okie doke. Theran Village, Theran Village… Now, when were you founded, again?"

*​

Though the first day of recovery had been frustrating, Haru was soon back into the swing of her normal schedule. A rest by the river, breakfast, work, lunch, work, leisure. Everything was right back where it was supposed to be.

"Put your back into it!"

Well, as close as it could be, all things considered.

"I'm trying, okay!" Nip snapped. His claws were wrapped tightly around a wooden beam more than twice as long as he was tall. Grombert - the diggersby construction worker that worked with her dad - watched as he dug his feet into the ground, dragging the beam behind him one step at a time.

Vale, the current guard on watch, jumped to his feet in an instant, sparks coursing through his fur. "Hey, watch it! No talking back!"

Nip scrunched up his nose at the start of a snarl but stopped after thinking better of it and dropped his gaze.

Haru let out a huff, watching the situation, and shook her head, veering slightly out of the way to walk past the other pokemon without greeting. Three days had passed now since Nip's trial, and she was more than eager to move on.

"Hey, Haru, is that you?"

Haru turned her head to the right towards the sound of the voice. Her father stood on his hind legs a bit down the path, draped over a debarked and half gnawed-through log.

"There you are!" Haru called out. "I brought lunch!"

"Oh, thank goodness, I'm starving." The bibarel stood up straight, pulling himself off the log, and then plopped down on all fours and waddled around to meet Haru halfway. "What'd you bring today?"

"Bread with apple jam and roasted potatoes. It might be a bit cold though. Mom made it this morning before heading off to fell a few trees."

Chip let out a hum as Haru shuffled out from the bag, then began to dig through the contents in search of the box of food.

"Hey Chip, your girl bring any for us?"

Chip glanced up to look at the waving diggersby before turning his attention back to Haru, who nosed his paw out of the way so that she could pull out the box herself.

"Half of that's mine, by the way," Haru said. "There should be enough apple jam if he brought his own bread though."

Chip glanced in the bags before calling back to Grombert, "not really, sorry! But I got some extra jam."

Grombert grumbled something under his breath before calling out louder. "That's fine, I was going to pick up some sweet bread from Swell for lunch anyways. I don't think I need any more sugar than that!" And then he laughed, as if he had said something funny.

The bibarel lifted a bundle out of the box with his teeth and waddled over to where the other three were. Haru considered picking up her food and leaving, but the walk to town had taken a good portion of her lunch break, and she was feeling a bit peckish already. It wouldn't hurt to eat here. So, she gathered up her own bundle and followed behind her father.

"'S fine you didn't bring me anything," Vale huffed, lying down on his stomach. "I can't properly digest most of that stuff after all. Besides, I won't get a chance to eat till Sparks takes over, and he should be here any time now. I'll head down to Mandi's then, then Jhorlo wanted to talk to me about something. That reminds me…"

The manectric stood up and moved a few feet back to stuff his head in a bag lying against the wall. He retrieved a small bundle from inside and unceremoniously tossed it. It audibly smacked the sneasel in the face. He let out a yelp and let go of the beam he was holding, nearly dropping it on his foot.

"There you go, eat up. Or don't, not my problem if you starve."

Grumbling under his breath, Nip grabbed hold of the bundle and pulled the knot loose, frowning at the contents.

Haru stole a glance over, noting two razz berries, a nanab berry, a corked jar with water, and a small bowl. The sneasel made a face but began to nibble at the berry anyways. Vale caught sight of his expression and let out a low growl.

"Don't even ask. I already told ya you're going have to put up with it until you get some money. You're a prisoner, not a charity case, and razz, bluk, nanab, and wepear berries have all been ruled as safe emergency food sources for obligate carnivores."

"I think you're making that up. I've never seen, let alone heard of one of these 'bulkberries.' Besides, how do I know you're not trying to poison me? You seemed pretty ready to send me off to my death, after all?"

Vale responded with a grumble and a roll of the head. "What good would it do me to kill you? Other than maybe getting some shut eye for once, since you're always whining my ears off? Besides, I didn't prep those for you. If you got a problem with your provisions, take it up with Whisper."

"Oh, so the pokemon that actually has a reason to want me dead is feeding me. Got it, I feel safe eating this now. Not."

"Eat it or don't but shut up. Or I'll make you shut up. I don't give a shit if you starve or get poisoned or whatever, so long as you give me some respect and some peace. And. Quiet."

Nip glared at the manectric for a moment longer, before averting his gaze, turning his attention to the berries laid out in front of him.

Chip sat down with his food as the exchange happened, watching with a curious glint in his eye. He tilted his head slightly, his tail thumping against the ground. "Er… don't you think that was a bit harsh, Vale?"

Vale let out a huff and shook out his fur before sitting down, scratching at his neck with his hind paw. "Oh, come on, Chip. Why should I be nice to him? He stole and probably ate Whisper's egg. He killed an unborn child from our village! He should have been locked up at best, or else executed. But no, I'm stuck out here babysitting a murderer because the village voted to rehabilitate him." He paused. "No, wait, let me be more specific. I'm here because your son voted to rehabilitate him. It was tied up, and your son had to go and be the good guy."

"Now hold on," the bibarel said, standing back up on his hind legs, "you don't know what way Jhorlo would have voted. He could have gone either way! And I don't appreciate you insulting my son like that!"

To this, Vale let out a low growl, his claws digging into the soft dirt, and muttered something about asking Jhorlo himself. But before he could jump to his feet and do something he might regret, Grombert stepped between the two of them, pushing them back with his prehensile ears.

"Enough! I know tensions are high, but that's no excuse to be jumping at each other's throats! Now, Chip, I sympathize with you, but Vale has a right to his opinion, and he does kind of have a point: the sneasel hasn't given us good reason to be nice.

"Hah, see!"

"And you, Vale," Grombert added, turning his attention to the disgruntled manectric, "insulting Toshi was absolutely uncalled for."

"Yeah!" Haru said, stepping up. "Toshi had nothing to do with what Nip did. So, leave him out of it."

The manectric averted his gaze. "Fine, sorry. I'm sorry for insulting Toshi. Besides, he wasn't the one to bring that thing back to the village."

Haru stepped forward and let out a low growl. "Hey, jabbing at me instead doesn't make you look any better."

"I didn't name any names." Vale gave Haru a pointed look before standing up to back away from Grombert, turning away afterwards before laying down with a huff. "Fine. Whatever. But don't blame me when another egg gets stolen, or someone turns up dead."

Grombert let out a long sigh before changing the subject. "Speaking of eggs… Hey Chip, did you get to talk to Tor about our proposal yet?"

The bidoof sat back down and began to pick at his food. "He's… hesitant. On one hand the extra security-" He cut off, catching sight of Nip staring out of the corner of his eye. "Actually, can we talk about this later? I don't know if discussing plans is the best idea right now."

"Eh?" Grombert turned his head to look back at Nip, who quickly averted his gaze and busied himself with trying to remove the cork from the bottle of water. "That's right! Eat up! I don't want to hear you complaining about an empty stomach when we get back to work."

Letting out a sigh he turned his attention back to Chip. "Right, good point. Maybe it isn't the best idea to have him around the nursery… but then again, they can watch him and the eggs at the same time. So…"

Nip's ear twitched, and he opened his mouth like he was going to say something. But then he thought better of it and shut it again, turning his head away to absentmindedly nibble at one of the berries, making a face at the taste.

Haru looked up from her food and stared at the sneasel for a moment, guilt gnawing at her stomach. As much as she hated to admit it, Vale sort of had a point. If she, Shimmer, and Muse hadn't brought Nip back, this all would have been avoided... probably. He probably would have died in the forest, meat-eating wildeners drawn by the smell of blood. But perhaps he would have survived. Perhaps he would have found the village and stolen from them anyways.

"Do you need something else, Haru?"

"Hm?" She tilted her head up and turned back to look at her father, who was staring at her with a concerned expression.

"Oh, no. Not really. I was just thinking about something. I should... Probably head back anyways. I want to get a couple more trees stripped before the end of the day."

At that, Chip chuckled. "That's my girl, always the hard worker. I know it's a ways off, but I know you'll make us proud when you take over the business one day."

Haru hummed in response. Taking over the family business... Part of her so looked forward to it, and yet she wanted to make it into so much more, and worried about living up to that dream.

No, now wasn't the time to worry about it. She took a moment to scarf up and gulp down the last couple bites of food. "I better get going then, I'll see you tonight, Dad. Goodbye Grombert. Goodbye Vale."

The diggersby raised a meaty ear to signal his farewell. Vale let out a huff of air and shook his head but showed no real signs of aggression.

She glanced over to Nip one last time as she began to walk away and caught sight of him staring at her, his pupils narrow slits. As soon as he noticed her looking at him, however, he quickly averted his gaze.

As she made her way back towards home, Vale's harsh words rang in her head, and she found the guilt getting the better of her. And anger. Thinking about Nip, and how he'd wronged the community stung. His answers during the trial had been unsatisfying, as well.

Her thoughts drifted back towards Shimmer's words the other day. Was she taking things personally?

A few moments passed in silence as she made her way down the path, turning back towards the walkway to the river. And as she stewed in silence, she became certain of something.

The only way she was going to find peace was to confront Nip directly.

*​

To say Umbra was upset would be an understatement.

No, Umbra was livid. For three days now, she'd allowed herself to stew in her anger. How could these idiot villagers just up and protect Nip like that, especially after a crime as heinous as his? She had come so close to catching him, only for it to be ripped away by a sentimental bidoof!

If that didn't frustrate her enough, now it seemed like many more of the villagers eyed her with suspicion. More often than not, it seemed like there was someone watching her, waiting for her to screw up. She hadn't even been able to slip away for some peace and quiet, or to hunt. At least Jhorlo understood her needs though; someone always came by in the morning to provide her with food.

Until today, at least.

The morning had come and gone without a single pokemon stopping by her room. Waiting for food to arrive, she had stuck around, trying to curb her restlessness by doing things like grooming, or reciting stories and legends from her Tribe, refreshing memories of the story, as was tradition. She even spent some time trying to think of a way to extract Nip, realizing - unfortunately - that she would have to spend some time understanding the village structure and customs to stand a chance. But still, no one came.

Now, as late-afternoon light poured in through her window, the claws of hunger dug into her belly. Even on her travels, when was the last time she'd gone nearly a whole day without food? It had to have been at least a few winters ago.

To say the least, she was still in a foul mood when she heard a soft scratching at the door. She responded to the sound with a grunt, not bothering to get up from the nest. The door pushed open a moment later, one of the two purrloin appearing on the other side.

"Jhorlo would like to see you," she announced, dipping her head in greeting.

"It is about time," the mawile grumbled, finally sitting up.

The purrloin - Lotte, if she remembered correctly (though she cared little about remembering the name) - waited for her at the doorway, turning to begin walking down the hall once Umbra approached. The mawile followed in silence for a moment. However, there was something off, a concern that she voiced after a moment.

"Where is the... Other one? The one that's usually with you."

She seemed to be prepared for the question, answering nonchalantly without breaking stride. "Jaques had other obligations to attend to. He will be back in the evening."

"I see." After that, Umbra said nothing more.

Before they could get to their destination, however, the duo was interrupted by a pair of passing pokemon rounding the corner: a kirlia and an absol walking side by side, the kirlia chattering away. Umbra muttered a curse under her breath, unfortunately reminded of the meddling pokemon that also lived here.

"Oh, Musey, Look!" the kirila said, pointing before waving Umbra and Lotte over. "It's out guest of honor!"

Lotte paused to look back towards Umbra before veering off the planned path to speak with Shimmer.

"For formalities sake, it would be best we say hello. Jhorlo will understand our tardiness."

Muse dipped her head to the pair as they approached. Lotte came all the way up to stand just in front of Muse, her tail raised in greeting, a slight purr rumbling in her throat. Umbra, however, kept her distance.

"Good afternoon, Lotte," Muse said, her tone warm. "How have you been?"

"I've been well," the purrloin replied. "Work has gone surprisingly smooth the past week, all things considered."

Muse laughed, her demeanor softening slightly. "Glad to hear it. Sorry we haven't been around as much lately. Things have been... interesting the last few weeks, as I'm sure you know."

"Yeah," Shimmer added with a giggle. "This is, like, toootally my fault. Really though, things have been so wild lately. If it wasn't for such dire reasons, I'd say I like that things have been shook up so much!"

Shimmer's voice was loud and overly upbeat. Maybe some could find it endearing, but to Umbra, it was a headache waiting to happen.

Muse looked up and noticed Umbra and, upon seeing her disdained expression, adopted a curter tone to address her.

"Ah, and Umbra. I take it your day is going well?"

Umbra huffed in response, not answering the question. "I have more important things to do than small talk."

"Aw, don't be like that!" Shimmer said, draping herself dramatically over Muse's back. "You're such a spoilsport. Just like Haru - but at least I like her!"

Muse flinched ever so slightly, raising one paw as she turned back to look at her charge. "Shimmer... perhaps it would be better to at least be courteous to our guest?"

Shimmer waved a hand dismissively in response. "Why should I? She's not being nice either?"

"Well, it's not my place to question you but... if you want to be a great leader someday, you have to learn to be respectful, even when you don't want to be."

"That is a good point," the kirlia said, clapping her hands together for emphasis. But before she continued, she raised a hand and held it up to Muse's mouth in a shushing gesture. "But I'm not a leader yet and I'm not going to be nice right now."

Her serious statement aside, the teasing smile returned to her face, and she turned back to face Umbra. "So, how long are you going to stick around moping like this? A decision's already been made, so why are you still here? Go home, or something."

Umbra's expression soured. "I will not leave without Nip. It is my duty to bring him to justice."

"Is it really?" Shimmer said, a mischievous look in her eye. "Is it really your duty? Or do you have some other personal reason for sticking around?"

Umbra narrowed her eyes, a scowl on her face. "It is my duty. But even if it was not, that is none of your business."

Shimmer continued to stare at her for another long moment, the air tense. But finally, she relaxed, turning away. "Well, all I'm saying is that he's facing justice, so your really don't have any reason to stay here, you know?" Then she turned her attention away. "Come on Musey. We got better things to do."

The absol shook out her fur and turned, nosing Shimmer back the way they came. "Of course. Whatever you wish."

"Let us know if you need anything," Shimmer called back towards Umbra. "We'll be listening!"

And with that, that the two disappeared around the corner, the kirlia chattering about whatever nonsensical thing came to her head.

Something about the way she'd said her last statement unnerved Umbra. But she pushed the concerns about the vapid fairy-type out of her head and instead turned to address Lotte.

"Is she... always like that?"

"Pretty much," Lotte replied, reaching up a hind leg to scratch at her neck for a moment before standing and turning back to resume their walk towards Jhorlo's again. "She's got her head in the clouds most of the time, but she's smarter than you'd think. Muse helps keep her grounded though. They play well off of each other, don't you think?"

Umbra replied with a noncommittal grunt. She cared little about what the pair did or did not do. They were not her concern.

When she didn't respond, the purrloin faltered, shocked by her lack of care for the social niceties. But she quickly shrugged it off and moved on.

The rest of their short trip to Jhorlo's room was spent in silence. Lotte couldn't find a good topic to start a conversation with, and Umbra had absolutely no interest in speaking. Soon, they were standing in front of the door.

Lotte reached up to scratch at the door a couple times, then pushed it open the rest of the way.

"I apologize for the delay, sir," she said as she entered. "We had a run-in with your daughter and spent a few moments speaking wither her.

"That's quite alright, Lotte," Umbra heard Jhorlo say. "Thank you for explaining. You're dismissed for the evening. Miss Umbra, would you enter, please?"

Lotte dipped her head respectfully before turning, brushing her tail against Umbra as she passed. The mawile stepped forward into the room, and the door shut behind her.

It took her a moment to spot Jhorlo in the room. Fabric had been pulled over the opening - the window - in the back of the room, limiting the lighting to just to just a dim, afternoon glow, and whatever was lit by the glowing moss. The purugly's location was only given away by the slight glint of his eyes.

"Good evening, Umbra," he said with a slight rumble in his voice. "I trust your day has gone well?"

"Well enough," Umbra said in a curt tone. "Would have liked a lunch though."

"Oh, I figured you would have been able to figure out how to get it yourself by now. You seemed so certain and confident in yourself. I apologize for overestimating you."

The underhanded jab was not missed by Umbra. "Are you... trying to antagonize me?"

"Only time will tell, I think," he replied, standing up. "I'll be curt with you, dear Umbra. It all depends on how well this meeting goes."

"Do I really need to be here for all this?" A voice barked from the corner. Umbra immediately whipped around and spotted a manectric lounging on his side, a bored expression on his face.

"Oh, please hush, Vale," Jhorlo snapped as he walked around to the front of the table. "I'll get to you eventually."

His expression shifted to a restrained smile as he turned back to talk to Umbra. When you're in my position, there are many things you have to juggle, you see. But we're not here to talk about that, now are we? We're here to talk about you. And Nip."

She scoffed in response, her expression souring. "I would have thought you would have the final say in any judgements, and yet he's protected now more than ever."

"Begrudgingly," Vale interrupted from his corner.

"Yes, yes. I Know. And who was supposed to catch him before the whole village caught up, might I ask? I told you to go ahead of the villagers for a reason, and yet you still failed. This failure is on you."

"On me?" she growled. "How is it my fault that a bunch of meddlers ran ahead? Those two, the kirlia and the absol, your daughter and her guard, they are under your command, right? If you cannot control those idiots, I do not see how this is my fault?"

Jhorlo rose up to his full height, his voice coming out in a hiss. "How dare you speak about my daughter that way? I don't think you understand the position you're in right now, but I suggest you watch your tongue."

Umbra's paws clenched into fists. "Why should I? I am not beholden to follow your rules and niceties. Give me one good reason I should not call our deal off and march down to kill him right now and leave?"

The purugly paused for a moment, looking her over. When he finally spoke, his voice came out silky smooth, instead of the previous hiss. "I can give you a few, dear Umbra. For one, if you try, you'll bring down the wrath of the whole village. Certainly, there may be a few that would sit out, feeling you did the right thing, but the majority will follow the decision that was made. And besides that, if things go wrong, there's nothing I can do to protect you."

"I am not some kit that needs protecting though," she snarled.

"Fine, fine. I can understand the sentiment. However... There is one other thing. Even if you succeed, if you break your contract, well... Let me just say... things won't go well for you."

At this, Vale sat up, alert, and looked between the two squabbling pokemon. "Wait, contract?" His voice dropped to a surprised mutter. "Oh, Jhorlo, you clever bastard."

As soon as the last word left Vale's mouth, Jhorlo spun to spit a reply at him. "I don't remember speaking to you. I suggest you hold your tongue as well."

The manectric flinched before turning his head away, laying back down. "Of course, sorry, sir. Won't happen again."

Satisfied, Jhorlo turned his attention back towards Umbra. "As I was saying, we made a written agreement that you would work for me to bring in Nip. And if you fail that, or if you were to leave without sharing, as per our agreement, both of those would be breaches of contract, you see. And per our contract, if you were to break it, well, I would be allowed to use lethal force. And I do not think you want that, now do you?"

Umbra stooped slightly, adopting a defensive pose. "Is that a threat?"

"It can be," Jhorlo replied casually, "if you don't keep your side of the deal."

The mawile stared him down, thoughts racing through her head. How dare he treat her like this? Had this been his plan all along? Maybe he'd conspired with the village mon to sneak Nip out, and this had all been a ploy to humiliate her. "You did not. Mention. This. Before."

Jhorlo scoffed. "Well, I figured I wouldn't have to. It was all right there in the contract you signed. I figured any clever mon would have taken the time to read it."

At that, Umbra had to take pause. It was true that she'd signed a paper, but it had not occurred to her to try reading it at all. Even if she had, would she have been able to read it?"

"Prove it," she growled. "Let me see this contract."

"But of course." Jhorlo turned to reach a paw up and push a glass jar back on the desk, allowing it to illuminate a piece of parchment. As Umbra cautiously approached, she could make out her signature. But as she looked over the words, she realized with dismay that she couldn't read the writing. Her people had a very simplistic set of runes, with a handful of different print shapes and strokes representing words or concepts. Not everyone had the means to write it, but everyone was taught how to read and interpret them.

These, on the other hand, were made up of a series of dots and lines strung together, running across and then down the page.

"What kind of trickery is this?" Umbra growled. "This is... this is a bunch of nonsense!"

Jhorlo's head reared back slightly, eyes glinting in surprise. "You mean to tell me that you can't read this?"

"These are a bunch of dots, not a reasonable language! Where are your shapes? Your pawprints and footprints?"

A silence stretched out as her question hung in the air. Then Jhorlo began to chuckle, his tone turning dark and silky again. "My, my, this is rather unfortunate, isn't it? Unfortunate for you, I mean. If you had bothered to tell me sooner, I could have done something to help you, you see. I could have explained the terms in more detail!"

"So, what, you're just going to hold me to something I couldn't understand?"

"Well... yes? You were the one that signed it without looking, I can't have helped if I didn't know, right?"

Umbra had heard enough. All this nonsense, and she still wasn't any closer to dealing with Nip. "That does it," she growled. And without a second thought, she whipped around and charged Jhorlo, her skull starting to glow.

Jhorlo seemed to anticipate this, however. Before she could strike, he stepped to the side. She sailed past harmlessly, but as she passed, she felt a sharp jab in her side.

When she spun back around, the purugly was staring at her with a smug smile. "Goodness? Is that all you've got? Well, I wouldn't do that again, if I were you."

His words only served to anger Umbra even more, to the point that she was practically seeing red. But before she could lash out and strike him again, a jolt of electricity struck her, sending painful spasms through her body.

She whirled around to strike whoever had attacked her, but her jaws closed in on empty air. Momentum from the failed attack drove her forward, causing her to stumble.

"Ah, swagger," she heard Jhorlo rumble. Was this funny to him? "A risky move, but the results speak for themselves."

Was this anger the result of some kind of attack? No, she was already angry, this just made her angrier and threw off her perception. But maybe she could calm down, just a little. She sucked a deep breath in through her nostrils, then let it all out in a huff, relaxing slightly. Now that she wasn't in a blind rage, she could see exactly where the electrical attack had come from. Still in the corner of the room, Vale had stood up, sparks of electricity bouncing off his pelt.

She looked between him, and then back to Jhorlo. This must have been why he was here; Jhorlo was anticipating an attack. With a grunt, Umbra turned and raced towards the manectric.

An arc of electricity raced through the air as she drew close, slowing but not stopping her. She raced up and underneath the electric type, clamping down on his stomach with her second jaw.

Vale let out a pained yelp, flinching as the sharp fangs dug into his stomach. He responded to the attack by whipping around to try and snap at her and, failing that, let out a powerful surge of electricity, bolts flinging out in all directions.

The surge was much more powerful than she expected, her muscles twitching and convulsing as electricity surged through her body. For a second, she though she smelled burnt fur. Was it her own?

But as the surge died down, she realized that her muscles still felt tensed up and unresponsive. She tried to move her arm but got little more than a twitch. Had the blow been powerful enough to paralyze her? Her? How?

"Watch where you're flinging that electricity!" Jhorlo snapped. Use something less destructive!

"She was biting me, get off my pace!" Vale took the opportunity to whip around, biting down into her torso to pull her off. He flung her a few feet across the room, where she landed on her stomach. With a feral growl, she slowly forced herself back to her feet and tried to face Vale again.

But he wasn't in the corner anymore.

Instead, he was rushing her with speed she hadn't been expecting, pouncing forward with sparks dancing in his mouth. She whipped around defensively to block the attack with her steely jaws.

But instead of landing on her, he sailed overhead, landing just on the other side to spin around.

She reached up to throw a punch against his jaw, causing the manectric to yelp. She tried to attack again, but her muscles seized up again at the worst possible time.

He took the opportunity to swat at her with one hard blow from his paw, knocking her down. This time, he did not waste the opening, not giving her another chance to attack. She felt one paw slam down on her stomach and had just enough time to see his mouth burst into flame before he struck, clamping down on her shoulder.

She felt the fangs sink into her skin, biting down not hard enough to break skin, but hard enough to hold her tight in place. But it wasn't the teeth that hurt the most. No, it was the flames. Fire rolled off around the bite in waves, scorching and burning fur and blistering skin. She let out a scream and thrashed, trying to twist around so that she could get a good bite down on his leg.

But her struggles were growing weaker and weaker as she tired herself out. Which only served to make her angrier. Finally, she managed to hook her jaws around one paw, clamping down hard enough that he finally let go, stumbling back a couple feet.

Slowly, she climbed back to her feet to face him again. She took a step forward, trying to ready an attack, but then stumbled and tipped forward, falling flat. He took the opportunity to limp forward again, standing nearby ready to strike, but staying away from her dangerous jaws.

At this point, Jhorlo stepped between the two.

"My, my. Now this is concerning," the purugly mewed in mock surprise. "Who would have thought our own Umbra would turn on us? You saw that. Right, Vale?"

Vale grunted in response, letting out a huff of air.

Slowly, Umbra pushed herself back to her feet, paws scraping against the wooden floor. How in Yveltal's name had she been thrown around by these two? Or really, mostly just the manectric?

As if reading her mind, Jhorlo let out a smug, chirp-like noise before speaking. "What, surprised you had a harder time against pokemon actually trained for battle, are we? Seems for all your boastful, high and mighty air, you're not so strong after all."

Umbra replied by letting out a growl, clenching her fists and snapping her jaws threateningly. "Shut. Up."

"Oh, are you trying to threaten me again? I wouldn't do that if I were you, dear." He sat down, seemingly unconcerned, and began to groom his face. Between swipes of his paw, he added, "Vale has more than enough reason and permission to use lethal force on you now, you know. It would be a shame to kill you though, really. You may have broken the terms by attacking me, but I am a merciful pokemon, and would be more than willing to give you a second chance… for a price."

With narrowed eyes, the mawile squeezed her fists again. "And why should I agree to anything now?"

"Because if you don't, then you have no further use to me, and I'll just have Vale kill you now?"

At that, the manectric stood up a bit straighter, pawing anxiously at the ground. "Are you sure about that, boss? I mean… wouldn't people notice if she disappeared all of the sudden?"

"I highly doubt it," Jhorlo snapped. "There's no one here that cares enough to look into it if she disappeared. But I don't pay you to ask questions, do I? Remember your own debt, Vale."

Umbra turned her head backwards just enough to see Vale flinch. He let out a soft whine before replying, "yes, of course. Sorry, sir."

Satisfied, Jhorlo turned his attention back to Umbra. "So, your answer, please?"

Umbra growled for a moment. She shouldn't have been defeated so easily. Her, defeated by these two? There had to be some foul play at work. Even so… she was in no position to fight right now.

"Tell me your demands," she finally answered.

A smug grin crept on to Jhorlo's face. "I'm so glad you asked. Tell me, how much have you bothered learning about the… laws and regulations about the meat industry around here?"

"Get to the point."

"Fine, fine. Well, suffice to say that around here, eating meat is seen as a necessary evil. But since it wouldn't do to go and accidently off someone's relative, there's a lot of… restrictions. Down here, civilized pokemon don't hunt, as you might already know. They harvest bodies of the pokemon that die in the wilds. Or at least… that's what they'd like to believe.

"Truth is, that's just not sustainable, you see. Too many pokemon need to eat meat to live. I may be a bit underhanded, my dear, but I have no interest in seeing good pokemon starve just because of a few little rules. So, since you've already got a bit of experience in hunting, I have some interest in… recruiting you.

"Here's what I can offer you. If you hunt for me, hunt for the town under the radar until you finish your objective, then we can just… sweep this little hiccup under the rug. So, what do you say?"

Umbra hesitated, clenching her jaw as she looked between Jhorlo and Vale. "... And if I refuse?"

"Well, that would be quite unfortunate. But I suppose it can't be helped. I suppose we'd either have to turn you over to the guard though, for attacking me, or else kill you right now."

If Umbra was being honest with herself, her options were limited. Agree, or die. Agree, or let Nip go. Agree, or lose any hope of avenging her kin.

"Fine."

The purugly's maw twisted into a cruel, toothy style. "Excellent. I'll have Vale fill you in on the details in the morning. Pleasure doing business with you, my dear."
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
I actually read quite a bit further than this chapter, but dropping in a review while the earlier stuff is still fresh. Sorry for falling off the wagon on this one; it was really enjoyable reading up so far!

Chapter 4

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.
This... yeah. I get what you mean about adding more obligate carnivore characters to the village, but imo that makes Haru's argument make even less sense given that 1) Nip literally cannot ingest most non-meats 2) if there are more obligate carnivores around, Haru should know this?

And I guess from a structural standpoint, surely they'd want to make ethically killed meat/oran berries/[whatever their approved form of feeding carnivores is] easily attainable so that a hungry and desparate carnivore wouldn't, say, break into a nursery and eat someone's child. Haru could be dumb/young/idealistic and that's fair, but the rest of the village should probably know better?

Also, dumb question, but are there fields and stuff in the village? I probably missed descriptions of them, because I was imagining that they were mostly foraging/doing smallpatch farming, but bread implies a lot more infrastructure.

IDK. DUMB FOOD THINGS IN POKEMON. SORRY.

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.
I like how you structure these plot hooks really early in there; it makes the inevitable fallout that much more anticipated. Per my comments above -- what happens next is an issue that everyone should've absolutely seen coming, but as a writer you do a great job of introducing it in a way where people could probably plausibly be surprised that it still went down that way, which is really hard! Subverting expectations and such.

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.
yuh boi looking for a place to call home

"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?"
Normally your dialogue flows really well, so this bit stuck out to me as fairly expository. Toshi's really an open book, isn't he?

But in addition to the two, three other pokemon walked with them.
Bit dumb, but the "two, three" part of this sentence left me scratching my head for a while.

"He and her mother - a gardevoir - had been together a long time, but I think she had a surrogate father."
You use hyphens (-) here, but you should use em dashes (—) to do breaks in sentences. Hyphens are for breaks in words (forty-five, sickly-sweet).

The surrogate father is a really interesting detail though -- it's neat to see some worldbuilding address how biologically incompatible pokemon might still go about forming families.

Something about it put his fur on end, like perhaps it was a well-rehearsed show.
EVIL MAYOR EVIL MAYOR

"Creative name, Red," Nip mumbled sarcastically.

"Hey, you're the one that's named after a bite, do you really have room to talk?"
I liked this exchange a lot; that's all.

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.
well i guess no one's called him smart
I get that the shack is far, Nip, but surely you understand why walking might be preferable to kidnapping and murdering their child??

he had no use for them, and he planned to steal as little as possible
"steal as little as possible" except an egg cuz corpses are hard to get to

mid-sized egss in both paws.
I think you mean "eggs"

I see what you mean about the plot really getting started in these few chapters; this one was really explosive. The structure is sort of weird, though -- the first half feels almost irrelevant since they sort of just go into the woods, talk, and then turn back. On a meta level there are definitely some key reasons for that (we introduce Nip's need to hunt, reinforce that the mawile is nearby, show the mystery dungeon, some more character buildings), but on a narrative level it feels empty. It's set up as a fetchquest for a MacGuffin, but they turn back before they even get the MacGuffins properly. And then the pivot into the egg theft is really explosive, but it also cleaves the chapter into two very distinct halves, where the weight/impact of the second one vastly outweighs the first.

My favorite part about this story so far is definitely the worldbuilding, though, so I love getting more of it in this chapter! Seeing it through Nip's eyes, we definitely get a more cynical take on the ideal PMD guild/village/town setup, but I love how you pit their two cultural views against one another like this. It adds a lot more depth and nuance, and we really get to see your worldbuilding shine.

Heads up, I've read a bit further so some of these comments are made knowing what happens, but I just wanted to drop this review before I forgot haha.
 

NebulaDreams

Pokémon Trainer
Partner
luxray
Chapter 8

It let out an angry roar and tried to take another step, only freeze in place,
*only to?

Unfortunately, even then she could see little, for fog kept her from seeing much further.
*for the fog?

Muse turned to look at the bidoof for a moment. “I would argue it still matters, since mystery dungeons still exist, but I can’t fault you for your feelings.”
"Yes, I can't fault you for your edgy teenage atheism phase."

No sooner had she taken a step, however, a blast of water from behind knocked her off her feet. She turned her head just in time to see a pink tail disappear into the depths of the water.

“Stupid water-type!” the kirlia cried. “What’s their problem? Oh, don’t just stand there, guys; don’t let him get away!”
Hmm, interesting cameo of Bruxi, since it does make me wonder about her attitude of these three Pokemon and whether she's protecting Nip in particular or is just trying to keep the pact up.

“I don’t care what he’s done,” The serviper hissed angrily, apparently in the middle of an argument with Muse. “We do not. Break. The pact.”

“We don’t care about your stupid wildener pact,” Shimmer announced, garnering a flinch from Muse.
Wow, Shimmer really doesn't like wildeners, does she? I guess the Leppa doesn't fall far from the tree.

“I’ve had enough nonsense! I’ve been dragged out here twice in two days, to hunt down you.”
*to hunt you down?

Chapter 9

“We…We have… gathered...” He hesitated, cleared his throat again, and continued, choosing his words carefully. “Apologies, I am… not the best at speaking to crowds, as you all know. I am sure you are all gathered today to bear witness to the trial and sentencing of this sneasel.”
Anu is such a mood.

“I…” Nip hesitated, eyes darting to look towards the lucario, then back to the crowd. He lowered his head slightly. “I would argue it wasn’t ‘assault,’ but rather ‘defending myself’... I… think they attacked first.”
Yeah, Nip, I'm sure that's gonna hold up in court: "I attacked a kid in self-defense."

“It should have been ended a long time ago!” Nip snapped. As he continued, his voice began to waver. “How many times? How many times did you throw me out of our den because you wanted nothing to do with me? How many times did I ask the elders to reconsider our arrangement because you were too proud to, before things took a turn for the worse?”

Nip turned his attention to the crowd. For a second, he locked eyes with Haru before addressing everyone else. “You want to know why I felt I was saving pokemon from suffering? Because of what I suffered through: seasons of struggling to better my place in the tribe before the pairing ceremony, only to be assigned a mate that hated me! Whenever I went for advice or help, saying that we failed to get along, I was told they would work things out. But they never did. And then? And then that’s not even the worst part!

“They wanted to know why we hadn’t produced an egg. They wanted proof we weren’t infertile. And if one of us was- if I was, I refused to lose everything I worked towards in such a humiliating way. So, I decided to lose everything on my own terms: by leaving. But not before preventing the next generation from suffering the way I did.”
Okay, this brings up a really interesting aspect of Nip's character I'd like to discuss, or take a detour to discuss anyway. To break it down, first of all, I wonder where the line is blurred between eggs that are just the yolk and eggs that have still-developing Pokemon. You could apply this to the real-life thing, though I doubt that was your intention (allegory and applicability are different, after all), but it does raise the question of when is an egg considered to be a child in this world, if there is any way to tell.

Secondly, and most importantly, this does put Nip's character in a new light without fully excusing what he's done, though it did evoke a bit more sympathy for him regardless. Considering everything we've learnt about his character as well as his fatalistic mindset and harsh upbringing from what we've heard so far, his reasoning does make sense. Being put through the wringer to prove himself, only to be paired with a downright abusive partner and forced to mate to uphold a tradition, would fuck somebody up. That also might explain why he decided to take the egg over stealing from the butcher's shop. On the other hand, it's also not really his place to decide if the eggs do get to live or not, since they're not exactly predestined towards the same life he lived. If the prolongation/survival of his tribe also depended on it, that would mean Nip screwed them over big time. Then again, if the tribe is that strict towards their young, which is supported by the whole arranged marriage thing and Nip's upbringing, then yeah, no wonder Nip acted out even if it had grave consequences.

The reveal is somewhat mitigated by the fact that we haven't seen the sort of life he lived first-hand, and because of that, it's harder to see things through his eyes for how desperate it apparently was for him. But at the same time, that seems to be the point as well, since the juries know just as much about him as we do. He is rather alien compared to the rest of Theran Village, after all. Okay, ramble over, onto the rest of the chapter.

“That’s… nine in favor of releasing to Umbra. Let’s move on then. Those in favor of releasing him to the enforcers?”

Haru stepped forward, having already made up her mind. But as she glanced back, she realized that Shimmer, Muse, and Toshi – none of the people she knew best had stepped forward. Even her parents were hanging at the back of the crowd. She tilted her head, honestly surprised.
I also found it a bit odd that Haru didn't step up, after all she heard from Nip, and even encouraging them to get his side of the story first before jumping to any conclusions. Though maybe his answer wasn't as satisfactory to her as she expected, hmm...

“Are you willing tolearn
*to learn?

It’s nothing personal, just what I have to do for my kin.”

“It’s very personal!”
“Spent the most time- I spent… like… two days with him Muse. Total. Maybe a little more, but not much! And I don’t have time to run around worrying about him. I have more important things to do! I-”

Shimmer interrupted with a giggle. “I think Haru is just taking this personally!”

Excuse me?
Methinks Haru doth protest too much.

As they began to walk away, Haru glanced one last time back at the guard hut. As much as Toshi’s words helped her feel better, she couldn’t help but let her mind drift back to Shimmer’s words. Was she taking things personally? No, that was ridiculous.

...Wasn’t it?

No. It had to be ridiculous. There was absolutely no reason for her to take things personally, after all.
"It-it's not like I like him or anything, baka!"

---

So... wow, quite a bit happened in these last two chapters, and the payoffs we got from it, while not giving full answers, were very satisfying. For chapter 8, I don't have too much to say outside of it being quite chaotic. Way to go to Haru for not caving into either of them. I was quite anxious about Nip becoming Mawile chow otherwise.

Chapter 9, of course, is where most of my points of discussion lie, since it seems to be the end of the first arc. The trial scene was tense, as I was genuinely wondering what would happen to Nip (though if this story is going to be quite long, I wouldn't expect him to be killed off so quickly), and really felt for him as he was trying not to crack under the pressure while having his fate discussed. I was glad that he wasn't completely let off the hook, since the majority of the village leaned into that, but was instead given a chance to possibly better himself while also escaping Umbra's judgement. Whether he'll actually take responsibility over his own actions and change his outlook on things, time will tell.

I thought the way you handled Nip's reveal was clever. Again, I discussed his side of the story, but what made it so compelling was that you didn't tell the readers how they were supposed to feel about him (even I'm not fully sure what to think yet) and presented both sides of the argument fairly. Having it filtered through Haru's eyes as well as the village's reactions made sure the reveal felt neutral too (though Haru is somewhat biased). It was interesting that Umbra neither confirmed or denied her abuse towards Nip as well.

I don't have much to say about the epilogue, as it just seemed to be showing more of the setting as well as putting the chess pieces forward for the grander plot of the story. If we've already gotten the gist of Nip and Umbra's arc, then I doubt it'll linger more on that and this fic will start to move towards stuff with higher stakes.

Generally speaking, I really like this story so far, with a few quibbles about some of the side characters and pacing. Haru, despite not having the most distinct personality, is a good everyman (or everybidoof) that brings a more grounded viewpoint to the world. Nip is honestly my favourite out of the main cast, for being a compelling anti-hero as well as the source of a lot of the story's conflict and its themes of cultural clashes and, of course, places we call home.

This is supported by the clash between the 'civilized' environment of Theran Village and the chaos of the wildeners, the latter of which really get the raw end of the deal in how they're treated by the village Pokemon. They're just trying to live their own lives while respecting the rules and the unpredictable characteristics of the mystery dungeons, and a lot of the conflicts between the two groups so far have been caused by miscommunication rather than malice. I especially felt for the Fletchinder. I hope the characters, particularly Haru and Shimmer, will grow to become more sympathetic to them as the story goes on. Speaking of which...

While I like some of the side characters such as Toshi, Anu and Bruxi, there were a few that fell flat for me by virtue of having an abundance of minor characters, though my least favourite so far is Shimmer. Well, it's hard to think of her as one since she shares a lot of screen time, and she does get stuff done. While her connection with her father Jhorlo is interesting and also explains parts of her sheltered characteristics, her fawning for Toshi got rather grating after the first few chapters. It's been her most defining character trait so far amidst the other characters who have had well rounded and believable personalities. I'm sure she'll get more development later on, but at the moment, she feels like a one-note joke.

I'm also somewhat mixed on the pacing. On the one hand, I like the slower/slice of life pace of this story, since it allows the characters to be fleshed out even further, but it also means that it takes a while for the plot to really kick in. The Nip/Umbra conflict has been great so far, and I hope the fic continues on with it, but I also hope that's not the only thing the fic will revolve around for the greater plot to come.

Still, I hope I can pick up the fic again soon, and I'll see you around!
 
Last edited:

canisaries

voted most likely to be edgy
Location
the middle of nowhere
Pronouns
she/her
Chapter 3

Baskets of berries sat out both on top of the stand, and in front of it.
Comma doesn't fit here as there are only two items and the "both x and y" structure doesn't use a comma in general.

But the long-term exploration teams returning from the west should be pass through in the next moon.
*passing?

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.
"Lying" rather than "laying", and a comma is needed after "dam".

Regigigias
*Regigigas - this typo appeared a couple times in this chapter.

I know you two don’t see eye to eye on these things anymore but… can we please be civil.
Needs to end in a question mark, being a question.

Didin’t mean to start an argument…
*Didn't

Everything they new about the lands beyond were second-hand stories from water pokemon.
*knew

It’s run by a swallot
*swalot

It was a miss-mash
*mishmash (I googled, could not find anything on miss-mash)

It occurred to Haru that she might be acting like a huge jerk.
really now

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?
It's revealed later that Haru is actually referring to corpses, but this initially just gives mixed messages as it seems like she was referring to innocent pokemon.

Haru lead the way inside.
*led

Dying fur or skin with berry juices
*Dyeing in this case.

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.
No...? Just because she doesn't know the explanation to something doesn't mean she should without a doubt assume the god-explanation is the only one, right?

Also *Giratina. This is the third time I've come across a misspelled Pokémon name in this fic, so I feel like double-checking a name whenever including one might be useful.

---

This chapter got a lot of reactions out of me, and unfortunately I have to say a lot of them were negative. First for the positives:

Mandibuzz is definitely a great choice for the butcher-not-butcher, as vultures are definitely the face of scavenging in the animal kingdom. The logistics of this scavenging operation are also interesting and creative with ice being used to keep meat from spoiling, presumably through the cooperation of ice-type mon.

Haru gets much more fleshing out in this chapter which I think was missing from the previous chapters. How Nip thinks and how things were back home are also expanded upon, as well as how religion shows itself in Theran Village and how different ones interact (surprisingly peacefully?). Nip seems to have some great regret, and if I'm picking up hints correctly, it may be the reason he got exiled.

The chapter also ends with a new character and new intrigue to match. Guessing this is the mawile from the cover and the main antagonist to come.

But now for the gripes...

While Haru becomes more of a character, I find myself wishing she hadn't with how obnoxious and unreasonable she comes off. She's vocally disrespectful of others' religions despite knowing how important they can be to them and giving no examples of religion doing harm other than some vague "overreliance". Of course this only makes her as bad as the average "enlightened atheist" (and extremely rude for eavesdropping on someone's prayers), but where she gets really hard to stomach is her attitude towards carnivores.

First off, it's absolutely not possible to sustain a population of carnivores by scavenged carcasses alone. Maybe one or two in a village if the area of scavenging really is sizeable, but never an entire tribe. If there's a perfectly good carcass in nature, a wild carnivore will smell it and be there in no time to eat it, even if they aren't particularly hungry, as animals need to eat as much as they can to store up fat for worse seasons. If the carcass is already eaten, there will only be small scraps left. If the carcass, for some reason, is left alone by wildeners, chances are it's diseased or rotten. Dying of old age is very uncommon for animals - after all, once you begin to weaken with age, you become easier prey. Dying from an environmental hazard is rare as most animals have to be alert and agile to not have gone extinct by now.

Then if a perfectly good carcass does come up, the scavenger shop protocol requires them to ask if any tribe or village is missing a member matching the corpse, and if yes, it's sent away for a burial, no meat gained. And this setting really makes it seem like most mon live in tribes or villages, and that wildeners are smart and know language. These wildeners would then also be able to form relationships and grieve over dead relatives, meaning that no response to an announcement of death likely just means that the word didn't get to everyone, as otherwise the only people they'd get to eat would be hated by everyone and have a lower chance of survival to begin with if relatives don't care to protect them. In that case, it's a pretty flimsy moral excuse if eating someone's loved one is taboo.

It also feels very unlikely that a scavenger shop would have a solid supply of any certain species, unless those species are really good at dropping dead, at which point the population shouldn't last for more than a few generations to begin with.

However, let's suppose that there are enough carcasses to go around. Haru still shows disgust - which is biologically understandable - but she only suppresses it out of politeness rather than acknowledging that she should be supporting all things scavenging to keep carnivores from hunting. The only other option is for her to literally want carnivores to stop eating and starve to death. Not to have them executed fast and painlessly in a global culling to drive them extinct, but for them to starve to death. I didn't ever think I'd ever type these words, but genocide is literally more ethical.

But of course I do know that Haru is not meant to be right. The setup is there for her to see that her logic doesn't work and she's being unreasonable because she's, dare I say, privileged as a herbivore. This is where the issue shows its subjectivity. I've seen other people not be bothered by Haru so much, being more patient with unlikable characters becoming likable throughout the course of a story, but personally she grates me far too much. For an unlikable protagonist to work for a reader, the reader needs to want to see them get better, and in my case Haru hasn't engaged me enough for that.

I think what also harms engagement somewhat is that the world, while said to be large and with lots to find, doesn't currently seem like it has anything all that glamorous worth finding. I don't remember many examples being brought up, anyway. Haru says that her motive for finding more is not adventure but expanding business, but wouldn't knowing about faraway places only become relevant after expanding somewhere closer by? Not to mention tribes don't seem to have much use for carpentry in any case, having their own way of building already. It just doesn't seem like she's getting enough benefit from being with Nip to overcome the disgust she feels towards all things meat-eating.

I don't like how much complaining I'm doing, so I'll get the other notes over with fast. To me, the discussion at the start with the bellossom felt like it had pretty little importance relative to its length, as it's mostly some worldbuilding and the introduction of a rather unimportant seeming minor character. Shimmer is also starting to get somewhat annoying with her obsessive shtick remaining the same and not further explored. I also thought a while about the implications of her character on a more abstract level - the child of a powerful person is attracted to someone and forces themselves upon another person despite the person not being into it and only being polite. Is the victim being polite for politeness' sake, or do they fear consequences from the powerful person for rejecting the stalker's advances? Pretty creepy if you think about it that way, and makes Shimmer seem even less likable.

I'm sorry that this review came out pretty negative, but I don't want you to be discouraged by it. It seems there are plenty of readers keen on reading on, and I hope their feedback can help the story on its way forward. For me, I'm not sure if I'll continue - I've explained my subjective dislike of the protagonist, but you've also said the plot really picks up in the next chapter, and I'd hate to leave without seeing what this story is going for in a larger scope. If you don't think my feedback is really helping, though, just let me know and I'll get out of your hair, heh.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
Chapter 5

Hello, me again! First half of this is unnaturally grammar heavy; sorry in advance.

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.
I like this. It's not common (but entirely realistic) for protagonists/narration to follow a chain of logic and yet be completely wrong about something. Adds a nice bit of realism to things.

Just behind him, Muse - with Shimmer on her back as usual - had veered off
hello it me patron saint of em dashes instead of hyphens -- these should be em dashes

"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."
How big is absol in this world compared to bidoof + kirlia? I think the combined weight of Haru and Shimmer is close to Muse's entire weight, plus bidoof are pretty chonky and absol are pretty lanky.

Haru carefully slid off of Muses back
Apostrophe dropped off here.

Any other time, she would have turned the offer down, would have refused to hang around the duo with no one to intervene.
The last phrase in this sentence took me a few re-reads to parse. Maybe rephrase to something like "Any other time, she would have turned down the offer to hang around the duo with no one else to intervene"? Usually repetition is used in this way to make two different points, but here you're sort of making the same point once and then expanding on it the second time.

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.
It's strange that Haru calls out just Tor's species here and no one else.

He allowed the pokemon to murmur amongst themselves for several minutes before finally cutting in."
Stray quotation mark on the tail end here, and also "several minutes" is a pretty long time to let people talk. even if you are wanting to build up hatred against Nip or are secretly evil or whatever it's more like, count to two hundred while standing at a podium after a mic drop like that; maybe adjust this to a few seconds or half a minute?

playing that it wasn’t who she thought it was.”
another stray quotation mark

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.
The sentence structure here of "where X, Y, and Z were to" was hard to read -- having the list between 'where' and 'were' breaks up that phrase. Also/regardless duplicating such unique structure back-to-back definitely makes it stand out when I don't think this information needs to be flagged as anything special.

I'll touch bases with Numi
it's slang so idk, but I think you want 'touch base', singular, here

"go get any exploration gear you have together, we'll meet back at the edge of town in an hour."
comma splice!

Your dialogue exchanges sometimes go untagged -- this is technically okay since they're sort of back-solvable (idk the exact word, but it's easy enough to figure out who's saying what because there's clarification in the responding set of dialogue), but it's a little confusing going forward. Example below:
"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."
The 'what/why' could easily come from either Shimmer or Haru; there's not really enough character in that line to tell who's saying it. Muse's next line makes it clear that it's Haru, but forcing backtracking like this is a little messy from a reader standpoint.

"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?"
poor guy has completely forgotten that this means he'll have to deal with Shimmer now :')

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!"
Sort of like Toshi's line about how their mother pressure/not pressures him to get with Shimmer -- this feels like a lot more information in a single dialogue exchange than most characters would give. Haru's not really afraid to speak her mind so this is sort of in-character, but that + Toshi doing it last chapter makes lines like these stick out. And you sort of play it off as an accident with Haru here, but from a meta-perspective it still feels strange even with that justification?

she immediately noticed the drop-in temperature from summer to fall air
1. extra hyphen between 'drop' and 'in'; you don't need to join those words so you don't need a hyphen
2. I love this little detail! makes the dungeons seem mysterious~~


her fight broken by crashing into shimmer
You wanted 'flight' instead of 'fight' here, and you dropped capitalization on 'Shimmer'

"You don't need to apologize to me Muse!
dropped comma before 'Muse'

"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!"
shit's getting real now, yo.

This chapter is where things start to heat up, isn't it? I actually like the slow burn on this arc -- there are a lot of moving pieces going into what I assume is them confronting Nip, and I like that you explain the conflicting ideals that are going to make all of this fall to shit very soon.

I do wonder if you could condense a little further, though. The fletchling/fletchinder fight feels underwhelming compared to, for example, Nip's flight from town or the Umbra fight next chapter. The stakes are pretty low, it's pretty obvious that the heroes are going to win, and it's not like they're really fighting over anything in particular -- Haru was just dumb and tried to nick their stuff. If anything, the squad is actually in the wrong here since they almost stole some shit and then beat up the owners claiming self-defense. I feel like part of this was just to prove how inexperienced they are at fighting before having them fight Umbra, but they already seem to know that, and if even the main characters are telling us that they aren't good at something, it's pretty easy to accept that they aren't good at that thing.

I think especially because this arc of the fic is very fight heavy while the first few chapters were very talk heavy, the successive battling chapters start to stack up, and this chapter ends up being the forgotten middle child. You write the fights with good language, they're well-paced and fairly tense, but in this one there's really no sense of stake or any real reason for the conflict. Fights are really exciting when they're clashes in ideals, not characters -- so in chapter 4 it's really about how Nip's dog-eat-dog view of the world pairs up with the village's ideals of protecting one another; in chapter 6 it's really about Haru & co seeking answers/justice while Umbra is practicing shoot first/ask questions later. It's a lot easier to get invested in these conflicts because the parties involved are fighting for personal reasons that are complex and understandable -- and also for personal reasons that are deeply tied to the themes of cultural conflicts in this story so far, which you've done a really good job of establishing.

That's all I got for now! Sorry that this one ended up being mostly grammar/gripes; overall this arc is a really exciting one and I feel like this was just the chapter where things snagged a little for me.
 

Umbramatic

The Ghost Lord
Location
The Yangverse
Pronouns
Any
Chapter 3 Review!

I love your prose, it can have a playful energy to it sometimes.

Nip and Haru's dynamic is great, even when it brings up HORRIFYING MORAL DILEMMAS. Especially when it brings up HORRIFYING MORAL DILEMMAS.

Also I love Mandi. Mandibuzz needs more love.

...Also a Lucario!

me: "these pokemon species are underappreciated and i am glad you are giving them more love."

also me: -squeals with joy whenever she sees a Lucario-

The CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT Legendaries and how the characters treat them is making me Speculate. That's good. Speaking of speculation, who's this mysterious Mawile? We'll have to seeeeeee...

...Next time I review.
 
Chapter 11

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partner
sneasel-nip
Review Replies! First off in general, thanks for pointing out any typos you come across. I'll fix them up next time I do a round of revisions.

@NebulaDreams
To break it down, first of all, I wonder where the line is blurred between eggs that are just the yolk and eggs that have still-developing Pokemon. You could apply this to the real-life thing, though I doubt that was your intention (allegory and applicability are different, after all), but it does raise the question of when is an egg considered to be a child in this world, if there is any way to tell.
You're right that I wasn't planning for it to be an an allegory, though I'm kind of surprised no one else has brought this up.

The trial scene was tense, as I was genuinely wondering what would happen to Nip (though if this story is going to be quite long, I wouldn't expect him to be killed off so quickly), and really felt for him as he was trying not to crack under the pressure while having his fate discussed.
For what it's worth, current estimates put this at about 45 chapters. Could be a bit more or less though depending on how things go

If we've already gotten the gist of Nip and Umbra's arc, then I doubt it'll linger more on that and this fic will start to move towards stuff with higher stakes.
We'll be getting a bit more about them, but you're right that things are going to grow grander in scale as things move forward.

I'll also mention briefly that I want to explore more with Shimmer. Hopefully she'll get some development soon enough. Also, I love the analysis you did on Nip; it was really fun to read.

@canisaries
Thanks for the review. You bring up a lot of valid points, although some of them I'd chalk up to creative liberties, and others to early-installment weirdness that I should probably clean up later, now that things are more cement than they initially were. I do want to briefly mention that, regarding the scavenging shop, there are some grey areas that I haven't gotten into at the point you're at and that have just begun to be touched on in more recent chapters. (particularly on supply chains and such).

I totally understand if you don't want to continue reading, and will openly admit that my fic isn't for everyone. If you don't continue, thanks for giving it a shot anyways!

@kintsugi
Your dialogue exchanges sometimes go untagged -- this is technically okay since they're sort of back-solvable (idk the exact word, but it's easy enough to figure out who's saying what because there's clarification in the responding set of dialogue), but it's a little confusing going forward.
I've had several people point this out, so that's probably something I should resolve next time I do some editing.

I do wonder if you could condense a little further, though. The fletchling/fletchinder fight feels underwhelming compared to, for example, Nip's flight from town or the Umbra fight next chapter.
Yeah, a lot of people have mentioned the fletchinder fight feeling a bit off. I will say that to be fair, it originally wasn't supposed to be all that important, but it's grown a bit more important as I wrote further out. I'll still give it a glance over again in a future revision and see if I can't make it a little better though.

And to wrap this up, I'll say I'm glad that you like the fight scenes, as I have a lot of fun with them and would like to think I'm at least half-way decent at writing fights, lol.

@Umbramatic
Nip and Haru's dynamic is great, even when it brings up HORRIFYING MORAL DILEMMAS. Especially when it brings up HORRIFYING MORAL DILEMMAS.
Heh, yeah, I wanted them to have verrry different worldviews and experiences.

The CONSPICUOUSLY ABSENT Legendaries and how the characters treat them is making me Speculate. That's good. Speaking of speculation, who's this mysterious Mawile? We'll have to seeeeeee...
83c That's all. That's all I'll say on both of those points.


Chapter 11: It's Just a Question

Every part of Nip’s body ached.

He was no stranger to hard work; keeping the tribe’s resting grounds clean and tidy was by no means easy. And on rare occasions, more involved hunts and tasks kept him away from the resting grounds for days. But dragging around materials more than twice his size for hours on end with only a short break in the middle? Slicing and chopping wood for so long it made his paws bleed? No, that was not normal. But it was his new routine. And now, he found himself exhausted at the end of every day.

Somehow, he figured that was the point. Afterall, he knew far too well that an exhausted pokemon caused no trouble.

As usual, the day’s work continued as the sun crawled its way across the sky, until it was nearly dark out.

“Aight, I think that’s about enough for the day.”

The diggersby’s call announced the end to the grueling work. At once, Nip breathed out a relieved sigh, sinking to the ground before flopping his back. The dirt be damned, he was already dirty; what was a bit more? By now, the shadows were long, and the sky had grown a deep orange. Scattered, puffy clouds were tinged crimson as they drifted across the sky. Some pokemon back in his tribe would consider the color an ill omen. He didn’t know whether he should, as well.

He heard footsteps approaching and instinctually tensed, trying to sit back up. But his aching muscles protested, leaving him prone as the form of a quagsire loomed over him.

“Are you about done moping around? I’d like to head back and lock up for the night.”

Nip bit back a stinging retort, trying to hide his annoyance behind only the twitch of his ear. Best to not make things worse than he already had today. Rolling first onto his side, then onto his stomach, Nip peeled himself from the ground, climbing slowly to his feet.

As they began to walk away from the daycare and back towards the guard hut, he kept his head down, not interested in seeing the stares and leers of any village pokemon that might be going about their business at this hour.

The walk back towards the guard hut was fairly short; most places that weren’t dens – or houses, or whatever weird made-up word the villagers used for their weird shelters – were all together in a ring, taking a few minutes at most to reach, and the hut was no exception.

He came to a stop just outside the fabric barrier, listening to the quagsire follow behind. His ear feather twitched irritably as he waited. On one hand, the whole arrangement annoyed him, spending night after night in a dank cell, curling up in a corner in hopes of keeping warm in the drafty building. How did these pokemon stand it, being in such a wide-open chamber with only one narrow exit?

On the other hand, he couldn’t blame them for keeping him somewhere where he couldn’t run. He’d already tried finding a way out of the barred cell, striking at the metal with his claws and ice, to no avail. And it wasn’t the worst place he could be. Even if he couldn’t run, at least Umbra couldn’t get to him here.

At least, he hoped not. If she could, well, he was like a cornered rattata.

And that didn’t even touch on the diet he’d been given thus far. Whisper claimed that he’d eventually have money to purchase meat, but he wasn’t sure he believed that. He wasn’t sure that she wasn’t slowly starving him to death, enacting the only form of revenge the village had allowed.

The quagsire - Slies, if he remembered the name correctly - paused just behind him, waiting for him to keep going. When he did not, Slies scoffed and reached up to pull the curtain aside. Nip let out a resigned sigh and stepped inside.

The guard hut was one of the larger buildings, built with a second level. He had no idea what was on top, but the bottom was furnished with only a low, wooden platform, a couple of nests for the guards or any visitors to rest in, and three cells of varying sizes.

Typically, the bottom floor was empty at this time of day, or at most might have a single guard waiting for him and his watcher to return. But tonight, someone else, someone familiar was waiting in one of the nests.

A lump of brown fur raised up as they entered, alerted by the rustling of the fabric.

“Eh? Haru? What are you doing here?” Slies asked. “Everything alright? I hope you haven’t been waiting here long.”

“Long? Oh, no, no, not at-” Haru cut herself off with a yawn, blinking a few times. “Not at all. I just, er… and this might sound a bit weird I guess, but I kind of wanted to ask the, um… I wanted to ask Nip a couple questions. Is that okay?”

“Him?” Slies tilted his head, thumping his tail against the wooden floor a couple times. “Well, I mean, I guess it’s alright, go ahead.”

“Thanks. Of course.” But then she said nothing, just staring at Nip, then back to Slies. “Um… I know you have to keep an eye on him and all, but… do you mind giving me a minute of privacy? Maybe you could… just guard the entrance? There’s no windows or anything for him to escape through.”

“I dunno about that Haru… What if he takes you hostage or something? That could be just as bad.”

Nip felt almost insulted by the suggestion. “Do you really think I would do something as cowardly as that?”

“You stole an egg,” the quagsire pointed out. “I wouldn’t put anything past you.”

At that, Nip could only clench his teeth, his ear lying flat against his skull. He understood why they were upset, but death and cruelty were just facts of life, and he was only doing what he thought he had to for survival. How would taking Haru hostage help with that? In fact, it was more likely to get him killed.

He didn’t air his thoughts though, not wanting to risk a blast of frigid water to the face. Or worse.

Slies continued to give them a hard stare, but when Haru did not budge, he sighed and gave in. “Fine, Fine. Just for a few minutes though! I’ll be right outside. Give me a shout if you need me. "And you”—he turned to face Nip, thumping his heavy tail on the ground a couple times in a threatening manner—"you better be on your best behavior."

Nip said nothing, but forced himself to relax slightly, his tail feathers twitching.

With that, Slies brushed back past the curtain, leaving Nip and Haru alone in the room.

At first, Haru still said nothing, her gaze shifting to the ground. Nip shifted his weight uncomfortably in the silence, watching her without a word. “Well, what is it that you needed to ask so bad?”

“Just a second,” she said quickly. “I’m trying to figure out how to word it.” The silence stretched on for just a bit longer, before she finally sucked in a breath and answered. “I just… I don’t get it. What’s your problem?”

He blinked. “What’s… What’s my problem?”

“Yeah.” She looked back up. “How can you live with yourself, turning on and hurting the pokemon that took you in and saved your life? You killed someone’s child. Do you realize that? Or are you just morally bankrupt?”

Nip scrunched his nose at the start of a snarl, her sharp words stinging. This is what she came here for? To insult him and ask questions that he had already answered? He forced his fur to lie flat before replying. “That’s… Death is inevitable. Whether it be at the hands of a hungry predator, or because your prey struck back. Or any sort of horrible accident. And at some point, you just have to accept it. You have to accept that you must kill to live, or you have to accept that the world isn’t safe, and that others might hunt you for food. Sometimes it’s both. It’s terrifying, I will admit. But it’s just the way life works.”

Haru blinked a couple times, seemingly stunned by his response. Whether that was a good thing or a bad thing, he couldn’t tell. But finally, her gaze hardened. “So that’s it, you justify your actions because that’s just the way the world works? What a terrible excuse.”

“Well, I’d like to hear what you think then. Do you really think searching for unfortunates and letting your carnivore friends eat what amounts to carrion is healthy? That it’s right? Do you really believe that it actually works that way?”

“Yes? That’s the agreement every pokemon has to live by, to be able to live in a civilized society. They don’t hunt and kill other pokemon, and in turn, they have access to all the resources and materials living in a town provides. Simple enough.”

“You can’t really believe that’s sustainable, do you?”

“Why wouldn’t it be, it’s worked for all these years.”

“How do you know though?” Nip asked, tapping his claws together. “You don’t seem like you’ve bothered keeping up with any of that. Have you ever even bothered asking and finding out?”

“I don’t need to,” Haru insisted. “It’s written into our laws and rules. If there was something shady going on, surely someone would have done something about it by now.”

Nip opened his mouth to say something more, but shut it, sensing that this wasn’t an argument he was going to win. Instead, he just let out a huff of air and returned back to the first subject.

“Fine. Let me try explaining another way. I…” He trailed off, hesitating. How much was he willing to share? On one hand, he’d already spilled most of his story, and he doubted hiding anything now would matter. On the other, he was still hesitant to tell the whole story, seeing how she’d reacted thus far. There were still things about his life that he doubted she would take well. And he feared the idea of losing this last chance at life if he said the wrong thing.

“Well? I’m waiting. And you know what, let me ask you another question while I’m at it. Why did you steal an egg, when you could have just gone a little bit further out of town and stolen from the meat shop?” Then she quickly added, “Not that I’m encouraging theft, but theft is less heinous than murder.”

“I already answered this,” he growled, quickly growing frustrated. “I honestly thought that it was my best option. In the moment, I was concerned with getting away as quickly as possible. For all I knew, Umbra could have already reached the village and was just waiting for me to show myself.”

“And you really think she would kill you in the middle of the village? Or at all?”

“Yes!” Why couldn’t anyone else see Umbra for how dangerous and aggressive she was? “If it wasn’t for the guards here, she would sneak in and kill me right now, I’m sure of it. And if she had caught me alone in the village then, well, if she didn’t kill me where I stood, she’d at least drag me off into the woods and kill me there.”

“Because of what you did in your tribe?” Haru hesitated for a moment, pawing nervously at the straw. “…I’m going to be honest Nip, based on everything you two have said, I can’t totally blame her for wanting you dead, even if I don’t agree with handling things like that.”

Nip recoiled. Was she serious? Did she wish him dead too? He drew his paws down his face, trying to keep his emotions in check. “No. Well, yes, but also no. She wanted me dead from the moment we were paired together, because she saw herself as too valuable to be paired with a scrawny, runty sneasel for a mate.”

He sucked in a deep breath and let it out slowly, then began to pace, his ear lying flat against his skull as he grew more and more irritated. “But she couldn’t just kill me, could she? That would just get her thrown out of the tribe instead. So, she went out of her way to make my life a walking nightmare. Do you have any idea what it’s like to be kicked out of your home on a cold winter’s night? To be forced to find shelter elsewhere as a blizzard bears down on you? To day in and day out be scared to leave home, for fear of someone taking their anger out on you? To have everyone look down on you and view you as a disappointment? Because if not, then you have no right to judge me. And if that’s all you came here to do, you might as well just leave.”

Satisfied with his response, Nip turned and took a few steps away, turning his back towards the door. It would be so easy to knock her over and make a mad dash to freedom right now, but what good would it do him, breaking out in the middle of the square with too many pokemon still around? Umbra would just chase him down again, and he’d be back to life on the run.

He expected Haru to turn and leave, but he never heard the sound of retreating pawsteps or of rustling fabric. When the silence stretched on for far too long for comfort, he turned to glance back, and caught sight of Haru still standing in the same spot, staring at the ground with an unreadable expression.

“Did you have something else to gripe at me about?”

Haru was startled out of her thoughts, jumping at the sound of his voice. She blinked once, then spoke hesitantly. “I just… I don’t get it. I can’t figure you out. You’re ungrateful and cold-hearted and act like you did nothing wrong. And yet you’re just serving your sentence like you want to change. Why haven’t you run off by now?”

The truth? A believable lie? What difference would it make, now? “I… suppose it sort of benefits me, at the moment,” he replied before taking a seat in one of the nests, pausing to run his tongue along his shoulder, beginning his nightly grooming ritual.

“What do you m- do you just do that in front of everyone?”

“What, groom? Most pokemon know better than to stare. There’s no privacy here anyways.”

“No. I mean, yes, but most pokemon just don’t groom in front of others period. Unless they’re trying to show off that they don’t see someone as a threat, or they’re really close I guess.”

He let out a quiet huff. “Well you can view it that way if you want. Because I don’t see you as threatening at all.”

“Hey!” Haru snapped. “Don’t forget who beat you last time!”

“You used dungeon magics on me. I’d hardly call that a fair fight.”

“What, the orb? If you’re upset about being beaten that way, that’s your problem, not mine.”

Nip held back a growl. Great, now they were back to arguing again. This would get them nowhere. So, he elected to ignore her again, returning to his grooming. The silence stretched on for another few minutes before Haru spoke again.

“Ugh, let me just… I can’t make sense of you. How is this beneficial to you?”

“It’s simple,” Nip replied in a matter-of-fact tone. “If I’m in here under the watch of all these guards, and Umbra’s out there, then she can’t get at me without a fight. It’s not ideal, but it’s safer than trying to run off now. She can’t even attempt to kill me without everyone noticing.”

Haru stared at him for a long time. “Okay, Nip. I could believe that, but I’m still not convinced she’s going to kill you.”

“You don’t know her like I do. It took me more than a moon to travel from my tribe to here. Do you really think she’d go all that way back with me as a prisoner? Even if it wasn’t so far, she would have killed me anyways. She’s always been looking for an excuse to get rid of me, I know it. She was expecting someone far stronger and more prestigious than a runt that had to fight to be acknowledged as a skilled hunter.”

As he spoke, he could see the Haru’s expression begin to shift towards one of deep concentration. “Are you… sure you’re not overreacting a little?”

Nip let out a low hiss. “You don’t know what I went through. How many nights I spent either out in the cold, or huddled in the back, expecting Umbra to come back and lash out for existing around her. Don’t you dare tell me I’m overreacting.”

“Surely someone would have noticed if any of this was actually happening and done something about it, right? Why didn’t you just tell someone?”

He couldn’t help but scoff. “I did. But no, Umbra was too well-respected, no one would have believed me. The few pokemon I did tell did nothing to stop it. Tempest at least tried to provide some comfort… but he’s even more an outsider than I was. What was he supposed to do?”

Haru open her mouth to say something, but paused, thinking. “Who was Tempest, again? I think you said his name before.”

“My mentor. He taught me much. But he was adopted into the tribe as little more than a pup. He never would have gained much power in the tribe, and he didn’t have any when I… left.”

He waited for a moment for Haru to reply. When she didn't, he turned his attention to smoothing out his ruffled fur. Another moment or so passed before she finally stood, shaking a couple times, tossing bits of straw that had gotten stuck to her fur in all directions before beginning to head to the exit.

She paused halfway there. "You know I have no reason to believe you, right?"

The statement stung more than it should have. "I don't care whether you believe me or not. I know the truth. But if you’re not going to listen… why did you bother coming in the first place?"

Haru took another few steps, then faltered. She hesitated for a few seconds longer, not daring to look up at Nip. “You better watch yourself,” she finally warned. “They might change their sentencing if they don’t think you care about changing.” Then she disappeared through the fabric.

Nip stared for just a bit longer, a cold pit forming in his stomach. But he forced himself to relax. He didn’t need to worry about what she thought. Whether she got the answers she was seeking, he did not know. Nor did he care. He couldn’t be bothered to care, when she obviously didn’t do the same.

Slies entered a few heartbeats later, his mouth turned in a tired frown. "By ‘Gigas, could you two be any louder? You're luck-" He cut himself off. "Nope, not going to say it. That would probably be in poor taste."

The quagsire's tail thumped against the ground a couple times as he headed over to an alcove on the far side of the room and reached an arm in, pulling out a ring with three bumpy bits of metal. Keys was the word Nip had learned over his last few days here.

He begrudgingly stood up as Slies approached him, not wanting to draw his ire and take a thump from that slimy tail. Silently, he allowed the quagsire to lead him over to the mid-sized cell, a small chamber perhaps three times as wide, long, and high as he was tall. Calling the inside sparsely furnished would be an understatement; the only things in the cell were a small water trough by the bars and a messy straw bed. Bits of hay were still strewn about the floor from when he'd gone a bit stir-crazy the first night he'd been held here, but that he hadn’t bothered to gather up.

Now behind the relative safety of the bars, he waited until he heard the sound of a click behind him before moving to settle into the nest with his back to the rest of the room. There, he finished grooming himself before settling down uneasily.

Not that he was asleep though. No, that would take some time. For a while, he just laid there with his back to all the guards that came and went, getting ready to change shifts. Whisper approached his prison at some point, trying to get him to speak to her. Demanding it even. He didn't answer though. He never did. Because he doubted anything he could say would make her forgive him, and he didn’t see the point in trying.

He didn't even want her forgiveness, though. Stealing eggs was just a part of a sneasel's nature. Or so he'd been told. And he felt no shame using that to his advantage, even if he would have done things differently now, now that he'd had time to think about the repercussions of his action.

Eventually though, the sun set completely, leaving the room dimly lit by jars of luminous plants. And after a short time, one of the guards came and put most of those away, leaving only a single source of light in the room.

Even then, Nip stayed awake for a while longer. Listening quietly for the sound of movement, particularly from outside. But all he heard was the occasional passing of footsteps, accompanied by torchlight from under the curtain doorway as a guard made the rounds.

At some point, he sent a silent prayer to Yveltal, wondering if he’d said and done the right things.

Only once he was totally exhausted did Nip finally drift into fitful, troubled sleep, his dreams disturbed by rough waves, flashing lightning, and frost-covered trees.

*​

Morning came and went in much the same way it had been for the last several days. A guard would come and rouse him by stuffing a handful of berries into a thin slat under the bars, and he'd chew with disinterest so that his stomach at least would not be growling when he left to do labor.

Eventually, the sound of scraping claws or heavy footsteps on the wooden boards would alert him to an approaching guard, and he would get up and follow them out to help with construction, the only job that he could help with at the moment. Or at least, the only job willing to take him.

This morning, however, there was a slight bump in the routine. Breakfast came and went as usual, and the flaffy guard came at the usual time, but as they made their way across the square to the construction zone, Nip noted several dozen wooden boxes laying along the road, filled to the brim with berries. There, Essra was busy using her psychic powers to load them up on a wooden board with wheels, the rapidash guard waiting at the end of it.

Nip slowed down as they passed by, curiosity getting the better of him. For a second, he locked eyes with the bellossom that ran the stand. But she quickly averted her gaze to her partner, the roserade standing beside her. That pairing was something he had been curious about for a long time, but an explanation would have to wait for another day.

“Move along, sneasel,” the flaffy bleated, poking him between the shoulder blades to get him moving. “Nothing to see here.”

“What are they doing?” he asked.

The flaffy snorted. “What, never seen a convoy before? They’re getting ready to trade goods with one of our southern neighbors. Don’t you have anything like that where you’re from?”

“Not at all,” Nip replied. “Territories are heavily disputed, and it’s always each tribe looking out for themselves.”

“Don’t know how you guys survive like that. But whatever. Now come along. We haven’t got all day.”

And then they were off again, closing the last of the gap to the nursery construction site.

Both Grombert and Chipper were already there, the bibarel of the pair busily gnawing away at a long, relatively thin log, working to cut it apart into manageable pieces. When he saw the pair making their way towards him, he raised a paw in greeting and paused to stretch out his back.

"Oh, good morning you two. It's a bit colder today, don’t you think, really doing a number on these joints of mine."

Now that he mentioned it, Nip did realize things were a bit colder. Nothing like the harsh weather of the north, but at least cool enough that he felt comfortable in his fur. His ear feather twitched in acknowledgement of the comment.

"Y'best go talk to old Grombert and see what he wants done today. I think we're putting up the awning today. Another day or two and I'd say we'll have this job finally done.

"Really, like this?" the flaffy asked. "You're not going to put in any security measures?"

Chipper blinked a couple times, and then groaned, sitting back on his haunches. "That's right, I totally forgot about the gate. Grombert was working on the fence today. Guess I'll have to bring over more logs tomorrow."

"How is this... gate supposed to protect this place?" Nip questioned.

All eyes turned to Nip, their gazes ranging from cautious glances to dangerous glares. It took him a second to realize what their problem was.

"No, no," he said quickly, raising up his paws in front of him defensively. "Not like that. I mean. Where I'm from, they use thorns and brambles, as well as mon-fashioned spike traps, to protect the nursery den from intruders, so that the only way you'd be able to get in is either an attack or by going through the front entrance. otherwise you just get a paw or face full of painful spikes.”

Chipper's eyes lit up. "Oh, this works... similarly, I guess. Perhaps not as dangerous to the children. It's just a fence around the perimeter to keep people from just walking right in."

That made... some sense, Nip supposed. Though he didn't see how that would protect from an attack from above. Something like a staraptor swooping from above would be a real threat.

Before he had a chance to voice this concern, however, he heard a voice squeak from behind.

"Eep! The sneasel's back!"

He turned his head just in time to catch the retreating, spectral form of a pumpkaboo, rushing back to the safety of the daycare. Once he was safely back on the other side of the wall, he turned back to steal a glance towards Nip from the entryway. But when he saw the sneasel looking right at him, he squeaked in alarm again and disappeared inside. Every day, it was the same thing. The skittish pokemon would cry out an alarm when he saw him, and then run off.

"Tor, the sneasel’s back! Why won't you make him go away?" he heard the child cry out.

Then he heard the blissey's deep, monotonous voice reply quietly. "It's not my decision Myo. I just need you to be brave for a few more days. Can you do that for me?" The pumpkaboo, Myo, said nothing, so Tor continued. "Why don't you get Aves and go watch the berry cart head out of town. Wouldn't that be fun?"

"I... guess so..."

"Hey, earth to sneasel. Anyone in there?"

Nip snapped back to attention as a pink paw waved in front of his face. He turned his head slightly towards the flaffy, who grunted before pointing out Grombert again.

"I said, why don't you hurry up and get started already."

Biting back a stinging retort, Nip lowered his head and began to walk towards the diggersby. Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed the pumpkaboo from before and the shuppet he'd fought during his escape leave the daycare, giving him a wide berth as they floated off towards where the boxes of berries had nearly been loaded up.

Now standing before Grombert, he cleared his throat to catch the diggersby's attention. Grombert turned towards him, one ear holding a handful of small, uniformly shaped red rocks.

"'Bout time you showed up," Grombert said, grumbling as he dropped the stones onto a pile of more stones. "I'll be having you work on laying bricks for the fencing today, at least till it's too high for you. Got everything you need right here." He gestured with both his left paw and left ear towards the pile of rocks, and then to a wooden trough filled with some sort of grainy, grey slop.

Nip shivered involuntarily at the thought of dipping his paws into that mess. "What, do expect me to use my bare claws or something?"

"Only if you break the trowel." The diggersby stooped down and picked up a flat piece of wood sticking out of the grainy mess. "It's easy enough. Lemme show you how it's done."

Nip watched as he began to work, scrapping a thin layer of the substance, which Grombert soon explained was called "mortar" on the side of one of the stones before placing it next to another one on the ground. He did this a couple more times before starting a second row, setting up the next set of bricks so that they overlapped with the previous row. Then he finally passed the trowel off to Nip and pointed out where he wanted the bricks before finally leaving him alone with his guard, heading over to where Chipper was busy at work prepping wood.

Despite his best efforts, Nip managed to get some of the mortar stuck to his paws as he began working, the cold, wet, grainy substance sticking to his fur in uncomfortable ways. He grumbled as he laid the bricks, fighting the urge to work carelessly.

He had only just finished his first row of work when he was interrupted yet again, this time by Haru approaching the work area, pausing to let the berry cart pass by before crossing over to the work area.

She didn't even acknowledge Nip as she passed, heading straight to her father, grumbling under her breath.

"Mom said you forgot to take your herbs," Haru announced before Chipper could say anything, ducking out of her bag’s strap. "She still doesn't want Toshi up and about, walking all the way to the square yet after his injury, so she sent me instead."

"Is that why I'm aching so bad?" the bibarel asked. "I thought it was the weather."

"Well, it is cold," Haru agreed, "so I don't know. But please don't do this again. I had to stop what I was doing to run these all the way down here. I was nearly done cleaning the tree I was working on, too!"

"Gods, thanks Haru, didn't mean to make you worry about me or anything," Chipper said as she pulled out a couple of white herbs, placing them on the ground in front of him. "Thanks though."

"Don't mention it. Now if you'll excuse me, I-"

Haru didn't finish her sentence. In the distance, there was a loud crash and a bright flash of light, followed by shouting and a blast of frigid air.

All five pokemon turned in near unison towards the source. A gout of flame burst into the air in the distance, but the source was out of sight. Seconds later, Whisper came dashing by, heading in the direction of the fire.

"That looks like it came from the direction of the berry cart," the flaffy announced, alarm creeping into his voice. He looked out towards the direction, then nervously back at Nip, then back towards the sound of shouts. "Stay here," he said in a warning tone, before racing off towards the source.

That left Grombert, Chipper, Nip, and Haru, to stare at each other uneasily as shouts and the sounds of battle kicked off in the distance. Every few seconds, there would be a flash of light or a plume of fire, followed by a crash or a snap, or many other manners of attacks.

It seemed like the sounds were slowly growing closer, however. Many of the village civilians had come out from the surrounding businesses to look at the commotion.

A pair of ghastly figures came zipping through, making a beeline for the daycare. They dashed behind the gathered pokemon, then huddled behind Tor just beyond the doorway.

"A scary pokemon's trying to break into town," Aves announced, huddling a bit closer to Myo.

"Yeah! real scary! He attacked Romi when she wouldn't let him by. Wouldn't even talk to her!"

Another blast of frigid air flowed in their direction, strong enough for ice crystals to begin forming on the tips of Nip’s fur even this far away. He paused, sniffing as the wind passed by. Another plume of smoke filled the air. Something about the smell on the wind struck Nip as off. Familiar, even. For just a few seconds, he was transported in his mind back to kithood, to a cold winters day as he followed a pokemon off into the woods surrounding their home.

Without thinking, Nip darted off, dashing in the direction of the smoke. Behind him, he heard shouts of protest and anger, and at least one pokemon chasing him, but he ignored them.

He wasn't trying to run away. Not right now. He just needed to know.

It wasn't long before the scene of the battle came into view, though it seemed like the fight was nearly over by now. Four of the guards were fighting, some in better conditions than others. A thin layer of ice caked one of Whisper's wings, while the rapidash was struggling to stand, with cuts and bruises lining her body. Sparks of electricity danced off of both Vale and the flaffy's flank, neither of them looking too bad, with only a couple of scrapes and some ice crystals stuck to their fur.

Collapsed in the center of the four was a ninetales, his blue-white fur ratty, caked in mud, and singed. He, like Romi, was struggling to climb to his feet, his breathing ragged. As he stood, Nip could see a nasty, infected wound stretching from his neck all the way down to his shoulder.

And despite all that, despite the wound and the mud and the vague look in his eye as he stared down the village guard with a soundless snarl, Nip still recognized him. Without thought for his safety, he called out the familiar name.

"Tempest!"
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
Hello! Me again, catching up as the plot thickens.

He was staying there for a time yes, but he's run off now.
Dropped a comma before 'yes'.

Shimmer and Muse glanced to him for a moment, then - getting the idea - rushed ahead to block the exit.
pouncing forward horn first, dark purple energy forming a glowing aura around her horn
Normally you're really good at avoiding this, but the double 'horn' here is a bit repetitive in such close context.

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!"
lmao this is the best description for the efficacy of Disarming Voice that I've seen (which is to say, no efficacy)

jaw full of razer-sharp fangs
should be 'razor', I believe

dazed for a moment as the world swirled around her
dropped a period at the end of this sentence

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.
getting some heavy Thanos/Infinity War vibes from this section tbh

And she was no fire.
I'm not quite sure what this sentence is supposed to be saying.

It's time to be quiet guys.
Comma before 'guys'

“Gods, Haru, what have you gotten yourself into this time?”
Fun cliffhanger! Egad.

This chapter feels like the second half of chapter five, in a good way -- it wraps up a lot of those dangling threads and really helps push things along. I think having the group fight Umbra 4v1 is a good call, because plausibly it gives them some reason to actually survive the encounter while you can still show off how poorly-equipped for everything they are.

And Umbra finally gets some non-evil lines! I think this is a really interesting development. If she's not lying about what Nip did, I'm honestly quite curious to see how you plan on redeeming Nip or making him a sympathetic character again -- it's one thing to have teenage mood swings, and it's another to use those mood swings to destroy a bunch of kids? I dunno. I like how you've left it up in the air for whether or not Umbra's telling the truth or not; there's definitely someone in this mix who isn't being fully honest. it's probably jhorlo

Still catching up slowly and steadily, but thanks for sharing so far!
 

Adamhuarts

Mew specialist
Pronouns
He/Him
Partner
mew
I just read the third chapter. It was a largely uneventful chapter apart from the very last scene which foreshadows a possible new threat for Nip and possibly the village in extension. It was interesting seeing the contrast between Nip and Harus worldviews, with her having an atheistic and vegan lifestyle while he was religious and isn't morally against consuming flesh. It's definitely a heavy topic to tackle, even moreso in a pokemon world where there isn't a fine line between the sapience of civilized and wild pokemon, so I'm curious to know how you'll overcome it.

The characterization was pretty well done and I liked the world building and ambiguity of the existence of legendary pokemon. A decent chapter overall.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
chugging along into chapter seven!

‘What would Expedition Head Blue do?’
WWEHBD, the cool kid's version of WWJD

“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.
Dropped a quotation mark at the end here.
Also! It's pretty rich from Haru aka "have you just tried not eating meat because killing things is barbaric" to be so nonchalant about loss of life here. I feel like the phrase "I don't really want to" is usually followed by "floss my teeth" or "eat Thai food tonight", not discussing if someone lives or dies. I sort of get what you want to do here -- Haru is young and naive and is probably just parroting things she's heard before, but this flippant approach feels inconsistent, even for her.

“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.”
“What did I say about sudden movements, dear?”
this was a really cute pair of details and I liked them. Adults being good at their jobs! Yes!

“I know, I know ma’am. Sorry.”
Dropped a comma before 'ma'am'

“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?
This is absolutely what's happening isn't it.

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.”
In-universe it makes sense that they'd have to have this recap conversation, but from a meta perspective it's a little weird to have this talk shown to us an entire chapter later. I almost don't think you need it? There were some good hints in-context in chapter 6 that this wasn't the orb Shimmer was aiming for ("Oh no, that's not the totter orb!"), and that she was the one who called for help (before whipping her head back go glare dangerously at Shimmer. "You… you called for them?"; btw, you just noticed you use 'go' instead of 'to' there). This recap sorta feels like someone else missed those hints and asked that you add in an explanation for how that happened, haha.

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.
Poor Nip, only now thinking over his mistakes.

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.
This is a really nice line! I liked it a lot.

“Storyteller… Bruxi?”
Unsure if he's suspicious of the 'Storyteller' or the fact that her first name is just the first five letters of her species name. it's me Homosa the homo sapiens

“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?”
Joking aside, Bruxi as a character comes at a really good point in the narrative. I like that she's a bit more flippant about the logic and rules of things; it's a really welcome respite from the heavy drama that's surrounding Nip/squad at this point in the story. But at the same time, she's still able to shed some light on how the other pokemon in the dungeon might feel -- it's a really clever way of bringing things back around and making characters relevant again.
And who would have a better story than Bruxi the Bruxish?

instead of halfway across the land chasing after a pokemon as ungrateful as nip.
Dropped a capital 'N' here

Umbra reached up to scratch behind her undamaged.
Dropped 'ear' here I think (?)

Do you have any idea how disrespectful it would be to leave a tribemate to be scavenged?
I do like that you've shown the tribe's values in a few places here -- for the most part it's sort of posed as a lawless anarchy society vs overbearing rules village society, and it's nice to have some nuance reflecting that the tribe cares about its own still.

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.”
Did she even read this contract?
...can she even read??

A bit of a quieter chapter, but it's the calm before the storm. The flow of setup feels really natural here, and I think Bruxi's appearance gives a bit of energy to what would otherwise be a dialogue-heavy chapter. I also really like how you're taking your time building up to this confrontation -- shit's absolutely going to go square-shaped once they all converge, but you're taking your time steering us there, which makes the payoff even better.

also heads up I realize a lot of this is old chapters so my commentary is/has been/will be a bit more sparse than normal -- I'm definitely enjoying the ride though!
 

NebulaDreams

Pokémon Trainer
Partner
luxray
Bonus Episode 1

tightly rolled-up blanket before closing it up and pulling the strings taunt.
*taut

digging into her skin. .
There's an extra period there you might want to cut out.

“Oh, but you’re no ordinary civilian,” the salandit hissed, slinking forward before holding the ring up in the air, inspecting it. “Joy, here-” she paused as she gestured to the hattrem “-happened to pick up on your emotions and took a little listen in your brain, and just so happened to hear you thinking about a meeting of Hoopa zealots. Now, everyone can follow whatever legends they want, of course. But a meeting of followers of a chaos god can’t mean anything good.”


“The local enforcers aren’t nicest branch around,
*aren't the nicest branch around

So... this was kind of interesting, in that it marked the first change of format and transition in between arcs, and since the story has mostly been bound to Theran village, it was nice to see more of your world outside of that. Though since this was placed after a very solid and tense chapter with a few loose ends, I was still adamant to get to the next proper one, but this was a welcome change of pace. I liked the concept of it, the pacing of the fight, and how it ties into your other themes of religion elsewhere in the story. All something that was caused by a big misunderstanding in the end, then having Yellow cut the fight short, was a good anticlimax.

Having said that, I was kind of underwhelmed by the execution of the chapter, mostly because of the ending since that's what it felt like it was building up to. You have a good opportunity to set the scene with the eclipse and possibly tug on some heartstrings with all of Hoopa's followers writing down their hopes and dreams. That could've been a beautiful scene with potential for interaction as well as visual description of the eclipse (if it's a special event, then it would stand out more in the description and have more emphasis from the character's POV), but I felt like that part was rushed and the ending was a bit abrupt. So I did enjoy it as a whole, but felt there was untapped potential there.

Chapter 10

"No, no bad, you idiot. This is not where you want to be. Or when? What year is this? Hundreds of years in the past, at least? What time is the 'present' right now?"

But the view of the battleground did help clear up where he was. On the positive side of things, he was at least close in space to his destination. Now he just needed to get out of here and travel through time a bit.

Celebi placed his hands on his hips. "Okie doke. Theran Village, Theran Village… Now, when were you founded, again?"
Ohhhhhhh shit.

I don't give a shit if you starve
And speaking of shit, even given the story's grittier tone than most PMD fics, I felt like the use of swearing here was a bit out of place.

"No, wait, let me be more specific. I'm here because your son voted to rehabilitate him. It was tied up, and your son had to go and be the good guy."
Ouch. I sure hope Toshi isn't a pariah by now.

The purugly's maw twisted into a cruel, toothy style.
*smile?

Chapter 11

Nip let out a low hiss. “You don’t know what I went through. How many nights I spent either out in the cold, or huddled in the back, expecting Umbra to come back and lash out for existing around her. Don’t you dare tell me I’m overreacting.”

“Surely someone would have noticed if any of this was actually happening and done something about it, right? Why didn’t you just tell someone?”
Wow, fuck you, Haru.

And despite all that, despite the wound and the mud and the vague look in his eye as he stared down the village guard with a soundless snarl, Nip still recognized him. Without thought for his safety, he called out the familiar name.

"Tempest!"
OHHHHHHHHHHHH SHIET!

I thought I might as well review chapters 10 and 11 together. First off, I was really surprised by Celebi's introduction here (Just don't tell him about Haru being a non-believer otherwise he'll erase her ass from history), and also scared for the future of Theran Village. I say surprised because, well, I wasn't expecting it to take such a turn there yet. Side note, I thought the description of Celebi jumping across different timelines and such was nice.

Other than that, it continued the Umbra and Nip storylines in the manner I expected it to go, with Umbra getting outwitted by Jhorlo (always read the fine print) and Nip carrying on his community service. As sorry as I feel for him, he got what was coming to him, which again, was balanced out nicely with his viewpoint compared to that of the village's.

I was waiting for Haru and Nip to have the talk for quite a while now, so her and him clashing in the future was bound to happen. But, uh...

Okay, this honestly made me dislike Haru quite a bit. Not that it's necessarily a flaw with the story, since character flaws are interesting sources of conflict, so I hope she eventually comes around. While her trepidation towards Nip is understandable, since both sides have a point to it (Nip being a survivalist and Haru not vibing with premature child murder), her reaction to him talking more about Umbra's abuse towards him honestly rubbed me the wrong way. Again, I'm torn, since Haru isn't supposed to be ideologically-pure to begin with while also suffering from tunnel vision in regards to her own upbringing, but her response of 'surely someone would have noticed' came across as really insensitive. Like she can't fathom the fact that he was treated unjustly and that his own tribe turned a blind eye to him. Or that he felt powerless to speak because of the position he was in and possibly the shame he would've felt in admitting it. Or anyone else for that matter going through a similar situation whether they're from his tribe or her village. How would she react if Anu came up to her and said something to a similar effect about Whisper?

I guess I understand her not believing his story either after what he pulled in the past, but his reaction here did come across as desperate and genuine, and for her to not see that came across as rather shortsighted on her end. What about asking Umbra her side of the story before jumping to such a conclusion about him? If she was so adamant to give him a voice on the defendant's chair in the trial, why not apply that same logic to asking his former mate?

While I agree that Nip has to change himself as well, I dunno, now I have rather mixed feelings towards Haru's character. I know some other reviewers might have pointed it out in previous chapters about her, but here is where it was the most troublesome for me. Again, I'm sure that's the point, considering that your world and how it approaches themes like culture shock has been rather nuanced so far, but at the same time, Haru really needs to get off her high horse.

Sorry for the rant. The rest of the chapter was interesting, and of course, ended on an equally gripping cliffhanger considering what we know about Tempest so far. I expect there'll be some dramatic narrative shifts soon. I hope so, as well as some much needed character development for our main cast.
 

kintsugi

golden scars
Pronouns
she/her/hers
Partner
silvally-grass
Chapter Eight! Ironically called race to the finish as I try to race to catch up with your prodigious update rates, fml.

“Got everything?” the kirlia asked in a whisper.
This felt a little wordier than normal -- I think "the kirlia whispered" would probably be fine?

the entrance to the dungeon was just as barren as it had been before, with not a single guard watching it yet.
This ends up being a thing that's been brought up a bunch across the past few chapters -- really interested in what the payoff ends up being, because (I think?) it hasn't actually had plot relevance yet?

“Oh, fine,” she agreed, sifting her attention
me thinks you meant "shifting"

“Try the path to the left!” Shimmer shouted, glancing back over her shoulder nervously, expecting the brutish beast to reappear any second. “The left!”
I really liked the flow of dialogue here. The way you sandwich the description with Shimmer's frantic statement and subsequent correction makes the whole exchange much more immersive; nicely done. I feel like a lot of quips in action sort of fall apart under their own weight, but this was really well-timed and doesn't take up so much space that it becomes distracting, ya know?

Legends say that the mystery dungeons are the scars of the War of the Ancient Ones. It’s…. Kind of sad, to look at it in person, and see that even hundreds… thousands of years later, scars still remain on the land.”
Oh! More myth/legend lore! We saw hints of it in the prologue and early chapters, but it's back?? Maybe???

By now, more pokemon living in the stable zone were appearing, jumping into the fray with little notice of who was friend or foe, drawn by the sound of battle.
This seems counter-intuitive to the pact? You make a good case for why the wildeners would want to take out the townsfolk who are breaking the pact, but it's not clear why more wildeners would want to potentially/recklessly attack other wildeners outside of the pact.

Without waiting for an answer, she raced forward with her head lowered, prepared to headbutt him.

Only to earn a sharp pain to the side of the head as he struck first.

She stumbled, knocked off course by the glancing blow. As she reeled, he turned tail in an attempt to flee.

She responded by chomping down on one of his tail feathers and tugging.

The sneasel yelped as his balance was lost and stumbled, momentum lost.
Your overall battle flow here is really excellent -- it's a good mix of chaos and a bunch of different sides clashing at once -- but here in particular this feels overly staccato. First one thing. Then another thing. And a third thing. The rapid sentence breakdown, made more pronounced with the paragraph breaks, makes the events feel disjointed when in reality they're happening in rapid succession, I think.

“Oh, quit your whining, it’ll all be over soon” Umbra growled
Dropped comma between 'soon' and 'Umbra'

“I guess that’s fair enough,”
...is it though? I feel like the wildeners (including Umbra) are all getting shafted here (which I think is your point?). We clearly aren't out of the woods yet with the conflict, even if the physical fighting is probably wrapped up.

But wow! So this arc is coming to a close, and it was certainly eventful. I think you've done a really masterful job of juggling a bunch of different plot threads here, and it's nice to see some of the things come full circle -- the fletchinder is sort of relevant I guess? If that's the full payoff for the fight in chapter five, I still think you could streamline a little. But outside of that, I do like how so many threads converged in this chapter. The fight was chaotic, but in an understandable way, and I think you captured the feeling of an uncontrolled brawl really well. The cross-chapter pacing on this fic has been on point so far, so it's cool to see that the first arc is (maybe?) starting to reach the falling action?

I'm really curious about the trial. So much of the focus has just been on catching Nip, but now that we've done that, there's really no good direction for what's going to happen to him next, so I expect that there's going to be a lot more interesting stuff going down next chapter, even if it isn't going to be physical conflict. Thank you for sharing!
 
Chapter 12

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partner
sneasel-nip
Ah, it's about time I got around to replying and updating. Classes have kept me rather busy for a while. But I finally have enough time to sit down and do replies, so here we go!

@kintsugi
I appreciate your input, as always!
getting some heavy Thanos/Infinity War vibes from this section tbh
TBH I've only seen the memes from that movie so anything like that is pure coincidence.
Also! It's pretty rich from Haru aka "have you just tried not eating meat because killing things is barbaric" to be so nonchalant about loss of life here. I feel like the phrase "I don't really want to" is usually followed by "floss my teeth" or "eat Thai food tonight", not discussing if someone lives or dies. I sort of get what you want to do here -- Haru is young and naive and is probably just parroting things she's heard before, but this flippant approach feels inconsistent, even for her.
If I make any major edits in the future, I want Haru to feel a bit more consistent. You're not the first person to point out her weird logic, and while some of it was intentional, not all of it was.
In-universe it makes sense that they'd have to have this recap conversation, but from a meta perspective it's a little weird to have this talk shown to us an entire chapter later.
Yeah, if I make any major edits in the future, I'll probably simplify this.
...can she even read??
🙃 Answered later.
This seems counter-intuitive to the pact?
I probably could have written that better, but the point I was trying to go for was that they got so caught up in the fact that there was a fight, that they lost track of who started it.

@Adamhuarts
Glad to see you enjoying it! Yeah, I tackle some pretty heavy themes at times. The jury's still out as to whether I handle them gracefully. But I hope you enjoy regardless.

@NebulaDreams
Having said that, I was kind of underwhelmed by the execution of the chapter, mostly because of the ending since that's what it felt like it was building up to.
Yeah, I'll agree with that. The whole thing was written on a time crunch (written for a themed monthly writing prompt), and I only had a couple of days left to wrap it up, and the ending kind of suffered as a result. If I were to go back, I'd flesh this part out.
(always read the fine print)
They can't read the fine print if it's in a different language.
1584391391650.png
(Not that Jhorlo actually knew that at the time, but he certainly outplayed her and banked on her not reading)
Again, I'm torn, since Haru isn't supposed to be ideologically-pure to begin with while also suffering from tunnel vision in regards to her own upbringing, but her response of 'surely someone would have noticed' came across as really insensitive.
The tunnel vision was definitely intentional, but with how many people have pointed out this scene, I do wonder if I took it a bit too far. Will think on it.

As always, thanks to everyone who leaves a review, or even just reads in general! That view count does help boost my ego confidence by a good bit, and I appreciate it. On an unrelated note. I'm going to get around to putting threadmarks in... eventually. Though not today. Got too much to do.
Enjoy this chapter. Hopefully the next one won't take so long to release.

*

Chapter 12: Frosty Feelings

“Tempest!”

All eyes turned to Nip the moment the name spilled out of his mouth. The looks he received varied from disdain to surprise, but that was nothing new. For a moment, under the scrutinizing looks, he worried he had been wrong, and that he was only causing trouble with a stranger that would bite him later.

But when the ninetales eyes lit up with recognition, the feeling subsided, and Nip knew for certain that he was right.

Ignoring a shout for him to stay where he was, Nip dashed forward towards the ninetales. But he only got a few bounds along before he faltered and stopped, overcome with feelings of anxiety and fear. Why was Tempest here? Had he, too, been sent after him? Would he defend him, or would he kill him? Perhaps neither? Fear and indecisiveness rooted him to the spot, and he instinctively shrank down, watching Tempest with wide eyes for any signs of movement.

“I’m sorry, Whisper! He ran off and I couldn’t keep up with him!”

Nip’s ear twitched at the voice. He turned his head slightly and caught a glimpse of Haru slowing to a stop next to Whisper, her sides heaving with effort. Nip ignored her, turning his attention back to Tempest. The ninetales in question had not stepped towards him. In fact, he had instead collapsed onto his side, though his head was lifted up to stare at Nip.

Hesitantly, Nip began to step forward again, reaching a paw out to gingerly touch the wound on Tempest’s neck. He didn’t know how old it was, but he could tell that it had been there for a while, still not totally healed and stinking. Tempest responded to the touch by baring his teeth, making Nip flinch and shrink away at first. But when he did nothing further, nor said anything, he finally felt safe enough to relax. For the moment, at least.

“What… Who did this to you?” Nip asked breathlessly.

Tempest said nothing, only holding Nip’s gaze.

Anxiety clawed at the sneasel’s belly again, though now for different reasons. Question after question flashed through his mind. Why wouldn’t he answer? Could he answer? Perhaps the injury kept him from speaking. Was it temporary or permanent? He knew Tempest knew how to take care of himself; even a wound this bad should have been better taken care of than this. So why wasn’t it?

And what brought him here? He’d shown no real aggression towards him, and yet the likelihood of him arriving here by chance seemed impossible.

“What are we waiting around for?” He heard Vale shout, snapping him out of his thoughts. Whipping his head around he caught sight of the manectric slinking forward, crouching low to the ground with sparks bouncing off of his bared fangs, ready to sink his teeth into whoever moved first.

Tempest, too, turned his head, and struggled back to his feet before stumbling forward so that he was between Nip and the approaching guard. But his condition hardly let him stay on his feet.

“Vale! Stand down!” Whisper snapped, breaking Vale’s concentration and intense gaze.

“But-”

“Your opponent is subdued, Vale. Disengage.”

Vale grumbled something under his breath but relented. He stood up straight turned to take a few steps back.

Satisfied, Whisper turned to Nip. “Ignoring the fact that you shouldn’t be here,” she began, stealing an annoyed look at the flaaffy that was supposed to be watching him, “you seem to know this strange ninetales. Explain yourself.”

Nip looked up to Whisper, then to the rest of the pokemon surrounding him before shrinking into Tempest’s fur. He swallowed, sucking in a breath of air before answering. “Tempest is… was… is… my mentor,” he began. “He taught me… most of what I know. My fighting skills, hu… how to track something and survive in the wilderness, all of that. He offered me a chance at getting stronger when most of my… former kin were trying to steer me away from the path of a fighter.”

Whisper looked up to the other guards, trading an uneasy glance with several of them. “Do you know why he’s here?”

“Not at all,” Nip replied, lowering his gaze. “I haven’t seen him since…” He trailed off. Tempest would know what he did, and the entire village knew now, too. But trying to say it himself left a vile taste in his mouth.

“...Since I left our resting grounds,” he finished.

“We should drive him out,” Vale warned, his voice coming out in a low growl. “He might help our prisoner try to escape.” He took a threatening step towards Tempest. Nip, without thinking, moved to put himself between Tempest and the aggressive manectric, the air around him growing cold.

Before either of them could make a move, though, Whisper stepped between the two, holding up a wing on either side. “Both of you stand down. Nip, if you so much as raise a claw at me, I’ll call a new vote and let that mawile drag you out of town, I swear to any god you hold dear.

“And Vale, you are not in charge here. What we do with the ninetales is up to the village as a whole to decide. Not you. Do you understand me?”

The mere thought of Umbra made Nip shiver. He forced himself to relax, the air around him returning to normal, and dropped his gaze to the ground. Vale, meanwhile, also averted his gaze, muttering a quick apology towards Whisper.

The hawlucha growled, lowering her wings. “Glad you two could see reason.”

Now that the sounds of battle had died away, a handful of villagers had made their way over from the square to investigate the situation. Nip watched as Whisper looked over the crowd until she locked eyes with one particular pokemon.

“Lecha, would you please escort both Romi back to the clinic, then meet us at the guard’s hut to deal with this… ‘Tempest?’ You can treat him there. Stati,” she paused to gesture to the flaaffy, “you go with them too. Vale, I want you to fetch Jhorlo and tell him what happened, please. Then don’t come back. I can’t deal with your aggression right now. You were due for a break anyways. I’ll be taking Nip back to his holding cell for now, until we have a chance to discuss what to do.”

Vale responded with a grunt before turning to run off. Nip felt a paw lightly press up against his back, signaling for him to move out of the way as Lecha approached Tempest, giving his wounds a quick look over. As Whisper began to lead him away, he heard the medic call out, “Twi! Twi, go make me a sitrus poultice! And bring me another sitrus berry and an energy seed.”

Whatever happened next, Nip didn’t see due to being shepherded around the corner so that the scene was out of sight. Still, he couldn’t get thoughts of Tempest out of his mind. What did his appearance mean? He’d shown no signs of hostility towards him, but the fact that he was here couldn’t be chance. Had he followed him here? Was he, too, here to kill him? Had his moment of anger turned even those that cared about him against him?

An anxious, guilty pit formed in his stomach. His silent questions were left unanswered as he crossed the threshold back into the guards’ hut. As much as he would rather be back with Tempest, trying to get answers and making sure his mentor was alright, he felt it best not to draw Whisper’s ire any more than he already had. But as he was locked back away and things fell quiet, his unanswered questions continued to plague his mind.

Perhaps, with a good word from Tempest, he could convince the villagers to let him leave. But after his less-than-positive departure from the tribe, would Tempest even be willing to vouch for him? Would he be able to vouch for him, for that matter? Or had that wound taken away his ability to speak entirely?

*​

Shimmer found it quiet at home that day. Too quiet. Boringly quiet. Quiet in a way that made her uncomfortable. There was hardly a single emotional aura in the house, just the quiet, stewing flicker of an emotional aura that she suspected was Umbra. Sure, Muse was here too, but everything about the dark-type’s mind and emotions were an enigma, like a deep, dark void in a vibrant world.

“Muuuusy,” she whined, draping herself dramatically over her friend and bodyguard’s back, “can’t we please go do something already?”

The absol let out a sigh, dropping her head to rest it against one of Shimmer’s prized pillows. “As much as I would love to go somewhere, Shimmer, your father asked us to stay and keep an eye on the house.”

Shimmer groaned. “I know that. But it’s so boring. Surely it won’t be a problem if we just go out for a quick walk around the square, or maybe to see my Toshi, right?”

Even if she couldn’t read Muse’s emotions with her psychic powers, there were a few things Shimmer knew about her friend, and about her reactions. For one thing, she could tell from the way she tensed beneath her that her will was crumbling. Muse could never say no to her for too long.

But to Shimmer’s surprise, Muse managed to hold her ground this time. “Not right now, she insisted. “Maybe tonight around dinner, we could go down to the square for food. But let’s stay here for now, okay? Besides, didn’t you want to keep an eye on Umbra?”

Oh, right. Shimmer let out a huff, sliding off of Muse’s back and adjusting herself so that she was sitting and leaning against her. “I hate it when you have a point. Fiiine, guess we’ll stay here and be bored.”

“I don’t know, don’t you think the quiet is kind of nice for a change? It seems like there’s always pokemon coming and going around here.”

Shimmer supposed Muse had a point. Sort of. She may not have an absol’s sharp senses, but she did have psychic powers. Psychic powers that picked up on the comings and goings of most visitors. Still, she had gotten pretty good at tuning out most of it over the years, unless she felt a particularly strong spike of emotion.

Like the anger that had come off of Umbra in waves the last couple days, since Nip had been brought back to town. She was silent for a moment, her mind dwelling on the thought, before she blurted out, “do you think we made the right decision? About Nip?”

“Hm?” Muse didn’t raise her head. “What makes you say that, Shims?”

“It’s just… you and I both think there’s something fishy going on, right? And it’s good to give someone a second chance and all, but… What if he doesn’t change. What if other pokemon end up getting hurt, and it’s our fault because we decided to give him a second chance. I mean, he’s already hurt two different groups of pokemon. He didn’t deny Umbra’s claims, and…” She took a deep, shuddering breath.

“I’m afraid of having blood on my hands, Muse. And what kind of a leader to-be am I if I can’t help but second-guess myself?”

Muse raised her head, pressing it up against Shimmer’s shoulder. “Hey, no one can be confident all the time, trust me. I’m always second-guessing my actions. It’s just the way I am.”

“Really?” Shimmer asked with a wistful tone in her voice. “You always seem so certain, though…”

“I have to,” Muse replied. “I have to make my decisions whole-heartedly. That’s my job as your bodyguard. And if I had followed the prophet path my mother took, I would have to appear certain so as to not make others worry. Just like you do. Look, it’s okay to have doubts, Shimmer, because I’m here to listen and confide in. That’s what friends are for, right?”

Shimmer took a deep breath again, a smile creeping onto her face. “I guess you’re right. Thanks for trying to help me feel better, Muse. I’m just worried about what’s going to happen next, I guess. With both Nip and Umbra here, and all, and we still don’t know what your premonition was about. It’s a lot to worry about.”

“I know.” The absol pulled her head away, dipping it as she closed her eyes. “But for now, try not to think about it. Relax. We can worry about Nip when your father gets back, and we have the free time to worry about it, right?”

“I suppooooose. But it’s sooooo boring right now!” Cheered up a bit, Shimmer was back to her normal, bubbly mood. Was it a façade? Kind of. But considering how ugly her real feelings were, and how much disrespect she’d receive as a leader for showing that side of herself, she could bottle it up and put on a cheerful look.

Speaking of leadership… a good leader had to be strong, right? With nothing better to do, she decided that a good use of her time would be to practice honing her powers. Both to practice and as a show of how much better she was feeling, she spent a few minutes levitating various items around her room: a few trinkets her dad had found or bought for her over the years, a couple pillows, a sundial that had gone unused for some time now, and a carefully constructed bidoof plush that she’d had to go to the next town over for. Creepy? Maybe a little. But it was as close as she had to the real thing, so she wouldn’t let anyone shame her for it.

Soon, she had all of the inanimate objects floating in the air. She spent a moment rearranging them, but quickly grew bored. Levitating inanimate objects was easy. And there was no way she’d be able to get a grip on Muse; the dark type slipped through her psychic hold like nothing more than smoke. Only the most powerful psychics could take hold of a dark type. One day, maybe she’d be able to do it. But not yet.

With her options for levitation exhausted, she decided to try stretching the reach of her natural senses. Taking a deep breath, she closed her eyes and imagined first her home, then the area around it. Sensing only Umbra’s emotional aura, following behind a blank spot that she assumed was one of the purrloin siblings, and Muse’s blank spot, she took another deep breath before pushing her senses further, slowly expanding the radius as she strained, scanning for any type of emotional pulse. She was rewarded, after a few minutes, with a quick read of a pokemon hurrying by a bit of a way off. There was a slight nervous twinge to their emotional state, but nothing really out of the ordinary.

For a moment, she considered focusing and diving into Umbra’s psyche. Maybe she could figure out how many of Nip’s claims of the mawile’s cruelty were true. But she hesitated and held back.

Dad always told her that it was rude to read people’s minds and memories, after all.

Instead, she continued to try and strain her senses a bit further. For her troubles, she picked up on a sudden spike of anger and frustration. She squeezed her eyes shut just a bit tighter, grunting at the sudden overwhelming emotions.

Concerningly, as she continued to feel the emotional aura, she realized that it was moving closer, heading in their general direction, and fast.

She broke her concentration with a pained gasp, her sense sucking back inward to her general area.

At once, she felt Muse tense up, raising her head to look back at Shimmer.

“Shims? What’s wrong? Are you okay?”

“Yeah, fine,” she groaned, bringing a hand up to her temples. “Just… wasn’t expecting that. Someone’s coming, and they’re not happy.”

Muse began to stand, trying to not disturb Shimmer as she did so. “Stay here, I’ll go check it out.”

Before Muse could leave, however, Shimmer grabbed hold of the thick fur around her neck, hoisting herself up.

“Nope, not letting you go alone,” she announced. “I’m gonna be a leader one day, so I gotta go with you, right? Di-plo-ma-cy.”

“Why are you saying it that way?” Muse mumbled, before realizing that not only was it a question she wouldn’t get answered, but that there were more important things to worry about. And there was no way Shimmer would back down. “Very well, but stay either behind me or on my back, please. It’s my duty to protect you. What would your father say if I let you get hurt because I was careless?”

Shimmer started to giggle but caught herself and covered her mouth. No, she shouldn’t make fun of Muse’s seriousness, even if she did wish she’d lighten up a bit. She was just doing her job.

Carefully, she turned the latch on her door with her psychic powers, saving Muse the trouble of trying to do so with paws - even if it was built in a way that allowed pokemon with paws to easily push it open - and ducked her head as Muse pushed her way through the door.

Quietly, they made their way down the hall and towards the entrance, trying not to disturb Umbra as they moved to intercept whoever was coming their way. Even without extending her senses, Shimmer could feel the pokemon’s emotional aura now, burning bright with anger. Despite her better judgement, she probed just a bit further, trying to read just the surface thoughts in hopes of figuring out who was approaching, and what their intent was.

That was an okay use of her powers, right?

How could Whisper think this was a good idea? Allowing another one of those into the town, I swear no one thinks things through anymore!

Shimmer pulled her probe away. “Hey, Muse, I’m pretty sure it’s just Vale. Don’t know what he needs, but it seems like it has to do with Whisper somehow. Aaaaaannnd he’s pretty ticked off.”

Muse hummed in response, dipping her head. “Do not worry, I’m sure he means no harm to us, but I will protect you if anything goes awry.”

Shimmer fought the urge to roll her eyes. Muse meant well, but she could be such a stick in the mud sometimes.

The two stopped just outside the front entrance. Unlike most homes in the area, the villa had actual doors, as opposed to just a cloth covering. Dad was always worrying about keeping her safe after all. Not that he didn’t have his own secrets, as she was sure he did, but she liked to think it was more about her.

They waited no more than a few seconds before Vale burst through the door, panting.

He looked around wildly until he spotted the duo, and then hesitated.

“What brings you here at this time of day?” Muse asked, only dipping her head for a greeting.

Vale’s response came out in gasping, huffed breaths. “Whisper sent me… to speak… with Jhorlo.” He slumped forward, struggling to stay on his feet.

Shimmer let out a thoughtful hum, then addressed Vale. “I’m afraid you’ll have to talk to me instead,” she announced. “Daddy’s off on a trip to talk with Aunty Hearty. Come on, Muse, let’s take our guest off to get a drink, don’t you think?”

“Whatever you think is best, Shimmer. Come with us, Vale.” Dipping her head respectfully, the absol turned and began to walk. Vale sputtered in indignation for just a moment before resigning himself and following.

“We really... don’t have time for this,” he grumbled.

Shimmer waved her hand. “Come on, don’t be such a worrier. Whatever’s going on, it’s not going anywhere. You seem more angry than anxious, so it can’t be that bad. Let loose, it’s gonna be fine!”

Once they were in the kitchen - a simple room with a lower counter to accommodate shorter pokemon, and a taller one perfectly suited for a gardevoir, as well as a set of cabinets that held most of the dishes and food, and a simple stovetop and oven - Shimmer climbed off Muse’s back and made herself busy pulling out a cup and two bowls. Using her psychic powers, she pulled the lid off of a moderately sized container in the corner of the room and dipped both bowls and the cup in before placing the containers of water on top of the lower counter.

Despite his previous grumblings, Vale took a moment to greedily lap up the water before speaking.

“A ninetales showed up today. Weirdly colored. Pale blue. Never seen anything like it. I’d think he was one of those shiny mutations you see every once in a while, but he used ice attacks, not fire. He got in the way of Romi’s cart and tried to muscle his way past, but she wouldn’t let him by, and it turned into a fight.”

Shimmer frowned, trying to piece together what it meant. Normally, they wouldn’t come up to her dad immediately after an event like this… unless something really bad happened.

“He didn’t kill Romi, did he?” she couldn’t help but ask.

“Oh, gods no! That’s not the problem at all! We beat him without too much trouble. He was in horrible condition. The problem is… well, he seems like he’s somehow knows that sneasel. But he can’t – or won’t – speak. I think Whisper wanted Jhorlo there to discuss how to handle things.”

Shimmer stole a glance over to Muse, who stared back levelly. If she knew her friend, it looked like she had the same idea. Gently, she placed the cup back on the counter. Then she slammed her hands down, slapping it open-palmed. “Well, that settles it! Looks like I’ll just have to go instead!”

Vale gawked for a moment, blinking a couple times before he remembered his manners and shut his mouth. “You? You… you can’t be serious.”

“‘Course I am!” Shimmer replied. “Father says I’m gonna be a leader someday, so I got to start somewhere, right? Besides, it’s not really like you have a choice. Dad won’t be back till late tonight at the earliest.”

The grumpy manectric let out a grunt. “Fine. Just. Go on down to the guard’s hut. I believe that’s where they took him. I’ll be down there later.”

“You’re not coming with us?” Muse asked, tilting her head in surprise.

Vale let out a grunt. Shimmer felt a nervous flutter come off of him. “Oh, I have a detour I need to make. Something I want to check out. Besides, Whisper wanted me to calm down before I came back.”

She felt the nervous emotion grow stronger and stronger, the longer she took to respond. She swore she saw him twitch, tremble, as if withering under her gaze.

“Shimmer?”

She felt Muse lightly nudge her in the side. Finally, she closed her eyes and turned away, forcing a disconcerting, sing-song voice. “Fine, fine, see you later then, Vale!”

Shimmer took just a moment to stretch, then practically danced out of the kitchen and all the way back to her room, Muse following behind much more slowly and seriously. There, she picked up a bag and a few basic goods, including a couple berries and coins. This was her chance to show off how much she’d learned, and she couldn’t let it go to waste!

*​

Vale hadn’t come by first thing in the morning, and Umbra hadn’t known whether to be confused or relieved.

Things had been quiet since the afternoon before; Lotte had guided her back to her room without a word, returning just a bit later with an oran berry, a cheri berry, and some slice of meat that she couldn’t identify.

She stewed in her anger and frustration late into the night, until she had drifted off into an uneasy sleep.

And now, here she was, quietly being guided away by Lotte towards the woods.

“Vale will meet us soon,” the purrloin explained as she led the way. “He was unable to get away from guard duties today.”

“So, what, you are just… okay with… all this?” Umbra asked, holding her arms out wide. “Whatever Jhorlo has you doing? Were you assigned to this role as a child? I thought the village did not work that way.”

Lotte paused, looking back and tilting her head. “What? Oh, no. Not really. Jaques and I owe him our lives, though. So, we just do as we’re told and keep our noses out of his business.”

She continued to pad along, occasionally glancing back to make sure Umbra was following.

The duo made their way around the edge of the town center, getting a few glances as they passed by. But no one much seemed to be about. Whether that was a good thing or not was questionable at best.

Soon they were coming up on the edge of the tree line. For just a moment, Umbra thought about the fact that she could easily kill or even just injure Lotte and get away. But leaving meant the risk of losing track of Nip. She could go right in and kill him afterwards, but there were too many witnesses, and it would leave her fighting through a crowd to escape afterwards. No. As much as she hated to, she needed to bide her time for a bit longer, watching and waiting for an opportunity to present itself. Even if it was under that loathsome purugly.

Lotte stopped in a clearing just a short distance into the woods. She climbed up onto a fallen log and stopped, turning to lay down on it while facing Umbra, and the rest of the woods as a result.

“It shouldn’t be long now,” she announced, her tail flicking back and forth on occasion.

It would be so easy to just walk away right now. To disappear into the woods and never come back.

But without proof of Nip’s end, she could not return home. Or rather, she refused to return home without making sure Nip could never come back. Without proof of his demise, she would be an outcast for her failure. And she refused to be an outcast.

Frustrated, Umbra settle down in front of the log to wait.

Leaves rustled in the wind as the sun slowly climbed high in the sky. She could hear the sound of prey mon scampering amongst the undergrowth around them. Not giving chase was agonizing. But then again, chasing small little rattata and sentret was not her style. Absentmindedly, she brushed a hand against her injured ear, taking a few moments to inspect it impressed with how much and how well it had healed already.

Finally, she heard the thundering footsteps of a mon racing in their direction. Lotte must have heard it too, as she stood up with her tail raised high. Umbra also stood up. A moment later, Vale burst into the clearing, huffing.

“We’ll have to make this quick,” he announced coming to a stop just in front of them. “We had some… trouble with the berry shipment.”

Lotte tilted her head, but said nothing, inviting Vale to continue.

“Another one of your lot showed up and raised havoc,” he said, turning his gaze on Umbra. “Some weird looking ninetales that Nip recognized. Ring a bell?”

Umbra froze in place. No. It could not be him… could it? “Did… did he say his name?”

Vale grunted in response. “Nope. Don’t think he could though. Nip called him Tempest, though. I had to run fetch someone to deal with that. Jhorlo wasn’t in so I had to send Shimmer down instead. I don’t know how long I can stick around before the others notice I’m gone So let’s get a move on already.”

He turned and began to walk further in the woods. Umbra hesitantly followed behind. He began to explain the rules and regulations of how and where Jhorlo expected her to hunt, so as to not raise suspicion. But she was only half paying attention, her mind stuck on this new information.

If Tempest is here…

Her job just got even more complicated.

*​

The guard’s hut was a flurry of activity, with Stati – the flaaffy – keeping watch while Siles and Whisper busied themselves with work. Anu had come down to from the temple, nervously sitting cross-legged and alert next to the cell they’d placed the ninetales in for holding. The door to said cell was just slightly ajar, allowing Lecha easy access as she busied herself wiping and cutting away matted and bloodied fur so that she could get to his wounds easier.

The ninetales himself had quit trying to fight back by now, eyes glazed over as he absentmindedly stared at Nip in the cell over. Nip himself was watching Lecha work, sitting up against the back wall, his ear and his tailfeathers twitching occasionally. Otherwise, he was completely still and didn’t even acknowledge the entrance of Shimmer and Muse.

Whisper looked up from her work, and Shimmer felt a flash of relief course through her, only for it to be replaced with frustration when she realized Shimmer was the one that had arrived, not Jhorlo like she had expected.

“Shimmer…” the hawlucha began, clicking her claws together. “I was… expecting some with more… I was expecting your father.”

Blunt, very blunt. “Sorry, dad’s out of town, so I came in his place instead!”

Whisper let out a long sigh. Shimmer didn’t miss her exasperation. “I see. I guess we can just wait and deal with this when-”

Shimmer raised a hand and cut her off. “Nope, nope! It’s totally fine. We at least figure out what’s going on now, right? We can always figure out what to do about it when dad gets back.”

She received an apologetic smile, and swore she felt a flash of pity. “I appreciate the offer, Shimmer, but-”

“No, no, no. It’s fine, really!”

“Besides,” Muse added, stepping in, “would it not be better to learn the situation now, before they have time to come up with excuses, or a good cover story?”

At that, Whisper hesitated. Shimmer laid a hand on Muse’s back to show her thanks. Finally, the hawlucha let out a sigh. “Very well, I suppose you have a point there. I’ll tell you what we know, and then we can work things out from there.”

The three of them gathered around the table at the center of the room, Whisper taking a seat on one side and Shimmer and Muse sitting on the other. Shimmer did her best to pay attention as the hawlucha began to explain the situation, telling her about the fight, as well as Nip’s apparent relation. About half-way through the story, however, she felt something poking at the edge of her senses. She turned her head expectantly through the doorway.

Whisper’s words died in her throat when she noticed that Shimmer was no longer paying attention, and instead looked in the same direction. “What is it?”

“Well if you want to know what’s going on Haruru, you should just come inside and listen.”

There were a few seconds of silence, followed by a quiet swear, before a very embarrassed Haru waddled her way inside, taking a seat by the table without speaking or looking up.

Whisper let out a long breath before continuing, finishing the story.

“Well, now that we brought him here, we wanted to speak with Jhorlo, and decide how to proceed. Logically, we should hold a judgement, as he’s attacked our villagers. But we have no idea why he attacked, other than that we wouldn’t let him by, and he’s obviously in no condition to talk, let alone travel. But at the same time, I’m hesitant to keep him here, where he may break Nip out.”

“Hm… this is quite the problem,” Shimmer agreed, forcing herself to be uncharacteristically serious. She had to think! If she were her dad, how would he handle the situation. Ideally, they’d hold a meeting and pass judgement, but it’s hard to pass judgement on someone who wouldn’t explain themselves…

“Shimmer…” Haru began, speaking for the first time since she’d arrived. “Why don’t you just… I don’t know, use your psychic powers to poke around in his brain and see where he’s from and why he’s here?”

Shimmer stiffened, avoiding the bidoof’s gaze. Certainly, she’d already broken her dad’s instructions once today, though not without good reason. But at the same time, it just felt… wrong to look into people’s heads, especially as deep as Haru was suggesting. A cursory glance at current thoughts was one thing, a deep dive into memories though?

She turned her head to look back at the ninetales. Lecha had left by now, leaving a few berries at his side. He had not gotten up from where he’d been laid out, but he did seem more alert, keeping an eye on Nip while occasionally stealing glances at the rest of the pokemon. His emotions were difficult to discern, clouded by turmoil, but there was one thing she could feel radiating from him: relief.

Nip was much harder to read, his typing leaving her only with body language to go off of. He had pulled his legs up to his chest and sat staring, not daring to look away, as if the ninetales would disappear if he did.

“Well?” Whisper asked.

Shimmer turned back around, and realized that everyone was staring at her, waiting for her to make a decision.

“I, for one, think it’s a good idea. If you’re not up to it, I can always get Essra to do it,” the hawlucha added.

She stood up quickly. Perhaps a bit too quickly, as she had to take a second to find her balance. “No, no don’t worry about it. It’s fine. It’s fiiiine. Just let me take care of things. I don’t want to have to worry about it.”

Whisper gave her a skeptical look, then relented, settling down to wait.

Slowly, though refusing to show hesitation, Shimmer approached the cell, taking a seat in front of it. She was no fool. The bars would hold to some level of brute-strength attacks, but they couldn’t hold either of the pokemon inside forever, should they try to escape. It was kind of nerve-wracking, to say the least, and she couldn’t help but wonder how the Enforcers dealt with it. Did they have better ways of holding pokemon?

She heard Muse rise and approach her, laying down just behind. She let out a quiet hum, but did nothing more to acknowledge her presence, instead focusing her gaze on the ninetales.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Her eyes drooped shut as she focused and reached out for his mind.

Snow.

Words and thoughts were not the first thing to come. Instead, she saw snow, a light flurry of flakes falling all around her. Around him. She was watching a memory through his eyes, she thought.

Nip, I’m sorry. I swear I’ll get us out of this situation, and make sure no one hurts you again.

The snow grew harder, blowing into a flurry that whited out her vision. Fractured flashes of memory danced before her eyes.

...

An older ninetales, pushing him back into the bushes, telling him to stay hidden.

...

He stands proud in a grassy clearing, other pokemon surrounding and watching him, nearly quivering with excitement and nervousness and anticipation.

...

He’s in that same clearing again, but now his tails drag the ground tiredly. There’s a mangled body at his feet, and blood on his fur. He feels like he should feel horrified, distraught, but he just feels… empty.

...

Now he’s out in the snow again, waiting for something. When will Father be back? He thinks to himself. The wind picks up, blowing flurries of snow. And then he spots a bright red feather in the distance.

...

A young sneasel sits in front of him, beaming proudly as he presents the body of a rattata. He swells with pride and tells Nip what a good job he’s done.

...

“Must you leave, Tempest?” The elderly Persian asks him.

“I am sorry, I cannot call this my home any longer. I have lost everything now. My father. My mate. My… You know I was always an outsider here. I will never return to Kyurem’s people, but I must find my own path now.”



His eyes are closed, or else it is dark, He nuzzles up to someone, to his mate, and tells her the story of Kyurem.



“What is wrong, Nip?” he asks the sneasel. “Surely there is something the elders can do?”

“I’m
fine.Nip insists. There’s a flash of sadness in the vision. “I just… I have to get through to them eventually, right?”



A flash of fangs in the moonlight. Tempest lets out a call of alarm, but it’s cut short as he’s ripped open. He falls into the grass, left to bleed out soaked in moonlight.

Why…



GET OUT!

Shimmer fell back with a gasp as the ninetales struggled to his feet, his muzzle twisted into a snarl once again. Suddenly, she was quite glad she’d sat down before attempting the psychic connection..

“Shims!” Muse cried out. She quickly rushed to stand between Shimmer and Tempest, allowing the kirlia to use her body as a way to climb to her feet. “What happened? What’s going on?”

Shimmer swallowed slowly, trying to digest and put together all the memories she’d seen, trying to figure out what was and wasn’t important.

“I… think he’s here as a friend of Nip’s. But there’s something that concerns me more.”

Muse tilted her head and stared while Whisper approached to close the cell door. “What is it?”

Even with that brief flash, the emotions in the scene were enough to give Shimmer a revelation that somehow was horrifying to her. “That wound. The one on his neck…” She trailed off, bringing a hand to rub at her temples. “That was intentional. Someone, for some reason, wanted him dead. And if he somehow survived, they didn’t want him talking.”
 
Top