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Pokémon Places We Call Home

Negrek

Shadow Falling
Staff
Didn’t realize you’d posted this. Glad to see it up! I think this makes for a fun glimpse into Nip’s pre-story life. It feels like a sequence with a lot of little tidbits that might become important later. There’s the ominous little mention of Umbra, for example. I wonder if we’ll end up hearing more about Holly in the future, or if the Celebi legend Nip didn’t know might end up being relevant…

It’s of course heartbreaking to see Nip’s determination to become a hunter here, knowing what it’s going to mean for him down the line. Dat hope for the future in the final line, damn. The dramatic irony here is great; this extra reads very differently depending on how familiar with the main fic, and I’m wondering if returning to read it later on in the fic might reveal new dimensions of it, to.

Once again, nice work, and thanks for writing this for me!
 

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partners
  1. custom/sneasel-nip
  2. bidoof
  3. absol
  4. kirlia
  5. custom/windskull-bidoof
@Spiteful Murkrow
17
Wait, so does Haru's family just chip away little by little at a surrounding forest? Or do they practice managed forestry and thin certain parts out, then come back to them in like a decade?
More the latter. Theres likely *areas* that they clear out for other uses, but generally they try to keep things managed and sustainable.
Is that influence from Power Trip showing there? Or just a roughhousing thing that you dropped in?
If it is influenced, it's subconscious. Generally I was just trying to come up with ways they might interact that don't feel totally human.
The 'Lazy Meowstic', huh? What's the story behind that one? Since I'm not sure whether that was drawn out of a hat or if it's a reference to something
Just came up with something that felt like a fantasy tavern name, but Pokemon. (I don't know how much his wife appreciates it tho 8P)
Not that that isn't extremely on-brand for Theran Village as depicted up to this point in the story, but exactly none of that sounds healthy there.
I imagine it isn't easy being the only religious leader in town that everyone is turning to after seeing an underwhelming god.
I mean, based off of when Muse's premonitions kicked in last time, I'm pretty sure that the 'disaster' has to personally affect them in order for them to perceive it.

... Or else Muse just can't pick up on them reliably. That could work, too
There's some truth to the latter part. Muse never got properly trained, as we later find out.

18
Oh, so that's how premonitions work with Absol, huh? I'll admit, I'd be pretty motivated to tell others about danger inbound if it felt like part of my body was on fire after a vision.
Speaking of references, this one actually *is* influenced by another fic - The Desert Cat’s Instruments of Creation.
Wonder if Whisper's referring to treatment of Shimmer in particular or something more general.
Shimmer, primarily.

19
Oh, it's like those water tanks/coolers that you can buy from grocery stores. For a second, I was going to ask how common plumbing was in this setting since I at first read that as a sink faucet.
Yep, that’s exactly what I had in mind. As for plumbing, there’s none in the village. You might find it in bigger settlements to a limited degree, though.
Wait a minute, are those four a reference to something? Or just rolled wholecloth for this story?
Stick around and find out 8P
... I'm pretty sure that this was an absolutely terrible idea given that the text repeatedly said that these four seemed shady, but okay there, Haru.
Listen. SHe may be stupid.
For a second, I thought that was a subtle HoC nod, but nah. That one was Rawst Leaves. Though from a spot check, it looks like the creator had a similar intention in mind given that Occa is the fire-resistance berry.
It *was* loosely inspired by HoC, actually. I just took a different route.


@love
Thanks for the review, as always! I’ll be revisiting the suggestions when I get around to the edits in a few months. Regarding Nip, my thought process by having him speak up is that he felt she might leave him alone if he said something. I look forward to seeing your thoughts in the coming chapters!

@Virgil134
This part felt pretty jarring to me, since an entire conversation just got condensed into a few description paragraphs. I understand not wanting to have Muse repeat stuff, but I think having Muse bring things up in a different way, or perhaps a shorter version of the story, would have been better. Show, don’t tell after all. It’s not interesting to read a few paragraphs that say a group of characters talked about something. Showing them actually doing so, is.
I can understand where you’re coming from. I’ve had repeated reviews over the last few chapters complaining about things being rehashed. I didn’t feel there was much point in rehashing the conversation when the most notable reaction is Haru’s, so I cut it. It’s possible I overcorrected, though, so I’ll keep an eye out to see if future reviews bring up the same issue.
Huh, I figured Haru was younger than that.
A recurring issue XD. Here’s the thing. She’s *barely* old enough.

Glad you enjoyed the bonus chapter.

@Negrek
Thanks for the comment! Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll see more of Nip’s past at some point.

Additionally, special thanks to HelloYellow17 and Kyeugh for the smeargle swap art!
 
20: Susana

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partners
  1. custom/sneasel-nip
  2. bidoof
  3. absol
  4. kirlia
  5. custom/windskull-bidoof
A/N: Special thanks to my beta readers, SparklingEspeon, ShadowVulpi, and deerestove. Be sure to check out their works! Additonally, a big thank you to Adam for the special chapter header. I hope to go back and add chapter art to earlier chapters at some point. See the twitter post here.

A couple of bonus chapters have been added to the oneshot compilation, Stories They Couldn't Tell. If you enjoy this work, consider giving the bonus chapters a look



Susana

chapter header.jpg


"Finding the gods?" Haru stood stiff, staring, flabbergasted at the strange zoroark in front of her. Her mouth hung open as she tried to process Susana's claim. "You… you're…"

"A zoroark, yes," Susana interrupted with a chuckle. "Once again, sorry for deceiving you. My appearance is rather frightening, isn't it?" She raised a forepaw to rub at her wild, disheveled mane. "Our job requires some degree of secrecy so I usually keep my true form hidden. Not everyone is as friendly as you, Haru."

She began to approach, and Haru took stumbling steps backwards on instinct. Susana's posture was nonthreatening, but the prey part of Haru's mind didn't like the idea of a large, strange pokemon approaching her. Especially when there was no escape route. But she forced herself to stop and held her ground. "I-I… I'm not as friendly as you think. Come any closer and you'll see how much damage these teeth can do."

The zoroark didn't seem swayed by Haru's trembling threat, but she did stop, chuffing as if she'd heard a joke.

"Goodness, I'm sorry if I've come across as threatening, Haru. Look, maybe I can make it up to you, make it clear we mean no harm. Are you hungry? Thirsty? We have carrots and bread in the way of herbivore food. We also have razzberry juice and wine."

Haru still felt an edge of hunger. But her stomach was too twisted to even think about eating right now. "I'm fine."

Susana dropped her paws to her sides and shrugged. "Suit yourself. But really, please make yourself comfortable. You can stay right there if it makes you feel safer. Just let me come by so I can unlock the small door for you. That way you can leave at any time." She took a step forward. "As you can see, none of us need it, so there was no need to unlock it."

"I'll… let me do it myself," Haru said, backing away until her rump bumped against the door. If she let Susana do it, there was a chance that she would use her illusions to make it look like she was unlocking it. If Susana was talented enough, she could still trick Haru into thinking the door was unlocked anyway. But that was less likely. And even so, doing it herself made her feel safer.

No one stopped her from unlocking the door, assuaging her fears somewhat. She turned back and crouched so that she was more comfortable, but still able to turn and flee at a moment's notice.

Susana returned to her spot by the map and took a seat, brushing her claws through her mane. "Now that that's settled, where should I start…"

"Maybe at the beginning," Haru said bluntly. "Who are you, really?"

"Oh, everything I've said so far is true." Susana stopped brushing her mane and tilted her head at Haru, ears flicking up. "We're explorers from the Expedition Society, on a mission to find out more information about both mystery dungeons and the gods. The only thing I lied about is my identity." She paused. "Well, I know we only told a partial truth before inviting you here, but there's a reason for that!"

Haru considered for a moment. "So why are you so secretive about it? I'm sure a lot of pokemon would be excited to go chasing legendaries."

"Isn't it obvious?" the raichu, Topaz, said. "Think about it. Most pokemon fear the discovery of their gods. They might say they want to find them, but they're lying to themselves. What if the gods don't live up to their expectations? What if the stories are lies? What if they don't exist at all?"

Skorch, the charizard, spoke next. "There's hundreds of stories about various gods, but we have very little hard evidence. The theory that Dialga and Palkia formed the dungeons during the historic War of the Ancients is well accepted, but even that isn't completely proven. But no one questions it, because few pokemon are ready to face the possibility that the gods aren't real. Or that, if they are, they don't really care."

Haru snorted, thinking both of her earlier conversation with Nip and the way everyone had been acting since Celebi's appearance. "You got that right."

Topaz, who had splayed out on his belly and begun tracing shapes in the floor with his tail tip, cast a glance at Remer before discerningly looking at Haru. "The way you said that makes me feel like there's something you aren't telling us."

Haru's gaze darted to the side as she tried to find a way to salvage her comment. As much as she wanted to expose Celebi for the fraud he was, something held her back. That information was for her village and her village alone. "All I mean is that there's some pokemon out there that freak out when their faith is challenged. That's all."

Topaz exchanged another look with Remer. Haru's heart pounded, threatening to burst through her chest as the silence drew on. It was Skorch that finally spoke.

"Makes enough sense, don't you guys think?"

Susana bobbed her head. "Agreed." Then she turned back to Haru. "Well, now you know why we're trying to get to the shrine. But, as you saw back in front of the temple, we haven't had much luck getting anyone to take us." She sighed, slowly slinking back to her map. She traced a line across it with one claw before looking up again.

"You said you've been there before." Her tone was leading. "Is there… any chance you could take us? Maybe even a bit further up the mountain, if time permits? I know it's a big ask, but you'd be doing us a big service. And we'd be happy to pay you for your time."

"E-excuse me?" Haru's mouth hung open as she tried to process the request. They wanted her to take them to the shrine. No, not just to the shrine, but up the mountain. They couldn't be serious.

Susana tilted her head, her ears flicking back and forth. "Goodness, what's the matter?"

It took several moments before she finally found her words. "Do… Do you realize how dangerous it is to go up there? No one goes up there anymore." Well, that wasn't totally true. Anu went up there every few cycles with a couple other guards, and there were probably wildeners that visited the shrine to pay respects, since most weren't comfortable entering the village to visit the temple itself; she couldn't remember the last time any had shown up for any of the religious festivals. But she wasn't about to say that out loud.

"You're likely to encounter territorial wildeners along the way," she continued, stamping a paw. "And don't get me started about the dangers beyond the shrine. My understanding is there's no real path up the mountain past the shrine. And you have to deal with chilling winds, large crevices, and — if you get high enough — snow and freezing temperatures. Pokemon have died trying to scale it." Her mind drifted to falling snow. A younger Muse's wails rang in her ears. Then she shook her body and forced the thoughts away.

Remer exchanged a look with Skorch before saying, "I understand your hesitations, young one. But you would be in good paws. We are well experienced with exploring dangerous locations."

"If she's never been past the shrine, then she wouldn't be able to guide us any further, would she?" Skorch interjected, addressing the girafarig. "I don't see the use in asking that of her."

Through the discussion, Susana remained quiet, her eyes closed.

Haru turned away and took a step towards the door. "Sorry, but my answer is no. I sympathize with your cause. Really, I do. But I can't justify risking my life for it."

Susana sighed. "I understand. Thank you for your time, Haru." Then she turned back to her team. "Come on, we best hit the streets again. I'm sure we can find someone in this village willing to take us."

Haru paused, about to unlatch the small door. "…I thought you were talking about looking outside the village for help before."

"Well, we're considering it," Susana admitted. "If we can't find anyone willing to help here, then we'll have to head out. But we'd prefer to work with civilized 'mon. You know how difficult it can be to work with wildeners, pokemon still beholden to their instincts, right?"

Haru lowered her paw and turned around, thoughts racing through her head as she made mental connections. All the while that dull headache from before persisted. If these explorers went asking around the village, they were bound to come across Toshi sooner or later. And he wouldn't hesitate to answer an exploration team's request.

Her mind drifted to mental images of her dying grandfather, a pokemon who made it far into the mountains, only for his traveling companions to die. A pokemon who made it back home, only to succumb to his injuries shortly after. Suddenly it wasn't her grandfather lying in front of her, struggling for breath as he told the adults of his team's demise until his body gave out, and he was silenced forever. Now it was Toshi. Bleeding and small, his eyes glassy and staring at nothing.

She couldn't let that happen.

Heart racing, she took her paw away from the handle and turned back to Susana. "Fine. Fine. You make a good point. I'll help." Susana opened her mouth to say something, but Haru cut her off with a raised paw. "But only as far as the old shrine. And only under the condition that, if you do decide to go further, you escort me back to the village first. After that, you're on your own."

"That wouldn't be a problem." Susana brought her paws up and tapped her claws together, eyes closed in a friendly squint. "How soon could you go? Is tomorrow good? We've already stocked up on supplies — except food, but we can take care of that tonight."

Tomorrow? Haru tilted her head. "Why so soon?"

Remer answered as he climbed to his feet and approached the storage chest. "We have other leads we want to follow up on afterwards, but we have to return to our branch and report our findings soon."

That's a reasonable explanation, Haru thought. She stared at him a moment longer before letting out a breath. "Alright. You have yourselves a deal."

Susana clapped twice and showed her teeth in what Haru thought was supposed to be a friendly expression. "Excellent! Where can we meet you tomorrow?"

Haru looked to the ceiling, considering. There were a few places she could think of, but some would raise questionsl. "I think the best place is… There's a bridge crossing the river, not far outside of the village. The path to the shrine branches off of the road on the other side. That would be a good place to start."

Susana bobbed her head. "Cool. We'll meet you there just after sunrise so we can get a bright and early start. Anu said it's almost a day's journey away, and we'd like to get you back home in a reasonable amount of time." She held a paw out towards Haru, paw pad facing up.

Haru stared at the paw. Susana had made this same strange gesture before. When the zoroark didn't move, she tilted her head. "What are you doing?"

Susana looked at Haru, then at her paw. "O-oh, I guess this fad hasn't reached you guys out in the boonies yet. It's called 'shaking paws.' It's kind of like… a physical promise for a verbal agreement."

"An agreement…" How strange. Still, she sat back and reached up to place her paw in the zoroark's. "Very well." They held paws for a moment, then Haru pulled away. "Now, if you'll excuse me."

She turned and reached up to push down on the handle, putting her weight against the door. As she made her way down the hall, her headache weakened to little more than a throb, and she began to think. She was going to have to tell her parents about this — at least, to some degree. They'd want to know why she was skipping work, after all.

So entrenched in her thoughts, she didn't notice the pokemon watching her as she left.


"Hey, Meaad. I need a room for two. Should only need it for a couple hours."

The simisear raised a brow, looking Vale up and down, then glanced behind him to look at Umbra. She stared back with a flat expression. After a few heartbeats, he closed his eyes, raised his hands palm-up to either side, and turned away. "Room for two? Coming right up."

Umbra continued watching him for a few more heartbeats before turning away to take in her surroundings. They were in another wooden building — one of the larger ones. On their side of the room, there was only the counter, a few plants, and an incline to a second floor. On the other side of the room, sat a pawful of matching furniture items. Chairs and tables, if she remembered the words correctly. Sunlight filtered through a handful of windows, creating patches of light throughout the room.

A couple pokemon sat at the tables, casting curious glances in her direction. She turned away and ignored them. Food scents wafted from their side of the room, and from an entryway beyond the tables. She could identify the smell of cooked meats and sickly sweet fruits. Her stomach growled, but she ignored that, too.

This room would be absolutely horrible if trouble showed up. There was the counter. Or perhaps under the tables, but they were too exposed for her liking. At least they made a makeshift weapon or shield, in a pinch.

"Ah, here we are."

The simisear's voice brought her attention back. He slid a small metal object across the counter, placing it in front of Vale. "One of you is dexterous, so I'll leave you to go to your room. Upstairs, last door on the left. Vale, if you happen to leave last, just come get me or the night staff We'll get the door locked for you. Either way, make sure to leave the key at the front when you're done." He glanced back to Umbra and smiled wryly. "Enjoy your time together."

Umbra stepped forward and grabbed the key, casting one more unamused glance at Meaad. Then she turned and made her way towards the ramp. Vale followed just behind, trotting until they were side by side.

Umbra leaned towards him and muttered into his ear, "Remind me why this is the best place for our discussion?"

Vale lowered his head and replied quietly. "Most places don't have the degree of privacy we need. I don't even trust my own home. And we can't go to the woods all the time or pokemon might get suspicious. Besides, the rumors that crop up from meeting here should provide some cover."

Umbra clenched her jaw. Right, the gross rumors he'd mentioned before. As much as she hated to admit it, he had a point. "If we want those rumors to stick, then we need to look the part," she grumbled, suppressing a shudder; if she had to act, then she would. And she considered herself quite the actress.

Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she made sure they were still being watched. Then she forced a smile, and — before he could protest — tilted her head up to nuzzle against Vale's lower jaw.

Ugh, how embarrassing. Thank Yveltal they were out of sight shortly after. At least that would get pokemon talking.

"Do not ever make me do that again," she said monotonously with a shake of her head.

"Hey, you're the one that chose to do it, don't look at me."

They said nothing more.

Halfway down the hall, a sound caught Umbra's attention. Muffled voices. One of them feminine and familiar.

She stopped. "Hold on. Does that not sound like the annoying bidoof?"

"Toshi?" Vale tilted his head. "No, but now that you mention it, it does sound sort of like Haru…"

Umbra strained her ears until she could figure out which room the sound was coming from. She approached, speaking. "Something strange is going on. Listen."

She leaned forward, pressing one ear against the door. Vale came up just behind and did similar.

"You said you've been there before," an unfamiliar, low-toned feminine voice said. "Is there… any chance you could take us? Maybe even a bit further up the mountain, if time permits?"

Umbra stole a glance at Vale. His eyes were narrow, and his lips drew back in the beginning of a silent snarl. They continued to listen for a few moments, long enough to hear Haru agree. Vale drew back and crept to the end of the hall, taking care to keep his claws from clicking against the wood. Umbra followed, smelling signs of an electrical current as she sidled up to him.

"Well?" she asked.

"This is suspicious," Vale growled. "I know that bidoof well enough to know she'd never go to the old shrine of her own free will." He looked back to the door and crouched, tail low and still. "I know we have matters to discuss, but I have a job to do. I need to deal with this first. We can make plans afterwards."

Umbra's claws twitched with frustration. This was a waste of her time. Nip was far more important than helping some pathetic little bidoof that got in over her head. Haru could get herself killed for all Umbra cared.

But at the same time, she could understand the feeling of obligation. The need to fulfill a duty. She let out a long huff, turning away. "Fine, but make it quick."

Vale dipped his head in understanding and lifted a paw. But before he could take a step, the small door swung open and Haru waddled out. Umbra and Vale froze, watching as she headed down the ramp without even noticing them.

"Now what?" Umbra asked.

"Follow my lead." Vale approached the door with that same light step, as if sneaking up on prey. Then he raised a paw to scratch at the door.

All chatter and movement stopped on the other side. There was a shuffling, then the small door creaked open, and a charmander poked her head out the door.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

Vale stood at attention, looking down at the charmander. "Yes, actually. We're with the local law enforcement. We'd just like a quick word." He glanced the charmander up and down. Sizing her up, Umbra presumed. "May we step inside?"

The charmander's brow furrowed. "If you need to, I guess. Is there a problem?" She stepped back.

"Probably not," Vale replied as he stooped and ducked through the smaller door. He jerked his head to gesture for Umbra to follow. "Just following up on a concerned inquiry from the innkeep. Said he saw a townie come up here with you guys." He glanced to the map on the floor, then at the other pokemon. You're the explorers that were staying in town, right? Could I see your badge for a moment?"

The charmander tittered. "Are you talking about Haru? She left a few moments ago, actually. You just missed her. But here you go." She picked up the badge, messing around with it for a few heartbeats before tossing it in Vale's direction. It landed on the ground with a metallic clatter.

He looked down at the badge through narrowed eyes, inspecting the surface. He sniffed it. Gave it an experimental lick. Then gingerly picked it up with his teeth and flipped it over, repeating the process.

Umbra crossed her arms, gaze flicking between Vale and the other pokemon. Subtly, she lifted her jaw, parting it in an attempt to appear larger and intimidating.

"Hmm," Vale finally said, still stooping. "This is a genuine explorer badge, alright." He stood up straight. "There's just one thing that seems off to me." He looked between the other three pokemon. "Where's your other establishing member, Miss… what was your name again?"

"Suli," the charmander answered. "And you mean Chamomile, the treeko? She's back at base, handling paperwork."

"I see. If you're Suli, that makes you the team lead? You have a lot of evolved pokemon with you for only being a charmander with a silver rank." He knocked the badge skidding across the floor in Suli's direction.

Umbra had no idea what he was talking about, but she got the idea that something was fishy about their story. The way the raichu was fidgeting backed up her thoughts.

Suli frowned and crossed her arms, tail flame flaring. "Does no one in this villiage know how to be hospitable? Seriously, do you treat all outsiders with this sort of disrespect?"

"Only ones that act suspicious," Umbra answered.

Vale bobbed his head in agreement. "Exactly. Now, if you really are who you say you are, you wouldn't mind coming down to the psychic courier to contact your branch and verify your identity, now would you?"

Umbra scanned the evolved pokemon again. The raichu was shifting uneasily again, while the charizard gave him a nervous glance. They weren't expecting to be challenged, she thought. They're lying about something, and they don't have an excuse ready.

Her attention shifted to the girafarig. Unlike the other two, he was staring at Vale with rapt attention and a serious expression. Such a serious expression, in fact, that it almost looked like…

The heartbeat it clicked in her head, she tackled Vale, sending him tumbling. A moment later, a foreign force sent her flying over him. She heard the wall splinter behind her, but it did not give.

The charmander dove for the chest, reaching for something inside. At the same time, Vale sprang back to his feet, a low growl in his throat. Umbra felt her fur stand on end heartbeats before bolts of electricity flew off of the manectric, striking everyone, including herself.

The charmander cried in pain and reeled back. And then, almost instantaneously, she was no longer a charmander, but a strange, pale-furred zoroark.

But she wasn't the only one that changed. One second, Umbra was looking at a perfectly normal charizard. The next, the two horns morphed into one. The girafarig's backside grew in size and became a dark mirror of its upper body. One side stared wide-eyed at the zoroark, the other glared at Vale

But the raichu's transformation was the most significant. Its fur turned dark orange, its ears shifting back. Horns grew from his head, and spikes appeared along his back. Umbra gaped at the raichu-like creature with undisguised shock.

Sparks danced around Vale's pelt as he fell out of his battle-ready stance. "What," he began, "the f—"

"HEY! WHAT'S GOING ON UP THERE?"

Everyone froze at the sound of the innkeeper's voice, bellowing from below. The pounding sound of a pokemon running up the ramp followed.

Vale shook out of his stupor first. He turned and raced through the door.

"Wait!" the zoroark growled, pouncing towards him.

Umbra intercepted her with a metallic headbutt, knocking her out of the air and sending her sprawling on the ground. She put one foot on the zoroark's torso, holding her second jaw up in a striking position.

"Vale, what in the blazes is going on in there?" Umbra turned her head so that she could watch Vale out of the corner of her eye, while still watching the Zoroark. She could just see the simisear steaming on the other side of Vale, through the door. "You know the rules. No fighting in the inn."

"Sorry about that, Meaad," Vale answered gruffly. He stood at attention, stiff and serious. "I had to put a sudden end to a dispute up here. Won't happen again. And if it does, I'll escort them out myself. We'll see if they like fighting after spending a night in jail."

"You have the space for that?" Meaad asked. Now he just sounded confused. Umbra wasn't surprised; Nip and Tempest wasted most of the jailspace, from the way Vale talked. There was no room for these four.

The simisear tried to lean around Vale. The zoroark gasped, then suddenly Umbra wasn't pinning her down, but instead a small, frail charmander. The other pokemon changed back to normal forms as well.

Meaad let out a huff of air and looked back at Vale. "Right. Then see to it."

Umbra heard receding footsteps, then Vale slipped back through the door, kicking it shut behind him. An invisible force shoved her, then the disguised zoroark slithered out from beneath her and scampered back to stand in front of the others.

"Now, where were we?" Vale asked, lazily looking the pokemon over. His gaze settled on the "charmander" and he clenched his jaw. "Oh, right. Listen. I got him off your tail, but that doesn't mean you're free to go. Now talk."

There was a pause, then the zoroark shed her fake form. Her teammates remained disguised, however. She tilted her head and crossed her arms, lips drawn back in a snarl. "Why should we?"

Umbra mimicked her pose, raising her back jaw overhead to show off her maw and rows of pointed teeth. "I don't think you understand the situation you're in, Zoroark."

Vale stepped forward, sparks rippling through his fur as he continued where Umbra left off. "We just caught you red-pawed with a stolen Expedition Society badge, impersonating a team. You're looking at cycles of jail time. Or worse, if I report you as attacking a guard. But I'm giving you a chance to explain yourselves. A chance to explain why you're doing this and — perhaps if your answer is satisfactory — a chance to lessen your charges."

The zoroark's expression faltered. She turned her head to look back at the rest of her team. Each nodded to her before her gaze shifted to the next. Umbra could feel a headache coming on. But to her surprise, the zoroark turned back, the rest of the illusion dropping.

"Fine," the zoroark began with a sigh. "My name is Susana. We're not explorers. We're an advance team for a group that sailed in from offshore. We made landfall a few months — moons — ago."

"Offshore?" Vale asked with a tilt of his head. "How far are we talking?"

"A whole continent," the zoroark answered.

"Preposterous," Umbra cut in. "There is no way to safely travel across the sea. The stars guide us, but the methods for transporting many pokemon would be impossible."

"I can't help it if you haven't figured out how to advance that far," Susana snarled. "Believe it or not, that's on you, but I am only speaking the truth now."

Umbra wasn't convinced, but she gestured for the zoroark to continue.

"We've been researching the gods that the pokemon on this continent follow in an effort to compare them to our own stories. And to, perhaps, further advance our society." She crossed her arms again. "But that's all you're getting out of me."

Umbra gave Vale a serious look. "So, what are you going to do?"

Vale's tail swished back and forth twice before he answered. "Take them in, I guess, for impersonating. I can write off most of the other stuff, but their explanation is unsatisfactory for that. And there's an argument to be had that they took advantage of Meaad's discounted accommodations for pokemon working for incorporated powers."

The zoroark's expression turned aggressive once again. "Now hold on—"

But before she could say more, Umbra held up a paw to stop her. "Wait. I have an idea. Clearly you four have something you're still hiding. Perhaps we can… come to an agreement."

Vale lowered his head so that it was next to Umbra's and spoke in a low tone. "What are you getting at?"

Umbra turned back to speak to him directly, keeping her second jaw facing the strange pokemon. "Think about it. The way they talk, they're in deep trouble if they get caught. We may be able to use that to our advantage. To deal with our… situation."

"Oh. I see." Vale's tail stuck out stiffly behind him. "But which part?"

"Nip. We can discuss how to get back at Jhorlo separately. Though we may be able to twist this to make him look bad."

"You know I can hear everything you're saying, right?" Susana interjected.

Vale exchanged one last serious glance with Umbra, then straightened up as she turned. "Good," he began. "Then you should understand your situation. You help us with something and get out of town, we pretend none of this happened."

The raichu-like creature glared at him through narrowed eyes. "And why should we? There's four of us and only two of you. We could just knock you out and get out of here on our own.

"And there's at least four pokemon below us that would come running at the sound of battle," Umbra responded nonchalantly. She had a feeling it was a bluff; most of the pokemon here were far too soft to get involved. But it still got her point across. "And if you run off, then you don't get to go to the shrine like you wanted."

"That's right," Vale added, taking a threatening step forward. "And what do you think happens to pokemon that attack a guard? I'll give you a hint. I've always wondered what zoroark tastes like."

Susana froze, eyes wide. The false raichu was less restrained. "You're sick!" he shouted, sparks flying from his cheek-sacs.

But neither Umbra nor Vale acknowledged him. Instead, they kept their eyes on Susana.

"F-fine. Fine," she finally said, ears laying flat against her skull. "What are your demands?"

Umbra grinned, showing her fangs as she stepped forward. "We have a certain… troublesome pokemon locked up here. A sneasel. I need him… gotten rid of. Killed, for his crimes against my kin. But the village has been too soft on him. You capture him for me, so I can finish the job, and this little incident stays quiet."

"Where is the sneasel?" the charizard asked. "Just in the jail?"

"He works various community service jobs during the day," Vale answered. "But we keep him locked in the jail at night, along with a ninetales. If you get rid of the ninetales, too, great. But I'm less concerned about him."

Susana mulled it over a minute, reaching up to scratch behind her ear. "Seems like a reasonable deal. There's just one problem. We're leaving tomorrow. So if you want to make this work, it best be fast."

"What?" Sparks bounced out of Vale's fur, dying away on the floor as he crouched. "What happened to bringing the bidoof back?"

"Oh, that?" Susana didn't miss a beat. "Skorch here" — she gestured to the charizard — "was going to fly her back when we were done, while the rest of us prepare to scale up the mountain."

"That's a fool's errand," Vale warned, though he returned to a neutral stance. "Going up the mountain, I mean. More capable pokemon than I have perished on the climb. But if you insist, well, it seems like a reasonable plan."

Umbra couldn't care less what they did with the bidoof. For all she cared, they could take her back or leave her to starve, so long as Nip was captured. She crossed her arms and tilted her head, so that she was staring Susana in the eye. "Well? Do we have a deal?"

"What do you guys think?" Susana turned back to her team. "Topaz? Skorch?"

"No issues," the fake raichu answered.

"None from me," Skorch replied. "Remer?"

The girafarig shifted in his nest. "I think we should come to a compromise." Both heads looked directly at Umbra. Her skin crawled as she stared back at the unnatural pokemon, but she refused to let it show.

"You want the sneasel," he continued, "and we want up the mountain without interruption. I say we nab the sneasel and take him with us up the mountain. Alive. If we return empty-pawed, or don't return at all, then you can rat us out. But this gives us… insurance that you'll keep your word."

Umbra scowled, narrowing her eyes. "I refuse to let that waste of breath, that blight on Yveltal's good name, leave my sight."

"Then what do you suggest?" Susana asked flatly.

Umbra's simplest answer was that she just refused to compromise, flat out. But she suspected that would not go over well. So instead, she found a separate option. "I will accompany you. I care not what you're doing, nor how long it takes, so long as I am able to finish him at the end." Perhaps she shouldn't be so single-minded. But she was sick of waiting.

The false explorers shared a glance between each other. No words were spoken, but they clearly were of a single mind. Finally, Susana turned back.

"Fine, that can be arranged."

"There's one possible issue," Topaz said, raising a paw. "What about the bidoof? How is she going to react to all this?"

"I doubt she'll raise a stink," Vale answered. "She doesn't like the sneasel either. She doesn't want him here and she wants him to see real justice as much as we do."

Umbra wasn't entirely convinced. The bidoof had tried to stop her before, when they'd first tried to catch Nip. But that was also before his crimes were proven. Perhaps it would be different now.

Skorch's voice brought her attention back to the conversation. "We can do a trade off, if needed. So long as we're careful. With a bit of direction, I can fly to catch up, covertly pass off the sneasel, while Haru is distracted at the shrine, then fly her back."

Susana tilted her head. "It's risky, but I suppose that works."

"What about Jhorlo?" Vale's voice came in a low tone, just beside her ear.

She could care less about Jhorlo. Once she was out of here, he was Vale's problem. But she had a feeling he wouldn't appreciate that answer. "We can discuss that privately. I don't think we can expect help for that one from these pokemon."

Vale seemed satisfied enough with the answer, as he stood up. "Seems reasonable," he said to the others. "Then do we have a deal?"

Susana bobbed her head. "I believe we do." Then she took a seat, picking up a map that had been left on the ground. "Now, what do you have in mind?"
 

love

Memento mori
Pronouns
he/him/it
Partners
  1. leafeon
A/N: Special thanks to my beta readers, SparklingEspeon, ShadowVulpi, and deerestove

I've become a stove, oh no!

Anyway, I'll give some overall thoughts.

I think it is cool that we see some courage from Haru here. She is averse to risking her own life but more averse to risking loved ones'. Umbra and Vale have a sort of amusing chemistry as well. As she remarks, they aren't so different:

But at the same time, she could understand the feeling of obligation. The need to fulfill a duty.

I think the bit about swapping Nip for Haru is clearer in this draft, but I'm still not sure why Team Fakers couldn't just climb the mountain, kill Umbra, do whatever with Haru, not bother snatching Nip, and run away. I guess doing that would arguably be as risky as the original plan, depending on how confident they are in their Nip-snatching skills and if they want to go near the town again.

But things sure are heating up, and Nip is sure to have a blast next chapter. I wonder if Haru will intervene on Nip's behalf. I also wonder if Nip is going to feel more resigned to the possibility of his death this time around, given his present religious doubts and guilt.
 
22: Night Talks

windskull

Bidoof Fan
Staff
Partners
  1. custom/sneasel-nip
  2. bidoof
  3. absol
  4. kirlia
  5. custom/windskull-bidoof
Night Talks


The sun was starting to dip behind Mount Domo, casting deep shadows into the woods as Haru arrived home. Though she had steadily made her way back, she froze just outside the door, heart fluttering. Would Shimmer and Muse still be here, waiting to confront her? And what of Toshi and her parents? She'd skipped out on work after their spat, something that hadn't happened in cycles. Just thinking about the coming earful was painful enough.

There was only one sensible thing to do.

Haru pushed through through the entry curtain and made straight for her room, replying to her mother's greeting with little more than a grunt.

She paused again just inside. Her room was sparse; she'd never found much need for little trinkets and other specialty items. They were a waste of money. Though she had a shelf, it only held a few well-worn books and a couple old wood-whittled figures. She'd made one a few cycles back, part of a short-lived art experiment. The other was a gift from her grandfather.

She made a straight line for a nest tucked in the back corner of the room, passing a low desk along the way. There, she collapsed faced down, burying herself in the straw without bothering to take her bags off.

And she remained like that for some time. At some point, her father stopped in her doorway and tried to make conversation, but she just grunted at him. She was left alone after that.

But she couldn't avoid her family forever. Eventually, the call for dinner forced her to climb to her paws. Only then did she bother slipping out of her bags and returning to the common room.

Toshi had already sat at the table, as had her dad. Her mom had prepped dinner tonight and was currently setting portions and drinks around the table. The scent of fresh bread and caramelized carrots sent her stomach rumbling.

She avoided her brother's gaze as she took a seat across from him. A chunk of bread with dipping oil, a simple salad, and a few roasted veggies in a savory sauce were spread across the plate in front of her. A cup of water sat to the side, but a small dispenser of spiced oran wine was at the center of the table. She wondered if her parents brought it out for a special occasion, or if they planned to drink to forget everything going on in the village. She was tempted, herself, but she couldn't run the risk of getting tipsy tonight. Not when she needed to get up early.

They ate in silence for a few moments, none wanting to broach the subject of her earlier behavior.

Her mom was the first to speak, her sentences punctuated between bites of food. "Well. You were right, Chip. That sneasel can do some good work. A shame he doesn't apply himself. Perhaps things would have turned out better for him if he did."

"Are you thinking of asking for his help again?" Chip asked. "'Gigas knows we could use it right now."

Haru groaned inwardly. Oh please no, she thought. I can't deal with that right now. Just send him off to the Enforcers already. But she kept her thoughts to herself, not looking to bring any attention.

"Perhaps," Saku answered. "His help came in handy today, considering we were short handed. Which reminds me…" Her gaze drifted to Haru, who shrank down behind the table. "Dear… You didn't come back from your break. Toshi told us you ran off. What happened?"

"It was nothing important," Haru answered quickly, paws digging into the fabric. "I just needed some fresh air. I went to town and then…" She trailed off, silently cursing herself. In all the excitement, then worry, she hadn't bothered to come up with an excuse for tomorrow's absence. If she was already being pestered about today, how was she supposed to explain running off with some explorers without sounding weird? If her parents knew the truth, they'd probably think she was going to the shrine out of spite and try to talk her out of it.

Was she going out of spite?

No. She was going to protect Toshi. That's all.

"I got to talking with some travelers while I was there," she began, mind racing as she formed the lie. Her stomach twisted with guilt. "And they asked me to help with a job. They needed some logging done down river and I offered to help out." She fought the urge to cringe. Now that she said it, the story sounded pretty weak.

"Travelers, huh?" Chip asked, pulling a bowl of wine closer. "You wouldn't happen to mean that group of explorers staying at the inn, would you?"

Haru swallowed and forced a smile. "Those are the ones. They were looking at setting up a camp. More of an outpost really. I don't think the village would agree to let them build one here, Jhorlo least of all. But no one owns the woods outside the village. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have one nearby in case of emergencies, you know?"

"Sure," Chip answered carefully. "But it has the potential to take away business from old Meaad. We see Society teams more often than we do any other type of traveler, save maybe merchants. Why would they come here if they got their own place?"

"Well, they wouldn't have a hot, fresh meal if they're out in the woods," Saku pointed out.

"I think it's pretty cool," Toshi said, eyes sparkling. "Think about how much we could learn if there's more permanent teams in the area! I wish I was going instead."

Haru's stomach twisted again. She hated how easily the lie had come, but at the same time, Toshi's reaction made her all the more certain she was doing the right thing by hiding the truth.

The conversation shifted to questions about Shimmer and Muse's wellbeing, then other topics that Haru didn't care to chime in on. Her attention drifted in and out as she picked at her food, her appetite waning.

Dinner ended with the last rays of sunlight. Chip excused himself to take his herbs, and Toshi retreated to his room to read. Only Haru and her mother remained.

Just as Haru opened her mouth to excuse herself, Saku said, "Would you be a dear and help me clean up?"

Haru bit back a sigh. She should be getting to bed, considering she needed to rise early. But there was no use in debating her mom. If she tried to argue that she could make her own decisions, her mom would point out that she wasn't the homeowner, and that meant she had to help out around the house. Standing on her hind paws, she reached out across the table to gather up the dishes. Saku handed her a jar of luminous moss before taking the dishes, then the two of them staggered outside.

They stopped at the edge of the dam, pushing through the reeds until they were in the muddy shallows. A large stone stuck out along the edge, the top dry. There, they placed their burdens. Haru and Saku each took one of the ceramic plates and dunked them into the water.

"Is everything okay, Haru?"

Saku's question caught her off guard. She froze for a heartbeat, wide-eyed. "Of course. Why wouldn't they be?" She fought to keep the unease out of her voice.

Saku looked down at the water for a moment, silent. "Well… It's just… you've been acting strange lately, dear. Ever since that Sneasel showed up. When he first appeared, you were so interested in showing him around. I thought it great, since you rarely get out. But then he… well, you know."

It was clear her mom didn't want to bring up Nip's heinous act. And it made Haru wonder: if it bothered her so much, then why was she willing to work with him?

But she didn't get a chance to voice her thoughts, as her mom just kept plowing on. "And then you ran off with your friends into a dungeon—a dungeon—to apprehend him. I would have expected it out of Toshi, what with his adventurous streak. But you? I would have thought you'd avoid it, or try to talk them down."

"I did try," Haru argued. "I just figured… it was better if I went with them, to keep them out of trouble."

"Even the second time?" Saku pressed. It seemed that was a rhetorical question, because she continued, "But it wasn't just that. Since then, you've been in a foul mood—don't think I haven't noticed. And now you're running off with strangers. Is there something wrong? You know you can talk to me, right?"

Haru fought to control her annoyance, then wondered why she was so annoyed. "Well, I'm not really running off with strangers," she said. "I'm running off to do a job for strangers. I think there's a difference there. As for the other stuff…" She trailed off, taking a deep breath. Surely her mom could understand her anger?

"I went into Sunglow Thicket for two reasons. I already said the first. The second time, I wanted to make sure Nip faced proper judgment, instead of being offed by someone willing to take hostages just to get to him. He was brought back, all but admitted to the destruction of several eggs—most of them maliciously—and then got nothing more than community service. Surely you can understand why I'm frustrated?"

Saku sat her rinsed dishes on the stone, then pushed out further into the water, disappearing beneath the rippling surface. Haru remained in the shallows, blinking. But her mother returned a minute later, expression pensive. She gestured for Haru to follow her out. With a sigh, the rest of the dishes were cast aside, and Haru slipped into the cool water.

There was no danger in this small pool, created by their own handiwork. And there would be no prying ears in the center.

"I do understand," Saku said once Haru joined her. "But I also know much of your behavior is unhealthy. Toshi told me about how you left earlier, though he wouldn't go into the details." The bibarel tilted her head upwards, gazing at the stars. Her wet fur glistened in the moonlight. "Whatever's going on, I can't force you to tell me. But I want you to know that I'm here, if you ever need to talk."

Treading water, Haru turned so that she was facing her mother. She struggled to find her words. How was her behavior unhealthy? Sure, she'd been quick to anger recently. She could admit as much. But surely that anger was justified? "I know," she finally said. "I'm still figuring some of it out for myself. But if I need anything, I'll let you know."

"Good girl," her mother replied. "Now, we should get to bed. We wouldn't want to catch a chill!" Her tail slapped the surface of the water, and she dove, reappearing back in the shallows. Haru followed behind slowly. She stopped for a moment to load the dishes onto her mother's tail. Then they both went inside.

Haru lay awake for some time after that, tossing and turning in her nest. Worry gnawed at her as she went over the conversation with her mom. Should she tell her mom the truth? About where she was going?

No. It would only worry her more. And the last thing she wanted was to worry her.

Soon, she drifted into a fitful sleep.


Once again, an endless expanse of water stretched out before Nip, mimicking the orange of the cloudless sky. The fur on the back of his neck prickled as he walked through the shallows, sending ripples on the otherwise still surface. He was vaguely aware that he was dreaming, and that it was the same dream that he'd had countless times. But he couldn't fathom why he was here again.

The same hill from his previous dreams—the one with the dying tree—appeared in the distance, the tree's branches spreading wide like outstretched claws. Involuntarily, he sped up, light on his feet as he raced towards the hill. Every time he dreamed of this place, he always fell into deep water before he reached it—and he'd had the dream several times since Celebi's appearance. The last thing he wanted was to wake up from the sensation of water filling his lungs, choking the life out of him.

But as he approached, the water remained shallow, only reaching his ankles. His pace slowed as he reached the base of the hill.

Tall grass waved in an imperceptible breeze. Beams of dying sunlight poked between the branches of the tree, dappling the grass with golden pools. He slunk up the soggy bank and into the neck-deep blades, climbing until he reached the base of the tree.

Thin ashen bark peppered the base of the tree, cracked and peeling away to reveal pale wood beneath. The bark thinned away further up the twisting trunk, disappearing around the gnarled branches. No leaves remained. Nip knew little about trees, but if this one wasn't dead already, surely it was dying?

His attention shifted to its base, where roots poked up through the dirt. Nestled between two of these roots, something out of place caught his eye. A blood-colored feather. He picked it up.

The feather was nearly as long as his arm and mostly that deep blood color, tapering to a midnight black as it reached the afterfeather. Nip wracked his brain as he tried to come up with different pokemon the feather could have come from. It was too big for a sneasel, and they didn't usually taper to black. Talonflame, maybe? But he didn't think they had feathers this long, either. It would have to be an incredibly large one.

Then a long-buried memory of a lesson back in his old nesting grounds surfaced, and he pictured an old historic painting. Though the details faded with time, he could still picture the deep bloody feathers of a bird—his patron—perched on a tree with her wings spread wide.

"Yveltal?" His voice was barely more than a whisper, pulled away and made inaudible by a sudden gust of wind.

This feather belonged to Yveltal. It had to. Then was this the tree from the painting? It couldn't be; it was old and wizened and dead. The tree in the painting was lush and vibrant. Covered with plant life and teeming with the spirits of the departed. This was a stark opposite.

He turned and raced away from the tree, fur bristling as he scanned the sky for any signs of his god. All the while calling out, "Yveltal! Yveltal I am here! Is this a vision? Is this something more? What do you need of me?"

A quiet splish-splash signaled that he had run back into the water. His foot caught on something just beneath the surface. Stumbling, he waved his arms wildly, but it was no use. With a yowl, he tumbled into the water. Deep into the water, as if the bank weren't even there. An invisible current pulled him away from land, dragging him deeper and deeper into the depths. The feather spiraled up and away, leaving him behind in the darkness, lungs burning.

But he wasn't alone.

The current swirled as a massive, dark figure swam around him. Vision blurred by water, he couldn't see well. But as the figure came to a stop just above him, watching him sink, he could just make out the form of two great dark wings, and two bright blue eyes that glowed with some emotion he couldn't place.

He opened his mouth to say something, only to gag and panic as he sucked in a lungful of water. No, not water. This fluid was thicker, more viscous, and had a familiar flavor. Yolk. He was drowning in egg yolk. He flailed, desperate to reach the surface, but his vision was fading fast. And soon, all he could make out were those two smoldering eyes.

Before the end, he heard a voice.

You do not belong…


Nip gasped awake, coughing and sputtering. He flailed in the darkness, rolling onto his belly as if to vomit up swallowed water. But nothing came.

Of course nothing came; it was just a nightmare. He was still in Theran village, hidden away in his cell.

Bits of straw clung to his fur as he sat up, blinking. His flailing had scattered his nest, leaving him exposed. As he looked around the dimly-lit room, he could see two pairs of eyes watching him. One was Tempest, his expression betraying worry. The other was tonight's night guard, Anu.

He turned away from both of them, stood, and began to pace his small space, keeping his head low.

What was he supposed to make of his dream? He'd had it several times, but this time it was different. He'd found that feather… Yveltal's feather, he was sure of it!

Did that make this more than a dream? A vision? He wasn't a psychic. He'd never been gifted—or cursed, for that matter—with the power of prophecy. And yet, he'd had the same dream so many times; that had to mean something!

So what was he supposed to make of the ending? You do not belong. Who had said it? Yveltal? Was Yveltal abandoning him? Did Yeveltal even care about him to begin with?

A tiny, pathetic whimper escaped his lips as he scraped his claws together, catching on every nick and chip. Some of the damage came from hard labor, while other parts came from striking at his cell walls as he tried to calm his frazzled nerves. It wasn't like he was using them for anything else, anyways. He couldn't remember the last time he'd hunted; it was some time before arriving here, in this cursed town that had destroyed his last shred of hope.

With another whimper, he slumped to the ground, cheek meeting the wood flooring.

"Having nightmares, are you, Nip?"

Anu's question brought Nip out of his sulking. He turned his head so that he could see the lucario, but did not rise or otherwise reply.

"You were twitching and mewling in your sleep," Anu continued. His tone was factual, neither accusatory nor comforting. The corner's of his mouth twisted upwards. And for just a moment, Nip thought he might be enjoying his suffering. But the rest of his body language suggested otherwise. "Ah, please forgive me. I… do not mean to pry. It's just…"

Anu took a deep breath. "I… I know you are religious. We spoke of your patron before. I don't know how central Celebi is to your beliefs. B-but I know his appearance has left many of the faithful shaken. Celebi does not act like the myths say. What does that mean about the rest of the myths? About everything we grew up believing? If your nightmares are anything of that nature, I can't say I blame you, but know that you are not alone."

What do you know, Nip thought ruefully. Still, he sat up so that he could better look at Anu. And Tempest, for that matter. The ninetales watched from his own cell, tails slowly waving, almost hypnotic.

"I find it curious," Anu continued, following Nip's gaze. "Celebi's appearance has affected you far more than it has Tempest. Why is that?"

Nip considered ignoring him. What good would it do to talk about this? But after a moment, he realized Anu was giving him something other than his dreams to focus on. Or trying to, at least.

"Tempest really should be the one telling you about this," he began, shifting so that he was in a more comfortable position, "but I supposed that isn't an option right now. Tempest wasn't born to the Half-Moon tribe. Instead, he joined as an adult. He's told me that, as a child, he belonged to a separate tribe from further north, a group of ice-types that worshiped the remains of the Original Dragon, Kyurem.

"Kyurem was not known to be kind to the living. At best, it was a callous defender of its followers. But some of their stories described it as openly malicious to mortals. And yet, they still followed it, because they believed themselves to be Kyurem's chosen, the only ones that it looked after." He glanced at Tempest. "Did I remember that correctly?"

Tempest dipped his head.

"How fascinating," Anu said, shifting in place. He took a deep breath and held it for some time before continuing. "Perhaps I can use this to illustrate my point. From… From what you've told me, there are conflicting stories about this Kyurem. Some characterize it as a defender, others as something more sinister. And it's hard to believe that both of these stories could be true. In fact, it's entirely possible that they're not. But there are more than two stories. I imagine there are countless tales."

His paw came alight with aura as he waved it in the air. "I imagine there are many conflicting stories about Celebi, as well. The myths around here characterize him as a valiant hero, traveling through time to bring both the blessings and the curses of the future. He's said to be noble and stalwart, and always having the interests of the good at heart."

"Yes, that's not too far from our stories," Nip replied. "What is your point?"

"Well, we've now met Celebi, and know he exists. And we also know that the legends weren't entirely correct. And yet, there are still morsels of truth based on what we've seen. He did come to warn us, a small village, of dangers, even if he went about it in a… strange way. And knowing that part of the story is true, we must find comfort in that." Anu's voice grew firm. "Perhaps we need to revisit our legends. Reevaluate what we hold true. But in the end, we still cannot know everything. And we will have to take some things on faith."

Faith. That was easy for Anu to say. He wasn't the one whose every decision, every justification for everything questionable he ever did, was shattered by the legends being wrong. Then he mentally berated himself for thinking like that. Anu had to contend with the cruelties of the world, too, and shaken beliefs made that harder.

"Thanks," he finally said, "but… there's more to it than that."

"Oh?" Anu tilted his head, then scooted a little closer to the cell. "If you wish to talk about it, I'm all ears."

"What?" Nip flinched and copied Anu's expression, his ear twisting flat against his skull. "Why would you want to know? Do you wish to mock me?"

Anu was quiet for a moment. "I-if I'm speaking honestly, a part of me wants to. N-not mocking necessarily." He held his paws up in a defensive gesture. "Just… Just let you wallow in your misery, r-rather.

"B-but I won't!" He continued before Nip could reply. "Because I have a job to do. Despite everything, it would be unbecoming of me. I could yell and scream and hurt you, but it would go against everything I stand for." A beat of silence followed. "And I hope—perhaps foolishly—that extending kindness to you will help you settle, and finally understand our way of life. And then, perhaps, you can be sent on your way."

Nip's anger dissipated, replaced with surprise. And confusion. His fur slowly lay flat, and the tension left his shoulders.

Anu watched him unblinkingly, then he turned his head and stood. "There… is one other thing I wanted to talk to you about," he began. He turned and disappeared into a small room. A rustling sound followed, then he returned with a small bag in his paws, the long drawstring hanging down loosely.

"Here," Anu said, passing the bag between the bars. "I remember you eyeing this a few days back. Consider it a… peace offering of sorts."

Nip blinked, eying the bag cautiously. It certainly looked like the same bag, and it looked empty. But it made no sense.

"Why?"

Anu sighed, dropping the bag just inside Nip's cell. "As I just said, holding a grudge would be hypocritical. I've… struggled to forgive you after what you did to my mate and I. But perhaps, with kindness, I can make you understand what it means to be a village pokemon. And perhaps I'll be able to break the cycle of revenge." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then sat down with his back straight. "The law will punish you for what you did wrong. My duty is to guide you on how to be better. So. If you ever need to talk about matters of faith, or anything at all, I will do my best to listen and assist."

For a moment, Nip stared at the bag laying at his paws, struggling to process his feelings. Based on everything he'd ever been taught, Anu shouldn't be helping him, shouldn't offer forgiveness. Even if he had reasons for doing what he did, and even if it was just the laws of nature, he still hurt Anu. And he struggled to fathom how he could just let it go like this. Or try to, at least.

At the same time, relief warmed his chest. Perhaps, if there was anyone that could provide answers to him, it would be Anu. And perhaps there was something he could help him with right now.

"Well," Nip began, fiddling with his claws. "There is… something I'd like to talk to you about." Anu gestured for him to continue, so he took a hesitant breath. "Over the last few days I've been having these… recurring dreams…"

But before he could continue, the sound of ruffling fabric caught their attention. Nip scented an electric current heartbeats before Vale stalked through the entryway, giving off frustrated sparks.

"Vale?" Anu stood up, tilting his head. "What are you doing here?"

"I work here," Vale replied with a snort. "Do I need a reason? But if you must know, I actually came here to fetch you, Anu. I was passing by the temple on a night patrol and saw one of those explorers. He asked to see you."

"Did you tell him I was busy?"

"Of course. Told him it was too early. Told him a bad time and to come back later after the sun had fully risen. Even threatened to chase him off. But he was insistent."

Anu sighed, then glanced out the window. It was still dark. "Well, I can't go and see him right now, anyways. So he'll just have to wait till after my relief comes in, at least." His words were punctuated by a yawn.

"If you need relief, I can take over," Vale replied. He walked over to stand beside Anu. "You're just watching the prisoners for a while, right? I can take over until you get back. Already finished my rounds."

"No, he can wait." Anu shook his head. "It would be unbecoming of me to leave my duty incomplete."

"But what about your duty to the patrons of the temple," Vale countered, sparking. "I know you have a few visitors in the mornings. What if he heckles them like he did me."

This, at least, seemed to make Anu hesitate.

Nip watched the exchange through narrowed eyes. Why was Vale so insistent on taking over? He knew from experience that Vale didn't care to be around him or Tempest. Was he just looking for a way to harass them? Surely even Vale wouldn't go that far?

Finally, Anu sighed. "Very well. I will see if I can convince him to leave without a fight." His attention turned to Nip. "Apologies. We will continue this conversation another time." With a rustle of fabric, he was gone.

Vale lay down in front of the cells, watching Nip and Tempest with his mouth clamped shut. He looked in no mood to converse, and Nip didn't expect he had anything nice to say anyways, so he took a moment to gather up his scattered nest and settled down as if to sleep. But his nerves wouldn't let him. He felt electrified, alert after Anu's conversation. He doubted he would get any more rest, but he could at least lie down until the guards took him out in the morning.

He wasn't sure how long he lay there awake. It must have been some time, because he could see the faintest outline of light around the doorway when the sound of a commotion outside caught his attention. Curious, he sat up.

Vale was already on his feet, letting out a guttural growl while sparks danced in his fur. "Hey! What's going on out there?" he barked, stalking towards the entrance with his head low and hackles raised.

A burst of flame greeted him, blasting him in the face as it engulfed the fabric covering. He let out a surprised yelp, stumbling back.

Nip scrambled to his feet and pressed himself into the shadows in the corner of his cell. The acrid scent of burnt fur made him gag as he watched, looking for signs of life in the manectric. Vale groaned and shifted, but did not try to get up. Sparks danced weakly on his pelt but went nowhere.

As the flames died away, the attacker became clear. A great dark beast—a charizard with some physical quirks unfamiliar to him—rose to her feet. Her tail flicked back and forth as she watched Vale for signs of resistance. Then she snorted smoke and turned towards the door.

"Subdued," she announced with a growl.

"Excellent," came a reply from just outside.

Nip's blood turned to ice. He stiffened, still crouching. He knew that voice all too well.

Flames still crackled in the doorway, illuminating a stout, familiar figure.

Umbra.

Tempest sprang to his paws in an instant, lips curled in a soundless snarl. He stalked on the other side of his cell, hackles raised as the air in the room chilled. Nip's breath came out in frosty puffs as he pressed himself against the wall. Umbra was here. Umbra was here. Why was Umbra here?

He knew. He knew he knew he knew. He knew exactly why she was here.

She entered the room with a leisurely gait, eyes trailing over the charizard and the downed Vale, then to Tempest, before her eyes finally settled on Nip. He knew she could see him. Smell him. He must be giving off a fear-scent…

Her posture shifted; if it had been anyone else, he could mistake her expression for friendly. But there was no hiding the malicious intent in her eyes.

Without taking her eyes off of Nip, she said to the charizard, "Find the keys, would you, Skorch?" The charizard lumbered away, leaving Nip her sole focus.

"Oh, how I have waited for this day," she began, her tone light and airy. "More than six moons, you have evaded my grasp. Managed to slink away. No, it has been longer, has it not? You have been a thorn in my side since the day we were made mates. But no more. Finally, almost three cycles of careful work is paying off."

The strange charizard returned, dropping a ring of keys into Umbra's outstretched claws. She looked at them, frowning. "How am I supposed to use these, exactly?"

"It's not that difficult. Just stick one in the hole and turn until one of them unlocks the door." The charizard snorted smoke.

"Do not patronize me," Umbra snapped back. Then she started sticking keys in, one at a time. By the third or fourth key, the cell door swung open. Just like that, the only barrier between himself and Umbra was gone.

Nip tried to form frost around him, to call forth an ice shard. But he couldn't focus. He could only press himself against the wall as she marched towards him with a degree of nonchalance. She knew she had won, and she was taking the time to gloat.

"All the lies, all the cruelty and misdeeds, only to end like this. It is kind of pathetic, is it not?" She chuckled. "Then again, you always were pathetic. Well, do you have anything to say for yourself?"

Somehow. Nip found his tongue. And despite his defeat, bitter resentment coated his mouth and gave him the courage to growl a single sentence.

"You're a monster."

Claws struck his cheek, then a blow to his stomach sent him reeling. He screeched, crumpling to the ground as white-hot pain radiated where fairy energy burned his skin—no, his very spirit. He felt his will to fight fading, succumbing to the pain. Why had he ever expected anything different? It always ended like this, with his face against the ground, a growing pain in his ribs, and Umbra standing over him, reminding him of how useless he was. Any time he showed defiance, this was the outcome. He should have known his death would be the same.

Then a blast of frigid wind sent him rolling backwards. He heard Umbra grunt and several dull thunks as he tried to climb to his feet, pelted by slush and chunks of ice. As his vision focused, he could see Tempest crouching with his gaze concentrated on Umbra, focused on creating more ice as he froze the air around him. He was attacking the mawile; Nip just happened to be caught in the blizzard.

Umbra snarled, marching towards Tempest despite the layer of frost accumulating on her steely fur, only to fall short due to the bars between them. With a frustrated snort, she tossed the keys toward the charizard. "He clearly has a talent for surviving certain death and causing me trouble. Here. Deal with him." Her gaze shifted to the wooden floor and the furniture. "Or better yet… send this place up in flames. Then we can leave unimpeded while they deal with the fire."

"What?"

Vale sprang to his paws with speed that surprised Nip. Clearly he wasn't as injured as he'd first looked. "You can't do that," he sputtered. Do you have any idea how far that'll set back the town? And whose hide do you think it's going to come out of? Jhorlo's not a total idiot!"

"He will figure it out either way. My disappearance and Nip's disappearance will be proof enough for him."

The manectric grunted, crouching. "Yes, but the destruction of the town isn't necessary. What if the fire spreads? Our quarrel is with Jhorlo and with the sneasel."

"We don't have time for this," the massive charizard growled, her tail flicking restlessly back and forth. "The lucario could return at any time. Just grab the sneasel and—"

Nip was suddenly blinded by bright light, spots blooming in his vision. Yelps and grunts filled the air. But through it, Umbra still stood tall, her attention focused on Tempest, the source of the attack.

"Just do it," she snapped. "Before the ninetales gives us away."

She was distracted. Nip crawled forward, claws digging into the wood as he dragged himself towards his cell door. This was his chance. If he could just reach the door, he could make a run for it. Even with the charizard on her side, he could hide in the bushes outside town. Get to the river and destroy his scent trail. He could run again, and find somewhere to start over.

But doing so meant leaving Tempest behind to die. Umbra would never let Tempest live if his distraction let Nip escape. Leaving him to die was the coward's way out.

And yet, Tempest was causing a distraction now. Was he just fighting back? Or was he trying to give Nip an opening to escape?

Heart heavy with guilt and confusion, Nip continued to crawl out the cell door. Dawn light—freedom—was only a few bounds away.

Fire erupted on his back, his world exploding in agony. The horrible smell of burnt fur and flesh choked him as he screamed, ears ringing. He scrambled, dragging himself forward. But the fire followed, until finally, he quit trying to avoid it. Though the flames died, the pain remained. He felt pressure on his back, digging into the fresh wounds. He had no strength to crawl.

Somehow both nearby and distant at the same time, he heard Umbra's voice. "Hurry up and set a fire. All that screaming will have attracted someone. Then we run. Vale, you need to look injured, go to…" But whatever else she was saying was lost. His cheek hit the ground, then the world went dark.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
Heya, been a while, but I've got PWCH on my Reading Rookidee hitlist and a review exchange that I need to make good on, and figured that the two Bonuses you wrote up that I didn't review yet were as good a place as any to jump in on a night that's a bit tighter on time. So let's get this show rolling:

Bonus 2

Okay, so full disclosure, this bonus was written as a prize for me and I've read it once a while back. But, I didn't review it, and it's been long enough that giving it a once-over is probably called for. Anywho...

"Grandpa! Grandpa! Wake up! It's Titans Harvest!"

The elderly bibarel let out an "ompf" as he was roused from his sleep by a solid tackle. He blinked sleep out of his eyes. Standing in front of him, her whole body wiggling with excitement, was his granddaughter, Haru.

He laughed and sat up. "Goodness, little missy, aren't you excited!"

Wow, Haru not being a bitter pill for once. It sure has been a while since we've seen that in the story. o<o

"We're getting ready to head to the square, Catkin. Are you coming with us?"

Catkin turned his head. Saku, his daughter in-law, stood in the doorway, a tired smile on her face.

"Wouldn't miss it for the world," Catkin replied, stretching the stiffness out of his joints. "Chipper' already gone?"

"He took the cart with the show furniture down already," Saku said over her shoulder as she disappeared into the hall. "We'll meet him there. Now come on, Haru. Let's get ready."

That actually makes me wonder how much of Chipper and family's income comes from festivals like these. On one level, you'd think furniture would be a bit hard to lug around as a casual purchase, but festivals/holidays in general tend to be good for business for just about any business IRL.

Haru let out an excited squeal, jumping up and down with her eyes shining. Then she scrambled off into the other room.

Catkin let out an affectionate chuckle, exchanging a glance with Saku. "Well, we shouldn't keep her waiting. Let's get going."

I can't get over how adorable Haru used to be back in the day. There's something really charming about seeing how bright-eyed and optimistic she used to be once upon a time, which is a bit
:sadwott~2:
knowing where she'll wind up.

Nearly the entire village had come to the square for the festivities. More pokemon had come from nearby villages, and there were even a few wildeners that had come out of the surrounding woods, lured in both by their beliefs in the Titans and the promise of food. Though, Catkin noticed with a frown, there were even less wildeners around than usual this year. He hoped everything was alright.

But there was no point in worrying about that. No, right now, he should enjoy his time with his family.

:copyka2:


Ah yes, the hints that there were already things seriously wrong with Theran Village and things were deteriorating even this far back. Though let's get real, the wildeners were totally there for the food.
:bleplithe:


"Grandpa! Look what I can do!" Haru waved a paw until he turned to watch. Then she stuffed an entire oran pastry into her mouth.

He laughed as she gave him a wide grin, crumbs sticking to her snout. "Goodness, you're getting so big, little miss. Such a big appetite!"

Somehow, I doubt that Haru would give Toshi a pass for doing that in the present day. Though it's a cute mental image there. ^^

As Haru reached a grabby paw for another pastry, a familiar voice caught Catkin's attention.

"Fancy some wine, Catkin?"

The bibarel turned his head, locking eyes with an approaching roserade. His vines were wrapped around various bowls and cups, each filled with indigo oran wine.

Now I'm curious how this wine tastes, but you can't say it's not effective marketing since Theran Village's festival seems like a fun place to be around. ^^

"Don't mind if I do, Hyacinth." As the roserade maneuvered his carried drinks around to sit a bowl down, Catkin continued. "You've really outdone yourself this year. The harvest has been bountiful! And plenty tasty too. Wouldn't you say, Haru?"

Haru looked up with wide eyes, face stuffed with yet another pasty. "Mm!"

I mean, I don't know if Haru would give the same answer if she had some of that wine versus her sugar-packed pastry, since alcohol is very much an acquired taste like caffeine.
:loltias:


Hyacinth laughed. "Well, I've certainly had plenty of help. Roselei is shaping up to be a fine farmer. A few more years and I think I'll be able to retire!"

"Indeed. Gigas bless you." Catkin turned away and leaned down, lapping up a couple mouthfuls of the wine. He closed his eyes, savoring the taste as it washed over his tongue. But as he opened his eyes again, he noticed Haru leaning forward to sniff at his drink. Then, before he could do anything, she took an experimental drink, only gag and recoil.

"Gross! Grandpa, why are you drinking that?"

Oh right, I forgot that Haru actually gets a crash course in how alcohol is an acquired taste.
:hoodLUL:


He pulled the bowl away and held it above his head. "It's old people drink, Haru," he explained, holding back laughter. She was so cute when she got upset like this. "You'll understand when you're older."

In response, Haru glared. "Don't laugh!"

Too late. :V

Though that makes me wonder if we're ever going to see Haru hit up the bar in the normal narrative, since she was thinking about it in the last chapter I read.

"Sorry, sorry." He chuckled a couple more times, then got over the bout. "Alright, why don't we find something else to do. Do you want to go watch fighting games?"

Haru immediately perked up, all her grumpiness forgotten. "Okay! Race you!" And just like that, she'd turned and bolted away from the table.

Ah yes, the reminder that we're dealing with a society of Pokémon here. But it makes sense that Pokémon would have sparring and watching others spar high up there on their shortlist of things to do for fun.

The field where the guards usually ran drills had been divided up into a handful of sections, rope with flags surrounding the area. A dozen or so pokemon milled about in the field, while several more watched from the sidelines. Several events were planned for the day: racing, climbing, swimming, and other ways for pokemon to show off their skills. And then, when the sun was setting, a tournament of battles.

Ah, so no Protect barrier antics to cut down on property damage in this setting. Though I suppose that even if PWCH had that, that Theran's a little short-staffed to keep such Pokémon around.

The main event wouldn't start until after the blessing ceremony, but there were still pokemon around competing in other events. Or even just getting ready. At the center of the field…

Bolts of electricity danced wildly across the field. From the epicenter came the boisterous laughter of a massive luxray. "Come now, Whisper. Is that the best you've got?"

Only the grass waved in response. The luxray growled playfully, lowering himself into a crouch as he tasted the air.

Ohai, Volt.

Catkin felt tiny paws dig into his shoulders. Haru had climbed up to get a better look.

A flash of red darted from the tall grass, racing towards the luxray. His ears twitched, then he turned to face the attacking hawlucha. She slammed into him at full speed, sending them tumbling in a tangle of limbs. But the luxray was prepared. He twisted around to get a better grip and bit down on the hawlucha's wing. Ice crept up her feathers, and she flinched as she tried to pull free, but to no avail.

"I yield, I yield!" Whisper cried out.

Oh, so Volt used to be Whisper's senior back in life. That would explain a few things about that scene where she was torn up over his absence.

Immediately, the luxray let go, allowing his opponent to stumble away. A purr rumbled in his throat as the hawlucha dusted herself off.

"Well done, Volt, Whisper!" Catkin called out. Similar cheers went up around them.

Whisper froze at the calls, shying behind Volt. Her feathers puffed up, and yet she tried to make herself look small.

Oh, this was not long after when Whisper ran off from whatever business she left behind with the Enforcers, huh? Since she sure seems shy and withdrawn there in a way that I wouldn't have expected from someone familiar with the others in the village.

Still not used to the attention of living in a village, Catkin thought to himself. Ah well, it will come with time.

"It's okay." Volt's voice rumbled with reassurance. "Everyone thinks you did great. He stepped aside, giving Whisper a light headbutt to urge her forward. "Now run along and rest up. We've got a ceremony to attend before the matches start properly."

Yuuuuuup. Not sure how I forgot about that detail, though one of these days, you ought to whip up a formal chronology of some sort, since it'd be interesting to see how various watersheds in your characters' lives overlap with one another time-wise.

"We should head towards the temple, too," Catkin said with a nod. "Come along, Haru."

"Aww, but I wanted to stay and watch," Haru whined. Even so, she slid down his back and tumbled down his tail. But then she shook the dust out of her fur, and she was back to her chipper self, scampering off again.

Catkin chuckled and followed slowly behind.

Ah yes, Haru being her irreverent self towards the gods even as a kid. Even if I gathered that she hasn't become a misotheist just yet.

Not too much later, Catkin had settled down with Haru a short ways from the temple, along with most of the other villagers. The young bidoof squirmed in place as he kept a firm paw on her, making sure she didn't run off before the blessing started.

Five pokemon stood in front of the temple entrance, surrounded by baskets upon baskets of berries and vegetables. There was Kari – the graying lucario that tended to the temple – and his riolu son, Anu. Standing on either side of them were an absol and a gardevoir.

Catkin leaned down to whisper in Haru's ear. "You see those two?" He pointed at the absol. "That's Cass, the town oracle. She watches and listens for signs of trouble from Regigigas so that we can prepare. And that—'' he gestured to the gardevoir "— is our mayor, Lady Gratitude."

He scanned the crowd. Her mate, Jhorlo, was nowhere to be seen. Probably running about trying to make sure everything was perfect, if Catkin knew him. He could, however, see Cass' daughter, Muse, sitting just to the side. The tiny absol was sitting stiffly, watching with a comically serious expression.

Well, something like that, anyways. Though I kinda wonder if this paragraph ought to have been broken in two, since the parts before and after "He scanned [...]" read as pretty thematically distinct to me.

And ah yes, it's a grand on-screen gathering of the doomed party that died off trying to find Regigigas. Like this is at once really cute and really
:copyka2:
when you read it with the story's subtext and knowing where things go from here in mind.

Gratitude raised her hand bringing all chatter to a close. All eyes turned toward the temple.

"Good afternoon, everyone," she began in a cheerful tone, clasping her hands together. "Thank you all for coming out to celebrate another successful harvest. I hope you've been enjoying the food. Everyone give cheer for Hyacinth, Meaad, and their families for growing and preparing all the food for today."

A collection of cheers, clapping, and stomping of feet went up among the crowd. Gratitude waited for the cheering to subside before continuing.

Another cute / fitting reminder that we're in a Pokémon society here. Since yeah, I'd imagine that that's a pretty fitting surrogate for clapping among quadrupeds in general.

"As you know, we have many more activities for the day, including the fighting games. But for now, let me step aside, so that Kari can say the blessing."

More cheers as she took a step back and the lucario took a step forward. Anu stepped up beside him, but remained quiet. It seemed like Kari was teaching him the motions of the blessing. Perhaps he was planning on retiring soon?

I actually don't remember if Kari was part of the doomed expedition or not, but either way, it's a bit sad that the implication that Kari just flatly isn't alive anymore in the present day. So he definitely "retired", alright.

"Great Regigigas, Titan of the Mountain," Kari began, placing one paw to his chest spike while raising the other in the air. "Thank you, as always for the bountiful harvest. We've worked hard in your stead, growing this food. We offer a portion of it back to the mountain, for providing for us. In return, Continent Tower, we humbly ask that you provide us with a bountiful harvest next cycle." He closed his eyes and bowed his head, and many of the other pokemon did the same.

Oh hey, I recognize that epithet.
:eltystarry:


Though it's a cute scene, and would be one that would be fun to see a depiction of one day.

But before Catkin could do so, he caught an uneasy glance pass between Cass and Gratitude behind Kari's back. Discomfort churned in his stomach as he closed his eyes as well. What was that about? Had the absol received a bad omen? Should he be worried?

Not right now, he decided after a moment. Whatever it is, it can wait. Now is a time for celebration.

And as they all opened their eyes, everyone did celebrate late into the night. And for the moment, all was good.

Small typo there. Though right, this is the part where the bonus wrapped right around to
:copyka2:
and
:sadwott~2:
since anyone who's read PWCH up to this point knows exactly what Cass saw there and how these happy days won't last for too much longer after this point chronologically.

Alright, and since that was a wee bit short, jumping right into the next Bonus as well:

Bonus 3

"Nip! Pay attention!"

Small golden pebbles smacked Nip across the cheek. He yelped, rubbing a paw against the stinging spot as the snickers of his denmates rose up around him. His attacker, a grey-pelted persian, stalked into his line of sight, her expression disgruntled.

"S-sorry," he mumbled, lowering his head submissively. "What did you need, Lorekeeper Glimmer?"

... Oh, so that's what Nip's old job was. Or at least I'm pretty sure that that's what this is building up to.

Also, I can already tell that even before Umbra, that life in Nip's neck of the woods got draining fast.

The persian, Glimmer, sighed and flicked her tail in agitation before using it to point to a drawing on the cave wall. "I asked you to explain the legend this image is depicting."

Nip stared in the dim light. The painting showed Celebi approaching the great Yveltal with head bowed.

"This is… the story of Celebi asking for Yveltal's allegiance? Asking for help?"

... Oh, so that's how Nip knew what Celebi was. You've definitely got my attention here, since it'll be interesting to see what the legendary mythos Nip grew up with was like.

"Close," Glimmer said. "But why is Celebi asking for help?"

"To… request aid in the war against Palkia?" Nip guessed, his voice clearly hesitant.

:copyber:


I can already tell that that war between the Timespace Dragons was quite something if it also sucked in a boatload of other Legendaries on opposing sides.

Glimmer sighed. "Again, only a partial answer. This is why you need to pay attention, Nip, especially if you are to be a lorekeeper." With a snort, she turned to look at the art. "This painting is the moment that Celebi came with the message that a battle would come to Yveltal's nesting grounds, whether she wanted to participate or not. He asked that Yveltal provide aid — both through getting her followers to fight, and through enlisting the aid of the spirits of the dead."

Oh, so that is what Nip's job used to be, or at least for a period of time.

And "enlisting the aid of the spirits of the dead", huh? Not sure what that would wind up entailing, but it definitely feels thematically on-brand for Yveltal.

"Oh! I know what happened next!" chimed a stunky to Nip's right. "Yveltal refused to provide her powers, saying that it was wrong to use the spirits of the departed for battle. But that she was willing to speak with her followers, and battle alongside them, if they chose to side with Dialga."

"Very good, Holly," Glimmer purred. "At least someone is paying attention."

... Wait, assuming it was even possible, what would've happened if Yveltal actually used those dead spirits for battle? Since if Yveltal found it wrong, that implies that something bad would've happened if it happened.
:fearfullaugh~1:


Nip's fur grew hot with embarrassment and resentment. It wasn't that he didn't want to learn, he just didn't want to be forced into the path of a lorekeeper. It wasn't fair. Just because he was undersized, didn't mean he couldn't hunt and fight as well as everyone else.

I dunno, man. You kinda wind up getting owned by a Bidoof and her band of merry munchkins a few years after this point, so... :V

"I think that's enough for today," Glimmer said, shaking Nip out of his thoughts. "We'll continue after the group lesson, tomorrow."

Nip waited for the other students to get up before scampering out of the cave. He squinted as he emerged into midday light. The main clearing, a common area where most of the tribe gathered during rest times, was relatively empty.

I'm actually a little surprised given how Death From Above is a nontrivial issue for their young, that Nip's tribe wouldn't find something like a wisteria arbor more soothing as a backdrop for their gathering places assuming they had the craftsmanship to make it. Since it'd provide cover over their gathering place and be packed full of pretty flowers during the right time of year.

Ten or so pokemon milled about in small groups, most of them still at the training age. Several were gathered just outside a den surrounding Umbra, a mawile training to specialize in fighting, as she recounted a story from the day's sparring matches. She glanced his way, and he quickly averted his gaze, uninterested in getting involved with her group.

Nip: "Yeesh, hopefully I'll never have to get assigned to den with her. I can already tell she'd be a terrible roommate." >_>;

"Hey, Nip."

A shy voice caught his attention. Turning his head, he saw Holly sidle up to him. She gave a cheerful chirp once she had caught his attention. "I was wondering if you might want to spend recreation time with me?"

:copyka:


Oh, so Nip had someone he had feelings for before his tribe shacked him up with Umbra. That's... definitely something.

It was a kind offer. Holly always seemed willing to spend time with him – more so than many of his other peers. Nip replied with a slow blink, bringing his claws together. "Maybe another time. I sort of… Already had something planned."

Holly tilted her head. "Off with Tempest again?"

Nip's heart skipped a beat. "How did you hear about that?" No one was supposed to know about those meetings.

... Nip, what on earth are you up to with him for your meetings to be so cloak and dagger?
:fearfullaugh~1:


She sat down. "I saw you leave the other day. When you came back, you smelled like you'd been around him."

"O-oh," Nip stammered. "I-it's nothing special. He's just… been giving me some extra hunting practice." He hesitated. "Don't tell anyone, please? I don't want others to get the idea that I'm a bad hunter."

Holly is going to wind up telling someone, isn't she?

"Alright," Holly replied, mimicking his slow blink. "I'll see you later, then."

With that, she trotted away to catch up with another of their peers, a skittish mewoth.

Nip let out a sigh. He felt bad, brushing her off, but his training with Tempest was more important. Speaking of which, he was going to be late if he didn't get moving.

Oh, so we're going to see Nip red in tooth and claw this bonus, huh?

The sun had just passed its apex when Nip reached the glade he usually met Tempest in. A thin layer of snow crunched under paw. The soft drip-dripping of snowmelt surrounded him, signaling the end of the cold season.

Nice environmental detail there. And I like the implication that the seasons in Nip's neck of the woods are so icy that they specifically parse there being a cold season as opposed to stuff like discrete autumns and winters. Or at least, I think that's the implication.

Sitting in the center, lit by a sunbeam was the familiar ninetales. Frost shimmered around his waving tales as he watched Nip approach quietly.

"Greetings," Tempest said, not moving even as Nip approached. "I trust your daily training went well?"

"As well as it could," Nip said with a twitch of his tail feathers. Mostly lorekeeping, as usual." His voice dropped to a grumble. "It's fine and all but I'm sick of being treated like a kit."

13 words spoken- well, not seconds from disaster, but I'm pretty sure that Nip was kicking himself over this train of thought not long after this Bonus chapter.

"Knowing the tribe's history is important," Tempest pointed out. "And the legends, too. I do understand your frustrations, though." He stood up, tails fanning out, before dropping into a crouch. "But that's why you are here, is it not? Attack me."

Nip: "Um... Tempest, are you sure you want me to-?"
:wtfuckle:

Tempest: "Nip, we're Pokémon. I'll live, besides, I'm pretty sure that this is supposed to be something you've done a lot in the past."

To the point, as Tempest often was at the beginning of their training sessions. Nip took a deep breath, then sprang back and forth from foot to foot, dancing around Tempest as he looked for an opening. The ninetales regarded him with a quiet, guarded expression, giving nothing away.

Nip feinted to the right, then dashed forward so quickly that Tempest didn't have time to track his movement. Icy shards formed on his legs as he flash-froze the air around him, and he leaped to strike at Tempest's head with spinning kicks. The first landed perfectly, but the second only grazed him, and the third missed entirely.

"Your form is good," Tempest grunted, knocking him back by forming an icy wind, "but your accuracy could use some work. Now, again."

Huh, maybe we won't see Nip red in tooth and claw. Though I wonder if Nip would've obsessed this much about getting good at fighting if he could see where it'd lead him in the future. Since I'm pretty sure that something about this wound up putting him on track to being paired with Umbra.

They continued to train for some time, until, exhausted, the two of them collapsed in a heap. They rested for a while in each other's company, grooming and discussing recent events.

"You heard the announcement yesterday, right?" Nip asked, pausing between licks on his shoulder. "About the trials?"

How should I be envisioning these trials again? Are they like the ones from Gen 7 in structure? Or something very different from that?

"That they'd be starting soon?" Tempest asked. "Yes, I did. I figured that was why you were so eager to train."

Nip hummed in response. "I just… I don't want to be stuck as a lorekeeper, just because of my size. Because of my origins, you know?"

Image


Okay, you've definitely piqued my interest. Let's see what comes up on this topic.

He felt Tempest tense beside him. "Yes, I understand very well," Tempest replied, though his voice was strained.

Nip's brow furrowed. What about his statement made Tempest stressed? He supposed it was because Tempest was an outsider, like him. Tempest had joined the tribe as a grown pokemon, and had to prove himself trustworthy. Nip had been born in the tribe, but his egg had been taken from elsewhere. He knew it to be true, because there were no other of his kind in the tribe. There had been an elderly weavile when he was a kit, but he had passed, and everyone said he had no heirs.

Image


I don't recall if it's been explicitly brought up in the story yet, or just in writer's commentaries, but I'm pretty sure that this is pointing towards Nip's egg being taken off wildeners / a rival tribe and raised as their own. Since I'm pretty sure that has been mentioned somewhere before as being a known practice up north, and boy does it add some undertones to Nip's eventual falling out with his tribe. .-.

"But I'm sure you'll do fine," Tempest finally said, giving a quick nuzzle. "What is this training for after all?"

He was right. All this training would do him good in the trials. If he did well in the hunting and fighting assessments, he'd be able to become a primary hunter or guard, like he wanted.

This... is absolutely what got him shacked up with Umbra by the tribe's elders, isn't it? Or at least the effects of these secret training sessions was, I presume.

Letting out a frosty puff of air, Nip twitched his ear and glanced towards the setting sun, just dipping behind the trees. "I suppose we should get back. We can hunt along the way. I imagine you don't want to return empty-jawed."

Tempest grunted in response. He stood, stretched, then shook out his fur. "Indeed. Come on, we can hunt together."

Nip stood up as well. Together, they pushed into the undergrowth, both hopeful for the future.

:copyka:


Yeah, about that, you two...

Though I suppose that's as good a note as any to leave things on, so I'll jump right into the final summary:

I liked these chapters, they're cute but also very
:ohnowen:
when you realize that the happy moments that are depicted in them are basically a prelude to them falling apart offscreen in fairly short order. Gives them both a bittersweet vibe overall, and I kinda wonder if you wound up developing one after getting the idea for the other, since the two feel kinda like echoes to each other: one showing the happier days from Haru's earlier life, and one doing the same with Nip and his (relatively) happier days. There was a surprising amount of worldbuilding crammed into about 3000 words, so color me impressed, especially with the depiction of the Titan's Harvest festival, which felt pretty lively for such a short piece.

As for stuff I wasn't as fond of... honestly, my only real complaint is that I wish that there was more to these Bonus chapters, since the snapshots of the past they provide are honestly really interesting to see, and I hope it's not the last that we see of some of these characters from bygone times. That said, I understand that there were explicit length limitations for these Bonus chapters, so I won't begrudge it too much.

But altogether, great work @windskull . You've certainly got me looking forward to what comes next in PWCH, since these aside glimpses were already quite engrossing. ^^
 

Virgil134

PMD Writer
Partners
  1. sylveon
  2. weavile
  3. kommo-o
  4. noivern
  5. mothim
Bonus 3

Nip's fur grew hot with embarrassment and resentment. It wasn't that he didn't want to learn, he just didn't want to be forced into the path of a lorekeeper. It wasn't fair. Just because he was undersized, didn't mean he couldn't hunt and fight as well as everyone else.

You know, despite what Nip eventually ends up doing, I can’t help but feel bad for him here. Being forced into a job he doesn’t like just because of his size. Especially since it’s not like he’s a super terrible fighter or anything. Even if I can think of a certain Cubone who’d heavily protest at the idea of looking down at the tribe’s lorekeeper.

"I was wondering if you might want to spend recreation time with me?"

It was a kind offer. Holly always seemed willing to spend time with him – more so than many of his other peers. Nip replied with a slow blink, bringing his claws together. "Maybe another time. I sort of… Already had something planned."

I wonder if Nip in the present wishes he wouldn’t have said no and spent more time with her.

Nip feinted to the right, then dashed forward so quickly that Tempest didn't have time to track his movement. Icy shards formed on his legs as he flash-froze the air around him, and he leaped to strike at Tempest's head with spinning kicks. The first landed perfectly, but the second only grazed him, and the third missed entirely.

Huh, surprised to see a younger Nip use Triple Axel since it doesn’t like he knows the move in the present day.

Nip had been born in the tribe, but his egg had been taken from elsewhere.

I’m very curious about this. Can’t wait to see this get explored in the main story and find out more Nip’s true family.

Anyway, this was a cute bonus! I’m really glad Negrek requested this as her Blacklight drabble, since it was really interesting to have a small look into Nip’s life when he was still with his tribe.

Chapter 20

"I'll… let me do it myself," Haru said, backing away until her rump bumped against the door. If she let Susana do it, there was a chance that she would use her illusions to make it look like she was unlocking it. If Susana was talented enough, she could still trick Haru into thinking the door was unlocked anyway. But that was less likely. And even so, doing it herself made her feel safer.

Someone is a bit paranoid. (By the way, I absolutely love the artwork for this chapter! Adam did a good job there.)

That information was for her village and her village alone.

Now why do I have a feeling this won’t be the case for long?

questionsl.

Small typo.

"O-oh, I guess this fad hasn't reached you guys out in the boonies yet. It's called 'shaking paws.' It's kind of like… a physical promise for a verbal agreement."

You know, it’s funny. Throughout the story Haru’s given Nip a lot of shit about not acting civilized, yet when interacting with Susana and her team Haru seems like the wildener in comparison. Finding human customs strange and several times almost falling back on her instincts as if dealing with a predator instead of just a fellow Pokémon.

So entrenched in her thoughts, she didn't notice the pokemon watching her as she left.

Think this part could have used some additional description. At the moment it’s not clear who is watching her. Is it one random Pokémon standing in the hallway? Is it referring to several Pokémon who are going about their day in the hostel? Is it Susana and her party? The description is kinda vague.

He slid a small metal object across the counter, placing it in front of Vale. "One of you is dexterous, so I'll leave you to go to your room. Upstairs, last door on the left. Vale, if you happen to leave last, just come get me or the night staff We'll get the door locked for you

Love little worldbuilding details like these.

Gave it an experimental lick

And this is how diseases spread.

But she wasn't the only one that changed. One second, Umbra was looking at a perfectly normal charizard. The next, the two horns morphed into one. The girafarig's backside grew in size and became a dark mirror of its upper body. One side stared wide-eyed at the zoroark, the other glared at Vale

But the raichu's transformation was the most significant. Its fur turned dark orange, its ears shifting back. Horns grew from his head, and spikes appeared along his back. Umbra gaped at the raichu-like creature with undisguised shock.

Oh, huh! I definitely was not expecting that. Now the question is why these Pokémon are mutated. Is there something turning Pokémon into this? Or were these Pokémon perhaps born like this and is there a population somewhere suffering from deformities?

We're not explorers. We're an advance team for a group that sailed in from offshore. We made landfall a few months — moons — ago.

Ah, I knew these guys were with the group from across the sea!

"Wait. I have an idea. Clearly you four have something you're still hiding. Perhaps we can… come to an agreement."

Umbra channeling her inner villain This is totally gonna backfire for her, isn’t it?

"You know I can hear everything you're saying, right?" Susana interjected.

Lmao

The false raichu was less restrained. "You're sick!" he shouted, sparks flying from his cheek-sacs.

False Raichu or not, he’s not wrong.

Aaaaand know I just can’t help but think of Theran Village as one of those creepy little villages where travelers passing through sometimes go “missing”. O.O;;

"Then do we have a deal?"

Susana bobbed her head. "I believe we do."

Whelp, I can already tell this is gonna be interesting. But yeah, good chapter! Really enjoyed this one and makes me excited to see how things will continue from here.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
Alright, let's get right back into the normal flow of your story, hm? Picking up right where I left off with…

Chapter 20

Also, nice commish from Adam there.

"Finding the gods?" Haru stood stiff, staring, flabbergasted at the strange zoroark in front of her. Her mouth hung open as she tried to process Susana's claim. "You… you're…"

Susana: "Look, I know it sounds crazy, buuuut..."
:wellyousee:


"A zoroark, yes," Susana interrupted with a chuckle. "Once again, sorry for deceiving you. My appearance is rather frightening, isn't it?" She raised a forepaw to rub at her wild, disheveled mane. "Our job requires some degree of secrecy so I usually keep my true form hidden. Not everyone is as friendly as you, Haru."

Haru: "No, I was talking more about the 'finding the gods' part. You can't actually believe they exist... right?" >_>;
Susana: “Weren’t there reports of Celebi appearing going around here?”
Haru: “... That doesn’t count.”

She began to approach, and Haru took stumbling steps backwards on instinct. Susana's posture was nonthreatening, but the prey part of Haru's mind didn't like the idea of a large, strange pokemon approaching her. Especially when there was no escape route. But she forced herself to stop and held her ground. "I-I… I'm not as friendly as you think. Come any closer and you'll see how much damage these teeth can do."

This feels supremely ill-advised since Susana gives me strong vibes of having knocked off peasant girls much like Haru who found out too much.

Haru: "Stars, I knew I should've insisted that we meet at the bar downstairs." o.o

The zoroark didn't seem swayed by Haru's trembling threat, but she did stop, chuffing as if she'd heard a joke.

"Goodness, I'm sorry if I've come across as threatening, Haru. Look, maybe I can make it up to you, make it clear we mean no harm. Are you hungry? Thirsty? We have carrots and bread in the way of herbivore food. We also have razzberry juice and wine."

Haru: "... Okay, seriously, what is your deal here?"
:absus:

Susana: "I want to make a good-natured offer and am trying to get you comfortable? Nothing wrong with that, is there?"
:gardeshrug~1:


Haru still felt an edge of hunger. But her stomach was too twisted to even think about eating right now. "I'm fine."

Susana:
:heliodoubt:

Haru: "I am, okay?! Look, if you'll just open the door, we can all pretend we never saw each other!" O_O;

Susana dropped her paws to her sides and shrugged. "Suit yourself. But really, please make yourself comfortable. You can stay right there if it makes you feel safer. Just let me come by so I can unlock the small door for you. That way you can leave at any time." She took a step forward. "As you can see, none of us need it, so there was no need to unlock it."

Oh, so they left that unlocked the entire time, huh? A bold move, though I suppose that it's better off for Susana and the gang to use plausible deniability if recruitment went south over reflexively turning to murder as a solution.

"I'll… let me do it myself," Haru said, backing away until her rump bumped against the door. If she let Susana do it, there was a chance that she would use her illusions to make it look like she was unlocking it. If Susana was talented enough, she could still trick Haru into thinking the door was unlocked anyway. But that was less likely. And even so, doing it herself made her feel safer.

Well that's some prime paranoia fuel there.

No one stopped her from unlocking the door, assuaging her fears somewhat. She turned back and crouched so that she was more comfortable, but still able to turn and flee at a moment's notice.

Susana returned to her spot by the map and took a seat, brushing her claws through her mane. "Now that that's settled, where should I start…"

Haru: "Maybe start off by what you're hoping to accomplish by looking for gods?" >_>;
Susana: "Well..."

"Maybe at the beginning," Haru said bluntly. "Who are you, really?"

"Oh, everything I've said so far is true." Susana stopped brushing her mane and tilted her head at Haru, ears flicking up. "We're explorers from the Expedition Society, on a mission to find out more information about both mystery dungeons and the gods. The only thing I lied about is my identity." She paused. "Well, I know we only told a partial truth before inviting you here, but there's a reason for that!"

Image


Yeah, I don't believe that at all right now.

Haru considered for a moment. "So why are you so secretive about it? I'm sure a lot of pokemon would be excited to go chasing legendaries."

"Isn't it obvious?" the raichu, Topaz, said. "Think about it. Most pokemon fear the discovery of their gods. They might say they want to find them, but they're lying to themselves. What if the gods don't live up to their expectations? What if the stories are lies? What if they don't exist at all?"

Haru: "(Uhh... funny story about that, actually.)" ^^;

Skorch, the charizard, spoke next. "There's hundreds of stories about various gods, but we have very little hard evidence. The theory that Dialga and Palkia formed the dungeons during the historic War of the Ancients is well accepted, but even that isn't completely proven. But no one questions it, because few pokemon are ready to face the possibility that the gods aren't real. Or that, if they are, they don't really care."

All of this came from some really dumb meme reason between those two, didn't it? :V

Haru snorted, thinking both of her earlier conversation with Nip and the way everyone had been acting since Celebi's appearance. "You got that right."

Susana: "Oh? You said that as if you had personal experience."
Haru: "No! No! It was just a hypothetical!"
:blazisweat~1:


Topaz, who had splayed out on his belly and begun tracing shapes in the floor with his tail tip, cast a glance at Remer before discerningly looking at Haru. "The way you said that makes me feel like there's something you aren't telling us."

Haru: "Oh. Uh... hey, I hear my parents' log flume clogging up! I'll just see myself out-!"
Susana: "Haru. We're not going to bring you any harm. Now seriously, out with it." >:|

Haru's gaze darted to the side as she tried to find a way to salvage her comment. As much as she wanted to expose Celebi for the fraud he was, something held her back. That information was for her village and her village alone. "All I mean is that there's some pokemon out there that freak out when their faith is challenged. That's all."

Just like how you will within like 5 chapters of this point, I'm pretty sure.

Topaz exchanged another look with Remer. Haru's heart pounded, threatening to burst through her chest as the silence drew on. It was Skorch that finally spoke.

"Makes enough sense, don't you guys think?"

Haru: "Yeah, yeah, exactly... say, uh... can I go right now-?"
:sweats:

Skorch: "Easy there, kid. I wasn't done just yet."

Susana bobbed her head. "Agreed." Then she turned back to Haru. "Well, now you know why we're trying to get to the shrine. But, as you saw back in front of the temple, we haven't had much luck getting anyone to take us." She sighed, slowly slinking back to her map. She traced a line across it with one claw before looking up again.

"You said you've been there before." Her tone was leading. "Is there… any chance you could take us? Maybe even a bit further up the mountain, if time permits? I know it's a big ask, but you'd be doing us a big service. And we'd be happy to pay you for your time."

Haru:
Image

Susana: "... Really, Haru?"
:AlviseUnamused:


"E-excuse me?" Haru's mouth hung open as she tried to process the request. They wanted her to take them to the shrine. No, not just to the shrine, but up the mountain. They couldn't be serious.

Susana tilted her head, her ears flicking back and forth. "Goodness, what's the matter?"

Haru: "Look, even if I knew how to take you there, I'd never do it in a million years because of- ... personal reasons."
:grohno~1:

Susana: "And those would be...?"

It took several moments before she finally found her words. "Do… Do you realize how dangerous it is to go up there? No one goes up there anymore." Well, that wasn't totally true. Anu went up there every few cycles with a couple other guards, and there were probably wildeners that visited the shrine to pay respects, since most weren't comfortable entering the village to visit the temple itself; she couldn't remember the last time any had shown up for any of the religious festivals. But she wasn't about to say that out loud.

I like how for how much of a skeptic Haru is about religion, she's just never questioned why that was happening in spite of remembering times earlier in life when wildeners would visit Theran Village.

"You're likely to encounter territorial wildeners along the way," she continued, stamping a paw. "And don't get me started about the dangers beyond the shrine. My understanding is there's no real path up the mountain past the shrine. And you have to deal with chilling winds, large crevices, and — if you get high enough — snow and freezing temperatures. Pokemon have died trying to scale it." Her mind drifted to falling snow. A younger Muse's wails rang in her ears. Then she shook her body and forced the thoughts away.

That second-to-last sentence...
:sadwott~2:


Susana: "Haru, it's our job to be able to operate in dangerous environments. Though aren't you being a bit dramatic there?" o_ó
Haru: "Lady, I wish I was being dramatic about the 'Pokémon dying trying to scale it' part." ._.

Remer exchanged a look with Skorch before saying, "I understand your hesitations, young one. But you would be in good paws. We are well experienced with exploring dangerous locations."

Image


"If she's never been past the shrine, then she wouldn't be able to guide us any further, would she?" Skorch interjected, addressing the girafarig. "I don't see the use in asking that of her."

Image


Through the discussion, Susana remained quiet, her eyes closed.

Haru turned away and took a step towards the door. "Sorry, but my answer is no. I sympathize with your cause. Really, I do. But I can't justify risking my life for it."

Wow, that was definitely fast of Haru. Not even going to stop and ask what the catch is to all of this, huh?

Susana sighed. "I understand. Thank you for your time, Haru." Then she turned back to her team. "Come on, we best hit the streets again. I'm sure we can find someone in this village willing to take us."

Some disgruntled wildener is ultimately going to do the honors or something like that, huh?

Haru paused, about to unlatch the small door. "…I thought you were talking about looking outside the village for help before."

"Well, we're considering it," Susana admitted. "If we can't find anyone willing to help here, then we'll have to head out. But we'd prefer to work with civilized 'mon. You know how difficult it can be to work with wildeners, pokemon still beholden to their instincts, right?"

I mean, considering how Haru messed up that one Fletchinder's leg over a Wonder Orb, I'm not fully convinced townies in this setting aren't still beholden to their instincts in some capacity. ^^;

Haru lowered her paw and turned around, thoughts racing through her head as she made mental connections. All the while that dull headache from before persisted. If these explorers went asking around the village, they were bound to come across Toshi sooner or later. And he wouldn't hesitate to answer an exploration team's request.

Haru:
:uhhh:


Her mind drifted to mental images of her dying grandfather, a pokemon who made it far into the mountains, only for his traveling companions to die. A pokemon who made it back home, only to succumb to his injuries shortly after. Suddenly it wasn't her grandfather lying in front of her, struggling for breath as he told the adults of his team's demise until his body gave out, and he was silenced forever. Now it was Toshi. Bleeding and small, his eyes glassy and staring at nothing.

She couldn't let that happen.

Oh, so that's how Haru has all those traumatic memories of Catkin. I didn't pick up on that being the implication, but that would explain a lot.

Heart racing, she took her paw away from the handle and turned back to Susana. "Fine. Fine. You make a good point. I'll help." Susana opened her mouth to say something, but Haru cut her off with a raised paw. "But only as far as the old shrine. And only under the condition that, if you do decide to go further, you escort me back to the village first. After that, you're on your own."

Image


Whelp, I'm sure that this is going to backfire horribly somehow, but I suppose we'll get there when we get there.

"That wouldn't be a problem." Susana brought her paws up and tapped her claws together, eyes closed in a friendly squint. "How soon could you go? Is tomorrow good? We've already stocked up on supplies — except food, but we can take care of that tonight."

Tomorrow? Haru tilted her head. "Why so soon?"

Remer answered as he climbed to his feet and approached the storage chest. "We have other leads we want to follow up on afterwards, but we have to return to our branch and report our findings soon."

Sticker, sceptilisk,


They absolutely have some deeper reason for being in a rush, don't they?

That's a reasonable explanation, Haru thought. She stared at him a moment longer before letting out a breath. "Alright. You have yourselves a deal."

Haru: "... (Why did I not just ghost these guys and just tell Toshi not to accept any requests from dodgy Rescue Teams for the next week?!)"
:grohno~1:

- Beat moment -
Haru: "(... Right, because he'd probably still have taken the job anyways.)" ._.;

Susana clapped twice and showed her teeth in what Haru thought was supposed to be a friendly expression. "Excellent! Where can we meet you tomorrow?"

Haru: "I-Is it too late to back out here?"
:fearfullaugh~1:

Susana:
Image


Haru looked to the ceiling, considering. There were a few places she could think of, but some would raise questions. "I think the best place is… There's a bridge crossing the river, not far outside of the village. The path to the shrine branches off of the road on the other side. That would be a good place to start."

Small typo there, and don't you want others to see you take off with this team, Haru? Since given how you don't fully trust them right now, for all you know they're a band of Outlaws who will just mug you the moment they get sufficiently far away from town. ^^;

Susana bobbed her head. "Cool. We'll meet you there just after sunrise so we can get a bright and early start. Anu said it's almost a day's journey away, and we'd like to get you back home in a reasonable amount of time." She held a paw out towards Haru, paw pad facing up.

Oh, so that's the moment the chapter art is depicting.

Haru stared at the paw. Susana had made this same strange gesture before. When the zoroark didn't move, she tilted her head. "What are you doing?"

Susana looked at Haru, then at her paw. "O-oh, I guess this fad hasn't reached you guys out in the boonies yet. It's called 'shaking paws.' It's kind of like… a physical promise for a verbal agreement."

Neat little bit of comparative culture there, even if I'm pretty sure that it's not the city where Susana and her team hail from.

"An agreement…" How strange. Still, she sat back and reached up to place her paw in the zoroark's. "Very well." They held paws for a moment, then Haru pulled away. "Now, if you'll excuse me."

She turned and reached up to push down on the handle, putting her weight against the door. As she made her way down the hall, her headache weakened to little more than a throb, and she began to think. She was going to have to tell her parents about this — at least, to some degree. They'd want to know why she was skipping work, after all.

So entrenched in her thoughts, she didn't notice the pokemon watching her as she left.

:fearfullaugh~1:


Yeah, I'm still convinced that Susana and her team are scouts for Zaid, since everything about them has been super sus.

"Hey, Meaad. I need a room for two. Should only need it for a couple hours."

The simisear raised a brow, looking Vale up and down, then glanced behind him to look at Umbra. She stared back with a flat expression. After a few heartbeats, he closed his eyes, raised his hands palm-up to either side, and turned away. "Room for two? Coming right up."

Vale: "... Could've done without the judging look there, really."
:AlviseUnamused:


Umbra continued watching him for a few more heartbeats before turning away to take in her surroundings. They were in another wooden building — one of the larger ones. On their side of the room, there was only the counter, a few plants, and an incline to a second floor. On the other side of the room, sat a pawful of matching furniture items. Chairs and tables, if she remembered the words correctly. Sunlight filtered through a handful of windows, creating patches of light throughout the room.

A couple pokemon sat at the tables, casting curious glances in her direction. She turned away and ignored them. Food scents wafted from their side of the room, and from an entryway beyond the tables. She could identify the smell of cooked meats and sickly sweet fruits. Her stomach growled, but she ignored that, too.

Vale: "Oh my gods, I can already tell I'm never going to hear the end of this."
:AlviseHurt:

Umbra: "I'd just like to remind you that this was your brilliant idea, so let's just get this over with." >.<

This room would be absolutely horrible if trouble showed up. There was the counter. Or perhaps under the tables, but they were too exposed for her liking. At least they made a makeshift weapon or shield, in a pinch.

I like how Umbra is sufficiently low-trust that she's already mentally mapping out what she'd need to do in the events of things going south in this meeting.

... Which is probably wise since Vale is already plotting to backstab his boss, and if someone's ready and willing to betray one party...

"Ah, here we are."

The simisear's voice brought her attention back. He slid a small metal object across the counter, placing it in front of Vale. "One of you is dexterous, so I'll leave you to go to your room. Upstairs, last door on the left. Vale, if you happen to leave last, just come get me or the night staff. We'll get the door locked for you. Either way, make sure to leave the key at the front when you're done." He glanced back to Umbra and smiled wryly. "Enjoy your time together."

Umbra:
200.gif

Vale: "Yeah, yeah, shut up, I'm the one who's going to have to live with all the rumors after you go back to your mud hole up north." >_>;

Umbra stepped forward and grabbed the key, casting one more unamused glance at Meaad. Then she turned and made her way towards the ramp. Vale followed just behind, trotting until they were side by side.

Umbra leaned towards him and muttered into his ear, "Remind me why this is the best place for our discussion?"

Vale: "Again, it's private and nobody's going to come up here wanting to hear Pokémon get it on in these rooms." >_<;
Umbra: "... I really hope the rooms next to ours aren't occupied right now."
:grohno~1:


Vale lowered his head and replied quietly. "Most places don't have the degree of privacy we need. I don't even trust my own home. And we can't go to the woods all the time or pokemon might get suspicious. Besides, the rumors that crop up from meeting here should provide some cover."

Umbra: "Wait, 'most places'?! You mean there were other places we could've met that wouldn't make everyone think that we're-?!"
:seviAAAAAAAAAAA:

Vale: "Umbra, shut up and get in the room." >_>;

Umbra clenched her jaw. Right, the gross rumors he'd mentioned before. As much as she hated to admit it, he had a point. "If we want those rumors to stick, then we need to look the part," she grumbled, suppressing a shudder; if she had to act, then she would. And she considered herself quite the actress.

Vale: "Oh dear gods, no. We're not doing that if at all possible."
:TailsEww:

Umbra: "Speaking my language, really. Let's just get this over with." >_>;

Glancing out of the corner of her eye, she made sure they were still being watched. Then she forced a smile, and — before he could protest — tilted her head up to nuzzle against Vale's lower jaw.

Ugh, how embarrassing. Thank Yveltal they were out of sight shortly after. At least that would get pokemon talking.

Vale: "U-Umbra?! Why would you-?!"
:AlviseShocked:

Umbra: "Look, do you want rumors about us as cover or not?"
:gardexhausted:


"Do not ever make me do that again," she said monotonously with a shake of her head.

"Hey, you're the one that chose to do it, don't look at me."

They said nothing more.

What a wonderful couple these two make together... /s

Halfway down the hall, a sound caught Umbra's attention. Muffled voices. One of them feminine and familiar.

She stopped. "Hold on. Does that not sound like the annoying bidoof?"

"Toshi?" Vale tilted his head. "No, but now that you mention it, it does sound sort of like Haru…"

Umbra: "The hell would she be doing here-?" O_ó;
Vale: "I really did not need that mental imagery in my mind, thanks."
:grohno~1:


Umbra strained her ears until she could figure out which room the sound was coming from. She approached, speaking. "Something strange is going on. Listen."

She leaned forward, pressing one ear against the door. Vale came up just behind and did similarly.

"You said you've been there before," an unfamiliar, low-toned feminine voice said. "Is there… any chance you could take us? Maybe even a bit further up the mountain, if time permits?"

Oh, so Vale and Umbra overheard the last scene. That's just... wonderful, really.

Umbra stole a glance at Vale. His eyes were narrow, and his lips drew back in the beginning of a silent snarl. They continued to listen for a few moments, long enough to hear Haru agree. Vale drew back and crept to the end of the hall, taking care to keep his claws from clicking against the wood. Umbra followed, smelling signs of an electrical current as she sidled up to him.

"Well?" she asked.

"This is suspicious," Vale growled. "I know that bidoof well enough to know she'd never go to the old shrine of her own free will." He looked back to the door and crouched, tail low and still. "I know we have matters to discuss, but I have a job to do. I need to deal with this first. We can make plans afterwards."

I can already tell that this is going to end terribly for Vale. Since I am not convinced at all that Susana and her team wouldn't just flatly kill him if he got in their way badly enough.

Umbra's claws twitched with frustration. This was a waste of her time. Nip was far more important than helping some pathetic little bidoof that got in over her head. Haru could get herself killed for all Umbra cared.

Well somebody's certainly going out of her way to zero out her audience sympathy right now.

But at the same time, she could understand the feeling of obligation. The need to fulfill a duty. She let out a long huff, turning away. "Fine, but make it quick."

Vale dipped his head in understanding and lifted a paw. But before he could take a step, the small door swung open and Haru waddled out. Umbra and Vale froze, watching as she headed down the ramp without even noticing them.

... Oh, so that's what the "Pokémon who were watching her as she left" line from the very end of the last scene meant. I at first thought that was Susana and her party, but that'd explain some things.

"Now what?" Umbra asked.

"Follow my lead." Vale approached the door with that same light step, as if sneaking up on prey. Then he raised a paw to scratch at the door.

That... takes on some fairly creepy undertones considering what Vale's "side gig" from his normal duties is.

All chatter and movement stopped on the other side. There was a shuffling, then the small door creaked open, and a charmander poked her head out the door.

"Can I help you?" she asked.

Vale stood at attention, looking down at the charmander. "Yes, actually. We're with the local law enforcement. We'd just like a quick word." He glanced the charmander up and down. Sizing her up, Umbra presumed. "May we step inside?"

Suli: "... I hate this town." >.<
Vale: "Is that a 'yes', or...?"
:AlviseUnamused:


The charmander's brow furrowed. "If you need to, I guess. Is there a problem?" She stepped back.

"Probably not," Vale replied as he stooped and ducked through the smaller door. He jerked his head to gesture for Umbra to follow. "Just following up on a concerned inquiry from the innkeep. Said he saw a townie come up here with you guys." He glanced to the map on the floor, then at the other pokemon. You're the explorers that were staying in town, right? Could I see your badge for a moment?"

Whelp, I sure hope that there's not a robust way of checking badge validity in this setting, since otherwise things are going to go very sideways very fast for one party or the other here.

The charmander tittered. "Are you talking about Haru? She left a few moments ago, actually. You just missed her. But here you go." She picked up the badge, messing around with it for a few heartbeats before tossing it in Vale's direction. It landed on the ground with a metallic clatter.

He looked down at the badge through narrowed eyes, inspecting the surface. He sniffed it. Gave it an experimental lick. Then gingerly picked it up with his teeth and flipped it over, repeating the process.

Suli: "... Was that really necessary?"
:TailsEww:

Vale:
Image


Umbra crossed her arms, gaze flicking between Vale and the other pokemon. Subtly, she lifted her jaw, parting it in an attempt to appear larger and intimidating.

"Hmm," Vale finally said, still stooping. "This is a genuine explorer badge, alright." He stood up straight. "There's just one thing that seems off to me." He looked between the other three pokemon. "Where's your other establishing member, Miss… what was your name again?"

"Suli," the charmander answered. "And you mean Chamomile, the treeko? She's back at base, handling paperwork."

I knew it. That badge really was lifted off of that team that got ganked in the Interlude.

"I see. If you're Suli, that makes you the team lead? You have a lot of evolved pokemon with you for only being a charmander with a silver rank." He knocked the badge skidding across the floor in Suli's direction.

Umbra had no idea what he was talking about, but she got the idea that something was fishy about their story. The way the raichu was fidgeting backed up her thoughts.

Suli: "... I'm a late evolver?" ^^;
Vale: "Yeah, no. Since when were there ever 'late evolver' Charmander?"
:AlviseUnamused:


Suli frowned and crossed her arms, tail flame flaring. "Does no one in this villiage know how to be hospitable? Seriously, do you treat all outsiders with this sort of disrespect?"

"Only ones that act suspicious," Umbra answered.

Oh, you're one to talk, Umbra. >:V

Vale bobbed his head in agreement. "Exactly. Now, if you really are who you say you are, you wouldn't mind coming down to the psychic courier to contact your branch and verify your identity, now would you?"

Suli et al: "..."
:uhhh:

Vale: "What's the matter? A little in-and-out got you so worried all of a sudden?"
:AlviseDetermined:


Umbra scanned the evolved pokemon again. The raichu was shifting uneasily again, while the charizard gave him a nervous glance. They weren't expecting to be challenged, she thought. They're lying about something, and they don't have an excuse ready.

Her attention shifted to the girafarig. Unlike the other two, he was staring at Vale with rapt attention and a serious expression. Such a serious expression, in fact, that it almost looked like…

He's gonna take a swing at Vale, isn't he?

The heartbeat it clicked in her head, she tackled Vale, sending him tumbling. A moment later, a foreign force sent her flying over him. She heard the wall splinter behind her, but it did not give.

Yuuuuuup, I figured as much.

The charmander dove for the chest, reaching for something inside. At the same time, Vale sprang back to his feet, a low growl in his throat. Umbra felt her fur stand on end heartbeats before bolts of electricity flew off of the manectric, striking everyone, including herself.

The charmander cried in pain and reeled back. And then, almost instantaneously, she was no longer a charmander, but a strange, pale-furred zoroark.

Umbra: "I'm sorry, but what the actual-"
Vale: "I knew there was something up with all of you!"
:AlviseAngry:


But she wasn't the only one that changed. One second, Umbra was looking at a perfectly normal charizard. The next, the two horns morphed into one. The girafarig's backside grew in size and became a dark mirror of its upper body. One side stared wide-eyed at the zoroark, the other glared at Vale.

Wow, that's some powerful illusion abilities there. So they're betamons, huh? Since those descriptions are consistent with that one beta DP sprite of female Charizard and with Beta Girafarig. Though this basically confirms that these guys are with Zaid.

But the raichu's transformation was the most significant. Its fur turned dark orange, its ears shifting back. Horns grew from his head, and spikes appeared along his back. Umbra gaped at the raichu-like creature with undisguised shock.

Yuuuuup, so he's really that fire-Pikachu thingy that didn't make the cut in Gen 2.

Sparks danced around Vale's pelt as he fell out of his battle-ready stance. "What," he began, "the f—"

"HEY! WHAT'S GOING ON UP THERE?"

Everyone froze at the sound of the innkeeper's voice, bellowing from below. The pounding sound of a pokemon running up the ramp followed.

Vale shook out of his stupor first. He turned and raced through the door.

Fantastic job, everybody.

"Wait!" the zoroark growled, pouncing towards him.

Umbra intercepted her with a metallic headbutt, knocking her out of the air and sending her sprawling on the ground. She put one foot on the zoroark's torso, holding her second jaw up in a striking position.

"Vale, what in the blazes is going on in there?" Umbra turned her head so that she could watch Vale out of the corner of her eye, while still watching the Zoroark. She could just see the simisear steaming on the other side of Vale, through the door. "You know the rules. No fighting in the inn."

Vale: "
Image

Though seriously, Meaad. Just poke your head in the doorway already."

"Sorry about that, Meaad," Vale answered gruffly. He stood at attention, stiff and serious. "I had to put a sudden end to a dispute up here. Won't happen again. And if it does, I'll escort them out myself. We'll see if they like fighting after spending a night in jail."

"You have the space for that?" Meaad asked. Now he just sounded confused. Umbra wasn't surprised; Nip and Tempest wasted most of the jailspace, from the way Vale talked. There was no room for these four.

Umbra: "Hey wait a minute, Vale... if I were to do something to get put into this... 'jail' that conveniently would force me to share a cell with Nip..."
Vale: "Not now, Umbra!"
:AlviseAngry:


The simisear tried to lean around Vale. The zoroark gasped, then suddenly Umbra wasn't pinning her down, but instead a small, frail charmander. The other pokemon changed back to normal forms as well.

Meaad let out a huff of air and looked back at Vale. "Right. Then see to it."

Vale: "You sure are touchy about others seeing you for what you really are, you know that? What's the matter, can't handle a little sunlight?"
:AlviseDetermined:

Suli: "Oh shut up." >_>;

Umbra heard receding footsteps, then Vale slipped back through the door, kicking it shut behind him. An invisible force shoved her, then the disguised zoroark slithered out from beneath her and scampered back to stand in front of the others.

"Now, where were we?" Vale asked, lazily looking the pokemon over. His gaze settled on the "charmander" and he clenched his jaw. "Oh, right. Listen. I got him off your tail, but that doesn't mean you're free to go. Now talk."

There was a pause, then the zoroark shed her fake form. Her teammates remained disguised, however. She tilted her head and crossed her arms, lips drawn back in a snarl. "Why should we?"

Vale: "Lady, you have no idea how things work around here, do you?"
:AlviseDetermined:

Skorch: "Uh... Susana? That look he's got's starting to worry me." ._.

Umbra mimicked her pose, raising her back jaw overhead to show off her maw and rows of pointed teeth. "I don't think you understand the situation you're in, Zoroark."

Vale stepped forward, sparks rippling through his fur as he continued where Umbra left off. "We just caught you red-pawed with a stolen Expedition Society badge, impersonating a team. You're looking at cycles of jail time. Or worse, if I report you as attacking a guard. But I'm giving you a chance to explain yourselves. A chance to explain why you're doing this and — perhaps if your answer is satisfactory — a chance to lessen your charges."

Vale, you do realize that there's likely enough 'monpower in the room to kill you without really trying, right?

The zoroark's expression faltered. She turned her head to look back at the rest of her team. Each nodded to her before her gaze shifted to the next. Umbra could feel a headache coming on. But to her surprise, the zoroark turned back, the rest of the illusion dropping.

"Fine," the zoroark began with a sigh. "My name is Susana. We're not explorers. We're an advance team for a group that sailed in from offshore. We made landfall a few months — moons — ago."

I knew it.

"Offshore?" Vale asked with a tilt of his head. "How far are we talking?"

"A whole continent," the zoroark answered.

"Preposterous," Umbra cut in. "There is no way to safely travel across the sea. The stars guide us, but the methods for transporting many pokemon would be impossible."

Elty: "O RLY?"
:bleplithe:

Vale: "Shut up, kid. This isn't even your story right now."
:AlviseAngry:


"I can't help it if you haven't figured out how to advance that far," Susana snarled. "Believe it or not, that's on you, but I am only speaking the truth now."

Umbra wasn't convinced, but she gestured for the zoroark to continue.

"We've been researching the gods that the pokemon on this continent follow in an effort to compare them to our own stories. And to, perhaps, further advance our society." She crossed her arms again. "But that's all you're getting out of me."

Again:
Image


Umbra gave Vale a serious look. "So, what are you going to do?"

Vale's tail swished back and forth twice before he answered. "Take them in, I guess, for impersonating. I can write off most of the other stuff, but their explanation is unsatisfactory for that. And there's an argument to be had that they took advantage of Meaad's discounted accommodations for pokemon working for incorporated powers."

Uh, Vale, I really think that you don't want to be sticking your paws into the business they've got going on considering how they got that badge in the first place.

The zoroark's expression turned aggressive once again. "Now hold on—"

But before she could say more, Umbra held up a paw to stop her. "Wait. I have an idea. Clearly you four have something you're still hiding. Perhaps we can… come to an agreement."

Vale lowered his head so that it was next to Umbra's and spoke in a low tone. "What are you getting at?"

Oh, so Umbra and Vale are going to blackmail these four into trying to knock off Nip, huh?

Umbra turned back to speak to him directly, keeping her second jaw facing the strange pokemon. "Think about it. The way they talk, they're in deep trouble if they get caught. We may be able to use that to our advantage. To deal with our… situation."

"Oh. I see." Vale's tail stuck out stiffly behind him. "But which part?"

"Nip. We can discuss how to get back at Jhorlo separately. Though we may be able to twist this to make him look bad."

Yuuuup, I figured that's where Umbra was going. Even if I'm pretty sure that this is not going to go remotely to plan.

"You know I can hear everything you're saying, right?" Susana interjected.

Vale exchanged one last serious glance with Umbra, then straightened up as she turned. "Good," he began. "Then you should understand your situation. You help us with something and get out of town, we pretend none of this happened."

The raichu-like creature glared at him through narrowed eyes. "And why should we? There's four of us and only two of you. We could just knock you out and get out of here on our own.

Vale:
Image

Topaz: "Yeah, well I'm not exactly hearing a counterargument from you, bub."
:typhNOsion:


"And there's at least four pokemon below us that would come running at the sound of battle," Umbra responded nonchalantly. She had a feeling it was a bluff; most of the pokemon here were far too soft to get involved. But it still got her point across. "And if you run off, then you don't get to go to the shrine like you wanted."

"That's right," Vale added, taking a threatening step forward. "And what do you think happens to pokemon that attack a guard? I'll give you a hint. I've always wondered what zoroark tastes like."

Well that got really creepy really fast, I'll heavily take the under on Vale staying on the mortal coil in the long term, since that's definitely not helping his audience sympathy right now.

Also, I'm starting to get a few ideas of how it is that Theran Village is going to get lazored from the face of the planet in the future.

Susana froze, eyes wide. The false raichu was less restrained. "You're sick!" he shouted, sparks flying from his cheek-sacs.

This is absolutely going to get Theran Village razed to the ground by Zaid, I can already tell.

But neither Umbra nor Vale acknowledged him. Instead, they kept their eyes on Susana.

"F-fine. Fine," she finally said, ears laying flat against her skull. "What are your demands?"

Umbra grinned, showing her fangs as she stepped forward. "We have a certain… troublesome pokemon locked up here. A sneasel. I need him… gotten rid of. Killed, for his crimes against my kin. But the village has been too soft on him. You capture him for me, so I can finish the job, and this little incident stays quiet."

Susana: "Lady, did you seriously just threaten to kill and eat us for the sake of knocking off a 'mon who's already just sitting around in a cell?" >_>;
Vale: "I did that, and don't try my patience, buddy! So do we have a deal or not?"
:AlviseAngry:


"Where is the sneasel?" the charizard asked. "Just in the jail?"

"He works various community service jobs during the day," Vale answered. "But we keep him locked in the jail at night, along with a ninetales. If you get rid of the ninetales, too, great. But I'm less concerned about him."

Susana mulled it over a minute, reaching up to scratch behind her ear. "Seems like a reasonable deal. There's just one problem. We're leaving tomorrow. So if you want to make this work, it best be fast."

Vale: "Hah! Bold of you to think you're in any position to set demands right now!"
:AlviseLaughing:

Umbra: "Um, Vale? We should probably hear them out right now."

"What?" Sparks bounced out of Vale's fur, dying away on the floor as he crouched. "What happened to bringing the bidoof back?"

"Oh, that?" Susana didn't miss a beat. "Skorch here" — she gestured to the charizard — "was going to fly her back when we were done, while the rest of us prepare to scale up the mountain."

You see, considering how they have been casually lying this whole time to separate parties, that makes me a bit worried about what they were really going to do with Haru.
:fearfullaugh~1:


"That's a fool's errand," Vale warned, though he returned to a neutral stance. "Going up the mountain, I mean. More capable pokemon than I have perished on the climb. But if you insist, well, it seems like a reasonable plan."

Umbra couldn't care less what they did with the bidoof. For all she cared, they could take her back or leave her to starve, so long as Nip was captured. She crossed her arms and tilted her head, so that she was staring Susana in the eye. "Well? Do we have a deal?"

Skorch: "Uh... Susana? Why didn't you tell them that we needed at least a day to prepare before we could knock off that Sneasel of theirs? We could've just ghosted this place after making it to the shrine!"
:ohnowen:

Susana: "(... Crap.) U-Uh, actually, about those terms earlier-"
Umbra: "Do. We. Have. A. Deal. Or. Not?" >:|

"What do you guys think?" Susana turned back to her team. "Topaz? Skorch?"

"No issues," the fake raichu answered.

"None from me," Skorch replied. "Remer?"

The girafarig shifted in his nest. "I think we should come to a compromise." Both heads looked directly at Umbra. Her skin crawled as she stared back at the unnatural pokemon, but she refused to let it show.

Those guys are absolutely planning something, since I don't fully buy that they're just rolling over for all of this so quickly.

"You want the sneasel," he continued, "and we want up the mountain without interruption. I say we nab the sneasel and take him with us up the mountain. Alive. If we return empty-pawed, or don't return at all, then you can rat us out. But this gives us… insurance that you'll keep your word."

Skorch: "Oh my gods, Remer, you're not supposed to tell them that out loud!" >.<
Susana: "We... need to have a team meeting sometime after all this about staying on the same page as each other." >_>;

Umbra scowled, narrowing her eyes. "I refuse to let that waste of breath, that blight on Yveltal's good name, leave my sight."

"Then what do you suggest?" Susana asked flatly.

Umbra's simplest answer was that she just refused to compromise, flat out. But she suspected that would not go over well. So instead, she found a separate option. "I will accompany you. I care not what you're doing, nor how long it takes, so long as I am able to finish him at the end." Perhaps she shouldn't be so single-minded. But she was sick of waiting.

Vale: "Wait, Umbra, are you sure that's a good idea when there'd be four of them and one of you-?"
:AlviseDumbfounded:

Umbra: "Vale, shut up. I know what I'm doing, alright?" >_>;

The false explorers shared a glance between each other. No words were spoken, but they clearly were of a single mind. Finally, Susana turned back.

"Fine, that can be arranged."

"There's one possible issue," Topaz said, raising a paw. "What about the bidoof? How is she going to react to all this?"

"I doubt she'll raise a stink," Vale answered. "She doesn't like the sneasel either. She doesn't want him here and she wants him to see real justice as much as we do."

Haru is absolutely going to become the spanner in the works, isn't she?

Umbra wasn't entirely convinced. The bidoof had tried to stop her before, when they'd first tried to catch Nip. But that was also before his crimes were proven. Perhaps it would be different now.

Skorch's voice brought her attention back to the conversation. "We can do a trade off, if needed. So long as we're careful. With a bit of direction, I can fly to catch up, covertly pass off the sneasel, while Haru is distracted at the shrine, then fly her back."

Susana tilted her head. "It's risky, but I suppose that works."

Remer: "... Wait, so we're not just ghosting them at the first possible opportunity?"
Susana: "Remer. Shut. Up." >.<

"What about Jhorlo?" Vale's voice came in a low tone, just beside her ear.

She could care less about Jhorlo. Once she was out of here, he was Vale's problem. But she had a feeling he wouldn't appreciate that answer. "We can discuss that privately. I don't think we can expect help for that one from these pokemon."

Vale seemed satisfied enough with the answer, as he stood up. "Seems reasonable," he said to the others. "Then do we have a deal?"

Susana bobbed her head. "I believe we do." Then she took a seat, picking up a map that had been left on the ground. "Now, what do you have in mind?"

This is going to turn out to be a massive disaster, I can already tell. Though, onto the recap:

Whelp, I officially feel validated as having called who Susana and the others really were from the moment their true natures were revealed. Though I can already tell that Umbra and Vale's stunt here is going to come back to bite them in the ass given that Susana's associates knocked off an exploration team for that badge she's holding, which is not a good omen for how safe they will be to deal with on a personal level, or for Theran Village as a whole. I thought that the chapter did a pretty good job at taking things in an unexpected direction since I definitely didn't see things wind up going here at the end of the last chapter, nor that this would be the vehicle that all the strands of the ongoing plot wind up coming together again. And... yeah, I'm honestly convinced that this is going to wind up being the catalyst for that disaster that Muse keeps having premonitions of. Since just word of what Vale and Umbra threatened Susana and her party with getting out, let alone them actually making good on it... well, punitive raids have been launched over much less than that in human history.

For critiques, I didn't have a whole lot to say beyond what I marked up in my review. Though there was one bit of logic that tripped me up a bit about this chapter.

Now, while part of it might have been deliberate on the part of Susana and the gang's part for playing along to get immediate danger off their back, I kinda wonder if Vale and Umbra ought to have done more of an aggressive job at shutting down why "run off into the woods, roll a new disguise" wouldn't be an option for Susana and the gang or else more of an acknowledgement from their end as to why that's not an option for them. Since unless if Umbra and Vale are planning on babysitting those four until it's showtime with Nip, going "Suli? Never heard of her" and passing yourself off as the likes of traveling merchants suspiciously interested in getting up to Theran Village's shrine is probably the rational course of action for them. I suppose it could come up in the next chapter just as easily, but it felt like a fairly easy way to short-circuit the present attempt at blackmail that neither side seems to address.

But all-in-all, it didn't take me that out of things @windskull . Just one chapter off from getting current with your story, and it seems like things are heating up really, really fast in this story.
 

Spiteful Murkrow

Ace Trainer
Pronouns
He/Him/His
Partners
  1. nidoran-f
  2. druddigon
  3. swellow
Heya, picking this up since my November is shaping up to be fairly busy, so figured that was as good a reason as any to try and clear the deck and get caught up with PWCH again. So let's dive right into…

Chapter 21

Though as a heads-up, you have this chapter labeled as '22' for some reason as of the time of this review’s posting.

The sun was starting to dip behind Mount Domo, casting deep shadows into the woods as Haru arrived home. Though she had steadily made her way back, she froze just outside the door, heart fluttering. Would Shimmer and Muse still be here, waiting to confront her? And what of Toshi and her parents? She'd skipped out on work after their spat, something that hadn't happened in cycles. Just thinking about the coming earful was painful enough.


Haru: "... Yeah, I should've stopped by the bar before heading home, since getting plastered enough to not remember any of that coming chewout probably would've been wise."
:CabotScared:


There was only one sensible thing to do.


Turn around and get sloshed at the bar? :V

Haru pushed through through the entry curtain and made straight for her room, replying to her mother's greeting with little more than a grunt.


That works too, though I'm surprised that Saku let her get away with that instead of cutting in and forcing Haru to sit down and talk.

Guess that's a sign that she hasn't realized yet that Haru dodged an entire day's worth of work.

She paused again just inside. Her room was sparse; she'd never found much need for little trinkets and other specialty items. They were a waste of money. Though she had a shelf, it only held a few well-worn books and a couple old wood-whittled figures. She'd made one a few cycles back, part of a short-lived art experiment. The other was a gift from her grandfather.


I'm a little surprised that she keeps that around given that every time we've seen Haru think about Catkin in this story, it's always in an upsetting or traumatic context. Like with how frequently she goes war flashbacks over Catkin's dying days, my default assumption would've been that she'd keep something like this hidden this in a corner somewhere to keep it from upsetting her.

She made a straight line for a nest tucked in the back corner of the room, passing a low desk along the way. There, she collapsed faced down, burying herself in the straw without bothering to take her bags off.

And she remained like that for some time. At some point, her father stopped in her doorway and tried to make conversation, but she just grunted at him. She was left alone after that.


Haru: "Well, he didn't stop and shout at me for being a deadbeat for skipping work, so... yay?" -_-;

But she couldn't avoid her family forever. Eventually, the call for dinner forced her to climb to her paws. Only then did she bother slipping out of her bags and returning to the common room.

Toshi had already sat at the table, as had her dad. Her mom had prepped dinner tonight and was currently setting portions and drinks around the table. The scent of fresh bread and caramelized carrots sent her stomach rumbling.

Haru: "... I don't suppose mom and dad would buy me coming down with a stomachache that put me off work all day, would they?" ._.

She avoided her brother's gaze as she took a seat across from him. A chunk of bread with dipping oil, a simple salad, and a few roasted veggies in a savory sauce were spread across the plate in front of her. A cup of water sat to the side, but a small dispenser of spiced oran wine was at the center of the table. She wondered if her parents brought it out for a special occasion, or if they planned to drink to forget everything going on in the village. She was tempted, herself, but she couldn't run the risk of getting tipsy tonight. Not when she needed to get up early.


A simple meal, but it honestly made me a little hungry just reading that description, so good job there.

They ate in silence for a few moments, none wanting to broach the subject of her earlier behavior.

Her mom was the first to speak, her sentences punctuated between bites of food. "Well. You were right, Chip. That sneasel can do some good work. A shame he doesn't apply himself. Perhaps things would have turned out better for him if he did."


Haru: "(Oh stars, even at dinner I seriously can't escape Nip?!)" >.<

"Are you thinking of asking for his help again?" Chip asked. "'Gigas knows we could use it right now."

Haru groaned inwardly. Oh please no, she thought. I can't deal with that right now. Just send him off to the Enforcers already. But she kept her thoughts to herself, not looking to bring any attention.


Oh hey, I wasn't that far off, though boy is that not a good look for you right now, Haru.

"Perhaps," Saku answered. "His help came in handy today, considering we were short handed. Which reminds me…" Her gaze drifted to Haru, who shrank down behind the table. "Dear… You didn't come back from your break. Toshi told us you ran off. What happened?"

Haru:
:uhhh:

Saku: "Dear, we had to touch on this topic eventually..."
:eltyunamused:


"It was nothing important," Haru answered quickly, paws digging into the fabric. "I just needed some fresh air. I went to town and then…" She trailed off, silently cursing herself.

In all the excitement, then worry, she hadn't bothered to come up with an excuse for tomorrow's absence. If she was already being pestered about today, how was she supposed to explain running off with some explorers without sounding weird? If her parents knew the truth, they'd probably think she was going to the shrine out of spite and try to talk her out of it.

Was she going out of spite?

No. She was going to protect Toshi. That's all.


She is absolutely going there out of spite, isn't she?

Though IMO, that first paragraph might work a bit better if it were hacked into two smaller ones.

"I got to talking with some travelers while I was there," she began, mind racing as she formed the lie. Her stomach twisted with guilt. "And they asked me to help with a job. They needed some logging done down river and I offered to help out." She fought the urge to cringe. Now that she said it, the story sounded pretty weak.

"Travelers, huh?" Chip asked, pulling a bowl of wine closer. "You wouldn't happen to mean that group of explorers staying at the inn, would you?"

Haru:
Image


Chip: "I'm just going to take that as a 'yes'."

Haru swallowed and forced a smile. "Those are the ones. They were looking at setting up a camp. More of an outpost really. I don't think the village would agree to let them build one here, Jhorlo least of all. But no one owns the woods outside the village. It wouldn't be a bad idea to have one nearby in case of emergencies, you know?"

"Sure," Chip answered carefully. "But it has the potential to take away business from old Meaad. We see Society teams more often than we do any other type of traveler, save maybe merchants. Why would they come here if they got their own place?"


Haru: "They were kinda turned off by finding out the -ahem- things that go on at Meaad's rooms?" ^^;
Chip: "And did you have any role in telling them about that, Haru? Since I'm not sure if Meaad would terribly appreciate you scaring off his business." :|

"Well, they wouldn't have a hot, fresh meal if they're out in the woods," Saku pointed out.

"I think it's pretty cool," Toshi said, eyes sparkling. "Think about how much we could learn if there's more permanent teams in the area! I wish I was going instead."


Haru: "No, you really don't want to go instead, Toshi. Trust me on this one."
:grohno~1:

Toshi: "(And explain to me why I should trust you after you openly dumped on my beliefs in front of our friends today?)" >_>;

Haru's stomach twisted again. She hated how easily the lie had come, but at the same time, Toshi's reaction made her all the more certain she was doing the right thing by hiding the truth.


18 words thought- well, not seconds from disaster, but I can already tell that Haru's going to regret this in fairly short order in the grand scheme of things.

The conversation shifted to questions about Shimmer and Muse's wellbeing, then other topics that Haru didn't care to chime in on. Her attention drifted in and out as she picked at her food, her appetite waning.

Dinner ended with the last rays of sunlight. Chip excused himself to take his herbs, and Toshi retreated to his room to read. Only Haru and her mother remained.


Haru: "I'm... just gonna get up and take my leave right now-"
Saku: "Haru..."
- Saku folds her arms -
Saku: "Let's have a talk."

Just as Haru opened her mouth to excuse herself, Saku said, "Would you be a dear and help me clean up?"


Haru: "(Oh thank the stars, I'm not getting stuck in a super-awkward conversation about everything that happened earlier today.)"
:sweats:


Haru bit back a sigh. She should be getting to bed, considering she needed to rise early. But there was no use in debating her mom. If she tried to argue that she could make her own decisions, her mom would point out that she wasn't the homeowner, and that meant she had to help out around the house. Standing on her hind paws, she reached out across the table to gather up the dishes. Saku handed her a jar of luminous moss before taking the dishes, then the two of them staggered outside.

They stopped at the edge of the dam, pushing through the reeds until they were in the muddy shallows. A large stone stuck out along the edge, the top dry. There, they placed their burdens. Haru and Saku each took one of the ceramic plates and dunked them into the water.

"Is everything okay, Haru?"

Wonder how they filter that water of silt anyways, or do they just wipe off any residue that gets onto the plates afterwards?

Haru: "..."
:uhhh:

Saku: "... I'll take that as a 'no'." -_-;

Saku's question caught her off guard. She froze for a heartbeat, wide-eyed. "Of course. Why wouldn't they be?" She fought to keep the unease out of her voice.

Saku looked down at the water for a moment, silent. "Well… It's just… you've been acting strange lately, dear. Ever since that Sneasel showed up. When he first appeared, you were so interested in showing him around. I thought it great, since you rarely get out. But then he… well, you know."


Haru: "I'm the one who's been acting strange lately?" >_>;
Saku: "Well, yes. I don't seem to recall you being this harsh and argumentative before he came along."

It was clear her mom didn't want to bring up Nip's heinous act. And it made Haru wonder: if it bothered her so much, then why was she willing to work with him?

But she didn't get a chance to voice her thoughts, as her mom just kept plowing on. "And then you ran off with your friends into a dungeon—a dungeon—to apprehend him. I would have expected it out of Toshi, what with his adventurous streak. But you? I would have thought you'd avoid it, or try to talk them down."


Haru: "(Wait, was the trip into Sunglow Thicket really that uncharacteristic of me?)" .-.

"I did try," Haru argued. "I just figured… it was better if I went with them, to keep them out of trouble."

"Even the second time?" Saku pressed. It seemed that was a rhetorical question, because she continued, "But it wasn't just that. Since then, you've been in a foul mood—don't think I haven't noticed. And now you're running off with strangers. Is there something wrong? You know you can talk to me, right?"


Oh hey, I called it about Saku noticing Haru's mood taking a turn for the worse after Nip came along. :V

Haru: "It's not a 'foul mood', alright?!" >_>;
Saku: "Haru, you're literally in a foul mood right now."
:typhNOsion:


Haru fought to control her annoyance, then wondered why she was so annoyed. "Well, I'm not really running off with strangers," she said. "I'm running off to do a job for strangers. I think there's a difference there. As for the other stuff…" She trailed off, taking a deep breath. Surely her mom could understand her anger?


That's a bold assumption to be making when she's stated that she's noticed you've been crabby since Nip came along and not already floated ideas of why that might be, Haru.

"I went into Sunglow Thicket for two reasons. I already said the first. The second time, I wanted to make sure Nip faced proper judgment, instead of being offed by someone willing to take hostages just to get to him. He was brought back, all but admitted to the destruction of several eggs—most of them maliciously—and then got nothing more than community service. Surely you can understand why I'm frustrated?"

Saku sat her rinsed dishes on the stone, then pushed out further into the water, disappearing beneath the rippling surface. Haru remained in the shallows, blinking. But her mother returned a minute later, expression pensive. She gestured for Haru to follow her out. With a sigh, the rest of the dishes were cast aside, and Haru slipped into the cool water.


Haru: "Oh stars. Mom, please tell me you understand why I'm frustrated right now."
:grohno~1:

Saku: "Haru, let's... take a step back a bit."

There was no danger in this small pool, created by their own handiwork. And there would be no prying ears in the center.

"I do understand," Saku said once Haru joined her. "But I also know much of your behavior is unhealthy. Toshi told me about how you left earlier, though he wouldn't go into the details." The bibarel tilted her head upwards, gazing at the stars. Her wet fur glistened in the moonlight. "Whatever's going on, I can't force you to tell me. But I want you to know that I'm here, if you ever need to talk."


Haru: "My behavior's unhealthy?!" >.<
Saku: "
Image

I mean, are you going to tell me with a straight face that this broody and snippy attitude of yours where you push everyone away and get upset with them over minor disagreements is healthy?"

Treading water, Haru turned so that she was facing her mother. She struggled to find her words. How was her behavior unhealthy? Sure, she'd been quick to anger recently. She could admit as much. But surely that anger was justified? "I know," she finally said. "I'm still figuring some of it out for myself. But if I need anything, I'll let you know."


I'm... not convinced that you're going to get a chance to do this by the time you realize you do need something, Haru.
:fearfullaugh~1:


"Good girl," her mother replied. "Now, we should get to bed. We wouldn't want to catch a chill!" Her tail slapped the surface of the water, and she dove, reappearing back in the shallows. Haru followed behind slowly. She stopped for a moment to load the dishes onto her mother's tail. Then they both went inside.


Some impressive balance there by Saku, though you can't say that it's not a nice reminder that we're dealing with sapient beavers here.

Haru lay awake for some time after that, tossing and turning in her nest. Worry gnawed at her as she went over the conversation with her mom. Should she tell her mom the truth? About where she was going?

No. It would only worry her more. And the last thing she wanted was to worry her.

Soon, she drifted into a fitful sleep.

Image


Once again, an endless expanse of water stretched out before Nip, mimicking the orange of the cloudless sky. The fur on the back of his neck prickled as he walked through the shallows, sending ripples on the otherwise still surface. He was vaguely aware that he was dreaming, and that it was the same dream that he'd had countless times. But he couldn't fathom why he was here again.


Wait, is this that same freaky sequence with the tree like 15 chapters ago, or is this something new?

The same hill from his previous dreams—the one with the dying tree—appeared in the distance, the tree's branches spreading wide like outstretched claws. Involuntarily, he sped up, light on his feet as he raced towards the hill. Every time he dreamed of this place, he always fell into deep water before he reached it—and he'd had the dream several times since Celebi's appearance. The last thing he wanted was to wake up from the sensation of water filling his lungs, choking the life out of him.


Yup, it is indeed that dream. Though from the fact that we're revisiting it, I suppose that something's going to be different about it this time.

But as he approached, the water remained shallow, only reaching his ankles. His pace slowed as he reached the base of the hill.

Tall grass waved in an imperceptible breeze. Beams of dying sunlight poked between the branches of the tree, dappling the grass with golden pools. He slunk up the soggy bank and into the neck-deep blades, climbing until he reached the base of the tree.

Thin ashen bark peppered the base of the tree, cracked and peeling away to reveal pale wood beneath. The bark thinned away further up the twisting trunk, disappearing around the gnarled branches. No leaves remained. Nip knew little about trees, but if this one wasn't dead already, surely it was dying?


Nip: "Um... yeah, I'll heavily take the under on this tree being alright." ._.

His attention shifted to its base, where roots poked up through the dirt. Nestled between two of these roots, something out of place caught his eye. A blood-colored feather. He picked it up.

The feather was nearly as long as his arm and mostly that deep blood color, tapering to a midnight black as it reached the afterfeather. Nip wracked his brain as he tried to come up with different pokemon the feather could have come from. It was too big for a sneasel, and they didn't usually taper to black. Talonflame, maybe? But he didn't think they had feathers this long, either. It would have to be an incredibly large one.


Nip: "W-Wait a minute! This is-!"

Then a long-buried memory of a lesson back in his old nesting grounds surfaced, and he pictured an old historic painting. Though the details faded with time, he could still picture the deep bloody feathers of a bird—his patron—perched on a tree with her wings spread wide.

"Yveltal?" His voice was barely more than a whisper, pulled away and made inaudible by a sudden gust of wind.

Nip: "Is... Is she speaking to me through my dreams?" .-.

This feather belonged to Yveltal. It had to. Then was this the tree from the painting? It couldn't be; it was old and wizened and dead. The tree in the painting was lush and vibrant. Covered with plant life and teeming with the spirits of the departed. This was a stark opposite.


Nip: "I mean, I already found out that everything I thought I knew about one god was a lie, b-but Yveltal too...?"
:grohno~1:


He turned and raced away from the tree, fur bristling as he scanned the sky for any signs of his god. All the while calling out, "Yveltal! Yveltal I am here! Is this a vision? Is this something more? What do you need of me?"


Nip: "I don't suppose you could just appear and tell me the answer, could you?" ^^;

A quiet splish-splash signaled that he had run back into the water. His foot caught on something just beneath the surface. Stumbling, he waved his arms wildly, but it was no use. With a yowl, he tumbled into the water. Deep into the water, as if the bank weren't even there. An invisible current pulled him away from land, dragging him deeper and deeper into the depths. The feather spiraled up and away, leaving him behind in the darkness, lungs burning.

But he wasn't alone.

Nip: "W-Wait, what?! W-Who else is-?!" O_O;

The current swirled as a massive, dark figure swam around him. Vision blurred by water, he couldn't see well. But as the figure came to a stop just above him, watching him sink, he could just make out the form of two great dark wings, and two bright blue eyes that glowed with some emotion he couldn't place.


Wait, is that Yveltal again, or someone else?

He opened his mouth to say something, only to gag and panic as he sucked in a lungful of water. No, not water. This fluid was thicker, more viscous, and had a familiar flavor. Yolk. He was drowning in egg yolk. He flailed, desperate to reach the surface, but his vision was fading fast. And soon, all he could make out were those two smoldering eyes.


Oh, so it's basically the Pokémon equivalent of drowning in the blood of unborn children. That's a lovely thought there.

Before the end, he heard a voice.

You do not belong…

Nip: "N-No! Yveltal, wait! H-Hear me out, please-!"

Nip gasped awake, coughing and sputtering. He flailed in the darkness, rolling onto his belly as if to vomit up swallowed water. But nothing came.

Of course nothing came; it was just a nightmare. He was still in Theran village, hidden away in his cell.

Bits of straw clung to his fur as he sat up, blinking. His flailing had scattered his nest, leaving him exposed. As he looked around the dimly-lit room, he could see two pairs of eyes watching him. One was Tempest, his expression betraying worry. The other was tonight's night guard, Anu.


Nip: "... Wait, don't you have a shrine to babysit right now?"
Anu: "We're a humble village that doesn't have much of a payroll for the guards. Some of us have to manage multiple jobs here." -_-;

He turned away from both of them, stood, and began to pace his small space, keeping his head low.

What was he supposed to make of his dream? He'd had it several times, but this time it was different. He'd found that feather… Yveltal's feather, he was sure of it!


Aha, so that ending sequence we saw was new for Nip. I'm guessing this is teeing up a goal for the longer term for the resident knifecat of this story.

Did that make this more than a dream? A vision? He wasn't a psychic. He'd never been gifted—or cursed, for that matter—with the power of prophecy. And yet, he'd had the same dream so many times; that had to mean something!


I mean, "you're going crazy" is an option, but knowing how stories like these work, I'm pretty sure that you're being called out to.

So what was he supposed to make of the ending? You do not belong. Who had said it? Yveltal? Was Yveltal abandoning him? Did Yeveltal even care about him to begin with?


Nip, is Yveltal even aware of your existence right now? Since if she's not, how could you reflexively assume that she'd care about you to begin with?

A tiny, pathetic whimper escaped his lips as he scraped his claws together, catching on every nick and chip. Some of the damage came from hard labor, while other parts came from striking at his cell walls as he tried to calm his frazzled nerves. It wasn't like he was using them for anything else, anyways. He couldn't remember the last time he'd hunted; it was some time before arriving here, in this cursed town that had destroyed his last shred of hope.


That... was kinda on you there, Nip. Though the way Jhorlo's running the ship right now certainly isn't helping on that front.

With another whimper, he slumped to the ground, cheek meeting the wood flooring.

"Having nightmares, are you, Nip?"

Ah yes, another heart-to-heart between Nip and Anu. Though I'm starting to understand why this chapter is called 'Night Talks'. Let's see where this one winds up going.

Anu's question brought Nip out of his sulking. He turned his head so that he could see the lucario, but did not rise or otherwise reply.

"You were twitching and mewling in your sleep," Anu continued. His tone was factual, neither accusatory nor comforting. The corners of his mouth twisted upwards. And for just a moment, Nip thought he might be enjoying his suffering. But the rest of his body language suggested otherwise. "Ah, please forgive me. I… do not mean to pry. It's just…"


I mean, Anu literally admitted that he was bitter at Nip and wished he'd get his just desserts a couple chapters ago. I wouldn't rule out him having a bit of satisfaction at Nip's plight at the moment.

Anu took a deep breath. "I… I know you are religious. We spoke of your patron before. I don't know how central Celebi is to your beliefs. B-but I know his appearance has left many of the faithful shaken. Celebi does not act like the myths say. What does that mean about the rest of the myths? About everything we grew up believing? If your nightmares are anything of that nature, I can't say I blame you, but know that you are not alone."


That you should keep an open mind to them being wildly off-base and not get so hung up over minutiae about your folklore?

What do you know? Nip thought ruefully. Still, he sat up so that he could better look at Anu. And Tempest, for that matter. The ninetales watched from his own cell, tails slowly waving, almost hypnotic.


I mean, Anu did accurately predict that your dream was similarly about challenging your belief system. Dunno how much of that was from handicapping from Aura, but he clearly knows more than you would reflexively assume, Nip.

"I find it curious," Anu continued, following Nip's gaze. "Celebi's appearance has affected you far more than it has Tempest. Why is that?"

Nip considered ignoring him. What good would it do to talk about this? But after a moment, he realized Anu was giving him something other than his dreams to focus on. Or trying to, at least.

Actually, I'm a bit curious myself as to why Tempest is so unfazed while Nip and half the village are freaking out about Celebi. Is this an implication that Tempest has always put a bit less stock in the gods than normal?

"Tempest really should be the one telling you about this," he began, shifting so that he was in a more comfortable position, "but I supposed that isn't an option right now. Tempest wasn't born to the Half-Moon tribe. Instead, he joined as an adult. He's told me that, as a child, he belonged to a separate tribe from further north, a group of ice-types that worshiped the remains of the Original Dragon, Kyurem.


Ah right, Tempest was narrating that part of the opening to that effect. Though I'm wondering where Nip's going with this right now.

"Kyurem was not known to be kind to the living. At best, it was a callous defender of its followers. But some of their stories described it as openly malicious to mortals. And yet, they still followed it, because they believed themselves to be Kyurem's chosen, the only ones that it looked after." He glanced at Tempest. "Did I remember that correctly?"

Tempest dipped his head.

Anu: "... Wonderful god they have there, really."
:ohnowen:



"How fascinating," Anu said, shifting in place. He took a deep breath and held it for some time before continuing. "Perhaps I can use this to illustrate my point. From… From what you've told me, there are conflicting stories about this Kyurem. Some characterize it as a defender, others as something more sinister. And it's hard to believe that both of these stories could be true. In fact, it's entirely possible that they're not. But there are more than two stories. I imagine there are countless tales."


Cue the random village on the other side of the continent that sees Kyurem as Santa through some contrived historical event that's undergone untold generations of memetic mutation.

His paw came alight with aura as he waved it in the air. "I imagine there are many conflicting stories about Celebi, as well. The myths around here characterize him as a valiant hero, traveling through time to bring both the blessings and the curses of the future. He's said to be noble and stalwart, and always having the interests of the good at heart."

"Yes, that's not too far from our stories," Nip replied. "What is your point?"


Anu: "Nip, if he's a hero to us, then it wouldn't be out of the realm of possibility that to some other Pokémon out there, he'd be a villain."
Nip: "... What sort of messed-up Pokémon would see Celebi as a villain?" .-.
Anu: "I mean, after what we saw of him... are you really going to rule out that there's not some village out there that he didn't bring a disaster on? If even by accident?"
:fearfullaugh~1:


"Well, we've now met Celebi, and know he exists. And we also know that the legends weren't entirely correct. And yet, there are still morsels of truth based on what we've seen. He did come to warn us, a small village, of dangers, even if he went about it in a… strange way. And knowing that part of the story is true, we must find comfort in that." Anu's voice grew firm. "Perhaps we need to revisit our legends. Reevaluate what we hold true. But in the end, we still cannot know everything. And we will have to take some things on faith."


Ah yes, I'm very familiar with that train of thought from some of my writing. Though it's solid advice on Anu's part, frankly.

Faith. That was easy for Anu to say. He wasn't the one whose every decision, every justification for everything questionable he ever did, was shattered by the legends being wrong. Then he mentally berated himself for thinking like that. Anu had to contend with the cruelties of the world, too, and shaken beliefs made that harder.


That's... a bold assumption to make there, Nip. Since I'm pretty sure that it's been implied in the past already that Anu has some level of awareness of what's going on between Theran Village and the nearby wildeners behind the scenes.


"Thanks," he finally said, "but… there's more to it than that."

"Oh?" Anu tilted his head, then scooted a little closer to the cell. "If you wish to talk about it, I'm all ears."

"What?" Nip flinched and copied Anu's expression, his ear twisting flat against his skull. "Why would you want to know? Do you wish to mock me?"


Anu: "I'm the local cleric and it's my job to ensure that the local villagers have the most correct understanding possible of the Pokémon we venerate?"
:what:

Nip: "None of which are Yveltal." >_>;
Anu: "Look, you clearly weren't doing well earlier. I... just want to see what's going on in your mind a bit."

Anu was quiet for a moment. "I-if I'm speaking honestly, a part of me wants to. N-not mocking necessarily." He held his paws up in a defensive gesture. "Just… Just let you wallow in your misery, r-rather.


Nip: "So you were enjoying watching me suffer earlier." >.<
Anu: "Look, I said a part of me wanted to let you wallow in your misery. That's not all of me." >_>;

"B-but I won't!" He continued before Nip could reply. "Because I have a job to do. Despite everything, it would be unbecoming of me. I could yell and scream and hurt you, but it would go against everything I stand for." A beat of silence followed. "And I hope—perhaps foolishly—that extending kindness to you will help you settle, and finally understand our way of life. And then, perhaps, you can be sent on your way."


Ah yes, conflict between duty and base desire from a holy man analogue. For whatever reason, we don't see this character premise done an awful lot in PMD stories, even if it can be pretty compelling if done well, which Anu thus far has been pulling off.

Nip's anger dissipated, replaced with surprise. And confusion. His fur slowly lay flat, and the tension left his shoulders.

Anu watched him unblinkingly, then he turned his head and stood. "There… is one other thing I wanted to talk to you about," he began. He turned and disappeared into a small room. A rustling sound followed, then he returned with a small bag in his paws, the long drawstring hanging down loosely.

"Here," Anu said, passing the bag between the bars. "I remember you eyeing this a few days back. Consider it a… peace offering of sorts."

Nip:
Image

Anu: "Look, at least look in the bag first before you spurn my offering." >_>;

Nip blinked, eying the bag cautiously. It certainly looked like the same bag, and it looked empty. But it made no sense.

"Why?"

Something something, Anu is feeling terrible about that gap between the 'mon he feels he ought to be as the town cleric and the 'mon he really is. Probably not helped by self-comparisons to his father.

Though really, don't question a good thing, Nip.

Anu sighed, dropping the bag just inside Nip's cell. "As I just said, holding a grudge would be hypocritical. I've… struggled to forgive you after what you did to my mate and I. But perhaps, with kindness, I can make you understand what it means to be a village pokemon. And perhaps I'll be able to break the cycle of revenge." He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, then sat down with his back straight. "The law will punish you for what you did wrong. My duty is to guide you on how to be better. So. If you ever need to talk about matters of faith, or anything at all, I will do my best to listen and assist."


Anu's... not going to get the chance to do this past the next 72-96 hours at the very most, is he?
:fearfullaugh~1:


For a moment, Nip stared at the bag laying at his paws, struggling to process his feelings. Based on everything he'd ever been taught, Anu shouldn't be helping him, shouldn't offer forgiveness. Even if he had reasons for doing what he did, and even if it was just the laws of nature, he still hurt Anu. And he struggled to fathom how he could just let it go like this. Or try to, at least.


Anu: "It's part of my religion?" ^^;
Nip: "With all due respect, but I think your religion's missing a few screws, buddy." >_>;
Anu: "Look, we're both having to challenge assumptions about our faiths in live-time. Just... give it a shot?"

At the same time, relief warmed his chest. Perhaps, if there was anyone that could provide answers to him, it would be Anu. And perhaps there was something he could help him with right now.

"Well," Nip began, fiddling with his claws. "There is… something I'd like to talk to you about." Anu gestured for him to continue, so he took a hesitant breath. "Over the last few days I've been having these… recurring dreams…"


Anu: "... Have you considered talking to Whisper about whether or not something's wrong with your food?"
:joltyshrug~1:

Nip: "It's not like that! Look, anyways, in these dreams that I'm having..."

But before he could continue, the sound of ruffling fabric caught their attention. Nip scented an electric current heartbeats before Vale stalked through the entryway, giving off frustrated sparks.

"Vale?" Anu stood up, tilting his head. "What are you doing here?"


... Oh, that's an absolutely terrible omen for Anu's immediate well-being right now.
:uhhh:


"I work here," Vale replied with a snort. "Do I need a reason? But if you must know, I actually came here to fetch you, Anu. I was passing by the temple on a night patrol and saw one of those explorers. He asked to see you."

Sticker, sceptilisk,


Yeah, I don't believe a word coming out of this mutt's mouth right now.

"Did you tell him I was busy?"

"Of course. Told him it was too early. Told him a bad time and to come back later after the sun had fully risen. Even threatened to chase him off. But he was insistent."


Anu: "I'm sorry, why am I not just leaving them to wait there again?"
:lucariwhat:

Vale: "Look, Anu. This spiritual mumbo-jumbo stuff is literally your job. Just give them a run-around for five minutes so they don't cause a public disturbance, alright?"
:AlviseUnamused:


Anu sighed, then glanced out the window. It was still dark. "Well, I can't go and see him right now, anyways. So he'll just have to wait till after my relief comes in, at least." His words were punctuated by a yawn.

"If you need relief, I can take over," Vale replied. He walked over to stand beside Anu. "You're just watching the prisoners for a while, right? I can take over until you get back. Already finished my rounds."


Vale's attempting to go behind Umbra and the others' back to gank Nip himself, isn't he?

"No, he can wait." Anu shook his head. "It would be unbecoming of me to leave my duty incomplete."

"But what about your duty to the patrons of the temple?" Vale countered, sparking. "I know you have a few visitors in the mornings. What if he heckles them like he did me?"

This, at least, seemed to make Anu hesitate.

Nip: "(Anu, you realize that 'mon hates my guts and has literally been openly wishing that I'd died back at the trial ever since then, right? I'm not exactly feeling super confident about being alone in a room with him!)"
:eltyscared:

Anu: "(Nip, he's stood guard over you before. Berating aside, I'm sure it'll be fine.)"

Nip watched the exchange through narrowed eyes. Why was Vale so insistent on taking over? He knew from experience that Vale didn't care to be around him or Tempest. Was he just looking for a way to harass them? Surely even Vale wouldn't go that far?


Vale:
Image

Nip: "Yeah, I know that! Could you make it any more obvious right now?!"
:grohno~1:


Finally, Anu sighed. "Very well. I will see if I can convince him to leave without a fight." His attention turned to Nip. "Apologies. We will continue this conversation another time." With a rustle of fabric, he was gone.

Vale lay down in front of the cells, watching Nip and Tempest with his mouth clamped shut. He looked in no mood to converse, and Nip didn't expect he had anything nice to say anyways, so he took a moment to gather up his scattered nest and settled down as if to sleep. But his nerves wouldn't let him. He felt electrified, alert after Anu's conversation. He doubted he would get any more rest, but he could at least lie down until the guards took him out in the morning.


Vale: "Bold of you to think you're gonna make it to morning, egg thief."
:AlviseDetermined:

Nip: "Oh gods... Anu, why would you just leave me with him?!"
:uhhh:

Anu: “Sorry, Nip. Duty calls.”


He wasn't sure how long he lay there awake. It must have been some time, because he could see the faintest outline of light around the doorway when the sound of a commotion outside caught his attention. Curious, he sat up.

Vale was already on his feet, letting out a guttural growl while sparks danced in his fur. "Hey! What's going on out there?" he barked, stalking towards the entrance with his head low and hackles raised.

A burst of flame greeted him, blasting him in the face as it engulfed the fabric covering. He let out a surprised yelp, stumbling back.


Ah yes, enforced method acting from Vale there. Though I can already tell he's going to whine to Skorch later over this.

Nip scrambled to his feet and pressed himself into the shadows in the corner of his cell. The acrid scent of burnt fur made him gag as he watched, looking for signs of life in the manectric. Vale groaned and shifted, but did not try to get up. Sparks danced weakly on his pelt but went nowhere.

As the flames died away, the attacker became clear. A great dark beast—a charizard with some physical quirks unfamiliar to him—rose to her feet. Her tail flicked back and forth as she watched Vale for signs of resistance. Then she snorted smoke and turned towards the door.


Yuuuuuuuup

"Subdued," she announced with a growl.

"Excellent," came a reply from just outside.

Nip's blood turned to ice. He stiffened, still crouching. He knew that voice all too well.

Flames still crackled in the doorway, illuminating a stout, familiar figure.

Umbra.


Oh, so it's Umbra who knifed Vale in the back. I'll admit, I didn't see that one coming, but that's pretty in-character for her.

Tempest sprang to his paws in an instant, lips curled in a soundless snarl. He stalked on the other side of his cell, hackles raised as the air in the room chilled. Nip's breath came out in frosty puffs as he pressed himself against the wall. Umbra was here. Umbra was here. Why was Umbra here? He knew. He knew he knew he knew.

He knew exactly why she was here.

Umbra:
:DEATH~1:
🔪
Nip: "Oh gods."
:eltyscared:


She entered the room with a leisurely gait, eyes trailing over the charizard and the downed Vale, then to Tempest, before her eyes finally settled on Nip. He knew she could see him. Smell him. He must be giving off a fear-scent…

Her posture shifted; if it had been anyone else, he could mistake her expression for friendly. But there was no hiding the malicious intent in her eyes.

Without taking her eyes off of Nip, she said to the charizard, "Find the keys, would you, Skorch?" The charizard lumbered away, leaving Nip her sole focus.


Skorch: "... I'm sorry, why are we just playing along with this right now and not bumping you two off and hiding your bodies long enough for us to get out to that shrine again?"
:unimpressed:

Umbra: "Because when the rest of the village puts two and two together, you'll be deader than a doorpost and they'll put prices on your head that will ensure you can't set foot anywhere on this continent in peace?"
Skorch: "... That sounds like a pretty good reason, really."
:ohnowen:


"Oh, how I have waited for this day," she began, her tone light and airy. "More than six moons, you have evaded my grasp. Managed to slink away. No, it has been longer, has it not? You have been a thorn in my side since the day we were made mates. But no more. Finally, almost three cycles of careful work is paying off."


Well that'd be a short story if so, so I doubt that this is going to go fully to plan right about now.

The strange charizard returned, dropping a ring of keys into Umbra's outstretched claws. She looked at them, frowning. "How am I supposed to use these, exactly?"

"It's not that difficult. Just stick one in the hole and turn until one of them unlocks the door." The charizard snorted smoke.


Skorch: "I can't believe that I'm seriously letting myself getting pushed around by a 'mon that doesn't know how to use keys..." >_>;
Umbra: "Look, just shut up and let me do my thing, alright?" >.<

"Do not patronize me," Umbra snapped back. Then she started sticking keys in, one at a time. By the third or fourth key, the cell door swung open. Just like that, the only barrier between himself and Umbra was gone.


Umbra:
Image

Nip:
Image


Nip tried to form frost around him, to call forth an ice shard. But he couldn't focus. He could only press himself against the wall as she marched towards him with a degree of nonchalance. She knew she had won, and she was taking the time to gloat.

"All the lies, all the cruelty and misdeeds, only to end like this. It is kind of pathetic, is it not?" She chuckled. "Then again, you always were pathetic. Well, do you have anything to say for yourself?"

Somehow. Nip found his tongue. And despite his defeat, bitter resentment coated his mouth and gave him the courage to growl a single sentence.

"You're a monster."


Umbra:
Image


Claws struck his cheek, then a blow to his stomach sent him reeling. He screeched, crumpling to the ground as white-hot pain radiated where fairy energy burned his skin—no, his very spirit. He felt his will to fight fading, succumbing to the pain. Why had he ever expected anything different? It always ended like this, with his face against the ground, a growing pain in his ribs, and Umbra standing over him, reminding him of how useless he was. Any time he showed defiance, this was the outcome. He should have known his death would be the same.

That's... got some implications for what Nip's life as Umbra's mate was like, and boy are they not pleasant. .-.

Then a blast of frigid wind sent him rolling backwards. He heard Umbra grunt and several dull thunks as he tried to climb to his feet, pelted by slush and chunks of ice. As his vision focused, he could see Tempest crouching with his gaze concentrated on Umbra, focused on creating more ice as he froze the air around him. He was attacking the mawile; Nip just happened to be caught in the blizzard.


Tempest: "I'm right here, you know!"
:seviAAAAAAAAAAA:

Umbra: "Agh, dammit, should've taken care of you first!" >.<

Umbra snarled, marching towards Tempest despite the layer of frost accumulating on her steely fur, only to fall short due to the bars between them. With a frustrated snort, she tossed the keys toward the charizard. "He clearly has a talent for surviving certain death and causing me trouble. Here. Deal with him." Her gaze shifted to the wooden floor and the furniture. "Or better yet… send this place up in flames. Then we can leave unimpeded while they deal with the fire."

"What?"

Vale sprang to his paws with speed that surprised Nip. Clearly he wasn't as injured as he'd first looked. "You can't do that," he sputtered. Do you have any idea how far that'll set back the town? And whose hide do you think it's going to come out of? Jhorlo's not a total idiot!"


Oh, well never mind then. Vale and Umbra are still on the same page right now. I'm honestly a little surprised that none of the three parties involved here hasn't tried to pull a fast one on the others just yet, since all of them strike me as having the motive to attempt that.

"He will figure it out either way. My disappearance and Nip's disappearance will be proof enough for him."

The manectric grunted, crouching. "Yes, but the destruction of the town destroying the guard hut isn't necessary. What if the fire spreads? Our quarrel is with Jhorlo and with the sneasel."

"We don't have time for this," the massive charizard growled, her tail flicking restlessly back and forth. "The lucario could return at any time. Just grab the sneasel and—"


Nip's going to sneak out through the open door, isn't he? Though suggested a small rephrasing of the point that Vale’s trying to make since his complaint would logically be about the specific building they’re in and not the town as a whole.

Nip was suddenly blinded by bright light, spots blooming in his vision. Yelps and grunts filled the air. But through it, Umbra still stood tall, her attention focused on Tempest, the source of the attack.

"Just do it," she snapped. "Before the ninetales gives us away."

Vale: "Umbra, did you listen to a single word that I just said?!"
:AlviseShocked:

Umbra: "
bdd.jpg

Now shut up and stop questioning my moves."

She was distracted. Nip crawled forward, claws digging into the wood as he dragged himself towards his cell door. This was his chance. If he could just reach the door, he could make a run for it. Even with the charizard on her side, he could hide in the bushes outside town. Get to the river and destroy his scent trail. He could run again, and find somewhere to start over.


Nip: "... Okay, I'm pretty sure that that's some unhealthy levels of cope there, but the alternative is getting barbecued right here, so..."
:fearfullaugh~1:


But doing so meant leaving Tempest behind to die. Umbra would never let Tempest live if his distraction let Nip escape. Leaving him to die was the coward's way out.

And yet, Tempest was causing a distraction now. Was he just fighting back? Or was he trying to give Nip an opening to escape?

Heart heavy with guilt and confusion, Nip continued to crawl out the cell door. Dawn light—freedom—was only a few bounds away.


Vale: "Wait, the sun is rising already?! Holy crap Umbra, you can't set this place on fire now of all times-!"
:AlviseScared:

Umbra: "Skorch, do it already!"

Fire erupted on his back, his world exploding in agony. The horrible smell of burnt fur and flesh choked him as he screamed, ears ringing. He scrambled, dragging himself forward. But the fire followed, until finally, he quit trying to avoid it. Though the flames died, the pain remained. He felt pressure on his back, digging into the fresh wounds. He had no strength to crawl.

Somehow both nearby and distant at the same time, he heard Umbra's voice. "Hurry up and set a fire. All that screaming will have attracted someone. Then we run. Vale, you need to look injured, go to…" But whatever else she was saying was lost. His cheek hit the ground, then the world went dark.

:unown_f:


Whelp, guess Nip's not getting out of that shrine run that easily. Though I have to wonder how on earth Tempest's going to get out of that one. .-.

Though I can already tell that things are going to go very, very sideways in (relatively) short order since Umbra is taking so many needless risks right now.

Alright, onto the recap:

Well that was an explosive note to end on. For a chapter that's primarily conversational and named accordingly, you still managed to take things into a direction that I honestly didn't see coming, so congrats on that. Definitely leaving the audience in suspense with that one since... yeah, that one's gonna leave a mark on Nip, and while I know you've got art depicting Tempest with Nip from a point in the story that Nip hasn't reached yet, it's going to be... uh... a story for how he gets out of this one here.

For things that I have critique-wise, I don't have that much that wasn't explicitly mentioned in the writeup already. That said, I kinda wonder if there should've been more obvious tension between Umbra, Vale, and Skorch there, since two out of those three are allies of convenience while the last is just flatly blackmailed into compliance. One would think that it'd result in a few more artifacts in their dynamic that Nip might have noticed.

Though this is all shaping up to be quite the glorious disaster there. Not sure when Chapter 22 will be dropping in the future, but I'll be keeping my eye out, @windskull . You've definitely got me on the edge of my seat for how this is all going to shake out, since I can already tell that nothing is going to be the same again after the dust settles from this arc.

Hope the feedback was helpful, and till next time! ^^
 
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