Breifne, City of Warriors
Breifne, City of Warriors
Arian felt uncomfortable at the breakfast that followed the training session. He just wanted to eat his payapa soup coupled with sliced pinap in peace, but the frostiness radiating from Enfys towards Sabrina couldn't simply be tuned out. Given that the Gabite sat next to him instead of sitting with her partner and the Dragonair sat on the opposite side of the table, he couldn't ignore it.
He tried his best though, and kept his head down as the tension smothered the breakfast atmosphere. At least now that the sun was more up, more mercenaries filled the dining hall, and he could focus on them instead of the quiet tension at his table. It was icy enough that he almost swore winter had visited their table in the canteen.
Arian felt a similar form of discomfort from his allies, and judging by the mildly annoyed expression on Yannick's face as he wolfed down his breakfast, the Hakamo-o was feeling the same. The only anomaly was Sabrina, who didn't seem to share the same discomfort with the rest of the group. She daintily ate her breakfast, seemingly unaware of the quiet tension around the table.
Near the end of the meal, Arian tried to break the silence.
"So, uh," he piped up. "What's your plan for today, you three?"
"Yann and I have a mission in Laighean," Enfys said. "The Chief there hired us personally to sort out some bandit problems."
"Bandits?" That doesn't sound good.
"Yeah, bandits. Ceredigonia likes to launch raids on the border tíortha, and Laighean's one of them," Yannick explained. "They're a general thorn in our side, those Cereds, and Laighean's chief wants us to kick them back over the border."
"Tch. Fuck 'em," hissed Enfys. "Just Dressies dressed up in Alban clothing. That's all those ceatharnaigh are."
"Mmm," Yannick murmured, after which he tipped his bowl back and downed the last of his payapa soup.
"Ahhh," he sighed, licking his lips. "Well, I'll go bring these up to Tiarnán." He gathered up everyone's plates and strolled up to the counter.
"I suppose I'll go now. I've got my own mission to do while you two have fun in Laighean without me," Sabrina said sweetly. "Toodle pip!" She slithered towards the door, but not before sticking her tongue out teasingly at Enfys on the way out.
"That slimy little…!" Enfys bared her teeth in annoyance.
"You don't seem to like her very much," Yuliya noted.
"Of course I don't! A complete snake, she is, coming in here and seducing Yannick like that!" she snarled. "Then there's all those 'missions' she does on her own that are vague as shit! She's up to something - I'd bet my Platinum Rank on it!"
"What's the matter, Enfys? Raging about one of Yannick's girlfriends again?" teased a nearby Archen.
"Jawbreaker Enfys, jealous of her partner? Just another normal day, then," remarked his teammate, an Anorith.
"Hey, Enfys! Maybe think about going poly with Yannick one of these days!" the third in the group, a Tyrunt, quipped.
"Fuck no!" the Gabite roared. "I'm not getting in bed with that bitch!"
"En!" Yannick interrupted, returning to the group after he'd handed the plates off to Cairbre and Tiarnán. "Don't call Sabrina names like that!"
"But, Yann!" Enfys cried, and once again, Arian felt that same sense of hurt within the landshark. "Sabrina, she's—"
"An ally who's helped us out many times since she became a merc here. Don't be mean to someone like that." The Hakamo-o's gaze hardened. "Is that clear, En?"
"...Crystal," mumbled Enfys.
"Good. And you all!" Yannick then suddenly reeled on the three Rock-types that had teased his partner. "Don't you dare act like that to En. Otherwise you'll have to deal with me too!" He punched his fists together, his scales jangling. "Want to take this outside?"
The three Rock-types looked at each other and gulped at the fiery look in Yannick's eyes. The fear in their hearts was plain to see, and they slunk out of the room without any fight.
"...Sabrina's not coming with us on this mission, anyway," Yannick continued. "Good thing too. The less I have to hear you two bickering, the better. Besides, don't you remember what I told you, En? Team Scalebreaker will always just be you and me. There won't be a third. Sabrina's nice and all, but she won't come into the fold. I swear it."
"You've said that before." Enfys's voice sounded doubtful.
"And I'll always say it. Now come on." Yannick beckoned with his hand as he walked towards the door. "Chief Darach won't like being kept waiting."
"...Fine," Enfys huffed, before following her partner.
"Oh, and you three!" Yannick called to the Selenians. "Good luck on your search today! Hopefully you'll be able to find your prince!" With those parting words, he and his partner left the canteen.
"So…what's the plan of action?" Arian asked, turning to Yuliya. "Did you figure out a plan while we were training?"
"The plan is to find His Highness," Yuliya said. "I believe the best way to do this is by splitting into two groups. I will investigate the eastern side of Breifne for intel, while the two of you investigate the west side."
"We have to search all of Breifne for Prince Leonid?" Arian said, his ears flattening in dismay. The thought of combing Alba's largest city for a tiny sliver of intel was considerably daunting in his eyes. "Is he even in Breifne right now?"
"...I do not know. But we won't know unless we find that information for ourselves," Yuliya replied. "I hope that Breifne's cathedral holds answers. Even if Archdruid Cathbad is not there, their fellow druids may have information."
"It doesn't seem like info's gonna come easily," Arian grumbled.
"It rarely does. This hunt may well yield nothing. But the possibility of information remains. And possibilities are all we have. We must find His Highness." A determined look crossed Yuliya's face. "We must."
The determined look spread to Arian and Elvira, who nodded with similar determination.
"I'll go to Breifne Cathedral. With luck, Their Grace will be there. Failing that, I will scout out the eastern bank of Breifne for intel about His Highness," Yuliya detailed. "You two will check out the western half of the city."
"That makes sense," Elvira said. "We'll do that."
"Excellent. You are a great help, you two." Yuliya bowed gratefully to them, and the three of them began to walk out of the canteen and the Guild building, into the courtyard, and to the branching path at the Guild entrance, before the two great bridges crossing the Istwyth.
"I wish you luck in your investigation. Now…let us go forth. Let us find our heir." That was the last thing Yuliya said to them before she headed off towards Breifne's prosperous eastern half.
"Come on, Arian," Elvira said. "Let's get going with our search. Maybe someone on the western side of Breifne's seen Prince Leonid."
"...I guess." Oddly, Arian's remark seemed almost begrudging.
"Hm? Is something the matter, Arian?" The Treecko frowned in concern at her partner. "You seem a bit put out."
"...It's nothing. Probably just the heat," he mumbled irritably. "Come on, let's go. Sitting around here won't accomplish anything."
"O-Okay…" Elvira murmured, slightly stunned by the sudden volte-face in her partner's behaviour. Why's he so grumpy all of a sudden? She followed after him, concern crossing her face.
Something's off about him. What could it be?
Yuliya traversed the bridge to the eastern half of Breifne, on her way to the cathedral, herer eyes and ears fully alert as she began her search, her knight instincts coming back to her. Any stray information along the way can be a clue. In a city like this, someone's bound to know of His Highness's whereabouts. It's a long shot, but…it's for Selenia, and the legacy of House Ruslan.
The Furret attempted to use these skills as she made her way to the cathedral, able to spot its tall spire towering over the rest of the city. To get there, though, that meant traversing through a wide promenade packed with passersby and merchants alike; no doubt the primary street of Breifne. The clamour of voices did make Yuliya's attempts to hear intel all the more difficult, and some of those voices, like merchants giving sales pitches, were especially loud.
"Get all your fresh berries here! Buy 'em now, folks, 'cause they ain't gonna last forever!"
"Seeds for all your merc needs! Use them and get the upper hand against your foes!"
"Yer no' gonna say nae to a bit o' prize fightin'! You think you can take me?!"
Yuliya flinched at the loud hustle and bustle. She wasn't unfamiliar to this from her time as a marshal in Iria, but the Alban merchants were far more rambunctious than Selenian merchants ever were, and she found the din uncomfortable, to say the least. Even so, she kept her head high and looked around her at the sea of people, hoping there was an answer to be had amongst them.
This did, however, mean that her attention was unfocused, and thus she did not see what was ahead of her. Before she realised it, Yuliya collided with something small, light and hard.
"Oof!" a voice cried.
"Argh! Watch where you're going!" came another voice.
"My apologies!" Yuliya quickly said, looking at who she'd run into. She blinked in surprise at the two Falinks before her.
"Forgive me," she began. "I was careless."
"I-It's fine," one of the Falinks replied, rather meekly. "We should've been watching too."
"Hmph. Let's just get what we need, N," the other Falink muttered. "Master Dubhrua doesn't like being kept waiting."
"Understood. Sorry for disturbing you." With that, Yuliya parted ways from them, and made her way back towards the cathedral.
That was odd, she thought, reflecting on the encounter. …No matter. On we head.. Filing the encounter in the back of her mind, Yuliya continued onward towards the cathedral.
Thankfully, the path to Breifne Cathedral was fairly direct, and the Furret arrived there without incident or getting too lost. The cathedral's front contained a vast courtyard, with the boughs of olive trees providing much needed shade from Alba's blazing sun. Two Gligar statues stood at the courtyard entrance, and the brickwork was well-polished. Alas, even the impressive nature of Breifne Cathedral's entrance could not hide signs of Alba's drought taking its toll. Both the grass and the trees looked greatly parched, begging for rain to fall and relieve them of their thirsty misery.
There was also one stark detail that stuck out to Yuliya as she entered the courtyard, far greater than any of the dry wilt of the trees and ground.
Multiple tents were set up, and haggard-looking Pokémon milled around the courtyard. Yuliya counted at least fifteen Pokémon of all different ages, from infants to elderly. Whatever their age, nearly all of them had one thing in common: a harrowed look in their eyes. Between the dry, drooping trees and the haunted gazes of the Pokémon, melancholy permeated the dusty air.
Something happened to these people. Something traumatic. Yuliya could feel it in their gazes. But what? I wonder if the archdruid has an answer for this…
The Furret walked into the cathedral, the building's airiness a blessed relief from the blazing sun. Several more Pokémon with harrowed looks like those in the courtyard were inside, some of them kneeling in the pews and praying. Yuliya gave them pitying glances, but remembered her mission.
She walked up to the altar, where a few priests, recognisable with their white capes, were setting things up for a rite that was to be underway soon. Leading them was a Sigilyph, who upon seeing Yuliya, seemed to ready himself for something.
"Hello," the Furret began. "I am looking to speak with Their Grace Archdruid Cathbad. Are they around today?"
"Sadly not." The Sigilyph shook his head. "Their Grace has been absent from here for a few days."
"Oh." The Furret's face fell. "It's just that there's something I need to talk to them about."
"Hmm, where are you from, ma'am? You don't sound Albach at all."
"Oh no." She shook her head. "I'm from Selenia."
"Selenia?" The psychic blinked in surprise. "I've heard some grim tales from that direction."
"Those tales aren't lies." Memories of the oppression she'd seen under Mitrofan's rule came to her, and Yuliya clenched a paw, trying to keep her anger under wraps. "In fact, it's part of the reason I'm here in Alba. We may have found a breakthrough to bringing Mitrofan down, and Their Grace may know more on this matter. That is why I would like to speak with them."
"...I see. Unfortunately, Their Grace has priorities elsewhere." The Sigilyph bowed his head in sorrow. "I sincerely apologise."
"...It's alright." Yuliya tried hard to hide her disappointment. "I'll find my answers somewhere else."
"That said," the Sigilyph went on. "Their Grace did entrust an item to me. They instructed me to give it to a Furret who set foot into Breifne Cathedral."
"Hm? But…that can't surely mean me, can it?" Yuliya questioned. "How would Their Grace know I would come?"
"Their Grace works in mysterious ways," the Sigilyph vaguely responded. "But they wished for you to have this." His eye glowed, and a scroll was levitated towards Yuliya, who grabbed it.
"Hm? What's this?" She unfurled it and read the text.
Stánann an cosantóir síocháin siar go dtí a baile ar an Oileán Naofa.
The harmony keeper gazes west to her home on Oileán Naofa.
"I…do not understand." Yuliya peered at the document, puzzled at the message. "Why does Their Grace wish for me to have this?"
"I do not know. But as with all actions, there is a reason for them. That is a truth Their Grace is intimately aware of," the Sigilyph said.
"I see." Yuliya looked again at the scroll. The words made no more sense to her. "I suppose I'll have to figure this out." She tucked it away in her satchel. "Thank you for this. Hopefully the answer lies within."
"I wish you luck in figuring it out." The Sigilyph bowed respectfully to her. "May our Creator's judgement guide your path."
Yuliya left the cathedral, passing the Pokémon and making her way back onto Breifne's streets. The mystery of the scroll's message ran through her mind, and she was racking her brains as to what exactly it could mean.
But there was the other matter that weighed on her mind; those Pokémon she saw in the courtyard at the cathedral's front entrance. The haunted looks on their faces told a story of woe and trauma; the ex-marshal was certain about that. But she realised she was none the wiser on finding out their plight.
Just what did they go through, those poor souls?
"Well, then. Where do we begin?"
That was Arian's remark once they'd crossed the bridge into the west end of Breifne. Right away, one feeling struck them as they looked upon the architecture. The wide street that lay before them was cracked in a number of places, and a number of houses on either side of the street were boarded up and abandoned. The whole place felt a tad shabby, like everything could be spruced up with new paint and decorations.
"I hope we don't get robbed." Elvira held onto her satchel a bit tighter. "That wouldn't end well."
"No, it wouldn't." Arian scanned the street. It was busy, and quite the throng of Pokémon packed the streets. But even so, he could see a familiar sight: a Kecleon Shop, and a queue lined up to buy items from the chameleon merchants.
"Let's start there," he suggested.
"Good idea," Elvira seconded. "We could use a restock on items, anyway."
After a tedious wait in line under the hot sun, Team Elpis blessing their rawst scarves for lessening heat stress for them, they finally arrived to the front line where a green and violet Kecleon pair greeted them.
"Hello there!" greeted the green Kecleon, in an all too familiar voice to Arian.
"What would you like to buy?" the purple Kecleon asked, in another awfully familiar voice to the Riolu.
Is this déjà-vu? How the heck…
"Two blast seeds, one stun seeds, and two oran berries, please," Elvira requested. "Oh, and there's something else we need to ask you."
"Sure!" the purple Kecleon obliged, and turned to fetch the merchandise.
"What do you want to know?" the green Kecleon wondered.
"Well, uh…Before that," Arian butted in. "Sorry, Elvira, but I have to know this." He fixed his expression on the two Kecleon. "Would you two happen to know a pair of Kecleon just like you called Jacob and Esau?"
"Indeed we do!" said the violet Kecleon. "Those are our names, after all." As he spoke, he gave the items to Elvira, who handed him a number of coins in return.
"Wait, what?" Arian was astounded. "But how? When did you travel up here to Breifne from Kamengrad?"
"Kamengrad?" the green Kecleon puzzled. "Never heard of that place. We've always ran this stall here in town. Never sold stuff anywhere else."
"B-But…" Arian stuttered in disbelief. "There's literally a pair of Kecleon in Kamengrad exactly like you two! They even have the same tone of voice and all!"
"Oh, I know what's happened here," 'Esau' said. "You must've met two of our cousins."
"Cousins?" The Riolu tilted his head.
"Yes, we have cousins all over Ardalion," 'Jacob' replied. "You'll find Kecleon twins like us in most towns on the continent. We're all related in some way."
"W-Wow, really? Jeez." Arian was stunned. "Your family gatherings must be hectic."
"True, but aren't everyone's?" Esau sang.
"...Point taken." The Riolu then caught Elvira's eye, and she cleared her throat.
"I have a question for you two," she began. "Have you come across a Bisharp at any point in the last while? And by that, I mean the last year or so?"
"A Bisharp in the last year?" Jacob looked at Esau, and both lizards pondered deeply.
"...Can't say I remember a Bisharp ever coming here to buy our wares," Esau eventually answered.
"Are you sure?" Arian pressed. "No Bisharp at all's been here?"
"No." Jacob shook his head. "We haven't had a Bisharp ever come to us for anything."
"We know all of our customers!" Esau added. "Even the one-time shoppers! But we haven't had even one Bisharp as a customer."
"Sorry about that," Jacob apologised.
"...It's fine," Elvira murmured, although her expression betrayed her dismay. "Come on, Arian. Let's go. Maybe we'll find something elsewhere."
"Yeah. Thanks anyway," Arian said to the merchant duo.
"Anytime!" the Kecleon proclaimed in unison, as Team Elpis walked away from the stall.
"Well, that was a bust. Pretty weird too," Arian muttered.
"I see you've become acquainted to the Kecleon merchants' oddities," Elvira said. "They are a strange group, alright. But their service is a lifeline to villages and towns across the continent. That's one thing most people in Ardalion can agree upon." She looked down wistfully. "One of the few things they can agree on…"
"Come on, Elvira. Let's see if anyone else along here has any info." Arian gestured to the many merchants along the street. "How about we start there, and work our way down?"
And so they began their hunt for intel. Unfortunately, the other merchants' responses were much like Jacob and Esau's.
"Nope, can't say a Bisharp's ever come to me in the last while."
"Hm. Maybe? Cannae remember. Old age - ye ken how it is."
"I've met some Bisharp in my time, but I don't remember one coming to my stall in the last year or so."
Some merchants even tried to use the exchange to barter with the duo.
"Will you buy a necklace? One made by Sionann's Crafts, and good enough that the Tánaiste herself's come by a few times!"
"How about some rocks hewed from the mines of Dun Ringill? They say there's diamonds in them. Who knows? Today might be your lucky day!"
"Wine from Laighean's vineyards? They use this same stuff in libations to our Creator!"
It was relentless, and once or twice Arian and Elvira caved. By the time they reached the end of the street, their funds had dwindled, they had a number of useless souvenirs, and they were still no closer to finding the whereabouts of Prince Leonid.
"Well, that's annoying," huffed Arian. At least most of them fit into Elvira's bag. "What the hell are we gonna do with all this junk?"
"We could mail them back to Mom. She always likes souvenirs," suggested Elvira. "We'll need to pop by the Tropius Carriers, or Alba's equivalent of them. There was one earlier, by the river."
"Guess we'll go there, then. Maybe they'll have something for us."
They began the stroll back up. Much to Arian's annoyance, despite it being later in the afternoon, there were still many Pokémon crowding the streets, and being smaller 'mons meant he and Elvira had to dodge around the feet of larger passersby, which caused some consternation among them. Brushing against legs inevitably occurred, with apologies from Team Elpis and mutterings about 'ankle-biting pataich' from those who they brushed against.
If only I was taller, Arian inwardly bemoaned. Then I wouldn't have to deal with this. He let out a growl of annoyance.
"Arian? Are you alright?" Elvira asked worriedly.
"...Yes. I'm fine." The gritted teeth response sounded anything but 'fine'.
"...If you say so," the Treecko murmured, her worry not abating one bit.
"Right. Let's - oof!"
Arian was too lost in his own thoughts to pay attention to his surroundings, and he ended up bumping into a passing Conkeldurr, the impact of which knocked the Riolu onto his back.
"Oi! Watch where you're walkin'!" blasted the Conkeldurr. "Weans like ye should keep to the side!"
"Sorry!" he apologised to his fellow Fighting-type. But the other Pokémon was already on their way, ignoring Arian and leaving him be.
"Ungrateful bastard," he growled, as he got up and dusted himself off.
"Arian, is something the matter?" Elvira brought up. "You've been acting strange ever since we started this search."
The Riolu didn't respond. Instead, his focus had shifted to somewhere else. He happened to cast his gaze to the other side of the street, to one of the many alleyways that lined the street. They existed almost like gaps in teeth, where the sun did not shine and darkness made its home.
In that darkness, Arian saw it.
He saw a cloaked figure. A familiar one.
"Hey! Elvira!" he called.
"Ah!" The Treecko jumped. "Don't scare me like that, Arian."
"But there's someone there!" Arian pointed towards the alley.
"...Arian, what are you talking about? There's no one there. I don't see anyone."
"What?" The Riolu looked back at the alley. To his shock, the figure was gone.
"Grraagh!" That shock was then immediately replaced by annoyance. "Dammit! I'm not lying! I saw someone there!"
"A-Arian, please, calm down," Elvira urged. "You're getting worked up over nothing."
"It's not nothing, Elvira. Someone's been watching us, and I'm going to get to the bottom of this!" The Riolu's declaration was heard loud and clear by a number of others on the street. "Now where'd they go?" Arian scanned the area, and growled in annoyance at the passersby obscuring his view.
"I swear to God, if they got away again…!" The Riolu looked at all the back alleys on the other side of the street. They have to be somewhere! Now where—
He caught a flash of movement from the corner of his eye. A cloaked quadrupedal - the same one he'd seen.
"There they are!" Arian wasted no time, and took off after them. He pushed through the crowds, and accidentally toppled some people, leading to an angry chorus of voices.
"Oi! Look at where you're going, mutt!"
"You nearly tripped me, you eejit!"
"Little blighter! Wait your turn to cross!"
"Wait, Arian, wait!"
Arian paid no attention to any of them, not even his own partner. Right now, only two things were on his mind; chasing that figure down, and finding out the truth behind them. He fought to close the gap, and once he rounded the street corner, he saw the cloaked figure was there for a split second, right before they disappeared down an alleyway.
"You're not getting away!" Arian yelled, continuing to give chase. He went down the same path they took, and a new alley presented itself. This was a smaller street, but looked a lot more ramshackled, with crumbling walls and dirty streets. A poor district, for sure.
Arian didn't focus on that particular right now, intent on chasing down the figure. After running down the street, he spotted that same figure again, before they disappeared down another alley.
All the while, he yelled in frustration at them.
"Who are you?!"
"Why are you stalking me?"
"Wait! Please, wait!"
His cries went in vain, and his yelling caught the attention of those that lived in these rundown houses. Heads turned at the figure and the Riolu running through the streets, and children playing in the alleys dodged out of their way. Inhabitants grumbled at the disturbance, and cries of "Oi, shut up!" were yelled at Arian as he ran past. He paid them no mind, intent on chasing the figure down.
But they proved too evasive and, after what felt like an eternity of running, Arian had to slow down and take a breather. He had heard his species had quite high levels of stamina, but even that wasn't unlimited, as he was learning the hard way.
"Hah…hah…hah…" the Riolu panted. He was thirsty now, and was craving some refreshing water. However, one look at the dilapidated fountain ahead of him, dried up and cracked, told him that water was hardly plentiful here.
Dammit. I'm parched…I guess Isaac was right about the whole 'conserving water' thing. Arian panted, resting for a moment. He recalled Yannick's remark back in Mumhain of his panting habit, or lack thereof. Panting like a dog…will that help? He did just that, panting away in an attempt to entice coolness onto himself.
Hmm. Maybe I need to do more of it. Meanwhile, that person! He got ready to chase again. Alas, the cloaked figure had widened the gap between them, and in this slum labyrinth, they would be hard to find.
Still, I have to figure this out. Maybe that way? He began to walk down the path directly ahead of him, one of the streets that led away from the dried-up fountain.
It was odd. The times he'd been in a Mystery Dungeon with their diverging paths, he never tended to be fully sure about where to go. But this time, there was an odd compulsion to go down that way. Arian wasn't sure what this meant, but he took it as an omen and moved down the street.
He wasn't going as quickly this time, and so he had more time to take in his surroundings. Sadly, they didn't look to be in good shape at all. Corrugated iron roofs, along with cracked brickwork and missing bricks putting holes in houses, were just some of the sights of dilapidation. Broken glass on the ground was also a danger, although Arian made sure to take care to step around it whenever that happened.
Arian continued through the maze of streets, following his gut telling him which way to go. The narrow streets past rows of ramshackle houses continued, until eventually, it opened out slightly towards another square with a dried-up fountain.
However, that wasn't what drew Arian's attention. It was what lay in that square.
There was a house that looked surprisingly well-kept, standing out from the rest of the houses in the district. The other houses were a sorry sight, with chipped, faded paint and boarded-up windows, while this one house looked well-maintained with a fresher coat of green paint. It was a strange sight, to see such upkeep amid haphazardness.
To add to the strangeness, the door was open. It seemed to beckon Arian in, and the Riolu was very tempted. Before he realised it, he was walking towards the door.
Wait, what am I doing? He stopped suddenly before the door. This is walking into someone's house. That cloaked person, whoever they were…they're hardly in here, are they?
He caught a glimpse inside the house. It was dark inside, with little light shining in. Apprehension churned inside him.
Then a voice spoke.
"Ah!" Arian jumped. "Wh-Who's there?!"
"One who has watched over your journey through this land. I have been waiting for you. Come in, and glimpse at your fate."
Words like that only piqued Arian's curiosity further, and before he knew it, he had stepped foot inside the house. Once inside, he peered around the house's stone interior. It looked to be as well-kept inside as it was outside; there was little to no excess dirt, and the house was tidy. One thing noted by him was the lack of a window, oddly enough.
There was, however, a light source in the open room. That source was being provided by a glowing orb on a table at the far end of the room.
Behind that table…the cloaked figure stood. Now that he was close up, Arian could see them a bit better. They were definitely quadrupedal, and he could see two details about them that were previously hidden. A blade-like scythe protruded from their head, and their snout was canine-like.
"You!" Arian pointed to them. "You're—"
Before he could protest, however, the figure spoke.
"Come to me, Riolu."
Their voice was calm and soft. Arian felt the voice sounded a tad feminine, although he wasn't too sure. There was a strange feeling in the air, compelling him to go over to them.
"Why should I trust you?" However, the Riolu was apprehensive. "Were you down in Mumhain when we first arrived? Have you been stalking me all this time? Why are you—"
"I am sure you have many questions," the figure deftly interrupted. "But please, take a seat."
"..." Arian was still unsure, and his unease was clear by his tentative steps towards the table.
"Your reluctance is understandable." The figure seemed to recognise this. "Perhaps your unease would be shed if you saw my face."
They raised their head, letting the cowl fall behind them. Arian could then see their face for the first time, beyond the little bit that the cloak didn't entirely conceal.
An Absol with blood red eyes stared back at him. Their eyes seemed to give off infinite wisdom, as though they were older than they were. But somehow Arian didn't get vibes of an elderly wise sage from them, at least not through appearance. They seemed wise, and yet young. Around their neck, he noticed a necklace bearing Arceus' cross-wheel, at the centre of which was a green gem. Another gem of the same colour was wrapped around the lower part of their scythe. On the upper part, Arian squinted at what looked to be…gold plating?
"So you've been waiting for me?" Arian said. "…Do you even know who I am?"
"I know who you are, Arian."
Arian's breath hitched. "B-But how? How do you know my name?"
"He who toppled Hinnerk of Ozerograd alongside Fernblade Kallias's daughter. He who has made a name for himself as a dogged resistor to Silver Armour Mitrofan," the Absol listed. "Fate's rumour mill weaves interesting tales, and on its winds, words are carried and spread to the ears of hopeful listeners. Alba is no different; this nation and its people are not ignorant to events outside their borders."
"Really? Enfys and Yannick didn't seem to know much," muttered Arian.
"You are a most curious individual, Arian. I would like to know how Fate intends to weave the path laid out in front of you. My abilities as an Absol and a fortune teller allow me to glimpse into one's future and glean truths from it."
"Oh, yeah?" The Riolu was somewhat distracted by the Absol's presence that he almost forgot about the table before him. On it rested a glowing orb, the source other than the sun from outside lighting up the room. "So you're a fortune teller?"
"That is correct. I read the fortunes of those who come to me and determine how Fate shall treat them. Are you destined to succeed? Or shall Victini's gift of luck pass you by? Let us see that here and now."
"...Sure, I guess. Do I have to pay?"
"I would normally request payment. But you are a figure of such interest that I will lift the fee this one time."
"Really? Me, interesting?" Yannick said the same thing too. But I'm not that special, am I? "Well, uh…sure. Lay it on me. What does the future hold?"
"Place your paws on my horn, and we can determine that." The Absol lowered their horn, and Arian did as they said. He could feel an energy of sorts within the appendage - a pulse of some kind, although he couldn't put his metaphorical paw on what exactly this meant. What did those books say about Absol again? Something about detecting danger?
Arian tried to gauge the fortune teller's emotions as he gripped their horn. However, he found this surprisingly difficult. The Absol seemingly did not exude emotion, and when he tried to reach further, it felt like he was being mentally resisted. The hell? Why can't I read their emotions? The Riolu tried again, but was swiftly interrupted by the fortune teller's voice.
"Please do not do that," they said. "I cannot give an accurate prediction if you try to read my aura."
"Oh. Sorry," apologised Arian, and ceased his efforts, awaiting his fortune from the Absol with a hint of guilt.
A minute passed before they spoke again.
"You may take your paws away. I have a clearer picture of your future."
Arian did as instructed.
"So," he said, breaking the silence. "What did you find out?"
The Absol said nothing at first. The silence struck a twinge of nervosity within Arian, and he felt his heart sink. This is about my future, isn't it? Oh no…if they're keeping silent, then that can't be good, can it?
After what felt like an eternity, they uttered their response.
"Our world is defined by the everlasting cycle of Fate. Through times of peace and times of strife, its revolution will never cease, not unless the Creator Himself sees fit to interrupt its flow. We are all subject to its whims, and its cyclical nature ensures that for many, fortune and misfortune are dealt in equal measure. Many try to go against the grain, believing Fate has betrayed them."
The Absol shook their head. "This is an unwise course of action. Many try, but few succeed in defying her whims. There is a saying in the wider conscience that amounts to this - 'go with the flow.' And so it should be: to swim along the flow that is Fate's current, rather than battle against it.
"Many would do well to learn that the cycle of Fate is named as such for its cyclical nature, of visitation of events both blessed and cursed. If despair is upon you, fear not, for it shall pass. However, if hope is upon you, remember that such moments can be fleeting, and you should cherish those moments while they last."
Arian felt the intense stare from the fortune teller. Geez. Those eyes are gonna pierce a hole through me at this rate.
"That said," the Absol continued, their stare's intensity lessening. "A few individuals over the course of Ardalion's history have succeeded where others would have failed and perished. They normally do so at a time of regress; when the health of our continent is at its weakest, whether blight has marred its soil, wars ravage the land, or strife soaks its grass red with blood. At a time like the present, when drought afflicts Ardalion's western countries, and calamitous rain is in store, one would expect such a hero to emerge.
"However, heroes do not 'suddenly' appear one day to change Fate. In every instance of those who defied Fate, they were forged by the chaos of the world around them. They saw the state of the world and those that threatened Ardalion's existence and challenged their enemies before them. They dared damnation and came out victorious."
"Are you talking about the Five Heroes?" Arian wondered, thinking back to the book he read in Teamhair.
"Them, and more. But they are irrelevant. This session is about you, Arian. You, a most unusual figure who has begun to make a name for himself in both Selenia and Alba. An enigma. A mysterious Riolu with an odd power. A stranger in a foreign land…in more ways than one."
The Absol's next remark sent a chill down Arian's spine.
"My instincts do not lie, Arian. You are a human, aren't you?"
"Wh-What?!" Arian nearly jumped out of his skin. "H-H-How do you know I'm a human?" Panic flooded his mind at this stranger knowing that truth.
"Your psyche is unlike that which I have seen of others," the Absol observed. "It is a curious mutation that I can only describe as…otherworldly. That otherworldly psyche, upon being placed into this body of a Riolu, has warped what was there once, and has become something new entirely."
"Wh-What?" Arian couldn't make heads or tails of their words. "What are you saying?!"
"That is a truth you will learn to grapple with," the Absol replied. "Slowly but surely, it shall come to the fore, and with it, bring a new form of conflict into your life. One that will bring you into Ardalion's limelight, and for all the world - no matter their background - to know your name, your face and your deeds. The prospect of this is distant, yet be wary of it. For once the truth comes to light…nothing shall be the same for you again."
"Th-That's…" Arian did not at all like the sound of what he was hearing. If that's not ominous as hell, then I don't know what is.
"In your near future, I sense more immediate forms of danger." The fortune teller kept going, articulating their fortune in that same measured tone. "Arguments. Failure of understanding. Separation. And on more than one occasion, brushes against Yveltal's wings."
"Yveltal's wings?" He'd heard that Pokémon's name a number of times, and even in his limited knowledge knew full well what phrases like that meant. So the past while's not been enough, huh? It feels like all I've known are living on the edge and brushes with death. When can I finally actually live normally?
"If you can overcome the adversity that lies before you, then you may well know happiness," the Absol said, almost as though they read his mind. "Your future is not entirely bleak; within it are rays of hope. Recall what I said earlier; despair not in dark times, for the light shall shine ever brighter when they pass."
"Look at it like a glass half-full, you mean?"
"That is one other way of looking at it. As for the dangers that you will face, you will come to know them when they appear before you. But that you are afforded a ray of hope is more than can be said for others whose futures I have divined," the Absol went on.
"So you're saying I have a chance?" Arian summed up.
"Indeed. But you must overcome the challenges before you to achieve happiness." The Absol gave him a stern look. "And forget not the mystery that lies within you. You are an enigma, even to yourself."
"Even to myself?" Arian's brow furrowed in confusion. "Is that because of my amnesia?"
The fortune teller didn't answer him. All Arian received in return was a stare that felt almost soul-piercing.
"Wh-What do you mean?" the Riolu repeated, louder but also more unnerved. The Absol's statement did not sit right with him. "What do you mean, 'I'm a mystery, even to myself'?"
"...The answer to that, you will find out in time." Once again, their words came out mysterious, and evasive. "The mysteries surrounding you, a human in the body of a Riolu…you will come to know those secrets. In the meantime, I would like to give this to you."
There was a pause while the Absol fetched something from behind them. They reared their head back up with a scroll in their mouth, before placing it in front of Arian.
"Take it. It will be of aid to you."
"Er, thanks?" The Riolu took the scroll, and unfurled it. However, to his annoyance, it was yet another point of confusion to add onto the pile.
Sna scáthanna nach bhféachann sí, feonn onóir agus borrann searbhas.
In the shadows where she does not look, honour decays and bitterness festers.
"...What?" The words simply did not make sense to him, whether it was in the Alban tongue or the language he knew.
"Within your paws lies a half of one whole. Combine the two, and you will reach your next goal." The Absol then rose. "However, that is all I will say to you. You should leave here. Another seeks you out as we speak."
"Another…?" Then it dawned on him. "Elvira! Crap, I completely forgot about her! Oh no, she's gonna be so mad at me!"
"Reunite with her, then. Dealing with the problem immediately will lessen the resulting animus," the Absol recommended. "Go, Arian."
"Right! Uh…thanks for the fortune, um—"
Then something occurred to Arian.
"Wait a minute. I never got your name. Who are you?"
"...I will not tell you my name now," the Absol denied. "But we will meet again. There, you shall know the answer."
"...Right." The Riolu was admittedly put out with that statement.
"Now go, Arian. May Fate watch over you."
With those parting words, Arian closed the door behind him. Once he was outside, he tried to process that odd meeting.
How long was that? Somehow he felt like it had been an eternity. But looking up, the sun hadn't moved far from its position. It couldn't have been more than a half an hour, he presumed.
However, it was beginning to edge towards late afternoon, and the Riolu was reminded of the promise he'd made with Yuliya to meet back at the Guild.
But first. Elvira! I need to find her. Arian looked to his right. I think that was where I came from? He went back down the path, and indeed, it was the way he came in. His ears pricked, as he tried to listen out for his partner.
Before long, he picked out a familiar voice.
"Arian? Arian! Where are you?"
Elvira! She sounded quite worried. Arian rounded the next corner, and there the Treecko was, stuck at a split in the path, wondering which way to go.
"Elvira!" he called to her.
"Arian!" she cried. "Why did you run off like that? You left me behind!"
"B-But I had to chase down whoever was watching us! I just couldn't let them get away!"
"You shouldn't have ran off!" the Treecko chastised. "Partners are meant to stay together!" The hurt came off in all forms; in her eyes, her voice and her emotion waves which Arian felt. "Please don't do that again. I couldn't bear it if you disappeared in this labyrinth of a place."
"...I'm sorry, Elvira." The Riolu's ears flattened in sorrow. "I won't leave you like that again."
"Did you find whoever it was?" Elvira wondered.
"I did. They were an Absol fortune teller, oddly enough. They read my fortune, which, er…" He paused, recollecting the Absol's prediction. "...It didn't exactly paint the brightest of pictures, but there's hope, at least."
"Arian, what are you saying?" The Treecko's brow furrowed.
"Look, I don't fully get what they said either. But they did give me this scroll. They said it would help me at some point." The Riolu unfurled it again. "It's a clue, apparently."
"...We'll need to dissect this. Maybe if Yuliya was with us, she could help," Elvira proposed. "She's a knight; they're normally investigative."
"We should probably head back anyway. We did say we'd meet her around late afternoon." The promise they'd made earlier that day rang in Arian's head.
"Let's go then." Elvira turned to go back down the way she came, and looked back to make sure Arian was following her. The Riolu hurried to catch up with her.
All the while, his mind was ablaze about that fortune the Absol had read for him.
…Why do I get this feeling I haven't even scratched the surface about just who I am?
Arian and Elvira headed back through the gates of the Guild. Salann and Alasdair let them through, with some reluctance from the Naclstack. Once inside the Guild's grounds, they found a shaded place below a set of awnings from which they could wait for Yuliya.
All the while, Arian puzzled over the scroll the Absol had given him. What the hell does this mean? As if their words weren't cryptic enough, now they lob this at us…
"Arian! Elvira!" a familiar voice called. Team Elpis looked up to see Yuliya enter the Guild's gates.
"Yuliya!" Arian called and waved to her.
"Well met, you two." Yuliya said, once she'd made her way over. "Tell me, did you find any information about His Highness?"
"Alas not." Elvira was dismayed to report that. "We asked around the west end's merchants, passersby and even some refugees. But no one's seen hide nor hair of Prince Leonid."
"Even Bisharp in general," grumbled Arian. "You'd think they wouldn't know what Bisharp were. That fortune teller didn't give me many clues either."
"Fortune teller?" Yuliya queried.
"It's a long story. Let's just say I got nothing out of it but this scroll." Arian held up the scroll in question. "'All that's here is some half-complete saying. I don't know what it means, but I bet any money there's more to this."
"You received a scroll? Hold on a minute." Yuliya dug into her possessions and found the scroll she'd received from the Sigilyph priest. "I did too."
"Yes. And mine has a half-complete saying as well." The Furret then realised something. "Yours was incomplete as well, Arian?"
"It was. …Maybe if we put them together, they'll mean something!" The Riolu wasted no time putting his idea into action. He and Yuliya put their scrolls together, and read out what they said together.
Stánann an cosantóir síocháin siar go dtí a baile ar an Oileán Naofa. Sna scáthanna nach bhféachann sí, feonn onóir agus borrann searbhas.
The harmony keeper gazes west to her home on Oileán Naofa. In the shadows where she does not look, honour decays and bitterness festers.
"...Er, what?" Arian squinted, wondering if he was reading it correctly. "What does it mean by this?"
"I do not know." Yuliya frowned. "Is this referring to a location?"
"Are these messages meant to be together?" Arian considered. "They are from two different sources on opposite ends of Breifne. There's no evidence they're meant to form two parts of the same message."
"That's true," Elvira said. "But this can't mean nothing either. I don't feel this is a red herring. Something tells me it isn't. It feels like…the answer lies in that message, the way it is now."
"Indeed. The way the second message refers to a 'she', it must mean they are referring to someone," Yuliya deduced. "It would be a fair assumption to presume 'she' refers to 'the harmony keeper' referred to in the first message if they're meant to go together."
"Maybe, but how does this help us?" Arian wondered.
"Could this be telling us where Prince Leonid is?" Elvira said. "In a cryptic way, of course."
"Possibly." The ex-marshal looked at the text. "Could it be a code? Those aren't unheard of."
"God help us if it is," Arian groaned. "We could be here for hours trying to decipher it if it's a code."
"Maybe it isn't. Maybe these words mean something," Elvira suggested. "There's two main things here - 'harmony keeper' and this place where 'honour decays and bitterness festers'."
"Clearly. But what do those mean?" Arian said. "That's what we're trying to figure out."
"Hmm…" Elvira pondered. "'Harmony keeper'...'Harmony keeper'...I've heard that term before."
"You have?" Yuliya blinked in surprise. "Whereabouts did you hear it?"
"I'm trying to remember." Arian and Yuliya could practically hear the gears turning in Elvira's head. "Was it in a book? I think so…Which book? Fiction or old hero's tales? Did Dad tell me it…?" These mutterings of hers continued for a while.
In the middle of this, the group heard a heavy flap of wings getting louder above them. They peered up, and a familiar rainbow-feathered bird was descending towards them.
"Heeeeeeyyyyyyy, Selenians!" Scáthach called from the air, before landing on a low wall near them. "Whatcha up to?"
"Hello, Tánaiste Scáthach," greeted Yuliya. "We are trying to decipher the meaning behind this message. Perhaps you could help us?"
"Sure! What's it all about?" Scáthach peered at the two scrolls Elvira and Yuliya showed her.
"...Oooh, cool! Like a puzzle!"
"That's one way to put it," Arian muttered.
"There are two points we're trying to figure out," Yuliya elaborated. "The identity of the 'harmony keeper' as depicted here, and this mysterious place 'where honour decays and bitterness festers'."
"Hmmm." Scáthach pondered for a moment, before her eyes suddenly lit up. "Oh, that's easy. It's talking about Harmony Keeper Táiltiú."
"Táiltiú!" Elvira exclaimed. "That's who it was!"
"Táiltiú?" Arian tilted his head. "Who are they?"
"The patron saint of Alba, that's who!" Scáthach answered with gusto. "She helped the Hero Riagán take down the Tyrant King five hundred years ago, and was the first Archdruid of Alba! She also did a load of stuff for the city's poor, and became a nurse in Alba's first tournaments!
She kinda went unknown for a while, in the shadow of our Hero, but they recognised her again and canonised her as a saint for all she did! So woohoo! Big win right there!"
"I think I have heard the name before," Yuliya pondered. "But what makes you certain that this is referring to Saint Táiltiú?"
"Because of her name!" Scáthach replied. "When warriors become famous in Alba, they usually get a fun nickname to go by. They call me 'Rainbow Wing Scáthach' and they call Trahy 'Copperforce Trahaern.' You know what they called Táiltiú? They called her…'Harmony Keeper Táiltiú'."
"Ahh." Yuliya nodded, realising what she was getting at. "I see."
"We even have a statue and square dedicated to her!" the Archeops went on. "It's kinda out of the way, but that's what she would've wanted. They say Táiltiú kept to herself and wouldn't want big displays of herself. Kinda why she went unknown for such a long time in Alba's history, really!"
"A statue and square?" Elvira suddenly had a realisation. "That could be the location mentioned in the clue!"
"Really? Why'd you think that?" Arian questioned.
"A statue has a gaze to it. 'In the shadows where she does not look'...that could refer to behind the statue," the Treecko explained.
"It seems we have our next mission; to find the statue of Saint Táiltiú," Yuliya said. "Tánaiste, do you know where that might be?"
"I sure do!" Scáthach peppily answered. "Come on! I'll take you there myself!" With a flap of her wings, she took off from the wall and began to fly down the path out of the Guild.
"Come on! Let's catch up with her!" Yuliya dashed after her, and Team Elpis followed, determined to capitalise on this breakthrough.
"And here it is! Cearnóg Naomh Tháiltiú! Just what you were looking for!"
St Táiltiú's Square was nestled in a quiet part of Breifne's more prosperous eastern half. It was tucked away in a sheltered part of the city away from the hustle and bustle of the markets that Yuliya and Team Elpis had observed in their respective scouting of the Alban capital earlier. Arian noted that the labyrinthine nature of Breifne's streets was not confined to the western half of town; the eastern half had their fair share of maze-like streets as well.
"Now then, I gotta go!" Scáthach declared. "Lot of logistical stuff to do. Tánaiste business, you know how it is!"
"Leaders never have a restful moment." Yuliya nodded in understanding. "Apologies for taking up your time, Tánaiste."
"Oh, it's no problem at all! I love helping people out!" The Archeops' eyes shone as she said this. "Okay, but I really gotta go, or Trahy'll get grumpy again. See ya!" And with that, she took off into the sky.
"Thank goodness she came along," Elvira said. "Otherwise we'd be no closer to chasing down this clue."
"Well, I know that's good and all." Arian, however, didn't look any happier. "But what are we gonna find here?"
"Quite simple," Yuliya said. "We let the statue be our guide."
Within the square lay a large, distinctive, with dried grass and a tall iron fence surrounding it. It depicted a tall, dinosaur-like Pokémon with a distinctive drill-shaped horn.
"Hm, I can't say I expected that," murmured Yuliya. "The image of a peaceful saint I had was not that of a Rhydon."
"Appearances can be deceiving," Elvira reasoned. "Even the most menacing-looking Pokémon can turn out to be gentle." Her mind flashed back to Mitrofan giving her money to buy sweets all those years ago. So understanding and kindhearted, and the way her father chatted to him like a firm friend…
She shook her head. If she dwelled too much on those memories, it would only make her heart ache all the greater.
"Right, so…" Arian looked around him. "We're here now. Where's the clue?"
"We have to figure it out." Yuliya looked up at the statue. "'In the shadows where she does not look'...hmmm…"
"Hold on a minute." Looking around the square, Elvira suddenly had an idea. "If St Táiltiú looks that way…" She gestured in the same direction as the Rhydon's gaze. "Then behind her is where we should be looking." Her finger pointed towards a row of houses opposite the statue, away from where the Rhydon looked. "Do you notice? The way the sunlight's reflecting off those houses…it's a bit like shadows are being cast, isn't it?"
"Huh." Arian followed her finger, and saw her point. "You're right…"
"Those houses…they don't look to be in the best of shape," commented Yuliya. The Furret's observation wasn't unfounded; the houses in the square were far from dilapidated, but at the same time, they did not look to be of the highest standard. It was as if a slice of the western city had been taken across the Istwyth and placed in the eastern half. They followed building trends that the Selenians had seen in Teamhair and Breifne, with various bright colours painted upon the walls. However, they did look to be in need of a lick of paint.
"So what we're looking for is somewhere in those houses," Elvira said.
"I believe so," Yuliya said.
"...I don't know, guys." Arian was doubtful. "Are we just gonna knock on the doors of the people who live here? What are we going to say to them? 'Hi, we're looking for the Selenian prince, do you know anything about that?'"
"...You have a point, Arian." Yuliya's confidence faltered. "Does this even have to do with His Highness? Is this message a hoax? I sincerely hope that…" Her voice then trailed off.
"Yuliya?" Elvira said. She and Arian followed her gaze, and saw what had caught the Furret's attention.
A group of Falinks emerged from what looked to be the most ramshackle house in the square, with a creaky, rotting door and long-since faded paintwork. Only four of them were present, though.
"Hold on," Yuliya whispered. "Those other two Falinks…Are they—"
Her question was soon answered by the remaining two Falinks scurrying to the rest of their platoon.
"You guys!" one of them yelled out. "We might've hit upon something!"
"Y-Yeah!" the other, meeker Falink replied. "This could be huge!"
"Y! N!" The lead Falink sounded furious. "You're way past your allocated time for intel gathering! Master Dubhrua despises tardiness! What do you privates have to say for yourself?!" he lambasted with all the gusto of a drill sergeant.
"G-General C! I-It's not what you think!" implored the meek one. "We might've actually found something!"
"Well, spit it out, Private N!" yelled C. "It better be good! You better not have been slacking!"
"We had an encounter in the market today," the other Falink, Y, began. "We collided with a Furret, who apologised to us before going on her way. But I noticed that the Furret in question had a foreign accent. She didn't sound like she was from Alba."
None of the three needed to be told who the Falink was talking about. They took that moment to hide behind Táiltiú's statue out of sight.
"So what, Y?" one of the other Falink questioned. "A foreign Furret? Who cares about that?"
"No, hang on, R," another Falink said. "Did that Furret have a Selenian accent?"
"I think. I couldn't be sure, though. We haven't met too many Selenians."
"Master Dubhrua's Selenian," the third Falink pointed out, leading to a gasp from Yuliya. "Did they sound like him?"
"Silence, Private A!" C demanded. "We don't need you giving away intelligence that could be used by enemies!"
"S-Sorry." A cringed from his superior's outburst.
"We might be onto something though," the second Falink said.
"Just a passerby, that Furret was. You're overthinking it, Private W." C shook his head. "Now then! Get back inside, Y and N, and explain yourselves to Master Dubhrua!"
"But Master Dubhrua knew a Furret, didn't he? That could well be her!" Y protested.
"Plenty of those rats around. Not all of them can be the one Master Dubhrua knew."
The Selenians were listening in on all of this, incredulous at what they were hearing. None more so than Yuliya.
"This Master Dubhrua…Could they possibly be…?" The ex-marshal didn't finish her sentence. "I'm getting to the bottom of this." She marched out from their hiding place.
"Wait, Yuliya! You'll give us away!" Arian pleadingly whispered. But the Furret didn't listen, marching forward towards the Falinks.
"Excuse me," she began. "May I speak to you all?"
"I-It's her!" N said. "That's who we saw today, isn't it, Y?"
"Silence, Private N!" C barked. "...Something you want, girl?"
"I overheard your conversation about happening across a Furret from Selenia," Yuliya went on. "And based on what you've said thus far, I have a few questions for you."
"Tch. Try harder, lassie!" spat C. "You're not getting questions out of this soldier. Not without a fight!"
"Oh, you wish to go that route, do you?" Yuliya quickly caught on. "That's fine by me. If it means I'll get answers to my liege's whereabouts, I'll gladly solve this the Alban way."
"Your liege, huh?" remarked R. "No Alban uses 'liege'. You're definitely not from here, then."
"Quite correct. I am from Selenia, and I am a knight sworn to her tsar. I am Yuliya Gerasimovna Lysagora, and right now, I am committed to finding the whereabouts of our heir." She paused dramatically. "Tell me. Does the name 'Prince Leonid Klimentovich Ruslan' ring any bells?"
At least three of the Falinks had something of a reaction to that name. N gasped, Y's eyes widened, and R looked around nervously at his platoon.
C, however, stood his ground. "No words are escaping me, Furret! You'll have to pry the answer from my cold, dead lips!"
"I won't take it that far. Your Master Dubhrua must value you, if he is who I think he is. But regardless, I'm not backing down." Yuliya held up her paws. "Arian! Elvira! Help me out here!"
Team Elpis stepped out from behind the statue. They quickly assumed a battle stance, seeing what was about to go down.
"Square up, men!" C ordered. "Your targets are the Furret, Riolu and Treecko ahead of you! Eliminate them and protect Master Dubhrua!"
"Sir, yes, sir!" the Falinks obliged.
"What's that? I can't hear you!"
"Sir, yes, sir!"
The voices came louder. But the Selenians quickly noticed something. Only three voices responded instead of five.
"...I hear dissension." C had noticed it too. "Y and N, are you ignoring the words of a superior?!" He turned to notice those two Falinks had stepped out of line.
"W-We're not, General C!" N cried. "But…"
"There's no reason we have to fight," Y continued. "There's a high possibility Master Dubhrua knows this Furret. A name like hers does sound incredibly Selenian. A Selenian noble, even."
"We're a unit! We are Carwyn, and we fight as one! You don't back down from your general's orders!"
"But there's no point!" N pleaded. "Master Dubhrua needs allies more than ever! Why are we fighting her?!"
"To prove her mettle! If she wants to meet Master Dubhrua, she's gotta get through us first! So stop whining, square up and get ready to fight!"
"...No. I'm sick of fighting. I'm sick of pointless fighting." N turned to his fellow Falinks. "Come on, guys, please! Can't we talk this out for once?"
"I agree with N," Y seconded. "This is a point where dialogue would be optimal. Fighting, even if it is the Alban way, would be pointless. Don't forget what happened at home, where lack of dialogue caused the mess there and forced us and many others to flee here."
Y's words had a weight to them that caused a change in demeanour of the others. The determined looks faltered slightly, and in crept a feeling that Arian could sense as sadness.
Reluctance then began to creep in among the other three.
"Sorry, General C, but I gotta agree with 'em," A said.
"As do I," W added. "I don't wanna give away an opportunity to help Master Dubhrua."
"If we fight them and win, we might scare them off, and that'll be a missed opportunity, alright," R reasoned. "Come on, General C. There's no point to this."
"You all…" C looked among his Falinks cohort. All were going against him in his order to fight. "...Very well. I wouldn't be a lead Falink if I didn't look out for my men." He turned to face the Selenians. "I stand down, Miss Yuliya."
Really? Just like that? Arian was surprised at the turnaround. Who would've thought words would convince an Alban?
"Thank you very much, Carwyn." Yuliya bowed respectfully. "You recognise your men's wishes and changed your plan accordingly. Through this, you've earned my respect."
"Thank you. However!" C said. "I still do not trust you, ma'am. You may have good intentions and you may know Master Dubhrua. But whether he'll bring you into his circle of trust is another matter entirely!"
"I'm certain he will, if he is who I think he is," Yuliya assured.
"Uh, Yuliya?" Arian wondered. "Do you know this 'Master Dubhrua' they're talking about?" He could sense hope brimming in the Furret.
"I believe so," Yuliya answered, her answer full of confidence.
"I think I may know who he is," Elvira murmured. "And if so, our search may be over soon."
"Wait, really?" I'm missing something big here, aren't I?
"...I'll take you to see him," C said. "But I'll warn you. Whatever image you have of Master Dubhrua is not what you'll see here. He's…a changed man, in many ways. I don't know how he'll react to you, ma'am. Perhaps it's best you see him for yourself."
He turned to his men. "R, W. Head inside and inform Master Dubhrua of these visitors."
"Yes, sir!" The two Falinks went over and opened the door. Immediately, a loud creaking sounded, making the trio wince. That front door definitely needs oiling, Arian thought.
He noticed a concerned look on Yuliya's face as they went to enter the building. Apprehension, no doubt, at who she would meet. Given the warning C had given them before entering, it didn't bode well.
A thought occurred to Arian.
Wait a minute…Could it be? Could Master Dubhrua really be—
"He's in his room, ready to meet you." Arian barely registered R's voice against the shattering realisation that came to him. Now, as he readied to enter the room, he found his own stomach bubbling with anxiety. He could sense it in Elvira too. Master Dubhrua, this mysterious figure…it was time to pull back the curtain on them.
The room was dark, with the window boarded up and candlelight providing the only illumination. In that darkness, Arian caught sight of a figure at the far end of the room, sitting cross-legged and facing away from them.
Right away, he sensed many emotions. Bitterness. Frustration. Anger. They permeated around the room like a mist, the influence of the negative aura radiating from the figure, who began to rise. From the back, they saw a tattered and worn cape with a faded crest on the back. It showed signs of an ornate state once upon a time.
The so-called Master Dubhrua turned to face them, and the Selenians now had a good view of him. He was a little taller than Yuliya, and a fair bit taller than either of Team Elpis. His metallic features, specifically his bladed hands and axe-like helm, glinted in the candlelight. The rest of his body primarily featured red-and-black colouration.
The Bisharp fixed them all with a steely glare. No words came from his mouth, setting in unease all the greater for the Selenians.
Yuliya could barely hold it together. She tried her hardest to hold back a sob as she spoke to a face she hadn't seen in five long years.
"Y-Your Highness…It's really you, isn't it?"
Ceatharnaigh - Irish for 'bandits'.
Albach - A partially made-up word to mean 'Alban', derived from the Irish word for Scottish, 'Albanach'.
Pataich - Scots Gaelic for 'children'.
Cearnóg Naomh Tháiltiú - Irish for 'St Táiltiú's Square.'